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Not Homer's Iliad

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High school is organized chaos, but by 10th grade Patroclus thinks he has learned to navigate it. The population of Ilium High is neatly divided into thousands of cliques, warlike city-states living in tentative peace just waiting for a reason to attack. But as of right now all is calm, and the various civilizations living in such close proximity have managed to avoid contact with each other for years. It’s a fragile world they live in, but everyone seems to understand and respect that fragility.

Patroclus, technically, belongs to the geek colony, but he avoids contact with them outside of the cafeteria. He does not dislike them; they gave him a city-state within which to reside, but he doesn’t get along with them besides the fact that they are all losers. Odysseus is the leader of the group, relied upon by the other residents of the geek table as their communication with the rest of Ilium. Cassandra is the group’s only girl, a paranoid and superstitious creature confident in her own psychic abilities but unable to convince anyone else of them. Nestor is a strange addition, a brainy senior constantly spouting (usually horrendous) advice to his younger tablemates. Patroclus is the fourth and final member. 

Usually Patroclus pays no attention to the goings on of the popular world, but today it is impossible to avoid. The latest rumor is everywhere: Paris Priamides kissed Helen, Menelaus Atrides’ girlfriend, at his older brother Agamemnon’s party. As of yet it is unknown how this will affect the fragile peace of Ilium High’s city-states, but the general consensus is that all hell is about to break loose.

Patroclus hears these things but is unconcerned. Whatever war breaks out will not touch his city-state, he’s sure. The four-person geek colony flies under the radar, which is the primary reason Patroclus finds his home there. (The other is that he is at least mildly intelligent.) He’s confident they will be left alone, and if all hell indeed breaks loose it will be onto the popular world, of which he is not a member. His confidence is shaken, however, when Odysseus sits down at lunch that day.

“The strangest thing just occurred,” He says. Odysseus talks that way; it’s superbly annoying.

“The weirdest thing just happened,” Patroclus corrects. “That’s how a normal person talks.” Odysseus ignores him and continues. 

“Menelaus spoke to me.”

Cassandra nearly leaps across the table. 

“What?!” She cries, “Why?”

“He wanted my advice,” Odysseus answers cryptically. Patroclus rolls his eyes.

“On what?” He asks tiredly. A normal person would’ve supplied that information up front, but Odysseus likes to draw out the suspense. It drives Patroclus crazy. 

“The best course of action after this whole Paris-Helen debacle,” Odysseus explains. Patroclus furrows his brow. Menelaus, like his brother Agamemnon, is a football jock. Why would they need Odysseus? “It seems to me,” Odysseus continues, then pauses for suspense, “that this is particularly bad.”

“Oh, this is more than ‘particularly bad’,” Nestor speaks up. “This is probably the worst thing that’s ever happened.”

“Why does Menelaus need your help?” Patroclus presses, ignoring Nestor. “I thought he would just beat Paris to a pulp and move on.”

“Normally, yes, a physical altercation would be the solution,” Odysseus agrees. “But Nestor, will you remind me the name of our dear principal here at Ilium?”

“Priam,” Nestor answers promptly. 

“Paris’s father,” Odysseus supplies. “Even the pride and joy of the athletic department can’t go around attacking principal’s sons.” 

“So the Atrides need a way to exact revenge without breaking any rules,” Patroclus says.

“Exactly,” Odysseus confirms, “which is where I come in.”

Cassandra lets out a high pitched wail of despair.

“The apocalypse is coming!” She cries.

“Don’t be overdramatic,” Nestor says.

“Don’t you see?!” She demands, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him. Patroclus watches the show with mild interest. “There are cool kids and there are losers, there are jocks and rich kids and geeks and goths and stoners and everything in between, and we’re about to enter a swirling vortex of horror wherein they all intermix.”

For once, Patroclus wishes he had believed Cassandra.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

“Crazy day, huh?” Briseis says as she climbs into Patroclus’s car. They’ve been carpooling all year, but he picks her up three blocks from school. No one can see a cheerleader climbing into Patroclus Menoetiades’ car. It will ruin her reputation, and earn him a sort of infamy he spends his days carefully trying to avoid.

“You have no idea,” He replies with a groan. “Cassandra basically recited a prophecy at lunch today.”

“A prophecy?” Briseis echoes with raised eyebrows and an amused grin, “Do tell.”

“She thinks the end is near.”

 “What else is new?”

“But she says she’s serious this time.” Cassandra says she’s serious every time. Briseis punches Patroclus in the arm scoldingly, but she’s laughing.

“Don’t be a jerk, she’s nice.”

“She’s crazy.”

“But you’ve got to feel bad for her. 

That’s true, Patroclus does feel bad for her. Cassandra plays a difficult role at Ilium High. She herself is a loser, like Patroclus, but her brothers are Hector and Paris Priamides, who are at the top of the food chain. Hector and Paris almost completely ignore her at school, but they protect her and, by association, Patroclus, Nestor, and Odysseus, from vicious bullying. This latest development, with Paris kissing Helen and Menelaus vowing revenge, threatens Hector and Paris’s position at the top of the social ladder and therefore Cassandra’s protection. 

“Yeah, I guess,” Patroclus says. “So how are things in the popular world?” Briseis hesitates for a moment.

“Weird,” She finally decides. “No one really knows what to do. We all thought Menelaus would’ve dumped Helen and kicked Paris’s ass by now, but nothing’s happened.”

The popular world exists in a state of flux. Half of it is dominated by the jocks, chiefly the Atrides, Menelaus and Agamemnon. The elder captains the football team, while the younger is primed to take his place in two years. Beneath them but still in popular in their own right are Ajax, captain of the wrestling team, Achilles, captain of the track team, and Diomedes, the quarterback. And then there’s the other half, ruled by Hector, Paris, and their slew of younger brothers. Their main claim to fame is that they are insanely rich. They’re good at sports too, but only the kind you have to have a lot of money to play, like golf or skiing. Hector, for example, is a champion horseback rider. The two powers (the jocks and the rich kids) have managed to avoid contest with each other for years, but it’s clear they’re bitter rivals. All Paris did by kissing Helen was give Agamemnon a reason to destroy his only competition.

“How’s Helen doing?” Patroclus asks. He doesn’t really know Helen, but he’s picked up a decent image of her from what Briseis has told him. Beautiful and generally harmless, if a bit empty-headed and catty.

"Oh, she’s loving this,” Briseis replies. “Everyone’s talking about her, plus the cutest boys in school are arguing over her.”

“Menelaus isn’t the cutest boy in school,” Patroclus cuts in. Briseis raises her eyebrows.

“Who is, then?” She asks teasingly. He knows what she wants him to say, but he’s not about to give her the satisfaction.

“I am,” He jokes, taking one arm off the steering wheel to flex his muscles (or lack thereof).

“Okay, sure.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? I’m hot stuff.”

“Whatever you say, Patroclus.”

He pulls into their neighborhood and slows down, partially because of the speed limit in a residential area, and partially because he wants to prolong these moments with Briseis where they are not ruled by high school politics. He’s not a geek and she’s not a cheerleader, they’re simply two friends driving home from school and gossipping about their crushes.

“Even if we’re saying that I’m not the cutest boy in school, which I am, my point still stands. Menelaus is one of the most terrifying creatures I’ve ever seen; he’s not cute.”

“Alright, that’s valid. But he’s hot.”

Patroclus makes a face. “Are you kidding? He’s got more chest hair than a border collie. Please don’t tell me girls find that attractive.”

“I don’t, but Helen does,” Briseis reasons.  Patroclus is about to point out that Helen obviously doesn’t, because Paris is about as far from Menelaus as one can get, but their conversation is ended by a voice Patroclus simultaneously loves and hates.

“Hey, Briseis!” Achilles calls. He is climbing out of his own car in front of his house, just across the street from Patroclus’s and adjacent to Briseis’s. Growing up, they were quite the trio. “You gonna help me with my homework?” She climbs out of the car.

“I’ll help you,” She says, “I won’t do it for you.”

“That’s all I ask,” He replies, then notices Patroclus. Maybe his mind is playing tricks on him, but Patroclus swears he sees Achilles’s face light up. “Hey, Patroclus, you should come too. Not to brag, but I need a lot of help.” 

Patroclus looks at them standing side by side. Achilles in his varsity jacket, and Briseis in her cheerleading uniform. He does not fit into their world.

“Uh, sorry, I’ve gotta...feed my dog.”

The excuse backfires horribly. 

“You got a dog?” Achilles gasps, and too late Patroclus remembers that Achilles loves dogs almost as much as Patroclus loves Achilles. He catches Briseis’s eyes, and no words can describe how hard she is judging him. 

“Um, no, I meant, um...,” He flounders. “my nintendog.” 

“Your nintendog,” Briseis echoes in a deadpan voice. “You can’t do your homework because you have to feed your nintendog.” 

“Yup!” Patroclus squeaks, face burning. “Wouldn’t want it to die.”

“Oh, right,” Achilles says dejectedly. “Well, if you have time, you should drop by.”

“Probably won’t,” Patroclus continues, and why is he still talking?! “I’ve got a lot of nintendogs.” His eyes desperately find Briseis’s, and silently he begs her to save him.  

“Okay, well, we’ve got a ton of homework, Achilles,” She cuts in, and Patroclus has never been more grateful for her in his life. “We should probably get started.”

“Right. Yeah. Homework,” Achilles says. Then, to Patroclus, “Have fun with your nintendogs!” Briseis grabs him by the arm and turns him away, and together they begin to walk up to Achilles’s front door.

“I will!” Patroclus calls after them, because at this point he’s lost control of his mouth. Then he too turns away, wondering how he could’ve allowed himself to become The Kid With The Nintendogs in Achilles’s mind.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Patroclus knows it’s stupid to be in love when you are barely sixteen. Because you know nothing, because it won’t last, because this is not yet real life. But all the things Patroclus knows, all the logic he’s acquired in his years on this earth, do not apply to his love for Achilles. 

Patroclus never went over to Achilles’s house. He debated it for an hour or so. He had been invited, after all. Clearly Achilles wanted to hang out with him. But as much as Patroclus wants to help Achilles with his homework, he can’t let himself. For one, whenever he’s in Achilles’s presence, he becomes an awkward, rambling freak obsessed with his nintendogs. And the other thing is that he and Achilles are from different worlds.

Achilles Pelides is a god. Captain of the track team, sophomore class president, and probably the most attractive person alive. He plays guitar like Apollo playing the lyre and has a voice sirens would be jealous of. Patroclus is nobody. So, even if by some miracle Achilles loved Patroclus just a tenth as much as Patroclus loves Achilles, they couldn’t be together. Achilles would not want his reputation tarnished by someone like Patroclus. As soon as they got to school, Achilles would go back to pretending he didn’t know Patroclus’s name. And Patroclus does not want to be loved only after 3:30 and on weekends. He respects himself more than that.

It is nearing midnight when Patroclus gets the anonymous call. He has been finished his homework for hours and instead has been sitting at his desk, alternating between aimlessly surfing the internet and discreetly looking through Achilles’s window. Briseis disappeared from his bedroom hours ago. They’d looked like they’d been having a good time.

His phone ringing, in and of itself, is unusual. Very few people have Patroclus’s number. Briseis does, but she only texts, never calls. The digits displayed on the screen are unfamiliar, and Patroclus debates whether or not to pick it up. It could be a creepy stalker. Or worse, it could be Achilles. Right, Patroclus thinks, like Achilles would call me. So it’s not Achilles, and Patroclus does not think himself interesting enough to be stalked. Deciding he’s got nothing better to do, he accepts the call.

“I’ve had a genius idea.” A voice that is decidedly Odysseus’ crackles through Patroclus’s shitty speaker.

“You have my number?”

“Of course, Patroclus, I have everyone’s number. Anyway, my idea-”

“I’m not sure I want you to have my number.”

“Well, the damage is done. As I was saying-” 

“How did you even get my number?”

“I lent Briseis a ruler some days ago; she owed me a favor. Anywho-" 

“You bribed Briseis?” 

“Patroclus, please. Of course I bribed her, look who you’re talking to. We have more important matters to discuss.”

Patroclus sighs and runs a hand through his hair, deciding for the moment to disregard the extreme creepiness Odysseus is displaying. It’s not like he didn’t already know Odysseus was a freak.

“Okay, fine, what’s your idea?”

“A game.”

That’s all Odysseus says. And had they been having this conversation in person, Patroclus might have punched him. He is getting exceedingly tired of having to painstakingly extract every little piece of information out of Odysseus.

“What sort of game?” He tries to keep the impatience out of his voice, although he’s not sure why.

“A game to settle the dispute.”

Patroclus waits a moment for Odysseus to continue, then snaps.

“God dammit, Odysseus, just tell me how to play!”

“Fine, fine. Good god Patroclus, have some patience.” Patroclus has been having some patience with Odysseus for two years. He’s just run out. “We divide the student body into two teams-”

“The entire student body?”

“For someone who was so impatient to hear the rules, you certainly are interrupting quite a bit.” 

“Eat my shit, Odysseus.”

“We divide whatever portion of the student body that wants to participate into two teams: those who side with Paris, and those who side with Menelaus. Each team then commences trying to kill as many members of the opposite team as possible.”

“Kill? What the hell, Odysseus?” 

“Would that you were here with me now, Patroclus, you might have seen my air quotes.” Patroclus refrains from pointing out that this is a phone call. It takes away from Odysseus’s dramatic bravado that belongs more in an epic poem than a high school. “Participants are killed by means of tackling. The rules are thus: Any victim must be at least ten feet from any other person, participant or otherwise, before an attacker may descend upon them and ‘kill’ them, terminating their participation in the game but not their life. Whichever team for which the last man standing plays is victorious, and the corresponding suitor takes Helen.”

Patroclus pauses for a moment, thinking this over. Odysseus’s grand plan is to resolve the burning hatred between Menelaus and Paris, the Atrides and the Priamides, the jocks and the rich kids, through a game that he decides is a bit too juvenile for middle schoolers.

“You really think Agamemnon’s going to go for this?” He finally asks.

“I confess I hadn’t thought of Agamemnon,” Odysseus replies. “After all, it was Menelaus that asked my help.”

“But you know Agamemnon’s orchestrating the whole thing. This is just the perfect opportunity for him to obliterate the Priamides once and for all.” Patroclus has been hanging out with Odysseus for too long; he’s beginning to talk like him. Since when has he ever said obliterate? 

“True. Perhaps we ought to raise the stakes.” 

Patroclus can tell from Odysseus’s voice that he has something in mind, but he won’t tell until Patroclus asks. 

“To what?”

“The losing team, at least its leaders if not all its participants, leaves Ilium High School for good.”

Odysseus has been known to come up with some pretty outlandish ideas in his time. Just last year, he faked literal insanity to get out of gym class. Not a sprained wrist, not a twisted ankle, insanity. But this is almost crazier. The game itself is benign, but the consequences are more than even power-hungry Agamemnon might agree to.

“You realize what you’re suggesting here is basically a war,” Patroclus says.

“Oh, it’s not basically a war,” Odysseus corrects, then proceeds to say the most ridiculously dramatic and cliche thing he possible could. “My dear Patroclus, this is a war.”

Chapter Text

The next day at school, Patroclus really wishes he had more friends in his first period math class. Then maybe he wouldn’t have to sit next to Odysseus, who is being even more annoying than usual in his excitement for the war he is about to start.

“When do you suppose I should suggest my scheme to the Atrides?” Odysseus asks, leaning out of his seat to whisper to Patroclus. He is a genius and will get an A on tonight’s homework even without paying attention. Patroclus is not so lucky.

“I don’t know, Odysseus. I’m trying to learn,” He replies impatiently, clipping a piece of paper into his binder for today’s notes. He then rummages through his backpack for a writing utensil and comes up empty-handed. “I need a pen.”

“I would tell them at the earliest opportunity,” Odysseus prattles on, although Patroclus isn’t sure you can call the way Odysseus talks “prattling”, retrieving a pen from his own backpack and handing it to Patroclus, “were it not for the complexity of the plan. I fear it is too intricate to be explained whilst passing in the hallway.” He then scribbles down in his notebook that Patroclus borrowed a pen. He has pages and pages of similar documentation; Deiphobus borrowed an eraser, Chryseis borrowed a highlighter, Aeneas borrowed a piece of paper. It’s how Odysseus is so well-connected, yet not well-liked, within Ilium. He has everything you could possibly need. Ruler? Odysseus has it. Pocket dictionary? Odysseus has it. TI-84 graphing calculator on the day of your geometry exam? Odysseus has it.

“The parent function y equals one over x is called the rational inverse, and you’ll see that as x approaches negative infinity, y approaches 0,” Their teacher drones on, and Patroclus attempts to copy the neatly drawn function onto his own notes while Odysseus waits for his opinion.

“Just tell them at lunch,” Patroclus says, eyes glued to his notes.

“Lunch,” Odysseus muses. “But is it not a faux-pas for a, for lack of better word, geek such as myself to approach such social royalty as the Atrides in the cafeteria?”

“Oh my god, Odysseus, did you just say ‘faux-pas’?” 

“Mr. Menoetiades!” The teacher’s sharp voice rings out over the class, drawing all their attention instantly onto Patroclus. “I hope you’re not talking during class.”

“Of course not, Mr. Pythagoras,” Patroclus replies obediently, and it’s just his luck that he gets caught for ten words and Odysseus gets away with entire speeches.

“Good. Well then, you can tell us the answer.” Mr. Pythagoras indicates a problem on the board the rest of the class had been solving for the past five minutes, but that Patroclus is seeing for the first time. What is the image of point (4,-2) after a dilation of 3?

“Uh...,” Patroclus flounders, and glances desperately at Odysseus, who mouths the answer. “Twelve, negative six.” He recites, hoping he’d read Odysseus’s lips correctly.

“Yes, that’s correct.” Mr. Pythagoras follows this with a resigned sigh that makes clear he knows Patroclus did not know the answer, but says nothing else. He turns again to the board, his back to the class, and Patroclus slumps in relief.

“Thanks,” He whispers to Odysseus.

“Don’t mention it,” Odysseus replies. “But I require your advice in return. Is lunch truly the optimal time?”

In truth, Patroclus doesn’t know. He has learned his place at Ilium and little else, so he has no idea how taboo it is to approach other social groups at lunch. But he has no other answer for Odysseus, so he tells him yes, lunch is his best bet. Inwardly, he hopes he isn’t sending Odysseus off to his death.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

“Odysseus is going to what?” Cassandra shrieks, after Patroclus relays to her and Nestor why Odysseus is not seated with them at lunch.

“I thought you were psychic,” Nestor teases, “don’t you know what everyone’s going to do?”

“Yeah, I do. And Odysseus is going to die,” Cassandra shoots back.

“Chill,” is all Patroclus says. Inwardly, he’s starting to think she’s right. Odysseus is going to get pummeled, and it’s his fault.

“Chill?!” Cassandra echoes incredulously. “Odysseus, our friend, is about to suggest probably the worst idea in the history of the world to a group of trigger-happy neanderthals, and you want  me to chill?!”

“Chill,” Nestor says. Cassandra lets out a frustrated scream and buries her face in her hands.

Patroclus turns in his seat and scans the room for Odysseus. The cafeteria is a busy scene, but eventually Patroclus manages to pick him out, slowly making his way through the throngs of students to the corner table by the window, where the jocks sit. To Patroclus they are all anonymous varsity jacket-clad shapes, except Ajax, whose head looms far above the rest. Briefly, he wonders which one is Achilles. Odysseus, a tall, skinny form, weaves his way over to them and gains their attention, all of the heads whipping around to face him. Patroclus can’t see their faces, but he imagines they aren’t too pleased.

“What’s going on?” Cassandra demands, her voice an urgent whisper, as if the jocks can hear her gossipping all the way across the cafeteria.

“He’s sitting two feet from you, why would he be able to hear anything you can’t?” Nestor replies on Patroclus’s behalf. The three of them turn their attention back to the scene across the room.

Two of the jocks have gotten to their feet; Patroclus assumes they are Menelaus and Agamemnon. For one horrible moment, the entire geek table holds their breath as they wait for one of the varsity jackets to reach out and knock Odysseus to the ground, but the moment passes and Odysseus is still standing. An audible, relieved sigh is heard as Patroclus, Cassandra, and Nestor let out their breath. Next, Odysseus’s thin form is obscured by an Atride flanking him on either side, and the three of them march over to Hector and Paris’s table. More of the cafeteria is beginning to watch now, thinking this is the epic battle between Menelaus and Paris they’ve been waiting for.

“Patroclus, what the hell is going on?”

Patroclus jumps, and turns to see Briseis has slid into the seat next to him. He would be worried about people seeing him talking to a cheerleader, but everyone’s attention is on Odysseus, Menelaus, and Agamemnon.

“Who is this?” Cassandra demands, pointing unabashedly at Briseis.

“Briseis,” Patroclus says.

“Patroclus!” Briseis snaps impatiently, “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know!” Patroclus cries, throwing his hands up.

“All we heard is that Odysseus wants to play some sort of game,” Briseis says. We? Patroclus wonders briefly, before remembering that the cheerleaders sit jock-adjacent, close enough to hear Odysseus’s conversation with the Atrides.

"What’d Agamemnon say?” He presses. Nestor and Cassandra train their eyes on Briseis, eagerly awaiting her response. They don’t know her and are unnerved by a cheerleader’s presence at their table, but everyone wants to know how Odysseus’s suggestion went over.

“I think he’s on board,” Briseis answers with a shrug. “They went to suggest it to Hector and Paris.”

“Hector’s not going to agree to this,” Cassandra says confidently.

“What about Paris?” Nestor points out, a grin playing about the corners of his mouth. “This is his fight, after all.” Cassandra buries her face in her hands, groaning.

“You’re right,” She moans. “Paris is such an idiot, he would agree to this.” Out of the corner of his eye, Patroclus sees Odysseus returning to their table. Immediately, everyone turns back to their meals, trying to pretend as if they hadn’t been watching the whole scene. Not that Odysseus would mind, he would probably revel in the attention. Briseis, having left her food at her own lunch table, stares intently at her perfectly painted nails.

“Greetings, friends!” Odysseus exclaims. He then notices the fourth member of their table and adds, “Briseis,” with a polite nod. “We’ve been invited to a party.”

“Come again?” Patroclus asks, because he can’t have heard that right.

“Agamemnon and Menelaus have invited us to a party,” Odysseus repeats. “Although it’s really more of a meeting than a party,” He continues, unaware of the shock he’s delivered to Nestor, Patroclus, and Cassandra. (She might actually be having a stroke.) “Those who endeavor to play for Menelaus shall gather tonight at the house of Atreus for strategization.”

“Can girls play?” Briseis speaks up, surprising Patroclus. He’d never imagined she’d want to take part in this.

“I fail to see why not,” Odysseus replies. “Any who wish to play may do so.”

“Then I’ll be there!” Briseis gets up from her seat and goes to make her way back to the cheerleaders, then turns back to Patroclus. “I’m coming over after school to help you get ready.” Before Patroclus can ask why he needs her help, she bounces away back to her table.

Odysseus turns to Patroclus, Cassandra, and Nestor. “My comrades, I trust you’ll be in attendance?”

“Of course we’re coming,” Nestor assures him “How often do geeks like us get invited to parties?” Patroclus nods, shrugging. It’s not like he has anything better to do. Cassandra looks down, biting her lip awkwardly. “What?” Nestor questions her.

“I’m so sorry, Odysseus,” She sighs, “but Paris is my brother. I have to play for his side.” She picks up her tray with a flourish and goes to join her family. Patroclus does not watch to see how she will be received.

Patroclus is beginning to think that maybe Cassandra’s prophecy from yesterday was right. The jocks are not smart enough to do this on their own, they need the intelligence of the geeks combined with their own brute force and probably the skills of a few other social groups to deliver the perfect storm of revenge onto the Priamides. The school’s millions of city-states are devolving into two big groups. The perfect yet delicate social order of Ilium High is about to come crumbling down. And Patroclus is going to a party.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Briseis does not say anything as she follows Patroclus through the hallways of his house to his room. He looks straight ahead, acting as though he’s unaware she’s even there. It’s been a while since she saw this place. The last time she was here they were kids, and there were not so many beer bottles in the trash.

Patroclus isn’t sure where his father is lurking. It’s hard to know when Menoetius is even home. He rarely tells his son where he’ll be and when. He rarely tells his son anything. Menoetius is the regional manager of some small, deadbeat company, one that will probably be going out of business soon, and he frequently leaves whenever he chooses. Patroclus is never sure whether he’s coming home to an empty house, or if his father will be pressed into the folds of the faded couch with a beer in his hand and creases in his face that match those he’s left in the sofa.

The house is droopy. Everything seems to sink at the corners, on the verge of collapse. Patroclus cannot see Briseis’s face behind him, but he’s sure she’s horrified, or at least depressed. His home has that effect.

“So,” Patroclus says, once he has ushered Briseis into his bedroom and shut the door firmly behind her, “what does one wear to a party?”

“Patroclus,” Briseis begins, and he can tell by her voice that she wants to talk about the full trash bags littering the kitchen floor, the newspapers stacked up on the coffee table from days and weeks and months ago, the lightbulb that’s out in the hallway, the peeling wallpaper, the dirty dishes, the smell.

“What?” He replies sharply, hoping his tone will turn her off from the topic. Patroclus’s room is neat and his bed is made and there is nothing on the floor but the carpet and all the lights work and he lives here, not in the disaster outside of his door.

“Nothing,” She mutters. The atmosphere from the rest of the house is oozing through the crack under the door; they have dragged in the heavy sadness on their clothes and in their backpacks and underneath their fingernails. He needs to get it out.

“Do you think Achilles will be there?” He hates to talk about his crush on Achilles with her, because she’s such a girl about it, but it will lift that concerned crease from her forehead. Her face breaks into a huge grin.

“Of course,” She squeals, “so you have to look great.”

“Are you saying I don’t already look great?”

“No offense, Patroclus,” She begins, as she crosses the room to his dresser, “but you dress like a mathlete.”

“I was almost a mathlete,” He reminds her.

“Thank god I talked you out of that.”

“You don’t think their calculator-holsters are cool?”

Briseis does not grace this with a reply, and instead yanks Patroclus’s top drawer open. She mutters things to herself as she rifles through; comments on his clothes that he’s sure aren’t positive. Finally, she produces a dark blue v-neck.

“This works,” She says. “Why don’t you ever wear this?”

“I don’t wear v-necks,” He replies.

“You do now,” She decides with finality, tossing it over to him.

The rest of the process goes much the same. She finds things in his drawers that he would never wear and is not sure why he has, and she decides he’s going to wear them. A v-neck shirt. Skinny jeans. Converse. Most of them, it turns out, are past birthday presents from Briseis. She’s been trying to make him dress well for years.

“Okay, done!” Briseis declares, once she’s finished fussing with his hair.

“Finally,” He groans, and she flicks his arm.

“You look good, right?” She asks hopefully, as he examines himself in the mirror. He does, sort of. But he’s sure Odysseus and Nestor will laugh at him as soon as they see him.

“I look like Aeneas,” He replies. Aeneas is one of the rich kids, and he dresses like an Abercrombie model.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Briseis scoffs. “You look fine. Let’s go, you don’t want to be late to your first party.”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

The house of Atreus is enormous. It’s exactly what comes to mind when you think “mansion”. Gleaming mahogany doors, high, arching ceilings, chandeliers in every hallway, the works. The houses in Patroclus’s neighborhood are nice. (Even Patroclus’s is, from the outside.) But he has never seen anything like this.

Diomedes opens the door. Patroclus has never spoken to him, but he is the quarterback of the football team. Everyone recognizes him.

“Briseis!” He exclaims, his face breaking into a wide grin. She blushes and smiles back. Patroclus knows for a fact she has a crush on him. “Come on in, I saved you a seat next to me.” His words are tellingly slurred. He then turns to Patroclus, and his brow furrows. Patroclus waits expectantly for Diomedes’s attempts to remember and/or pronounce his name. “Pa...Patrick? No. Peeerrrrrseus? Protesilaus? That’s not it. Oh! Poptropica!”

“Patroclus,” Patroclus finally says, putting Diomedes out of his misery.

“Patroclus!” Diomedes repeats, “That was my next guess.” Rolling his eyes, Patroclus follows Briseis into the house, Diomedes behind them. Most of the party has gathered in the living room, and Patroclus surveys the scene for people he knows. Nestor and Odysseus are seated on a couch in the corner, looking awkward and out-of-place and not talking to anyone. Patroclus starts to make a beeline for them, but Briseis grabs him by the arm.

“No,” She says, “you have to at least try to enjoy yourself before you go sit in the corner with people that annoy you and wonder why you never have any fun.” Patroclus wants to argue, but she’s right. That is what he does most of the time.

“Okay, well who else am I going to talk to?” Patroclus regrets the question as soon as it’s out of his mouth, because he knows what Briseis will say before she even smiles slyly and waggles her eyebrows at him.

“Achilles.”

Oh, yes. There is one more person Patroclus knows here. Achilles is standing in conversation with the height of high school royalty: Agamemnon, Menelaus, Ajax, Other Ajax Who Is Shorter, Diomedes, and Idomeneus. He doesn’t look particularly interested in the conversation, but Patroclus still doesn’t want to walk over there and interrupt.

“He’s busy,” He says. Briseis rolls her eyes.

“No he’s not,” She argues. “He hates those guys and you know it.”

“So what do you want me to do?” Patroclus demands. “Just walk over there and interrupt? ‘Hey, Achilles, I see you’re having a conversation with six people who could all very easily take me in a fight, but we both know you hate them so you should hang out with me.’”

Briseis smirks. “Looks like you won’t have to.”

Before Patroclus can demand what that’s supposed to mean, he feels a tap on his shoulder and turns around to see Achilles standing behind him. Briseis winks at him and departs.

"Patroclus!” Achilles greets. “I didn’t think you’d come.” For some reason, Patroclus thinks he should be offended by that.

“Why not?” He asks, expecting to hear something like You’re not really the party type or Aren’t you kind of a loser?

“Well, I thought you’d be busy. You know, with all those nintendogs.”

Oh. That wasn’t quite what Patroclus was expecting. After a moment he realizes Achilles wasn’t making a joke, he genuinely wants to know how Patroclus found enough time away from his nintendogs for a party. For all his strengths, Achilles has never been the smartest.

“Um, I hired a dogsitter.”

Achilles laughs, and Patroclus is struck dumb by the beauty of the sound. He wants to make Achilles laugh again and again.

“But seriously,” He says, “I didn’t really think you were into this kind of thing.”

“This kind of thing?” Patroclus echoes.

“You know, playing some stupid war game to get Menelaus his girlfriend back.”

“Oh. Well, Odysseus is my friend, or something. So I’m here.”

“I’m glad you came,” Achilles says earnestly, and Patroclus’s heart skips a beat. Something warm blooms in his stomach, then immediately shrivels up and dies when he realizes he is expected to reply. What is he supposed to say? Thanks, I only came because my life is hideously boring and I had nothing better to do, and partially because I thought you might be here and I’m in love with you.

“Uh, thanks. I don’t really know anyone, though.” There. That wasn’t completely horrible, at least.

“You know me,” Achilles reminds him. “Come on, I’ll introduce you.” For a minute, Patroclus thinks Achilles literally wants to introduce him to the partygoers, but it turns out he just wants to stand in the corner and talk shit about the people he’s supposed to be friends with. “You know Agamemnon, right?” Patroclus nods. “Ugh, he’s such a bag of dicks. Constantly acting like he owns everyone. I can’t wait to see him working at a gas station in a few years.”

“That would be satisfying,” Patroclus agrees.

“Tell me about it. That’s Menelaus next to him; he’s okay. Really needs to calm down about this whole Helen thing, though. I mean, she’s like the hottest girl in the history of ever, or so I’ve heard, so it was bound to happen at some point, right?”

“I guess,” Patroclus says.

“Okay, and that’s Ajax, he’s literally the size of a mountain. He’s really lucky the Atrides have such douchey high ceilings, or he’d have to bend over the whole time.” Patroclus laughs. Achilles continues pointing out people that Patroclus already knows, but he says nothing because Achilles could be reciting the script of The Bee Movie and Patroclus would not tell him to stop. “Diomedes is chill, I guess,” Achilles continues. “He’s a lot smarter than he lets on. Can’t pronounce my name for shit, though.”

“Right?” Patroclus gasps. “He called me Poptropica earlier.”

“He always pronounces mine phonetically. Like, A-chilles.”

“My English teacher still says my name Patrick-less. Like when you’re out of Patricks.”

Achilles bursts out laughing, almost spilling the mystery liquid in his Red Solo Cup that, upon further inspection, Patroclus sees is actually Coke.

“I forgot how funny you were.”

It’s a compliment, but it seems to make both of them sad. Achilles has only forgotten because they’ve grown apart, because in 6th grade it became apparent that Achilles was athletic and cool and Patroclus wasn’t, because once they were best friends and now they aren’t.

“I’m funnier now,” Patroclus says, trying to lighten the mood. “Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Interrupting American.”

“Interrupting Amer-”

“Cheeseburger!”

Achilles says it’s dumb, but he’s laughing anyway. Every time he laughs, something in Patroclus that has been heavy ever since sixth grade seems to get a little bit lighter. And why was he so afraid of this? This is easy. Achilles laughs like a thousand angels and Patroclus knows a lot of jokes. He will trade them all over to Achilles in exchange for those golden peals of laughter, the best kind of payment anyone could ever receive.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

An hour later, they are seated on the steps in the front hall, just outside of the party. A few stragglers have trickled out of the living room and into the hall, but for the most part they are alone. Patroclus has been telling Achilles every funny thing he can think of, and Achilles rewards him with laughter, more beautiful than anything Patroclus has ever heard. Their heads are inclined towards each other as though they’re telling secrets, when really Patroclus is telling Achilles why snakes can’t drink coffee.

“Why not?” Achilles asks.

“Because it makes them viperactive.”

 Achilles ducks his head as he laughs, his forehead coming to rest on Patroclus’s shoulder. A tingly feeling spreads from the point of contact throughout the rest of Patroclus’s body.

“That’s so dumb,” Achilles says, once the laughter has subsided.

“Well then, why don’t you tell me a better one?” Patroclus challenges. Achilles pauses to think, propping his elbow up on his knee and resting his chin in his palm. His brow furrows and he bites his lip in between two perfect teeth, before realization dawns on him.

“How do you spot the blind guy at the nudist colony?”

“I feel like this is going to be offensive,” Patroclus sighs, “but how?”

“It’s not hard.”

Patroclus hates the sound of his own laughter. An unattractive, gasping, snorting noise, like someone who’s dying rather than someone who’s amused. He especially hates it intermingling with Achilles’s, who is laughing unabashedly at his own joke. But Patroclus hates almost everything about himself next to Achilles, who is perfect and gorgeous and a god among men. Patroclus is simply ordinary, not particularly good or bad at anything and easily overlooked. Even as a kid he hated the sight of himself beside Achilles, whose beauty made Patroclus look downright ugly. Remembering this, Patroclus withdraws, lopsided grin dropping off his face. His cheeks ache from smiling for so long.

“What’s wrong?” Achilles asks, noticing instantly. Patroclus hates that they haven’t been friends for nearly five years, yet Achilles still picks up on every one of Patroclus’s mannerisms. It makes him fall even further in love.

“Nothing,” Patroclus says.

Something’s wrong,” Achilles argues.

“It’s not important,” Patroclus replies, and he hates himself for doing this. They had been having fun, why did he have to fall back into his whole woe is me, I’ll never be good enough routine?

“It doesn’t have to be, you can still tell me,” Achilles presses earnestly. Of course that’s what he would say, because he’s not just gorgeous and athletic and popular and talented and charming, he has to be considerate, too. It’s really not fair. And now Patroclus has to think of something that’s wrong, because the truth is just too embarrassing.

“Uh...it’s just...school stuff,” He mumbles. That’s believable, right? Completely unrelated to what they’d been discussing, but whatever.

“Oh. Well, not sure I’ll really be able to help, but I can try. What sort of school stuff?”

Why does Achilles need so much information? Why is Patroclus such a horrendous liar? How does he get himself into these situations?

“I’m just having trouble with physics.”

That’s fine. Normal. Lots of people have trouble with physics.

“Dude, welcome to the club. What specifically?”

This will not be another nintendogs disaster. Patroclus will not let that happen. There are a million plausible answers to this question. I don’t understand potential energy. I can’t remember all the formulas. The Law of Conservation of Momentum really confuses me.

“I just don’t understand how people in Antarctica aren’t hanging off the bottom of the world upside-down like bats and dying because all the blood rushes to their heads and their brains explode.”

Patroclus does not pride himself on being athletic, or good-looking, or having lots of friends, or anything else really, but he does consider himself at least mildly intelligent. Or, at least, he did until now.

“Um...,” Achilles trails off, clearly unsure of how to reply to what might be the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. “It’s...it’s gravity, right?” Quickly, Patroclus makes up his mind to pretend he didn’t already know that. Because he’s already dug himself into this hole, he may as well make it deeper.

“Oh!” He exclaims. “Gravity! Duh. Okay, I get it now. Thanks.”

“No problem,” Achilles mutters, clearly still confused. “You...you have heard of gravity, right?” 

Oh, god. How is he supposed to answer this without becoming, in addition to The Kid With The Nintendogs, The Kid Who’s Never Heard of Gravity?

“Oh yeah, yeah, totally,” Patroclus replies. “I just...um...didn’t know they had it down there.”

“You didn’t know they had gravity?”

“Achilles!”

The speaker is a hulking form, standing in the doorway and obscuring the living room from view. Patroclus looks up, then further up, then further up, until his eyes rest on Agamemnon Atrides’s face. He has never seen the king of Ilium High this close.

“What, Agamemnon?” Achilles asks, in an incredibly tired, annoyed tone that very few people have the nerve to take with Agamemnon.

“We’re strategizing,” He says. It’s clear from his voice he does not expect to have to say anything more. Most people obey Agamemnon before the order is even given. Except, apparently, Achilles.

“We’re talking,” Achilles counters, gesturing to Patroclus and himself. Agamemnon’s glare finds Patroclus, and his eyes widen in horror at being drawn into the argument. He throws his hands up, half in surrender, and half to protect his face from any oncoming punches.

“Woah, woah, talking? No we’re-what? I’m not-I don’t even know how to talk. What am I saying? That’s weird, I know how to talk. And I’ve also heard of gravity. What’s happening right now?”

Agamemnon’s eyes narrow as he scrutinizes Patroclus, who seems to wither under his gaze.

“Who’re you?”

Patroclus has never spoken to anyone so terrifying. Agamemnon is huge, at least compared to him, and his eyes burn with the rage of a Persian cat that’s been forced to take a bath, and it’s clear he’s not used to having to deal with nobodies like Patroclus. And in the grips of the most paralyzing fear he’s ever experienced in his life, Patroclus cannot stop the words that come out of his mouth.

“Poptropica.” Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Achilles bury his face in his hands. Agamemnon seems to somehow get angrier, clearly thinking he’s being mocked. “I mean, what? My name’s not Poptropica, that’s not a real name. Why would anyone think that’s a name? I am literally no one. Please forget I exist.”

With that, he gets up from the staircase and bolts from the scene, hoping to blend well enough into the throngs of partygoers in the living room that Agamemnon and Achilles won’t be able to find him. The number of people has increased, and an enormous sheet of paper has been hung at the back of the room. Upon drawing closer, Patroclus sees it as the sign-up sheet for the game, and goes to add his own name to the list. (He takes care to write Patroclus and not Poptropica.) So far it includes Achilles and the rest of the team captains, Briseis, Agamemnon’s girlfriend Clytemnestra, Penelope (whom Odysseus has had a crush on for three years), Nestor, Odysseus, and several other names Patroclus does not recognize: Protesilaus, Automedon, Machaon, Teucer, Calchas, and leagues more. Helen’s name is noticeably absent, but as far as anyone knows she’s consented to the game and is not playing for either side.

“Pretty good team, huh?” Briseis greets, coming up behind Patroclus and peering over his shoulder. “Most of the cheer squad’s playing, but Chryseis and Andromache are on Paris’s side. Clytemnestra’s pissed, but mostly cause Agamemnon’s pissed at her. God, he’s such a douchecanoe.”

“I told him my name was Poptropica,” Patroclus informs her. She snorts, pitching forward as she laughs at his misfortune.

“You what?” She chokes out, through paroxysms of laughter.

“I told him my name was Poptropica,” He repeats. “I was talking to Achilles, and then-”

“Wait!” Briseis cuts him off. “You can’t just say something like that and move on in the same sentence. How did it go?”

“He thinks I haven’t heard of gravity,” Patroclus groans.

“What?” Briseis presses. “How did that happen?”

“How do you think it happened?” Patroclus deadpans. “I have no control over my mouth. I just say things. I don’t know why. I know I shouldn’t, I just say them anyway.”

“Oh, Patroclus,” Briseis sighs, with a sort of fond sympathy, “you really weren’t meant to interact with other humans, were you?”

“Can we go home?” Patroclus whines. Briseis reaches up and ruffles his hair.

“Yeah, fine,” She says. “Just let me say goodbye to some people.”

Dutifully, Patroclus goes and waits in the hall while Briseis makes her rounds, bidding her hordes of friends goodbye.  Through the doorway, he sees her kiss Diomedes on the cheek. They are cute together, both beautiful enough to deserve each other. He is so jealous he almost hates her, but he could never hate Briseis.

On the drive home, Patroclus knows it is just a matter of time before Briseis demands details. She prattles on for as long as she can about the goings on of the party, who did what during Truth or Dare and all the things Diomedes did that made her sure he likes her back. But eventually she runs out of patience and requests a play-by-play of all of Patroclus’s interactions with Achilles that night. She listens raptly, rolling her eyes at his horrible jokes and groaning when he gets to the part about gravity. She tries to remain sympathetic, but she’s laughing by the time he tells her about his conversation with Agamemnon.

“...and then I left,” He finishes, pulling onto his street and beginning the harrowing task of parallel parking. “So, yeah, I’m a social disaster and will never be leaving the house again.”

“It’s not that bad.” She says, stepping out of the car once Patroclus has pulled the key from the ignition. “At least you talked to him.”

“Yeah, I guess,” He sighs. “Well, goodnight. Please duct-tape my mouth shut the next time I try to talk to anyone.”

“That’s what friends are for,” She replies. “Goodnight, Patroclus.” They part ways in the middle of the road, going into their respective homes on either side of the street.

Lying in his bed that night, Patroclus decides that Briseis is right. At least he talked to Achilles, even if it did take a turn for the worse at the end. It was a meaningless conversation, just stupid jokes whispered on somebody else’s staircase, but there’s something about the way Achilles says Patroclus’s name. Patroclus. Slow and stretched out, like he’s trying not to let it go. Patroclus has never heard anyone say his name without sounding like they’re trying to get it out of their mouths as fast as possible. Closing his eyes, he falls asleep to the sound of it in his head. Patroclus, Patroclus, Patroclus.

Chapter Text

Protesilaus is the first to die. He tried to ambush Sarpedon, a member of Paris’s team, on his way to school that morning, but it backfired and he got killed. Patroclus hears about it by the end of second period.

Patroclus is beginning to see how Odysseus’s plan is really going to work. No one can expect an entire team to leave the school, what with how each team turned out to be half the student body. But the game is working anyway, because whoever loses is going to be ostracized for the rest of their high school careers. Starting with Protesilaus, and ending with the entire losing team. The whole social system is being turned on its head. Suddenly it doesn’t matter if you’re a geek or a jock, a loser or a cool kid, a king of the school or a complete and utter social abomination. All that matters is if you’re alive or not.

“It’s a glorious thing to behold,” Odysseus remarks to Patroclus in the hallway. To their right, Protesilaus, a jock, is getting slammed against the lockers by two theatre geeks Patroclus used to deem below even himself. “Look what I’ve created.”

“Oh, you mean complete and utter madness?” Patroclus replies. Odysseus chuckles. The two of them watch, one wide-eyed and disbelieving, the other grinning in apparent pride, as Paris Priamides saunters past and high-fives the two geeks whose names he probably doesn’t even know.

“Patroclus, Patroclus, Patroclus,” He tuts, “how you continually fail to see how brilliant this is never ceases to baffle me.” Patroclus begins counting the steps to the computer lab, where he can drop Odysseus off at computer science and continue on his way to ancient history alone.

“Please don’t say ‘baffle’. It’s bad enough you just tutted at me.”

“Look at this!” Odysseus cries, spreading his hands wide.  “This isn’t madness, this is power, up for grabs. We, my friend, were once hopeless losers. But now, in this new genesis of high school I’ve created, we can be kings!” They pass by Ajax, and he nods a greeting at them. Patroclus wonders if he’s going insane.

“Yeah, if we can survive your ridiculous pseudo-Hunger Games. Odysseus, this is so stupid.” They stop at the door of the computer lab, and Patroclus begins to walk away.

“If by stupid you mean brilliant, you’re right, and I thank you,” Odysseus calls after him. Patroclus turns around to face his friend, who is still standing in the doorway of the computer lab.

“Oh my god, Odysseus, you’re right. By stupid I did mean brilliant!” He replies sarcastically.

“Sass doesn’t suit you!” Odysseus shouts, but Patroclus pretends to be too far down the hallway to hear any more.

He continues the rest of the way to ancient history alone, head down, shouldering through the traffic of the hallway. It’s a dangerous place, and a geek such as himself must go to great measures to keep a low profile and avoid getting shoved in a locker.

“Patroclus!”

Having your name yelled loud enough to momentarily silence the whole hallway doesn’t help.

Patroclus turns around, drawing even more attention to himself, and sees Achilles making his way down the corridor. He doesn’t fight through the masses like Patroclus has to, instead they seem to part before him, unfolding with his every step to create a pathway. He gets to Patroclus in a quarter of the time it would’ve taken Patroclus to traverse the same distance.

“Um, hi,” Patroclus says eloquently. Achilles beams as if those two syllables are the greatest things he’s heard all day.

“Hi,” He replies, “where’re you headed?”

“History,” Patroclus says. What comes next? Oh, yeah, continue the conversation. “You?”

“Math,” Achilles groans. “Literally ready to hurl myself into the void.” Patroclus’s eyebrows shoot up, and he fixes Achilles with a decidedly judgemental look.

“Was that a meme?”

Achilles shrugs, smirking playfully. “Maybe.” Patroclus reaches the doorway of his ancient history class, and he can’t remember the last time he was reluctant to leave the anarchy of the hallways for the relative safety of a classroom.

“Well,” He says, “this is where I leave you.”

“Hey, you should sit with me at lunch today,” Achilles suggests.

Patroclus’s heart skips a beat. Nearby students turn and stare at this miraculous turn of events. News programs all over the country stop their reports to cover this breaking story. There has been a shift in the cosmos. The world itself stops spinning. Patroclus Menoetiades has been invited to sit at Achilles Pelides’ lunch table.

Patroclus tries desperately to keep his cool. Achilles’s table isn’t a cool table, it’s the cool table. It isn’t just the popular kids that sit there, it’s the most popular of the popular. The cream of the crop. The gods among men. Patroclus imagines they eat ambrosia from golden plates while reclining on purple velvet couches. Their table is Mt. Olympus, and no mortal has ever ventured there and lived to tell the tale.

Achilles takes Patroclus’s shock as dissent and frowns. “Uh, it’s taco day,” He adds hurriedly, as if this will convince Patroclus to sit with him. Patroclus forces a grin.

“Oh, well, in that case,” He says, “see you there.”

Achilles’s nervous frown is instantly replaced with an enormous, beaming grin that seems to light up the hallway. Maybe he’s imagining it, but Patroclus swears he sees the cliché cartoon twinkle on Achilles’s teeth. “Great!” He exclaims. “I’ll save you a seat.” With that, he waves goodbye and continues on his way, and Patroclus wonders what he ever did to deserve that smile.

Third period can’t go fast enough.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Patroclus feels more than a little lost as he stands in the cafeteria, tray in hand, looking helplessly between his usual loser table at the back of the room and his potential destination, the cool table by the window. Achilles is not there yet. How is Patroclus supposed to just saunter over and sit down at the cool table without Achilles to protect him from the inevitable onslaught of fists, feet, and cafeteria pudding?

He looks back at his usual table. Only Nestor is seated. Cassandra is all the way across the cafeteria, just barely squeezed in at her brothers’ table and completely ignored. Odysseus is nowhere to be found, and Patroclus is standing stock-still in the middle of the cafeteria, stranded between where he should be and where he is terrified to go.

“Poptropica?”

Patroclus whips around, spots Diomedes right behind him, and is marginally comforted. Diomedes seems nice enough. Sure, he’s convinced Patroclus’s name is Poptropica, but that’s a minor offense. Other than maybe being a bit stupid, he’s harmless enough. And at least he remembered what he thinks Patroclus’s name is.

“Uh, yeah, hi. Um, Achilles invited me to...” He gestures awkwardly towards the table.

“Sit with us?” Diomedes finishes. Wondering if he is signing his own death warrant, Patroclus nods. “Dude, rad! C’mon. The more the merrier, y’know?” Patroclus is sure Agamemnon won’t think so, but he isn’t about to disagree with Diomedes, who is at least a head taller than him and good at sports.  “Aw, man, you’re gonna love my fork garden!”

Fork garden? Patroclus wonders as he follows Diomedes to the table. He fits neatly into the shadow of the 6-foot-something quarterback. The only others at the table so far are Ajax, Shorter Ajax, and Idomeneus. They all watch Patroclus as he sits down across from Diomedes, clearly wondering what the hell he thinks he’s doing here. Ajax turns to Diomedes, gestures to Patroclus, and raises his eyebrows in an unspoken question.

“That’s Poptropica,” Diomedes answers. “Achilles invited him. And dude, Achilles could fuck us up, I am not about to argue with him.” Ajax turns to Patroclus, eyebrows still raised. He is enormous, with broad, hulking shoulders and dark skin pulled taught over bulging muscles. His lips are set in a thick line and his eyes stare straight at Patroclus, completely unamused.

“Your name’s Poptropica?” He asks, deadpan. His voice is so low, it sounds like someone recorded the words your name’s Poptropica in GarageBand and then slowed them way down.

“Um, no, that’s just...uh, my name’s Patroclus, actually,” Patroclus stammers awkwardly, sounding like a chipmunk in comparison to Ajax.

“Yo, I-Dominate, grab my fork garden,” Diomedes instructs.

“You and your fork garden,” Idomeneus mutters, shaking his head. I-Dominate, Patroclus thinks, that’s actually pretty clever. Idomeneus reaches up to the windowsill and retrieves a flower pot placed there by the school’s maintenance staff in September and then promptly forgotten about. It was supposed to brighten up the room, but now the plant has mostly died, and there are more forks in the soil than actual vegetation. Diomedes grabs it from Idomeneus’s grasp, beaming at it like a proud father.

“Every day,” He whispers excitedly, like this is the greatest task ever undertaken by a human being, “I get a new fork from the cafeteria, and I stick it in the pot. Isn’t that great?”

“It’s...um...,” Patroclus mutters, at a loss for words. This is what the coolest kids in school do at lunch? Make fork gardens?

“Is he showing you his goddamn fork garden?” Achilles groans, sliding in beside Patroclus. Their legs bump accidentally, and Patroclus has to keep himself from jumping six feet into the air. Flanking Achilles is a smaller boy, a freshman similarly clad in a varsity jacket that Patroclus often sees at Achilles’ shoulder in the hallway.

“Hey!” Diomedes defends, waggling a finger in Achilles’s face, “Don’t slam the fork garden, man. It’s sacred.” Dutifully, the boy beside Achilles produces a fork.

“I brought today’s fork,” He announces. Diomedes plucks it from his fingers, shooting Achilles a pointed look.

“See?” He says, gesturing to the freshman, “Automobile respects the fork garden.”

“My name’s Automedon, actually,” The freshman, Automedon, mutters.

“Yeah, yeah, and his name’s not Poptropica. Whatever. My names are better,” Diomedes says with finality. Then he impatiently shushes the whole table, demanding everyone’s attention.

“What’s going on?” Patroclus whispers to Achilles.

“It’s the adding-of-the-fork ceremony,” Achilles whispers back, “very solemn ritual.”

“Oh, of course.”

The table is silent as Diomedes slides the newest fork into the soil, somehow finding a space for it in the tightly-packed garden. As soon as the fork is in place, the table jumps back to life as if some strange, cultish ritual did not just take place. Conversation picks up right back where it left off, and Diomedes passes the fork garden along the row of people until it is back up on the windowsill where it started. The whole ordeal might be the weirdest thing Patroclus has ever seen.

But then Odysseus walks by, and something weirder happens.

“‘Eyyyyy, Brodysseus!” Diomedes calls. “Dude, come sit with us!” Odysseus stops on his trek to the loser table in the back and turns around.

“Diomedes!” He greets, “While I must confess to not fully comprehending the nickname, I would be honored to accept your invitation.”

The jocks are silent, staring at this kid who must be straight out of Shakespeare as he sidles in next to Diomedes, who slings an arm around his narrow shoulders like they’ve been best friends their whole lives.

“This dude is literally the smartest motherfucker alive,” Diomedes announces. “Taught me how to hack so much shit in compsci today. I could join Anonymous right now, and they’d be like, ‘Woah, you know your shit.’ And I’d be like, ‘Creds to my homie Brodysseus.’”

“Odysseus, actually,” Odysseus corrects. “You may also know me as the humble inventor of the game in which we all partake against the Priamides.” There’s a collective gasp as realization strikes the jocks.

“You’re the shrimpy nerd Menelaus was talking about!” Shorter Ajax concludes. Odysseus blinks, unsure of how to respond to being called a “shrimpy nerd”.

“‘Tis I,” He eventually confirms. “The ‘shrimpy nerd’.”

Content with this answer, the jocks resume their conversation as the table fills up. Idomeneus will give Odysseus his pudding if he can beat anyone at the table at arm-wrestling. Ajax is going to pound Diomedes so hard if he doesn’t shut up about his fucking fork garden.  Menelaus is literally starving, and Shorter Ajax told him he should’ve eaten during their free period, but Menelaus was too busy eating Shorter Ajax’s mom’s pussy. At this, Patroclus turns to Achilles.

“Your friends are a dignified bunch,” He teases.

“They aren’t my friends,” Achilles answers simply. Beside him, Automedon looks positively crestfallen. Achilles ruffles his hair. “Except Automedon,” He corrects, “Automedon’s my friend.” Patroclus wants to press further, wants to ask why Achilles sits with people every day if they aren’t his friends, wants to know who Achilles real friends are if these aren’t them and if maybe he’s among the treasured stock, but that’s when Agamemnon arrives.

In his mind, Patroclus had pictured Agamemnon’s arrival to be accompanied with ominous music and smoke machines and strobe lights warning of oncoming danger, but in reality, he just strides up to the table, stands at the head, and glares. It’s still terrifying enough for Patroclus. The table seems to freeze under his gaze, everyone sitting stock-still and waiting for him to speak. His eyes land on Odysseus and narrow, his face contorting angrily. Without a word, he lunges forward.

Diomedes leaps to his feet, throwing himself in front of Odysseus. Ajax grabs one of Agamemnon’s arms and holds him back. Achilles jumps up, but he’s all the way on the other side of the table and can’t do anything. For his part, Odysseus sits calmly, not appearing the slightest bit phased.

“Yo, Swagamemnon, what the fuck?!” Diomedes demands. “This is Brodysseus, he’s cool!”

“Yeah, he’s the one that came up with the game!” Menelaus adds hurriedly, trying to placate his brother. Agamemnon’s head whips around to face the younger Atride, expression just as furious as before.

“I know that,” He growls, “and we’re losing.”

“That’s not his fault, asshole!” Achilles exclaims, still standing up. Agamemnon looks positively murderous.

“Maybe you should...,” Patroclus mutters, trying to save Achilles from a slow and painful death, but no one is paying him any attention.

“If I may,” Odysseus cuts in, and all eyes turn to him. “I believe I may have a solution that will advance our team.” He stops there, waiting, as he always does, for someone to ask him what it is. His need to draw out the suspense is annoying usually, but now, it might just get him killed.

“Dude, spit it out,” Diomedes hisses.

“Or you’ll be spitting out your own teeth,” Agamemnon fumes, struggling against Ajax’s grip.

“We claim territory,” He says simply. No one seems to understand, and Patroclus prays he’ll go on without prompting. “Allow me to explain. As I remember, the Priamides have a fondness for the library as a place of repose during the day. We must attack them there, thusforth making it clear to them that the library is our territory. Eventually, we might claim enough land that the Priamides have nowhere to seek refuge, and must forfeit.” There is a moment of tense silence as everyone’s eyes turn to Agamemnon, waiting for his reaction.

“Alright,” He says. His fists unclench, and his muscles relax. Warily, Ajax releases him. “Alright, that might work.”

“Fantastic,” Odysseus replies with a broad smile. Patroclus is amazed at how little fear he showed throughout the whole ordeal. “Now, I have a plan of attack which requires three brave warriors. Achilles, if you would volunteer your services, your speed would be much appreciated.

“I’m in,” Achilles confirms.

“Then I am too!” Automedon volunteers hurriedly, turning wide, hopeful eyes on Odysseus. From what little Patroclus has seen of him, Automedon appears to worship the ground Achilles walks on. So at least Patroclus isn’t the only one.

“Alright then, Achilles and Automedon,” Odysseus acknowledges. “Anyone else?” Achilles turns to Patroclus.

“How about you?” He asks. Patroclus’s eyes widen.

“Me? I’m...I can’t...I mean, I wouldn’t be-”

“Alright Poptropica!” Diomedes cheers. The rest of the table joins in almost instantly, slapping him on the back and ruffling his hair. Well, he can’t back out now. At least once he fucks this up royally, he won’t be asked to participate ever again.

“And Patroclus makes three,” Odysseus states. “Excellent. Alright then, the plan is thus...”

Chapter Text

Upon walking into the library, the first thing one would see is three long shelves of reference books, each about waist high, standing side-by-side with aisles in between. After walking through those you would get to the main section, where countless tall shelves crammed with books stand in rows from wall to wall. Past those is a back wall made entirely of an enormous window, lined with bean bags and arm chairs for students to sit in and study. It’s definitely the most comfortable place to spend your free period, which is probably why the Priamides have claimed it as their own since Hector’s freshman year. Rich kids like to be comfortable.

According to Odysseus, only Glaukos, Troilus, and Helenos have this period free. They are the targets of today’s military campaign. How Odysseus knows their schedules Patroclus has no idea, but his extreme creepiness worked to their advantage this time. Supposedly, the three shouldn’t be too hard to kill. If the plan works, Odysseus will be in the clear with Agamemnon. If not, his head will likely be on a spike in the cafeteria by 8:00 tomorrow.

Patroclus does not want to be responsible for that. Sure, he usually finds Odysseus annoying at best, but somewhere along the way, Odysseus became his friend. And now it’s up to him to make sure the plan goes off without a hitch and Odysseus survives his junior year. It’s not a bad plan. It’s a pretty good one, actually. It’s just that Patroclus is unfathomably good at fucking things up. Case in point, the Nintendogs Disaster.

“Everyone clear on the plan?” Achilles whispers. The three of them are crouched behind the middle case of reference books, heads bent together in conspiracy. Automedon and Patroclus nod hurriedly. “Good,” Achilles says. “Get in position.”

Patroclus and Automedon dash out to the sides and jump behind the other two bookcases. All Patroclus can see is the nicked up, worn wood right in front of his face. He hears the door open and six feet beating the ground. Maybe their victims. His heart speeds up in his chest. Discreetly, Achilles peeks over the top of the bookcase, and Patroclus watches him for a reaction, waiting for some sort of signal to show the other two whether or not their targets have arrived.

Achilles bolts, streaking out past the bookcases so fast he’s nothing more than a blur. Patroclus is momentarily frozen in awe of his inhuman speed. Then he remembers the task at hand and jumps up from his hiding place.

Just as they’d planned, Glaukos, Helenos, and Troilus scattered when Achilles charged them, unknowingly spreading themselves ten feet or more apart. Achilles races after Helenos, who spins around and makes for the door. He doesn’t stand a chance. Troilus wheels off to the side, seeking refuge in the taller bookshelves, and Patroclus sprints after him, tailing him through 200-299. He glances over his shoulder as he rounds off into 300-399, and Patroclus is right on his heels, bearing down on him through the Social Sciences section. Troilus takes another sharp turn down another row and they are tearing through Language and Philosophy, running straight for the big window.

There’s a student seated in one of the bean bag chairs right in front of them. Beside her, another one is empty. She turns in her seat as the thundering footsteps draw nearer, and luck is really on Patroclus’s side, because lo and behold, it’s Briseis. Smirking, she pushes the other bean bag out with her foot, then turns back around to her homework. It’s right in Troilus’s path, and he’s running too fast to stop now.

He trips, sprawling to the ground at Briseis’s feet. Patroclus leaps atop him, pinning him to the ground with one arm across his chest. Troilus struggles for a moment, before sighing and admitting defeat, going limp beneath Patroclus.

“You’re dead,” Patroclus pants, an unfamiliar sense of satisfaction blooming in his chest. He never expected to actually kill anyone in this game. But suddenly he’s on top. Someone is out because he got them. It’s a whole lot of power that Patroclus isn’t used to wielding. Troilus glares at him with as much dignity as one pinned to the ground can muster.

“Who even are you?”

“That doesn’t matter,” Patroclus states, filled with the sort of confidence that only comes from victory over another. He gets to his feet and doesn’t bother to help Troilus up. “What matters is that you and your little Priamide friends won’t be back here again. Understood?” Troilus crosses his arms in defiance.

“You can’t-”

“This is our territory,” Patroclus growls. “And every single Priamide that steps foot in here will get the same welcome you did. Now who don’t you run and tell your big brothers that?” Troilus is only a freshman. Patroclus isn’t bigger than too many people, but he’s bigger than a fourteen-year-old. He looms over Troilus, ensconcing the kid in his shadow, and Troilus actually cowers. No one has ever cowered at Patroclus before. Suddenly, he isn’t entirely sure he likes this feeling.

Troilus nods, his head bobbing up and down jerkily, before he turns and bolts from the scene. Patroclus stands rooted to the spot, staring at the space Troilus used to occupy. His fists unclench at his sides, though he hadn’t been aware he’d ever clenched them. What he just did felt great, for a moment. When he had Troilus pinned to the ground, and the chase was over and his heart was pounding and he had won, he felt great. But then Troilus was scared of him, and suddenly he realized that he and Briseis had ganged up on a freshman, a kid two years younger than both of them. He had threatened a fourteen-year-old. The rush of victory is gone and all that’s left is guilt. He can’t get the image of Troilus’s wide eyes out of his head.

Behind him, Briseis stands up. “Wow,” She says. “Power is a new look for you.” He turns around, wondering how she can stand to look him in the face after what he just did.

“I’m not sure I like it.”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Achilles

Got Helenos. Also got detention after school for tackling a student in what turned out to be NOT an empty classroom.

 

Diomedes

AYYYY that is FUNKY FRESH Sunglasses EmojiSunglasses EmojiSunglasses Emoji okay so party to celebrate who’s hosting

 

Menelaus

Funky fresh?

 

Diomedes

did i not tell u we’re bringing back funky fresh Sunglasses Emoji

 

Automedon

I got Glaukos! And Patroclus got Troilus!

 

Diomedes

AYYYYYYY POPTROPICA 100 100 100 100    

 

Clytemnestra

Who the hell is Patroclus?

 

Diomedes

first of all POPTROPICA and he is my MAIN MAN Exclamation PointExclamation PointExclamation Point

 

Briseis

You know he’s reading this over my shoulder right

 

Diomedes

HEY POPTROPICA Waving Hand

 

Achilles

Hi Patroclus!

 

Ajax

Sup Poptropica

 

Briseis

He says hi

 

Diomedes

wait we need a new group chat with poptropica and my homie brodysseus

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Diomedes named the conversation “THE EXTREME MEME TEAM”.

Today 1:27 PM

 

Menelaus

Diomedes no we are not the extreme meme team

 

Diomedes

shut up memelaus

 

Menelaus

stOP CALLING ME THAT

 

Odysseus

Greetings, comrades! Many thanks for my admittance onto the so-called “extreme meme team”.

 

Penelope

Hi Odysseus winky face

 

Odysseus

Fair lady Penelope! Your beauty is such that even via cellular messaging I am dazzled.

 

Penelope

blushing face blushing face blushing face blushing face blushing face blushing face blushing face

Clytemnestra

Who is this guy??? Where was I when we were making new friends????

 

Diomedes

WAIT GUYS this is important. who is having a party on friday. there must be a party Confetti HornConfetti HornConfetti Horn.

 

Odysseus

I concur that our recent victories warrant revels!

 

Agamemnon

My place. We need to strategize.

 

Menelaus

Bro we can’t. Aerope’s still pissed about the vomit in grandpa’s ashes from last weekend.

 

Shorter Ajax

Lol tell Aerope I’m sorry. Actually wait no tell her the other Ajax is sorry

 

Ajax

eat a dick other other ajax

 

Diomedes

IDEA

 

Briseis

Oh god

 

Clytemnestra

^^^^^^

 

Diomedes

idominate u just got an outdoor fire pit right Smirk Smirk Smirk Smirk

 

Idomeneus

Ya why

 

Penelope

Oh no. Fire is never a good idea.

 

Diomedes

r u thinking wat im thinking

 

Idomeneus

Probably not

 

Diomedes

BONFIRE fire fire fire fire fire fire fire FIRE PARTY  fire fire fire fire fire fire fire  @idominate’s friday nite fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fireit will be FIRE pun intended fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire fire 

 

Patroclus

You guys just sent more texts in five minutes than I’ve received since I got my phone in seventh grade.

 

 

Chapter Text

The latest rumor is spreading around the bonfire faster than, well, fire. Agamemnon, who has been dating Clytemnestra since middle school, is hanging around the party with some cheerleader named Chryseis. And not only is she not his girlfriend of five years, she plays for the Priamides. The general consensus is that she’s harmless here, where the party is so packed that no one is more than ten feet away from anyone else, but everyone still disapproves.

“Isn’t he the one that always wants to strategize?” Achilles fumes, standing beside Patroclus. In the orange glow of the fire, he is even more beautiful than usual. “How is he supposed to do that with some Priamide rat hanging off his arm?”

“She’s not a rat,” Briseis admonishes. She seems distracted, continually searching the crowd for something. Or more likely, Patroclus thinks, someone. “For all we know, she really likes him.”

“We are talking about Agamemnon, right?” Achilles deadpans. “Nobody really likes Agamemnon.”

“That’s true,” Patroclus puts in.

“Okay, well, she’s my friend, so you have to be nice,” Briseis orders, then goes back to scanning the throngs of party goers.

“What’re you looking for, anyway?” Achilles demands, a hostile edge still present in his voice.

“Diomedes,” Patroclus teases. “Because she looooves him!” Briseis punches Patroclus in the arm.

“Shut up!” She squeals, then composes herself. “I just wanna make sure he hasn’t fallen in the fire.”

“Sure,” Patroclus scoffs. “Because you looooove him!”

“Shut up!”

Then, as if on cue, Diomedes comes rushing over. He looks positively giddy, cheeks flushed with excitement  and mouth stretched into an earsplitting grin. In his hand is a Red Solo cup, the contents of which he is definitely not old enough to drink. His bonfire idea was a huge success, and he’s the king of the party.

“Briseis!” He shouts, “Come on! We’re gonna pour expensive liquor in the fire!” Briseis fixes him with an unimpressed look.

“You know expensive liquor is flammable, right?”

“Duh, why else would we be pouring it in the fire?”

Briseis rolls her eyes, but her exasperated expression is fond. Diomedes grabs her hands, and she allows herself to be dragged off, not putting up the slightest bit of a fight. Patroclus is suddenly left alone with Achilles, which is admittedly not quite as scary as it was a week ago, but that’s not saying much. He wracks his brain for something to say, something to start a conversation, something funny yet interesting, something that isn’t horrifically embarrassing, and he’s so lost in thought it takes him a moment to realize Achilles has already spoken.

“What?” He asks. 

“I said he’s gonna die. Diomedes.”

“Oh. Yeah. He probably shouldn’t be allowed to drink near an open flame.”

“He shouldn’t be allowed to do anything near an open flame.”

They lapse into a moment of awkward silence. Patroclus bounces half-heartedly to the music booming from the house. Achilles chews his bottom lip between two perfect teeth. They look anywhere but at each other.

“Hey, do you want a drink?”

Patroclus is startled. Never, in all of his high school career, has he been offered a drink. He’s heard about it, in those “Don’t do drugs!” rants they have to sit through at school, where an innocent, naive freshman shows up to his first high school party and a drink is pressed into his hand, then the next thing he knows he’s waking up in someone’s basement naked and there are pictures and videos all over social media and he gets expelled and his life is over. But Patroclus has never been in the situation himself. And sure, he knows all about the dangers of underage drinking and peer pressure and overdose and blah blah blah, but this is so painful. There has to be something that’ll break the tension.

“Sure!”

Achilles leads him through the crowd, and Patroclus tries to calm his racing heart. Everyone around him has a Red Solo cup in hand. In fact, he and Achilles are among the only people that don’t appear to be drinking. He feels so stupid, freaking out like a middle schooler over his first drink at a party, but what if something goes horribly wrong and he wakes up naked in someone’s basement with pictures and videos all over social media?

But then Achilles’s hand reaches back and tangles Patroclus’s fingers in his. Maybe Achilles is trying to make sure Patroclus doesn’t get lost in the crowd, but he doesn’t care. Achilles is holding his hand. Any and all other thoughts fly from his mind as he focuses solely on the feeling of Achilles’s fingers interlocked with his, calloused and warm.

They make it out of the crush of people and into the house, but Achilles does not let go of his hand. Patroclus is terrified to bring it up. The moment is perfect but it’s made of glass, and words could shatter it. Achilles pours something into a cup and hands it to Patroclus, who accepts it without question. He takes a sip.

Then promptly spits it out all over Achilles.

“This tastes like piss!” He exclaims. Achilles laughs, not appearing at all phased that he’s just been covered in Patroclus’s spit and whatever vile solution was in the cup. “Shit, when you asked if I wanted a drink, I wasn’t expecting lighter fluid.”

“Yeah, I don’t really like it either,” Achilles admits. “But sometimes these things get boring and-” All of the sudden, Diomedes streaks past the door, wearing nothing but his underwear and screaming, arms thrown up in the air. “I want to feel like him,” Achilles finishes. Patroclus thinks it must be exhausting to be Diomedes 24/7, but right about now, he looks like he’s having a blast. He attempts another sip from his Red Solo cup. It goes down a little easier this time.

“You wanna go throw things in the fire?” Patroclus suggests.

“Can I throw Agamemnon?” Achilles replies, and Patroclus isn’t 100% sure he’s joking. Achilles has always had a violent streak.

“Maybe not the best idea. But I’d be interested in finding Diomedes’s clothes...” Patroclus trails off, raising his eyebrows mischievously. Achilles gasps.

“You’re brilliant,” He marvels. “C’mon!”

Things get a little blurry after that.

Patroclus doesn’t actually drink that much. Maybe two cups, total. But he’s never had anything to drink before, and he’s pretty small, and Red Solo cups hold more than one serving of beer per cup, or so he’s been told at those drug and alcohol seminars at school.  All of these factors combine to mean Patroclus is just a little bit more than tipsy by the end of the night.

It’s weird. It’s fast and a little fuzzy and a whole lot funnier than before. But it’s not entirely better. There are parts of it that are and parts of it that aren’t. He’s glad he had the courage to reach out and grab Achilles’s hand while they were standing in the glow of Diomedes clothes going up in flames, but he wishes he’d been a little more aware when it was happening.

By around three in the morning, the party is winding down. It’s just Patroclus and his new group of friends that are left, gathered around the fire in a circle, cheesy as can be. Chryseis is gone and Clytemnestra is back under Agamemnon’s arm, but her arms are crossed in anger and she keeps glaring at him whenever he looks away. Brisies is proudly seated in Diomedes’s lap, his arms wrapped around her waist. Menelaus has Helen by his side, but the word is that tomorrow night she’ll be out with Paris at a Priamide party. Beside them are Penelope and Odysseus, constantly stealing shy, furtive glances at each other.  They have left an awkward space in between themselves, neither being brave enough to scoot closer and fill it. The singles, Ajax, Shorter Ajax, and Idomeneus, sit in a row, appearing painfully aware they’re the only people without partners. Patroclus, for his part, is seated next to Achilles, who has his arm thrown over Patroclus’s shoulders. Normally he would be freaking out, tense and uncomfortable and agonizing over what it means, but right now Patroclus just feels warm.

“Okay, okay, okay, Ajax. Truth or dare?” Diomedes asks. Ajax deliberates for a moment.

“Truth,” He finally decides.

"Any hidden talents?”

Ajax bites his lips, carefully avoiding everyone’s gaze, like he definitely has an answer he doesn’t want to share. A chorus of “Come on!” and “What?” emits from the group as everyone goads him into revealing it.

“Okay, fine!” He relents, then hesitates for a moment, sighing in resignation. “I...can do the whole rap from Wannabe by the Spice Girls.”

There is collective gasp from the group. Patroclus shares a glance with Achilles, whose mouth has dropped open in delighted surprise. Briseis’s hands are clapped to her mouth in shock. Everyone is frozen. No one knows quite what to say.

Except Diomedes.

“Do it!” He insists. The rest of the group is instantly in support of this.

“Yeah!”

“Come on!”

“Let’s hear it!”

Ajax steadfastly refuses, but the group continues wheedling and cajoling until he stands up with a grand, “Alright, alright!”, hands held up in surrender. An enormous cheer exudes from the circle of teens around the fire.  

“So here's a story from A to Z, you wanna get with me, you gotta listen carefully,” Ajax raps, complete with dance moves. Shorter Ajax begins beatboxing to back him up.

“This is the best moment of my life,” Achilles whispers in awe.

I’m at a party with Achilles Pelides, who has his arm around me, and Ajax Telamonides is rapping the Spice Girls, Patroclus thinks. This is a weird dream.

“We got Em in the place who likes it in your face...” Ajax continues. Across the circle, Diomedes is laughing so hard Briseis is bouncing in his lap. Menelaus has his phone out and is filming the whole scene.

“Pinch me,” Patroclus says. Achilles turns to him with raised eyebrows. “This has to be a dream,” He explains. Achilles nods and complies, pinching Patroclus on the arm. Nothing changes. “No way,” Patroclus breathes. Achilles laughs.

“Slam your body down and wind it all around. Everybody!”

“SLAM YOUR BODY DOWN AND WIND IT ALL AROUND!”

Ajax takes a grand, sweeping bow as the circle whoops and cheers for him. Up until this point, Patroclus had gathered that Ajax is a stoic, stony-faced individual who isn’t willing to humiliate himself. Now, however, he appears almost as goofy as Diomedes. Shorter Ajax slaps him on the back while Diomedes announces that Ajax’s performance was the highlight of his life. Even Agamemnon is smiling.

Patroclus suddenly sees the people around him for real. He had thought of their world as cutthroat, each forever trying to outdo the others as they constantly vied for power. He had assumed their friendship was more of an alliance of the most powerful than a real brotherhood. He had seen it as a strictly political union. One thing he had never expected to find was actual companionship. But he had been wrong. There is mutual affection here. They’re friends, they know each other well, and they’re comfortable around one another. Comfortable enough to embarrass themselves in front of each other without worrying about being mocked. Patroclus isn’t sure if he ever felt that with his ragtag bunch of geeks.

The game continues around the circle. Ajax dares Idomeneus to take off his underwear and throw them in the fire. Idomeneus dares Menelaus to drop an ice cube down his pants. Menelaus dares Shorter Ajax to switch clothes with Big Ajax. Shorter Ajax dares Diomedes to kiss Briseis. A cry of protest and disappointment goes up when he simply pecks her on the cheek.

“She’s a lady!” He defends himself. “She deserves to be kissed on her front step after a fancy dinner and dancing, not on a dare.” Briseis claps her hands over her mouth, awwwing at his perfect response. They share a sickeningly sweet moment, smiling and staring into each other’s eyes, before Diomedes breaks it. “Achilles, truth or dare?”

“Dare,” Achilles answers instantly, without a moment of hesitation.

Diomedes looks from Achilles, with his arm slung over Patroclus, to Patroclus, and then back to Achilles. A mischievous grin spreads slowly across his face. Then, after his big speech about only kissing someone after a real, romantic date and not on a dare, he says, “Kiss Patroclus.”

Patroclus freezes. Achilles’s arm, which had been so relaxed atop Patroclus’s shoulders, suddenly tenses. They both stare pointedly anywhere but at each other. Then Achilles turns to Patroclus, eyebrows raised in a question, and shrugs. I’ll do it if you will.

This is what Patroclus has wanted since middle school, isn’t it? To be kissed by the great Achilles Pelides. Except it isn’t, because this is a dare, they’ve both been drinking, and eleven people Patroclus doesn’t really know are watching. This is not how this moment is supposed to go. And he can’t take it. Can’t take for his first kiss with Achilles, first kiss ever, to be like this. In all the visions he's had of this moment, Achilles has kissed him because he wants to, alcohol has not been emboldening their actions, and Odysseus has never been present. That’s what he wants. He wants it to be real.

He stands abruptly, letting Achilles’s arm drop unceremoniously from his shoulders. The circle goes silent. Everyone is staring at him.

“No,” He says. Achilles’ eyebrows knit together, forming a frown in his forehead. “I...I can’t - This isn’t....I’m sorry, I just have to go. I have a curfew, I forgot.” Achilles stares up at him like a kicked puppy. He’s probably never been rejected in his entire life. Patroclus can’t stand to look in his eyes, so he quickly departs from the scene.

Behind him, he hears Diomedes protest as Briseis gets up from her perch on his lap. “He’s my ride home,” She whispers apologetically. Patroclus hears her running after him but doesn’t slow his pace, making as fast as he can for his car without breaking into a sprint. Running away would deal an unnecessary blow to both his and Achilles’s pride that might just prove fatal.

He stops and waits for her at his car, leaning against the roof with his back to the party. He doesn’t move until he feels a small, gentle hand on his shoulder.

“Patroclus,” Briseis says.

“What?” He snaps. She doesn’t flinch at his tone, just fixes him with judgemental eyes that instantly fill him with guilt. “Sorry,” He mutters.

“That’s what I thought,” She replies. “So what was that?”

“I don’t know, Briseis.”

“Don’t bullshit me.”

“I’m not - Look, can we just go home?”

He rifles through his pockets for his keys, but once he finds them, Briseis snatches them out of his hand.

“Have you been drinking?” She demands. It takes Patroclus a moment to process what she means. When he gets it, he groans, head tipping back, then pounds a fist against the roof of the car in frustration. This is just what tonight needed.

“Fuck,” He hisses. “Yeah. Have you?” She gives him a deadpan look.

“I was with Diomedes all night.”

“So that’s a yes. Shit.”

“Chill, we’ll be fine. I’ll ask Achilles to give us a ride.”

He stares at her for a moment, unblinking, wondering if she’s joking. It becomes apparent that she is not. So she really has been drinking.

“Did you - Were you not just - We can’t - What?” He splutters.

“Oh, right, earth-shatteringly awkward dare refusal that just occurred. Okay. So we’ll walk.”

“We’ll walk?”

“Got a better idea?”

“Looks like we’re walking.”

Patroclus shoves his hands into his pockets, and they begin the trek back home. It’s a long walk; Idomeneus lives all the way in Crete, a neighborhood in the southernmost part of town, and to get back to Phthia, Patroclus and Briseis’s neighborhood, they have to pass through Troy, home of the Priamides. Plus it’s cold and dark and they’ve been up since school that morning, entirely too tired to be walking home. Not to mention Patroclus is starting to feel a bit dizzy and sick, but that may be more due to the mortification he’s just endured than the alcohol.

“We left your car,” Briseis says suddenly.

“What?”

"Your car,” She repeats. “We just...” She starts giggling a little bit. “We just left it there.”

“I’ll get it in the morning,” Patroclus grumbles. He is past the stage where everything is funny. He hadn’t had that much to drink to begin with, and having everything you’ve ever dreamed of offered to you and then refusing it is a somewhat sobering experience.

Briseis falls silent at Patroclus’s less than amused response, her giggles ceasing instantly. They walk in silence a while longer.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” She informs him, breaking the silence. Patroclus sighs sharply. Usually he appreciates that he can always rely on Briseis to call him out on his bullshit, but right now he doesn’t want to hear it.

“What should I have done, Briseis?” He demands. She shrugs.

 “Not that.”

He kicks angrily at the ground, sending fallen leaves scattering. She’s not being fair. She doesn’t understand. Diomedes got dared to kiss her and didn’t do it, because he understood that that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Briseis didn’t have to reject him. But Patroclus had to reject Achilles. And Briseis can’t judge him on that because she doesn’t understand.

“Then make me understand, Patroclus.”

Patroclus starts. He must’ve said some of that out loud.

“It wouldn’t have been right,” He attempts to explain. “I mean, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted, except it wouldn’t have been anything it was supposed to be. I...I just didn’t want my first kiss ever to be on a dare.”

“Well, you should’ve said that,” Briseis shoots back, “he would’ve understood. You shouldn’t’ve just ran out. You really hurt his feelings.” Patroclus scoffs.

“He’s Achilles Pelides, he’ll be fine.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what it means! He’s practically a god! Everyone loves him! He’s...he’s invincible!”

“That’s not true. You know that’s not true.”

“No, actually, I don’t.”

Briseis doesn’t usually get mad. When she does, she keeps her cool remarkably well. But Patroclus can tell he’s winding her up. Every answer he gives her seems to be wrong, and deep down he knows how and why, but he’s being stubborn and won’t admit it.

“God dammit, Patroclus!” She exclaims. “I’m so sick of this ridiculous idea you have that Achilles is some flawless, golden, untouchable god that you can only admire from afar. It’s not like that! Achilles is a stupid boy, just like you, and he likes you, Patroclus, just as much as you like him! But what you just did was really humiliating for him, not to mention really hurtful. So no, he’s not going to be fine, he’s probably really upset and if I were him I wouldn’t want to talk to you ever again!”

It is more than Patroclus can comprehend. The idea of Achilles as a living, breathing human being with feelings that he; skinny, weak Patroclus; has the power to hurt is beyond his grasp. Achilles is not that vulnerable. Of course he’ll be fine, nothing hurts him.

“But-,” Patroclus splutters, suddenly unable to put his thoughts into words. “But he’s Achilles!” Briseis lets out a short, frustrated scream, spinning in a circle and throwing her head back.

“So what?! He’s human! Why is that so hard for you to understand?!”

“Hey!”

The sharp cry cuts through the cold air like fire blazing through a forest. Briseis and Patroclus whirl around. Patroclus is only vaguely able to make out a shape in the distance, but it appears to be drawing closer. Quickly, actually. Whoever it is is running.

“Patroclus,” Briseis breathes, voice wavering, “where are we?” Patroclus looks around, taking in his surroundings. His eyes light on a street sign, and his blood runs cold.

“Troy Boulevard,” He reads.

“Shit,” Briseis hisses.

Upon drawing nearer, the figure splits into two, both advancing on Briseis and Patroclus with startling speed. One tall and slim, the other shorter and broader. He doesn’t even need to see them to recognize Hector and Paris Priamides.

“Run!”

They sprint, tearing down the sidewalk as fast as their legs will carry them. The footsteps behind them become louder as their pursuers gain ground, but Patroclus doesn’t dare to look back. Elegant houses and perfectly curated front lawns are a blur as they charge through the neighborhood. A few lights in windows flick on, residents peering out to see what could be happening at such an hour.

“This...,” Briseis pants, “is all...your fault.”  

“My fault?” He cries, equally out of breath, “How is it my fault?”

“It just is!”

Patroclus does not reply, deciding to save his breath. He is in no way an athlete, and this short sprint already has his lungs heaving. Briseis, conditioned from years of gymnastics and cheerleading, is faring only slightly better. Patroclus dares to glance over his shoulder and sees Hector has pulled ahead of Paris and is showing no signs of tiring. He’s almost as fast as Achilles and is right on their heels as they hurtle around a corner.

“Paris!” Hector shouts sharply, his voice betraying no signs of fatigue.

“I’m right behind you!” Paris calls, from some distance behind. He, by contrast, is panting nearly as heavily as Patroclus. His reputation as nothing more than a pretty boy with little athletic (or any kind of) skill is proving true.

And then Briseis trips. An uneven block of sidewalk sends her sprawling to the ground with a surprised cry, and Patroclus can hear her skin scraping painfully against the cement. She makes no move to get up, instead emitting a pained groan that awakens some long-dormant, protective, manly instinct within Patroclus.

He has had enough. It has been a long, rough day. He has been up since 6:30 that morning and every moment since has been a roller coaster ride of dizzying, exhausting ups and downs. For every thing that has gone right, seven things have gone wrong. He’s screwed things up with Achilles, gotten in a fight with Briseis, and is now being chased to his nonliteral death by Hector Priamides, who really should pick on someone his own size. As Hector moves in to make his kill, Patroclus winds up, focusing all his pent up anger and frustration from the day on this one moment, and strikes Hector hard across the face.

It probably hurts Patroclus more than it does Hector.

Hector’s chiseled jaw is as hard as the marble it appears to be carved from.  Patroclus can practically hear his knuckles cracking. The blow does not seem to wound Hector so much as it stuns him, and while he recovers quickly, he stands rooted to the spot in shock. He obviously hadn’t expected to be punched in the face by some shrimpy dweeb he’s never even seen in his life.

Patroclus takes advantage of his surprise and yanks Briseis to her feet with a cry of, “C’mon!” She scrambles up gracelessly and they take off down the sidewalk.

“Dude, did you just get punched by Skindiana Bones?” Paris smirks, finally having caught up with his brother.

“Shut up,” Hector grumbles.

Not a moment later Patroclus hears footsteps behind him as Hector resumes his pursuit. Paris, apparently, has given up the chase in favor of laughing at his brother’s misfortune. Suddenly, a pair of headlights comes speeding down the drive, blinding Patroclus, whose eyes had become accustomed to the darkness. Tires screeching, the car skids to a stop in front of Briseis and Patroclus so suddenly they run into it. The window rolls down.

“Get in the car,” The driver orders. Patroclus’s eyes adjust, and he can’t believe what he’s seeing.

“Menelaus?” He and Briseis ask in incredulous unison.

“Get in the fucking car!” He repeats with increased urgency, looking just over Patroclus’s shoulder at the Priamide drawing nearer every second. Without wasting another moment, Patroclus yanks the door to the backseat open, first pushing Briseis in and then clambering after her. He slams the door shut after him as soon as all his extremities aren’t in danger of being smashed, and Menelaus stomps on the gas, sending them screeching out of Troy.

“Wait,” Briseis gasps, breathless from the chase, “haven’t you been drinking?” At this point, Patroclus barely even cares if he has.

“Designated driver,” Menelaus replies, by way of an explanation. “The price of making the whole school go to war over your girlfriend. You guys live in Phthia, right?”

“Yeah,” Patroclus pants. “Thanks for coming after us.”

“Yeah, well,” Menelaus says, “Diomedes was worried about you having to walk through Troy to get home.” Briseis suddenly gasps, clapping her hands to her heart, for reasons Patroclus thinks are completely unrelated to the four-blocks she just sprinted.

“Me?” She asks incredulously.

“No, Bri, he was worried about Poptropica,” Menelaus snarks sarcastically.

“Hey! He likes me too,” Patroclus defends himself. “And don’t call me that, Memelaus.”

“I swear to god I’ll turn around and push you out of my car on Hector’s doorstep,” Menelaus threatens. Patroclus shuts up. Silence consumes the car for a moment, the only sound being Briseis and Patroclus’s panting and the squeak of Menelaus’s steering wheel. Briefly, Patroclus wonders why Menelaus, who is so incredibly rich, has such a shitty car, but he’s too busy trying to regain his breath to ask about it.

“So,” Briseis says, once she’s breathing normally again. “You punched Hector Priamides.”

“Poptropica did what?”

A strange sense of pride blooms in Patroclus’s chest. Sure, it hadn’t been a good punch, but it had done the trick. All things considered, he’d sort of saved the day. Besides, how many people get to say they’ve punched Hector Priamides?

“I punched Hector,” Patroclus says simply, like it’s no big deal. It totally is, though.

“Dude!” Menelaus cheers, “That’s insane!”

“It kind of is,” Patroclus admits smugly, shrugging. Briseis punches his shoulder.

“Don’t get cocky,” She admonishes, “I’m sure you’re a lot more hurt than he is.”

“Oh yeah, dude, how fucked is your hand?”

Patroclus hadn’t really thought about it, but now that the adrenaline is wearing off, it’s starting to throb a little. His knuckles haven’t bruised yet, but they’ll be purple by tomorrow morning. (Although, it’s already 4:00 AM, so...later today morning.) Briseis instructs him to make a fist, and he finds he can barely curl his fingers without spasms of pain shooting through his whole hand.

Menelaus sighs. “I’ll take you to Patient First.” Patroclus tries to protest, but he’s instantly shut down by Briseis insisting he needs an X-Ray. Menelaus turns the car onto the highway, and Patroclus tries to distract himself from the now searing pain in his hand.

A little more than an hour later, Patroclus is creeping into his house with a bandage around his right hand (Not broken, just sprained.), and a bottle of painkillers in his left. He wonders if maybe he should tiptoe, or something, but the odds that Menoetius would care are very low. Patroclus has never been punished in his entire life, unless you count the general distaste with which Menoetius has viewed Patroclus pretty much since his birth.

He takes no great care to be quiet as he clumps up the stairs, footsteps falling heavy with exhaustion. Part of him is daring Menoetius to appear and take some interest in his son’s life. But of course, the house is still, as it always is. Droopy and dim and still, as if Patroclus lives there alone. He reaches his bedroom and yanks the door open, not caring in the least when it creaks noisily, then slams it shut behind him. Nothing.

Oh, well. At this point, he hardly has it in him to care. Not bothering to change out of his clothes, he collapses on the bed atop the covers. It is nearing five in the morning, and it has been a long, long day. He does not have the energy to hate his father right now. Hand throbbing rhythmically, almost perfectly in time with his heart, Patroclus falls asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Patroclus wakes in the morning to a steady ache in his head, but that doesn’t even begin to compare to the throbbing, excruciating pain in his hand. Punching Hector, which had seemed like such a good idea at the time, is steadily climbing up his list of regrets. Currently, it’s right under “I have a lot of nintendogs” and right above not kissing Achilles when he had the chance. 

He pops one of the pills the doctor gave him last night and stumbles down the stairs, cradling his injured appendage close to his chest. With his dominant hand incapacitated, he finds the most complicated dish he can prepare for breakfast is cereal, and even that ends messily. More of the Rice Krispies end up on the floor than in the bowl. He tries in vain to turn on the TV but finds he can’t operate the remote with just one hand. Overall, it’s not even noon, and it’s already been a long day. 

Menoetius clumps down the stairs as Patroclus is clumsily attempting to eat cereal with his non-dominant hand. He barely glances at his son, instead heading straight for the fridge and rooting through for something to eat. Patroclus usually makes breakfast in the morning before he goes to school and leaves the remains in the fridge for his father. (It is the closest they come to actually interacting these days.) Even on weekends, he wakes up early enough to have breakfast waiting for Menoetius in the fridge. But today, Patroclus could barely manage cereal. Upon finding nothing, Menoetius turns to face his son, finally noticing the bandage. His movement is lethargic and automatic, like he's running on autopilot. 

“The hell happened to your hand?” He demands gruffly. 

“Punched someone,” Patroclus replies, short and impersonal. Menoetius snorts audibly. 

“Yeah, sure,” He scoffs. In his mind, Patroclus is a pathetic weakling who can’t punch a pillow without shattering his phalanges. “Who’d ya punch?” His tone is sarcastic, like he just wants to hear what outlandish tale Patroclus will come up with so he can laugh at it.

 “Hector Priamides.” Patroclus stares his father straight in the eyes, something he rarely does. There is not much there. They are mostly dull, empty orbs, gazing out from deep within his skull like they aren’t really taking in anything. They’ve been staring at the same dirty walls for sixteen years, now. Maybe they’ve just given up.

At Patroclus’s answer, Menoetius lets out a sharp bark of laughter. It is a wholly unpleasant sound, one that Patroclus is not used to hearing. It sounds creaky and out-of-use, scraping against his throat like it doesn’t quite know how to get out. Patroclus stiffens at the noise, shocked at the sudden outburst from his normally sullen, emotionless father.

“You’re a fucking liar,” He says simply. It hardly seems like an accusation when it sounds so matter-of-fact. This isn’t something Patroclus can deny, it’s just the truth. He’s a liar. 

At least I’m not a deadbeat, Patroclus thinks, but he won’t say it.

Menoetius grabs a newspaper and takes it to the sofa. It isn’t today’s, it’s one of the many old ones stacked up on the kitchen table. But Menoetius will read it again, likely without noticing he’s already read it. Patroclus would pity the maddening routine that Menoetius’ life has fallen into, had he not made himself so distinctly undeserving of his son’s pity.

 “You stay outta my way today, alright?” Menoetius orders. Not because he has any grand plans to do something so important and meticulous that any tiny distraction could ruin it, but because he does not like to remember he has a son while he’s spending his days folded into the couch, beer and old newspaper in hand, just trying to wait out his life. “Do your homework, or something.”

“Actually,” Patroclus says, in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to gain his father’s attention, “I think I’ll climb through the chimney up onto the roof and hurl myself off.”

Menoetius does not say a word. 

“Maybe I’ll set the house on fire,” Patroclus continues, volume growing. “Or flood it. Or maybe I’ll smash all the windows. Or I could take off all my clothes and run screaming through the street!” He sounds borderline hysterical now. “I’ve been thinking of concocting noxious gases in the bathroom. Or, you know, I’ve always wanted to commit arson.” When did he get to his feet and start walking towards his father? “I could throw all the furniture out the attic window. Or maybe I’ll go skinny dipping in the water tower!”  Were he standing on the other side of the couch, he might have seen the vein popping in his father’s neck. “I think I’ll drive your car into the power plant. Or I’ll-” 

“Enough!” Menoetius bellows suddenly, shooting to his feet. “Quit being a fucking smartmouth, Patroclus, do you have shit for brains? Get the hell upstairs!”

For a moment, Patroclus stands rooted to the spot, dumbfounded. He has played this game again and again with his father. He has stood behind the couch, shouting and carrying on and gesticulating wildly, while his father sits in the depression he has left in the sofa and ignores him, countless times before. This has never happened. Menoetius has never before risen to the bait and turned on his son, directing actual attention at him. The straw has finally broken the camel’s back. So what happens now?

He walks slowly out of the kitchen. Once he’s reached the hallway, out of sight of his father, he bolts up the stairs and into the safety of his bedroom. He feels dizzy as he collapses atop his bed. He is reeling, head swimming, heart pounding. Maybe it’s just the medicine.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

The rest of the weekend passes in a sleepy, blurry, medicinally-induced haze. Patroclus receives radio silence from the “extreme meme team” group chat, meaning the aftermath of his exit from the party remains unknown. He would care a lot more if he hadn’t had probably a few too many pills. He remains in his room for the duration of Saturday and Sunday. The rest of the house seems to disappear from his awareness, as if nothing exists past the four dark blue walls of his bedroom.

Briseis comes Saturday morning, just after his argument with his father. She is standing in the doorway, with extra large Band-Aids on both of her knees and a matching set on her elbows. From her fall, he realizes, racing down the sidewalk of Troy Boulevard to escape Hector and Paris.

“You look like shit,” She observes. He probably does, considering he’s combining a mild hangover with a broken hand and pain meds. As he takes her in, bandages and all, a slurred laugh bubbles up in his throat.

 “You look like you’re learning to roller skate,” He rebukes. She rolls her eyes and approaches the bed, sitting down and plucking the bottle of pills from the bedside table.

“How many of these have you had?”

“Three.”

“How many were you supposed to have?”

“...Not three.”

 She lets out an exasperated sigh of laughter, ruffling his hair.

 “You’re a mess,” She informs him. He groans in reply. “I came to take you to get your car, but I don’t think you should be driving.” He tries to push himself up into a sitting position, then collapses when his right hand gives out under him. She raises her eyebrows in amusement at his pathetic attempt.

“I’m fine,” He says.

 “Yeah,” She replies, “sure. Where are your keys?” He gestures to the sweatshirt hanging off his desk chair. As she crosses the room and fishes them out of his pocket, it occurs to him that she needs to bring a second person to drive his car back, unless she plans to leave her own car there. And then he remembers that Briseis doesn’t even have her own car, that’s why he’s been driving her to school all year.

“Wait, how are you gonna get there?” He asks. “And how are you gonna get my car back?”

“Diomedes’ll drive me,” She answers simply. She probably hasn’t even asked him yet, but it’s a given that Diomedes will do whatever Briseis tells him to. Patroclus nods and lies back down. 

“Don’t make out in my car!” He yells after her as she slips out of the room. She’s gone before it occurs to him that he’s been trying so hard to keep her out of his house so she won’t see what a disaster it’s become, and now she’s been in and out twice. But then he remembers. Nothing exists beyond the four dark blue walls of his bedroom.

 

Chapter Text

Diomedes named the conversation “the infected masses Surgical mask emoji”.

Today, 8:17 AM

Menelaus

diomedes u think ur funny im literally dying



~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Something is decidedly off at school on Monday morning. Patroclus isn’t quite sure what is is. No one is getting beat up in the hallway, so there can’t be some new scandal sweeping the student body that he hasn’t heard about yet. No one is holding hands with anyone that wasn’t last week, so no new couples have emerged for everyone to gossip about. And as far as he knows, everyone who was alive last friday is still alive, so that’s not it either.

Less people, he realizes, upon entering the library. Last Monday, Patroclus, Achilles, and Automedon claimed it for Menelaus’s team, and over the course of the succeeding four days, it steadily emptied of rich kids and filled with jocks. By now it has become the unofficial hangout of the Atride team, and usually, during a first period free, it’s teeming with kids in varsity jackets who before now were unaware Ilium High had a library. But today it’s comparatively empty, with just a handful of students sprawled in beanbags and hunched over homework. Patroclus spots a familiar sweater-vest at a table near the back corner and makes his way over to Odysseus for answers.

“Hey,” He whispers, “where is everyone? And what’s up with the group chat?” He fishes his phone from his pocket and holds it in Odysseus’s view, displaying “the infected masses” to illustrate his point. Odysseus raises his eyebrows.

“Now Patroclus,” He begins, in a decidedly condescending tone, “I understand you’ve had a trying few days, but I believe it within your intellectual power to connect point A to point B.”

“What?” Patroclus demands, exasperated. Odysseus sighs.

“The infected masses,” He says, as if he’s explaining basic addition to a very, very dumb three-year-old, “refers to the previously dubbed ‘extreme meme team’. Our numbers have seen a sharp decline due to pestilence.”

Patroclus pauses, attempting to translate Odysseus’s explanation. “So everyone’s out sick?”

“Precisely,” Odysseus confirms, “I conjecture the culprit to be mononucleosis.”

“Mono...the kissing disease?”

“Patroclus, what exactly do you presume people do at such social gatherings as the bonfire last Friday evening?”

Patroclus sits down in the plastic chair beside Odysseus, mouth hanging slightly open, trying to put together the pieces Odysseus has handed him. Almost all of their team has mono, a disease spread through kissing, which is apparently all Odysseus thinks people do at parties.

“So you think someone was carrying mono at the party, and it got spread around by kissing to this many people?”

“That is my hypothesis, yes,” Odysseus confirms. It doesn’t quite all add up for Patroclus. For starters, how would someone show up at a party with mono without anyone noticing something was wrong? He voices this concern to Odysseus, but apparently the detective has already taken it into account. “Once one has contracted and dispelled mononucleosis, it is possible to carry the disease again without exhibiting or experiencing symptoms, and circulate it all the same amongst the uninfected.”

“Okay,” Patroclus says, “but how could this many people have gotten it? There’s no way one person could’ve made out with all the people at the party.” Odysseus shrugs.

“Mononucleosis is transmitted through means other than kissing,” He explains. “Any direct contact with infected saliva can circulate the disease.” Patroclus thinks back to the party. People were picking up the wrong cup, sharing lip gloss, getting dared to lick stuff (including other people), and of course, making out. Lots of making out. Suddenly, Odysseus leans closer to Patroclus and lowers his voice beyond the standard library-whisper, as though he’s telling a great secret. “I have a suspicion,” He says, “that this calamity our company now faces was not entirely fortuitous.”

“You mean someone was planted at the party to give people mono?”

“Affirmative,” Odysseus replies, nodding. “And I have formulated a theory as to the identity of our culprit.” As usual, he stops just short of giving Patroclus the relevant information, waiting to be begged to reveal it. Patroclus sighs in resignation.

“Who?”

“Why, our favorite little Priamide rat, of course. Chryseis.”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Patroclus

Are you busy?

 

Briseis

I’m in physics.

 

Patroclus

So that’s a no.

 

Briseis

What’s up?

 

Patroclus

You’re friends with Chryseis right?

 

Briseis

Yeah...

 

Patroclus

So you wouldn’t happen to know if she’s ever had mono before, would you?

 

Briseis

Why?

 

Patroclus

Odysseus thinks she was planted at the party to give our team mono, but that can only work if she’s had it before, because otherwise she wouldn’t be able to carry it without actually having it herself.

 

Briseis

Tell Odysseus he’s a genius. I’ll do some digging.

 

Patroclus

He knows. And thanks.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

With the Mono Mystery now on it’s way to being solved, Patroclus turns his attention to the other glaring anomaly in his life he needs to remedy. He won’t see Achilles until second period ancient history, but that’s a good a time as any to talk to him, since jocks don’t really like to pay attention in class. So he’ll plant himself in one of the seats in the back and wait for Mr. Herodotus to hand out a worksheet and stop caring, as often happens with high school teachers.

He waits out first period in the library with Odysseus, who, upon closer inspection, is not doing homework at all, but rather hacking into the school’s server to raise people’s GPAs. (He charges for this.) Patroclus attempts to focus on an English essay due next week he hasn’t even started, but he finds it difficult to focus on the lives of fictional characters when his own is so massively screwed up.

He runs through possible apologies in his head. I’m sorry I didn’t want to kiss you. No, that won’t work, because it’s not that Patroclus didn’t want to kiss Achilles. He had wanted to, so badly. I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you, I really did want to. Okay, but that doesn’t make any sense, and Achilles will think Patroclus is lying to spare his feelings, which will just make him feel patronized. I’m sorry I didn’t kiss you, it’s just that it wouldn’t have been what I wanted it to be. Oh no, definitely not. Achilles will want to know what exactly Patroclus wanted it to be, and then he’ll have to confess that he’s pictured and perfected this moment a thousand times in his head, which is Odysseus-level creepy.

Patroclus has hit a dead end. He’s at the point where he’s about to ask Odysseus for help, which is saying something, since Odysseus isn’t the best at handling delicate situations. Or human emotions. Or...humans. But then the bell rings, and his next class is ancient history. With Achilles. He so does not want to go. He does not want to have the conversation he knows he has to have. He wants to hide here at this table in the back corner of the library for the rest of his life. But the people around him are packing up their things, clipping worksheets into binders and sliding binders into backpacks and swinging backpacks onto shoulders, as if they’re entirely unaware that time needs to freeze right now before Patroclus has to face Achilles.

“Onward, comrade,” Odysseus declares, yanking Patroclus to his feet. Groaning, Patroclus follows him out of the library and into the hallway, where they no longer have to keep a low profile for fear of being shoved inside a locker.

“Odysseus!”

Patroclus looks up to see Nestor weaving through the crowded corridor. For every three steps he manages to make, the throngs of people knock him back two, but eventually he fights his way over to Patroclus and Odysseus. Patroclus realizes suddenly that he hasn’t seen Nestor in over a week. Someone he used to sit with every day at lunch has been completely absent from his life and he hadn’t even noticed.

“Nestor!” Odysseus greets, “It seems like weeks since last I saw you, my friend.”

“It has been weeks,” Nestor grinds out. Patroclus notices now that Nestor is  glaring at the two of them. Is he mad about being abandoned? Patroclus hadn’t even thought about how Nestor must’ve felt when Cassandra ditched him for the Priamides and Patroclus and Odysseus traded up and joined the jocks.

“Ah, well, my sincerest apologies. In retrospect, my days have indeed not seemed quite full. I realize now it was your presence they were lacking,” Odysseus attempts to sweet-talk his way back onto Nestor’s good side. Nestor rolls his eyes, obviously not buying it.

“Yeah, well, I just wanted to let you know I’m not playing,” He informs them. Patroclus, who hadn’t really been all that interested in a conversation that was primarily between Nestor and Odysseus, suddenly snaps to attention.

“Are you insane?” He demands. The whole school is playing. Opting out of the game is social suicide, almost more so than playing and getting killed.

“I’m too old for this,” He explains, with an air of superiority. “All of the seniors think it’s juvenile. Including me.  So I’m not playing.”

It suddenly occurs to Patroclus that he doesn’t actually know any seniors. He, Achilles, Briseis, Menelaus, Helen, Diomedes, and Ajax are sophomores, Agamemnon, Shorter Ajax, Odysseus, Clytemnestra, Idomeneus, and Penelope, and juniors, and Automedon’s a freshman. Nestor is the only senior Patroclus has ever really encountered. So it’s entirely possible that none of them are playing.   

“Nestor,” Odysseus begins, “I assure you, the game is anything but juvenile. I came up with it.”

“Not helping,” Patroclus mutters to Odysseus, out of the corner of his mouth.

“Look, I’m not playing, okay? I’m enough of an outcast as it is,” Nestor states with finality, slumping dejectedly against some nearby lockers. Odysseus moves to stand at his side and places a hand on his shoulder.

“If you are truly decided thus, then I cannot persuade you otherwise, dear friend,” He begins. “But I can, perhaps, offer you a compromise.” Nestor looks up at Odysseus with raised eyebrows, prompting him to go on. “While it seems we must be deprived of your skills as a participant, we may still benefit from your knowledge and experience as a senior here at Ilium High. Your mentoring and advice would be invaluable to our team.” Nestor knits his brow, considering this.

“Yeah,” He finally says. “Yeah, that would be good. I actually have some ideas-”

“Excellent,” Odysseus cuts him off, “and I look forward to hearing them in full at a later date. Presently, I’m afraid, we have but three minutes until lessons commence.” With that, Odysseus departs, Patroclus following after him. Nestor, seemingly satisfied, goes on his way with a content grin on his face.

“I didn’t know you had that in you,” Patroclus comments. Odysseus gives him a questioning look. “You know, what you just did. Making Nestor feel valued and important. Come on, that whole ‘advice’ thing was total bullshit.” Odysseus shrugs.

“We must not lose our friends, Patroclus,” He explains, with all the sage-like wisdom of an ancient Greek philosopher. “Adolescence would destroy us without them.”

Patroclus suddenly finds himself at the door of his ancient history classroom. He peeks inside and sees Achilles at his usual desk in the back, but the seat beside him, usually occupied by Diomedes, is empty. The quarterback has moved to the chair behind Achilles, leaving the adjacent desk for Patroclus.

“Patroclus,” Odysseus says, obviously noticing who Patroclus was staring at, “do not lose your friend. Do not let yourself be destroyed.”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

As expected, it takes Mr. Herodotus precisely fifteen minutes to hand out a worksheet on the Code of Hammurabi and slump down at his desk, leaving his students to their own devices. Patroclus feigns interest in his textbook pages and worksheet questions just long enough for the class’s whispers to grow to normal conversational volume, then turns to Achilles.

Now that he’s facing Achilles, his mouth hanging open in anticipation of speech, he realizes he has no idea what to say. He never decided on an apology that was quite good enough. And at precisely this moment, Achilles turns in his seat to see Patroclus staring at him with a halfway-open mouth and a growing blush.

“What?” He snaps.

“Um,” Patroclus flounders, scrambling desperately for something to say. “I heard everyone’s got mono.”

“Yup,” Achilles replies.

“I mean, not everyone, ‘cause I don’t,” Patroclus splutters, “and um, you don’t.”

“No,” Achilles says coolly, “because I didn’t kiss anyone.”

“Ooohhhh!” Diomedes chimes in from behind Achilles, drawing judgemental looks from both Patroclus and Achilles. “Sorry, that was just a really smooth comeback. And really salty, seriously Pelides, chill.”

“Shut up, Diomedes,” Achilles grumbles, turning back around to face the front of the classroom. Patroclus shoots Diomedes a pleading look, begging for help, but Diomedes just shrugs, giving Patroclus a face that clearly reads you’re on your own. Sighing, Patroclus turns back to Achilles.

“Look, Achilles, I’m really sorry,” He begins.

“For what?” Achilles cuts him off, “You didn’t do anything wrong. And that's the worst fucking part, cause I can’t even be justifiably mad at you.”

“Justifiably?” Diomedes echoes. “Man, we really need to stop hanging out with Odysseus.”

“Diomedes, shut up!” Patroclus and Achilles demand in unison. He holds his hands up in surrender, busying himself with his worksheet, and Patroclus and Achilles return to their uncomfortable, tension-charged confrontation.

“I did do something wrong,” Patroclus argues. “I totally humiliated you in front of all your friends.”

“Thanks for summing that up for me.”

“Achilles, all I’m trying to say is, I was a dick, and I’m sorry. I just-”

“Didn’t want to kiss me. I get it, it’s fine.”

“No, Achilles, that’s not it!” Patroclus buries his head in his hands, pulling at his hair in exasperation, and lets out a muffled half-scream. Achilles fixes him with a perplexed look that is still decidedly annoyed.

“Then what is it?” He presses. There is a challenge in his tone. This is Patroclus’s last chance, and if he does not come up with a good answer, Achilles won’t listen to anything more he has to say.

So what does he say? Does he admit to Achilles that he wants to kiss him for real? That he wants more than a dare? That he likes him? Not that Patroclus has ever done it, but from what he’s heard, admitting that you like someone to their face is, like, the most difficult and terrifying thing anyone has ever done. And he is not brave enough.

All Patroclus can manage is a short, pleading, exasperated sigh as he comes up empty. Disappointment flashes in Achilles’s perfect, piercing blue eyes for the briefest moment, before they turn steely and hostile once more.

“Okay,” He says shortly, “fine.” He turns back to his worksheet, hand pressed against his temple to hide his face from Patroclus’s view. It is clear the conversation is over, and Patroclus has not been forgiven. He sighs.

Cue angsty, emotional pop ballad from the early 2000s.

 

Chapter Text

“Please tell me you talked to him, he understood, you guys made up and possibly out, and everything’s back to normal if not better now?” Briseis asks, as she slides into the passenger seat of Patroclus’s car. In response, he lets out a dejected sigh and shoves a hand through his hair. “Don’t sigh like that,” Briseis orders, “that’s a things-are-just-as-bad-if-not-worse sigh.”

“Well,” He says, “things are just as bad, if not worse.” Briseis tips her head back, groaning.

“Patroclus,” She whines.

“Hey, I tried!” He defends himself, as he steps on the gas and maneuvers them out of the school parking lot.

“Okay, but did you try-try, or did you Patroclus-try?”

“Did you just verb my name?”

“Answer the question.”

“What is Patroclus-trying?”

“You know, when you go into a situation thinking the world is against you, then half-ass your attempt to fix it, then come crying to Briseis when things astonishingly don’t go your way,” She explains. He makes a choked, indignant noise in the back of his throat as a reply.

“I tried-tried, thank you very much,” He says, once he’s done being offended. She raises her eyebrows, clearly not believing him. “I did!” He exclaims.

“Fine,” She sighs. “Tell me everything.”

So he does. He tells her about Odysseus telling him not to lose his friends, and about sitting down in the seat Diomedes had left open specifically so he and Achilles could work things out, and about trying to apologize, and about Achilles saying he’d done nothing wrong, and Patroclus explaining that he had, and Diomedes’ unwelcome interjections. During the conversation, they migrate from school to the highway to their neighborhood to Patroclus’s bedroom, where they are currently splayed out on his bed.  When he gets to the part where Achilles demands to know why Patroclus hadn’t kissed him, and Patroclus clams up and says nothing, Briseis groans and buries her face in her hands.

“Patroclus,” She admonishes, “why didn’t you just tell him what you told me? About wanting it to be real? That was so sweet.”

“Because I couldn’t!” He attempts to explain, “It would’ve been too embarrassing.” She sighs, clearly not satisfied with this answer but convinced that he’s a hopeless case.

“Okay,” She replies, “then why didn’t you just lie? Make something up? Like, that you were embarrassed to kiss him in front of all those people, even though you knew it was just a dare? Or you could’ve told him that it was your first kiss, he would’ve understood.”

“One, I couldn’t come up with the first one, but now I hate myself ‘cause that’s a really good excuse and I am such an idiot,” He whines. “And two, the second one is way too embarrassing. What sixteen-year-old hasn’t had their first kiss?” She opens her mouth to comfort him, but he cuts her off. “Don’t you start, you had yours when you were thirteen.”

“Well, I’m a cheerleader.”

“Oh, yeah, why didn’t I think of that? I’ll just join the cheer squad,” He snarks. She rolls her eyes at him.

“Plenty of guys do, you know.”

“Yeah, plenty of guys who have any interest or skill in cheerleading,” He points out. “Anyway, not the point. How do I fix this?”

“Hmmm,” She mutters, rolling onto her back as the thinks. He props himself up on one elbow, watching her expectantly for an answer. “Well,” She begins, finally, “I think you’ve got to make some kind of grand gesture, you know? Show him you really care about being his friend. He’ll see how much effort you’re willing to put into this and forgive you.” Patroclus hesitates for a moment, thinking this over. Aren’t grand gestures kind of a romantic thing? But, on the other hand, isn’t that what he wants in the long run? A romantic thing?

“Okay,” He says, “like what?” He wonders for a moment if maybe he should be coming up with the grand gesture to win Achilles back, but then again, it’s not his fault Briseis is so good at this stuff.

“Oh, I know!” She exclaims. “He has this big track meet on Friday! Yeah, he’s like, trying to break a record or something. You should go! You’ll be going to something that’s important to him even though you have no interest in it yourself-” (Well, that’s not entirely true, Patroclus definitely has an interest in Achilles in his track shorts.), “-which will show how much you care about him. Plus, he’ll definitely win, and then he’ll be in a good mood. So you can apologize and maybe tell him how you feel.”

Up until that part, Patroclus had been on board with this plan, silently nodding along as Briseis explained. When she says the last sentence, Patroclus freezes, the smile dropping off his face.

“How I what?”

“How you feel,” She repeats, rolling her eyes.

“Oh, okay,” He says, “you’re insane.” She grabs one of his pillows and smacks him with it.

“I’m not insane!” She argues, “I’m serious! Come on, you’ve had a crush on him since, like, sixth grade. And I promise he likes you too. Just tell him!” Patroclus is still not buying this. Tell someone how he feels? Truly? Deeply? Has he ever done that?

“How I feel-feel?” He clarifies. She nods.

“How you feel-feel.”

“Like, with the feelings and everything?”

“Feelings and everything.”

He turns and looks through his window into Achilles’s bedroom. (It’s not creepy. Or maybe it is, but he’s been doing it long enough to become desensitized to it.) Achilles is seated at his desk, head bent over a textbook. An earbud is nested in one of his ears, and his blond curls rest softly atop his forehead. His lips are slightly parted, eyebrows furrowed in concentration. Patroclus could stare at him for hours, and he thinks about the possibility of not having to do it through two glass windows. He could have that, if he was willing to bare his soul for it.

“Patroclus,” Briseis says, “you’re staring.”

“Can you blame me?” Patroclus points out. Briseis is silent for a moment, watching Patroclus watch Achilles like she has for so many years.

“Look, you can do whatever you want,” She finally speaks, and he gets the feeling she’s about to tell him something he should be listening to, so he props himself up on his elbows, “but this is your chance. And if you don’t take it, that’s your choice, but I’m not listening to you pine anymore. You don’t have grounds to complain once you’re creating the problem for yourself.”

“Deep,” He comments. She sighs exasperatedly, rolling her eyes.

“Think about it, Patroclus. I’ve gotta go, I have homework.” With that, she swings herself off the bed, ruffles his hair one last time for good measure, and exits.

Patroclus lets out a breath of air through his lips, flopping down onto his back again. He knows Briseis is right. Here’s his opportunity to have everything he’s wanted since middle school. And he won’t take it, because why? He’s stupid? He’s lazy? He likes creating his own misery? No, that’s not it. He’s just scared. Yes, he’s been painfully in love with someone who does not love him back for years, but maybe somehow he’s thrived on that pain. He’s been working for something. Every day that he wakes up could be The Day. But now? If he acts on this, if he tells Achilles how he feels, he runs the risk of losing that. Achilles could tell him, firmly and definitively, that he does not love Patroclus back. And then that tiny sliver of hope will evaporate into thin air. He’ll know that The Day will never happen, so then what’s even the point of waking up?

He looks back out his window. Achilles is a god, and he is radiant and awe-inspiring just as he is fearsome and terrible. There is as much fire coursing through his veins as ichor. He will destroy as easily as he will heal. Patroclus cannot bare his soul to a being that powerful, that glorious, that destructive. He will catch fire in the glow.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

It becomes clear over the next few days that Patroclus’s floundering romantic life is not the only disaster born in the aftermath of the bonfire party. The outbreak of mono was not just a fun prank played by the Priamides on their rivals, it was a legitimate strategy. The attendees of the bonfire party just happened to be the top members of the Atrides’ team, and with them now out with mono, the Priamides are steadily picking off the weaker players. All the mathletes and theatre geeks that joined in hope of climbing the social ladder are getting massacred without the jocks to protect them.

Diomedes, Achilles, Briseis, Odysseus, and Patroclus are the only partygoers spared from the disease. And truly, there are doing the best that they can. Which, in Patroclus’s case, isn’t much, but he looks out for anyone ten feet away from anyone else and makes it his personal mission to get them back to safety. He finds himself walking to class with innumerable shy, socially challenged freshman that otherwise would be making the journey alone. Diomedes fills their lunch table with people they’ve never seen before in an effort to keep the team safe while Briseis interrogates Chryseis, desperately trying to grill a confession out of her.

But it is Achilles that, almost single handedly, keeps Menelaus’s cause alive. He is a force to be reckoned with, even without a team behind him. No one at Ilium is a match for his speed, and anyone he sets his sights on is a goner. He makes more kills in that week than their entire team has combined since the game started. Still, with the Priamides decimating what remains of the Atrides’ team at such a staggering rate, he is hardly making a dent.

Currently, Patroclus is risking a trip to the bathroom. It’s a perilous journey, but one he’s willing to make for the good of his bladder. Still, his eyes dart left and right as he hastens down the hallway, anxiously scouring his surroundings for any Priamides lurking about, just waiting for an unlucky victim to pounce on.

He reminds himself how ridiculous this all is as he bolts into a stall and slams the door behind himself, testing the lock three times before taking care of his business. He wonders when he began to care so much about the mock war they’ve created. Maybe, he decides, as he flounders to use toilet paper with his non-dominant hand, it was when he punched Hector Priamides in the face and sprained his hand over a stupid game.

Having accomplished what he came here to do, he hesitantly slides the lock open, peering carefully around the door to make sure the coast is clear before stepping out of the stall.

“Hey there.”

“Holy fucking shit!”

Patroclus whirls around, heart hammering in his chest, and sees Paris and Aeneas leaning against the tile wall. They must’ve ducked behind the door when Patroclus checked to make sure he was alone, effectively staying out of his view.

Paris Priamides is not super intimidating. He’s a classic prettyboy, tall and graceful with a perfectly styled quiff, and sporting a cardigan. He doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of men. Aeneas Anchisides is different, though. Third cousin to the Priamides, he looks almost nothing like his distant relatives.  While Paris, Hector, and their slew of siblings are all lily-white, Aeneas is biracial. His skin is distinctly darker than that of the the porcelain cousin he stands next to, and his hair is close-cropped, curly, and shaved on the sides. Stunningly green eyes pierce his surroundings from beneath dark, defined eyebrows, and his lofty cheekbones are sharp enough to kill a man. His beauty makes even Paris look plain, but there is a certain terribleness to it. Godlike power coincides with his divine physical allure. Patroclus does not want to tempt that wrath.

“So here’s the deal,” Paris says, his voice is silky-smooth and melodic. Patroclus can just see him cornering Helen against a wall at a party and sweet-talking his way into her heart, addicting her to the sound that comes out of his lips until she has to have them against hers. “You punched my brother. That doesn’t really fly with us.”

Patroclus hastily attempts to determine his next move. He is not too scared of Paris, but Aeneas is decidedly fearsome. Still, he’s the guy that punched Hector Priamides. He can’t just cower before them, that won’t earn him any pity now that he’s assaulted the man they both idolize. He decides on a false show of bravado and boldness to show he’s not scared of them. Which is difficult to do when he’s swimming in Aeneas’s dizzying green eyes, as dangerous as they are captivating.

“Y-yeah,” He stutters. So much for the bravado. “And I’ll punch you too.”

Paris and Aeneas snicker in almost perfect unison, sharing a look with each other that seems to say, “How cute!”. His attempt to intimidate is nothing more than amusing to them.

“Alright, take a swing, slugger,” Aeneas goads, notes of laughter still coloring his words. His lips are parted in a taunting smile to reveal perfect, sparkling white teeth. Patroclus glances down at his dominant hand, wrapped in a bandage that prevents him from even making a fist. What now?

Patroclus curls his left hand into a fist, mind racing as he formulates a plan. With an amused smirk, Paris clasps his hands behind his back, readying himself for the blow. Patroclus pulls his arm back, winds up, and....

....swiftly darts back into the stall and slams the door behind himself, bolting the lock as soon as the door is shut. He is then left to lean his back against the door, heart pounding with adrenaline while Aeneas and Paris pound against the metal partition, and assess his situation. He is safe, but he is also stuck.

In retrospect, this was not a great plan.

Patroclus surveys his options. He could wait here, barricaded inside this bathroom stall, until Paris and Aeneas give up and the danger clears. But his two pursuers have traded banging on the door in for pacing patiently back and forth in front of his hiding spot; it seems they’re willing to wait him out. He could army crawl into another stall then burst out of that one and make a run for it, but these doors don’t go all the way down to the floor. There’s no way they wouldn’t see him wriggling from his current refuge to another. He could come out swinging and hope to go down with some shred of dignity, but there’s gotta be a better option than that.

That’s when he feels the familiar weight of his phone in his pocket. His phone, now equipped with the numbers of at least three people who could help him. His phone, that he’s had all along and didn’t think to use, instead opting for attempting to punch Paris Priamides. Wow, I’m an idiot, he thinks to himself as he fishes it out from the confines of his jeans. Painstakingly, gripping the device loosely with his injured right hand and typing clumsily with his left, Patroclus taps out a message.

 

Patroclus

Trapped in a bathroom stall. Paris and Aeneas waiting outside. Please send help.

 

He sends the message and waits impatiently for a reply, fingers drumming on the sides of his phone. A full minute passes. No response. Everyone must have their phones on silent for class. What a great time for Diomedes to decide he wants to pay attention to his lessons.

Suddenly, Patroclus’s phone buzzes in his hands, and his heart leaps with renewed hope. It then immediately sinks again when he reads the message.

 

Shorter Ajax

Dude that sux. I’ll pray 4 u

 

Patroclus

THAT DOESNT HELP YOU ARE NOT EVEN HERE

 

Sighing, Patroclus returns his phone to his pocket and tips his head back against the cold metal door. There has got to be a way out of this. There has got to be a convenient broken pipe to use as a weapon, or a secret passage hidden in the walls to offer an escape, or even an air vent to crawl through. There has got to be a way that he can make it out of this bathroom without getting attacked by one very pissed off Priamide and one very terrifying Anchisides. The moment he steps out of this stall the two of them will end him.

Wait, that’s it! He realizes suddenly. There are two of them. Smirking to himself, he calmly unlocks the door. The bolt slides open noisily, scraping against the lock and announcing to his hunters that their prey is emerging. Slowly, he steps out of the stall, hands raised in surrender.

They pounce instantly. He does not put up one iota of a fight, instead collapsing immediately like jello. The two of them slam him against the ground, and his injured hand, which gets crushed under both of their weight, screams in protest of this violent assault. He lies limp, allowing them to definitively pin him.

“You’re dead,” They announce in unison, their words oozing satisfaction. He lets out a dramatic, fake sigh of disappointment.

“Dammit,” He relents, “I guess you got me.” After sharing a nod and a self-fulfilled smirk, they get up from atop him, allowing him to stand. He gets to his feet, dusting himself off and trying to hide his spreading grin as he thinks of what’s to come. They perform a congratulatory handshake behind him as he turns and walks away. He waits until he’s standing by the exit, far enough from them to give him a solid head start when they inevitably chase him, before he turns and informs them, “Except that you didn’t.”

They freeze in their handshake. Two heads whip around to face him, two pairs of eyes managing to look confused and menacing at once.

“What?!” Paris demands.

“The rules clearly state that the tackler and tackled have to be ten feet away from any other people in order for the kill to be made, and there are two of you. Which means technically, there was another person there when I was killed. Ergo, I’m still alive,” He explains, unable to keep the satisfaction and cockiness out of his voice. Since when was he bold enough to act cocky in front of such social royalty as Paris and Aeneas?

Perfectly in time with each other, the two cousins slowly turn their heads to share a confused, disbelieving look. He can practically hear the cogs turning in their heads. He can see the moment that they figure it out, eyes widening and eyebrows shooting up. A millisecond later, they whip around to face him.

“You’re dead meat,” Paris declares. And with that, Patroclus bolts.

He practically slams his body into the door in an effort to get out of there as quickly as possible. His sneakers squeak noisily against the shiny white tile of the floor, slipping and sliding in an effort to gain traction and propel him forward. Behind him he hears feet pounding down the hall, and though he knows there are only two people pursuing him, he is involuntarily reminded of that scene from The Lion King when Mufasa gets trampled by a herd of stampeding wildebeest.

He risks a glance over his shoulder at Paris and Aeneas. They’ve gained ground but are still a fair distance behind him. He just needs to get back into his English classroom, then he’ll be safe. But then he hurtles past the computer lab, and that’s weird, because shouldn’t the computer lab be on the other side of the building? If he really just passed the computer lab, then he’s heading in completely the wrong direction. Shit, he realizes, I made a wrong turn.

What now? He can’t turn around, he’ll run right into Paris and Aeneas. Looks like he’ll just have to run all the way around the building and get back to his classroom the long way. Which begs the question, can he keep up this pace for such a long distance? Patroclus isn’t exactly a track star. Or even a track participant. Or even someone who regularly runs. Or even someone who...runs at all, really. The only other time he's ever gotten this kind of exercise was the last time he was fleeing Paris Priamides.

A janitor’s closet looms up ahead, and he skids to a stop in front of  the door and wastes precious seconds yanking on the handle, hoping for a place to hide. No such luck, it’s locked. He gives a few more arduous pulls for good measure, to no avail. Forced to give up on this potential place of refuge, he turns on his heel and takes off down the hall again. Aeneas and Paris are now close enough behind Patroclus for him to hear their conversation.

“How are you so impossibly bad at killing this twerp?” Aeneas demands.

“Twerp?” Paris retorts, panting heavily, “What are we, five?”

Patroclus’s arms wheel wildly in an attempt to slow him down enough to successfully round a corner without smashing into the wall. His sneakers skidding against the floor remind him of Menelaus’s tires on Troy Boulevard, but there’s no convenient, shitty car to save him this time.

There is, however, a brilliant, golden god standing resolute in the middle of the hallway, seemingly glowing beneath the school’s fluorescent tube lights.

It is all Patroclus can do not to bowl Achilles right over. He redirects himself at the last minute and instead goes careening into a row of lockers, smashing into the cool metal and collapsing onto the floor. Achilles stands his ground, unwavering in the face of the two advancing opponents. They skid to a stop before him, and the three stand frozen in a stalemate. Achilles could destroy them both, they are just waiting to see if he will.

“Walk away,” Achilles orders, voice low and dangerous. Patroclus remains where he is, sprawled on the ground behind Achilles’ planted feet, but props himself up on his elbows to watch.  Paris and Aeneas exchange a look, as if trying to decide what to do.

“You don’t think we can take you?” Paris challenges. Judging from Aeneas’ exasperated sigh and eyes squeezed shut in frustration, this was not the right response. Achilles’ confidence does not waver the slightest bit.

“No,” He answers simply, jaw set and hardened eyes glaring, “I don’t.”

And they can’t. Everyone here knows it. It is simply a question of whether they would rather sacrifice their dignity and walk away, or go down fighting. There is no option where they come out on top.

Aeneas makes the decision for them by raising his hands in surrender, turning slowly and retreating. Paris is slow to follow, holding Achilles’ glare for a few extra seconds before withdrawing with his cousin. Achilles watches their backs as they recede, glowering at their forms until they round a corner and are out of sight.

Only then does he relax, letting the tension out of his shoulders and uncurling his fists. He turns around and spots Patroclus on the ground, and tension hangs heavy in the air. Neither speaks, instead steadfastly holding the other’s gaze. Inwardly, Patroclus wills himself to spill everything out here and now. Achilles came to his rescue. Patroclus should pay him back by apologizing again, for real this time. The words are bubbling up in the back of his throat. I’m sorry, I wanted more, I like you. He waits for them to overflow.

They don’t. All that comes out is a breathless, “Thanks,” as he scrambles to his feet. Achilles shrugs.

“It was for the good of the team,” He says brusquely. His words sound clipped, like he never finishes fully pronouncing any of them.

“So that’s why you did it?” The words are out of his mouth before Patroclus can stop them. He knows what he wants Achilles to say, but he also knows he doesn’t deserve it. He is the one that needs to be confessing his feelings to Achilles, not the other way around.

Achilles sets his jaw and looks Patroclus straight in the eye. “Of course,” He states. And then he turns on his heel and disappears into a nearby classroom. Patroclus sighs.

The track meet, he reminds himself, I’ll fix everything at the track meet.

Chapter Text

Menelaus

I like...have no strong feelings on ravioli???? Like its not that good??? Its not that bad??? It’s okay??? Do you understand.

 

Ajax

Are you delirious?

 

Menelaus

I might be.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Saturday dawns bright and balmy, a pleasant 68 degrees, with a completely cloudless sky and not a droplet of rain. Which means the track meet definitely won’t be cancelled, as Patroclus has secretly been hoping.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to fix things with Achilles. He wants to, very badly. It’s just that he’s not sure he can. He has a history of tripping over his own words, of blurting out horrendously embarrassing things under pressure, and of making problems worse when it didn’t seem that was possible. And he’s worried that if he so much as opens his mouth at today’s race, he will somehow fuck things up even  more than he already has and lose Achilles for good.

So he hoped for rain. He hoped for thunder, and lightening, and hail, and 75 mph winds. He hoped for an earthquake to level Ilium high, destroying the track and rendering the 5k unable to be run. He wore his pajamas inside out and backwards in a desperate attempt to bring four feet of snow in early October.

But Saturday dawns bright and balmy, so Patroclus is driving to school on a weekend to risk it all.

“This is really important,” Briseis explains to him in the car. “There are college scouts coming to watch him in this race, so he has to break the record.” She speaks to him slowly, assuming that he doesn’t understand a single component of the world of sports. And usually, she’s right. But Achilles runs track, so naturally, Patroclus has been following the team since middle school.

“You mean the record he set last year?” Patroclus points out. Briseis raises an eyebrow at him.

“Stalker much?” She teases. “And yeah, that’s the one.”

Yes, the record Achilles is trying to break is his own. He finished last year’s mid-season 5k with a remarkable time of 14:58, setting the state record as a freshman. Now, he’s looking to beat his own time. The other runners participating in today’s race are irrelevant to Achilles; the only person he’s racing against is himself.

“So why’s it so important if he’s already set it?” Patroclus asks. Briseis sighs, rolling her eyes at him like he’s so naive.

“Because people need to see if he can do it again,” She explains.

“That makes no sense,” Patroclus refutes. Briseis shakes her head.

“When you’re taking a class,” She begins, obviously attempting to put it in words that a nerd like him would understand, “ideally you’d get better at it every year, right? Like, you’re better at math now than you were in kindergarten.” Patroclus nods. “Okay, so it’s the same with sports. You want to get better every year. If he doesn’t run this race faster than he did last year, then he’ll run it slower. Which’ll mean he’s gotten worse.”

“Okay,” Patroclus relents, nodding slowly, “I guess that’s not completely ridiculous. But still, once a guy’s broken a state record, does he really have to do it again?”

“Yes,” Briseis answers definitively, “and next year he’ll do it again. And then again the year after that.”

“Sports,” Patroclus says, “sound awful.” Briseis shrugs.

“It’s hard,” She admits, “and it’s scary. And especially for people like Achilles, there’s a ton of pressure. But for some people it’s their thing, so all the hard and scary stuff is worth it.”

Patroclus wonders if he understands that. He doesn’t play sports. He’s never picked up an instrument in his life. The last time he drew anything was elementary school. He’s clumsy at walking, so he’ll never be a principal dancer in the New York City ballet. He’s good at school, but learning isn’t his passion.  What does he do? What’s his thing? What does he have in his life that all the hard and scary stuff is worth?

Achilles.

“Are you cheering today?” Patroclus asks suddenly, desperately wanting to change the subject.

Duh, why else would I be going?”

“Maybe to support your best friend during the scariest and most difficult moment of his life?”

“Oh, yeah, that too.”

“I’d be lost without you, Briseis,” Patroclus muses as he pulls up to Ilium High. The parking lot, which is big enough to fit the entire driving population of the school, is packed almost to the brim, with just a few spaces left open in the corner. Everyone in town appears to have shown up today to watch Achilles Pelides break his own record. Shit, Patroclus realizes, this is a big deal.

He makes a beeline for the bleachers as soon as they’ve reached the field, but Briseis grabs him by the arm and pulls him towards the track.

“The hell are you doing?” He demands.

“You have to be there when he wins,” She explains, as if this is common knowledge. “So you can be the first to congratulate him.”

“Yeah, except I’m not allowed to be on the track,” He points out.

“Coach Chiron loves me, I’ll get him to make an exception,” She assures him, as she drags him over to a short, stocky man in a tracksuit with a bald patch on the top of his head but an impressive beard sprouting from the bottom. Patroclus has seen Coach Chiron before, he’s usually a kind and nurturing instructor patiently training his runners and molding them into the best athletes they can be with a time-tested regimen of positive reinforcement. Today, however, moments away from the biggest race of his star runner’s career, he’s more than a little bit stressed.

Which is probably why, when he spots Briseis and Patroclus standing by the finish line, he comes storming over and barks, rather gruffly, “You kids aren’t allowed to be here!”

“Coach Chiron!” Briseis greets, in her sweetest, most charming, singsong voice, “I was just heading over to the rest of the cheerleading squad, but I was hoping my friend Patroclus here-” She grabs his hand, and he forces an awkward smile. “-could watch the race from the sidelines.” Chiron’s cold, hostile demeanor softens visibly, warmed by Briseis’s charm, but he’s still obviously opposed to the idea.

“Sorry, sweetheart,” He says, “only athletes and timekeepers allowed on the field.” He starts to walk away, but Briseis pulls Patroclus after him and taps him on the shoulder.

“Then it’s a good thing Automedon is out with mono!” She shouts after him. He turns around slowly, eyebrows raised.

“It’s a good thing one of my top runners is benched for two weeks, minimum?” He questions. Briseis flashes a desperate, awkward smile.

“I just meant that without him, there’s no one to time Achilles,” She explains hurriedly. “But now you have Patroclus!” Briseis grabs Patroclus by the shoulders and shoves him forward. Chiron narrows his eyes, scrutinizing Patroclus from head to toe. Timing Achilles Pelides is a big deal. If Patroclus stops the timer just a millisecond too late, Achilles could be fucked.

“You know how to use a stopwatch?” Chiron asks finally, and something about his tone of voice says he expects Patroclus doesn’t.

“Um, well, it took me a few years, but I think I’ve finally mastered the art,” Patroclus replies, realizing too late that this particular audience won’t appreciate his snark and sarcasm as much as he himself does. “I mean, uh, yes sir!” Beside him, Briseis sighs in exasperation. Chiron gives him one last onceover, before deciding he doesn’t have the time to waste on choosing someone to click a button twice.

“Fine, you’re in, kid,” He says, and tosses Patroclus a bright green stopwatch. “You better stop that thing the second his toe crosses the finish line, or I’ll break your other hand.” Gulping, Patroclus hastily stashes his injured hand behind his back and out of the angry coach’s reach.

“Great!” Briseis cheers. She jumps up on her tiptoes to give Patroclus a quick kiss on the cheek, says, “Good luck!” with a wink, then darts off to join the cheerleaders. Patroclus is left standing awkwardly at the finish line, next to a water cooler and a bored looking senior holding a clipboard. The older student looks Patroclus over once, eyes flicking quickly from his head to his toes.

“You’re new,” He observes. Patroclus nods.

“Patroclus,” He introduces himself, “I’m timing Achilles.”

“Phoenix,” The senior says, reaching out to shake Patroclus’s hand, “team manager. I’m timing the rest of them.”

All of them?” Patroclus asks incredulously. The track team is the largest team on campus, numbering around twenty runners. That seems like a lot of people to time at once. Phoenix shrugs.

“The rest aren’t as important as Achilles,” He explains. “He gets his own personal timekeeper. For the rest, I watch that clock over there and write down the closest time.”

“That seems kind of unfair.”

“Hey, I’m just the manager. I don’t make the rules.”

Phoenix seems nice enough. He doesn’t appear particularly bothered by Patroclus’s presence, but then again, he doesn’t appear to really care that much about his job as track team manager. Patroclus takes in his lanky, gaunt stature and argyle sweater and concludes Phoenix has probably only taken this position to fulfill the school’s athletic requirement. Shit, I’ve gotta get on that, Patroclus remembers. Whatever, he’ll just spend his senior year timing Ilium’s more athletically inclined, like Phoenix.

“Get ready,” Phoenix warns, and Patroclus looks up to see the runners taking their positions. His thumb hovers in anticipation above the stopwatch’s sole button. He watches as Achilles wedges his feet against the starting blocks and presses his fingers into the starting line. His blond eyebrows lower in determination, his muscles tensing in preparation. Every aspect of him is poised to run. The blank is fired, and the runners take off.

Instantly, Achilles pulls to the front. His legs are almost a blur beneath him as he seemingly flies across the clay track. Patroclus has always found Achilles beautiful, divine, the pure paragon of perfection, but in this moment he is truly breathtaking. He moves with inhuman speed, his blond hair blown back and his jersey plastered against his chest by the wind. He runs effortlessly, cutting through the air with unearthly ease. The other runners pound the earth with their feet, moving heavily, clumsily, aggressively; Achilles floats, decidedly graceful. Patroclus is captivated.

Achilles comes tearing past Patroclus, followed a few moments later by the rest of the herd, and for one horrible moment, Patroclus’s stomach drops as he realizes that he was supposed to stop the watch, and now Achilles’s time is wrong, which means he won’t get credit for breaking the record, which means he’ll be worse than he was last year, which means he won’t get a scholarship from one of these douchey-looking college scouts, and holy shit, Patroclus has screwed up before, but never like this-

“Eleven and a half more laps to go,” Phoenix announces, and Patroclus could kiss him. His relieved exhale comes out as more of a moan. Phoenix turns to him with raised eyebrows. “You thought they were done, didn’t you?” He asks. Patroclus nods. Phoenix exhales sharply through his nose in amusement, shaking his head. “Rookie mistake.”

Achilles blows through the next few laps with the same inhuman beauty and grace, drawing all spectator’s eyes to him in awe and wonder. However, by the sixth lap, it becomes clear that even Achilles Pelides can’t run 5,000 meters without breaking a sweat. By the eighth, he’s definitely flagging.

Of course, he’s still leagues ahead of the rest of the runners. His pace is still astounding. But compared to his first lap, or even his fourth, he’s moving in slow motion. It’s understandable, of course. 3,200 meters is a lot to run without slowing down a little bit. But Patroclus has never seen Achilles like this. He’s sweating. His chest is heaving. His footsteps fall heavy with exhaustion. Still, he plows ahead, pushing himself faster whenever the herd of runners so far behind get a little too close for comfort. (Which, by Achilles’s standards, means they aren’t a full mile behind him.) It looks excruciating.

“Last year,” Phoenix recounts, “the guy that finished second collapsed as soon as he crossed the finish line.”

Patroclus believes it when Achilles passes the finish line for the ninth time, face beet-red and jersey clinging to his chest with sweat. He almost wants to shout, “Are you okay?” as Achilles streaks by, but even he knows not to distract the star runner in the middle of a race.

The clock has just passed 13:43 when Achilles once again crosses the finish line and begins his final lap. Has has just over a minute to finish this race and still break the record, and Patroclus isn’t so sure he can do it. Achilles looks exhausted, and he appears to be limping slightly, seemingly favoring his right leg. But all it takes is one glance at the clock, and he puts on a second burst of speed. Those big red numbers, counting up to 14:58 and counting down the time he has left to break the record, seem to spur him on, and he’s suddenly moving at the pace of his first lap.

The roar of the crowd grows louder and louder as Achilles progresses around the track, and Patroclus rapidly glances back and forth between Achilles’s speeding form and the ever-changing numbers of his stopwatch. He finds himself bouncing his leg in anxiety as the clock hits 14:00 and Achilles rounds his first corner, tearing down the long side of the track. 14:15 and he dashes across the shorter bottom of the ovular course. And then it’s 14:30 and he’s sprinting down the home stretch, bearing down on the black-and-white checkered finish line with twenty-eight seconds to go . Patroclus’s heart is pounding as he watches the numbers on the clock tick upwards, his thumb poised over the button of the stopwatch.

Achilles explodes across the finish line. The stands erupt with screams and cheers. The cheerleaders toss Clytemnestra and Andromache up in the air in celebration. Patroclus stops the watch the moment he sees the toe of Achilles’s sneaker pass the black-and-white checkers. 14:44. He hasn’t just broken his record, he’s destroyed it.

Achilles is still running, unable to stop the forward momentum of his legs. Patroclus races after him, eager to inform him of his record-breaking time. Achilles doesn’t manage to stop until he’s almost a quarter of the way around the track again, and then he bowls over in exhaustion, hands bracing against his knees as he desperately fights for breath. Patroclus runs over to stand in front of him, holding out the stopwatch for him to see his time.

“You did it!” Patroclus cheers, “You broke the record!”

Achilles straightens up, breathless grin plastered on his sweaty face, and reaches a trembling arm out to take the watch from Patroclus. Then, suddenly, his eyes go wide and he pitches forward at the waist, arms thrown around his stomach. There’s a horrible, gasping, choking noise that’s along the lines of, “Uurk!”, before Achilles promptly hurls all over his timekeeper.

Patroclus really, really does not know what to do in this situation.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

It is bad enough to be covered in vomit. It is even worse to have to wait on the bleachers for the cheerleader you’re driving home to shower and change whilst covered in vomit. And that is precisely what Patroclus has to do.

Achilles, soon after emptying his stomach all over Patroclus, is ushered away by Coach Chiron to talk with some college scouts. Patroclus wonders if it’s worse to stand in the middle of a crowded event covered in somebody else’s vomit, or to meet the people you’re hoping will give you a scholarship having just vomited and still smelling like it. He’s got it worse, he decides. Achilles is at least going to get a college education out of this.

And of course, there are no bathrooms. There are port-a-potties, but those don’t have running water. There’s the locker room, but that’s only for athletes. There are bathrooms inside the school, but the buildings are all locked on weekends. So Patroclus is forced to relocate to the bleachers and wait, covered in someone else’s regurgitated food, while the sun bakes Achilles’s upchuck until it’s formed a stiff coating on his shirt.

The bleachers slowly empty while Patroclus sits, parents having collected and congratulated their kids and returned home with them. Students that came out to watch the race loiter a little longer, sprawling themselves on the metal benches to chat. The track is absolutely swarming with bodies: coaches, runners, college scouts, cheerleaders, medical personnel, parents, friends, there’s even a reporter from a local news station. Somewhere amidst the hoi polloi is Achilles, but Patroclus doesn’t even try to locate him.

The site is still teeming with people when Briseis finally emerges. She spots Patroclus on the bleachers and comes running up the steps, then stops dead in her tracks when she sees the half-digested Cheerios decorating his shirt.

“What the hell happened to you?!” She demands, keeping a safe distance while still maintaining an appropriate level of concern.

“I got barfed on,” Patroclus explains curtly.

“By who?”

“Achilles,” He replies. “Achilles barfed on me. I went to show him his time, and he barfed on me.” Instead of looking horrified like he’d assumed she would, or like any sane person would in reaction to this story, Briseis’s face breaks out in a huge, delighted grin.

“You know what this sounds like?” She prompts, unable to keep the giggles out of her voice. Patroclus raises his eyebrows.

“Disgusting?” He guesses.

“A meet-cute!” She corrects. He is unconvinced.

“You mean a meet-disgusting?”

“I’m serious! This is so rom-com. Twenty years from now, when your kids ask how you guys met, you’ll be like, ‘Well, son, I was at your dad’s track meet, and he puked on me!’”

“That doesn’t sound like it could support nine seasons.”

“Oh, stop being so negative. Or we’re gonna have to start calling you Krabby Patty,” She threatens. He is about to tell her that she is officially no longer allowed to hang out with Diomedes, when he spots a familiar golden-blond head of hair cutting through the crowd below, steadily approaching the bleachers. Definitely Achilles, no one else’s hair glows like the sun itself quite like his does. Briseis squeals when she spots him. “Oh my god! Okay, I’m getting a ride home with Chryseis, so you two take your time. You’re gonna do great, I have total faith in you.” She pecks him on the cheek again in farewell, then darts off down the stairs.

Achilles does not sit down next to Patroclus. Instead he stands one row of seats down, taking in the vomit splattered all over Patroclus’s clothing and fixing him with a decidedly sheepish look.

“There’s a trash can over there, if you need it,” Patroclus informs him, before Achilles can say anything. “Or, you know, you could just use me.” If possible, Achilles’s expression turns even more guilty and apologetic.

“I am so, so sorry,” He gushes. “Not that that...fixes your shirt, or anything, but still. I’m really sorry. That doesn’t usually happen.”

Patroclus is covered in Achilles’s regurgitated food, and he wants to be upset about it, he really does. He’d liked this flannel. But somehow he can’t. Not when Achilles is looking at him with those wide, earnest, pleading, contrite, gorgeous blue eyes that melt every ounce of his resolve. Besides, it’s not like this is really Achilles’ fault. He hadn’t done it on purpose, right?

“It’s fine,” Patroclus relents. “It...happens, I guess?” Achilles plops down on the metal bleachers next to Patroclus with much less of his usual grace, clearly still exhausted from his latest record-breaking 5k.

“Oh yeah, someone hurls at pretty much every race,” He replies. “Just, not usually...onto someone else.”

It seems now that they’ve exhausted the topic, and Patroclus remembers what he really came here to do. Apologize, again. But now he’s been puked on. Shouldn’t that be enough?

“So I take it we’re even now?” He ventures. Achilles looks confused for a moment, before remembering their conflict from earlier that week. He deliberates for a moment, weighing him puking on Patroclus versus Patroclus refusing to kiss him.  

“Yeah,” He finally decides, “we’re even.”

“Great.” That could be it. He could leave it there. Achilles has forgiven him without requiring an explanation, so Patroclus could get through this without confessing his feelings. It’s tempting. It would be so blissfully easy to leave now, drive home, and live the rest of his life with all his emotions bottled tightly up inside.

But when he thinks about confessing, about risking everything, about telling Achilles how he feels, he finds he isn’t terrified anymore. For so long, he’s seen Achilles as a god and himself as a lowly mortal. He has been sure that he could never measure up, and for him to be with Achilles in the way he wants to be with Achilles would be sacrilege. But then Achilles puked on him. And gods don’t puke. So he had seen, in that moment, what he’d failed to understand for so many years: Achilles is simply human. He is no more, no less, than a teenage boy. A very attractive teenage boy, but still. It is no longer wrong for Patroclus to want Achilles. And Achilles is no longer so terrifying. So what’s holding him back?

“But, um,” He continues, unsure of exactly how to put this, “I still kind of owe you an explanation.” Achilles cocks his head to the side, furrowing his brow.

“For what?”
Oh god, why is Achilles giving him so many opportunities to back out of this? No, He tells himself firmly, you’ve come this far. You can’t give up now.

“For, you know,” He stutters, because while he’s no longer afraid Achilles will smite him, telling someone you like them is still immensely harrowing, “not kissing you. At the party.” Instantly, Achilles blushes bright red, eyes bugging out.

“It’s fine,” He insists, “really. I’m over it.”

“I’m not.”

There’s a moment of silence while Achilles locks eyes with Patroclus, trying to determine what he means. Achilles’s eyes are impossibly blue, and Patroclus finds he has to look away for fear of convincing himself Achilles is a god again.

“I, um...Look, the reason I didn’t kiss you is...” And here it is. The next half of this sentence could destroy or complete his life. He feels as though he’s standing at the edge of a cliff, steadily tipping. He has never before been more aware of his body. Every breath, every blink, every twitch, feels laborious and awkward. “...I just wanted it to be real,” He rushes out, in one breath. An immense sense of relief follows. He’s said it, there’s nothing more for him to do. It’s Achilles’s turn now. He could give Patroclus everything he ever wanted, or he could rip him to shreds.

“What?”

Or, apparently, he could not understand.

And just like that, all the nerves and anxiety are back, because Patroclus has to go through this again, has to spell it out, has to describe in painstaking detail how embarrassingly gone he’s been on Achilles his whole life.

“There were all those people there,” He begins, blushing and sputtering and making awkward, unnecessary hand gestures, “and they were watching us, and I think Idomeneus was filming it for his snapchat story, and it was a dare, and it just wouldn’t have been real. Achilles is silent for a moment, expression confused as ever, before realization dawns on him.

“Oh!” He exclaims, “That totally makes sense. Of course you wanted it to be real, it was your first kiss.”

How is Achilles still not getting this? In Patroclus’s opinion, he’s been very clear. Oh, well, he’s always known Achilles isn’t the brightest. This is what you’re getting yourself into, he reminds himself. He doesn’t care.

“Not mine,” He clarifies, “ours.”

“Our...,” Achilles mutters, trying to piece this together. For a moment, his eyebrows lift, his mouth opening into a small ‘o’, and Patroclus thinks he’s got it, but then he ducks his head and whispers, as though he’s sharing a great secret, “Our.....first kiss?”

Achilles, apparently, is hell-bent on making this as painful as possible for Patroclus.

“Yes,” He sighs.

And Achilles gets it. He leans back from Patroclus, appearing totally shell-shocked, and honestly, Patroclus doesn’t understand how he’s so blindsided by this. It’s not like Patroclus has been the smoothest, suavest guy around Achilles, nor has he been particularly adept at hiding his crush. But Achilles isn’t saying anything, though his mouth is hanging open, and Patroclus feels obliged to fill the horrible, hanging silence.

“I..um...I like you, I guess? Not that I expect you to feel the same way, I just thought you should know. I have for a while. And while I’m confessing things, I don’t actually own a lot of nintendogs.” Talking was a bad idea. But now his mouth is open and the words are coming out, and he can’t seem to stop them.  “I don’t actually own any nintendogs. I lied. I own zero nintendogs. And I knew about gravity. That was also a lie. I just, um, I get nervous, and then I just start talking, kind of like right now-”

“You like me?” Achilles asks incredulously. But he doesn’t sound totally disgusted. He sounds like he’s in disbelief, but the good kind of disbelief. Like when you can’t believe something is really happening because it’s happened so many times in your dreams that for it to happen in real life would be too good to be true. Patroclus feels the corners of his mouth pull up in a soft, tentative smile.

“Yeah,” He breathes. And then Achilles is kissing him. Achilles Pelides is kissing him.

It’s a little abrupt. It’s a little awkward. It’s a little vomity. But god, it’s real.

Chapter Text

Patroclus has never had a cheesy, cliché, high school experience. He has never stood up in the bed of a truck and flung out his arms and felt infinite. He has never hefted a boombox up onto his shoulders and stood outside someone’s window. He has never gotten an extreme makeover that revealed the super hot being beneath the awkward, nerdy exterior, then walked through the halls shyly smiling as everyone turns and gapes. But this, he decides, this is about as cliché and cheesy as it gets.

He is lying on his back on the hood of Achilles’s car, fingers intertwined with Achilles’s, staring up at the night sky while Achilles points out constellations to him. Well, attempts to point out constellations to him. He is almost definitely making this up as he goes.

“That’s the big dipper,” Achilles says, waving his hand to vaguely indicate literally any grouping of stars in the sky.

“Where?” Patroclus presses, smirking.

“Right there,” Achilles says, waving his hand again just as vaguely as before. Patroclus turns to face him, eyebrows raised.

“You’re totally bullshitting this.”

Achilles bursts into a fit of laughter that confirms Patroclus’s suspicions. When they’re facing each other, their heads are so close together that their noses nearly touch.

“I was trying to be romantic,” Achilles explains, still laughing.

“Oh really?” Patroclus teases, “Well, smooth moves, Galileo.”

“This coming from ‘I have a lot of nintendogs’.”

“Hey, I have devoted a lot of time to blocking that experience from my memory. As far as I’m concerned, it never happened.”

Achilles, who had been laughing, suddenly sobers. He turns onto his side and props himself up on one elbow so he’s staring down at Patroclus, who remains on his back.

“Hey, why’d you lie, anyway?” He asks. “I mean, if you liked me all along, why didn’t you want to hang out with me? Actually, you haven’t wanted to hang out with me since, like, middle school. What happened?”

Patroclus sighs. He has answers to all of those questions, but they’re awkward and personal and he doesn’t quite know how to phrase them. How does he explain that one day he woke up and saw that Achilles was better than him in every way and realized they didn’t fit together any more? Even he doesn’t quite understand his own reasoning.

“I don’t know,” He sighs. “When we were kids, I guess I knew...well, you were always...,” He struggles to find the right beginning to this story while Achilles waits expectantly. “Okay,” He finally begins, “remember when we used to be on the same soccer team? When we were like, six?”

“The Phthia Myrmidons, yeah, I remember.”

“Right, well, I remember once my dad came to one of the games. And I was on the bench, and he was standing behind me with the rest of the parents watching. And you were playing. Most of us were kind of stumbling around, cause six-year-olds don’t exactly have the best motor skills, but you...you already looked like a professional soccer player in the World Cup, or something. Everyone was watching you, even the parents that were supposed to be there for their own kids. Anyway, we were tied, and the game was almost over. You scored a goal in the last, like, five seconds. Everyone started cheering like crazy, including me, but then I felt this hand on my shoulder. So I turned around, and it was my dad, and I remember thinking that he should be really happy ‘cause our team just won, but he was just scowling at me.”

Patroclus pauses and swallows hard. He has not remembered this moment in a long, long time. When he was six he didn’t understand that it was possible for parents not to love their children. He knew that his father was not exactly affectionate, and he knew that typically parents came to more than one soccer game per season and took pictures on the first day of school and kept popsicles in the freezer and played airplane and said goodnight, and he knew that his father didn’t do these things, but he was too young to put the pieces together. When he got older, however, he looked back on this soccer game and was able to pinpoint it as the exact moment his father stopped loving him.

“You okay?” Achilles asks.

“Yeah,” Patroclus mutters. “Um, anyway, he was just kind of glaring at me, and then he pointed at you, and he said,” Patroclus raises a finger and narrows his eyes in an imitation of his father, “‘That is what a son should be.’”

Achilles is silent for a moment. Patroclus suddenly realizes that he has put Achilles in an incredibly uncomfortable situation, having singled Achilles out as the reason Patroclus’s father has always been disappointed in him, but there is nothing he can do about it now. Besides, it’s not like he blames Achilles for it. At first he thought it was his own fault, for not being good enough, but then he grew up and saw what a deadbeat husk of a human being Menoetius was and decided he was not worth trying to please.

“Holy shit,” Achilles finally speaks, “that’s horrible.” Patroclus shrugs.

“Yeah, whatever,” He sighs. “I stopped valuing his opinion a while ago.”

“Still,” Achilles argues, “you were six. That’s really fucking awful. I’ll go beat him up, if you want.” Patroclus laughs.

“Thanks but no thanks,” He declines, “He’d probably just be super impressed by your right hook and ask me why I can’t punch like that.”

Achilles does not find Patroclus’s meager attempt at a joke funny. His eyebrows remain lowered and his jaw set in a scowl, as though he’s personally offended. Patroclus is oddly touched by Achilles’s willingness to fight for him, but there is a fury churning in Achilles’ eyes that Patroclus does not want to unleash, not even onto Menoetius.

“Seriously, it’s not a big deal,” He says. “It was, like, a million years ago, anyway.” Achilles sighs, flopping back down onto his back. They lay in silence for a moment. Patroclus watches his breath escape in puffs from his lips and float up until it disappears.

“You wanna know something?” Achilles asks.

“Sure,” Patroclus replies.

“You were my first kiss.”

Patroclus shoots up, mouth falling wide open, eyes bugging out in shock. He fixes Achilles with the most incredulous look of disbelief possible on a human face.

“No way,” He breathes. Achilles nods in affirmation, smirking. “But you-what? How?” He cannot possibly believe that someone as popular, as talented, as jaw-droppingly gorgeous as Achilles Pelides has made it sixteen years without being kissed. Certainly, it’s not been for lack of volunteers. So what’s been holding him back?

“I was waiting,” Achilles explains simply.

“For what?”

“For you.”

Patroclus should be touched. He should be flattered. He should be squirming as that warm, fuzzy feeling spreads its way from the tips of his toes to the top of his head. But instead he’s just confused. Achilles Pelides has been waiting for him? Achilles could have anyone, and Patroclus is no one. He can maybe understand that since they’ve reconnected in these past few weeks, Achilles has started to like Patroclus back. But the idea that Achilles has liked Patroclus for years and has been waiting for him? It’s unfathomable.

“For me?” Patroclus asks, stuttering. Achilles nods. “Why?”

“Because,” Achilles answers, tipping his head forward until his forehead comes to rest against Patroclus’s, “you are what a first kiss should be.”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Patroclus

BRISEIS

Briseis

Patroclus it is 2am this better be fucking important

 

Patroclus

It is so important

 

Briseis

omg

 

Briseis

you kissed achilles

 

Briseis

didnt u

 

Patroclus

blushing emoji

 

Briseis

omg

 

Briseis

you slut

 

Patroclus

smirk face smirk face smirk face smirk face smirk face smirk face

 

Briseis

Hold on I’m adding Diomedes




~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Briseis named the conversation “HOLY SHIT PATROCLUS KISSED ACHILLES”

Today,  2:24 AM

 

Diomedes

WHAT

 

Patroclus

He kissed me, actually

 

Diomedes

WHAT?!?!?!?!

 

Briseis

We need to know liTERALLY EVERYTHING

 

Patroclus

Okay

 

Patroclus

Ready for a really long text?

 

Diomedes

I was born ready

 

Patroclus

three dots

 

Briseis

You don’t understand my whole life has been leading up to this moment

 

Patroclus

Okay. So. Briseis and I were at the track meet and Briseis got Chiron to let me time Achilles. (S/O to Briseis my number 1 wingwoman.) So then I was timing him and he broke the record so I went over to congratulate him and he just. Puked. All over me. BUT WAIT IT GETS BETTER. He then had to go talk to college scouts and I had to sit on the bleachers and wait for Briseis while covered in vomit. For like twenty minutes. Only to find out that she’d gotten a ride home with Chryseis so I could’ve left like a million years ago. BUT THEN. Achilles came over to apologize for puking on me or something, and I forgave him so that he’d forgive me for not kissing him at the party, but then I don’t know I guess I was struck by a sudden bout of insanity and decided to tell him why I hadn’t kissed him. So it took him a while to get it but eventually he did and then he just sat there for like A MILLION YEARS in silence. Meanwhile I started rambling about nintendogs and gravity again because I obviously hate myself and am subconsciously trying to ruin my own life. And then in the middle of that horribly embarrassing speech he was like “You like me?” And I was like “Yeah” and then he kissed me.

 

Briseis

wow

 

Diomedes

dude thats sorta beautiful. in a weird, awkward, vomity kinda way.

 

Briseis

So wait, what happened next?

 

Patroclus

????

 

Briseis

Are you guys like boyfriends now?

 

Patroclus

I mean, he kissed me, so...

 

Diomedes

dude that means NOTHING. agamemnon kissed chryseis at the bonfire. did he get a girlfriend? no. he got mono.

 

Briseis

It doesn’t mean nothing, but it also doesn’t mean you guys are magically together now. Did he say anything? Like ask you to be his boyfriend? Or even on a date?

 

Patroclus

Shit.



~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Patroclus isn’t sure how to act at school on Monday morning. Should he smile at Achilles in the hallway? Or should he avoid all contact and pretend they’ve never met? On the one hand, they kissed, which he thought was pretty important. But on the other hand, according to Diomedes people kiss all the time without it meaning anything. In short, he isn’t sure if his kiss with Achilles is supposed to have brought them closer or made things more awkward than ever. And because Patroclus is who he is, he’s gonna go with more awkward than ever.

On the brightside, most of the team seems to have recovered from mono. Which means the massacre of preposterous proportions the Priamides have been exacting has ceased for now, but the Atrides’ team is still leagues behind.

“I have heard,” Odysseus recounts, as they walk to their respective classes, “that Agamemnon is positively livid.”

“I don’t wanna know what that looks like,” Patroclus mutters.

“I find it to be quite an injustice,” Odysseus prattles on, “that he reserves the right to be angry at us when the misfortune that has befallen our company is entirely his fault.”

“No offense, Odysseus,” Patroclus begins, “but I don’t think Agamemnon Atrides really cares about your opinion. And I would advise not sharing it, if you want to keep all your teeth.”

“You think I don’t know these things?” Odysseus questions, appearing offended that Patroclus would even insinuate that he, Odysseus the genius, doesn’t know something, “Of course I do. This is why I share my opinion with you.”

“Hey, I punched Hector Priamides,” Patroclus warns. Odysseus scoffs.

“Yes, and look what you’ve got to show for it,” He quips, gesturing to Patroclus’s bandaged hand.

“Well, who’ve you punched?” He counters.

“No one,” Odysseus answers simply, “because I am familiar with my own strengths and weaknesses, and am aware that there are other means of defending oneself besides physical violence for which I am better suited.”

“Oh look, here we are,” Patroclus announces, immensely grateful to have arrived at the door to the computer lab.

“We must continue this conversation at a later date,” Odysseus says, as he files inside with the rest of the class.

“I look forward to it,” Patroclus replies sarcastically.

He continues the rest of the way to English alone, which, now that the hallways are better populated, is no longer a life-threatening journey. With Odysseus now gone, Patroclus is left to agonize over the events of the weekend once again. He knows he probably should try to find Achilles at lunch and talk about what happened, but who is he kidding? He’s not gonna do that. That would go against his tried and true system of overcomplicating things to avoid facing his problems head-on until everything eventually falls apart.

He is almost safely inside the classroom when Achilles calls his name. He tenses, eyes bugging out and feet freezing mid-step, before slowly turning around, awkward, painful grin plastered on his face.

“Hey,” He greets. Casual, cool, he instructs himself. “What’s...um, h-how are you?” Well, so much for that.

“Good,” Achilles answers hurriedly, nodding. He gulps. For his part, Achilles looks just as uncomfortable as Patroclus. “You?”

“Great!” Patroclus replies, voice cracking, probably a little too quickly and a little too loudly.

“So, um, we should talk,” Achilles says, mindlessly kicking at the ground with the toe of his sneaker. Patroclus looks there instead of at his face.

“Y-yeah, totally,” He agrees.

“Okay, cool. Um, lunch?”

“Sure!” Patroclus squeaks, face burning, desperate to be finished with this conversation.

“Great.” With that, Achilles nods and raises a hand in an awkward farewell. Patroclus shoots him an uncomfortable grin in reply, before filing into his classroom. He takes his seat beside Ajax a moment before the bell rings, raising a few eyebrows, as he’s usually the type of person that arrives at class no more than three minutes after the last bell.

“Where’ve you been?” Ajax questions.

“Oh you know, stuck in a painfully awkward situation, being a complete and utter social abomination, wishing I could die for the moment and then come back once I’ve graduated,” Patroclus replies.

“The usual,” Ajax finishes. Patroclus nods in affirmation.

Mrs. Sappho assigns pages from their current book, Animal Farm, to be read silently, and Patroclus sighs and cracks open his book. Animal Farm is probably pretty good, but picking it apart word by word to search for the deeper meaning in English class has robbed it of whatever quality it posessed. It’s also really fucking weird.

“This is like Charlotte’s Web on acid,” Ajax mutters.

They have reached the part where the pigs are walking upright and wearing human clothes, and it’s really freaking Patroclus out. He’s incredibly relieved when his phone buzzes, and he discreetly pulls it from his backpack and places it within his book. Beside him, he sees Ajax doing the same.

 

Menelaus

None of you would happen to have any medical training, would you?

 

Idomeneus

jfc what happened

 

Menelaus

There was a fight. Some dumbbells were involved. I am having trouble walking.

 

Briseis

Patroclus knows first aid!

 

Patroclus

I took a course in seventh grade. I’m certified to give CPR, not perform surgery.

 

Ajax

Did you at least win the fight?

 

Clytemnestra

That really doesn’t seem like what’s important right now.

 

Menelaus

Of course I won.

 

Diomedes

eyyyyyyy 

 

Menelaus

So wait Poptropica can you fix me or not

 

Patroclus

I can try??? But like. I probably won’t be of much use unless you’re choking.

 

Menelaus

Rad thanks meet me in the guys locker room

 

Diomedes

kinky

 

Menelaus

Diomedes what if I’m dying right now. What if I died today. How would you feel if your last words to me were “kinky”.



Diomedes

gaspgaspgaspdont die memelaus who would i send my danq memes to?????

 

Menelaus

LITERALLY ANYONE ELSE. PLEASE. I NEVER WANTED THIS.



Patroclus turns his phone off at this. Diomedes and Menelaus arguing about memes in the group chat Patroclus has suddenly found himself a part of is commonplace, and almost everyone but the two of them puts their phone on do not disturb when it begins. Tentatively, he raises his hand, trying to gain the attention of the teacher absorbed in her poetry anthology at the front of the classroom. Mrs. Sappho does not look up. Patroclus clears his throat, shattering the silence of the classroom, and instantly, every head in the room shoots up and looks at him.

“Yes?” Mrs. Sappho asks.

“Um, can I go to the bathroom?”

“Sure,” Mrs. Sappho replies, sighing. Hoping she’ll become too engrossed in her poetry once again to become suspicious when he doesn’t return, Patroclus stands up from his desk and slips out of the classroom.  

Patroclus has never been inside the boys’ locker room. He’s not exactly an athlete, so he’s never really had a reason to go in. It’s pretty standard, shiny red lockers and a red and tan tiled floor, some showers, a whiteboard facing a few rows of benches, and some exercise equipment. Menelaus is hunched over on one of the benches, clutching his right foot to his chest.

“I didn’t know you could bend like that,” Patroclus remarks. Menelaus’s head shoots up, noticing Patroclus in the room for the first time. He’s slightly paler than Patroclus remembers him being, lips pressed together in a pained grimace, and a thin sheen of sweat covers his forehead.

“Neither did I,” He gasps.

“So what happened?”

“Well,” Menelaus begins, slowly releasing his foot and stretching his leg out, “I was in here working out during my free period, and I had music on, so I didn’t notice Pandarus was in the showers until he came out and tried to tackle me.”

“He tackled you naked?” Patroclus asks incredulously.

“No!” Menelaus denies, “He put on clothes first. Jeez, Poptropica, you might have a dirtier mind than Diomedes. Anyway, long story short, there was a fight, which I won, but in the process he dropped a dumbbell on my foot.”

Patroclus drops to the ground beside Menelaus’s injured limb. The toe of his sneaker appears completely crushed, and Patroclus kind of doesn’t want to see what’s underneath.

“Have you looked at it?”

“Fuck no, I don’t want to see that shit.”

“Okay, well, I’m gonna take your shoe off, so you might wanna look away.”

Menelaus looks pointedly over his shoulder while Patroclus carefully undoes the laces of his sneaker and then painstakingly slides the shoe off his foot. The wound beneath is pretty gruesome. It’s pretty apparent that Menelaus’s toe is broken; if the blood clotting beneath the nail isn’t enough, the appendage that is actually bent the wrong direction makes it pretty clear. Bruising is already beginning to appear, and while it hasn’t yet begun to swell, Patroclus is pretty sure that it will if it doesn’t get some proper medical attention. Patroclus thanks whatever deities there are that it’s not throbbing, because if it was, he might’ve hurled.

“How does it look?” Menelaus asks, “Are we gonna have to amputate it?” He’s joking, but looking at the wound, Patroclus isn’t sure how far off he is.

“Probably not,” Patroclus mutters.

“Probably?!” Menelaus echoes incredulously. He risks a hasty glance at the injury, then immediately throws his arm over his eyes. “Oh my god, that’s disgusting. Just chop it off.”

“I’m not gonna chop it off,” Patroclus states firmly. Then, under his breath, he adds, “Mostly because I’m not qualified to.”

“What?”

“Nothing! Look, it’s just broken, totally not a big deal. But you should probably get it looked at by a doctor, not a high school sophomore,” He advises.

“Doctors are overrated,” Menelaus replies, “can’t you just, like, wrap it up, or something?” Patroclus blinks, staring at Menelaus incredulously.

“Um, I mean, yeah, but that’s not gonna un-break it,” Patroclus warns. Menelaus waves his hand dismissively.

“I’ll go to the doctor after school, or something. I just need to be able to walk for the rest of the day,” He says. “There should be a first aid kit over there.”

Patroclus follows Menelaus’s pointing finger and retrieves the kit from the opposite wall, then removes a roll of Ace bandages from its confines. Slowly, painstakingly, he begins to wrap the injury as meticulously as possible, taking care not to cause any additional pain he doesn’t have to. He loops the bandage around the neighboring, uninjured toe for support, then continues wrapping to create a protective barrier around the break. He hasn’t done anything like this since his first aid course in seventh grade, and as he works, he begins to remember what he liked so much about healing people. It fills him with a sense of purpose. He feels like he has something to offer the world that they need. And he rarely feels like that.

It occurs to him about a minute in that maybe he should try to stimulate smalltalk or something, so he’s not just sitting here in silence wrapping the toe of someone he doesn’t really know that well. But that’s just it, he doesn’t know Menelaus that well. So what are they supposed to talk about?

“So,” He begins awkwardly, as is his fashion, “um, you’re Agamemnon’s brother. That must be-”

“Awful?” Menelaus finishes.

“I was gonna say ‘interesting’,” Patroclus replies.

“Oh,” Menelaus mutters. “Yeah, that too.”

“What’s so awful about it?” Patroclus presses. Menelaus raises his eyebrows.

“Have you met Agamemnon?”

“Fair point,” Patroclus admits. “So he’s like that all the time?”

“You mean angry? And violent? And an asshole?” Menelaus clarifies. Patroclus nods. “Yeah, he’s like that all the time.”

“That sucks,” Patroclus comments eloquently. He can’t think of anything better to say. The idea of living with Agamemnon 24/7 thoroughly, unequivocally sucks. Menelaus shrugs.

“Yeah, whatever. He’ll go to college eventually.”

Menelaus does not sound like this is really how he feels about the issue. Patroclus tries to imagine what it might be like to live with Agamemnon. At first, his mind immediately jumps to getting beat up relentlessly and painfully at any and all hours of the day, but then he remembers that Menelaus is actually pretty big and strong and terrifying himself, so he probably wouldn’t let Agamemnon wail on him constantly. So if it’s not physical abuse, what is it that makes living with Agamemnon so horrible?

He wants to press, but he doesn’t actually know Menelaus all that well. It would be weird for him to want to psychoanalyze Menelaus’s relationship with his brother. So, instead, he says,“Okay, you should be good to go,” as he loops the bandage around one last time, then secures it with a metal clip.”Slowly,” He adds.

Menelaus gets tentatively to his feet, using Patroclus’s arm for leverage. Warily, he places weight onto his right foot, and, finding it holds, shoots Patroclus a grateful smile.

 

“Thanks man, you’re a lifesaver,” He says.

 

“No, I am not, I am a high schooler who took a two-hour first aid seminar in middle school, and what I just did in no way constitutes legitimate medical attention,” Patroclus clarifies.

 

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Whatever.”

 

“Not whatever-”

 

“Blah, blah, doctors, I get it. Let’s go.”

 

The bell rings as they walk out of the locker room and into the hallway. Well, Patroclus walks, Menelaus sort of hobbles. They meet up with Ajax and Diomedes on their way to the cafeteria, who are eager to hear the details of the fight. Menelaus places a hand on Diomedes’s shoulder for support and launches into an elaborate, almost definitely exaggerated tale of the Battle of the Locker Room. Patroclus pays attention for about five seconds before he remembers where he’s headed and feels his heart stop in his chest.

The cafeteria. He is going to the cafeteria. For lunch. Where he promised he would talk to Achilles. About....what, exactly? Their relationship? Do they even have one? Does Patroclus even want one? More importantly, does Achilles even want one?

Patroclus wants one. He has known that for a while. He has known since middle school that he does not want to hook up with Achilles at parties or climb through his window whenever he texts or pretend at school that they’ve never met. He wants to hold hands in the hallway and go to Spring Fling and post couple photos and change his Facebook status. But Achilles could want the former. Or worse, he could want nothing to do with Patroclus at all. He could think Saturday was nothing more than a big mistake.

“Yo, Poptropica, you coming?”

Patroclus looks up from where he’d been staring ardently at his shoelaces and finds he’s frozen in the doorway to the cafeteria. People behind him grumble and complain as they either walk straight into him or are forced to take time out of their lunch hour to walk around. Diomedes is standing a few steps ahead, staring over his shoulder at Patroclus with raised eyebrows, one hand beckoning him inside. Patroclus swallows hard.

“Yeah,” He sighs. “Yeah, I’m coming.”

 

Chapter Text

Achilles is waiting for Patroclus at the table by the window. When he catches sight of Patroclus approaching with Diomedes, he instantly shoves his hands into his pockets and trains his gaze on his sneakers, a light blush coloring his cheeks. It’s kind of...adorable. Patroclus finds himself adopting a similar stance once he reaches the table and is standing beside Achilles, but it doesn’t feel quite as awkward as it maybe should.

“Hey,” Achilles says.

“Hey,” Patroclus replies. They steal quick, furtive glimpses up at each other’s faces as they speak before hastily directing their eyes back down.

“Hey,” Achilles repeats, shifting his weight onto his other leg. Patroclus glances up at catches his eyes, as beautiful and blue as always, and feels the corners of his mouth quirk up involuntarily in a shy smile.

“Hey.”

Across the table, Ajax slams his hands down on the wooden surface with a loud, abrupt BANG , startling the two and causing both to jump.

“I’m going to punch one of you,” He threatens, glowering. “I haven’t decided which. Maybe I’ll grab one of each of your hands and use it to punch the other.” Grinning fondly, Diomedes slings an arm around Ajax’s shoulders.

“Ah, Ajax Triple Action Dish Soap,” He begins, and Ajax tenses up with rage at the nickname, “It’s love! You don’t want to punch love.”

“First of all, I most certainly do want to punch love,” Ajax retorts. “And second of all, that’s a terrible nickname. It’s actually longer than my real name.”

“I gave you another option,” Diomedes reminds him, “you didn’t like it.” Ajax throws Diomedes’s arm off his shoulder, wheeling around to face the quarterback head-on.

“You can’t call me A- jacks off !” He exclaims. Achilles’s mouth drops open in delight.

“Dude,” Menelaus sighs, collapsing heavily into his seat, “don’t try to fight it. Just let it happen. It hurts less that way.”

“See?” Diomedes says, beaming proudly. Ajax groans, rolls his eyes, and plops down into his seat. Achilles is still frozen where he stands beside Patroclus, staring wide-eyed at Ajax with an overjoyed expression on his face.

“A- jacks off?” He repeats in awed disbelief, repressed laughter coloring his every syllable. Ajax sets his jaw and, not getting up from his seat, holds a shaking finger in Achilles’s face.

“Never. Speak. Those words. Again,” He threatens. He is terrifying enough without even standing, but Achilles is of course unfazed, and remains spitefully smirking. As amused as Patroclus is by the whole exchange, he thinks he might actually die from nerves if he waits another second to have this “talk” with Achilles.

“Hey, so, um,” He cuts in awkwardly, “weren’t we gonna...”

“Oh! Right, yeah, totally. Sorry, I was just distracted by the utter brilliance of A- jacks off ,” Achilles replies. “Um, you wanna go outside?” Patroclus nods, and the two begin to make their way towards the hallway that will lead them out onto the quad. They are stopped, however, by a swarm of jocks lead by Idomeneus not five steps from the table.

“No one is going anywhere,” Idomeneus announces. “Agamemnon’s on his way, and he’s pissed as fuck.

“What else is new?” Menelaus replies sarcastically. Idomeneus sighs sharply.

“Okay, pissed as...what’s worse than fuck?” He pauses for a moment to think, before deciding it doesn’t matter. “You get the point. He’s pissed and he’s coming to yell at us. So everyone’s staying right here because there’s safety in numbers.”

“We were actually going to-” Achilles begins but is cut off by Shorter Ajax, who steps up until their faces are mere centimeters apart. Or they would be, if Shorter Ajax wasn’t so...vertically challenged. As it is, Shorter Ajax is standing face-to-chest with Achilles, glaring straight at his sternum.

“Listen, Pelides,” He hisses, “an imminent threat to all of our lives is currently making his way from BC calc to this here cafeteria as we speak, ready to turn this amicable lunchtime gathering into a savage, bloody massacre with his bare hands and immeasurable rage, so you are going to stay right the fuck here and stand between us and certain death, got it?” Shorter Ajax, despite barely topping five feet, can be plenty threatening when he wants to. And right now, he wants to. Achilles nods hurriedly, eager to comply with whatever the tiny terror wants. Satisfied, Shorter Ajax turns to Patroclus. “Poptropica, you can go, if you want,” He says dismissively.

“Oh, wow, thanks.” Truthfully, Patroclus does want to go, but he feels obligated to prove his bravery now that Shorter Ajax has doubted him. Achilles turns to Patroclus and shrugs apologetically, before resuming his seat. He then pats the spot next to him to beckon Patroclus over, who hurriedly slides into the indicated space.

“Hey, I’m sorry,” He whispers. “We’ll talk later, okay?”

“Yeah, sure,” Patroclus replies hurriedly. His stomach continues tying itself into even tighter knots. Everything he ever wanted could be mere moments away. At this point, he just wants to know if he’s going to get it or not. He can deal with the disappointment if it comes, but what he can’t handle is this uncertainty .

“Comrades!” Odysseus greets as he approaches the table. He pauses before sitting down next to Diomedes as he usually does, surveying the scene with his eyebrows furrowed and his mouth puckered in his telltale “thoughtful” expression. “The apprehension which hangs over this scene is palpable in the air,” He announces. “What danger threatens our company that arouses such fear in those whom I had come to know as gallant, lionhearted warriors?”

“Agamemnon,” Automedon replies dejectedly.

“Ah. Indeed the very notion of his wrath strikes fear into the hearts of even the most intrepid men,” Odysseus admits.

“What’s he so pissed about, anyway?” Ajax demands. Menelaus scoffs.

“What’s he not pissed about?” He snarks. Idomeneus ignores him.

“Dude, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our team is kind of sucking balls right now,” He explains.

“Yeah, cause everyone had mono ,” Ajax points out. “Which, by the way, aren’t we pretty sure that was his fault to begin with?”

“So what?!” Idomeneus exclaims. “Since when has Agamemnon ever listened to reason?!”

The table continues to debate how to best survive Agamemnon’s wrath, while Patroclus attempts to convince himself that everything is going to be fine. When he’d gotten to the table at the beginning of lunch, Achilles seemed happy enough to see him. So he must’ve had happy news to deliver; otherwise he would’ve looked uncomfortable and dismayed. Besides, it was Achilles who wanted to talk in the first place, so he can’t be completely finished with Patroclus, or he would’ve just ceased contact altogether and left things painfully unresolved.

“Okay wait, I’ll just, like, create a distraction, or something,” Diomedes suggests. “I’m great at causing mindless upheaval.” No one seems really impressed with this plan.

“And what would be the purpose of that, Diomedes?” Shorter Ajax inquires, but it comes out as more of a statement than a question.  

“Um, if he’s distracted, he can’t be mad at us , duh,” Diomedes explains.

“I don’t know if you’re aware of this,” Menelaus begins, “but Agamemnon is really fucking good at being mad at us. It’s kinda hard to distract him from it.”

“Trust me, I’m the master of - Oh shit he’s coming!”

The table instantly goes silent, all heads whipping around to watch Agamemnon as he storms through the doorway and across the cafeteria. He arrives at their table in mere seconds and stands smoldering at the head, while everyone seated involuntarily shrinks away from his ire. No one speaks.

Except, of course, Diomedes.

“Hhhheeeeeyyyyyy, Swagamemnon,” He greets apprehensively, his voice a thin, quaking echo of its usual unabashed bravado. “What’s...uh....what’s crack-a-lackin’? What’s shakin’ bacon? What’s cookin’ good-lookin’?”

“Please stop,” Idomeneus mutters out of the corner of his mouth.

“You all have got to be the most fucking incompetent group of people ever to populate this earth,” Agamemnon declares. He doesn’t yell, like Patroclus had imagined he would. Instead, his voice is a seething, furious hiss that is somehow even more terrifying. “Somehow, over the course of one short week, you have managed to lose half of our entire fucking team! Do you have shit for brains?! How is it possible that the second I’m not here our team gets fucking decimated?!”

“I didn’t know you knew the word ‘decimated’,” Menelaus remarks, one of the only people at the table that appears totally unafraid of Agamemnon. As it turns out, Menelaus definitely should have been afraid of Agamemnon, as he wastes no time in directing all his rage at his younger brother.

“Don’t you start,” He fumes. “This is all because you’re a fucking pussy who couldn’t hold down a girlfriend. We’re all in this fucking mess because of you and your dirty wh-”

Menelaus is suddenly on his feet, glaring daggers at his older brother. “You wanna finish that thought?” He hisses, hands curled tightly into fists at his sides. Diomedes stands up and holds his hands out, trying to keep the two apart.

“Okay, okay, okay, I know this is gonna sound crazy,” He begins, “but maybe we should try to go one lunch period without someone getting punched?” Agamemnon ignores him.

“Whore,” He finishes with relish, a smug smirk showing he enjoys saying it. Menelaus looks ready to lunge at his brother, but Clytemnestra beats him to it.

She traverses the distance between the cheerleaders’ table, adjacent to the jocks’, in an instant. Simultaneously, Patroclus sees Helen leap to her feet and race out of the cafeteria, face buried in her hands, obviously in tears. The moment the word whore comes out of Agamemnon’s mouth, Clytemnestra has him by the collar of his shirt, pulling him down so his face is mere centimeters from hers. Her other hand wraps around Agamemnon’s arm in a death grip. Patroclus has seen her before, but only at a distance. Up close he can confirm that she is even scarier than Agamemnon. With her narrowed eyes, pursed lips, and perfectly manicured nails digging relentlessly into Agamemnon’s bicep, she looks positively murderous.

“If you ever ,” She hisses, so he has to strain to hear her vicious threats, “speak another word about my sister again in your miserable, pathetic life, I swear on Diomedes’s goddamn fork garden that I will rip your junk off with my teeth. ” With that, she releases him, bores into his skull with her icy glare for one last second, and then flounces away after her sister. She makes it three steps before she turns back around, adds, “And I’ll enjoy it,” and then continues on her way.

The table is frozen in stunned silence. Slowly, Diomedes and Menelaus sit back down, moving painstakingly and meticulously as though they are trying not to provoke a wild animal. The animal in question is Agamemnon, who stands stock-still, staring in awe at the space Clytemnestra used to occupy. Everyone seems to need a moment to process the events that just transpired and remains rigid and mute, until Achilles shatters the tableau with slow, decidedly smug clapping.

“Wow,” He says, “she’s great . I like her.”

Agamemnon ignores him, turning slowly back around to face the group. He rolls his shoulders back, reassuming his powerful, imposing posture in an attempt to regain his authority and pride.

“Meeting at my place after school,” He announces. “We need a plan to put us in front again.”

He then exits the cafeteria, leaving silence in his wake. Everyone seems to have forgotten the primary function of lunch period, which is to eat lunch. In the craziness of the past few minutes, Patroclus’s initial worry upon entering the cafeteria that day has almost completely exited his mind. But as soon as Agamemnon is gone, it flies right back to the forefront of his consciousness. He turns to Achilles, hoping there’s still enough time left in the period for them to talk, and opens his mouth to make the suggestion.

“So, should we-”

The bell rings. As if on cue, as if it was just waiting for Patroclus to speak, as if the universe is trying to do all within its power to draw out Patroclus’s agony as long as possible, the bell rings. Everyone starts getting to their feet and gathering their stuff, shoving binders into backpacks and tossing empty paper plates into garbage cans, and Patroclus is left sitting dumbly in his seat, grasping at moments that keep passing him by.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Diomedes

hey dude wanna give me a ride to this meeting thing

 

Patroclus

Why can’t you drive yourself?

 

Diomedes

oh poptropica

 

Diomedes

i know u’ve only known me for like 2 weeks

 

Diomedes

but do you rlly think i passed my drivers test

 

Patroclus

Good point. I’ll give you a ride.

 

Diomedes

thank

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ 

 

“So,” Diomedes says, as he climbs into Patroclus’s car, “that was quite the display at lunch today.”

“Yeah,” Patroclus agrees, “does that happen often?”

“Does Agamemnon get unnecessarily angry and say offensive things often?” Diomedes specifies, “Yeah. But Achilles is usually the only one who ever stands up to him.” Patroclus thinks back to lunch. Achilles had obviously been amused by Clytemnestra humiliating Agamemnon, but other than that, he hadn’t really reacted to any of today’s happenings. Which is strange, because usually he gets offended if Agamemnon breathes . Diomedes cocks his head to the side, obviously considering this as well. “Huh, that’s weird,” He says, “he didn’t really do anything today. Usually he jumps at any chance to fight Agamemnon.”

Patroclus has a theory as to why Achilles wasn’t completely embroiled in today’s episode, but he does not want to voice it. If he suggests that maybe Achilles was distracted by his impending discussion with Patroclus about their relationship, Diomedes will grill him for details while squealing like a girl about how adorable they are together. And Patroclus gets enough of that from Briseis. So, instead, he directs the conversation away from Achilles’s role in things and onto someone else’s.

“What about Clytemnestra?” He asks, “Has she ever...you know, stood up to him before? I’ve heard he treats her pretty badly.”

“I mean, she totally hates him,” Diomedes replies, “and she doesn’t try to hide it. The first few times he cheated on her she spread some savage rumors about him having some... stuff crawling around down there. If you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Patroclus assures him.

“So yeah, I guess she has stood up to him before. Just not usually in front of people,” Diomedes concludes. “Menelaus, on the other hand, has been letting Agamemnon walk all over him since preschool, so the consequences of that are yet to be seen.”

Patroclus suddenly remembers his conversation with Menelaus in the locker room. It had been brief, but Menelaus had definitely implied that there was something amiss in his and Agamemnon’s relationship. And out of the whole group, Diomedes appears to be Menelaus’s closest friend, so if anyone would know, it would be him.

“What’s up with that?” Patroclus inquires, attempting to be casual and discreet.

“What’s up with what?”

Apparently, discreet does not work with Diomedes.

“You know, Menelaus and Agamemnon,” Patroclus clarifies. “I was talking to Menelaus today and he said living with Agamemnon is ‘awful’.”

“Well, Agamemnon is pretty fucking awful.”

“Yeah, no, I know, but like, it just seemed like there was more to it.”

Diomedes props his elbow against the car window and rests his head in his hand, brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”

Patroclus isn’t entirely sure why he’s so curious. Anything to distract himself, he decides. And he wants to know these people. Since middle school, his philosophy has been to keep a low profile and get in and out of this place as fast as possible. Friends never really fit into that plan. Loose acquaintances, like Cassandra and Nestor and Odysseus, were all that was acceptable. But then somehow, with their inviting him to their lunch table and giving him shitty nicknames at parties and rescuing him from certain death at the hands of Hector Priamides, these people wormed their way into his life. So he wants to know them, like they have come to know him.

He tries to explain his thought process to Diomedes. He recounts how Menelaus had mentioned Agamemnon being angry and violent, but then how he couldn’t imagine Menelaus would let Agamemnon beat him up constantly when he’s perfectly capable of fighting back. And then how Menelaus had said, “Whatever, he’ll go to college eventually,” but had sounded like he was far from being so apathetic about the issue.

“...so there’s something going on there, isn’t there?” He finishes.

“Yeah,” Diomedes mutters, uncharacteristically solemn, “there’s something going on there.”  There’s a moment of silence while Patroclus waits for him to continue, before it becomes apparent that he doesn’t intend to

“You wanna tell me what that something is?” He prompts.

Diomedes sighs, running a hand over his face. Patroclus knows he shouldn’t be asking Diomedes to share Menelaus’s personal problems, but he’s hoping it isn’t something so bad that even high schoolers won’t gossip about it. “Well,” Diomedes finally speaks, “how would you feel if you had an older sibling that was captain of the football team, and president of the junior class, and the most popular guy in school?”

Oh. So there it is. So it isn’t physical abuse, and it isn’t Agamemnon’s general unpleasantness as a person. It’s that Agamemnon is every parent’s dream, and being the younger sibling to that must be a bit like being Menoetius’s son.

“Pretty overshadowed,” Patroclus decides. Diomedes nods.

“Yup. And not just overshadowed, flat-out ignored. Like, I remember one time, we’d just won a football game, and Atreus came down and shook Agamemnon’s hand and told him how proud he was of him and everyting, and then he turned to Menelaus and asked if he needed a ride home,” He recounts.

“Yikes.” Patroclus says, “that’s pretty harsh.”

“All I know is, the dude’s gonna have some spectacular daddy issues when he’s older. He kind of already does.”

“What a kind, supportive, best friend thing to say.”

Patroclus thinks back to sitting in Menelaus’s car after being rescued from certain death at the hands of Hector Priamides, and remembers the squeak of the steering wheel and the rattling noise the engine kept emitting. Suddenly, Menelaus’s shitty car makes a lot more sense. With the image he now has of Atreus, Menelaus’s father, he can’t imagine the man buying his younger son a fancy ride like Agamemnon’s.

“Whatever. Let’s talk about something else.”

The car is silent for a moment as each tries to think of a topic. Patroclus does not want to talk about the events of today’s lunch and/or Achilles, and Diomedes obviously does not want to talk about the situation with Menelaus. What else do they, a member of social royalty and a previously anonymous geek, have to discuss?

“So what’s up with you and Briseis?”

Diomedes, usually so utterly suave and remarkably savvy in any social situation, suddenly becomes awkward and uncomfortable, scratching the back of his head and directing his eyes anywhere in the vehicle but at Patroclus.

“What? I don’t know. M-me and Briseis? Nothing! I don’t even-I mean, she’s pretty, but that’s...um, lots of girls are...and she’s smart , but, like, whatever. She’s, um, she’s a good friend! I value her. And h-her friendship. What’s with the third degree?!”

“Woah, woah, woah, chill,” Patroclus teases. “I was just asking.”

“Well, it’s-there’s nothing to ask about!” Diomedes insists, blushing furiously. He crosses his legs and curls his body towards the door, leaning away from Patroclus.

“It’s cool,” Patroclus assures him, “I think it’s great that you like her.”

“I don’t like her!”

Patroclus, once he’s safely stopped at a red light, turns to face Diomedes and gives him an unconvinced, deadpan look.

“Dude, everyone knows you like her. I’ve known you for two weeks and I know you like her.”

Slowly, warily, Diomedes uncurls, hand lowering from where he’d fisted it in his hair to hide his face as he turns to look Patroclus in the eye. He leans back in his seat, attempting to regain his carefree, casual demeanor.

“Oh,” He says slowly. “Um, does she know?”  

“Yes,” Patroclus replies, smirking.

“Oh,” He repeats. “Do you....um, do you think maybe...has she-”

“She likes you too,” Patroclus cuts him off, deciding that no matter how fun it is to watch Diomedes writhe in the awkwardness the less socially adept have to endure every day, it is past time to put him out of his misery.

Gradually, in a manner that bears an uncanny resemblance to the sun rising gloriously out from behind  rolling, grassy hill to spill radiant light onto an serene, peaceful meadow while rivers babble and birds sing, the world’s largest, most dazzling, overwhelmingly joyous smile stretches across Diomedes’s face.  Patroclus can’t help but grin himself as he watches. A lot of things are complicated or at the very least open-ended and ambiguous, but this is simple and indisputably good .

“Wow,” He says. “Wow. That’s...I-I mean, shit . Really? She said so?”

“Like, all the time.”

Patroclus turns onto Mycenae Drive and pretends not to notice Diomedes grinning and blushing like a middle school girl. It’s pretty endearing, actually. And Patroclus cares a lot about Briseis. She is his best friend and has proven herself to be, time and time again, the best person in the entire world. He always thought there would be no one out there he would ever deem good enough for her, but Diomedes may just be the one.

“So,” Diomedes says, sobering suddenly and turning to face Patroclus, “do I have your blessing?”

“My blessing?” Patroclus repeats, as he peers out his window and searches for Agamemnon’s house among the rows and rows of majestic, hulking mansions, “for what?”

“To ask her out.”

“You know she has parents, right?”

“Yeah, but c’mon, your blessing is more important.”

Patroclus has to agree with that. He is not a particularly violent person, nor does he possess the strength or skill required to really inflict any damage on another person, but he is certain that were anyone to harm Briseis, he would undergo some Hulk-like transformation and rip them limb from limb. So, with this in mind, he carefully analyzes Diomedes.

The quarterback has a lot in common with a golden retriever, he decides. Cheerful, friendly, and fiercely loyal. He does not have a mean bone in his body, so Patroclus doesn’t have to worry about him ever hurting Briseis. Even if he were to break up with her, Patroclus trusts he would do it gently. And he clearly likes her, maybe even as much as Patroclus likes Achilles. All Diomedes ever seems to do is make people happy, and Briseis deserves the most happiness of anyone on this earth. So Patroclus approves.

“Okay, fine,” He decides, “you have my blessing.”

“Yes!” Diomedes cheers, pumping his fist. “Thanks, man. You won’t regret this.”

Patroclus pulls the car into the long, winding driveway and makes sure it is safely parked before turning on Diomedes, attempting to look as intimidating as possible.

“I better not,” He threatens. “Briseis is a national treasure. She is literally a blessing onto this earth. She is a celestial being comprised entirely of pure goodness and love and she deserves the absolute best! So if I ever hear one word that even implies that maybe you’ve done something to make her the tiniest bit less than completely and utterly happy, I will make you wish you were never born. We clear?”

Diomedes is at least a full head taller than Patroclus as twice as big across. He is probably strong enough to crush Patroclus’s skull right then and there with his bare hands. But somehow Patroclus’s attempt to look intimidating works, and Diomedes is leaning so far back he almost falls out of the car. He might actually be trembling .

“We’re clear,” He squeaks.

“Good,” Patroclus says, nodding. Then he calmly opens the door and steps out of the car. Diomedes is slow to follow suit, and when he does he trips out of the vehicle and stumbles a few times as he catches up with Patroclus.

“I’m gonna treat her well,” He gushes, “I promise. Really well. Like a queen. Like a goddess!”

“I know you will,” Patroclus replies, “because she is a goddess.”

“She is!” Diomedes hastens to agree.

Patroclus is feeling pretty good about himself in that moment. He has the quarterback of Ilium High’s football team cowering before him, and he can’t help but puff his chest out a bit and roll his shoulders back. But then he hears a voice call his name, and instantly he is an awkward, stammering geek again. Whatever suave, powerful facade he had managed to create shatters.

“Patroclus!” Achilles calls, as he hops up the steps to join Patroclus and Diomedes on the Atrides’ front porch.

“H-hey, Achilles! What’s...um-”

“I made you this,” Achilles cuts him off, before he can stammer out another clumsy, embarrassing syllable, “in chemistry.”

He seems uncharacteristically nervous, stuffing his hands into his pockets and rocking back and forth on his heels. Patroclus examines the item that has been shoved into his palm. It’s a small, plastic cup containing some sort of gelatinous, translucent, bright orange substance.

“Is this... slime?”

Achilles blushes furiously. Leaning casually against the door to enjoy the cringe-worthy exchange, Diomedes smirks.

“Y-yeah, I, um...we made them in chemistry. I already said that. I just thought-it’s stupid, you don’t need to-”

“No, I like it!” Patroclus insists. He most definitely does not, but there’s no way he’s going to say that to Achilles when he’s got that flustered, anguished, decidedly adorable look on his face. Hesitantly, Achilles mouth stretches into a tentative smile.

“You do?”

“Of course!” Patroclus holds up the cup and examines it closer, “What’s not to like? It’s...slime!” He has never been more confused by anything in his life. Typically, if someone were to give him a cup full of orange slime, he would take that to mean they did not like him. But Achilles presented the gift as one would present a bouquet of exquisite red roses, leading Patroclus to believe that maybe this is not meant as a symbol of enmity.

“That’s a relief,” Achilles gushes. “I wasn’t sure you’d like it. And I didn’t know your favorite color, so I just went with orange. You seem like an orange person. In a good way! Like, you know, sunshine, and um...tangerines...”

Achilles is clearly floundering, but Patroclus is not put off by it. If anything, he finds it touching, and feels a warm fondness start to bloom in his chest. The effigy of Achilles as a poised, flawless, immaculate divinity of some sort has crumbled, but it has left in its wake a version of him that is human in an endearing, adorable way.

Diomedes, seemingly tired of watching Achilles stumble through compliments to both Patroclus and the color orange while Patroclus grins like an idiot, announces, “Okay, this is too disgusting,” and rams a shoulder into the door, pushing it open.

They’re late. Almost everyone is already gathered in the Atrides’ opulent living room, sprawled across elegant off-white sofas and overstuffed armchairs. Ajax, too large to fit in most furniture pieces, has been relegated to the luxurious, intricate carpet. Patroclus finds a place beside Odysseus on one of the two couches, and Achilles takes the spot next to him. Only Agamemnon remains on his feet, so as to most effectively command authority. The conversation is already underway.

“Dude, you’ve gotta get rid of her!” Ajax is arguing. Patroclus can immediately deduct, even having only heard this one piece of the discussion, that the “her” in question is Chryseis. “She gave us all mono! She’s obviously just using you to get to our team!”

“You have no proof of that,” Agamemnon insists. Ajax lets out an exasperated groan, throwing his head back.

“She showed up to one party, and the next day we all had mono!” Shorter Ajax takes over for his larger counterpart, who is currently incapacitated by his own frustration.

“Besides, don’t you have a girlfriend already?” Idomeneus points out.

“It’s not about that!” Agamemnon thunders, “It’s about the fact that the Priamides think they can pull one over on us. They want to see me ditch Chryseis, because then I’ll be admitting she gave us all mono, and they’ll have successfully humiliated us in front of the entire school! It’s about pride .” The party blinks. This does not make much sense, and Patroclus can’t help but suspect it isn’t the real reason Agamemnon wants to keep Chryseis around.

“Clytemnestra won’t put out, will she?” Shorter Ajax deadpans. Beside Patroclus, Achilles snorts, barely making an effort to disguise his laughter as a cough.

“There is nothing wrong with me and Clytemnestra,” Agamemnon growls. He is quaking, like a volcano about to erupt.

“Uh, besides the fact that you’re cheating on her,” Ajax points out.

“And she totally manhandled you at lunch today,” Achilles adds, grinning unabashedly.

“And she won’t put out,” Shorter Ajax concludes.

Menelaus is notably silent, pressed against the side of a green velvet canapé, as far from his brother as he can possibly get. Patroclus does not want to even imagine what transpired between the two of them after Menelaus’s outburst at lunch.

“This is not about my relationship!” Agamemnon fumes. “This is about the utter catastrophe that is our team, and the fact that if we don’t think of a way out of this, we’re all gonna have to leave Ilium.”

It’s a pretty empty threat. Even Odysseus knows no one will actually go through with that. But the losers will forfeit their social standing, which, to the jocks, is a big deal.

“Well,” Ajax begins, “we could start by losing the rat.”

Agamemnon lets out a ferocious, enraged, downright animalistic noise, something between a scream and a snarl, and balls his fists at his sides. The group, all of whom had previously been enjoying poking the bear, are stunned into silence, and visibly recoil from their furious leader.

“She is not a rat,” Agamemnon hisses, once he is done making barbaric noises, “and we are not losing her. Until one of you comes up with any sort of proof that Chryseis did any of what you’re accusing her of, she stays right where she is. Agreed?”

Then, as if on cue, Patroclus feels his phone buzz in his pocket.

 

Briseis

CHRYSEIS CONFESSED

 

Briseis

I RECORDED ALL OF IT

 

The texts are followed by a voice memo. The girls are all still stuck at cheer practice, but they should be finishing up by now. Briseis must have coaxed the admission out of Chryseis in the locker room. Patroclus gulps. He is the only one Briseis sent the recording to, leaving him in a terrifying position. If he announces that he has the aforementioned proof, Agamemnon will almost definitely shoot the messenger. But then again, if he keeps it to himself, Chryseis keeps her place as Agamemnon’s latest mistress and could continue wreaking havoc on the Atrides’ team indefinitely.

So Patroclus does the noble thing. He hands his phone to Achilles. After all, Achilles loves starting shit with Agamemnon, and Patroclus is terrified of Agamemnon, so if he can make Achilles happy while avoiding facing his fears at the same time, then it’s a win-win.

“What?” Achilles says, but Patroclus just gestures for him to read the messages on the screen. Achilles’s eyes scan through the conversation, his entire face lighting up with a sort of delighted malice when he sees Briseis’s voice memo. “This is amazing, ” He whispers. “Agamemnon’s gonna freak.”

“I know,” Patroclus agrees, “which is why you get to tell him.” If possible, Achilles’s expression grows even more delighted.

“Really?” He asks. “This is an unprecedented opportunity. Are you sure you want to give it up?”

“Never been so sure of anything in my life,” Patroclus confirms.

“You’re the best ,” Achilles says, then turns to face the group and clears his throat. Agamemnon whirls around.

“What?” He snaps.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Achilles begins, fighting to conceal his smug grin and just barely winning, “I just have something you might want to listen to.” He then adopts Odysseus’s technique of waiting to be asked before supplying the relevant information. Agamemnon sighs, clearly more than a little annoyed.

“And that is...?” He prompts. Achilles has to take a moment to secrete his own growing amusement with the situation before continuing.

“Well,” He says, “it just so happens that at the very moment you said we needed evidence to prove Chryseis gave us all mono, my dear, dear friend Briseis sent Patroclus this little recording.” Without further ado, he presses play, and the group leans forward in their seats to listen.

Patroclus was right in assuming the recording was taken in the locker room. The first sounds that can be heard are showers running, metal doors slamming, and girls chattering in the background. Then Clytemnestra’s voice cuts over the ambience, loud and clear.

“...so I had him by his shirt, and I swear to god he was trembling- ” Girls erupt in laughter at this, the well-practiced, condescending giggles that cheerleaders are so very good at, and here in the living room, Agamemnon goes bright red. Whether with fury or with humiliation, no one can tell. “-and I said, ‘If you ever speak another word about my sister again in your miserable, pathetic life, I swear on Diomedes’s goddamn fork garden that I will rip your junk off with my teeth.’”

The laughter progresses from feminine giggles to uproarious shrieks and some scattered applause. It takes longer to subside than the last burst, and when Chryseis finally speaks, she’s gasping for breath.

“Oh my god, that’s fantastic ,” She pants. “He’s literally disgusting.”

Beside Patroclus, Achilles can no longer contain his amusement and slumps against Patroclus’s shoulder, whole body quaking with suppressed laughter. Patroclus tries his best not to shudder when he feels jolts of electricity start to spread from the point of contact.

“Agreed,” Clytemnestra says, “I’ve never been happier than when he was out sick last week.” There’s a short pause, and Patroclus can just see Chryseis in his mind, her eyes darting back and forth and her lips pressed together as she debates whether or not to confess.

“You guys want to know something?” She finally speaks, voice conspiratorially low. There’s a few scattered murmurs of assent from the cheerleaders. “Okay.” She takes a deep breath, preparing herself to release this secret she’s been holding in for weeks. “I gave everyone mono.”

It comes out with a rush, and she punctuates it with a short burst of laughter, as though she can hardly believe her own audacity.

“What?” Briseis’s voice crackles out of the speaker as she feigns confusion.

“Paris told me to do it,” She gushes, still giggling. “Deiphobus had it, so Paris came up with this idea that someone should go to that bonfire party the Atrides were having and spread it. And since I’ve already had mono, he picked me.”

A brief, nearly imperceptible moment of silence follows. Patroclus wouldn’t have noticed had he not been trying to envision the scene in his head and imagined Clytemnestra and Briseis sharing a meaningful look after Chryseis’ confession.

“Wow,” Briseis says, “that’s hilar-”

And then the recording ends.

“Well,” Achilles says, filling the awed silence that ensues, “I think the evidence speaks for itself.” Agamemnon visibly bristles, shoulders tensing and jaw clenched. “In other words, you have to lose the rat.”

“I don’t have to do anything,” Agamemnon retorts, sounding suspiciously like a toddler screaming, “You’re not the boss of me!”

“You said if we could come up with evidence, you’d get rid of her!” Achilles argues, leaning forward from where he’d been reclining casually on the couch. Up until this point he’d been thoroughly enjoying this, but now he seems to be getting genuinely angry. “That was pretty good evidence!”

Agamemnon turns slightly, angling his body away from Achilles so he won’t have to look his challenger in the eye. “You have no proof that was Chryseis talking,” He insists. He’s hanging on by a thread, and Patroclus is pretty sure he’s only arguing because he doesn’t want to admit Achilles is right.

Achilles makes an indignant, enraged noise in the back of his throat, before managing to swallow his ire enough to speak. “Are you serious?!” He splutters, “That’s your argument?”

“Yeah, dude, that’s pretty weak,” Ajax puts in. “It was obviously her.”

“And you gave your word,” Achilles continues, “if you don’t stand by it, you’re no better than your rat girlfriend.”

“She’s not a rat!” Agamemnon cries, even though by now it’s been pretty clearly proven that she is.

“I don’t know why you’re so goddamn desperate to keep her around, anyway!” Achilles rants, “You have a girlfriend! And if you’re really that fucking horny, there’s a million other girls at school that aren’t rats! Why can’t you cheat on your girlfriend with them?”

And then there’s a pause. A ceasefire. But the air is still crackling with tension, leading Patroclus to believe this is really just the calm before the storm. Agamemnon turns around slowly so he’s facing Achilles head on, devious glint in his eyes.

“Fine,” He relents, holding his hands up. But there’s a self-satisfied smirk on his face that shows he’s found a way to turn this situation to his advantage, and beside Patroclus, Achilles’s eyes narrow in suspicion. “You’re right. There’s a million other girls at school. Like your dear, dear friend.”

He’s mimicking Achilles’s language from just moments before, and Achilles tenses all over, coiled like a spring. Patroclus feels his heart pick up. He knows exactly what Agamemnon is implying.

“What’s her name?” Agamemnon continues, tapping a finger against his chin while he pretends to ponder. “Oh! That’s right. Briseis.”

Diomedes leaps to his feet, but Achilles beats him to the punch. In an instant, he’s up and at Agamemnon’s throat, one arm barred across his chest as he drives him back up against the wall. He’s a full head shorter than Agamemnon, but the fury blazing in his eyes makes up for the height difference.

“Don’t you dare lay a finger on Briseis,” He threatens, voice low and gravelly. It strikes Patroclus as wholly feral , and he feels something in his chest recoil from this wild, ferocious Achilles that has reared its head in the Atrides’ living room.

“Or what, Pelides?” Agamemnon taunts. He is keeping his cool remarkably well, or at least he is from the neck up. His fingers scrabbling nervously along the wall do not go unnoticed by Patroclus.

“You know what,” Achilles hisses. His words are positively trembling with fury, every syllable dripping with the promise of pain. It sends a cold shiver down Patroclus’s spine.

Achilles keeps Agamemnon there for a moment, staring murder into his eyes and pressing harder and harder against his chest until the king of Ilium High can be heard gasping for breath, before finally releasing him. Agamemnon slumps, a hand flying to his heart, and Achilles shoots one more deadly gaze over his shoulder before stalking out of the room. No one moves until the slamming of the shiny mahogany doors is heard.

“So,” Diomedes speaks, “meeting adjourned?”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Patroclus does not tell Briseis about the events of the meeting. She arrives home from cheer practice around the same time he gets back from Agamemnon’s and immediately asks him how her recording went over, but he keeps it brief. It worked. Agamemnon was pissed, but then everyone knew he would be. He agreed to cut Chryseis loose, in the end.

Patroclus does not mention at what cost.

Seemingly satisfied, Briseis goes into her house, and Patroclus heads up to his bedroom and flops backwards onto his mattress. He has a lot to think about.

He knows he did not like seeing Achilles that way. Enraged, savage, making vicious threats and holding victims captive against the wall. Something within Patroclus inherently disagreed with that. He was unconsciously reminded of his own arm barred across Troilus’s chest in the library, and the freshman’s wide eyes and trembling voice. He’d felt an aversion to that, too. It was too much brute force, too much mindless violence. He’d physically wrenched all of Troilus’s power, all of his agency, away from him. And Achilles had done the same to Agamemnon. Even though Patroclus knows Agamemnon deserves it much more than innocent, fourteen-year-old Troilus Priamides, he can’t help but disapprove of it.

But there is another part of him, a deeper, more animal part, that is not quite as repulsed by Achilles’s actions as his mind is. Usually, when Achilles says something sweet, or laughs at a joke, or even just touches Patroclus, what he feels is warm. It is toasty and pleasant and blooms in his chest, glowing as it spreads throughout his body. What he felt today in the Atrides’ living room was altogether different. It was lower in his stomach, and it was hot. It was searing and burning and hungering . Disregarding Patroclus’s moral aversion to Achilles in this violent state, the feeling tore through him and fiercely wanted. And it wanted Achilles.


Patroclus is having a hard time reconciling these two feelings. He does not like brutality. He knows that; he has always known that. But today, Achilles burned brighter than he ever had before. He was positively ablaze , glowing with righteous fury. He was more terrible than beautiful and yet more magnificent than terrible. And Patroclus cannot get the image out of his head. It is plastered on the inside of his eyelids when he closes his eyes, and it awakens that feeling inside him, that blazing, untamed, ravenous feeling. And when Patroclus falls asleep that night, he is all on fire.

Chapter Text

Patroclus avoids Achilles for the rest of the week. Achilles seeks him out, no doubt trying to have the conversation they were supposed to have at lunch, but Patroclus is suddenly not ready. He has been so sure, his whole life, that a relationship with Achilles Pelides is everything he wants in the world. It has been definitive and clear and that simple. There were things he felt and things he believed and they gelled perfectly together, smooth and coherent. Now, all of the sudden, he sees Achilles as violent and savage and he believes that it’s wrong, but he feels that it’s so right.

The more he thinks about it, the more it makes his head spin. This kind of introspective, soul-searching, philosophical shit isn’t his thing, and he doesn’t know how to resolve it. He spends Tuesday and Wednesday agonizing over it, trying to arrive at some sort of resolution that allows him to experience that surging, fiery, amazing sensation without feeling like he’s betraying himself. By Thursday, however, he’s convinced he needs to seek outside help.  

He can’t go to Briseis about this. She is no more introspective or soul-searching than he is, and she’ll likely tell him to stop being so angsty and find his chill. And he does not know Diomedes, or any of the other jocks, for that matter, well enough to discuss with them such a delicate matter. So, on Thursday, he finds himself yet again lamenting his apparent lack of friends as he turns to his last resort.

“Odysseus,” He whispers, following the older boy through the Natural Sciences and Math section, “I have a problem.” Odysseus briefly glances away from the towering shelves of books, his personal heaven, and peers over the top of his glasses at Patroclus.

“Is it a math problem?” He inquires. Patroclus shakes his head. “Then I suggest you seek advice elsewhere.” He then pushes Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time back onto the shelf and moves further down the aisle, Patroclus traipsing after him.

“Wait!” Patroclus hisses, as loudly as he can in a library, “It’s the kind of deep, philosophical bullshit  you love, I promise it’ll be worth your while.”

“Well,” Odysseus deliberates, “I do love philosophy. Alright. How may I be of service?”

Patroclus sighs. Now that Odysseus has agreed to help him, Patroclus is presented with the challenge of how to phrase his very delicate issue. “Okay,” He begins, “I, um...I consider myself a pacifist.” Odysseus nods, still appearing preoccupied with his search for a nerd book he hasn’t read yet. “That’s something I’ve always sort of known, y’know? I don’t like violence.”

“However, recently,” Odysseus ventures, “a situation has presented itself which challenges your views of pacifism.”

“Sort of,” Patroclus agrees. “It was...Monday, at that meeting thing? At the Atrides’?”

“Yes, I am familiar with the occurrence,” Odysseus confirms.

“Okay, well, remember when Agamemnon threatened to...you know... do stuff with Briseis?” Patroclus rambles, fumbling awkwardly for the right words. Odysseus merely nods again and waits for him to continue. “And, Achilles, like, slammed him against the wall and stuff?”

“May I venture a guess as to the end of this fascinating tale?” Odysseus asks. Patroclus nods. “You observed Achilles in this violent state and found yourself less repulsed by his aggressive behavior than perhaps you felt you should be.”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Patroclus admits.

“And now,” Odysseus continues, “you are unsure of how to proceed with these two conflicting halves of your person.”

“Yeah,” Patroclus sighs. “It’s just - You think you have morals, you know? Ethics. Things you hold true no matter what. It’s weird to find out you don’t.”

Odysseus lets out a breath of laughter, decidingly condescending, as if he can’t believe Patroclus’s naivety. “You truly think,” He questions, “that because your beliefs are challenged, that means you do not have them?”

Patroclus is struck dumb. Now that he hears Odysseus say it out loud, it sounds a little ridiculous. He’d had this whole existential crisis over something that, the way Odysseus is putting it, seems like a pretty natural, unavoidable part of adolescence.  “Well, yeah,” He admits, feeling his cheeks heat up as Odysseus once again makes him feel extraordinarily stupid.

“Patroclus, Patroclus, Patroclus,” Odysseus tuts. “The fact that your beliefs are challenged is proof that you have them.”

With that, he exits the Natural Sciences and Math aisle and emerges out into the back of the library, where an enormous window constitutes a wall. Patroclus stands frozen in place, staring at nothing as he thinks through what Odysseus has said. The fact that your beliefs are challenged is proof that you have them. That makes sense, he decides. Opinions cannot exist without some kind of opposition. But that opposition usually comes from an outside source. Someone else, not you, brings up a point that makes you reexamine what you thought to be true. What happens when you yourself subconsciously challenge your own beliefs? What do you do with that?

“Odysseus,” Patroclus calls, emerging from the aisle himself and plopping down beside the older boy in a bean bag, “what happens when it’s not so much that your beliefs are challenged...but that part of you isn’t sure it believes them anymore?”  Odysseus sighs sharply. Apparently he’s had enough of Patroclus’s teen angst.

“If you are concerned that, because you were attracted to Achilles in his violent state, you are no longer a pacifist, let me assure you that you needn’t worry,” Odysseus assures him.

Patroclus blushes furiously at the mention of him being attracted to Achilles. Despite Odysseus being, mostly by default, one of Patroclus’s closest friends, Patroclus doesn’t think he’s ever told him about his crush on Achilles. In fact, Patroclus isn’t sure he ever told Odysseus he was gay. But, he reasons, Odysseus is much too smart not to notice. In fact, the only person in this entire school that wasn’t too smart not to notice seems to be Achilles.

“Why not?” Patroclus presses, deciding he has better things to worry about than Odysseus’s knowledge of his romantic life.

“I think,” Odysseus begins, in a manner that suggests he is about to give a long and important speech, “that you are erring in your assumption that what you feel and what you believe are one united body, and that if the two do not gel together, something is inherently broken and you yourself will cease to function properly. The two are not meant to gel together. What you believe is philosophical, sophisticated, molded from what you observe in this world and how you choose to analyze it. It is yours to create, entirely in your control. But what you feel, that is raw, animal, wholly unsophisticated. It comes into being on its own and pays no heed to your world view . These two must be seen as altogether separate entities, with a sharp dividing line down the middle. They do not act as one, nor do they act in accordance with each other. In short, what you feel is no reflection on what you believe , Patroclus. What you do, now, that is a reflection on both.”

There is a moment of silence as Patroclus tries to puzzle his way through Odysseus’s words and Odysseus waits expectantly for Patroclus’s eureka moment. Essentially, Patroclus decides, what Odysseus is describing is a venn diagram. What you believe and what you feel are two separate spheres, and where they intersect is what you do. So where do his intersect?

“That was unnecessarily wordy, but I think it made sense,” Patroclus finally speaks. “What you feel is different than what you believe. So which is better? Which one do you follow?” Odysseus sighs.

“This is why I prefer math problems,” He mutters to himself. Then, to Patroclus, “That is not a question with an equals sign on the end. There is no correct answer. You are the judge of what is most important to you at any given moment, and I cannot tell you what that is. I can, however, offer my personal opinion.”

Patroclus shrugs. Odysseus’s personal opinions tend to be mini philosophy lessons in and of themselves, and he could use one of those right now.

“Sure.”

“I would urge you to follow what you feel,” He advises. “There is no better time than your angst-ridden teenage years to do so.”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

One thing Patroclus has learned, in just a few, short weeks with the jocks, is that no matter what drama or scandal rocks the group during the school week, there is always a party on Friday. It’s a chance to get everything out in the open, drop the week’s stresses, and wipe the slate clean so everyone can start fresh on Monday. And even though Patroclus wouldn’t exactly describe himself as a party person, he has a lot to get out in the open. Which is why he finds himself driving to Diomedes’s house on Friday evening, Briseis chattering away in the passenger seat.

“Diomedes said he wants to show me his bedroom,” She tells him, her voice a little breathless with excitement. Patroclus, though, can’t figure out exactly what’s so exciting about that.

“So?”

“So, I think he’s gonna ask me to be his girlfriend!” She squeals. Patroclus isn’t quite sure how she got from point A to point B, but she launches into an enthusiastic explanation before he can ask. “I mean, it’s perfect, isn’t it? Private, personal, sweet...” She trails off here, threading a few fingers through her hair and leaning her head into her hand as she stares dreamily through the windshield. Patroclus reaches one hand off the steering wheel to snap his fingers in front of her face.

“You still there?” He teases. She blushes and swats him on the arm, but her mouth is still stretched into an uncontainable grin.

“Shut up,” She mutters, “I was just thinking.”

“Have you guys even been on a date?” He questions. She shakes her head. “Don’t you have to go on a date before you can be girlfriend and boyfriend? I mean, Achilles kissed me, and apparently that wasn’t enough.”

“Normally, you do,” She sighs, “but we’re different. We just go together, we don’t need all that extra stuff.”

Patroclus frowns. Of the new friends he’s gained in the past few weeks, he probably knows Diomedes the best, and Diomedes seems like the type of person who would want all that extra stuff. He wants that quintessential high school experience, where the quarterback takes the cheerleader to the homecoming dance and buys her a corsage and tells her she’s beautiful and kisses her during the slow dance and has her home by 10:00. He doesn’t want to bring a girl up to his bedroom and ask her to be his girlfriend before he’s even taken her out on a date.

“Good luck with that,” is all he says. She doesn’t seem to notice his pessimistic tone.

“But anyway, enough about me,” She prattles on, unable to keep the excited grin off her face, “what’s going on with your love life?”

“Oh, you know,” Patroclus sighs, “terror, confusion, existential crises.”

“What else is new?” Briseis replies, giggling. “Oh, there’s his house! C’mon, park, park!” Patroclus doesn’t think he’s ever seen her so excited for anything.

“I don’t know, I think I’ll drive around the block a few more times.”

“Patroclus!”

“Gotta make sure we’re getting the best parking space.”

“Come on!”

“No, not there, the curb is cracked.”

“Just park already!”

“Okay, okay, I’m parking,” He concedes, laughing. She flops back into her seat with and flicks him an annoyed glance, but the corners of her mouth are twitching up in amusement.

“You’re such a dick,” She grumbles, as she climbs out of the car.

“Yeah, but only to you.”

“Oh, wow, I’m so honored.”

“Ring the doorbell.”

“You don’t have to ring the doorbell , it’s a party.” With that, she moves to open the door and walk right in, but he reaches out and presses the doorbell before she can.

“Just to spite you,” He informs her, shooting her a smug grin.

“You’re the wor- Hey!” She greets, suddenly all smiles and hair twirls as Diomedes swings open the door. Patroclus watches her in amusement, eyebrows raised at this sudden and complete transformation.

“Briseis!” Diomedes greets, “Hey, hi, um, what’s up?” She giggles.

“Nothing much, what’s up with you?” She replies.

“Oh, you know, just...um, party! There’s a party. You should come in!” He splutters. “To the party, I mean.” Patroclus has to bite the inside of his cheeks to keep from laughing. It’s certainly satisfying to see oh-so-suave, king of the extroverts Diomedes reduced to this awkward, red-faced, stammering mess. Briseis steps inside, a small, flirtatious smirk on her face, and Patroclus follows.

“Hey,” He greets, nodding at Diomedes, who seems to notice him for the first time.

“Oh! Hey Poptropica! C’mon, everyone’s in the basement, let’s go.”

He starts leading them down the front hall, the walls of which are so covered in photographs the dark blue wallpaper can hardly be seen. They’re moving too fast for Patroclus to really look at any of them, but he catches sight of a smiling, dark-haired boy in nearly every picture, growing older as they move along the wall. By the time they reach the basement door, the Diomedes in front of them perfectly matches the one inside the frames.

Diomedes places a hand on the doorknob, but at that very moment, someone pushes it open from the other side, and Achilles emerges. Patroclus, who had been enjoying watching Briseis and Diomedes stumble through the awkwardness of establishing a relationship, goes rigid as he suddenly is in that position himself. Well, he thinks, I guess karma is real.

“Hey! Um, I was just gonna get more ice,” Achilles explains, lifting the empty ice bucket in his hands for emphasis. There is a short, heavy silence, during which Diomedes glances repeatedly back and forth between Patroclus and Achilles, both of whom are standing stock-still and staring straight at each other.

“Okay,” Diomedes finally says, slowly. Then he grabs Briseis’s hand and maneuvers the two of them around Achilles, “we’re gonna go downstairs. Have fun with your ice.” With that, Diomedes and Briseis disappear into the basement, leaving Patroclus alone with Achilles.

He makes a split-second decision to continue avoiding his problem.

Swiftly, Patroclus turns on his heel and begins examining the photographs on the wall with immense concentration. Behind him, he hears Achilles place the ice bucket on a nearby radiator and shift awkwardly, clearing his throat.

“So we should-”

“Who’s this?” Patroclus hurries to cut Achilles off before he can say talk, pointing to a broad, stern-looking man in immaculate military dress standing at attention in one of the photographs. Achilles takes a step closer and peers at the photo.

“Tydeus,” He replies, “Diomedes’s dad.” Patroclus turns around to face Achilles, eyebrows raised incredulously.

“Diomedes’s dad is in the military?” He asks.

“Yeah,” Achilles replies, nodding. “I think he’s, like, pretty important, too. A general or something.”

“Oh,” Patroclus says. “Diomedes never talks about it.” Achilles shrugs.

“Yeah, well, you know Diomedes, he doesn’t like to have any problems,” He says, by way of an explanation. Patroclus points to the man in the picture.

“This is a problem?”

“I mean, yeah. The guy’s in the military, he’s not around much. That’s gotta be tough.”

Personally, Patroclus would love if his dad wasn’t around much. Choosing not to reply, he moves further down the hall and examines more of the photos. There is a particularly cute one of a fatigue-clad Tydeus carrying tiny, eight-year-old Diomedes on his shoulders, and another of sixth grade Diomedes at his first football game with a gap-toothed Menelaus beside him, but Patroclus passes over both in favor of one of the wall’s largest photos, taken in the same hall they’re standing in right now. He can pick out every one of his new friends within the frame, albeit years younger and in Halloween costumes.

“When’s this from?” He asks, lips quirking up in amusement. Achilles, who has followed Patroclus down the hall, peers over his shoulder.

“Um, seventh grade, I think,” He replies. “We all came over to trick-or-treat.”

“Wow,” Patroclus teases, “I stopped trick-or-treating in fifth grade.”

“Hey, trick-or-treating is one of mankind’s greatest creations,” Achilles defends himself. “Both the wheel and indoor plumbing pale in comparison to giving strangers in weird costumes free candy. I would still do it now if I could.” Patroclus laughs, still studying the photo in front of him.

“What are the Ajaxes supposed to be?” He asks, pointing to two boys in identical dark blue T-shirts and red shorts, one towering above the other. Shorter Ajax appears to be wearing a bell around his neck, while Big Ajax is holding an asthma inhaler. Achilles takes one look and bursts out laughing.

“Oh my god,” He chokes out through his laughter. “I forgot about that. They were regular-sized and pocket-sized Rudy from Bob’s Burgers . That was incredible.”

“I’ve never seen Bob’s Burgers, ” Patroclus admits. Achilles gasps as though he’s personally offended, eyes going wide and eyebrows shooting up into his hairline.

“You have to watch it!” He insists. Patroclus is about to assure him that he’ll look it up as soon as he gets home, but Achilles is already fishing his phone out of his pocket. “I have Netflix on my phone, oh my god, we’re watching it right now.”

“Right now?” Patroclus echoes. Achilles nods, as though this is completely obvious and not at all a weird thing to do at a party. “Like, now -now? Here?”

“Of course,” Achilles replies, already leading Patroclus over to sit on the staircase. “Patroclus, your cultural enlightenment cannot wait any longer.” Patroclus blinks, still thinking this is a joke. Achilles opens Netflix.

“Well okay then,” Patroclus finally says, and settles in for the pilot.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

“The burger of the day is the ‘Child Molester’ - it comes with candy. Get it?”

Achilles giggles, honest to god giggles , and Patroclus notices that warm feeling beginning to spread through his chest again. It is nothing like the hot, ferocious feeling that arose in the Atrides’ living room on Monday, it’s softer and gentler and spreads slower, but he can’t decide if it’s better. It feels a different kind of good.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

I loved you, I loved you like a horse, which is my favorite animal.”

Patroclus turns and watches Achilles as he laughs softly, and thinks that he loves Achilles like a giraffe, which is his favorite animal.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

“Dad, you’re the best pimp a girl could ever have.”

Achilles turns to Patroclus, grinning, and says, “You know, if it was your birthday, I would pimp out drag queens to pay for your party.” Patroclus gasps and presses a hand to his heart, but he’s only half-faking how touched he is.

“That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

Achilles descends into a fit of laughter again, this time pulling Patroclus down with him.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

“Linda, there are animal anuses all over our walls!”

“This is a weird show, Achilles Pelides,” Patroclus remarks, fixing the tiny iPhone screen with a confused yet intrigued look.

“This is art, Patroclus Menoetiades,” Achilles replies, and pronounces Patroclus’s last name perfectly without stumbling once. “Now shush, this is a good episode.” With that, he casually drapes an arm around Patroclus’s shoulders, eyes still glued to the screen. Patroclus tries not to have a seizure.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

By 10:43 they’ve watched all the way up to Weekend at Mort’s, the eleventh episode of the first season, and the party has trickled out of the basement and into the living room adjacent to Achilles and Patroclus’ front hall staircase. Aside from a suggestive eyebrow waggle from Menelaus, no one has reacted at all to the two of them hunched on the staircase watching cartoons in the middle of a party. Patroclus has to admit, Bob’s Burgers is entertaining, but eleven episodes in one night is pushing his limit.

“We’ve been watching this for, like, three and a half hours,” He announces. Just as Mort asks, “Who wants to help me glue a wig on a cadaver?” on-screen.

“Three and a half hours well-spent,” Achilles counters, while Louise readily agrees to Mort’s proposition.

“I’m not sure how much more colorful 2D animation I can stomach,” Patroclus says, getting to his feet and stretching. He steps down off the stairs and returns to the photos, eyes flicking over them with mild interest.

“Fair point,” Achilles concedes, shutting off his phone and stuffing it in his pants pocket. “We’ll finish it another time.” Patroclus starts at the mention of ‘another time’. Achilles is planning on there being another time? Another time for him and Patroclus to sit side-by-side alone and watch TV with Achilles’s arm wrapped around Patroclus’s shoulders? Isn’t that kind of like...a date?

“Yeah?” Is all he says.

“Yeah,” Achilles confirms, getting to his feet as well, “I mean, if you want to.”

“I want to!” Patroclus assures him hurriedly, then blushes at his own over-eagerness.

“Okay,” Achilles replies, “me too.”

Patroclus’ eyes find their way back to the Halloween photo and flick from middle schooler to middle schooler, taking in Ilium High’s royalty in the throes of the most awkward stages of puberty. Agamemnon’s enormous forehead pimple is amusing, as are Helen’s braces, but nothing could have prepared him for Achilles.

“Oh my god,” He breathes. Achilles catches sight of what he’s looking at and groans, eyes squeezing shut in an embarrassed grimace.

“I lost a bet,” He attempts to defend himself.

“Whatever you say.”

“Diomedes made me!”

“Keep telling yourself that.”

“I can explain!”

“Please do,” Patroclus laughs, “because I want to know every single development in the chain of events that lead up to there being a framed photo, hanging right here in this very hallway, for all the world to see, of you dressed up as Shrek .”

“Okay,” Achilles sighs, and Patroclus nods for him to give his explanation. “You see Diomedes in the back row? He’s the one dressed as Gru from Despicable Me. And the minion next to him? That’s Menelaus. Okay, so Diomedes had been planning to be Gru since, like, last Halloween, because for some reason in middle school he loved Despicable Me, and he told me he wanted Menelaus to be a minion. And I was like, ‘There’s no way he’ll go for that.’ So Diomedes bet me that he would, and if he won I had to go as Shrek, and if I won he had to be the minion himself. And I was right , Menelaus wouldn’t go for it. But then Diomedes cheated, like the dirty, rotten cheater he is, and told Menelaus about the bet, and obviously he wanted to see me dress up as Shrek, so he agreed and now there’s a guy I like and he’s looking at a picture of me in middle school wearing a Shrek costume.”

Patroclus, who had been laughing through pretty much the whole story, sobers instantly at the conclusion. The smile drops off his face and his eyes go wide as dinner plates, and all he can think to do is blink. There’s a guy I like. A guy he likes. Achilles likes him? It probably shouldn’t come as this much of a surprise, he reasons, considering Achilles kissed him last Friday, but he’s never actually heard the words out of Achilles’ mouth.

“A guy you like?”

And then, at that very moment, possibly the worst moment of all the moments in the history of time, Diomedes comes racing down the hall from the basement and Clytemnestra saunters in from the living room.

“I can’t find Briseis!” Diomedes exclaims, at the same time Clytemnestra drawls, “You guys seen Agamemnon?”

Patroclus, who had been in a dreamy, tingly state of blissful shock, is instantly overtaken by a wave of cold, nauseating dread as he remembers the events of Monday’s meeting. Chryseis confessing, Achilles forcing Agamemnon to relinquish Chryseis, all leading up to Agamemnon’s horrible threat to turn his attention to Briseis. And right now, neither of them can be found. Patroclus can easily put two and two together.

Achilles, apparently, can too.

Instantly, he bolts from the hall, with Patroclus and Diomedes scrambling after him. They tear through the dining room and into the kitchen, where Achilles comes screeching to a halt. Diomedes and Patroclus both have to wheel their arms wildly in order to come to a stop fast enough not to bowl Achilles over. Once he’s certain he’s not going to cause a three-man pile up, he lays eyes on the scene before him and feels his stomach drop to his feet.

Agamemnon has Briseis held captive against the wall, both hands pressing firmly against her shoulders to keep her in place, and just as the three of them stampede into the kitchen, he slams his lips none-too-gently against hers. She brings her arms up and tries to push him off, but he swiftly catches her wrists and pins them against the wall, holding her captive. Briseis is squealing in terror against his lips, like some sort of barnyard animal caught in a barbed wire fence, and Patroclus is frozen in place. Briseis is his best friend in the world, his closest confidante since kindergarten, the only person who’s genuinely and consistently given a shit about him throughout his whole life, and yet here he is, unable to move a muscle as he watches her fall victim to unspeakable crimes and struggle to free herself.

Luckily, Achilles does not have a similar problem.

He wastes only an instant to analyze the scene, then leaps into action. He tears Agamemnon off Briseis just as roughly as he had kissed her and delivers a forceful punch straight to his face. Agamemnon does not go down but stumbles back a few steps, hand flying to his nose.

“What the fuck, Pelides?” He roars, still not fully recovered. At this point, partygoers from the living room are starting to pour in and assemble a crowd behind Diomedes and Patroclus. Briseis seizes her opportunity and darts into the forming mass, throwing herself against Patroclus’s chest. He instinctively wraps his arms around her in a protective embrace but does not tear his eyes off Achilles and Agamemnon.

Achilles, instead of answering Agamemnon’s demand, grabs Agamemnon’s head and smashes it against his knee. Agamemnon lets out an wounded, lupine howl of pain, and Achilles wastes no time in delivering a swift kick to his stomach. Agamemnon goes down on his knees.

Diomedes places a hand on Briseis’s shoulder and gently pulls her out of Patroclus’s embrace and into his. She goes willingly and leaves a wet spot on Patroclus’s shirt.

“You okay?” Diomedes asks her softly, as Achilles elbows Agamemnon sharply in the side, forcing him down into a fetal position. Briseis nods against Diomedes’s chest. “Man, you’re one tough chick,” He mutters.

“Don’t touch her!” Achilles bellows, now wailing mercilessly on Agamemnon’s prone form, raining vicious kicks into his side as he attempts to curl away. Patroclus has no doubt in his mind that Agamemnon deserves it, and he has never hated another human being in his life the way he hates Agamemnon Atrides right now, but he’s starting to think Achilles is going a bit overboard.

The raucous, no doubt inebriated crowd of teenagers behind him has no such qualms, and they whoop and holler in support of the fight, unabashedly egging Achilles on while Patroclus watches helplessly. Diomedes lets out a sympathetic hiss when Achilles sends his foot straight into Agamemnon’s sternum. Just when Patroclus is starting to consider intervening, Menelaus bursts onto the scene, shoving his way through the crowd and stumbling out into the open.

“Hey, hey!” He yells and forcefully yanks Achilles away from Agamemnon, pinning his arms behind his back and strategically placing himself between the two. “I love to watch my brother get his ass kicked, but enough is enough!”

Achilles fumes, nostrils flaring as his breath saws in and out, and Patroclus can practically see steam shooting out of his ears. The masses go silent, watching raptly as the situation unfolds and eagerly awaiting Achilles’s next move. Instead of directing his violent rage at Menelaus, which Patroclus half-thinks he might do, he slowly turns around to face the crowd that’s formed behind him as though seeing them for the first time. He stands there for a moment, looking for all the world like a deer in the headlights, then makes up his mind and bolts.

Chapter Text

Patroclus stands rooted to the spot, staring after Achilles. Behind him, whispers race through the crowd, surging together in one unintelligible buzz as late arrivals speculate what happened and those who witnessed it all attempt to fill them in. Briseis remains pressed against Diomedes’ chest, trembling, eyes squeezed shut and lips pressed firmly together. She is his top priority right now, Patroclus realizes. Anything else can wait.

“You wanna go home?” He asks, placing a hand on her shoulder. She nods, not moving from Diomedes’ protective embrace.

“I’ll drive her,” Diomedes volunteers, “you go after Pelides.” Patroclus hesitates. He trusts Diomedes, of course, but Briseis must be pretty shaken up right now. If he were in her position, the last thing he’d want would be to spend fifteen minutes alone in a car with a prospective love interest.

“Whatever you want, Briseis,” He says. She takes one more moment to pull herself together in Diomedes’ arms, then pushes herself off his chest and stands up straight, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.

“Diomedes can drive me,” She decides, “you should probably go make sure Achilles doesn’t commit a murder.” He pauses, worrying his lip between his teeth. As much as he wants to be with Achilles, the first thing he wants is to see Briseis home safe.

“You’re sure you’re okay?” He presses.

“Yes, Patroclus, I’m fine,” She assures him. “Achilles needs you right now just as much as I do.”

“Okay. I’ll see you at home. Call me if you need me.”

With that, he turns on his heel and darts out of the kitchen, exiting through the same convenient back door Achilles used to make his escape and leaving the screen banging relentlessly against the frame in his wake. He finds himself standing on an asphalt driveway in the middle of a cool, crisp night, and the world around him feels underwhelmingly empty and quiet after the rush of noise and movement he just witnessed. Achilles is nowhere to be seen.

Then, out of the silence of the dark, Patroclus hears a short, muffled scream and a metallic thump . He spots Achilles further down the driveway, silhouette just barely visible in the darkness, hunched over the roof of someone’s car with his fist pounding repeatedly against it. Patroclus approaches cautiously.

“Briseis is fine,” He announces, from a safe distance back.

“What do you mean, ‘fine’?! ” Achilles demands, wheeling around instantly. The fury blazing in his eyes has not dimmed at all. “How could she be fine?! Did you see what he was doing to her?!”

“But you saved her!” Patroclus argues. “You saved her, she’s fine. She’s safe now.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Achilles growls. “It doesn’t matter. It’s not enough. It’s not fucking enough!” Patroclus doesn’t reply. The pure rage has cracked, revealing the deep, agonized rivers of pain that fuel it, so he just stands there and lets it flow. “So she’s safe now, so what ?! All that matters is that at one point she wasn’t . So I saved her, all that matters is that she even needed saving! All that matters is that there’s a person in there who thinks he can slam people against a wall and take whatever he wants from them! So I punched him in the face, and you know what?! Nothing’s going to change. He’s going to keep treating everyone like they’re nothing and I’ll never be able to do anything about it!”

Achilles has taken to pacing up and down the driveway like a zoo animal in a cage, fingers fisting into his hair and elbows drawn tight around his face. His muscles are coiled tight, ready to spring at any moment. All in all he gives off a dangerous air, but Patroclus draws closer.

“You did everything you could,” He says softly. “Agamemnon hurts people, but there’s nothing you can do about that. What you can do is make sure he doesn’t hurt your friends, and you did.”

“But he’s gonna keep hurting them!” Achilles exclaims desperately. He almost seems to be pleading, begging Patroclus to understand the pain that is tearing him apart. “He’s going to keep hurting everyone around him, and there’s got to be something I can do to make him see he can’t. There’s gotta be something that’ll show him there are lasting consequences, beyond a bloody nose and maybe some damaged pride...” Achilles trails off, his pacing picking up speed. He appears almost manic, crazed in his furious search for a plan that will end that will end the despotic rule of Agamemnon Atrides.

And then, abruptly, he stops dead in his tracks. His head snaps up, eyes bright, and Patroclus can practically see the light bulb go off above his head.

“I quit,” He announces. Patroclus blinks.

“What?”

“I quit,” Achilles repeats. “The game. I’m not playing anymore. I quit.”

Patroclus is struck dumb. A few weeks ago, he probably wouldn’t have cared so much about Achilles quitting some stupid high school war game, but that was before he saw the impact the game had on the school. The entire student body, save the seniors, who have collectively deemed the game juvenile, is participating, and as far as the social ladder goes, it has become all that matters. Those who have been killed are the lowest of the low, those who do the killing are exalted as gods. Those who don’t participate at all are not even given a place. They’re as good as nonexistent, as far as the students of Ilium High are concerned. Achilles has lived his whole life in the spotlight, and Patroclus isn’t sure he’s ready to be shoved out of it.

“Um,” Patroclus finally stammers out, “a-are you sure?” Achilles nods eagerly. There’s a feverish glow in his eyes as he imagines the repercussions of his decision.

“Yeah,” He says breathlessly. “Think about it. They won’t survive without me.”

“That’s pretty cocky,” Patroclus cuts in.

“It’s true,” Achilles shoots back. Patroclus can’t argue with that. Achilles has made more kills than the entire rest of the team combined, and without him, they would’ve sunk ages ago. “They need me. And once I’m gone, they’ll get obliterated. And Agamemnon will finally see he can’t walk around stomping other people into the ground, because someday it’s gonna come back to bite him in the ass!”

Achilles doesn’t even seem to notice Patroclus in his frenzied state. He stares at a point just over Patroclus’s shoulder, lips quirked up in an almost demented-looking smile. He’s caught in some sort of maniacal, sadistic reverie driven entirely by his insatiable desire for revenge, which Patroclus thinks he might be taking to a point of insanity.

“Okay,” Patroclus says slowly, “let’s just think this through.” Achilles turns to Patroclus with raised eyebrows, an inquiring expression on his face, as though he can’t imagine what there could be about this plan to think through. “I know you want to hurt Agamemnon,” Patroclus begins, “but this won’t just hurt him . It’ll hurt everyone on that team. It’ll hurt your friends.”

Achilles sighs sharply and sets his jaw. “If they really need me, I’ll come back,” He decides. “But not until Agamemnon begs. And I don’t mean just saying ‘please’. He has to grovel, and he has to promise that he’ll never ever treat anyone the way he treated Briseis tonight.” Patroclus nods. He’s still not fully satisfied, still thinks Achilles is being crazy, but this is the best he’s going to get out of Achilles tonight. He is too enraged to think rationally.

“Okay,” Patroclus relents, “let’s go home.” Achilles uncurls his fists, which have been clenched tight since the first punch he laid on Agamemnon.

“Ajax drove me here” He says.

“Then I’ll give you a ride,” Patroclus replies, shrugging.

Achilles nods and follows Patroclus down the driveway to his car. Once inside, he buries his face in his hands, fingers twisting into his hair. They drive in silence at first, soft, tinny music pulsing gently from the stereo. The furious, electric energy that has been crackling in the air around Achilles slowly dissipates.

“I’m sorry,” He says suddenly. Patroclus can’t decide whether or not he wants Achilles to be sorry. On the one hand, he probably beat a little more shit out of Agamemnon than was strictly necessary. But on the other hand, he saved Briseis.

“You don’t need to be,” He finally decides. “I probably would’ve done the same thing. If I was...capable.” That’s what he’s chosen to tell himself, at least. He doesn’t like to think about how he froze, rigid and completely useless, right when Briseis needed him most. Maybe if he was strong, he tells himself, if he was tough or brave or in any way capable of taking on Agamemnon, he would’ve helped her. It is better to make excuses than to accept the fact that he failed his best friend.

“You wouldn’t’ve,” Achilles argues, and for a moment Patroclus thinks Achilles is calling him out on his failure to act, but then he says, “you would’ve known when to stop. I never do.”

“Maybe,” Patroclus admits, “but at least you’re able to start.”

And that’s when it clicks. They slot perfectly together. Achilles would fly straight into the sun without Patroclus. But without Achilles, Patroclus would never leave the ground. It has all come into place, he thinks. What he believes and what he feels. He has always felt, on a deeper, animal, instinctual level over which he has no control that he needs Achilles. But now he has seen the logical facts of why they fit and believes it just as deeply.

“We still need to talk,” Achilles says.

“Yeah, we do,” Patroclus replies, because he is finally ready. Nothing conflicts anymore, it is finally smooth and coherent. His beliefs and his feelings are still two separate spheres, this he understands now, but there is finally a place where they overlap. Achilles.

“Not right now,” Achilles sighs, raking a hand through his hair. “I can’t right now.” He drops his hands into his lap, and Patroclus sees they’re both still shaking, bruises already starting to form around the knuckles. “Right now it’s like I’m on fire, and if I get anywhere near you, I’ll burn you down with me.”

Patroclus doesn’t say that he would burn gladly. He doesn’t say that it would be blissful agony to be lit by Achilles Pelides’ flame. Instead, he says, “Okay.”  He wants to talk now, he is ready now, but he can wait.  He has been waiting his whole life, he can stand to wait at least until Achilles has stopped trembling.

They drive in silence for a little while longer. Achilles rests his head against the window and squeezes his eyes shut, taking slow, deep breaths. There is still something pulsing in him, something livid and dangerous, something that is quaking on the verge of explosion, but he is trying desperately to wrestle it into submission.

“I’m visiting my mom this weekend,” He says suddenly. Somewhere in the recesses of his mind, Patroclus recalls that Achilles’ parents are divorced and have been for a while. He remembers Achilles disappearing for a weekend every now and then when they were little and returning sullen and withdrawn.

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Patroclus asks, although from what he remembers of how Achilles used to sulk for days in his bedroom upon his return, he’s pretty sure he knows the answer.

“Bad,” He replies, dropping his head into his hands again.

“Hey,” Patroclus says, “join the club.”

“There’s a club?”

“Oh, yeah. The Bad Parent-Child Relationships club.T-shirts and everything.”

“TBPCR. Kind of a crappy acronym.”

“Yeah, well, we toyed with the Future Commitment-Phobes and Emotionally Stunted, but it didn’t fit on the logo.”

“Which is...?”

“One of those bathroom-stall men abandoning a smaller bathroom-stall man in a grocery store.”

Achilles tips his head back against the seat, laughing, and Patroclus can practically see the stormcloud that’s been swirling above his head begin to dissipate. Patroclus doesn’t like to bring up, talk about, or even think about his relationship with his father, but he likes to make Achilles happy. Somehow, the bright, warm glow that blooms in Patroclus’s chest whenever Achilles smiles is beginning to displace the dark, melancholy gloom that hangs in his stomach whenever Menoetius enters his head.

“You’re starting to convince me this is a real club,” Achilles says.

“It is a real club,” Patroclus insists.

“Fine, who’s in it?”

“Oh, you know,” Patroclus muses, “me, you, Menelaus, Diomedes, probably a lot more of our friends. People have a lot of teenage angst these days.” Achilles nods in agreement as the the car rolls into Phthia. Patroclus guides the car over to the curb and parks outside of his house, then turns to Achilles.

“This your stop?” He asks, jerking his head toward the house across the street.

“Yeah,” Achilles sighs, and climbs out of the car. He then glances up at the light still on in one of the second-story bedrooms and flops back against the car, muttering, “Shit.”

“What?”

“My dad’s still up. He’s gonna be pissed I’m getting home so late.”

Patroclus finds this a little hard to believe. He remembers Peleus, Achilles’s father, as lenient and carefree, and he can’t imagine this would upset him. Besides, he’s watched Achilles through his bedroom window sneaking into his house far later than this before. Before he can stop it, the idea that maybe Achilles is lying to spend more time with him worms its way into his head. He tries to tell himself not to believe it, but it’s easier to accept it as truth and let that warm glow in his chest spread down to the tips of his fingers and toes.

So he says, “Okay. We’ll wait,” and pushes himself up onto the hood of his car. Achilles follows suit. “So,” He begins, “things with your mom aren’t great?” He knows he shouldn’t press. He knows he wouldn’t like it if Achilles asked him the same thing about his dad. But he also knows that there is a gloom hanging in Achilles’s eyes, a gloom he recognizes all too well himself, that he will do anything in his power to dispel.

“Yeah,” Achilles sighs, pushing a hand through his hair. “I mean, I don’t know. It’s probably my fault.”

“Probably your fault?” Patroclus echoes, brow furrowed. Achilles nods.

“I just...” He trails off, dropping his head to his chest and staring down at his lap. “I think, when they got divorced, I kind of...put them in boxes, you know? Good parent, bad parent. I was really little and I just needed a way to cope, but it kind of...stuck.”

Achilles won’t look at him. Patroclus has his head cocked to the side, watching Achilles with concern, but Achilles won’t look at him.

“I’m sorry,” He says suddenly. Patroclus starts.

“Sorry?”

“Yeah,” He replies, “I mean, you have actual problems with your dad, and you’re having to sit here listening to me whine about all this shit I just made up . I shouldn’t complain. There’s nothing wrong with her, I just convinced myself there was.”

“It sounds more like you’re trying to convince yourself there’s not,” Patroclus says. Slowly, Achilles turns to look up at him.

“What?”

“I mean, it wouldn’t have stuck if there wasn’t some truth to it, right?” Patroclus tries to speak like he knows what he’s talking about. Really he has no idea. Really, all he knows is that his own relationship with his father is bad, and really, he can’t even pinpoint why. But Achilles is slumped on the roof of Patroclus’s car with a problem, a problem he believes is his fault, and Patroclus wants to pretend he has the authority to fix it.

“I guess,” Achilles mutters.

“I really don’t think you can just convince yourself you have a bad relationship with your parents,” Patroclus tries to persuade him. Achilles shrugs.

“My mom,” He begins, then sighs, shakes his head, and starts over. “Sometimes it feels more like she’s my manager than my mom.”

“Your manager?”

“Yeah. She really wants me to go to the Olympics, you know? But somewhere along the way I stopped being her son and became her trophy.”

Patroclus just hums in reply. He can’t empathize. His father has never had big dreams for him.

“She’s always telling me I’m going Places ,” Achilles continues. “Capital P. It’s like she doesn’t give a shit about where I am now, all that matters is where I’m going .”

“That sucks,” Patroclus says. He’s not sure he fully understands Achilles’s angst-fueled rant, but when teenagers complain about their parents, the correct answer is usually, “That sucks.” Achilles nods.

“Whatever,” He sighs, “it’s just one weekend.”

Something about that doesn’t seem right to Patroclus. He doesn’t like hearing Achilles brush off the bad feelings between him and his mom like they’re nothing. Just because they aren’t as bad or as permanent as the bad feelings between Patroclus and Menoetius. Pain is real no matter how long you feel it, and he needs to explain that to Achilles.

“Maybe it’s not about that,” He begins. Achilles turns to him with a questioning look. “I mean, maybe it’s not about how long you spend with her. People that make you feel bad...you can walk away from them, but you can’t walk away from how they make you feel.”

“So what do you do?” Achilles’s eyes are so, so wide, and he stares at Patroclus like he has the answers. They are both just teenagers and teenagers are made of glass, and parents tap-tap-tap while children desperately try not to shatter. Patroclus does not know what he does, how he holds himself in one piece. But he’s going to figure it out, and he’s going to do it right now.

“You know,” He says, “someone once told me that adolescence is trying to destroy us. It keeps throwing moms and dads and Agamemnons at us trying to break us apart.  And the only way we can avoid being destroyed is to not lose our friends.” He swallows hard. “So don’t lose me, okay? I know we have this...this thing , and we still have to have this big capital-T Talk, but just...don’t lose me. Don’t let yourself be destroyed.”

Achilles nods, slowly, and takes Patroclus’s hands in his. “I won’t lose you,” He breathes, eyes locked on Patroclus’s, and the promise floats up into the air and disperses, sinking into the omnipotent everything that makes up the world.

 

Chapter Text

Briseis shows up at his door on Sunday afternoon. She’s got her backpack slung over her shoulder and bruises on her wrists where Agamemnon had held her captive. He lets her in immediately.

“You okay?” He asks, as he leads her up the stairs to his bedroom.

“Fine,” She replies curtly, “I just needed help with sine functions.”

They set up on his bed, textbooks and notes and worksheets strewn across the covers, and he pretends for five minutes that it’s normal. They puzzle their way through math homework and laugh at each other’s half-hearted jokes and both attempt to ignore the quiver in her voice that never quite goes away.

“So,” She says, as they’re graphing -2sin(3x+70) , “what happened with you and Achilles at the party?” He shrugs.

“Nothing much. We looked at some pictures of all of you guys on the wall and then we watched Bob’s Burgers ,” He replies. She gives him a questioning look. “He found out I’d never seen it before and insisted we watch the entire first season right then.”

“That’s so cute!” Briseis squeals, giggling and pressing her hands to her heart. He’s never liked discussing his romantic life with her, she always makes delighted little noises and comments on how adorable it all is and it’s always embarrassed him a little, but right now he’s willing to sacrifice his comfort to see a smile on her face. “So what happened next?” She leans forward, all intentions of doing homework forgotten, and waits with an expectant grin.

“Not much,” He replies honestly. “We got up to Weekend At Mort’s, and then he said we’d finish it another time.”

“Another time?” She echoes. He nods. “ Another time? Patroclus!” She squeals, slapping him with a pillow. “You slut, that’s a date!” He throws his arms up to protect himself.

“It’s not a date!” He argues.

“Yes it is,” She insists vehemently. “It’s a date! Patroclus is going on a date! Patroclus and Achilles are going-”

“Okay, okay!” He cuts her off, before her shouting catches his father’s attention. “Maybe it is a date. Whatever.”

“That is so not whatever,” She tells him, smirking. “So what did you say?” Patroclus shrugs.

“Well, I didn’t want to ask him if it was a date,” He replies, “so I just said it sounded like fun. Then he showed me a picture of him dressed up as Shrek from middle school, and then...” He trails off suddenly, remembering what had happened next and not wanting to bring it up. Briseis leans forward and cocks her head, blinking at him expectantly.  

“And then what?” She presses. He sighs.

“And then Diomedes and Clytemnestra came in, looking for you and Agamemnon.”

She looks down sharply, slumping under the weight of the memory of being slammed against the wall and held in place while Agamemnon Atrides took what he wanted from her without permission. “Oh, right,” She mutters.

He looks at her and thinks he has never seen anything sadder in his life. This is Briseis, the sunshine to his gloom, the fire to his constant rain, the bravery to his submission. She’s as kind as they come but she can fight when she needs to, and she always has. She loves the people around her with all her heart but she knows how she deserves to be treated, and before now she had never taken anything less. When she’s been hit she’s always hit back, and he is not about to let her stop now.

“What are you going to do?”

She looks up from her function with a furrowed brow, like she can’t imagine what he’s asking her about.

“About what?” She asks. He sighs exasperatedly.

“About this! About last night, about what happened.

She slumps over her worksheet, eyes drilling a hole in the sloppy waves sketched onto coordinate planes, and pointedly avoids his gaze.

“Nothing,” She mutters.

“Nothing?!” He echoes incredulously. “Briseis, you can’t do nothing!

“Well what do you want me to do?” She demands, looking up at him sharply and slamming her pencil down, dropping all pretenses of doing math homework.

“Anything!” He exclaims. “Have Achilles beat him up! Have Diomedes beat him up! Have Ajax or Other Ajax or Idomeneus beat him up!”

“They’d get suspended, Patroclus, I’m not asking them to do that.”

“Then Agamemnon should be suspended! Report him to Principal Priam.”

“Priam is never going to suspend Agamemnon, he’s the star of the football team, and the football team brings in all the donations.”

“You’ve gotta do something, Briseis-”

“No, I don’t!” It’s the first time throughout this whole argument she’s raised her voice. And because Briseis is normally so patient, and because this is her fight after all, and because she never raises her voice, Patroclus falls silent. “I don’t have to do anything!” She rants, “And I don’t want to! I just want this whole fucking thing to be over! I don’t want anymore fights or drama or anything! And I thought you of all people would understand that.”

He looks down.  She’s right, normally he’s about as confrontational as a baby deer. And it’s been his personal motto all throughout high school to attract as little attention as possible, so he should understand if that’s what Briseis wants. But it’s different, he realizes, when it’s his friend and not him that’s been wronged. He is willing to let slights against himself go, he is not willing to do the same for Briseis. It’s not the first time his usually nonviolent, pacifist nature has been overridden by his protectiveness of her, and he thinks back to when he punched Hector Priamides on Troy Boulevard. He’s starting to realize there’s something dark and dangerous churning within him, something that actually living instead of just trying to keep his head down has awakened, but right now for her sake he tries to push it down.

“I do,” He tells her earnestly. “I understand. And if it were me, I would want the same things. But it’s not me, it’s you. And I want...more for you than I want for me.”

“That’s sweet,” She says. “I mean, it’s self-destructive and a little fucked up, but we’ll come back to that. In the meantime, it’s sweet that you want to protect me and stuff, but...right now, the best thing you can do for me is to just let this blow over.”

“Okay,” He relents, “whatever you want.”

“Thank you,” She mutters, and they bend their heads and go back to their work.

Despite her attempt to placate him, he’s no less worried when he sees her out an hour or so later. She smiles and waves as she strolls down the walk and across the street to her house, but Briseis isn’t someone who smiles and waves when she’s been wronged. She should be full of righteous indignation, but instead she’s keeping her head down and hoping it’ll all blow over.

As he closes the door behind her, he remembers Achilles’ vow to withdraw from the game. He knows this will have catastrophic effects on the Atrides’ team. The tide of battle will shift dramatically, and unless someone steps up into Achilles’ position or Odysseus produces a tactically brilliant plan to win with the game inferior players, they might lose altogether. Because Briseis said no and Agamemnon didn’t listen. And he realizes then that while what Agamemnon did to Briseis might blow over like she wants it to, the events that it has set in motion never will.

He groans and slides down to the ground against the door. He hadn’t anticipated that having real friends would entail this kind of drama. He used to float through high school in a state of numbness, never letting the day-to-day melodramatics of teenagers affect him. Now he’s been thrown out onto center stage in the soap opera that is Ilium High and things are happening that matter. He’s really not equipped for it.

He’s about to drag himself up from the floor and make his way back up to the bedroom, when someone starts pounding forcefully on the door. Patroclus jumps up at the first sharp BANG, because he thinks whoever’s knocking might actually bust the door down, and hurries to unlock it before the visitor knocks a hole in it.

As soon as the door is open, Patroclus feels a mouth slam against his and in one fluid motion he’s been pushed up against the wall and he’s being kissed like he’s never been kissed before. With tongue.

He feels one arm looping around his back and the other winding its way into his hair, and instinctively his own arms wrap around his partner’s neck. It takes him a second to realize it’s Achilles, because of course it’s Achilles, who else would it be, but it’s not like it’s exactly commonplace for anyone to come knocking on his door and then drive him up against the wall with their lips.  There is heat and hunger like he’s never experienced, and for a moment the feeling of another body flush against his is all he can think about. Still, the confusion and shock shove their way back in and, against his better judgement, he breaks apart from Achilles.

“Wait,” He gasps, breathless, “what are you doing?!”

“I thought it was pretty clear,” Achilles replies, ducking his head to kiss Patroclus again, “I’m making out with you.” And then a strong arm is wrapping around his back and pulling him tight against Achilles, and there’s heat and tongue and Patroclus can sort of understand why Agamemnon is such a whore because this is great - but wait, what’s going on?

“Wait,” Patroclus says again, shoving Achilles back and holding him at arm’s length, “why?”

“Why?” Achilles repeats incredulously, “ Why? Because - I like you! I’m into you! Aren’t you...” Achilles falters there, head drooping to the side and cheeks flushing with embarrassment. “Aren’t you into me?”

“Of course!” Patroclus replies before he can think about it, before he can realize how goddamn eager and desperate that sounds, but it doesn’t seem to matter because Achilles is kissing him again and simultaneously pulling him towards the stairs.

It’s hard to think with someone else’s tongue in his mouth , but Patroclus can’t help but feel like this doesn’t really make sense. Achilles has had opportunity upon opportunity to do just what he’s doing now and hasn’t. That day on the bleachers, he had kissed Patroclus soft and slow and hadn’t tried anything. That night on the hood of the car, he’d merely pointed out stars and been content to hold hands. And on Friday at Diomedes’s house, he’d spent the entire party on a staircase watching cartoons with Patroclus. So why did he choose right now , when their relationship is in a perilous state of uncertainty and there is absolutely no romantic ambience whatsoever , to shove his tongue down Patroclus’s throat?

“Wait!” Patroclus repeats once more, after they’ve stumbled up three stairs, and thrusts Achilles away from him. “Why now? What happened? ” Achilles sighs.

“I told my mom about you,” He says, and surges forward to crash his lips against Patroclus’s again. “About how I,” He manages to get out, “felt about you. About us.” Patroclus feels something in his stomach clench at the word us.

“And?” He asks, not even bothering to push Achilles away again.

“She remembers you,” Achilles answers cryptically, in between pulling Patroclus up the stairs and tangling their mouths together. “She doesn’t approve.”

She doesn’t approve. Achilles told his mother, with whom he already has a tumultuous relationship, about his feelings for Patroclus and she didn’t approve. And now Achilles is here, shoving Patroclus against a wall and kissing him like he’s never been kissed. Patroclus can put two and two together, and something in his chest recoils in indignation.

“So,” He says, driving Achilles away from him with a little more force than necessary, “this is all just to piss of your mom?”

“What? No!” Achilles denies vehemently, but Patroclus barely hears him.

“You’re just using me as part of your...your...,” Patroclus splutters, floundering for the right term, “your teenage rebellion?” Maybe that wasn’t quite it.

“No, Patroclus, listen-”

“I am listening,” Patroclus cuts him off, “and what I’ve heard is that your mom upset you because she didn’t approve of the guy you like, so you came and made out with me to get back at her. Is that right?”

“Well, yes, but-” Achilles begins, but Patroclus has heard enough. He’s taken a lot of shit in his life, but he has just enough self-respect not to let himself be used for someone else’s pleasure and then thrown out when they’re done.

“But nothing,” Patroclus snaps, “I think you should go.” He gives Achilles a not-so-friendly shove that sends him stumbling down a few steps.

“Patroclus-”

“I think you should go,” He repeats with more venom this time. Achilles shoots him one last wistful glance, but his wide blue puppy-dog eyes for once don’t work on Patroclus, who stands rooted to the spot with his arms crossed and his eyes narrowed. Achilles flees down the stairs and out through the door, and Patroclus waits until he hears the slam to let himself deflate.

He has never experienced such an extreme rollercoaster of emotions in the span of five minutes before. The heat that had been pulsing through him is gone, as is the fiery indignation, and he’s left feeling decidedly disappointed . He has been waiting his whole life to hear Achilles Pelides say the words I like you , and to have them ripped away only seconds later more than hurt. It left him feeling empty. For just a moment he had convinced himself Achilles returned his feelings. And now that’s gone.

By the time he’s trudged the rest the way up the stairs and flopped down on his bed, he’s beginning to rethink his actions. Sure, on the one hand, Achilles was just using Patroclus to make himself feel better after the sting of his mother’s disapproval. But on the other hand, at least Patroclus was important enough for Achilles to sit his mother down and tell her about his feelings for him. Maybe Patroclus shouldn’t have thrown him out.

No, Patroclus tells himself. Even if Achilles does have serious feelings for you, this isn’t how he goes about expressing them . Achilles should have known how it would make Patroclus feel to be essentially a plaything used for his own enjoyment. He should view Patroclus with more respect than that. No, Patroclus was right to toss him out. He knows that.


And that hurts more than anything else.

Chapter Text

Being mad at Achilles is strange. Embarrassingly enough, Patroclus can’t remember the last time he went to school without, at least subconsciously, hoping to see Achilles. He has had this crush for at least the last five years of his life, and even when he saw Achilles as some sort of unattainable god, there had always been that small part of him that woke up every morning hoping maybe, just maybe, today he would finally make his move.

But now, for the first time since middle school, Patroclus really, really does not want to see Achilles. Or, rather, he wants to see Achilles, but he knows he shouldn’t want to see Achilles, so he won’t let himself. Thus, when he gets to school on Monday morning, he can’t help but feel a little directionless. He has no objective . There’s nothing he needs to do , nothing he came here to accomplish. (Besides, you know, learning , but that’s obviously secondary to his romantic life.)

“I don’t think you have to do anything,” Briseis tells him during first-period Spanish, after he’s told her everything that happened on Sunday and asked her for the best course of action. “I mean, for the first time, Patroclus, you’re not the one who fucked up.”

“Wow, thanks,” He interjects, but she ignores him.

“It’s not your responsibility to fix this one,” She explains, “it’s his.”

“So...?” He prompts, still not fully understanding what her advice is.

“So , chill out. Don’t do anything. Wait for him to make it up to you.”

It sounds like a pretty good plan. Patroclus gets to go about his life as usual, without worrying or feeling guilty or trying to come up with a strategy to fix things, and Achilles gets to do the dirty work of piecing their relationship back together. There’s just one tiny, niggling problem jabbing it’s way to the forefront of Patroclus’s mind that he can’t help but worry about.

“What if he doesn’t?”

Briseis just sighs and rolls her eyes. “He will.”

He does.

This Friday, the Ilium High Warriors will be taking on the Thessaly High Olympians in the annual championship football game. It has been years since the Warriors have gone to the championships, and the student body is ecstatic. The rigid stratifications that Odysseus’s game has introduced have been momentarily cast aside, and the hallways, usually crackling with tension, are flush with school spirit.

Blue and yellow banners, penants, and streamers cover every available inch of wall and/or ceiling space. The cheerleaders sport their uniforms 24/7 and lead chants in the halls during passing time. The PA system blares the school song to signify the end of the period in place of the bell. And Diomedes carries the game ball under his arm everywhere. To class, to lunch, even to the bathroom.

“It’s not just superstition,” Diomedes insists during lunch, “it’s a legitimate strategy.”

“Oh really,” Ajax questions, “how so?”

“If I carry the ball with me everywhere,” Diomedes explains, “it’ll like me better than the other quarterback and go where I throw it.”

“That’s a good plan,” says Menelaus, who has decided to wear the same underwear all week for good luck, so his definition of a good plan may not be the most trustworthy.

“What’s a quarterback?” Patroclus asks, and gets caught in a hailstorm of french fries.

“The guy who throws the ball,” Achilles offers, once the laughter and teasing has died down. Patroclus freezes for a moment, perilously unsure of how to proceed. He hasn’t spoken to Achilles all day, and he’s pretty sure being mad at someone entails not speaking to them, so he makes the split second decision to pointedly ignore Achilles.

With a sharp twist of his head, he directs his gaze in the other direction and gives no indication that he heard a word that came out of Achilles’ mouth. There is a moment of tense, painfully awkward silence at the table as everyone glances around at each other, waiting for Patroclus to blush and stammer like he usually does in response to anything Achilles says. Though nobody knows what transpired between Patroclus and Achilles on Sunday afternoon, Patroclus has made it glaringly obvious that there’s currently some bad blood between them, and the others at the table pick up on it immediately. Overall, it’s exceedingly uncomfortable, and Patroclus decides he doesn’t like holding a grudge. He hopes Achilles fixes things soon.

“Um,” Diomedes finally interjects, “anyway, I was thinking, we should have a post-game party.”

“Duh,” Shorter Ajax agrees, eager to move past the moment of tense silence that just occurred, and everyone leaps back into conversation about the game, throwing in suggestions for the party. Patroclus doesn’t contribute much, partly because he isn’t really planning to even go to the game, and partly because he’s too distracted by the feeling of Achilles’s wistful eyes boring a hole in the back of his head.

Achilles follows him out of the cafeteria. Patroclus pretends not to notice, until he’s reached his locker and Achilles is still standing there. He’s fidgeting awkwardly, eyes darting from side to side and lips pressed firmly together. He looks like he wants to bolt, and Patroclus waits expectantly to see if he will.

“What?” Patroclus finally asks, when it becomes clear that Achilles is standing his ground. He still refuses to turn and face Achilles head-on, instead schooling his expression into one of impassivity and busying himself with his locker combination.

“I, um, I just wanted to tell you I’m not seeing my mom anymore.”

Patroclus freezes. That really wasn’t what he’d been expecting. He had sort of assumed Achilles would recognize what he did wrong, apologize, and vow not to do it again, but to actually cut ties with his mother because of this? Because of Patroclus? Maybe he should feel touched, honored, flattered, even, but instead he’s flooded with guilt.

“Y-you did?” He manages to stammer out. Achilles nods.

“I talked to my dad about it, and I guess he talked to her, and they decided I’m just gonna be staying with my dad for now. At least for a little while,” He explains. Patroclus nods robotically as Achilles continues to explain his situation, the outside of his body running on autopilot while the inside tries to come to terms with Achilles’s words.

Patroclus has absolutely no relationship with his father whatsoever, and he's given up on ever changing that. But there was a time when that wasn’t true. There was a time when Menoetius hadn’t fully bailed on Patroclus yet, and Patroclus still vyed incessantly for Menoetius’s attention. There was a time when he had fought for their father-son relationship, but that was years ago and by now he’s given up. And he doesn’t exactly regret it, doesn’t exactly wish he and Menoetius were close, but he doesn’t exactly enjoy it either. There is an empty space now in his life that will never be filled. He has come to terms with that, and he’s okay with it. But Achilles was never supposed to have that. Achilles was never supposed to live with an enormous rent in his life that Patroclus himself tore open, because he is a stupid selfish idiot who somehow lead Achilles to believe he had to sacrifice his mother to make Patroclus happy.

“Oh my god, Achilles, I’m so sorry,” Patroclus suddenly gushes, “I didn’t think...I mean, I never wanted-”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Achilles cuts him off. “It’s a good thing. And it’s not your fault anyway. Part of it was because of what... happened , with us, but I’d been thinking about doing it for a while. She hasn’t exactly been the most positive influence on my life.”

“But I don’t want you to lose her,” He splutters, “because I lost my dad a long time ago and it sucks, it’s awful, and you don’t have to have that Achilles you don’t, you guy still had a chance-”

“Hey!” Achilles says again, trying to snap Patroclus out of his manic, rambling state, “I didn’t lose her, okay? I’m just staying at my dad’s for now, not forever. When I’m ready, I’ll go see her again.” Patroclus feels dizzy, gasping for breath. The idea that he might have subjected someone else to the pain his father has caused him has sent him reeling, careening overboard, and he clings to Achilles’s words like a life preserver as he tries to kick back to the surface.

“You will?”

“Of course.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

Patroclus slumps against his locker, trying to regain some semblance of composure, and runs a hand through his hair. Beside him, Achilles cracks a hesitant smile.

“So we’re okay?” He ventures.

“Yeah,” Patroclus answers, without hesitation, because beneath all the awfulness and guilt, the idea that Achilles would do something this drastic for him is undeniably touching.

“Okay,” Achilles says, grinning outright now. “So, now that that’s taken care of, were you planning on going to the game?”

“Maybe, why?” Patroclus replies, furrowing his brow.

“Because I was wondering if maybe you’d want to go with me.”

Patroclus’s heart skips a beat, then another, then another. Briefly, he wonders if this is all a dream and he’s going to wake up still in sixth grade, hopelessly in love with a boy that hasn’t spoken to him all year. Or worse, he could be misunderstanding completely and Achilles could just want to go as friends. Better make sure.

“Like...on a date?” Patroclus ventures tentatively, fully aware that his continued existence depends entirely on Achilles’s response, because if he has gone through all this just to find out that Achilles doesn’t want to date, he will drop dead right here on the spot.

“Like on a date. A real, proper date,” Achilles confirms.

Achilles is asking him on a date. Achilles Pelides is asking him, Patroclus Menoitiades, on a date. Having all your dreams from the past four years come true is almost dizzying, and Patroclus finds he has to blink a few times to get the hallway to stop spinning.

“I-I’d love to,” He manages to get out, through the dream-like haze that’s overtaken him. Achilles’s smile is blinding.

“Awesome,” He says, “I’ll pick you up at 6:00.” And then he saunters away down the hall, leaving Patroclus to gaze dreamily after him like he’s the insipid female lead in a Disney Channel Original Movie.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Patroclus floats through most of the subsequent days. He goes from class-to-class in a reverie, never fully able to wipe the grin off his face. Briseis teases him relentlessly, telling him he’s such a dork and could he be any more smitten? But he doesn’t care because he’s got a date. An honest-to-god, genuine date. With Achilles , no less.

He’s not even nervous, like he should be, that he’ll embarrass himself or Achilles won’t like him or everything will crash and burn, because this is him and Achilles. And he saw in the car on Friday night, driving home from Diomedes’s party, that he and Achilles fit perfectly together. Everything is going to go perfectly because Achilles is where what he feels and what he believes overlap, and that can’t be wrong.

So, for the first time in his life, Patroclus is actually excited for a football game.

Except for one, tiny snag. He knows absolutely nothing about football. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Well, he knows there’s a ball, and he knows that they most likely kick it, cause, you know, foot ball. Still, he’s pretty sure that’s not all there is to it. So he does his best to pick up information about the game throughout the week, listening intently to lunchtime conversations and peering over Diomedes’s shoulders at the game plans he and Menelaus pass back and forth during history.

By Thursday he has gathered that Diomedes throws the ball, and Menelaus catches it. (Throw? Catch? Shouldn’t they be using their feet?) Agamemnon is something called a “defensive end”, which is the person who tries to tackle the guy throwing the ball. (Patroclus isn’t really sure why Agamemnon would be trying to tackle Diomedes, aren’t they on the same team?) Apparently, the Thessaly High Olympians have a hella fucking good (Menelaus’s words) defensive end, some kid named Apollo Agraeus, and he is the main thing the Warriors are worried about.

“I’m not worried,” Diomedes insists during lunch, just after adding an extra fork to the garden for good luck. “He can rush me all day long, I’m gonna bomb that ball down the field before he even gets past our offensive line.”

(Okay, was that even English?)

“Yeah, I’m sure your center feels the same way,” Menelaus scoffs.

(What is a center?)

“Well, if my wide receiver ever got open, we wouldn’t have a problem,” Diomedes snarks.

(Patroclus can infer what a receiver is, but why is one any wider than the others?)

“Fuck you, I’m always open. And I’d stay that way, if someone didn’t dance around the pocket all day long,” Menelaus shoots back.

(Where did they get a pocket big enough to dance in?)

“I do not dance around the pocket-”

“Okay, then how come I sacked you a million times at practice?” Agamemnon cuts in.

(Sack? As in fire? How does Agamemnon have the authority to do that? )

Patroclus gets lost shortly after that, but his complete and utter incomprehension of football still doesn’t manage to dampen his mood. He doesn’t care if he can’t follow the game, so long as he gets to sit next to Achilles and talk and laugh and maybe hold hands. Sure, he wants the Warriors to win, but mostly because everyone will be much more fun at the party if they do.

And because winning would imply Diomedes didn’t get killed by the Olympians’ superhuman football god Apollo Agraeus, which would also be a plus. New rumors about the defensive end (not that Patroclus knows what that is) circulate the halls each day, the most outlandish of which being that he once wrestled a 23-foot python with his bare hands and won. Most of it is obviously lore and urban legend, but it’s clear he’s a serious threat.

“It’s kinda making me nervous,” Briseis admits, after some cheerleader has informed her that Agraeus once tackled a quarterback so hard he made a three-foot indent in the ground. “I don’t want this guy going after Diomedes.”

“Aren’t there guys going after Diomedes in every game?” Patroclus asks, half to comfort Briseis and half because he really doesn’t know.

“Yeah, but not Apollo Agraeus. I heard he’s over seven feet tall,” She tells him seriously. Patroclus rolls his eyes.

“And I heard he breathes fire. Briseis, none of that is true.”

“Some of it could be true!”

“Like what?”

“Well, not the fire thing, obviously, but...,” She trails off, sighing. “I’m just worried, okay? I don’t want him getting hurt.”

“Don’t they wear pads?” Again, half for Briseis’s comfort, half for Patroclus’s own knowledge.

“But people still get hurt, Patroclus! Some kid got carted off in an ambulance last year.”

“Briseis,” He says firmly, trying to calm her down, “Diomedes’ll be fine. He knows what he’s doing. Besides, he has the...the...pouch, or something, to protect him.”

“Pocket,” She corrects, brows still knitted in concern.

“Whatever. Point is, everything’s gonna be fine, okay? So don’t worry.”

“Okay,” She mutters, but she doesn’t sound truly convinced.

And it turns out she isn’t the only one with concerns about the game. After dropping Briseis off at physics, Patroclus continues on his way to the library for his free period, which he shares with Odysseus. They claim two of the bean-bag chairs by the window and settle in to do homework or hack into the school’s server, respectively. Odysseus chatters, or more accurately, soliloquies away as usual beside Patroclus, this time about his plans to ask Penelope out at the party after the game.

“My plan is thus,” He explains. “I will approach her an hour or so into the festivities, so as not to seem overeager, and will compliment her exceptional performance cheering during the match. Then, I will-” But he only makes it this far before he’s nailed in the head with a wadded-up ball of paper. For a moment he falls silent, scooping up the projectile and regarding it with interest. “Curious,” He mutters, then glances around for whoever threw it. “The culprit must already have stolen away,” He decides. “Perhaps it contains a secret message?”

Patroclus is about to scoff that of course it doesn’t, some jocks probably just thought it would be funny to pelt a couple geeks with their homework, but Odysseus proceeds to unfurl the ball and flatten it out, and lo and behold, there’s a message scrawled across the top line in loopy, intricate cursive.

Meet me in the cafeteria in five minutes.

The message bears no signature or indication of who it was meant for, but Odysseus seems confident it was specifically intended for them. Or him, at least, but he’s willing to take Patroclus along. And because he has nothing better to do, Patroclus gets to his feet and follows. Odysseus studies the handwriting intently as they make their way to the cafeteria, attempting to determine who might have sent it.  However, once they arrive, the cafeteria appears to be completely empty.

“There’s nobody here,” Patroclus states, while Odysseus’s eyes rove the space. He searches for a moment longer, before shrugging and turning to Patroclus, seemingly ready to leave.

“Wait!” A voice calls, and Patroclus whips around to see a familiar waifish figure stepping through the cafeteria’s other entrance. He sighs. Cassandra has nearly as much of a pension for the dramatics as Odysseus.

“Cassandra!” Odysseus greets, crossing the space to meet her. Patroclus dutifully follows suit like an obedient dog, and they slip back into their old roles so easily. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” Cassandra glances furtively around her, searching the space for any eavesdroppers, and Patroclus gets the impression this clandestine meeting between members of opposite teams is quite taboo.

“This isn’t a peace offering,” She clarifies, “and no one can know I was here. Understood?”

“Cassandra, I assure you, there is no one with whom your secret is safer,” Odysseus guarantees. Patroclus refrains from rolling his eyes, remembering how, months ago, Odysseus forced Patroclus’s number out of Briseis by reminding her of a ruler she’d borrowed. He’s not exactly the type of person who lets possible blackmail/bribery material slide.

“Good, good,” Cassandra mutters, eyes still darting around frantically. She tucks a snarl of her wild dark hair behind her ear and crosses her arms, clearly still uncomfortable. “Patroclus?”

“What?”

Cassandra rolls her eyes. “Can I trust you?”

“Oh my god, yeah, fine, whatever,” He replies, and her eyes do another somersault. Cassandra and Odysseus have always been prone to transforming their mundane high school lives into a soap opera, but Patroclus has never played along.

“Okay,” Cassandra sighs. “Here’s the deal.” She takes a deep breath, drawing out the suspense, and Odysseus inclines his head slightly forward in anticipation. “I have had...a premonition.”

Patroclus blinks. Odysseus cocks his head to the side, clearly underwhelmed. Back when they ate lunch together every day, Cassandra had about three premonitions per week. They became so commonplace that they barely took up five minutes of conversation. Even now, when the group has split up and the most any of them see of each other is in passing in the hallway, Patroclus wouldn’t think Cassandra’s premonitions warranted a covert rendezvous in the cafeteria.

“And?” Patroclus prompts.

“And,” Cassandra continues, “Disaster is imminent! Danger lurks in our futures! A great misfortune is in the works!”

“Um, okay, Chicken Little,” Patroclus scoffs, “not that this isn’t earth-shattering, but isn’t disaster always imminent with you?”

“What Patroclus means to say,” Odysseus cuts in, always having had more patience for Cassandra than Patroclus, “is that while this is indeed a concerning prophecy, would it be within your powers to elaborate further? Perhaps provide us with a touch more specificity?”

Cassandra sighs. “Look, I don’t have much, okay? I was doing homework last night, and then I kinda blacked out for a bit, and when I came to, I had the same sentence written all over my textbook.” She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and goes full Zoltar-mode. “When gods and men shall seem alike, this is when disaster strikes."

“Oh my god, was that a rhyming couplet?” Patroclus groans. Cassandra is really putting a lot of effort into this whole psychic-thing.

“No, idiot, that was a prophecy ,” Cassandra snaps, exasperated. “When gods and men shall seem alike? That’s gotta be the football game!”

This piques Patroclus’s interest. Cassandra’s prophecies had, at best, vaguely amused him in the past, and usually just annoyed or bored him. This one, however, he actually has some stake in. The football game is supposed to be Patroclus’s first ever, real, proper, and most importantly perfect date. And it can’t be perfect if some horrible high school Armageddon is set to strike.

“How is that the football game?” He splutters, trying to convince her as well as himself, “That has absolutely nothing to do with the football game.”

“It does make sense,” Odysseus admits, and Patroclus turns to gape incredulously at him. “Ponder it for a moment, Patroclus. The opposing team is called the Olympians, so there are your gods. And our own Ilium Warriors would be the men, I suppose.”

“Exactly!” Cassandra affirms, “And as for seeming alike, they’ll be meeting on the same field, playing the same game, wearing the same uniforms, the list goes on. It really could only mean the football game.”

“Okay, hold on,” Patroclus cuts in. “Even if this had one ounce of credibility, which it doesn’t , what do you want us to do about it?”

“We have to call off the football game,” Cassandra orders. “I don’t know what, but something horrible is going to happen. And as long as that game is still on, people are in danger.”

“Call it off?!” Patroclus exclaims. Because maybe he’s being horribly selfish, but he has been dreaming of his first date with Achilles Pelides for at least four years. He’s not about to call it off because Cassandra, once again, thinks the end is coming.

Odysseus exchanges a glance with Patroclus, and it’s clear they’re both on the same page. They can’t do anything to get in the way of the football game. After all, Odysseus has big plans for Friday night, too. He’s finally going to ask Penelope out, or at least talk to her. For Odysseus, either would be a monumental achievement.

“Cassandra, my dear,” Odysseus begins, because Patroclus lacks his superior diplomatic skills, “please, do not take this to mean we are unconvinced of your premonition’s validity in any fashion. You know I have always been a firm believer in your gift. However, while I commend your use of iambic pentameter, neither Patroclus nor myself possesses the power to abolish the match. Certainly you can understand that.”

“Yeah, I understand,” Cassandra sighs. “But your friends! Your friends are on the football team. You have to tell them not to play, Odysseus, you have to warn them-”

“Cassandra!” Odysseus cuts her off right as she begins to rant again. “Listen to me. As I have assured you, I have utmost faith in your predictions. However, you must take into account that the rest of our peers may not all be as trusting. I’m afraid one line of prophecy with no tangible evidence to support it simply won’t be enough to dissuade them from participating in the match.”

“Yeah, Cassandra, have you seen how excited people are for this game? Menelaus has been wearing the same underwear all week . We couldn’t get him not to play if we tried,” Patroclus adds.

“But you won’t,” Cassandra asserts, eyebrows drawing together. Odysseus sighs.

“My sincerest apologies,” He says, “but I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do.” With that, he turns to leave, and Patroclus follows suit.

“Wait!” Cassandra cries. Odysseus pauses and half-turns back around. “There’s another thing. My brothers - they’re friends with this Apollo Agraeus guy. I’m worried they have something planned.” Pinching the bridge of his nose in what is decidedly exasperation, Odysseus turns around fully.

“Cassandra, as you well know, I am a man of science,” He begins. “Therefore, I must ask, have you any evidence to support this claim?” Cassandra is silent, sighing helplessly and giving them her most pleading expression. “Very well then,” Odysseus says curtly, “my previous statement stands. There’s nothing we can do.”

Chapter Text

Before they all end up at the hospital, Patroclus’s first-ever real date goes pretty well.

Achilles picks him up at 6:00, as promised. He’s wearing his varsity jacket, like always, but beneath it he’s traded his usual T-shirt for a much more respectable polo that Patroclus is sure Briseis picket out. (He knows this because Briseis helped him pick out his own outfit, then sprinted across the street to dress Achilles.)

“Ready?” Achilles greets.

Since sixth grade , Patroclus answers mentally, but out loud he just says, “Yeah,” and commends himself on how cool, collected, and totally not over-eager he sounds.

On the walk out to the car, Achilles grabs his hand. It is totally not the first time Achilles has held his hand, but his breath still catches in his throat, audibly. He blushes furiously, and Achilles glances over, brows furrowed.

“Is this...okay?” He questions tentatively. He’d seemed so cool and suave when Patroclus had swung open the door just two minutes earlier, smirking flirtatiously with his hands tucked into the pockets of his ever-present varsity jacket. But now, with that one, timid question, he’s revealed he’s just as nervous as Patroclus. It’s like they’re holding something unfathomably precious yet perilously fragile in their cupped hands, and they’re both elated to have it but terrified to drop it and hear it shatter.

“It’s more than okay,” Patroclus assures him, and tightens his grip. Whatever it is they’re holding, he’s not letting it fall.

“Good,” Achilles says, grinning.

They have to drop each other’s hands to get in the car, but Achilles joins them again atop the glove box once they’re inside and drives one-handed. Patroclus has never been inside Achilles’s car before, but he isn’t surprised by what he finds. The front two seats have at least been cleaned for the purposes of their date, but the back is littered with used food wrappers and dirty gym clothes. The whole vehicle kind of smells like old running shoes, but Patroclus finds he doesn’t mind. Not when his fingers are interlaced with Achilles’s as they drive to their first-ever date.

“So,” Achilles begins, “have you ever been to one of these before?”

“A football game?” Patroclus asks. Achilles nods. “Oh, um, yeah. Loads. High school football is my passion,” Patroclus lies impulsively, feeling the precious cargo they’re holding begin to slip out of his grasp. Achilles shoots him a disbelieving glance, eyebrows raised and lips curving up in a smirk.

“Really,” He deadpans. Patroclus nods. “Okay, so, how do you play?”

“Um,” Patroclus stammers, “well...well, it’s football, right? S-so, obviously, there’s, um, your feet. And the - the ball.”

“Right.”

“And so you, you know, take the ball, and...well you kick it, probably, that makes logical sense.”

“Of course.”

“And then you, um, you try to get the...the...the home runs!”

“Home runs, right.”

Patroclus sighs, dropping his head into his free hand. Beside him, Achilles is shaking with laughter. “How wrong was I?” He groans.

“Not wrong at all. Completely right, actually. That’s totally how it works,” Achilles assures him, smirking. Patroclus perks up.

“Really?” Achilles nods. “Oh, thank god. Cause I’ve been trying to listen in to people’s conversations, you know, figure out how it works, but I wasn’t sure I’d picked up anything.”

“Well, rest assured, you got it 100%,” Achilles says, but he’s still smirking as he gazes pointedly out the window and seems unable to keep a giggle out of his voice. Patroclus narrows his eyes suspiciously, but they pull into the school parking lot before he can accuse Achilles of pulling one over on him, and Patroclus gasps at how the campus has been transformed.

An entire half of the parking lot  has been commandeered by food trucks and stalls. A tent selling Ilium High merch stands just outside the field, which is entirely hidden by the extra stands that have been erected to accommodate the enormous crowd. More people than Patroclus has ever seen on Ilium’s campus roam about the space, all decked out in their blue and yellow spirit attire. Several sport painted faces, a few more painted chests. A play-by-play of the game blares over the speaker system installed just for this occasion. A local news station has even set up a truck on the grass by the field to broadcast the event, which Patroclus hadn’t realized was actually news-worthy.

“Wow,” He marvels, climbing out of the passenger side. “This is, like, a pretty big deal.” Achilles laughs.

“Yeah, kinda,” He says, then comes around to Patroclus’s side to take his hand again. “Well, we should go in. Wouldn’t wanna miss any home runs.”

“No, of course not,” Patroclus agrees solemnly, and allows Achilles to lead him in into the makeshift stadium.

Achilles takes them up to the permanent stands, the ones that are there year round, which have been claimed for the home team. At first glance, the fans on the bleachers look more like on pulsing mass of blue and gold than a crowd of actual people. A seemingly perpetual cheer emits from the mass, always carried on by someone when the others fall silent. People are screaming, clapping, waving signs, pumping their fists, stamping their feet. It’s a challenge not to get whacked by a flailing arm or pennant or poster-board as they make their way up to their seats.

The rest of their friends are already there when they arrive, sitting in a row like an impenetrable wall of varsity jackets and testosterone. They’re whooping and hollering, chanting something about a first down with their eyes locked intently on the field.

“Hey guys, how’s the game going?” Achilles greets, sliding in next to Ajax.

“Boring so far. Four three-and-outs in a row. We really need this first down,” He explains out of the corner of his mouth, attention still fixed pointedly on the game. Achilles turns to Patroclus.

“You get that?” He asks.

“‘Get’ might be a strong word,” Patroclus replies.

“Okay, basically, they have to move the ball ten yards,” Achilles attempts to explain. Patroclus nods. “They have four tries, called ‘downs’, to do so, but you really wanna do it in three.”

“Why?”

“Cause if you don’t do it in three, you use the fourth to punt, which means kick the ball as far down the field as you can so the other team gets it really far away from your endzone.”

“Endzone?”

“Goal, basically.”

“What happens if you don’t punt?”

“Well, if you can’t get the ball ten yards, the other team gets it right there. If you do get the ball ten yards, you get a new set of downs to move it ten more yards. Make sense?”

“Four tries to move the ball ten yards, but really only three because football is stupid.”

“Precisely.”

Suddenly, an enormous cheer erupts from the stands as everyone around them surges to their feet. Patroclus jumps in shock, then starts clapping along with everyone around him, because that seems to be the right thing to do.

“First down!” Ajax whoops, throwing an arm around Achilles and hugging him as though he’s the ones that’s just accomplished something. Achilles worms his way out of Ajax’s grip and turns to Patroclus again.

“That means-”

“Ten more yards?” Patroclus ventures. Achilles grins.

“Exactly! You’re getting it!”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” He mutters, but Achilles slings an arm around his shoulders as they sit back down, so he shuts up and never complains about anything ever again for the rest of his life. “So which one’s Apollo Agraeus?” He asks, once the cheering has died down. Achilles scans the field for a moment, then points out a towering figure in a maroon and white jersey with the number 63 affixed to his back.

Agraeus isn’t fat, like some of the opposing defense, but he’s still enormous. His shoulders seem broader than Patroclus’s entire arm span, and he looms at least two heads above anyone else on the field. Even from this far up, Patroclus can make out his bulging arm muscles, and he’s suddenly not finding the rumor about the 23-foot python so hard to believe. If Cassandra’s prophecy about disaster had any truth to it, Apollo Agraeus looks like he’d be the reason.

“Jeez,” Patroclus marvels, half in awe and half in horror.

“I know,” Achilles agrees. “The guy’s a beast.”

On the field, the players reassume their positions. Patroclus spots Menelaus on the far end of a string of Ilium High jocks, squatted in a ready-position. Diomedes is crouched behind a row of blue-and-yellow-clad athletes that Patroclus realizes must make up the “pocket”, hands hovering uncomfortably close to the guy in front of him’s butt.

“Um,” He says, gesturing to the formation before them. “What is Diomedes doing?” Achilles finds where Patroclus is pointing and grins.

“That’s the center,” He explains. “He passes the ball to Diomedes to start the play. It’s called the snap.”

“He passes it...in between his legs?” Patroclus clarifies disbelievingly. Achilles nods, smirking. “But...isn’t football, like, the most hyper-masculine, aggressively heterosexual sport there is?”

“Supposedly,” Achilles replies. “And yet, teenage boys run around in tight pants tackling each other and passing balls in between their legs.”

Below, Diomedes shouts a series of unintelligible commands, and the center snaps the ball to him. Instantly, the players leap into action. Diomedes backtracks away from the oncoming defense, while Menelaus peels off to the side and sprints down the field. An Olympian tears after him, but he eludes the defender long enough for Diomedes to lob the ball straight into his waiting arms. His opponent rams into him almost instantly after he receives the ball, driving them both into the ground, but this doesn’t seem to bother the Ilium High fans. They roar with approval, feet thundering on the ground and arms flinging up into the air. On the sidelines, the cheerleaders ruffle their pom-poms and kick their legs higher than should be humanly possible.

“Another first down?” Patroclus guesses.

“Yup!” Achilles confirms, then cups his hands around his mouth and joins in the cheering.

“How many of those do they need to get?” Patroclus asks, once the crowd has settled again.

“As many as it takes to get all the way down the field,” Achilles replies. “They have to get it into that little colored bit at the end to score any points.”

“Hey, you know what I just realized?” Patroclus says, “They haven’t kicked the ball once.” Achilles grins.

“Oh, yeah, I might’ve been lying when I said you had it 100%,” He admits. Patroclus gasps, feigning outrage.

“You were?” He cries. Achilles nods. “About the home runs too?”

“Home runs too.”

“Then what are they called?”

“Touchdowns.”

“Then what are home runs?!”

“That’s-”

Suddenly, the crowd erupts again, and a voice crackles over the speaker. “ Aaaaand the Warriors pick up fifteen on the pass, taking them all the way down to the thirty-five. Ladies and gentlemen, we are in field. GOAL. RANGE!” The Ilium High fans go wild, leaping to their feet and screaming encouragement at the team below.

“What’s a field goal?” Patroclus shouts above the din.

“It’s when they kick it through those yellow poles for three points,” Achilles explains. Patroclus gapes in exasperation. He is getting very, very, fed up with football.

“I thought they didn’t kick it!” He whines.

“There’s one guy on the team that kicks it,” Achilles replies matter-of-factly, as though this is completely logical and makes perfect sense. “He’s called the kicker.”

“Well,” Patroclus sighs, “if this is football, and they use their hands, then the guy who kicks the ball should not be called the kicker. I just think if they’re gonna do this whole counterintuitive thing, they should commit, you know?” Achilles opens his mouth to reply, but Ajax leans over and cuts in before he can.

“Hey, John Madden,” He interjects, “shut up and watch the game.”

The rest of the first half goes pretty well for the Warriors. They score a field goal on their current drive, putting the first points on the board and leading the Olympians 3-0. On defense, Agamemnon, as the Warriors’ defensive end, sacks the Olympian quarterback on an important third down that would’ve put them in field goal range. Diomedes and Menelaus lead the offense down the field, Diomedes throwing with enviable accuracy and Menelaus consistently evading Olympian defenders. A few other members of the Ilium offense make contact with the ball, but for the most part Diomedes throws almost exclusively to Menelaus, who never drops a single pass. The pocket, for its part, holds up against the Olympian defensive line and does an admirable job keeping Apollo Agraeus at bay.  

Patroclus understands none of it and relies almost entirely on Achilles to narrate everything for him, but he can’t help but be swept up in the excitement when the Warriors score their first touchdown or when Agamemnon sacks the Olympian quarterback on fourth & goal. He finds himself cheering along with the rest of the crowd, leaping to his feet when their team scores simply because everyone else is. The excitement of the event is infectious, and even if Patroclus doesn’t fully understand it, by half time he’s deeply invested.

“We’re winning, right?” He clarifies, as he and Achilles wait in line at a food truck.

“13-7,” Achilles replies.

“I still don’t understand why a touchdown is worth seven points,” Patroclus huffs.

“Yeah, there’s not really an explanation for that one,” Achilles admits, just as a middle aged woman leans out the window of the food truck.

“What’ll it be?” She asks, pad in hand.

“Two hot dogs, please,” Achilles requests, then digs in his pocket for cash. For a moment, Patroclus thinks Achilles is just really hungry, before he remembers that this is a date and Achilles intends to pay for him. He blushes, suddenly feeling very awkward.

“Oh, um, you don’t have to-” He begins, stammering, but Achilles cuts him off.

“I want to,” He says, then hands the money over to the woman still leaning out of the window.

“Oh, well, um, thanks,” Patroclus stammers. Achilles grins and slings an arm around his shoulders as they move off to the side to wait for their food.

“No problem,” He replies.

Achilles attempts to explain the concept of a safety while they eat, but Patroclus just nods and mmm-hmms and enjoys the feeling of Achilles’s arm around him. A couple people glance their way, a few girls pointing to Achilles and whispering to each other, but it doesn’t bother Patroclus as much as he’d thought it might. On the contrary, he feels almost proud to be the subject of their gossip, something he has never been before. He is not dating Achilles for the boost it gives his social status, but it’s certainly an added bonus.

“We should probably go back in,” Patroclus interjects, while Achilles re-explains the defensive line, “the cheerleaders are gonna do their thing soon, and Briseis wanted us to watch.” He starts to make for the bleachers, but Achilles grabs his arm and holds him in place.

“Wait a second,” He says, and Patroclus spots a blush creeping up his cheeks. He glances down at his shoes, then up at Patroclus, then at his shoes again.”I, um, I was just wondering...” He stammers, glancing around nervously. Then, suddenly, he tears off his varsity jacket and holds it out an arm’s length away, as though it has somehow offended him. “Would you maybe want to wear this?”

For a moment, Patroclus is confused. It’s not that cold, and he’s wearing longsleeves. But then it hits him. Achilles is a jock, and Patroclus is his date, and this is a thing, isn’t it? Jocks give their dates their varsity jackets, that’s a thing . It’s supposed to show that they’re together, or something. And Achilles wants Patroclus to wear his. Maybe Patroclus is overreacting, but he’s pretty sure this is kind of a big deal.

“Yeah,” He breathes, smiling as that now-familiar warm feeling begins to spread out from his chest to the rest of his body. “Yeah, of course. I’d love to.”

Achilles’s smile when he hands the jacket to Patroclus is blinding, and when Patroclus shrugs it on, he’s positively beaming. Patroclus remembers their precious thing from earlier, the fragile yet priceless treasure they were holding in their cupped hands, and feels their shared grip get even stronger.

They just barely make it back into the stands in time to watch the cheerleaders, giggling and holding hands as they race up the bleachers to their seats. Briseis is fantastic as always, defying gravity as she flips across the field and showing off her mind-boggling flexibility, but Patroclus only has eyes for Achilles, who does not say a word and still manages to captivate him. He feels warm inside Achilles’s varsity jacket, warm and safe and wanted , and for a moment everything is perfect.

Of course, that’s when things start to go downhill.

The second half does not go nearly as well for the Warriors as the first. Apollo Agraeus, who remained dormant for most of the first half, returns with a vengeance. He tears through the Warriors’ offensive line with ease, forcing Diomedes to make hurried, much less accurate passes that Menelaus must scramble to catch. They start off the half with three consecutive three-and-outs, which, Patroclus learns from Achilles, means they lose the ball after just three downs.

The Olympian quarterback seems to have wisened up during halftime and returns a much more difficult target for Agamemnon, who sacked him practically every other play during the first half. He leads his team down the field to score two consecutive touchdowns on their first two possessions. On the third Olympian possession, the Warrior defense performs what is apparently called a “blitz”, wherein extra defenders join Agamemnon in rushing the quarterback to increase the likelihood of  sacking him.

“I don’t get it,” Patroclus says for the umpteenth time that night, “why wouldn’t they do that every time?”

“Because,” Achilles replies, “when you use more defenders to rush the quarterback, you have less defenders covering the receivers, so if the quarterback can get rid of the ball fast enough, he can throw it to pretty much anyone and they’ll be able to run with it.”

Luckily, the blitz works, or so Patroclus ascertains from the way the stands erupt around them, and the Warriors regain possession. This time, Diomedes plays it safe, handing the ball off to his running back almost invariably. Achilles explains that since this gets rid of the ball faster, it’s a much safer play, but it’s harder to gain yards this way. Still, the Warrior offense makes their painstaking way down the field in this manner, until they’re mere feet from the end zone. They manage a touchdown via what Achilles calls a “quarterback sneak”, and the rest of the third quarter goes by scoreless.

It’s at the top of the fourth quarter that everything falls to shit. The score is 20-21, with the Warriors trailing but currently in possession of the ball. It’s third down at the fifty-yard line, and the Warriors have the chance now to move into field-goal range, which Patroclus learns from Achilles is about the thirty-five.

“If Diomedes would just throw the ball, we’d get there easy,” Achilles complains.

“He hasn’t thrown the ball in two possessions,” Ajax points out. “He’s too worried about this Agraeus guy.”

“Well, we’re not gonna win this game just running the ball all day,” Achilles replies with finality. Ajax opens his mouth to argue, but Achilles cuts him off. “Wait, it’s starting!” They both turn their attention back to the field, and Achilles begins narrating the play for Patroclus. “Okay, there’s the snap. Diomedes is backing up in the pocket - that’s the line of guys in front of him - looks like he’s gonna throw it, thank god. He’s looking for someone to pass to, Menelaus is going deep. Agraeus is past the center. Come on, Diomedes, throw! Oh, he’s throwing, he’s throwing to Menelaus, it’s headed for the endzone - oh shit!”

Almost the instant the ball leaves his fingertips, Apollo Agraeus slams into Diomedes with the force of a freight train, drilling them both into the turf. At that exact moment, Menelaus catches the ball in the endzone and tumbles to the ground with it. Instantly, the crowd leaps to their feet, a cheer making it about halfway out of their throats before everyone gasps collectively, attention snapping to the sickening collision on the fifty-yard line.

Apollo Agraeus has gotten to his feet, but Diomedes is still on the ground.

The crowd waits a few moments in silence for the quarterback to get up, brush himself off, and move on with the game. When it becomes clear he doesn’t intend to, concerned murmurs begin to race through the stands. Patroclus is frozen, as shocked and horrified as everyone around him, but he has enough mind to scan the field below for Briseis. She's frozen on the sidelines with the other cheerleaders, hands clapped to her mouth and pom-poms forgotten at her feet. The rest of the players have taken a knee, but Menelaus stands up in the endzone and rips off his helmet, watching the scene before him in horror. On the field, Diomedes’s prone form begins to writhe.

“Let’s go,” Ajax orders, and the row of jocks in the stands files out and down the steps to the field. Achilles grabs Patroclus’s hand and leads them both down to the sidelines, where he opens the gate and pulls Patroclus onto the field without hesitation.

“Are we allowed-” Patroclus begins, but he’s interrupted by 100-something pounds of cheerleader slamming into his chest and throwing her arms around his neck. She’s shaking, and he feels something wet against his skin that might be tears, and suddenly he couldn’t care less if he gets in trouble for being on the field.

“Patroclus,” Briseis cries, voice trembling. He instinctively wraps his arms around her back, pulling her close.

“He’s gonna be fine,” He assures her. She pulls away to look him in the eye, arms still looped around his neck.

“How do you know?” She sighs, and there are tears running down her cheeks. Patroclus doesn’t know, which is why it’s such a relief when Achilles comes up beside her and puts a hand on her shoulder.

“C’mon,” He instructs gently, “we’re gonna go see what’s going on.”

Together, they make their way across the field, Briseis leaning against Patroclus and Achilles clutching Patroclus’s hand. By the time they reach Diomedes, a sizable crowd has already gathered around him. All of the Olympian players are down on one knee, but several of the Warriors have surrounded their fallen teammate. Ajax, Shorter Ajax, Idomeneus, and Odysseus have congregated as well, and Menelaus is currently sprinting down the field from the endzone to join them. A few cheerleaders circle anxiously about the edges, and the reporter from the local news station shoulders her way through, cameraman trailing behind her. Patroclus has to stand on his tiptoes to see over the rows of hulking, athletic shoulders, and the sight that greets him isn’t pretty.

Diomedes is flat on his back on the ground, twisting and thrashing in pain. The force of the blow has knocked off his helmet, and his face is worryingly pale. The Ilium football coach is crouched at his side, trying to catalogue the damage while they wait for the paramedics.

“I need you to lie still, son,” The coach is instructing, hands fluttering uselessly about in search of some way to fix this, “the ambulance is on its way.”

“What’s going on?” Briseis demands anxiously. Patroclus wraps an arm around her waist and pulls her closer to him.

“It’s fine,” He mutters, “everything’s fine.”

Sirens wail in the distance, and Patroclus catches sight of flashing lights out of the corner of his eye. An ambulance pulls into the parking lot behind them, dispensing three paramedics out of its back doors, one of whom dashes onto the field. The crowd that has formed around Diomedes parts instantly to let him through, forming a convenient path in his wake, which Ajax takes advantage of to lead the group to the front of the crowd.

The paramedic has crouched down at Diomedes’s side, displacing the coach, who has stood up and backed up a few steps into the crowd. He’s going through what appears to be a standard procedure, asking Diomedes his name and age while he checks for a pulse. Diomedes’s voice is weak and thready when he replies, so far from his usual boisterous exuberance that Patroclus feels something in his stomach twist.

“Do you think you can move your toes?” The paramedic asks. Diomedes takes a few ragged, gulping breaths.

“Y-yeah,” He stammers.

“That’s good,” The doctor says, tone even and collected, “how about your fingers?”

“Those too,” Diomedes gasps.

“Great, that’s a really good sign,” The doctor assures him.  “What about your breathing, can you breathe okay?”

“S-sort of,” He groans, and Patroclus watches his chest rise and fall arhythmically, taking in shallow, jerky breaths. Patroclus has never seen Diomedes like this, never seen him as anything less than buoyant and vivacious as he bounces about Ilium’s campus gleefully antagonizing his friends, and it’s almost painful to watch him lying prone on the ground and struggling for air. Patroclus is glad Briseis isn’t looking.

But then, of course, Diomedes rolls his head to the side in one of his agonized thrashes and spots her. “Briseis?” He calls weakly, and in an instant she’s detached herself from Patroclus’s chest and flown to his side. She kneels down next to him and brushes some hair off his forehead, wiping her tears with her other hand and attempting to shoot him a reassuring smile.

“It’s okay,” She whispers, “it’s gonna be okay.”

“Don’t cry,” He mutters, flopping his hand clumsily in the general direction of hers and missing pitifully. She catches it and folds his hand between both of hers, a few more tears leaking out.

“This your girlfriend?” The paramedic asks, attempting to distract Diomedes from the excruciating pain he must be in. Diomedes shoots Briseis a weak imitation of a grin that looks more like a pained grimace.

“W-working on it, sir,” He grinds out. Briseis blushes.

“Shut up, of course I’m your girlfriend,” She informs him.

Diomedes’s eyes widen. “Really?” She nods. For a moment, Diomedes just lays there, gazing up at Briseis like she’s the world, looking about as goopy and stupid as Patroclus does when he looks at Achilles. Then he rolls his head over to the other side to face the paramedic, wincing, and says,  “Sir, I think I’m okay now. I can finish the game.” The paramedic laughs, shaking his head.

“I’m not so sure about that,” He says. “How about we take you down to the hospital and go from there?”

The other two paramedics are by now racing onto the field, a stretcher swinging between them. They cut through the crowd with ease to join the first paramedic on the ground, and the three of them go to work loading Diomedes onto the platform. Briseis kneels by his side the whole time, clutching his hand in both of hers as they secure a foam brace around his neck and gingerly slide the plastic board beneath him. He arches his back in pain at this, groaning pitifully and causing whatever is twisting in Patroclus’s stomach to clench tighter.

This is wrong. This is so, so wrong.  This is Diomedes, boisterous, cheerful Diomedes, whose obnoxious memes and unwanted nicknames can be annoying but whose fierce loyalty and enduring optimism override those things. Diomedes, who is perpetually bouncing off the walls and never seems to pause to catch his breath. Diomedes, who runs circles around the world and laughs as it tries to keep up. Diomedes, who is absolutely the last person on earth that deserves to be carted off the field on a stretcher right now, and yet that’s exactly what’s happening and there’s nothing Patroclus can do.

Luckily, Achilles takes action. Just like he did that Friday night a week ago, when Agamemnon pinned Briseis against a wall and Patroclus stood there frozen, staring. He can’t help but think that this is becoming a trend for him, standing idly by when his friends need help.

“Let’s go,” Achilles says, “I’ll drive.”

The rest of their friends are already dividing up into cars. Ajax will take Idomeneus and Shorter Ajax, while Automedon, Penelope, and Clytemnestra will be riding with Odysseus. Patroclus and Briseis will go with Achilles, and Menelaus and Agamemnon will finish out the game and get to the hospital as quickly as possible. For his part, Patroclus stands still while these plans are being made, keeping his arm tight around Briseis, who is once again near tears as she watches the paramedics load Diomedes into the ambulance.

Achilles, Patroclus, and Briseis are in the car and about to back out when a voice calls, “Wait!” Patroclus glances out the window and spots Menelaus racing towards them, sans-jersey but still sporting his white plastic shoulder pads. He sprints across the parking lot and jumps into the car beside Briseis, panting.

“Um,” Patroclus says, “don’t you have a game to play?”

Menelaus waves a hand dismissively. “Got ejected,” He explains. Briseis turns to him incredulously.

“For what?” She asks. He shrugs, lips quirking up in a decidedly smug grin.  

“I punched Apollo Agraeus in the face.” He doesn't sound the least bit contrite. In fact, Patroclus can definitely detect a hint of pride in his voice. Briseis crosses her arms.

“Did you make it hurt?” She presses, as Achilles maneuvers the car out of the parking lot and onto the road. Menelaus nods vigorously.

“Oh yeah. You’ve never seen so much blood come out of one guy’s nose,” He reports, obviously relishing the image more than he probably should.

“Good,” Briseis acknowledges, and Patroclus, who has never condoned violence, finds he has to agree.

They lapse into silence for a moment, during which Patroclus pictures Menelaus punching Agraeus in the face and thoroughly enjoys it, before Menelaus asks, “So, doc, what’s your diagnosis?” For a moment, Patroclus is speechless, wondering who in the car  Menelaus could be addressing, before turning in his seat to find both Menelaus and Briseis staring at him.

“Wh- Are you talking to me?” He splutters.

“Yeah, isn’t this kinda your thing?” Menelaus replies, as though this is obvious .

“Isn’t what my thing?” Patroclus inquires.

“You know, medical stuff,” Menelaus clarifies.

“I took one course in seventh grade-”

“And then you had that phase where you were really into WebMD,” Briseis reminds him.

“That in no way makes me a medical professional,” He argues.

“You’re the only one here who might have any idea how bad this is,” Menelaus pleads. “Can’t you just give it your best guess?” Patroclus sighs.

“Okay, first of all, do not trust my opinion,” He warns. “My medical training consists of a CPR course and an episode of Scrubs . So absolutely nothing I say is in any way, shape, or form even remotely correct. Got it?” Briseis and Menelaus nod. “Okay, good. That being said, he could move his fingers and toes, so we can probably rule out paralysis. Probably. And he remembered his name and age, which means there’s probably no severe brain damage. Again, probably. From the way he was breathing, my guess would be a few broken ribs. Which isn’t bad, they take around six weeks to heal and usually don’t require surgery. The biggest risks would probably be lung damage, internal bleeding, or developing pneumonia.”

The car is silent. Menelaus and Briseis blink at him owlishly. In the driver’s seat, Achilles’ mouth drops open. Patroclus feels his cheeks heat up as he realizes for the first time how supremely nerdy everything he just said was.

“Wow,” Achilles marvels, breaking the silence.

“Dude,” Menelaus gapes, “you got all of that from Scrubs?” Patroclus blushes even harder. He is entirely unused to people being impressed with him, and the sensation, while not altogether bad, makes him feel exposed and anxious.

“Well, I mean, there was also that WebMD phase,” He mumbles, directing his gaze pointedly at the floor.

“That was seriously impressive,” Achilles commends, and Patroclus scoffs instinctively. It’s not like he performed brain surgery, he just said what anyone paying attention could’ve ascertained. “No, I mean it,” Achilles insists, “I can’t even tell the difference between Tylenol and Advil.”

“Tylenol contains acetaminophen, Advil is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug,” Patroclus mutters, before he can stop himself. Achilles gapes at him.

“A what?”

“Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug,” Patroclus repeats, “Drugs that combat pain and fever and can reduce swelling in higher doses.”

“Dude,” Menelaus says again, “where’d you learn all this?”

“Wikipedia,” Patroclus deadpans, “So, like I said, you shouldn’t trust my opinion.”

“Hey, Wikipedia got me through freshman history,” Achilles points out.

“Didn’t you get a C in freshman history?” Briseis pipes up.

“C plus,” Achilles corrects, “passing grade.”

The car falls silent again as Achilles pulls into the hospital parking lot, the severity of the situation suddenly reasserting itself. Something about a hospital makes it impossible to tease your friends about their freshman history grades, and nothing feels quite appropriate except noiselessly exiting the car and striding purposefully towards the sliding glass doors as though the waiting room inside will solve your problem.

The rest of the group is already there when they arrive. Idomeneus is seated with Clytemnestra  and Penelope, Ajax is pacing the length of the room, Odysseus is interrogating the poor nurse at the front desk, and Shorter Ajax is on the phone in the corner. Ajax’s head snaps up when they enter, and Menelaus leads the four of them over to meet him.

“Any news?” He inquires. Ajax shakes his head.

“Nothing yet. Odysseus has been grilling that nurse over there for at least ten minutes, but all we know is he’s been admitted and he’s not dead.”

“Has someone called his mom?” Achilles asks.

“Other Ajax is on the phone with her right now,” Ajax replies, jerking his head over to Shorter Ajax on the corner.

“What about his dad?” Menelaus points out, somewhat hesitantly. Ajax runs a hand over his face.

“We figured we’d let his mom deal with that when she gets here,” He says. “I mean, none of us have his number, and it’s not like he’d be able to come even if we did.”

“So what can we do?” Briseis asks.

“Nothing, I guess,” Ajax sighs, shrugging, “just sit here and wait.”

So they do. Briseis sits down beside Penelope and Patroclus beside Briseis, who promptly drops her head onto his shoulder and curls up against his side. Achilles stands beside Patroclus’s chair, hand on Patroclus’s shoulder, and taps his foot restlessly. Menelaus paces around a bit, fingers fisted into his hair and elbows drawn tight around his face, before collapsing in the seat across from Briseis. Odysseus abandons his interrogation eventually and claims the spot next to Menelaus, closely followed by Ajax, who sits down heavily on Menelaus’s other side. Shorter Ajax is the last to join them, clearly unable to hang up on Diomedes’s hysterical mother. From the way he keeps apologizing and spluttering helplessly, Patroclus can tell she's grilling him for information he doesn't have.

When he finally does pocket his phone and flop down next to Ajax, it isn’t five minutes before a frenzied, dark-haired woman bursts through the door in a sweater and pajama pants and immediately bustles over to the front desk, demanding information on her son. She’s tied up with paperwork barely a moment later, and makes her way over to the rows of hard, plastic chairs in search of a place to sit. Only then does she notice the exhausted gathering of varsity jacket-clad teenagers all slumped together in two rows, all leaning on each other and struggling to stay awake.

“Oh, it was so sweet of you all to come,” She gushes, “but it’s probably going to be a while before we know anything.”

“That’s okay,” Menelaus says, “we’ll wait.”

Achilles plunks down in the seat beside Patroclus and turns to him.

“If you want to go home, I'll drive you,” He offers.

Patroclus glances around the room at the people surrounding him. Penelope, who has traded her seat beside Clytemnestra for the one next to Odysseus and is clutching his hand. Idomeneus, who has barely ever spoken to Clytemnestra but still has a comforting hand on her shoulder. Ajax, who took control when disaster struck and kept the whole group from going into crisis-mode. Shorter Ajax, who spent at least twenty minutes on the phone with Diomedes’ mother so she would be here when he woke up. Menelaus, who punched a giant in the face and got ejected from the championship football game just so he could get to the hospital sooner. And Briseis, whose head is resting against Patroclus's shoulder and whose face is still streaked with tears and who needs him . He’s not going anywhere.

“No, it's fine,” He says, “I’ll stay.”

“Okay,” Achilles replies, stretching an arm over Patroclus's shoulders. “Then I will too.”


Chapter Text

When Patroclus wakes up, he’s at the football game.

Jerking upright, his head snaps from side to side, taking in the scene around him. It’s exactly as it had been; he’s seated beside Achilles in the stands, with Ajax next to Achilles, followed by a whole row of jocks. They’re watching the field intently, where the Warriors are setting up for the next play, and arguing about the best course of action for the team below. None of them seem the least bit perturbed to be living a night that already happened.

“If Diomedes would just throw the ball, we’d get there easy,” Achilles is saying, which is exactly what he said last night, before everything went to shit.  

“He hasn’t thrown the ball in two possessions. He’s too worried about this Agraeus guy,” Ajax replies. Patroclus taps Achilles vigorously on the shoulder.

“What’s going on?” He demands, but Achilles ignores him completely.

“Well, we’re not gonna win this game just running the ball all day. Wait, it’s starting!”

Down on the field, Diomedes takes the snap. Achilles opens his mouth to narrate the play for Patroclus, before promptly morphing into Cassandra.

Patroclus scrambles back in horror. “What the hell?!” He shrieks. Cassandra grabs him by the shoulders with more strength than Patroclus would’ve attributed to a rather bony 16 year old girl and yanks him forward until they’re nose-to-nose.

“When gods and men shall seem alike, this is when disaster strikes!” She recites, her voice strange, echoey hiss.

The unmistakable thwack of Apollo Agraeus slamming into Diomedes echoes around the stadium, but it seems more amplified now than it had been the night before. Cassandra tightens her grip on Patroclus’s shoulders, her fingernails raking mercilessly into his skin, and begins to jerk him back and forth with vigor.

“But your friends!” She insists,  “Your friends are on the football team. You have to tell them not to play, Patroclus, you have to warn them!”

He makes a futile, downright pathetic attempt to free himself from her grasp, attempting to pry her hands off of his shoulders, but she only digs in harder. Sirens begin to blare. He makes no attempt to speak, but hears himself say, “We couldn’t get them not to play even if we tried.”

Cassandra relinquishes Patroclus’s shoulders in favor of seizing him by the head, twisting her fingers into his hair. She leans closer, teeth bared in a furious snarl, and roars, “You won’t!”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Patroclus jerks awake, his head snapping up off Achilles’s shoulder where it must’ve been resting while he slept. Briseis has somehow maneuvered herself under the armrest and is sleeping with her head on Patroclus’s lap, and Patroclus hears her grumble in her sleep when he jostles her.  Painstakingly, he eases his phone out of his pocket, careful not to upset the two sleeping bodies resting against him, and checks the time, finding it to be only 6:30 in the morning. Sunlight has only just begin to peek in through the waiting room windows, casting everything in a soft, whitish glow that would be ethereal anywhere else but in a hospitable just seems cold. Sighing, he tips his head back against the wall and closes his eyes for a moment, trying to fall back asleep, but the strange dream that woke him up in the first place is lurking just behind his eyelids.

Truthfully, he hasn’t given much thought to Cassandra’s prophecy since she first recited it. Not even last night, when disaster clearly struck, did he think that maybe he should’ve believed her. And even now, after probably the freakiest stress-dream he’s ever had, he’s not exactly ready to give merit to one of Cassandra’s predictions. No, that is not what he feels guilty about. He is not irrational enough to believe that Cassandra truly saw the future and he cast her off. However, there was one thing she said that maybe wasn’t completely ridiculous, and that maybe he should’ve listened to.

“My brothers - they’re friends with this Apollo Agraeus guy. I’m worried they have something planned.”

Because now that Patroclus is thinking about it, the idea that Paris or Hector Priamides instructed their good buddy Apollo Agraeus to purposefully incapacitate one of the greatest threats to their team is not completely outlandish. If Agraeus is any good at football, and he is, he knows how to sack a quarterback without landing him in the hospita. A player who was continuously and invariably injuring high school students would not be allowed to play, so Agraeus would’ve had to learn how to sack a quarterback without breaking him. He knows how much force is too much. What happened last night could’ve been an accident, but now that Patroclus is looking for it, there seems to be a lot of evidence that proves otherwise.

He glances around the room. Everyone else is still asleep, heaped over each other in a manner that will definitely embarrass them when they wake up. For a moment he weighs his options, debating which enormous athlete would be least likely to kill him if when he rouses them. Then, steeling himself, he reaches a foot across the aisle and toes Menelaus awake.

“Menelaus,” He hisses, “Menelaus!”

“What?” Menelaus grumbles, still half-asleep.

“I have an illogical and probably baseless accusation that will definitely cause more trouble than it’s worth.”

At this, Menelaus jerks into an upright position, suddenly alert and attentive.

“I’m listening.”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

“So let me get this straight,” Ajax, who was added to the mission after Patroclus and Menelaus realized neither of them had a car, begins, “you think Hector and Paris told Agraeus to injure Diomedes on purpose, because of something your weird, self-proclaimed psychic friend vaguely implied in a prophecy she recited?”

Patroclus grimaces. “Pretty much.” Menelaus and Ajax exchange a look.

“Sounds good to me,” Menelaus says.

“Yeah, I believe it,” Ajax agrees. Patroclus hooks one of his hands over each of the front seats, pulling himself forward to join the conversation.

“Let’s go over the plan one more time,” He says. “We’re going to knock on the door, ask to speak to Hector, and calmly and non-confrontationally voice our concerns. If he says he had nothing to do with it, we’ll believe him and leave.”

“And then,” Menelaus continues, “we’ll drive to his best friend’s house and break his ribs.”

“No-”

“Oh, that’s Deiphobus, I know where he lives!”

“Wait, guys-”

“Awesome! Let’s grind some bones.”

“No one is grinding any bones!”

“Come on, Poptropica, just a few!” Menelaus wheedles. Patroclus shakes his head.

“No,” He says firmly. “There will be no yelling, punching, biting, and especially no bone-grinding. In fact, why don’t I just do the talking?”  Ajax and Menelaus exchange another look that both of them seem to understand, which is really starting to make Patroclus feel like a third wheel, then burst out laughing.

“Yeah, right!” Ajax cries, “Like we’re gonna let Poptropica do the talking!”

“What?” Patroclus splutters, “Why not?”

“I don’t know, why don’t you tell me, Mr. I have a lot of nintendogs?” Menelaus shoots back. Patroclus gapes.

“How do you even know about that?!” He demands.

“Oh, oh, don’t forget, ‘I didn’t know they had gravity down there’,” Ajax adds, grinning.

“Who told you-”

“Doesn’t matter,” Menelaus cuts him off. “Point is, you’re not exactly the most articulate guy under pressure.” Patroclus makes an incoherent, offended noise somewhere in the back of his throat and crosses his arms petulantly.

“I am so articulate,” He defends himself. “ And I’m capable of having a civilized conversation without feeling the need to grind any bones.”

“Well, we’re here,” Ajax announces, as he pulls the car over in front of an immaculate suburban mansion, all mahogany doors and bay windows and gleaming brick, “so we better decide who’s talking now.

Menelaus and Patroclus stare each other down for a moment. Patroclus wouldn’t care so much, were it not for the fact that he would like to avoid an all-out bloodbath if he could. In the event of a brawl, Patroclus will almost certainly be pummeled, so he has a lot to gain from keeping it civil. Finally, Menelaus crosses his arms and flops back against his seat with an annoyed huff.

“Poptropica can talk,” He grumbles, “he’s probably right about the bone-grinding thing.”

Feeling appropriately self-satisfied and victorious, Patroclus leads Ajax and Menelaus up the Priamides’  flagstone walkway with all the dignity of a commander leading his troops to battle. The doorway is framed by an impressive stone arch, and the door itself adorned with an ornate equine knocker. A ring hangs out of the horse’s mouth like a bit, and Patroclus raps it against the gleaming mahogany wood three times.

“This place looks like the Tower of London,” Ajax muses, while they wait for the door to be opened. Patroclus can’t help but agree. The Priamides’ mansion is nothing short of majestic, with its high, arching windows, menacing iron gates framing the backyard, graceful pillars supporting the doorway’s arch, and tall turret piercing up into the sky on the right side. Patroclus imagines living there might be a bit like living in a fancy British boarding school: magnificent and awe-inspiring, but cold and not quite home.

“Patroclus?” The door swings open, revealing a confused and partially asleep Cassandra. Her thick, gnarled spirals of dark hair are especially disheveled at the moment, one side crushed flat against her cheek and the other desperately trying to escape its prison behind her ear. Looking at her right now, he doesn’t have quite as hard a time believing she’s psychic. She certainly looks like the kind of person who would hang out at a booth beneath the staircase at the mall, telling people how they’re going to die.

“Hi,” He says, “can we talk to your brother?” She blinks.

“I have nineteen brothers,” She deadpans, “you’re gonna have to be more specific.”

“Hector,” Menelaus cuts in, voice a tightly controlled snarl, “or Paris. Whichever one would be more annoyed to be woken up at seven in the morning.”

“That would be Paris,” Cassandra says, “but unless you’re willing to pay my hospital bill, I’m not waking him up.” Patroclus has to hand it to her, she’s being incredibly brave. For someone who foretold the apocalypse when Odysseus told her Menelaus had spoken to him, she doesn’t even flinch in the face of the two enormous, seething jocks towering in her doorway.

“Cass, who’s at the door?” A voice calls from somewhere within the house.

“Patroclus,” She replies, yelling over her shoulder, “and his bodyguards. They want to talk to you.”

“We’re not-” Ajax snaps, but is cut off when Hector Priamides appears in the doorway.

“What’s going on?” He greets apprehensively, sizing up the diplomatic mission on his doorstep with raised eyebrows. He puts one hand on Cassandra’s shoulder and pulls her away from the door, placing himself between her and the two mountains of rage on either side of Patroclus.

“We need to ask you something,” Patroclus begins, doing his best to dissipate the growing tension. Hector furrows his brow and examines Patroclus.

“Hey,” He says, head cocking to the side, “aren’t you the guy who punched me?”

Patroclus freezes. It’s not that he forgot the time he punched Hector Priamides, because how could anyone ever forget something so supremely awesome as punching Hector Priamides, but he had kind of hoped Hector would have forgotten by now. Because Hector could very easily break every bone in Patroclus’s body, probably with just one swing, and Patroclus is currently standing on his doorstep with nowhere to run. Menelaus and Ajax probably wouldn’t even protect him, after everything he said in the car about the importance of maintaining civility and, you know, not punching Hector Priamides.

“Um,” Patroclus stammers, “I-I..well yeah, but you were- I mean, I didn’t- No! It wasn’t me. That wasn’t me. I have never punched anyone ever in my entire life."

“Articulate,” Menelaus remarks smugly.

Hector considers Patroclus for a moment, observing him in all his scrawny and defenseless glory, before shrugging. “Whatever,” He says, “it didn’t hurt.” Patroclus flushes deep red. Behind him, Menelaus smothers a burst of laughter into his fist, which he tries to pass off as a cough.

“That’s good,” Patroclus rambles. “I mean, obviously not for the guy who punched you, cause he probably wanted it to hurt-”

“Poptropica!” Ajax hisses.

“Right! Um, not why we’re here.”

Cassandra shoulders her way past Hector and scrutinizes Patroclus. “So why are you here?”

She knows. He knows she knows. He can tell in the way her head is cocked to the side and her brows furrowed as though she’s truly curious, but the corners of her lips are quirking up in a self-satisfied smirk. She knows he’s here because he’s starting to see there might have been some truth to her prophecy, and she’s dying to hear him admit it.

“Well,” He begins, “we kind of have a question.”

“Accusation,” Menelaus corrects.

“Question,” Patroclus repeats, stamping down on Menelaus’s foot behind him in the most discreet manner possible. “You saw what happened at the football game, right?”

“Yeah,” Hector replies, forehead crinkled in confusion. “I’m sorry about your friend, is he okay?”

Behind him, Patroclus feels Menelaus surge forward, caught at only the last moment by Ajax. He’s really not great at this whole “keeping it civil” thing.

“Why don’t you let us ask the questions?!” He snarls, while Ajax attempts to wrestle him back into place. Cassandra, who has kept her cool so remarkably well this whole time, visibly flinches, and Hector shoves her back behind him again. Patroclus resists the urge to bury his face in his hands.

“We were just wondering if maybe you had anything to do with it,” He says. Hector’s expression suddenly grows defensive, and he takes a step forward.

“What do you mean?” He demands. Patroclus sighs.

“It’s just,” He flounders, “you and Agraeus are, like, family friends, right? And there’s this whole game thing going on, and Diomedes is on our side, so him getting hurt during the football game would work out well for you. It’s all just a little...convenient, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, more than a little,” Menelaus interjects. Ajax claps his hands over Menelaus’s mouth.

For a moment, Hector is speechless, gaping as he puts the pieces together. His eyes flit to the ground, darting back and forth beneath furrowed brows. Patroclus has not exactly spelled out what they’re charging him with, but he’s sure Hector can figure it out, and it’s not exactly a light accusation.

“You honestly think,” Hector finally speaks, each word slowly and carefully enunciated with growing indignation, “that I told Apollo Agraeus to deliberately injure your friend, to the point where he had to be carted off the field in an ambulance , just so Paris could go on a date with some girl he kissed once at a party? You think I would do something like that?”

“Look, man,” Ajax sighs. “We’re not saying you did anything. It’s just suspicious, is all.”

“So what?!” Hector cries, before taking a deep breath to regain his composure. “Just because it’s suspicious doesn’t mean it’s true. I know we’re on opposite teams and we’re supposed to be mortal enemies or something, but I’m telling you now that I would never do something like that, okay? I have boundaries. This is just a game, no one is supposed to end up in the hospital.” Menelaus wriggles his way out of Ajax’s grasp.

“That’s what we thought, too.”

Hector throws his arms out. “I don’t know what you want me to say! I’m sorry about your friend, but I never wanted anyone to get hurt. I never even wanted to play this stupid game!”

“That’s true,” Cassandra puts in, “Paris had to steal all his underwear and threaten never to give them back before he agreed to play.”

“Exactly,” Hector concludes, “I mean, I could’ve done without the story about my underwear, but that’s the truth.”

“Okay,” Patroclus relents, “so you didn’t do it. What about Paris?”

Hector is silent. Slowly, and in perfect unison, he and Cassandra turn to share a look.

“He did it,” Cassandra deadpans. Hector sighs.

“No, he didn’t,” He insists.

“Hector, it’s Paris.”

“I know, but he wouldn’t do this.”

“Wouldn’t he?”

“He has morals.”

“Does he?”

“Hector!” In the midst of their whispered argument, Hector and Cassandra are somehow completely oblivious to the tiny three year old toddling into the hallway, weaving his way between the two of them and glomping onto Hector’s legs. “Hector,” The kid whines again, “I’m hungryyyyyy.”

“One second, Polydorus,” Hector dismisses, reaching down blindly to ruffle the kid’s hair. Ajax clears his throat, drawing Hector’s attention back to the matter at hand. He sighs. “I know Paris has made some..questionable decisions-”

“Yeah, no shit,” Menelaus interjects. Patroclus stamps down harder on his foot.

“-but he wouldn’t do something like this,” Hector concludes, jiggling his leg in attempt to dislodge the toddler currently anchored there. Polydorus doesn’t budge.

Ajax jerks his head towards Cassandra. “Your sister seems to think otherwise.”

“Hey, Hector!” A voice floats in from the adjacent room, “How do you work the stove?” Hector sighs in exasperation, running a hand through his hair.

“Just wait a minute, Troilus,” He calls over his shoulder, “I’ll be right there!”

“Hectorrrrr,” Polydorus wheedles.

“Paris is a weasel,” Cassandra admits, “but this is too far, even for him.”

“What, so we’re just supposed to take your word for it?” Menelaus demands.

“I’ll ask him about it, just give me a minute,” Hector promises, now trying to pry Polydorus off him with his hands. A few screams go up from the adjacent room, followed by a plume of smoke billowing in through the doorway.

“Hec tor, everything’s on fire!” Troilus yells, from what is presumably the kitchen.  Hector’s face twists momentarily in exasperation, and Polydorus, still steadfastly refusing to relinquish Hector’s leg, begins to cry.

And that’s when Patroclus sees it.

There’s a certain iconism to Hector Priamides, a reputation that precedes him to the point where it’s difficult to distinguish between the man and the myth. And so, up until right this very moment, Patroclus had seen the Hector Priamides constructed by high school gossip, the handsome yet respectable gentleman with the Vineyard Vines sweater and the flawless hair and the chiseled jaw that could be sculpted from marble. But now, all the sudden, he sees the actual person standing in front of him. He sees the dark circles under Hector’s eyes, the pajama pants he’s wearing with his polo shirt, the crease in his forehead that never seems to go away. And he understands, suddenly, that parents as rich as Priam and Hecuba probably aren’t around all too much, and three-year-olds can’t feed themselves, and Hector is seventeen and trying to take care of nineteen younger siblings.

“Let’s go,” Patroclus suddenly announces.

“What?” Menelaus demands. “Poptropica, we came for justice-”

“Hector said he didn’t do it,” Patroclus states firmly, turning to face Ajax and Menelaus.

“What about Paris?” Ajax points out. Patroclus turns back to Hector, who is now kneeling on the floor, trying to comfort a wailing three-year-old while more and more smoke billows in from the kitchen.

“You’ll talk to Paris,” He instructs, “won’t you?” Hector nods hurriedly.

“Of course,” He assures them, “right after I...extinguish my brothers.” He punctuates this with a weary sigh, like this definitely isn’t the first time he’s had to put out a fire in the kitchen.

“Okay then,” Patroclus says, “that’s all we needed.”

With that, he turns on his heel and marches purposefully back down the walkway to Ajax’s car. Ajax and Menelaus are slow to follow, but he eventually hears their footsteps pick up behind him. He waits patiently for Ajax to unlock the car, then climbs into the backseat and directs his attention pointedly out the window, refusing to acknowledge the questioning glances he knows they’re throwing his way.

Menelaus manages to wait until they’ve arrived back in the hospital waiting room, conspicuously empty despite the cars parked outside, before rounding on Patroclus.

“What the hell was that, Poptropica?” He demands.

“I’m just gonna...” Ajax mumbles, gesturing vaguely in literally any direction, before disappearing down a hallway.

Patroclus sighs, trying to formulate an explanation. Somehow, he doesn’t think Menelaus will be too sympathetic to Hector’s plight. Menelaus is not exactly the most compassionate guy on a good day, and today is definitely not a good day. So, instead of explaining that to anyone not blinded by rage and thirst for vengeance could’ve seen Hector kind of had his hands full, Patroclus goes with, “He didn’t do it.”

“Yeah, he said he didn’t do it,” Menelaus scoffs.

“Come on, when has Hector Priamides ever told a lie?” Patroclus points out.

“But what about Paris?!” Menelaus demands. “This is exactly the kind of thing Paris Priamides would do, and you know it.”

“Hector said he would ask Paris,” Patroclus reminds him.

“See, but here’s the thing, Poptropica,” Menelaus seethes. “He said he would ask Paris. But what if it turns out Paris did do it? Do you really think Hector is going to tell us? Paris is the worst, even Hector knows that, but they’re brothers, and for some reason that means something to Hector. He’s not going to do anything to put Paris in danger, no matter how much he deserves it.”

“Maybe so,” Patroclus admits, “but what were you going to do if Paris did do it?”

“Beat him to a pulp,” Menelaus answers, without hesitation.

“And then what?” Patroclus counters. “You’ll get suspended? Expelled? Paris is the principal’s son, Menelaus. You can’t lay a hand on him.”

“I don’t care.”

“You should!”

“Well, I don’t! Maybe I did, at one point, but that all changed when he went after my best friend.”

And then there’s a pause. The fury blazing in Menelaus’s eyes extinguishes and they bulge infinitesimally, as if he’s just now realizing what he’s said. It’s not like this is news to Patroclus; it’s clear even to the casual observer that while the whole group generally gets along, Diomedes and Menelaus are closest with each other. But Menelaus, who is about as touchy-feely as a wolverine, is not exactly the type of guy who would outwardly call someone his best friend. A nerve has been exposed, and Patroclus knows, if he wants to convince Menelaus to stand down, he has to poke it.

“Your best friend?” Patroclus echoes with raised eyebrows, allowing the tension that’s been building between them to shatter and dissipate.

Menelaus collapses in a nearby seat and crosses his arms over his chest, directing his gaze anywhere but at Patroclus. “Shut up,” He grumbles. Patroclus holds his hands up in surrender and sits down beside him.

“I’m not making fun of you,” He insists, “I’ve just never heard you say it.” Menelaus sighs heavily and rakes a hand through his hair, then hunches over as though he’s been punched in the gut. He braces his elbows against his knees, clasps his hands together, and rests his forehead against his interlaced fingers, toe tapping back and forth across the red, blue, and beige tiled floor.

“When we were in middle school,” He begins, words heavy and clumsy and awkward, as though he does not quite know how to get them out, “Agamemnon used to, um, beat me up a lot.” He risks a sideways glance up at Patroclus, gauging his reaction, and Patroclus schools his expression into one of impassivity. “Which wasn’t a big deal, cause, y’know, that’s what brothers do, right? But, I don’t know, something about it was...different.” He twists his neck sharply to look up at Patroclus again, before hastily insisting, “I’m not being a pussy.”

“I didn’t think you were,” Patroclus assures him.

“Okay,” Menelaus says, nodding, “okay. Good.” He rubs a hand across the back of his neck, and Patroclus doesn’t think he has ever seen anyone look so profoundly uncomfortable. “Anyway, Diomedes would let me crash at his place when it got...bad, or whatever,” He finishes, toe tapping across the floor at an ever-increasing tempo.

“Wow,” Patroclus breathes, and tries to figure out where to go from there. It’s a lot of information to take in, although now that he thinks about it, it’s not all that surprising. He has seen Agamemnon, seen what he is capable of, seen the way he disregards other people’s boundaries and doesn’t know when to stop. And he remembers, vaguely, that Menelaus had an almost perpetual black eye back in middle school. The pieces were all there, Patroclus just never thought to put them together.

“Yeah,” Menelaus mutters.

“That sucks. I’m sorry.”

“Whatever, it’s not a big deal.”

“Sounds like it was.”

Something dangerous and foreboding flashes in Menelaus’s eyes, a warning sign that clearly reads, Don’t go there, so Patroclus doesn’t push it. Objectively, he can see that years of physical abuse kind of is a big deal, but Menelaus obviously isn’t ready to confront that yet, so Patroclus won’t make him.

“I could handle it,” Menelaus insists in a firm, hardened voice. “But...just, sometimes I didn’t have to. And that meant a lot, I guess.”

Patroclus gets it now. He gets why Menelaus, who usually emotes less than a boulder, has this white-hot streak of volatility coursing through him. He gets why Menelaus is so ready to go to the mat for Diomedes. Because a lot of times being a teenager feels like being stuck outside in a constant hailstorm, only the hail is actually those spiked balls from Super Mario Bros., and you’re not so much “outside” as stranded on a flimsy raft in the middle of an acid ocean, and everything is on fire, including you, and also you’ve got acne and you’re failing math and nobody likes you. But everyone has that one person that offers them shelter. For Patroclus, it’s Briseis, who has dealt with all of his shit without complaint for years and has never asked anything in return. He thinks about last Friday, when Agamemnon hurt her, and how much he had wanted to hurt Agamemnon in return. So what stopped him?

“I get it,” He begins, “I really do. It’s hard to see the people that have helped us get hurt and not feel like we have to do something. And I can see why you’d want to fight for someone like that. But...we have to think about what they would want. Last weekend, I was ready to report Agamemnon to the principal for what he did to Briseis. But I didn’t, because that wasn’t what she wanted. She just wanted to let everything blow over, and I owed her that much. So think about Diomedes. Do you really think he’d want you to beat up Paris Priamides and get yourself expelled because of this? Because of him?”

Menelaus sighs and ducks his head somewhat sheepishly, and Patroclus knows he’s gotten his point across. He tugs the cuffs of his varsity jacket over the heels of his hands, refusing to look at Patroclus as he mutters, “Probably not.”

“Exactly,” Patroclus confirms. “Come on, let’s go find the rest of the group.”

They wander through the hospital in silence at first, Menelaus pointedly ignoring Patroclus while Patroclus tries to wrap his head around the day’s revelations. There was a time when he saw Ilium High’s gentry, rich kids and jocks alike, as flawless, invincible gods untouched by the day-to-day tribulations of regular teens. Now that he’s gotten a closer look, however, all the chinks in the armor have become visible. Today alone, he’s discovered Hector’s absent parents that leave him to care for their children and Menelaus’ suburban hellscape of a childhood, not to mention Achilles’ issues with his mother and Briseis’ steadfast denial of everything that happened to her last Friday. It’s enough to make him wonder if all of it, the rigid social structure and the geeks and the cool kids and the uncrossable barrier that lay between, existed entirely and solely in his head. But that’s too big of a revelation for him to have right now, while he’s walking the halls of a hospital with someone he’s starting to see in a whole new light.

“Hey,” Menelaus says suddenly, “don’t...say anything about this to everyone else, okay? None of them know.”

“Of course,” Patroclus promises, nodding.

“Okay,” Menelaus mutters, “thanks.”

“Hey!” A new voice calls, as they round a corner, “Where the hell have you been?”

Patroclus looks up to see Shorter Ajax getting up from where he’d been seated on the floor, along with Odysseus, Idomeneus, Achilles, and Ajax. Briseis, Penelope, and Clytemnestra occupy the bench across from them, and Agamemnon leans against the wall, arms crossed and expression pinched and stormy. They’re all gathered around the door to room 107, where Patroclus assumes Diomedes is being kept.

“Not important,” Menelaus dismisses, “any news?”

Shorter Ajax looks like he wants to press, but Idomeneus answers before he can. “The doctor said he has a couple stress fractures and some torn intercostal muscles. He’s gonna be fine but they’re keeping him overnight just in case. His mom’s in there with him right now, but it’s family only, so here we are.”

There’s a moment of silence, before Patroclus realizes the whole group is staring at him expectantly.

“What?” He demands.

“Care to translate that for us?” Ajax requests.

“Oh,” Patroclus splutters, suddenly blushing.  “Right, um that’s not that bad. Stress fracture basically just means they’re cracked, and intercostal muscles are the muscles that run in between the ribs. It can be painful when they’re torn but it’s nothing serious. There’s no real treatment besides ice and rest, and maybe some breathing exercises, and he’ll have to take it easy for a while, but really it could have been a lot worse.”

“Okay,” Menelaus sighs, nodding. “Okay, that’s good. Could have been worse. That’s good.”

“Yeah, but when was the last time Diomedes ‘took it easy’?” Ajax points out.

“True,” Idomeneus admits. “One time, in middle school, he had a concussion, and still beat us all at Just Dance.”

“Oh, yeah, I remember that,” Clytemnestra cuts in, laughing, “he stepped on a rake-”

“Just to see if it would really swing up and hit him in the face,” Menelaus finishes, shaking his head in both fondness and exasperation.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Diomedes is stupid and it’s funny, whatever,” Shorter Ajax dismisses, before once again rounding on Menelaus. “Where the hell have you been?”

Menelaus, Patroclus, and Ajax glance around the circle at each other, silently debating whether or not to tell, before Patroclus shrugs. It’s not like he wants the whole group believing Paris Priamides deliberately injured their friend and plotting elaborate, probably violent revenge, but it doesn’t seem like there’s any keeping it from them now.

“It’s kind of a long story,” He warns.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Shorter Ajax retorts, while the rest of the group shrugs and nods their agreement. Patroclus sighs.

“Okay. Do you remember my friend Cassandra?” He begins.

“That creepy chick with the really long hair who was always like, ‘The end is coming, the sky is falling, you’re going to die on Thursday’?” Achilles clarifies.

“She’s the one,” Patroclus confirms, nodding. “Anyway, she had a...a premonition about the football game that, like, disaster was going to strike or something, and she made me and Odysseus-”

“Odysseus and I,” Odysseus corrects.

“Dude.”

“Sorry.”

“Anyway, she made us meet her in the cafeteria in secret so she could tell us, and it was, like, a whole big thing, but basically she wanted us to somehow call off the game because she thought the world was gonna end,” Patroclus

“So, the usual,” Briseis summarizes.

“Exactly ,” Patroclus agrees. “Anyway, obviously we couldn’t call off the game, and of course we didn’t believe her anyway because it’s Cassandra, but right before we left she told us Hector and Paris were friends with Apollo Agraeus.” Realization begins to dawn on some of the faces around him.

“And you thought they were somehow behind this,” Briseis guesses.

“She thought they were behind it,” Patroclus corrects. “To be honest, I forgot all about the whole thing until this morning. But once I started thinking about it, it all made a lot of sense. I mean, Hector and Paris have every reason to want Diomedes incapacitated, and here’s their perfect opportunity.”

“Patroclus,” Odysseus cuts in, “I certainly hope you do not mean to tell me you ventured unaccompanied to the house of Priam to confront two of our greatest foes all because Cassandra had a premonition.”

Patroclus fidgets awkwardly, scratching the back of his neck and curling one of his feet around the back of his other ankle. “....Maybe.”

“But he wasn’t unaccompanied!” Ajax cuts in. “Menelaus and I went with him.”

“So what happened?” Clytemnestra presses. “Did they do it?”

Menelaus sighs, cutting his eyes sharply at Patroclus. “We don’t know,” He grumbles. “Hector denied it, of course, but he couldn’t say whether Paris had done it or not.”

“Definitely sounds like something he’d do,” Achilles mutters.

“Hector said he would ask Paris about it,” Patroclus points out.

“And then what, is he gonna tell you?” Idomeneus asks.

Patroclus shrugs, eyes darting uncomfortably across the floor. “I guess,” He mumbles. Idomeneus’ eyes bulge, eyebrows shooting up.

“You didn’t ask?” He demands.

“It was implied!” Patroclus splutters, which it wasn’t, but it seems like a better answer than the truth.

“Does he know it was implied?” Idomeneus counters.

“I don’t know!” Patroclus cries. “I don’t know, okay? I screwed up, I don’t know. We just have to wait and see.”

With that, he slumps back against the wall, jerking a hand through his hair. It’s not even noon and he’s turned things into an even greater clusterfuck than they were before, which is saying something. He felt guilty about not listening to Cassandra about the football game, so he decided confronting Hector and Paris would fix things. But then he felt guilty about that because obviously someone like Hector would never do something like this, so he decided leaving in the middle of the conversation would fix things. But then he felt guilty about that because Menelaus clearly felt like he had to protect Diomedes in some way and Patroclus wasn’t letting him. Everything he’s tried to do to make things better has made things worse, and he’s just tired of  feeling guilty.

There’s silence for a moment as everyone swallows whatever accusations they were most definitely about to hurl at Patroclus, which he appreciates, because he doesn’t need them making him feel even guiltier. Achilles gets up from his place on the floor and maneuvers around Ajax to stand next to Patroclus, then discreetly intertwines their hands together. Patroclus shoots him a weak, one-sided smile, and Achilles squeezes his hand.

“Hey,” Briseis speaks, shattering the silence. All eyes snap instantly to her. “What are we going to do if Paris did do it?”

Silence again. Everyone looks around at each other, waiting for someone else to have the answer.

“We win this stupid game,” Menelaus finally responds. “So Paris Priamides can't ever pull shit like this again.”

Chapter Text

The group lingers at the hospital, crammed into the hallway outside Diomedes’ door, for about fifteen minutes. Then, when it becomes clear that that Diomedes’ mother won’t be emerging any time soon, nor will they be allowed in to see Diomedes, Ajax raises his head reluctantly to suggest they all head home. Mumbling their assent, they break off into smaller groups to drive home: Penelope with Odysseus, Shorter Ajax and Idomeneus with Ajax, Clytemnestra and Menelaus with Agamemnon. Achilles takes Patroclus’s hand then offers Briseis a ride, but she just shakes her head and says she thinks she’ll stay here for a while.

“Are you sure?” Patroclus presses, releasing Achilles’s hand to sit down in the plastic chair beside her.  

Briseis nods. “Yeah,” She mutters, eyes still fixed on the wooden door in front of her.

“Do you want me to stay with you?” Patroclus offers. 

She finally tears her attention away from the door to shoot him a sad, weak imitation of a smile. “No, it’s fine,” She assures him, then glances up at Achilles and smirks. “Go finish your date.”  

Patroclus flushes bright red, suddenly remembering that he is on his first-ever, real, proper, honest-to-god, 100% all natural date with Achilles Pelides. Sure, it got a little derailed, but they’re technically still on it. In all the chaos that was last night and this morning, he’d honestly forgotten, but now he can practically feel Achilles standing behind him. “Um,” He stammers, “that’s not - I mean, if you want, I can-” 

Pat ,” Briseis cuts him off, “Would Diomedes want you to sit here all day with me, or go make out with Achilles in his car?”

“Um,” Patroclus stammers, “he’s - he’s not dead, we don’t have to, like, honor his memory-”

“Just go!” She insists.

 “Okay!” He relents, throwing his hands up.“Text me if you need anything.”  

With that, he feels Achilles take his hand again and allows himself to be lead out of the hospital. They wave their goodbyes to the rest of the group in the parking lot, then climb into Achilles’s car and begin the drive home.

“So,” Achilles says, once they’re out on the road, “sorry our date got kind of...screwed up.” He sounds genuinely apologetic, like he’s somehow to blame for how things ended up.

 “It’s not your fault,” Patroclus assures him.  

Achilles sighs, propping his elbow against the car window and jerking a hand through his hair. “Yeah,” He admits, “but still...I mean, that can’t’ve been your ideal first date.” 

Patroclus furrows his brow and cocks his head to the side, considering this. In truth, he’s not sure he actually has an ideal first date, mostly because up until recently, a first date wasn’t something he really saw in his immediate future. Sure, he’s fantasized almost non-stop about a relationship with Achilles since middle school, but he never actually stopped to plan their perfect romantic evening step-by-step. All that’s ever mattered to him is being with Achilles; he’s never cared where they were or what they were doing.

“Maybe not,” He admits, “but I don’t think I really have one.”

 Achilles shoots him an incredulous look. “Come on,” He challenges, “no ideal first date? Nothing you’ve, like, thought about, or pictured? No one perfect way you’d want to spend a night with someone?” Patroclus shakes his head. “I don’t buy it,” Achilles insists, “everyone has one.”

 “Okay, so what’s yours?” Patroclus counters, grinning. Achilles blushes.

“Ideally?” He says. Patroclus nods. “This,” He mutters, “except, without the hospital part.”

“A football game?” Patroclus questions, cocking his head to the side and furrowing his brow. “Really?” It’s not like he didn’t enjoy the football game, but it’s not exactly what comes to mind when he thinks romance.

 “Not the football game,” Achilles corrects, blushing harder, “just, you know, being with you. My ideal first date was always just...being with you.”  

He ducks his head shyly but glances up at Patroclus from under the tousled blond locks that have tumbled into his eyes, attempting to gage Patroclus’s reaction. Warm, soft light begins to fill Patroclus’s chest, and he wonders if it is gushing out of his eyes and mouth and pores in torrents because he feels like it is, like there is no way he can possibly contain this much joy inside one body.

“I-It is?” He stammers, tongue moving clumsily around the luminescence he’s sure is filling his mouth. 

Achilles turns to face him, eyes sure and steady and honest, all traces of his previous insecurity vanished. “Yeah,” He says.

And Patroclus, who has never broken a traffic law in his life, who will usually wait until he’s at a red light to even look at the person in the passenger seat, who always keeps his hands at ten and two and his vehicle at a safe three-to-four second following distance, leans over the glove box and pulls Achilles into a kiss.  

He feels his hand move of its own accord, winding around the back of Achilles’ neck while one of Achilles’ hands fists into Patroclus’ shirt. He knows they’re on the road and this is basically suicidal and somewhere in the back of his mind he hears his Driver’s Ed teacher remind him that driving a car is the most dangerous thing a teenager will ever do, but he doesn’t care because his body is filling up with light and he needs to share it with Achilles. He needs to pour these sunbeams out of himself or else he will choke on them, he will drown, he will positively burn-

 By some stroke of sheer luck, Patroclus manages to pull himself away from this all-consuming desire just enough to crack one eye open, and spots the halted eighteen-wheeler about thirty feet ahead that they are currently speeding towards.

“Truck!” He shrieks, springing apart from Achilles as though he’s been shocked and clinging to the sides of the passenger seat like a drowning man clings to a fraying rope.  

“Shit!” Achilles slams on the brakes, left hand flying back to the steering wheel as he grits his teeth and attempts to plaster himself against the back of his seat. Patroclus finds himself doing the same, as though leaning back will somehow slow down the car. The tires wail against the asphalt as the solid white back of the truck looms closer, closer, closer , and Patroclus squeezes his eyes shut and braces for impact.

 It doesn’t come. Instead, he hears Achilles’ slow, relieved exhale as the car finally screeches to a halt. Tentatively, he opens his eyes.

“Are we dead?”

“Shockingly, no,” Achilles replies, “our teenage hormones did not kill us.”

 Patroclus slumps forward in his seat, one shaking hand fumbling at his chest as he desperately tries to get his breathing back under control. He can feel his heart hammering beneath his palm. In the driver’s seat, Achilles shakes his head a few times and relaxes his death grip on the steering wheel, sucking air steadily in and out in a careful, calculated rhythm. The eighteen-wheeler in front of them pulls nonchalantly ahead, entirely unaware of the disaster it just very narrowly avoided.

They are both silent as Achilles presses gently down on the gas, easing the car into a cautious crawl. Patroclus tips his head back against the headrest, squeezing his eyes shut, and lets out a long, shuddering sigh. Beside him, he hears Achilles emit a low, decidedly smug chuckle.

“Wow, Menoetiades,” He says, and Patroclus can just hear the smirk in his voice, “I had no idea you wanted me so badly.”

 Patroclus groans, rolling his eyes. “Shut up.”

“I mean, you were willing to sacrifice your life-”

“Shut up!”  

“-you marched bravely into the jaws of death-”

“I’m not listening.”  

“-you faced God and walked backwards into hell-” 

“Oh, wow, how poetic.”  

“-all for a taste of this smokin’ hot bod.”

“Oh my god.”

He reaches out to give Achilles a half-hearted swat on the arm, while Achilles laughs unabashedly at his own joke. Patroclus’ face is burning, and he can’t help but realize that the first time he ever actually kissed Achilles nearly killed them, but he thinks he’s happy. Now that the terror has subsided, he finds that he can still feel his lips tingling from their kiss, and the sound of Achilles’ laughter is filling up the car, and Achilles’ one perfect way to spend a night is with Patroclus. What’s there to not be happy about?

“You know what, Patroclus Menoetiades?” Achilles says, once he’s finished laughing. Patroclus raises his eyebrows to prompt him to continue. “I think you like me.”

Patroclus blushes furiously. It’s ridiculous, because obviously he likes Achilles, and obviously Achilles knows this, but for some reason Patroclus thinks he should deny it. He can’t let Achilles know he likes him, not when he’s sitting there with that stupid smug grin on his stupid beautiful face. “I do not!” He retorts indignantly, but his grin and beet-red blush give him away.

Achilles shakes his head, self-satisfied grin only growing. “I think you do,” He maintains.

“Well,” Patroclus splutters, “you said your ideal first date was with me which means you like me too so there !”

But Achilles doesn’t laugh, or splutter some lame, half-hearted comeback like Patroclus. Instead, he just turns to gaze at Patroclus, all soft and adoring and perfectly content, and says, “Yeah, I guess I do.”

Patroclus starts at the words, not because they’re entirely unexpected, but because he’s just now realized something very important. “Holy shit,” he says, “did we just have our talk?”

 Achilles’s eyes widen almost comically as realization dawns. Their talk, their big, ominous, apocalyptic, life-or-death talk, the one they’ve been trying to have for the past two weeks, has just slipped by in two sentences and they nearly missed it. The thing that has been tying Patroclus’s stomach in knots for what feels like forever is over, and it was practically painless.  

“I think we did,” Achilles agrees, sounding just as amazed as Patroclus.

“So, we-we like each other, we’re, um...” Patroclus stammers, before sighing and dropping his head to the side. “What are we?” He asks desperately.

“Dating,” Achilles answers, almost immediately. “I mean, if you want to be.”

 “Dating,” Patroclus repeats. “Dating. So, does that mean, like...boyfriends?” And even though he’s almost sure it does, even though he’s almost sure that’s what Achilles wants, he suddenly feels like he’s stepped out onto the football field in front of the whole school completely naked. Vulnerable, exposed, and desperately awaiting any kind of reaction.  

Achilles pulls the car onto their street and turns to look at Patroclus. “It means,” He says, and places a hand on Patroclus’s arm, which Patroclus just now realizes is still clad it Achilles’ varsity jacket, “that I want you to keep this.”

This time, Patroclus waits until Achilles has safely parked the car in front of his house to lean across the glove box and kiss him. It’s not as desperate this time, not as aggressive or hurried or hungry, it’s just soft and slow and secure. They both let it last, stretching it out as long as they can before they have to break for air.

“Just to clarify,” Patroclus says breathlessly, “that does mean boyfriends, right? Because I’m very good at misinterpreting things.”

 “Yes,” Achilles confirms, “it very much does mean boyfriends.”

And as Achilles leans in to kiss him again, Patroclus thinks it means so much more than boyfriends, it means best friends and partners and soulmates.

They part ways not long after that, reluctantly climbing out of the car and going into their respective homes. Patroclus has just barely shut the door and leaned back against it, eyes closed and mouth stretched into a dazed, blissful smile, when he feels his phone buzz in his pocket.

 

Achilles

tbt to when we almost got killed by your raging libido

 

Patroclus

tbt to when you dressed up as shrek for halloween

 

Achilles

well played

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

The doorbell rings at an ungodly hour on Sunday morning. At first Patroclus assumes he dreamt it, because he’s barely even half awake, and no one is ever at his door anyway, and it is the asscrack of dawn on a Sunday morning. But then, just as he’s rolled over to go back to sleep, it rings again. And then again. And again. Whoever’s there is certainly impatient, and also definitely exists in real life.

So, groaning, he begrudgingly rolls out of bed and stumbles down the stairs before the incessant ringing wakes his father. (Menoetius, if possible, is even grumpier and the morning.) He drags himself to the door and hauls it open with one hand, the other blearily rubbing at his eyes, and catches one glimpse of Hector Priamides before hastening to slam it shut again.

“Wait!” Hector cries, scrambling to grab hold of the door and plant his foot in the doorway. “I’m not here to kill you,” He promises, as he wrenches the door back open. Patroclus makes a feeble, half-hearted attempt to stop him, but Hector is about ten times as strong as Patroclus even when Patroclus hasn’t just dragged himself out of bed at what must be the dawn of time itself, so he easily loses that battle.

“You’re not?” Patroclus echoes, eying Hector up and down suspiciously.

“I’m not,” Hector confirms. He could very easily be lying, and in fact probably should be lying, but Patroclus is having a hard time not believing him. He’s not sure Hector Priamides even knows how to lie.

 “Okay,” Patroclus says slowly, words oozing suspicion, “then why are you here? Wait - how did you find where I live?”  

“I asked Cassandra.”

“Cassandra knows where I live?”

“She asked...um...that kid with glasses, and the...,” Hector gesticulates indistinctly, fumbling for the right term, “...words?” He finishes.  

“Oh, Odysseus!” 

“Yeah, him.”

“Odysseus knows where I live?”

“Dude, that’s really not the point.”

“Right, right.” Patroclus crosses his arms and leans against the doorframe, because it is far too early for his legs to be supporting his body. “What is the point?”

Hector sighs, eyes flitting briefly across the ground as he crosses his arms over his chest. “I talked to Paris,” is all he says.

Patroclus gets it. Hector doesn’t mention what he talked to Paris about, or what the outcome of that conversation was, but Patroclus gets it. “And he did it,” Patroclus ventures, “right?”

Hector hesitates for a moment, steadily holding Patroclus’ gaze. Patroclus can feel Hector sizing him up, trying to determine if he’s any sort of threat. “Yeah,” He finally mutters, “he did it.”

Patroclus nods. It’s not surprising, but it complicates things, and he’s not quite sure where to go from here. If he tells the rest of his team, they’ll be out for blood, which he opposes on principle. But if he doesn’t, he’ll have to walk around with this big secret and keep something from his friends that he knows they deserve to know. It’s the kind of moral conundrum Odysseus lives for, but it just makes Patroclus’s stomach twist, and he finds himself wishing Hector hadn’t told him in the first place. Wait, why did Hector tell him in the first place? 

“Not that I’m complaining,” Patroclus guarantees, “but why are you even telling me this? I mean, you could just as easily keep it to yourself and there’d be no consequences.”

 Hector furrows his brow. “I had to tell you,” He says simply, as though he can’t believe Patroclus would even ask, “it’s the right thing to do. What Paris did was unethical, profiteering, and completely unacceptable.” As he speaks, his voice gains an impassioned, fervent quality, like he’s trying to stir downtrodden factory workers towards a labor strike, or something. “He’s always been selfish and reckless, but this time he got someone seriously hurt, not to mention desecrated our family name. I don’t want anyone thinking I tolerate this kind of dishonesty and...and cheating. I don’t care how much it benefits our team, I won’t tolerate it. And I’m here to make things right.”

 Patroclus blinks, mouth hanging slightly open in awe. He’s half expecting Hector to start waving a red flag and leading the impoverished people of Paris through the streets.  “Wow, you’re really intense. And righteous. I feel like...I feel like I should salute you, or something. Do you need my vote in an upcoming election? Or...should I get you a soapbox?”

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” Hector admits, blushing slightly. “Look, all I’m saying is, Paris crossed a line, and we need to un-cross it before anyone else gets hurt. This was never supposed to get physically violent.”

“I agree,” Patroclus says, “so what are we going to do about it?”

Hector glances furtively around him for a moment, like he’s worried some of his Priamide teammates have followed him here, before turning back to Patroclus and pointedly informing him, “I pick my brother up from soccer practice every Monday night. I try to get there early, so I don’t have to wait in line with the other parents. It’s a big, empty parking lot with no one around. I’ll be there at 5:15. 

Patroclus raises his eyebrows. He can tell what Hector is trying to do; Paris took Diomedes out of the game on less-than-fair terms, so Hector is leveling the playing field. But it doesn’t quite seem like a fair trade. Hector is the Priamides’ best player, and Diomedes, while certainly influential, has been nowhere near as essential as Achilles. Even someone as upstanding and virtuous as Hector should be able to see how stupid this is. “You’re giving us a free shot?” Patroclus questions.

“I’m giving you a fair shot,” He corrects. “I’ll be there alone tomorrow night. I never said I wouldn’t defend myself.”

That seems more reasonable. After all, Paris’ attack on Diomedes wasn’t a guaranteed success. Diomedes had a line of defense, it just hadn’t held up. It’s only fair that Hector have one, too. Besides, only an idiot would send their best player into battle without any form of protection.  

Hector turns and starts to walk away, while Patroclus remains in the doorway, watching him retreat. He makes it about five steps before turning around and adding, “One more thing.” Patroclus raises his eyebrows. “Don’t let your friends go after Paris. I know he can be...conniving, and selfish, and reckless, and deceitful, and sometimes he steals your clothes and then pretends they were his all along, and one time he snuck into Cassandra’s room and stuck every single bobby pin we own in her hair while she was sleeping and it took me a whole day to get them all out, and he saves all the bullets he gets in Mario Kart until he’s in, like, fifth place-”

“Is this going somewhere?”

 “Right! Point is, he can be kind of a piece of shit, but he’s my brother, and it’s my job to protect him.” Patroclus can’t help but think how different Hector is from Agamemnon, and how unfair it is that  Paris has a brother who loves him unconditionally no matter how little he deserves it. “He talks a big talk, but he can’t fight back. If Menelaus or Ajax goes after him, they’ll kill him.” 

“They won’t kill him.”

“They might. Paris never knows what he’s getting himself into, and he never thinks about the consequences. Just let me clean up his mess, okay? It’s better that way, for everyone.” Hector steadily holds Patroclus’ gaze, brow lowered and jaw set, and he looks even more serious and intense than he did during his lofty, soaring declaration of his Morals and Beliefs.

 “Okay,” Patroclus relents, “whatever you want.” 

Hector nods and turns to walk away for real this time, and Patroclus can’t help but think that if Paris were his brother, he certainly wouldn’t be as noble and selfless as Hector. He can’t imagine watching someone make the same series of selfish, reckless moves over and over again without ever insisting they face the consequences.  

“Hey!” Patroclus calls after Hector suddenly. Hector spins around, eyebrows raised. “How do you know I won’t send my friends after Paris anyway? Then we could take both of you out.” 

Hector just smirks. “Because,” He says, “yesterday morning, you showed up at my doorstep with these two enormous, angry guys on either side of you, and they were ready to beat Paris to shreds for something they weren’t even sure he’d done. And yet, somehow you got them to turn around and leave without getting any answers, just because you saw...” Hector falters, but Patroclus knows what he means. You saw that I have nineteen younger siblings who depend on me for everything because they have no one else to depend on . “Anyway,” Hector says, “You obviously care about the people around you. And you don’t want a bloodbath anymore than I do. I trust you to do the right thing.”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Patroclus

Hey guys could we possibly meet up in the library before class tomorrow??

 

Diomedes

why what’s going on

 

Patroclus

Nothing nvm

 

Diomedes

poptropicaaaaaaa

 

Diomedes

whats going onnnnnn

 

Patroclus

Seriously forget it

 

Diomedes

i hate being in the hospital im so out of the loop

 

Clytemnestra

That’s why you hate being in the hospital??

 

Diomedes

idk it kinda smells weird too

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

iMessage with Achilles, Briseis, Odysseus, Menelaus, Ajax, Shorter Ajax, Agamemnon, and Idomeneus, Clytemnestra, Penelope

Today 10:13 AM

 

Patroclus

Ok so you know you know how we were all having that conversation about whether or not Paris did that thing we all think he did

 

Idomeneus

yeah

 

Patroclus

He did it.

 

Shorter Ajax

oh perry the platypus how unexpected!! and by unexpected i mean COMPLETELY EXPECTED

 

Achilles

did...did you just quote phineas and ferb

 

Shorter Ajax

did...did you just recognize my phineas and ferb quote

 

Ajax

Wait how do you know he did it?

 

Patroclus

Hector Priamides just showed up at my doorstep and told me.

 

Menelaus

(ง'̀-'́)ง??

 

Patroclus

No.

 

Briseis

How did you have that ready so quickly??

 

Menelaus

I have it saved. I use it a lot.

 

Odysseus

While I cannot say I’m surprised, I must admit this latest turn of events is both disheartening and upsetting. We must devise a plan of action to avenge our fallen comrade!

 

Patroclus

That’s kind of what we need to talk about. But not over text, it’s a little complicated.

Menelaus

Let’s talk here house emoji confetti hornpointing right  http://go.joinhouse.party/CcEg/CWhRpwS3Ss  

  

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

“Alright, let me get this straight,” Agamemnon’s voice emits from the tinny speaker on Patroclus’ computer. “Paris told Apollo Agraeus to injure Diomedes on purpose, so Hector is going to let us take him out to level the playing field?” In his little square in the top right corner of Patroclus’ screen, Patroclus sees him raise his eyebrows in skepticism.

“Not exactly,” Patroclus corrects. “He said he’d give us a fair shot, not a free shot.” 

“What the hell does that mean?” Menelaus demands. He is standing behind Agamemnon and has to duck down to fit into the frame.

 “It means he’ll be there, alone, when he said he would be, but he’ll defend himself if he has to,” Patroclus explains.

“That’s bullshit,” Clytemnestra snaps, from the bottom middle. “If he wants to make things right, he should just let us kill him, fair and square.”  

“Yeah, and it’s not like Diomedes could fight back,” Shorter Ajax adds. Most of the heads in the little squares filling Patroclus’s screen nod emphatically, and a few murmur their agreement.  

“Well...,” Patroclus admits. All eyes instantly snap to him in accusation, and he throws his hands up. “He had all those guys in front of him!” He defends. “They held Agraeus off for more than half the game. I’m not defending Paris, but it’s not like he knew his plan was going to work. And Diomedes is still technically alive, anyway. Hector’s offer seems pretty fair to me.”  

“Fair or not, it’s the best shot we’ve had at the guy since this game started,” Idomeneus points out.

“That’s true,” Briseis agrees, “and he’s their best player. If we take him out-”

“We’re basically guaranteed to win,” Agamemnon finishes.  

“Alright,” Shorter Ajax says, “so what’s our play?”

“Why don’t we just all go?” Penelope suggests. Her voice is soft and feminine, but there’s a firm strength to it, a quiet resilience and determination that never wavers. “It’d be, like, eleven on one. He wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“Fair lady Penelope,” Odysseus says, and Penelope blushes so deeply it’s visible even via webcam, “while I admire your ruthlessness and ardor, I’m afraid there exists a statute of my own creation prohibiting such a mass attack. Any victim must be at least ten feet from any other person, participant or otherwise, before an attacker may descend upon them and ‘kill’ them.”

“Okay, so we can only send one person,” Ajax paraphrases.“Who’s our best player?” In the top right corner, Agamemnon sighs sharply. 

“It pains me to say this,” He groans, “but it’s gotta be Pelides.” All eyes drop to Achilles at bottom left, who should be wearing the widest, most self-satisfied smirk possible on a human face, but instead just looks shocked and uncomfortable. He’s silent for a moment, mouth opening and closing on the beginnings of a few words, before he finally formulates a response.

 “Oh,” He says, “well, um, actually, I’m not playing anymore.”

 The reaction is immediate.  

“What?” 

“He’s kidding, right?”

“Why not?!”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Alright, alright, alright!” Agamemnon bellows, silencing the group. He takes a deep breath, before growling, “Pelides. What do you mean ‘you’re not playing anymore’?” Achilles, whose initial admission was tentative and somewhat sheepish, seems to be fueled by Agamemnon’s vexation.  

“I mean,” He snarks, “I’m not playing anymore. I quit. I’m resigning from the game.”

“Can you even do that?” Shorter Ajax exclaims. Agamemnon ignores him.

“Why?” He hisses. Patroclus watches Achilles’ eyes flit up to Briseis’s square on the right side of the middle row.  

“Achilles,” Briseis warns, but she can’t seem to find any words beyond that. Her eyes are wide and she shakes her head almost imperceptibly, silently begging him not to bring up what happened last weekend. Achilles watches her desperately, jaw clenched and eyes flicking back and forth between Briseis and Agamemnon as he tries to calculate his next move.  

“Because,” He finally replies, tone even and controlled, “certain people need to learn there are consequences for their actions, and they can’t just keep walking all over everyone!”

Agamemnon disappears out of the frame as he drops his head onto his desk in exasperation. There’s silence for a moment, before he straightens up and reappears on the screen. “We’ll talk about this later,” He grinds out, in a short, halting tone. “In the meantime, if you’re not going to help, you may as well just leave.”

“We will talk about nothing, because I loathe you, and I will leave with pleasure, because I loathe you,” Achilles retorts, before his little square winks out of the screen. Agamemnon buries his face in his hands. 

“Oh my god,” He groans, “oh my god.”

 “Holy shit,” Idomeneus agrees.

“We’re fucked,” Clytemnestra adds.

“We’re not fucked,” Agamemnon argues, dropping his hands from his face and collecting himself. “Pelides is not the only player on this team. We’ll be fine, we just need a plan.”

“Might I suggest we observe the utmost confidentiality on this issue?” Odysseus cuts in.

“I second that,” Menelaus concurs, “we cannot let the Priamides know we lost Achilles.”

“They’re gonna figure it out eventually,” Clytemnestra points out.

“They haven’t yet,” Menelaus argues. “And if he quit because of...why I think he quit, he’s been out of the game for more than a week now.”

“Alright, so we keep it quiet,” Shorter Ajax agrees, “we still need to figure out who to send tomorrow night.”

 “I’ll do it,” Ajax volunteers nonchalantly. All eyes dart down to him. He’s so enormous that his broad, hulking shoulders don’t entirely fit into his square, and the top of his head disappears out of the frame when he straightens up entirely. His bulging arm muscles are visible even through his sweatshirt. Patroclus thinks if he was alone in a parking lot and saw that charging at him, he’d probably drop dead on the spot.

“Yeah, okay,” Agamemnon says, nodding his approval. “As long as you’re up for it.”

 “I am,” Ajax ensures.

“Good,” Agamemnon replies. “Because we’re not going to get an opportunity like this again. Don’t waste it.” Ajax tilts his chin in what seems like defiance, holding his ground under Agamemnon’s scrutinizing gaze, before Agamemnon sighs and leans back in his chair. “Okay,” He says, “so it’s decided. See you all on Monday.”

Hands in the bottom of each square start to direct mouses towards the “end call” button, before Briseis cries, “Wait!” Everyone freezes, and nine pairs of eyes flick up to her. “We shouldn’t let Diomedes know about this.”

 “Why not?” Clytemnestra questions. 

“Because,” Briseis explains, “if you got hurt, and then you found out someone at your school actually, like, planned for it to happen, wouldn’t you feel kind of...I don’t know, unsafe?” There’s silence for a moment as everyone considers this. Paris Priamides poses no real threat to Diomedes, and it’s unlikely he’ll try anything more, but Briseis still has a point. Paris launched a coordinated attack against Diomedes for the sole purpose of getting him seriously injured. Even for someone as carefree and unflappable as Diomedes, that’s got to be unnerving.

“Bri’s right,” Shorter Ajax finally speaks. “Diomedes is, like, the only person at Ilium who doesn’t hate everyone around him. We can’t ruin that.” Eight heads in eight squares surrounding Shorter Ajax nod in unison.

“Okay, so we keep quiet about this, and the whole thing with Achilles quitting,” Idomeneus clarifies. Everyone nods and mumbles their assent. “And Ajax will meet Hector tomorrow night at the parking lot outside the rec center.”

“I still think we should send back-up,” Penelope interjects. “Even if they just wait in the car, or something. Just in case Ajax needs help.”

It doesn’t sound like a bad plan, but Patroclus knows they can’t do it. It would be like cheating, sending multiple people when Hector is just going by himself.  Hector said he trusted Patroclus to do the right thing, to help him undo Paris’s mistakes, to keep this whole thing from becoming a bloodthirsty, anarchic free-for-all. And this, Patroclus knows, is the wrong thing.

“We can’t,” Patroclus insists, shaking his head. “It’s not technically against the rules, but it still wouldn’t be fair. And if we don’t play fair, we’re sending a message that it’s okay to do whatever you need to as long as it advances your team. Even hurt people.”

“Wily Penelope,” Odysseus says, “your cunning mind is as impressive as it is attractive. But I’m afraid I must side with Patroclus on the matter at hand. We cannot in good conscience hold Paris accountable for his dishonesty if we intend to be just as dishonest. Not that I object to dishonesty; given the appropriate circumstances, it can be quite advantageous. In our current situation, however, I believe integrity would serve us better.”

“I’m still not sure I speak this guy’s language, but I think I agree,” Menelaus adds.

“Me too,” Briseis says.  

“Yeah, okay,” Penelope sighs, “I guess I see your point.”

“Okay, so I’ll go alone,” Ajax decides. “Anyone have a problem with that?” No one speaks.

“Alright then,” Agamemnon says, “I think we have a plan.”

Chapter Text

For one, beautiful moment on Monday morning, everything seems okay. 

Patroclus hasn’t felt this certain of things in a while. He and Achilles are no longer in a perilous state of undefined ambiguity, they are clearly and definitively together.   He doesn’t have to go to school worrying about what he’s going to say to Achilles, or what Achilles is going to say to him, or in what new and exciting way he’s going to humiliate himself today. And sure, things got a bit out of hand with Paris and Apollo Agraeus and Diomedes, but Patroclus is pretty sure Hector’s solution is viable, and he’s sort of proud of the hand he had in keeping the peace. For a second there it looked like everything was going to spiral out of control and the whole game was going to descend into ruthless, bloody anarchy, but somehow Patroclus and Hector managed to rein things in. All in all, for the twenty minutes that Patroclus is getting ready on Monday morning, things really seem to be okay.

That, of course, is when Patroclus opens his closet to grab a sweatshirt and discovers Achilles’s varsity jacket.

He freezes. It’s not that he doesn’t remember it, of course he remembers it, he remembers Achilles giving it to him, remembers Achilles telling him to keep it, remembers all the unspoken words that came with it. But when he was shrugging it on at the football game, and when he was hanging it up in his closet Saturday morning, he hadn’t really thought about what he was supposed to do with it.

What is he supposed to do with it? Is it just something he has, hanging in his closet and reminding him of Achilles for as long as they’re together? Is it something he only wears when he’s alone and thinking of Achilles, or when it’s just the two of them out on a date? Or is he supposed to wear it everyday and everywhere, to school and to games and to parties, parading around his relationship with Achilles for everyone to see? Having spent so much time ducking his head and staying out of the way, he’s woefully clueless about social custom. He resolves to shove the jacket into his backpack and ask Briseis about it in the car on the way to school. She always has an answer when it comes to this stuff, and she (probably) won’t make fun of him for not knowing.

“Can I ask you something?” He says, once she’s in the passenger seat and they’re out on the road.

“Of course,” She replies, “what’s up?” He hesitates, not entirely sure how to phrase this.

“Open my bag,” He finally speaks. He’s learned enough from his and Achilles’s near death experience not to take a hand off the wheel and open it himself. She shoots him a confused, sideways glance, but twists around to pull his bag off the back seat anyway. 

“Oh my god,” She breathes, as she unzips the front compartment and unearths Achilles’s jacket. It’s unmistakably his, with “Pelides” stitched across the back and “Ilium High Track & Field” emblazoned in the top right corner. 

“Yeah,” Patroclus says, “that’s what I need to ask you about.”

“Oh my god,” She repeats, mouth hanging open and wide eyes fixed on the jacket in her hands. “Oh my god, Patroclus, are you and Achilles together?”

“What?” 

“Like, together- together? Dating? Boyfriends?!”

“Um-” 

“Is that why you have this?”

“Oh shit, did I forget to tell you?”

She gapes at him for a moment longer, then proceeds to smack him repeatedly with the varsity jacket. “Yes, you dipshit, you fucking forgot to tell me!” She berates, punctuating each word with a slap.

“Ow! Hey, I’m sorry! Don’t distract the driver!” He raises an arm to defend himself from her attacks. She rains down a few more blows on him, before flopping back in her seat with her arms crossed over the jacket, glaring. “Your life is in my hands, young lady,” He reminds her.

“Whatever, you deserved it,” She grumbles. “How could you not tell me?! My whole life for the past four years has been, ‘Oh Briseis, Achilles is so beautiful, but he’d never notice a lowly mortal like me. ’ And, ‘Oh Briseis, I said the dumbest thing to Achilles today, do you think he’ll ever want to speak to me again?’ And, ‘Oh Briseis, Achilles puked on me.’ And now all the sudden you guys get together and you don’t tell me?!”  

“First of all, thank you for those flattering impressions, Ms. ‘Diomedes is so dreamy, I just think he’s the keenest boy in school, I sure do hope he asks me to the big dance!’” He retorts, pressing a hand to his heart in a spot-on impersonation of her. She makes a high, offended noise somewhere in the back of her throat.

“I do not sound like that!” She cries. 

“Um, you most certainly do,” He informs her, “and second of all, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I just got kind of distracted, with, you know, everything that happened. But I’m telling you now, and I really need your help.” 

She shoots him an exasperated, incredulous look look. “Still?” She groans, “You guys are together, how could you possibly still need my help?” She’s pretending to be annoyed, but he can see the corners of her mouth pulling up. He knows she likes playing matchmaker.  

“Oh, shut up, you live for this stuff, now help me.”

“Ugh, fine,” She sighs, “What happened this time?”

“Achilles gave me his jacket,” He explains, jerking his head towards the jacket in her arms, “and now I don’t know what to do with it. Like, am I supposed to wear it around everyday? For everyone to see? What if Achilles doesn’t want me to? But then what if he does want me to, and I don’t? Then is he gonna be mad at me? I don’t want him to think I don’t want people to know about us, but I also don’t want to seem clingy-”

“Woah, woah, woah, slow down,” She cuts him off, holding her hands up in a placating gesture. “Do you want to wear it?” He shoots her a confused glance.

“Um, that was kind of my question,” He retorts. She sighs.

“No, your question was if you’re supposed to wear it,” She corrects, “ my question is, do you want to wear it?”

“Oh,” He says, “um, I don’t know.”

“Okay, well let’s start there,” She instructs. “If you wore it, people would know you and Achilles are together. Do you want that?”

“Um-”

“If you say ‘I don’t know’, I’m going to throw this jacket out the window.”

“Fine, fine! I mean, I guess I do.” He sighs, forking a hand through his hair. “I don’t not want people to know.”

“Okay,” Briseis says, “so wear it. Then everyone’ll know, but you won’t have to tell them.”

“Yeah, I guess,” He sighs, “but what if he doesn’t want people to know?”

Briseis laughs. She actually laughs, as though this is another one of Patroclus’s amusing misadventures and not the most stressful, climactic decision he’s ever had to make in his life. “Come on, Patroclus, he’s been pining for you since sixth grade,” She says, which is news to Patroclus. “Why wouldn’t he want people to know?”

“Because,” Patroclus begins, and the rest of the sentence is on the tip of his tongue, but it comes screeching to a halt nearly as suddenly as Achilles’s car behind that eighteen-wheeler on Saturday. He can feel it jumbling up in the back of his throat, heavy and sour and choking. He squeezes his eyes shut, dropping his chin to his chest and tightening his grip on the steering wheel, before lifting his head ever-so-slightly to gaze hopelessly at Briseis. “What if he’s ashamed of me?” 

There’s a moment of silence, and Patroclus’s feeble question hangs in the air like a sad, half-deflated balloon. He can practically see it dangling between them, exposing every grotesque, slimy thought he’s had curled up in the back of his mind since Achilles kissed him on the bleachers after the track meet. Briseis’s expression flickers too rapidly for Patroclus to read, like she doesn’t even know how to begin to tackle this. Her lips pucker, eyebrows drawing together slightly and furrowing, and she forms the beginnings of a few words at the back of her throat but never gets further than that.

 “Pat,” She finally begins, in an emphatic, pitying exhale that somehow makes him feel guilty, “you don’t honestly think that, do you?”

 Patroclus squirms in the driver’s seat. He doesn’t like this, sitting there under her concerned gaze with his every insecurity on display.  “Not really,” He replies. “I mean, not most of the time. It’s just, sometimes I still feel like...” She leans forward, cocking her head to the side.

 “Like what?”

He takes a careful breath and trains his eyes on the road, refusing to look at her. If he has to pour out every self-deprecating thought he’s ever had, he’s going to stare straight ahead and pretend there’s no one listening in the passenger seat. 

“Like when we were little, and we would climb trees, and he was always three branches above me. Or like when we raced, and he was always miles ahead. O-or when we went swimming and I saw our reflections in the water, and it made me feel like I could just disappear and no one would notice as long as he was standing next to me.” He hears her take a deep breath to begin talking, but he tightens his grip on the steering wheel and plows ahead, because he needs someone to understand how deeply this is ingrained in him and how he doesn’t know how to get it out. “I know things are different now,” He assures her, “and I know he likes me. At least, he’s said he does. And I believe him! I really do.  But I’m still not popular, or athletic, or good-looking-”

“Pat, he doesn’t care-”

“But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t notice!”   He cries, twisting his neck sharply to look at her. “He has to notice, Bri, there’s no way he couldn’t. And as soon as he sees me wearing his varsity jacket and hears everyone talking about how out of my league he is, he’s going to realize they’re right. H-he’s going to remember that I’m not-” He doesn’t want to finish this sentence, because it’s so pathetic and childish and embarrassing that he still cares about this stuff.

“Not what?” Briseis presses.

He swallows hard, determined not to cry about this. This is too stupid, too cliché, and far too adolescent for him to cry about. “Cool,” He finishes pathetically, because that’s really the root of it all. Because the amalgamate, omnipresent Other People took one look at him and relegated him to the bottom of the heap, and somewhere far above, seated triumphantly at the peak, was Achilles. Because as much as they all say that it doesn’t matter, that they’ve risen above it, that it’s all a construct anyway, Patroclus knows that deep down, no one will ever forget where he really came from. Where he really belongs.

“Okay,” Briseis says slowly, “maybe you’re not cool. But so what? You’re a thousand other things! You’re smart, and you’re funny, and you’re compassionate, and you have skills and weaknesses and likes and dislikes. You’re a whole person, Patroclus. You’re not just one adjective randomly assigned to you by some...some anonymous high school deity when you walk through the doors on the first day of freshman year. And - hey!” She plants a hand on his shoulder and twists him in his seat to face her, just to be sure he hears this last part. “You are worth just as much as everyone else.” 

For a moment, she appears to be finished, and she gazes intently into his eyes with raised brows, before hastily adding, “If you can even assign quantitative worth to people. Which I don’t think you can, by the way." 

He ducks his head and lets a breathless huff of laughter escape his lips. “That was really deep,” He commends her, “seriously. You’re giving Odysseus a run for his money.”

“He’s not motivational , he’s just long-winded ,” She argues, “I give much better pep-talks.”

“Yeah, that’s probably true,” Patroclus admits. “But you still never answered my question.” 

“What question?”

“What am I supposed to do with this?” Patroclus demands, grabbing hold of the jacket and shaking it for emphasis.

“Well,” Briseis says, shrugging, “I think you should wear it. You know, as a fuck you to all the people who think wearing one of those things makes you cool and not having one makes you worthless.” 

Patroclus imagines walking through the hall wearing Achilles’s varsity jacket. People would stare, he’s sure of that. They would stare and they would know, instantly, just from looking at him, that he and Achilles were together. But would that be so bad? He’s spent his entire high school career being written off, swept under the rug, branded inconsequential and left to wallow in anonymity. It would be strangely vindicating to show all those people who assumed he was insignificant that someone thinks he’s actually worthwhile.

“Yeah, okay,” Patroclus says, “I think you’re right.”

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~


The first thing Patroclus sees when he steps through the door with Briseis is the enormous banner strung across the hallway. It’s an obnoxious, garish yellow, almost too bright to be stared at directly, with the words “Congratulations Ilium Warriors!” emblazoned in bright blue, collegiate font. And, beneath that, in smaller letters, “2017 Interscholastic Athletic Conference Champions”. Balloons are clustered at either end of the banner and streamers dangle from the bottom for students to walk through upon entry. The whole display is easily eye-catching enough to divert any attention that may otherwise have landed on Patroclus and the varsity jacket that most definitely is not his.

The second thing Patroclus sees is Diomedes, arms flung up in the air, sprinting back and forth across the hallway while letting out a high-pitched, elongated “eeeeeee” noise.

 “Hey, wait - dude, slow down - aren’t you supposed to be taking it easy?!” Menelaus demands, trailing halfheartedly after Diomedes with two backpacks slung over his shoulders.

 “Um, what’s happening?” Patroclus mutters to Briseis.

“No idea,” She responds with a shrug, watching the scene with a fondly bemused expression. Menelaus spots the two of them standing beneath the banner and jogs over to join them, clearly giving up on Diomedes.  

“He’s doing his longest ‘yeah boy’ ever,” Menelaus explains. “He just found out we won.”

“Oh, of course,” Patroclus replies.

Diomedes makes it up and down the hallway twice more (impressive, for someone with four broken ribs), before spotting Briseis at the other end of the hall and promptly abandoning his cause. “Briseis!” He yells, sprinting over and grabbing her around the waist. “We won, did you see we won?!” He then lifts her up and makes a valiant attempt at spinning her around. He only achieves about a quarter rotation, but the whole thing is so sickeningly adorably that Patroclus is willing to give him a pass.

Menelaus, apparently, is less charmed by the display. “You ruined your ‘yeah boy’,” He remarks. “You were, like, eight seconds from your record.”

“Whatever, I’ll break it later,” Diomedes replies, waving his hand dismissively before turning back to Briseis. “Can I walk you to class? I’ll carry your books.”

“You can’t even carry your own books,” Menelaus points out, gesturing to the extra backpack he’s carrying.

“Oh, right. Well, I’ll carry your hand!” Diomedes decides. Briseis giggles and offers him her hand, and the two of them start off down the hall. “By the way, nice jacket, Poptropica, don’t think I didn’t notice that!” Diomedes calls over his shoulder. Patroclus instantly goes bright red, and Menelaus turns to face him, smirking.

“So,” He says, as the two of them trail after Briseis and Diomedes, “Achilles’s varsity jacket?” 

“Briseis told me to wear it,” Patroclus insists, staring ardently at his shoes.

“No dude, it looks good on you. So does this mean you and Achilles are together?”

“I think so, yeah. But I haven’t seen him yet, I’m not sure he wanted people to know-”

 “Well, why don’t you ask him?”

“What?”

Menelaus jerks his head to the side, and Patroclus spots Achilles standing with his back to them, loading books into his locker. Suddenly, the jacket grows a thousand times heavier on his bones, weighing him down so he can’t take another step. He’s stuck, frozen, immobilized in the middle of the hallway, the noise and activity of his surroundings fading to an incessant background buzz as his world zeroes in on Achilles.

This was the wrong choice, he realizes suddenly. He should not have worn this jacket. Briseis had him convinced in the car, but now that he’s standing here, in front of the whole student body, in front of Achilles , he’s realizing how stupid and impulsive and presumptuous this was. He cannot let Achilles see him. Everything Briseis told him seems to evaporate from his mind before he can reach it, before he can grab it and feel its solidity and remind himself that it’s true, and all he can think about is getting this jacket off as fast as possible.  

“Shit!” He hisses, wriggling desperately in a frantic, clumsy attempt to tear the jacket off himself.

“Dude, what are you doing?” Menelaus demands, grabbing him by the shoulders and immobilizing him with the jacket still half-on.

“Trying to get this thing off!” Patroclus explains, attempting to escape Menelaus’s grasp.

“Why? Achilles is gonna love it.”

“Yeah, but what if he doesn’t? What if he totally freaks out? What if he gets really mad because I didn’t consult him before I basically told the entire student body we’re dating?”

“Seriously? It’s Achilles . When has he ever not wanted people’s attention?” Menelaus points out.

 Patroclus shakes his head desperately. Menelaus doesn’t understand. Patroclus can’t wear this jacket, because it exemplifies everything that Achilles is and Patroclus will never be. It represents every nagging, incessant feeling of worthlessness and inadequacy Patroclus has ever had. It is one bright, glaring reminder of every reason why Patroclus is wrong for Achilles. And Patroclus can’t let Achilles see that.

“You don’t get it,” Patroclus says lamely, as though that explains anything. “I just - I have to - I’m sorry.” And with that, he wrenches himself out of Menelaus’s grasp and bolts down the hall before Achilles turns around. He’s not sure where he’s going, just somewhere he won’t be seen, and he darts inside of the first door he comes across. It turns out to be a janitor’s closet, but at least he’s out of that crowded hallway, where there’s no risk of Achilles seeing him in the jacket and realizing he never should have given it to Patroclus in the first place. 

Patroclus rips the jacket off of himself in a flailing, uncoordinated struggle and flops back against the door, gasping for breath. A few months ago, he thought he would rather be alone than have to hide his relationship with Achilles. He thought that a relationship where they couldn’t hold hands in the hall or sit next to each other in class or even acknowledge each other’s existences at school was worse than no relationship at all. He thought that if Achilles was too ashamed of him to love him when other people could see, then he didn’t want to be with Achilles. He was so sure he was worth more than that. 

But now he knows better. Because now, he knows what it feels like to hold Achilles’s hand. To have Achilles’s arm around his shoulders. To kiss Achilles, deeply and passionately, in the car and on the bleachers and in his front hall. It is so much more than everything he’s ever dreamed of, because he never could have dreamed of this. And he knows, however pathetic and desperate and self-destructive it may be, that he would sacrifice anything to hold onto that feeling.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

Patroclus slides into his seat mere seconds before the bell rings. He’d waited it out in the janitor’s closet for as long as he could, determined not to run into Achilles in the hallway, before sprinting to his first period class with less than a minute to spare. Ajax and Menelaus shoot him confused glances from their seats in front of him, because he’s usually one of those uptight nerds who arrives to class with time to take out his binder, arrange his desk, catch up on last night’s reading, and run a quick marathon before the bell rings, but he ignores them and pretends to be enthralled by the Great Gatsby discussion questions on the board.

“Dude, where were you?” Menelaus whispers.

“Oh, you know, just having a quick mid-life crisis in the janitor’s closet,” He replies flippantly. “Do you think Nick Carraway is a reliable narrator?”

“So you’re gonna die at 32,” Ajax states. Patroclus starts in his seat, fixing Ajax with an incredulous look.

“What? I-is that a threat?”

Ajax rolls his eyes. “You said you were having a mid-life crisis. You’re sixteen. So you’re gonna die at 32.”

“Oh my god, I don’t know, an eighth-life crisis. Does it really matter?”

 Ajax pauses for a moment, frowning. “So you’re gonna live to be 128.”

 “Since when were you so good at math?” Patroclus demands.

 “Guys,” Menelaus mutters, jerking his head towards Mrs. Sappho, who’s glaring at them with narrowed, beady eyes. Patroclus clears his throat.

“So, um, I think Nick is a reliable narrator, because he says in the beginning that he never criticizes anyone without realizing they haven’t had the advantages he’s had, which means he has an unbiased opinion,” He recites. Menelaus and Ajax blink at him with identically blank expressions, and Patroclus sighs in exasperation. “Did either of you do the reading?”  

“Of course!” Ajax insists hurriedly.

“Yeah!” Menelaus agrees. “Th-that Gatsby, he sure is...great...”

Patroclus lowers his brow. “Who is The Great Gatsby?”

Ajax gulps and shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “Um...,” he hesitates, “a magician?”

Patroclus rolls his eyes. Normally, he’s of the opinion that athletes should be held to the same standard as everyone else, but then again, they did have kind of an eventful weekend. Maybe they just didn’t have time to do the reading. Glancing over Menelaus’s shoulder at Ms. Sappho, who’s still watching them with an intent, suspicious gaze, he decides he’s willing to let this one slide. 

“Just nod along with what I’m saying and write some stuff down,” He instructs in a hurried whisper, before launching into an in-depth analysis of the eyes of Dr. TJ Eckleburg. Menelaus and Ajax scribble incoherently as he speaks, occasionally throwing in a, “Right,” or an, “Mm-hmm,” before Mrs. Sappho finally averts her gaze.

“So,” Menelaus says, as soon as Mrs. Sappho has looked away, “I was thinking about this whole ‘face-off’ thing that’s happening after school today.”

“You mean how you’re gonna stay out of it and let me handle it, because if you fight Hector Priamides you will literally die?” Ajax replies.

“No,” Menelaus says, glaring.  

“I’m going to write ‘I told you so’ on your tombstone,” Ajax informs him.

“I was thinking, ” Menelaus continues, ignoring Ajax, “that someone should probably give you a ride there.” Patroclus looks up from his notes, interest piqued. He knows where this is going. Menelaus only wants to give Ajax a ride to the rec center so he can have an excuse to be there, so he can make sure Diomedes is properly avenged, so he can jump into the fight himself if things aren’t going Ajax’s way. And Patroclus knows he can’t allow that. They had all agreed to play by the rules and send Ajax on his own because that was the best way to patch up the Paris-Diomedes situation with the least amount of violence. If they violate their already shaky arrangement with Hector, they’ll almost certainly send the whole game spiralling into chaos.

“Why would I need a ride?” Ajax asks, lowering his brow in suspicion. He seems to have picked up on Menelaus’s not-so-subtle ulterior motives as easily as Patroclus.

Menelaus squirms and averts his gaze, clearly not having planned this far ahead. “Um, ‘cause, like, if Hector beats the shit out of you, you probably shouldn’t drive yourself home.”

Ajax and Patroclus exchange a glance. Menelaus’s argument is surprisingly sound for one fabricated on the spot. He’s right that someone who’s just been beaten up probably shouldn’t drive a car, but Patroclus knows Menelaus can’t be the one to accompany Ajax. He almost certainly will not be able to restrain himself from entering the fray should Ajax appear to be losing, and that’s a risk they can’t afford to take. 

“Okay,” Ajax says slowly, stretching out the last syllable as far as it will go. “And who do you think should drive me?”

Menelaus shrugs, glances away, and says with an air of practiced nonchalance, “I mean, I could.”

“In your car?” Ajax demands, and they leap into an argument they’ve clearly had a few times before.

 “What’s wrong with my car?”

“Dude, what’s not wrong with your car?”

“It performs all the necessary car functions!”

 “Oh, yeah? Name one.”

“It...rolls." 

“It rolls? I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to do a bit more than that!”

“It has an AUX chord now!”

“Whatever, dude, I’m not getting inside your metal death trap with my human body . It’s the only one I have, and all my organs are in there. I don’t have any extras!”

“I’ll drive!” Patroclus suddenly cuts in. Ajax and Menelaus fall silent and turn to blink at him in surprise. It seems, in the heat of their argument, they’d momentarily forgotten he was there.

“You will?” Ajax asks. Patroclus finds himself nodding. In truth, he hadn’t really been planning to volunteer his services. He’d just noticed Mrs. Sappho starting to glance their way again and blurted out the first thing he could think of that might make Ajax and Menelaus shut up. But the more he thinks about it, the more it seems like the perfect solution. This way, he can keep Menelaus away from the rec center without having to overtly forbid Menelaus from going. And ensuring that Ajax will have a safe way to get home is an added bonus.

“Yeah,” Patroclus confirms. “I mean, my car is fully functional. I think. I don’t really know anything about cars.”

Ajax shrugs. “Sounds good to me,” He says, then turns to grin tauntingly at Menelaus. “This’ll give you plenty of time to do the reading!”

Menelaus rolls his eyes and huffs out a breath that might be a laugh, but he doesn’t reply. For a moment, Patroclus feels a twinge of guilt in his stomach. He knows how unhinged Menelaus has been by this whole situation with Paris and Diomedes, and he knows how much it’s probably killing him not to be able to do something about it. If it was Briseis who had been hurt, Patroclus thinks, he would want to make sure whoever did the hurting got what was coming to them. And, in fact, he had taken a distinct pleasure in watching Achilles beat the shit out of Agamemnon.

But this situation is different, he reminds himself. Too much is at stake. The whole game is teetering on the edge of mindless, uncontrollable violence, and this is their absolute last chance to reel it back in. They can’t afford to take any risks, and sending Menelaus would definitely be a risk.

So Patroclus directs his attention back to the discussion question and starts analyzing the symbolism of the green light, effectively ending the conversation. As he scribbles half-hearted notes in the margins of his book, he gropes around desperately within himself for that feeling of certainty from this morning. Everything is still okay, he reminds himself. He’s still got it all under control. Sure, he’d basically had an entire panic attack in the hallway this morning because of a jacket, but he’s over that now. The jacket is shoved safely away in the back of his locker, where he doesn’t have to touch it or see it or even think about it, and with any luck Achilles won’t even remember giving it to him. And this agreement with Hector is going to work. Ajax will take care of things, Diomedes will be avenged, and they can all move forward like nothing ever happened.

He has nothing to worry about. Everything is going to be fine.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

It becomes clear at lunch time that everything is not, in fact, going to be fine.

Achilles is the only one seated when Patroclus arrives. For a moment, the sight of a him sends a jolt of panic through Patroclus’s whole body, and he immediately wants to flee. He can’t face Achilles, not after his freakout this morning, not when those embarrassing, angst-ridden feelings of self-loathing and insecurity as still churning somewhere deep within him. He’s mostly wrestled them back into submission, but a conversation with Achilles will just bring them all gushing back out again. And he can’t dump that on Achilles. 

But then Achilles sees him and smiles, and just like it always does, that smile starts up a warm, blooming glow in Patroclus’s chest. Instinctively, he feels himself grin in response, and he can’t believe he ever wanted to run. Achilles is his boyfriend now, after all. How could he ever want to be anywhere but at his side?

“Hi,” Achilles says, and before Patroclus can reply, Achilles has twisted his fingers into Patroclus’s shirt and pulled him in for a kiss. Patroclus’s eyes fall shut of their own accord, the cacophony of the cafeteria fading to a muted hum around him. It’s as if he and Achilles are inhabiting their own, tiny pocket of the universe, tucked safely away from the rest of the world, until Patroclus feels a volley of still-hot french fries collide with his head.

“Boo,” Shorter Ajax jeers, launching more oily projectiles as Achilles and Patroclus break apart. “Disgusting. Depraved. Get your hormonal bullshit away from my good Christian lunch table.”

Achilles rolls his eyes as he takes his seat, Patroclus sliding in next to him. “You’re just jealous,” He states. Shorter Ajax’s eyebrows shoot up into his hairline.

“Yup, you got me,” He deadpans, “I’ve been in love with Poptropica this whole time. Something about that awkward, scrawny little body really gets me going.” Shorter Ajax fans himself dramatically for added effect, and Patroclus’s face goes bright red.

“I’m taller than you,” He stammers out lamely, as though that’s a comeback.

 “That only makes me want you more,” Shorter Ajax replies in a fervent, impassioned whisper, then blows a kiss across the table. Patroclus is so horribly unsure what to do in this situation that he thinks he might actually spontaneously ignite, but luckily, he’s saved by the arrival of Idomeneus and Ajax. 

“What are we talking about?” Idomeneus asks, as he and Ajax sit down on either side of Shorter Ajax.

“Poptropica’s smokin’ hot bod,” Shorter Ajax replies nonchalantly. “Also, can you give me my fries back?”

 Achilles furrows his brow. “The ones you threw at us?” He clarifies incredulously.

“Uh, yeah,” Shorter Ajax confirms, as though this should be obvious. “They’re right behind you.”

 “They’re on the floor!” Achilles exclaims, gesturing wildly to the aforementioned fries scattered across the worn linoleum of the cafeteria.

“So what? Does that make them no longer delicious?” Shorter Ajax demands. Achilles gapes, turning to exchange a brief look of horrified disbelief with Patroclus, who shrugs. As long as they are no longer discussing his... lean physique, he doesn’t care what Shorter Ajax eats.

“Um, yeah, kinda!” Achilles insists, “They’re covered in, like, dirt and stuff!” 

“I like to call that floor seasoning,” Shorter Ajax corrects, with an air of sage-like wisdom, and Achilles makes a choked, disgusted noise in the back of his throat.  

“Is Ajax trying to eat off the floor again?” Menelaus asks, as he approaches the table with Odysseus and Agamemnon in tow.

“Why’s everyone trying to keep me from my floor fries?” Shorter Ajax demands, flinging his hands up in the air, and the table instantly leaps into a heated debate over the merits of eating off the floor. Shorter Ajax informs Menelaus that he can’t talk because he once ate a Twix out of the trash, but Menelaus argues that it’s totally different because the Twix was wrapped, and besides he was super drunk so it doesn’t count. Odysseus cuts in with a totally pointless and unnecessarily long story about Genghis Khan eating food that had been on the ground for up to twelve hours, from which Shorter Ajax deduces that he should be allowed to eat off the floor, because Genghis Khan was, like, pretty good at conquering stuff. 

And somewhere in the midst of all of this, Achilles turns to Patroclus and says, “Hey, so, um, I noticed you’re not wearing my jacket.”

 Patroclus goes rigid. He can actually feel all of his bodily processes simultaneously grinding to a halt. He can’t believe this. He made the wrong choice. After the grueling, philosophical interrogation he received from Briseis in the car, after the full-blown panic attack he endured in the janitor’s closet, after all the angst, anxiety, and indecision this jacket caused him, he actually made the wrong choice.

Okay, it’s fine, just make something up, he instructs himself. Say it didn’t fit, or you left it in your car. Something normal.

“Oh, yeah, um, I have a phobia.”

Sometimes, Patroclus wonders if whatever neurological pathway is meant to connect your brain to your mouth simply doesn’t exist in him. Because the two don’t seem to communicate, like, at all. His brain will be screaming at him to please, god, just behave like a normal human being for once in his life, and his mouth will go right ahead and spew something out like this. Something totally nonsensical, totally implausible, and totally embarrassing.

“What?” Achilles asks, head cocking to the side and forehead creasing in confusion. Patroclus swallows hard, feeling beads of sweat begin to form along his hairline. Well, there’s really no way out of this one except to dive deeper.

 “Um, yeah, just, cause, I feel like when I wear other people’s clothes, they’re gonna, like, wrap around me and strangle me or something, you know?” He fabricates, in an increasingly high-pitched voice that in no way exudes confidence or credibility.

This is not the first time Patroclus has said something completely meaningless and ridiculous to Achilles in an effort to cover up some deeper issue he’s grappling with, so he thinks by now Achilles should probably be onto him. He half-expects to be called out for his obvious lie, but instead Achilles just shakes his head and mutters, “No, not really,” clearly still trying to wrap his head around what might only be the third-dumbest thing Patroclus has ever said to him.

“Oh, well, maybe that’s just a me thing, anyway-” Patroclus attempts to change the subject, but Achilles cuts him off.

“But you were wearing my jacket all day on Saturday,” He points out, as though that’s the flaw in Patroclus’s statement.

For a moment, Patroclus thinks he might actually have to come up with something to account for this anomaly in his otherwise airtight story, and he starts scrambling for some explanation that will undoubtedly only make the whole situation even more painful and humiliating. But then, just as he’s decided to tell Achilles that clothes don’t misbehave in front of their owners, their conversation is abruptly and effectively ended by a seething, growled out demand of, “What do you think you’re doing here?”

Patroclus never thought he’d be happy to see Agamemnon. Usually, his arrival fills Patroclus with a powerful combination of fear, dread, and an intense urge to hide under the table or whatever else might be available. But when he looks up to find their team captain glaring across the table at Achilles, his every muscle quivering with barely-contained rage, Patroclus can’t help but feel a rush of gratitude and relief. Whatever’s got Agamemnon worked up this time certainly can’t be good, but at least it’s drawn Achilles’s attention away from Patroclus and his jacket-phobia.  

“Um,” Achilles replies, “sitting? Eating lunch? I was having a conversation, but you kind of put an end to that.” As usual, Agamemnon’s ire doesn’t appear the tiniest bit appeased by Achilles’s snark.  

“You don’t sit here anymore,” Agamemnon informs him matter-of-factly, arms crossed and lips curled in a smugly satisfied smirk. 

Achilles rolls his eyes. “Right,” He says, stretching out the word as far as it will go. “Okay, Regina George. Did I wear sweatpants on a Monday?”

And before Patroclus can wrap his mind around the fact that Achilles just made a surprisingly accurate Mean Girls reference, Agamemnon slams his hands down on the table with a startling BANG that makes Patroclus jump in his seat. “I mean it,” He hisses. “If you don’t want to play for this team, that’s your prerogative. But-” 

“Ooh, prerogative,” Achilles cuts him off, face twisted in a mock expression of awe. “Good word. That toilet paper’s really working out for you, isn’t it?” Agamemnon opens his mouth to retort, but Achilles holds up a finger to silence him. “Hold on, there’s a joke in there about how everything you say sounds like its coming out of your ass.”

At this point, the entire table is frozen in horrible, stomach-churning anticipation of what’s to come. They’re all expecting Agamemnon to explode the way he usually does after Achilles provokes him one too many times, turning red in the face and flailing his arms about and hurling vicious threats that Achilles will undoubtedly ignore. After all, they’ve all seen this display about a hundred times before, and it always plays out the same way.

But this time, something is different. The energy between the two of them has shifted in a way Patroclus can’t entirely determine. Instead of erupting into a full-blown, rage-fueled tirade that usually only makes Achilles laugh, Agamemnon simply straightens up to his full height and crosses his arms over his chest. He’s taller than Achilles when they’re both standing up, but with Achilles seated at the lunch table like he is now, Agamemnon positively looms over him, and he’s able to smirk down at Achilles like a teacher scolding a disobedient toddler. It’s a wholly patronizing display. 

“Sounds hilarious,” Agamemnon remarks coolly, “and I can’t wait to hear it.  But you’re gonna have to go work on it somewhere else. ‘Cause if you’ve decided you don’t want to care about this team or what happens to the people on it, that’s fine, but you don’t sit here anymore.”

With each of his last few words, Agamemnon shifts ever-so-slightly forward, so by the end of his sentence, he’s inches from Achilles face. And Patroclus suddenly understands what has changed between them. For the first time in their long history of confrontations, Agamemnon has gained the upper hand. Previously, no matter how arrogant or impertinent Achilles acted, no matter how many times he undermined or slandered or mocked their leader, his value to the team rendered him essentially untouchable. His speed and strength and skill made him so invaluable an asset that Agamemnon couldn’t afford to piss him off too much. Because however much Agamemnon hated Achilles, the team needed him more.

But now, Achilles has ever-so-graciously lifted that burden from Agamemnon’s shoulders. Achilles’s only saving grace in Agamemnon’s eyes was his skill in the game, his ability to take down Priamides like they were plastic cups in one of those carnival shooting games. Strip that away and he’s left defenseless, wholly unprotected against Agamemnon’s inexhaustible wrath. Achilles thought he was dealing Agamemnon a fatal blow by abandoning the team, and maybe, in a way, he was, but he’s also shifted the power dynamic irrevocably in Agamemnon’s favor.

Achilles springs to his feet, jaw set and fists clenched in anger. “Fine,” He spits. “But just so you know, I’m leaving this team because I care about what happens to the people on it. So you can come down off your moral high ground. We all know you just want to use everyone around you for your own personal gain.”

With that, Achilles stalks out of the lunch room, and only then does Patroclus realize that most of the cafeteria has stopped what they were doing to watch. Their eyes track Achilles’s form as he storms out of the room, a few twisting in their seats to murmur something to their friends while others tap out texts under the table. In the few weeks that he’s been sitting here, Patroclus has allowed himself to grow comfortable at the jock’s table, and he’s forgotten what a big deal it is. The glorious, heavenly glow that has always surrounded it started to fade, and it became less an unattainable symbol of status and power and more a fixture of his everyday life. So it takes him a moment to realize what it means for Achilles to be ousted. But as he watches the rest of Ilium High react, the impact hits him. Achilles has lost his place in the social hierarchy, and there’s no telling what will happen to him now.

Patroclus spares a moment to cast a glance around the table, desperate for someone to tell him what he’s supposed to do in this situation. When all his tablemates offer him are shrugs or awkward aversions of their eyes, Patroclus lets out an exasperated sigh and sprints out of the cafeteria, chasing after Achilles.

He finds him striding purposefully down the hallway, though Patroclus is fairly certain he has no destination in mind. His fists clench and unclench at his sides, and a stream of furious, unintelligible muttering flows from his lips. Patroclus jogs after him.

“Hey!” He calls out, “Wait up!” His voices rebounds off the rows of metal lockers and ricochets down the hall, an awkward, inappropriate echo for this tense situation. 

Achilles stops in his tracks but doesn’t turn, keeping his back to Patroclus. Maybe Patroclus is reading too much into things, but it feels a bit like a rejection. “You didn’t have to follow me,” He says. 

Patroclus takes a tentative step forward. “Yeah I did,” He argues, softer this time so it doesn’t echo so obnoxiously.

 “No, you didn’t,” Achilles maintains, turning around this time. He doesn’t let the tension out of his shoulders, however, and his posture still seems confusingly closed-off. “Those are your friends in there. You’re allowed to eat lunch with them, even if I can’t.” It’s a kind thing to say, but his voice is hard-edged and angry, like he resents Patroclus’s ability to return to the table from which he was just banished. Either that, or he just wants to get rid of Patroclus. But that can’t be it, can it?

“I don’t care,” Patroclus declares. “I’m on your side. Always.” He thinks it’s a very heartwarming, romantic declaration, and as he reaches a hand out to Achilles as a tentative peace offering, he half-expects Achilles to take it and pull him in for a kiss. It feels like it’s been ages since they were kissing under a hailstorm of Shorter Ajax’s french fries, and Patroclus just wants to feel that warmth, that sureness, that security again.

But instead, Achilles takes a rapid, almost frantic step back, hands flying up violently by his chest, as if he’s pushing Patroclus away. “No!” He blurts out, awkward and too loud. “I-I’m sorry, I just,” He sighs in exasperation, struggling for wards while Patroclus blinks at him helplessly. “I’m just really pissed off right now, plus I kinda think you’re lying to me about the whole jacket thing, and I just need to be alone.” 

Patroclus gulps, feeling a dangerous cyclone of confusion and desperation and hurt well up inside him. He had just pledged to stand unflinchingly by Achilles’s side no matter what, and Achilles had essentially said he didn’t want Patroclus there. The rejection stings, but Patroclus finds himself nodding in acceptance and backing off, because Achilles was right about one thing. Patroclus had been lying about the jacket, and he’s not ready to tell the truth, so he just stands helplessly beneath the school’s obnoxious fluorescent lights while Achilles retreats down the hall.

 

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

By the time Patroclus is waiting for Ajax in his car after fifth period, he’s more than ready to be done with this day. Everything that he felt so sure of that morning has turned to dust within his grasp and slipped right through his fingers, and he’s wholly unconvinced of his ability to put it back together. So instead, he plunks his head down on the steering wheel and closes his eyes, trying to detach himself from reality for a moment while he waits for Ajax.

“Wow,” a deep, rumbling voice remarks, accompanied by the squeak of the door opening. “This is an uplifting sight.”

Patroclus straightens up in his seat and shakes himself, in an effort to get rid of all the angst and confusion and overall negativity of today. “Sorry,” He says, “it’s kind of been a rough day. But hey, at least we have this fun deathmatch to look forward to!” 

Ajax rolls his eyes, chuckling. “It’ll be fine,” He assures Patroclus. “Hector’s a decent guy. Even if he wins, he won’t beat me up too bad.”

“Oh, well, that’s reassuring,” Patroclus comments sarcastically. He spares a glance over at Ajax as he maneuvers out of the parking lot and notes how remarkably calm he looks, dangling one arm out the window and subtly nodding along to the pop song crackling out of the speaker.  He certainly doesn’t look like someone who’s being driven to a violent, bloody brawl. “Are you scared?” Patroclus asks as nonchalantly as he can manage, keeping his eyes on the road.

 Ajax shrugs. “Nah,” He responds, “I’ve got, like, six inches on the guy. What’s he gonna do, head-butt me?”   

“That would probably hurt,” Patroclus points out, remembering the pain of his knuckles cracking against Hector’s chiseled jaw. Ajax rolls his eyes. 

“I can take it,” He says. Then he pauses for a moment, frowning. “Hector’s tough, though,” He finally admits. “Used to get in a lot of fights freshman year.”

This startles Patroclus enough that he twists 90 degrees in his seat to stare at Ajax incredulously. He should know better than to take his full attention off the road, especially after the disaster he and Achilles very narrowly avoided on Saturday, but he just can’t wrap his head around the idea of Hector Priamides getting in a lot of fights. That doesn’t sound like the Hector he knows, though he’ll admit he’s seen comparatively little of the guy up close. Still, Hector is the kind of person who holds doors for teachers and helps little kids find their moms in grocery stores. Patroclus just can’t picture the guy in the argyle sweater and perfectly pressed khaki pants fighting anyone.

 “I don’t remember that,” Patroclus says.

“You were still in middle school,” Ajax points out. “He ran with a different crowd back then, bunch of big, brainless meatheads. They used to loiter in the tennis courts after school and beat each other up for fun. My guess is he was under a lot of pressure at home and just wanted to blow off some steam. But then Paris and Cassandra started high school and he had to shape up, set a good example.” Despite how nearly impossible it is to picture, Patroclus finds himself nodding along with Ajax’s story. It adds up, from what he’s seen of Hector’s home life.

 “Huh,” He muses, “yeah, I guess I can see that.” They lapse into silence for a moment, Patroclus focusing on the road while Ajax stares off into space, drumming his fingers absentmindedly against the outside of the door. He appears deep in thought. “So,” Patroclus breaks the silence, “ are you scared?”

 Ajax blows out a heavy breath through his lips, retracting his arm from the window and dropping it into his lap. “I don’t know,” He admits. “I guess.”

 “Sorry,” Patroclus says suddenly, and Ajax gives him a questioning look. “I should probably be...psyching you up, or something. Not making you even more nervous.”

“I’m not nervous!” Ajax denies. “I just...need to win this. For the team.”

 Patroclus nods. Ajax is right, the team needs this. After Diomedes’s injury and Achilles’s withdrawal from the game, everyone’s a little bit rattled and discouraged. Not to mention that without two of their best players, they’re hopelessly outmatched. Taking Hector Priamides out of the game might tip the scales in the Atrides’ favor, or at least even them out a bit. It’s a huge opportunity that Ajax can’t afford to waste, both for his own sake and the sake of the team.

 “You will,” Patroclus assures him. “Come on, you’re like, a thousand feet tall. You can just step on him, if you have to.”

 Ajax laughs. “Thanks, Poptropica. I’ll keep that in mind.”

 They round a corner, and the rec center swings into view. It’s a simple brick building standing uphill from a soccer field, where a small horde of tiny children in red jerseys are toddling about in pursuit of a ball. Hector Priamides is right where he said he’d be, leaning nonchalantly against the hood of the only car in the parking lot. His posture is loose and relaxed, but Patroclus notices his jaw set and his brows lower as their car rolls into view.

Patroclus pulls the car over to the shoulder of the road and shifts into park. There are plenty of spaces in the lot, but somehow that feels like forbidden ground where a bystander like Patroclus cannot tread. He and Ajax both watch Hector in silence for a moment, the air crackling with nervous, anticipatory energy, before Patroclus twists in his seat to face Ajax.

“Okay,” he says, “so you just...um...go take care of that, and I’ll, uh, I’ll drive you home when you’re done!” Ajax nods, eyes still locked on Hector’s form.

 “Yup,” He remarks, “piece of cake.” With that, he hooks one hand into the door handle and moves to get out of the car. Patroclus briefly wonders if he should tell Ajax to be safe, but that feels a bit too much like a Renaissance maiden tearfully tucking her handkerchief into her suitor’s breastplate before he goes off to joust, so he refrains. Instead, he watches in silence as Ajax rounds the front of the car and crosses the street, marching off to his deathmatch.

 Hector pushes himself off the hood of the car as Ajax enters the lot, rolling his shoulders back and facing his opponent head-on. Ajax halts a few paces away from Hector, and then there’s a tense, awkward moment of complete stillness. It seems they’re both a bit unsure of how to proceed, with neither wanting to make the first move, so instead they stand perfectly motionless and watch each other with narrowed, wary eyes. Then Ajax surges forward and Hector brings his arms up to block the attack, and the fight begins.

Patroclus can only watch a few seconds of it before he has to look away. He sees Ajax swing a fist at Hector’s face, and Hector catch that fist with one hand and drive the other twice into Ajax’s stomach, and then he finds himself jerking away from the window and bringing his hands up by his eyes to block his view. The whole thing is just too violent, too chaotic and dangerous and dark, and Patroclus can’t stand to watch another minute of it.

In all the time he spent planning this, from when Hector showed up on his doorstep to when he and Ajax pulled over by the rec center mere moments ago, he never stopped to think about what it would actually entail. He was so focused on what was going to happen after, once Ajax defeated Hector and the team’s desire for revenge was appeased. He was so sure that this was going to fix things, that this was the only way to deter future violence, that he never stopped to think about the violence that was happening now. He never thought about how Ajax and Hector would go at each other in a vicious, brutal frenzy. He never thought about the fists flying, or the arms grappling, or the knees and elbows and feet beating against soft flesh with dull, sickening thuds. He never thought about how he would have to sit there in his stupid Prius and watch his friends get hurt.  

So he turns away from the window and squeezes his eyes shut, trying his best to drown out the noises of the fight drifting in from the parking lot. It doesn’t work, he can still hear the grunts of exertion and the squeaky scuffling and sneakers against the asphalt, but at least now he doesn’t have to see it. Instead, all he can see is Ajax, standing around the bonfire and performing the rap from Wannabe by the Spice Girls with unabashed enthusiasm. Or Hector, crouched in the entrance hall of his house, promising his little brother he’ll make breakfast soon. The versions of them that are outside are so far from the ones Patroclus has seen, and he hates that he’s had a hand in turning them into that.

He sits like that in the car for at least five minutes, body twisted away from the scene and eyes shut as tightly as possible. Only when a particularly loud, metallic-sounding bang echoes from the parking lot does he manage to force them open, just in time to see Ajax slamming Hector repeatedly against the hood of his car. Patroclus winces as Hector’s head meets the steel surface yet again, and another hollow, metallic echo rings through the lot. Somehow, Hector manages to strike the inside of Ajax’s knee with his foot, knocking Ajax off-balance and successfully freeing Hector from his grasp, just so the whole thing can start over again. This has to stop, Patroclus decides. He’s got to find some way to put an end to this.

Just then, he notices a small, red-jersey-clad figure beginning to make its way up the hill towards the parking lot, breaking off from the pack of identical red jerseys milling about the soccer field. Hector’s little brother, Patroclus realizes. A jolt of panic shoots through him. He doesn’t know how the kid has gotten out of practice early, or why the rest of the tiny soccer players aren’t following him, but what he does know is that little boy absolutely cannot reach the top of this hill and see his brother getting his brains beaten out.

Without a moment’s more hesitation, Patroclus flings the car door open and leaps out of his seat. He sprints across the street, crying out a frantic, “Stop, stop!” to Ajax and Hector as he passes, then stumbles haphazardly down the hill to meet the kid halfway. The little boy stops in his tracks when Patroclus skids to a halt before him, gazing skeptically up at him with his thumbs hooked into the straps of his backpack.

“Hey, buddy,” Patroclus greets breathlessly, realizing now he has absolutely no idea what he’s going to say. All he knew was that he had to stop the kid, he never figured out how . “Um, your brother’s kinda busy right now, so how about you just go back to soccer practice, okay?”

The kid scrutinizes Patroclus for a moment longer, before screwing up his face, aiming a chubby finger at Patroclus, and screaming at the top of his lungs, “Stranger danger, stranger danger!”

Patroclus’s eyes go wide in panic, and he flings his arms out in front of him in a frantic attempt to placate the kid. “No no no, no stranger danger!” He insists. “I-I’m not a stranger, I’m a friend of your brother’s!” 

“Stranger danger!” Hector’s brother wails, now flailing his arms about wildly. Patroclus glances nervously over the kid’s shoulder at the soccer coach below, who’s currently departing from the practice and striding up the hill towards the two of them.

“Buddy, please, I promise I’m not a stranger and I’m not here to hurt you,” Patroclus urgently attempts to appease the kid, but he’s cut off by the arrival of the soccer coach.

“What’s going on here, Polydorus?” She demands, clapping a hand on Polydorus’s shoulder and glaring at Patroclus. Upon closer look, he sees she’s a teenager, likely only a year or so older than him. Still, with her blue plastic whistle, “Ilium Youth Soccer” polo shirt, and pissed-off expression, she commands authority.

“This guy’s a stranger and he’s trying to make me get in his van!” Polydorus accuses, shaking his finger in Patroclus’s direction.

“What?” Patroclus exclaims. “I don’t even have a van, I drive a Prius!”

“Mm-hmm, and just what were you doing harassing one of my players?” The coach demands, planting one of her hands on her hip and cocking her head expectantly.

Patroclus splutters helplessly, trying to come up with an explanation that isn’t I didn’t want him to see my friend beating the shit out of his brother. “I-I wasn’t, I swear, I just-”

“Penthesilea, it’s fine!” A haggard, breathless voice calls out from above. “He’s with me.”

Patroclus glances over his shoulder and sees a beaten, bloodied Hector staggering towards them, one arm slung over Ajax’s shoulder and the other wrapped protectively around his torso. Patroclus grimaces at the sight of him; he looks like shit. Blood gushes from his nose, his lip, and another open wound near his hairline, and he’s got an impressively gruesome bruise blooming around his right eye. Every breath comes out as a pained, laborious wheeze, and he seems to be struggling to keep his head from lolling lifelessly against his chest. Upon closer inspection, Ajax doesn’t appear to be faring much better, but his darker skin does a more effective job at camouflaging the blood and bruises.

“Hector!” The coach (Penthesilea, Patroclus presumes) cries, her face twisting in horror. “What happened?”

Hector attempts to wave his hand dismissively but ends up just sort of flopping it around in a choppy, uncoordinated arc. “S’no big deal,” He assures her, words starting to slur together, “m’just here to pick up Polydorus!”

Penthesilea’s eyebrows lower, her lips parting in a confused ‘o’ shape. “Um, okay,” She mutters, dragging out the last syllable. “Are you sure you’re good to drive?”

Hector nods jerkily in Patroclus’s direction. “Pat’s driving!” He says, which is the first Patroclus is hearing of this. But then again, he can’t exactly leave a little kid to get in a car with an obviously concussed driver. “S’all good, Pensethil...Pesleth...Pencil...,” Hector’s scrambled brain seems to be having trouble with Penthesilea’s too-many-syllable name, so instead he just shakes his head and says, “You know your name.”

“Yeah, I do,” Penthesilea agrees while nodding slowly, clearly still unnerved by this whole situation. “Um, so, I’ve got a whole soccer field full of little kids I need to supervise, but I feel like I really shouldn’t leave you alone like this.”

“We’ve got him,” Ajax speaks up, sounding far more coherent than Hector, “really. You can go back to your practice, we’ll make sure he gets home safe.” Penthesilea analyzes Ajax for a moment, taking in the blood that’s trickling out of his nose and the sleeve that’s half-ripped off his shirt. Then she glances over her shoulder at the tiny players below, several of whom are now bouncing soccer balls of each other’s heads, and sighs in exasperation.

“Just for the record, I really don’t feel good about this,” She informs them, “but I can’t leave those kids alone.” Then she crouches down to Polydorus’s level and says, “Polydorus, go with these guys, okay?” Polydorus glances over at Hector, who nods as reassuringly as he can with blood streaming out of at least three holes in his face 

“Okay,” Polydorus relents. 

“Great!” Penthesilea replies, straightening back up and planting her hands on her hips. “Hector, you better text me when you get home.” Hector attempts a thumbs-up, which seems to satisfy Penthesilea, and the four of them start their sluggish trek towards Patroclus’s car. “And you still owe me an explanation!” Penthesilea shouts after them.

Stranger danger no longer a concern, Polydorus perks up considerably and jogs to catch up with his brother, seemingly unperturbed by Hector’s mangled appearance.

“Hey, what happened to your face? Were you fighting? Cassie’s gonna kill you. She always says no fighting, even when Antiphus takes my Legos so I have to stand on his head,” Polydorus chatters away nonchalantly, skipping at his brother’s side. Hector, whose attention is mostly consumed with staying upright, doesn’t answer, so Polydorus turns his attention to Ajax. “Who’s this guy? Why’s he so big? Hey, mister, how’d’ya get so big?”  

Ajax spares Polydorus a disparaging glance. “I ate my vegetables,” He grumbles. Patroclus gets the impression he’s not much of a kid person.

 “Polydorus, you want a piggyback ride?” Patroclus offers, attempting to draw Polydorus’s attention away from Ajax and Hector.

“Yes!” Polydorus squeals. And before Patroclus can so much as crouch down, the kid has raced around behind him and leapt onto his back, throwing his arms around Patroclus’s neck and squeezing his legs tight around Patroclus’s middle. 

And so they trudge the rest of the way to Patroclus’s car like that: Patroclus toting Polydorus and his back, and Ajax half-dragging a steadily deteriorating Hector at his side. Patroclus has concerns about Ajax’s own condition, but the taller boy seems to be holding up fairly well so far. Of course, that could be entirely due to adrenaline, but Patroclus resolves to leave him alone for now. He’ll check Ajax over later, once they’ve dropped Hector and Polydorus back at their house.

 Their bedraggled little troupe reaches Patroclus’s car after a pathetically laborious slog, and Patroclus immediately drops Polydorus onto the ground and ushers him into the backseat. On the other side of the car, Ajax swings open the door to the backseat and starts maneuvering a mostly limp Hector in beside his brother, before Patroclus stops him. 

“What are you doing?” He asks.

“Trying to get him in the car,” Ajax responds, struggling to manipulate Hector’s floppy limbs.

“You have to sit with the kid,” Patroclus informs Ajax. 

“What?” Ajax cries, clearly not pleased with this information. “Why?”

“Because,” Patroclus begins, gesturing to Hector, “he’d bleeding, like, everywhere. We don’t want the little kid to get all freaked out or start asking questions. You have to distract him.” 

“He’s right,” Hector slurs. “Don’t want Polydorus to see me like this.” His words, despite the way they all run into each other and jumble together, have a surprising amount of conviction behind them. 

“But,” Ajax whines, face twisting in annoyance, “I don’t know how to distract a kid! What do we even talk about?”

“Kid stuff!” Patroclus fabricates, “Like, I don’t know, silly bandz, or cartoons, or something. Haven’t you ever seen a Disney movie?” Ajax rolls his eyes and lets out a long, annoyed huff.

“Fine,” He grumbles, beginning to shove Hector into the passenger seat. “But if he needs his diaper changed, that’s on you.”  

“How old do you think he is?” Patroclus mutters, as he slides into the driver’s seat. 

Once everyone is successfully arranged in the car, Patroclus starts the engine and begins to pull away from the rec center. They’ve been driving for about twenty seconds when Polydorus turns in his seat to face Ajax and cheerfully inquires, “So, what were you doing with my brother?” Ajax’s eyes flit up to meet Patroclus’s in the rearview mirror, his forehead creasing and eyes bulging in a clear expression of What do I do? Patroclus rolls his eyes and urgently mouths, Cartoons.  

“Uh...that’s not important,” Ajax dodges lamely. “You, um, you seen any good cartoons lately?”

This is apparently an adequate diversion for Polydorus, who bounces in his seat and replies, “We watched Chicken Run in after-school care yesterday.”

“Oh!” Ajax’s eyes light up with recognition, and for a moment Patroclus thinks this is actually going to work. Ajax has clearly seen this movie, so maybe he actually can distract Polydorus long enough for them to drop him off in the care of his older siblings and escape before he asks any questions. Then Patroclus won’t have to look this little kid in his enormous, innocent brown eyes and explain why his brother is a limp, bloody pile of limbs in Patroclus’s passenger seat. He allows himself to feel relieved for just one brief, beautiful second, before Ajax turns to Polydorus and says, “That movie is a metaphor for the Holocaust.”  

Polydorus’s tiny face screws up in confusion. “What’s the Holocaust?” Hector stirs in the passenger seat, groaning as he rolls his head over to face Patroclus. 

“Don’ teach m’brother ‘bout genocide,” He mumbles, eyelids drooping. 

“Geno- what?” Polydorus chirps from the backseat.  

“Okay, you know what?” Patroclus interjects, “Let’s all play the quiet game.” This cleary does not sit well with Polydorus, who flaps his arms petulantly at his sides to emphasize his displeasure. 

“I hate the quiet game!” He complains.  

“That’s too bad, cause I’m really good at it,” Patroclus goads. “I bet you couldn’t beat me.”  

“Could too!” Polydorus argues. 

“Then prove it,” Patroclus says, smirking. Polydorus crosses his arms over his chest in defiance. “Ready? Three, two, one...go!”

And so they pass the rest of the car ride in silence, interrupted only by Ariana Grande’s impressive riffs crackling through the speaker and Hector’s occasional groans when they hit speed bumps. That’s the other reason Patroclus wanted Ajax in the backseat and Hector in the front: He’s a bit worried Hector might actually die. And that’s only sort of an exaggeration. At this point, Hector’s face is more bruise than actual, unblemished skin, and the blood oozing from his nose and lip has trickled past his jawline, coating the lower half of his face in a thin, sticky film. His pupils are drastically different sizes, one blown wide and the other a tiny pinpoint in his iris. And he’s barely able to stay awake. Every few minutes, his head starts drooping limply to the side as his eyelids fall shut, and Patroclus has to jostle his shoulder to rouse him.  

It’s a routine they play out at least five times in as many minutes, and Patroclus’s stomach ties itself in tighter and tighter knots each time. He can’t believe how bad this is. Sure, he knew when he was planning this that someone might get hurt, but he was thinking more along the lines of a few bruises or maybe a bloody nose. He never expected to be pulling up in front of the Priamides’ mansion with Hector barely clinging to consciousness in the passenger seat.

He can feel the guilt and self-loathing starting to well up inside him, threatening to take over completely, but he forces himself to stow that away for later as he jumps out of the car and hurries around to Hector’s side. Ajax meets him there, and they each grasp one of Hector’s elbows to haul him out of his seat. He lets out a horrible, agonized groan when he’s lifted that makes Patroclus’s stomach churn, but his attention is soon pulled away from Hector by the sound of a door banging open.

Cassandra is storming down the walkway towards them, leaving the door swinging in her wake. Her dark hair streams out behind her like a dramatic, billowy veil, and her mouth hangs partially open in obvious alarm. Paris follows her at a much more leisurely pace, clearly unperturbed by the sight of his brother hanging off Ajax’s shoulders.

“Hector!” Cassandra cries, “What happened? Where have you been?”  

“Got in a fight,” Hector grunts. Paris raises his eyebrows. 

“With who, the Hulk?” He says. He’s actually smirking , like this whole situation is somehow amusing to him, and Patroclus finds himself once again utterly disgusted by Paris Priamides.  

“Cassie, Cassie!” Polydorus sings, toddling over to Cassandra and beginning to tug on the hem of her skirt. “We got in the car with strangers, and then I learned about genocide.”

“That is not what happened!” Patroclus insists, and Cassandra fixes him with a fierce glare that he can practically feel slicing through his skin. “Okay, so that’s sort of what happened, but he left out some very important details.”  

Cassandra pauses for a moment to take stock of the scene around her. Hector dangling lifelessly between Patroclus and Ajax, Polydorus still yanking on her skirt, Paris watching the whole thing with mild amusement.  Then she purses her lips, tucks her hair behind her ear, and takes charge. 

“Paris, take Polydorus upstairs,” She commands.

“What? No way!” Paris scoffs, “I wanna see how this all plays out.”

“Paris!” Cassandra snaps, in a tone so biting and cold that Paris visibly jumps, “I said, take Polydorus upstairs, now.”  

This time, Paris doesn’t argue. Instead, he reaches a hand towards Polydorus and says, in a high-pitched, quivering whimper, “C’mon, little man, looks like we’re going upstairs!”  Polydorus protests as he’s dragged off towards the house, but Paris keeps a firm grip on the kid’s tiny shoulders and steers him resolutely through the door. 

Cassandra watches Paris’s retreating form for a moment, as though unsure that he will actually complete his task, then turns her attention to Ajax.“You,” She says, “can you get him inside on your own?” 

Ajax actually chuckles at this, as though amused by the idea that he, great muscleman extraordinaire, might not be able to carry something. When Cassandra’s scowl remain firmly intact, he composes himself and says, “Yeah, I think I can handle it.”

“Wait,” Patroclus protests, as he transfers what little of Hector’s weight he’d been bearing to Ajax, “why is he going alone? Why can’t I go with him?” Patroclus isn’t sure why, because it’s not like he’s the one who broke Hector, but he’s increasingly getting the feeling that he doesn’t want to be alone with Cassandra right now.

“Because,” Cassandra snaps, “you and I are going to have a little chat. In private.” 

Patroclus has never found Cassandra intimidating before. Most of the time, he considers her annoying at best, with her unwarranted histrionics and inflated sense of self-importance. On some occasions, her melodramatic prophecies that nobody believes have made her seem downright pathetic. Overall, she’s usually a harmless nuisance at most. But now, as she glowers at him from beneath lowered brows, with her jaw clenched and hands planted firmly on her hips, he finds himself filled with an unfamiliar and, franky, embarrassing wave of panic.

“Cassie,” Hector moans, probably in some attempt to dull her rage, but she silences him with one raised finger and a sharp twist of her head in the opposite direction.

Ajax glances between Patroclus and Cassandra for a moment, taking in the crackling tension between them, then mutters, “Good luck with that,” and begins dragging Hector towards the house. Patroclus feels an overwhelming urge to run after him.

As soon as the door has clicked shut behind them, Cassandra erupts.

“You idiot!” She cries, beginning to swing at him with her arms in an uncoordinated frenzy. “You complete, utter, shit-for-brains, stupid idiot! What is wrong with you, Patroclus? How could you do something like this?”  

“Wha- me?” Patroclus demands incredulously, bringing his arms up to block her attacks. “I didn’t do anything, I just drove the car!” 

“Bullshit,” Cassandra hisses. “I know what this was about. I know this was Hector’s ridiculous way of...of making up for what happened to Diomedes.” She ceases her assault as she speaks, lowering her arms to her sides and taking a step back from Patroclus.

“Okay,” Patroclus says warily, keeping his hands up by his face for good measure, “so you know it wasn’t my fault.”

Cassandra shakes her head. "No, I know that it was,” She insists, then sighs and runs a hand through her hair. “I expect this shit from my brothers, Patroclus. Even Hector. He tries to be all responsible and ethical, but he’s still an idiot sometimes. And sometimes he still thinks the best way to solve a problem is with his fists. So when I overheard him telling Aeneas about his grand plan to offer himself up as...as recompense for Paris’s wrongs, I didn’t say anything.” 

She pauses there, staring at Patroclus expectantly, as though she expects him to now understand how he’s responsible for all of this. “Okay,” He says, “and...?”

She lets out a frustrated groan, rolling her eyes skyward and scuffing her feet along the ground. “I didn’t say anything because he asked me for your address!” She cries, as though this explains anything. “He asked me for your address, and I realized you were the one he was going to go to with this stupid plan. And I thought, ‘Okay, this is crazy, and it’s only ever going to make things worse than they already are. But Patroclus is a rational human being. Patroclus will understand what a bad idea this is. Patroclus won’t let this happen.’”

Patroclus feels his stomach drop as cold realization sinks into him. Cassandra had trusted him. She’d realized that Hector’s plan was dangerous and self-destructive, but she’d trusted Patroclus to put an end to it. She’d trusted him to know better than to let this happen. She thought about the quiet, sensible, gentle boy who used to sit across from her at lunch, and she’d trusted him to keep her brother safe.

And he had let her down.

“Oh,” He says, in a low, dejected exhale.

“Yeah,” Cassandra snaps. “‘Oh.’ God, Patroclus, who are you? The Patroclus I knew would never let something like this happen! He didn’t care about revenge or war-games or stupid high school politics. He never would’ve let anyone get hurt over that kind of shit, and he certainly wouldn’t have orchestrated the whole thing. I mean, for fuck’s sake, Patroclus, you drove Ajax there!” 

Patroclus lowers his head, feeling each of her words strike him and sink into his skin like an arrow. She’s right, he knows she’s right. The person he used to be had principles. He was rational and nonviolent, and he knew that nothing could justify hurting people. But this new person, this person he’s become since leaving the geek table and joining the jocks, he isn’t so sure. He’s been shoved into situations that have made him re-evaluate, and he’s developed new opinions. Opinions that, Patroclus realizes now, are wrong. Opinions that got people hurt.

“I know,” Patroclus mutters pathetically, refusing to meet her gaze.

“You used to be my friend, Patroclus,” Cassandra seethes, and that one cuts particularly deep. “You used to be someone I could trust. I never really thought you liked me much, and I never expected you to be particularly nice to me, but I at least expected you to do the right thing. But now? Hector is beat-up and bloody and he probably has a concussion and it’s your fault.” She starts advancing towards him as she speaks, jabbing her finger at his chest. “My brother, who only ever tries to take care of everyone else, just got the shit beaten out of him, and it’s your fault. My brother is hurt and it’s your fault!” She’s almost screaming at this point, and all Patroclus can do is stand there and take it. “I don’t care if you didn’t mean for this to happen. I don’t care if you didn’t actually hit anyone. No matter what you tell yourself, Patroclus, all of this will always be your fault.”

Patroclus finally manages to raise his head, and he sees her face red and contorted with rage, her nostrils flaring in and out and she fights to control her breathing, and a few glistening tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. If her words didn’t make him feel guilty enough, the sight of her face certainly does. He feels dizzy and breathless and sick, and the tips of his fingers and toes are tingling, like he sat on them for too long. Cassandra’s words are still echoing around his head, and likely will be for the rest of his life.

“I know,” He repeats, in a broken, shaky whisper. “You’re right. Cassandra, I-I’m so sorry. I know that doesn’t fix anything, but I’m so, so sorry.” Cassandra ducks her head and takes a step back, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Yeah, well,” She mutters, “I’m kind of tired of people being sorry. I wish they would just do the right thing in the first place.”

Patroclus isn’t quite sure what she’s referring to. His own mistake, or Hector’s reckless plan, or Paris’s transgression with Diomedes. Or more. Years of family members dismissing her predictions, high schoolers treating her like dirt, supposed-to-be friends abandoning her for the more popular crowd. Cassandra, he realizes, has a lot to be angry about.

The sound of the front door squeaking open snaps them out of their tension-charged moment, and Patroclus looks up to see Ajax stepping out of the house. He’s watching Patroclus and Cassandra with a sort of nervous apprehension, like he’s entering the den of two brawling wild animals he’s afraid will turn on him.

“Hey,” He says, “everything okay out here?”

 Patroclus clears his throat and swallows hard, attempting to put aside everything that just happened. “Yeah,” He replies. “Come on. I’ll drive you home.”


~~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

It’s dark by the time Patroclus pulls up in front of his house. After dropping off Ajax, he’d taken a more convoluted route back to Phthia then perhaps he had to, attempting to clear his head. He thought the empty stillness of the late fall evening and the gentle hum of the car beneath him would calm some of the churning in his stomach, but when he arrives home, it’s as turbulent as ever. He can’t even really identify it as one emotion: guilt or anxiety or self-loathing. It’s more of a formidable combination of all three, and probably more that Patroclus can’t even name. Above all, he’s exhausted, but he doubts his thoughts will let him sleep tonight.

He steps out of the car intending to trudge up to his room and collapse atop his bed with all his clothes on, but these magnificent plans are dashed a door swings open across the street and Achilles comes racing towards him. 

“Hey!” He calls. 

“Hey,” Patroclus replies. “What’s going on, is everything okay?” 

Achilles reaches Patroclus and grips places a hand on each of his arms, drawing him closer. “Yeah, I-I just...I was waiting for you,” He admits, gaze dropping to the ground. “We kind of left things in a weird place earlier, plus I knew you were taking Ajax to fight Hector, and I just...I wanted to talk to you.” 

Despite everything that’s happened today, Patroclus feels a comforting warmth start to spread through him. Somehow Achilles can always do that: No matter how bad things are in the rest of Patroclus’s life, Achilles’s presence makes him feel comforted. Content. Safe.

“You’re so sweet,” Patroclus murmurs, drawing in closer to Achilles. “I wanted to talk to you too.” Achilles leans down a little bit and bumps their noses together, then cups Patroclus’s chin in his hand and tilts his face up to kiss him. A rush of warmth surges through Patroclus at the contact, and he leans into Achilles, desperate for more of that feeling after the disaster that just occurred. Patroclus would be happy to stand there in the middle of the street for the rest of his life and kiss, but eventually he feels Achilles pull back. They keep their arms wound around each other, though, which is almost enough for Patroclus.

“So come on, what happened?” He asks, and the kiss was so good that for a moment Patroclus actually forgets what Achilles is asking about. “With the fight, I mean,” Achilles clarifies. “Did we win?”

Just like that, Patroclus comes crashing back to earth. He pulls back from Achilles a bit, dropping his head to his chest and letting out a deep, exhausted sigh. “Um, actually, it was kind of a disaster,” He admits. “No one even won, we had to stop the fight ‘cause Hector’s little brother showed up. And Hector was hurt, like, really badly. And, um...it’s kind of all my fault.”

At this, Achilles dips his head to the side and attempts to meet Patroclus’s gaze, clearly wanting to convince him otherwise. But Patroclus just takes another step back and avoids Achilles’s eyes.

“Pat,” Achilles says, “how could it be your fault? You weren’t even part of the fight.”

“That’s what I thought, but...,” Patroclus starts to explains, then realizes how little he actually wants to rehash all of this and shakes his head, waving his hands dismissively. “I really don’t want to talk about it.” Achilles watches him for a moment, brow furrowed and arms dangling at his sides.

“Okay,” He finally replies. “Then let me take you somewhere.”

Patroclus’s head snaps up. “What?”

“You’re clearly upset about something,” Achilles says, shrugging. “So let me take you where I go when I’m upset and need to think.”

Patroclus glances over his shoulder at his house, thinking of the night of restlessly tossing and turning and torturing himself over the day’s events that he’s giving up, then turns back to Achilles and says, “Okay, sure.”

Achilles grins and takes Patroclus’s hand, leading him over to his car. Patroclus slides into the passenger seat and fastens his seatbelt while Achilles turns the ignition. Before they pull out onto the road, Achilles cracks the windows open marginally, allowing some of the crisp fall air to flow into the car. He plugs his phone into the AUX and scrolls intently through a series of Spotify playlists, before finally landing on the one he wants. As he maneuvers to car onto the road, the opening strains of a soft, acoustic song trickle out of the speaker.

Patroclus can’t find it in him to make conversation as they drive, and Achilles doesn’t try to make him. Instead, they ride in silence, save for the gentle, soothing music and the raspy gusting of the wind through the window. The constant rush of cold air is surprisingly calming, demanding Patroclus’s attention so it can’t stray to other, more distressing things. He tips his head back against the seat and lets himself take a few measured, even breaths, feeling the maelstrom of emotions start to dissipate. 

After a while, he lifts his head and looks over at Achilles, who is drumming his fingers along the top of the steering wheel and nodding in time with the music. “This is actually really helpful,” He says.

Achilles smiles somewhat sheepishly. “I kind of have a lot of experience with...feeling really intense emotions and trying to come down from them,” He explains.

Patroclus nods. He knows what Achilles is talking about. He’s only seen Achilles in the throes of his rage a few times, but those rare occasions were more than alarming enough to leave an impression. When he’s truly angry, Achilles can transform, morphing into a violent, feral creature that barely resembles the person he usually is. It’s disconcerting to say the least for anyone around him, so Patroclus can’t imagine what it must feel like for him. Suddenly, it’s not so surprising that Achilles has such a streamlined, perfected system for dealing with emotions. 

“We’re here,” Achilles suddenly announces. Patroclus looks up and is surprised to find himself in the parking lot of Ilium High. This is where Achilles goes to process his most painful and intense emotions?

Patroclus turns in his seat. “We’re at school,” He says dumbly.

“Yeah, we are,” Achilles confirms, laughing. “Come on.”

With that, Achilles climbs out of the car and waits for Patroclus to do the same, then grabs him by the hand and pulls him across the parking lot. Patroclus allows himself to be lead over to the sidewalk, up a set of stairs, and past the shiny metal bleachers, until they’re standing at the diamond-link fence that surrounds the turf field. Achilles turns to him, smirking, then winds his fingers through the metal links and begins to hoist himself up onto the fence. 

“What are you doing?” Patroclus demands. Achilles’s bark of laughter echoes across the dark, empty campus.

“Climbing!” He replies.

“You can’t do that!” Patroclus splutters.

“And why not?” Achilles counters, already swinging his leg over the top of the fence.

“Because...” Patroclus flounders, “because you’ll get in trouble!”

Achilles, now on the other side of the fence, grins at him through the diamond links. “There’s no one here, Menoetiades,” He says. “Come on.” 

Patroclus squirms, glancing nervously over his shoulder for the teacher he’s sure is going to appear and give them both detention. 

“Come on!” Achilles goads. 

“Fine!” Patroclus relents, and before he can think about it any more, he hooks his foot through the fence and begins to climb. Achilles cheers him on from the ground as he maneuvers himself up the fence, over the top, and then drops himself onto the ground beside Achilles.

“See, was that so bad?” Achilles teases. Patroclus rolls his eyes.

"Yes,” He insists. Achilles ignores him and grabs his hand again, dragging him out to the center of the field. Once they’re standing atop the giant, blue-and-yellow Ilium High logo emblazoned in the turf, Achilles promptly flops down on the ground and folds his hands beneath his head, gazing expectantly up at Patroclus.

Patroclus lies down next to him, and the two shift until their shoulders are pressed together. For a moment, they lie on their backs in the artificial grass, staring up at the clear night sky. Almost of their own accord, Patroclus’s fingers begin to scrabble across the ground, unearthing the strange black particles from the plastic blades of grass.

“What’s this?” He asks, holding one up for Achilles to see.

“Oh, those are little shreds of rubber,” Achilles explains, plucking the piece from between Patroclus’s fingers. “They give the field more bounce.” Patroclus hums in reply, satisfied to just lay there beside Achilles and dig more of the rubber up from the turf. It’s a surprisingly therapeutic exercise. By the time Achilles asks, “So, want to tell me what happened now?” Patroclus finds he isn’t so averse to recapping the whole thing anymore.

So, he tells Achilles everything. He talks about volunteering to drive Ajax, and the conversation they had in the car. He talks about showing up at the rec center and having to watch Ajax and Hector go after each other in a vicious, brutal frenzy. He talks about how Polydorus suddenly appeared, and Patroclus had to race to stop him before he saw his brother getting attacked by a giant. He talks about how bad Hector looked, and how he only got worse on the drive back to the Priamides’ mansion. And finally, he talks about how Cassandra had railed at him, pinning all of the day’s events squarely on Patroclus.

“And she was kinda right, y’know?” He finishes, “I mean, none of this would have happened if I hadn’t agreed to Hector’s plan.”

“Then something else would’ve happened,” Achilles points out. “Something equally bad. Everyone was so pissed about what Paris did to Diomedes, there was no way out of this without someone getting hurt.”

Patroclus sighs. “I guess,” He admits. “But at least then it wouldn’t have been my fault.” Achilles is quiet then, staring out at the silent, motionless silhouettes of the school buildings against the night sky.

Finally, he says, “Do you know why I come here when I’m upset?”

“Because pulling these little rubber things out of the ground is really cathartic?” Patroclus guesses, tossing a handful of the dark pellets at Achilles.

Achilles huffs out a laugh, swatting the rubber particles out of his face. “No,” He says. “Because when I come here at night, and I see everything all quiet and empty, it makes me realize that all of this just...doesn’t matter. After four o’clock, everything here shuts down. Turns off. Ceases to exist. Most of the time, this place is my whole life. But in the dark like this, it all looks...small, and meaningless. And I can start to see how maybe, someday, this won’t matter to me at all.”

Patroclus pushes himself up on his elbows and gazes out at the campus, and he starts to see what Achilles sees. The buildings are grey and lifeless, the parking lot abandoned save for Achilles’s car, and the athletic fields vacant and silent. It’s like someone pulled the plug on the whole place. Suddenly, everything that had been tormenting him - his fight with Cassandra, his role in Hector’s plan, his issues with Achilles’s jacket - seems very distant and arbitrary. Looking at the campus right now, he can start to imagine a world where Ilium High and all of its melodramas are fading in his rearview mirror.

“I was lying about the jacket,” He suddenly blurts out. Achilles laughs.

“Yeah, I figured,” He says.

“I just...I was worried that if you saw me in it, you would realize how wrong it looked. You would realize how...out-of-place I am in your whole world. I thought you might be able to see that I don’t, um, deserve you, or something.” 

Achilles sits up, eyes wide with horror. “Pat-” He begins.

“Yeah, I know,” Patroclus cuts him off. “But you’re right, none of that matters. This school and all its stupid rules and hierarchies and politics, they’re all meaningless. And...and having a varsity jacket doesn’t make you superior, and not having one doesn’t make you worthless. It’s all just...fake. And I’m done letting stuff that’s fake determine whether or not I’m allowed to be happy.” Suddenly, Patroclus finds himself getting to his feet and pulling Achilles up beside him. “I don’t care anymore. I don’t care what anyone here thinks or says or does. I like you, and I want to be with you, and I want to wear your stupid jacket in the hall so everyone knows how much I like you and want to be with you.”

Achilles grins so wide Patroclus half-worries his face might split in two. He grabs Patroclus by the waist and pulls him close, so their foreheads are touching. “I’d like that,” He whispers.

 And as their lips press together, Patroclus thinks there’s one thing about Ilium High that maybe does matter. There’s one thing here that he’s not dreaming of someday leaving behind. There’s one thing that’s decidedly, inarguably real: Achilles.