A Drink to the Bad Habits He Gifted You
Patroclus knows from the moment he hears the door clang open that Zagreus is back with a gift. Before he hears the sound of shattering glass, or sees his dark hair crest the steps. He knows because it is exactly what Achilles would do.
His beloved had taught his Stranger a great many things it seemed. Not the least of which was to wield his kindness much like his weapons in the hopes that his guilt might go unseen. Even when he had nothing to feel guilty for.
“If you are going to gift me that nectar you are so cleverly trying to hide, you best be intending to stay for a drink,” He says in way of his usual greeting.
This time it is Zagreus who hesitates, and Patroclus would have been a liar if he didn’t say that he found it to be a pleasant change. “Excuse me Sir?” Zagreus says after a moment, “I don’t understand.”
“The nectar.” He repeats, “That you always bring when you feel you have something to be sorry for. Split it with me.”
Zagreus is unlike Achilles in that he relents easily. Patroclus doesn’t go so far as to say he does so gently, as it seems to be more of a fear response, but he gives quickly. It is something Patroclus has mixed feelings about.
“I’m sorry.” Zagreus says, and although he has nothing to be sorry for, Patroclus does not interrupt, “For breaking down like that, for falling asleep on you, and things coming down to you having to kill me again even though you made it clear you hate doing that.”
He presses the nectar into Patroclus’s hand as though it was liable to explode if he kept hold of it.
The sigh that escapes him before he speaks has a lifetime of weariness behind it and then some. “I am - was - a warrior Zagreus. If ever I decided I didn’t want part in any of that I would have made it known.” He doesn’t miss the way Zagreus withers a little, “You needn’t apologize for existing. Not here.”
He watched Zagreus try and find his words. Leaves from his laurels crackle like flames and a few of them pop off to flutter leisurely into the grass. Patroclus is of the mind to start collecting them.
“I’m sorry.” He says again.
“You have all of his bad habits.” He remarks offhandedly as he pops the cork to the nectar.
“Excuse me?” Zagreus echoes.
“Achilles.” Patroclus states, and he doesn’t miss the way Zagreus winces, “He taught you all of his bad habits. From the haphazard way you wield Varatha down to apologizing for daring to feel something.”
Zagreus is quiet for a long moment, no doubt holding in another apology. “Oh.” He says instead, “Is that bad?”
“Assuming you’ve managed to get through Theseus with that old thing, no.” He says lightly, “I am willing to wager your apologies aren’t just his doing either. You might have picked it up from him, but that isn’t why they stuck.”
Zagreus blinks owlishly at him, “You gathered all that from a bottle of nectar?”
“And a lifetime or more of being in love with someone of a similar mindset.” He takes a swig from the open bottle before handing it to Zagreus, “For all his rage and pride, he was kind and very, very foolish.”
“He loves you you know.” Zagreus says almost defensively on Achilles’s behalf.
“I know.” Patroclus hums, “And I him, even now.”
Zagreus holds the nectar without drinking from it. Just thinking, and Patroclus lets him. He has done enough damage in the last few visits by pushing him and he would rather Zagreus speak on his own time now. Maybe he had guilt of his own to be rid of, but his Stranger didn’t need to know that.
“What was he like?” Zagreus asks eventually, “You’ve told me of the bloodshed and the war. Of the Hero, but what was the Achilles you love like?”
He takes a drink from the bottle like it might restore his fleeing courage before he hands it back to Patroclus.
“I have never in my life met a man more stubborn.” There is no ache when he speaks of Achilles like this, and no regret. It catches him off guard for a moment, “When we met it was because he nearly ran me through with that damn spear of yours. He is arrogant, sincere, horribly long winded, and his spear posture was so atrocious I could hardly take him seriously.”
Zagreus laughs, and Patroclus realizes this is the first time he’s heard it, “I can attest to three of those things.”
Patroclus finds himself smiling, “Which three Stranger? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“He is stubborn, he lectures to the point that sometimes I fear I might die of old age,” He ticks them off on his fingers as he goes along and Patroclus finds it more endearing than he probably should, “But he always means well. Even when it hurts.”
There is a wobble to Zagreus’s voice when he finishes, and for a moment Patroclus debates changing the subject. He doesn’t because he is selfish, and because this is the happiest he has seen Zagreus in a long while. If he happens to have a surplus of embarrassing stories about Achilles to spare, that is his own business.
They talk their way through the bottle of nectar. Well, Patroclus does the talking. Zagreus listens and drinks when the bottle is passed to him. Mostly because Patroclus won’t take it back if he doesn’t. He speaks of their life up until the war. Zagreus knows the rest, and it isn’t something either of them have the strength to endure.
“What about you?” He asks, “What is your Achilles like?”
“He is kind, vigilant, stubborn, and I think the first person in that House to care for me out of something other than a sense of obligation.” He says, and it almost sounds like he is speaking of a distant past, “He is gentle when he wants to be, and stern only when he needs to be.”
There is a softness to Zagreus when he talks about Achilles. It’s love, and Patroclus imagines he must look the same way. There is no jealousy this time, and it’s nice. It was their love of Achilles that brought them together, and loneliness he supposed, but that wasn’t why they stayed. For Patroclus, at least, it was love for Zagreus.
It went unsaid of course. He was no better at voicing his feelings than Achilles. As things stood, it wasn’t his place to say anything on it. Not when they were both still healing, and Zagreus’s heart belonged so completely to someone else.
What a cruel thing love was. But as he watched Zagreus walk away after picking the Kiss of Styx for the first time in a very long while, he found he didn’t much mind. He could shelve these feelings; in a bad habit of his own that he learned from Achilles; if it meant Zagreus would be happy.
Paradise is a Hallway with a View
Tw: Suicide (sort of), referenced abuse, trauma, self deprecation
It doesn’t take Achilles long - or it doesn’t feel all that long - to realize he is not so much a guard in this house, but a possession. A trinket of sorts on display. With at least three gods and a Fury present at all times, he sincerely doubts any of the Shades that mill about this place are particularly apt to try anything. So the only reasonable conclusion is that he is simply a display piece, much like all the other odds and ends that decorate this particular hallway.
He doesn’t voice this out of fear that Hades might rescind his offer. No level of personal annoyance was worth risking Patroclus’s freedom, and standing watch in a hallway was better than Tartarus in most aspects. While he was hardly content, he wasn’t about to complain. After all, what were Great Heroes other than the trinkets and treasures to the poets and their muses. Even in Elysium he would have just as likely been a bauble on display, titled as some kind of champion. At least here, in this dismal place, it was in exchange for something.
Thanatos keeps him company in the hall from time to time. They don’t speak often and the patron of death seems content to simply look out over the river Styx. He remembered being struck by how young the god seemed. He was doubtlessly eons older than Achilles, all of them were, but he looked like he was just on the cusp of adulthood. It was a strange thing to consider, so Achilles often tried not to. His presence was something still and calm, it was something Achilles appreciated.
He remembered when Lady Nyx introduced him to the younger deities of the House. Thanatos had seemed distinctly uninterested, but his twin Hypnos, seemed about ready to bubble over with excitement. As strange as it might have come across, he hadn’t expected the being who presided over dreams and rest to be so lively and childlike. For ever ounce of near morose composure Thanatos radiated, Hypnos matched with wonder and enthusiasm. Nyx had paid mention to a third young god in passing, but Achilles had yet to meet them. He suspected he would in due time, this House was only so big after all.
He meets the last god of the House eventually. This one turns out to be the reason he is tasked with guarding the hall to begin with. Though where he has been before now is a mystery to Achilles. Even before the collide and land in a painful heap on the floor.
Achilles first noticed him when he stepped into the Great Hall from the Lounge. The only reason Achilles notices him at all is because of the way he stands out, bright red against the dull greys and greens of the rest of the House. Almost like fire incarnate.
Then, he piques Achilles’s suspicions. This new god looks around the Great Hall as though he expects to be caught. When no such thing happens he makes his way carefully to the West Hall. For the first time since his employment, Achilles tightens his hold on his spear. His stationing here seems to have some merit after all, though he is unsure of what he is able to do against a god.
For what it’s worth, he doesn’t seem to be expecting to find Achilles there anymore than Achilles had been expecting to see him. Up close Achilles finds he is more stunning, and his assessment of this being a fire-like god proven correct. It’s unfortunately all the looking he gets to do, because after that moment’s hesitation, the god moves.
Wings sprout from his back and he propels himself with a great speed toward the archives. What Achilles intends to do is tackle him, but that isn’t what happens. This god has speed, but very little coordination, and he tries to slow down or dodge when Achilles moves. They collide, and it is with a surprisingly painful clarity that Achilles learns his wings are made of fire, not just fire like.
They vanish as soon as the pained sound he lets out reaches the god. He stumbles back as though he was the one to be burned by divine flame. It is fear Achilles finds in those gemstone like eyes when he looks up. Then, hesitantly he holds out a hand to pull Achilles to his feet. He accepts the help, but as soon as he his upright, the god puts distance between them again.
This god was fire incarnate Achilles decided, with no disrespect to Prometheus of course. He resembled the Lord of the House in ways that were near uncanny. His hair, the one dark eye, and the flames that trailed up his feet to his calves. There was a softness to him to, and Achilles assumed it came from which ever being was responsible for his green eye.
“I’m sorry.” He says and it pulls Achilles out of his head in part because he sounds so afraid, “I didn’t mean to hurt you - I didn’t even know Shades could be hurt - I’m sorry.”
“No harm done lad.” He replies and holds up his previously burned hand to show that it has healed without so much as a scar, “Apologies for, uh, tackling you. It’s just that I’m not to let anyone into the Archives, or the master quarters.”
The god laughs, but the bitterness in it leaves no room for humor, “He wasn’t kidding then. It seems things are changing.”
There is a story hidden in those words that Achilles doesn’t ask after despite the weight of his curiosity. “What is your name?” He asks instead.
“Zagreus.” He replies, and before Achilles can ask anything else, “And I am not a god, just a prince.”
The blood Achilles doesn’t have turns into ice in his veins. In his haste to finally do his job he tackled the prince of the Underworld. Hades is going to have it in for him when he finds out. Then again, Zagreus alluded to not being allowed in the archives, so maybe not.
“Forgive me highne-” He doesn’t get to finish.
“Don’t.” Zagreus cuts him off and there is a harshness to his voice that is reminisce of Hades. He takes a deep breath and tries again more calmly, “Zagreus is fine, Sir....”
“Achilles.” He provides, “My name is Achilles.”
He expects awe, maybe even amusement, but what he gets is a shrug, “Like the Hero?”
Achilles could correct him, but doesn’t. There is something rather nice about being unknown. “Yes.” He replies slightly amused, “Just like the Hero.”
It’s the first and last time he speaks with Zagreus for a long while. He sees the godling around the House from time to time, but he never sets foot in the West Hall. Or at the very least, not when Achilles is on duty. It is something of note as well that those wings of fire remain put away.
He finds it safe to assume his dealings with the prince going forward are going to be few and far between. As they are with everyone else in the House. He is aware, somewhat, of why he guards the hall now, but it doesn’t make him feel any less like a trinket. As boredom sets in he finds it harder to convince himself that being here is any better than Tartarus. Being alone is torture in it’s own right.
There comes a time when Lady Nyx approaches him for a second time, “Lord Hades wishes to speak with you.”
Achilles fills with dread as he steps away from his post, “Thank you for letting me know.”
Hades is imposing from his place behind the desk. It takes Achilles a moment to realize he isn’t alone in his audience. Zagreus is there as well, and Hades is looking at him as though he is something particularly unpleasant. Zagreus looks like the only thing that is keeping him there is the consequences of running away.
“Good, you’ve made it Shade.” Hades says when he finally notices Achilles, “I have a new job for you do to as well as your guard duty.”
“Of course Sir.” He replies.
“Zagreus is in need of weapons training if he is to amount to anything.” He continues as though Achilles hadn’t spoken at all, “As you are supposedly the Greatest of the Greeks, you are the only one I trust with the task. You know the consequences should you fail.”
“Yes sir.” He agrees.
“Good.” The Lord of the House responds, “Then you are both dismissed.”
Zagreus is gone before Achilles can say anything to him. He sighs quietly and follows the scotched footprints before they can fade from the stone. They lead him through what he assumes is Zagreus’s room into a courtyard where he finds the god waiting with a dagger.
Even before Zagreus says anything Achilles knows he isn’t going to like this next part. He figures it’s intuition from years spent at war.
“Before we get started Sir, there is something you should know.” Zagreus starts, “I could try and explain it, but it’s easier just to show you.”
That’s all the warning he gets before Zagreus plunges the blade into his own abdomen and effectively guts himself. He does it with such practiced ease that Achilles feels more sick than anything else. How many times has Zagreus killed himself like this? He watches the godling’s body dissolve into a pool of red. He isn’t sure what else he is supposed to do, so he waits.
“I can’t permanently be killed.” Comes from behind him and Achilles whirls around to find Zagreus standing in the doorway like nothing happened, “So there is no reason to hold back Hero.”
Achilles flinches at the title, “Just Achilles please, I would rather leave that part of me in the past. I am not that man anymore.”
He tries to avoid killing Zagreus when they train. He doesn’t always succeed, but he tries. Something changes between them. Mentorship gives Achilles a purpose, and having someone he can turn to seems to bring some of the life back to Zagreus. His place in the hallway becomes less lonely with periodic visits from the young god.
No longer a trinket, he stands watch. He has his job, and from his hallway there is occasionally a splash of bright red against the greys and greens. A flicker of life in this House of the dead that makes for a rather nice view. It isn’t paradise, and Zagreus certainly wasn’t Patroclus, but it was better than nothing and more than he ever believed this place would give him.
He wasn’t alone anymore.