I grip his hand tighter, colours flickering, fading, waxing, waning. It's cold. Too cold.
I can hardly breathe and neither can he, chest struggling to keep his lungs full, dried blood (his blood.
my fault) coating his mouth, a crusted trail from his soft, blushing lips down to his chin. I choke back my tears (my fault my fucking fault) and gently brush his cheek with my other hand.
I want it to be warm, I want him to feel what I'm feeling. I want to see the chocolate of his hair, but the colour is draining from it as each precious second passes.
"Patroclus, please," I say in a choked whisper, turning away to catch my breath.
I should never have listened to him, never have given in to that warm smile, those soft arms, his slim waist.
Oh, philtatos, how could I have been so stupid? I sent you to your death and you went with all the loyalty in Greece.
The dark, sweat-soaked face of Automedon pushes through the covering of the tent.
"Get out!" I yell, accusing, "Get out of here! This is your fault! He's... he's... because of you!"
(no achilles. no. you know this is all you. all i had to do was deny him, to be as brave as the songs will remember me. to go out and fight the war i was destined for.
and because i thought i could, what? hide from the fates? curl in on myself and hope they don't find me?
and now the only person i've ever loved is paying for my mistakes, the weight of my actions crushing him. idiot.)
But it's that much easier to blame others. Blame Automedon, our best friend, the one who steered my chariot whilst brave Patroclus stood holding my spear, wearing my armour.
Blame Hector, the enemy, who stabbed him thinking he was me. Agamemnon. Whose arrogance drove me into our tent in the first place.
Blame the Gods.
Oh, how easy it is to blame them when you have nothing left to lose.
Where was Pallas, sworn to protect us? Where was Thetis, where was Poseidon? How could they let Phoebus' cruel hand undo the armour I had placed on him to protect his gentle heart?
What were they worth?
But blaming won't wake him. The scarlet (black. no.) stain still spreads across his chest, like a weed that keeps growing back every time you pull it out.
The spear anchored in him, a trophy, evil and sneering.
I want to pry it loose and hurl it across the dusty ground, cover him with cloth and crawl into bed next to him, letting his gentle, fleeting breaths lull me to sleep,
my arms wrapped around his torso.
(small, cautious steps. rabbit or deer. even with the thunderous stampede of battle, i'd recognise those footfalls anywhere. my heart leaps in spite of myself. home. he's safe.
i rush to greet him as soon as he opens up the tent. his muscles under his clothes are taunter than they were the year we sailed here. his lips more familiar than the journey home.
his mouth holding the taste of fig and olive. of late nights and early mornings.
i never want to let him go, much rather i trace his collarbones, his shoulders, his spine with my fingers infinitely, but he pushes me gently away with his quiet smile.
as if he was ashamed by his own happiness. i swear i didn't know what i was doing. i swear by the gods it would have been different if i had only known.
the best of the greeks? my gentle patroclus? to me, of course. but i could never have predicted the fates shared my sentiment.
"they need you. you'll win this for us." he begs, on his knee, gripping the hem of my tunic. one move away from supplication.
"don't. stand up." i pull him to his feet and he collapses into me, soul fracturing.
already as good as dead.
"we both know i can't go out there." i kiss him, just below his eye.
he nods. eyes averted. we thought the fates meant me, and i couldn't face the thought of hades receiving me without him.)
A violent cough, the first sign of life from his cold body coaxes a whimper from his throat and shocks my world into brilliant iridescence before heartlessly sucking it back into the ground.
Tiny, malevolent tendrils of colour remind me of his struggle and that it really is blood threaded through his hair and dripping over the curves of his stomach.
(stripped almost bare in front of me, arms held out expectantly. the last thing i want is to cover him again in my cruel, foreboding armour.
it takes everything i have to remind myself that this is what he wants.
"you'll stay in the chariot, won't you?" i plead, securely fastening and re-fastening the breastplate. he shifts, adjusting to the unfamiliar weight now resting on him.
his hand grips my shoulder.
"you forget. i have trained. for eight years into this war i have studied with odysseus, fought with diamedes, thrown spears with ajax. i am nearly as capable with a horse as automedon."
he grins in reply. cheeky. a promise, but quickly he's serious once more.
"all they need is a reminder of the weapon on their side. you're the best of us, but they need you as a symbol more than a man. your helmet, your chariot. it no longer matters who's in them."
"you'll stay in the chariot. automedon will drive you through the battle and back. you don't get out. you don't kill anyone."
he kisses me quickly, a kiss i would have held on to if i had known it to be our last. a kiss i would have followed with a goodbye. instead, i didn't even leave our tent after him.
i had known him since we were children. and in all that time, all those decades, not once did i tell him i loved him.)
Briseis is the only other person I will allow near his body. They had always been close, but the only reason I permit with her presence is that she blames me, too. More than I blame myself.
She dribbles strong cordial down his throat, but the wet, gasping sound that ensures moves me to retaliate.
"You'll kill him!" I cry, shoving her away.
"He's already dying! Are you too blinded by your own pride to see even that?" She glares at me, voice of a viper.
(death was not in my thoughts at all when Apollo stripped the armour from his fragile body. i had no reason to see it coming closer when Hector's spear pierced his unprotected flesh.
i ignored the startling second colour was stolen from me, pinning it on lack of sleep and excess of nerves.
his dinner had reached a comfortable temperature when the hand pulled back the entrance of the tent.
"just in time." a nervous laugh, smothered by relief, "i thought i would have to eat alone but..."
the hand i reached for was not his.
the pain behind the eyes of antilochos was enough to make me stumble.
"he's not. he stayed in the chariot. protected by my armour. nobody would have been able to reach him. you're confused."
"i'm sorry, achilles."
"stop! stop acting like he's dead! he's not! he's not... wait here. he'll be back soon. and you'll see, you'll see!"
"our best soldiers are defending him as we speak, but there's no telling how long they'll be able to hold out against troy's forces. you have to come with me.")
His eyes fluttered open and my heart twisted in my chest.
"I'm here, philtatos. I'm here. I'm not leaving you.
Briseis frowned, but I ignored her air of confused repulsion. I watched her leave the tent, colours dimming further with each footfall. (dimming? why dimming? he's alive. he'll be okay.)
"Achilles," he spluttered in a hoarse whisper, his rapidly constricting lungs prohibiting him from continuing. Carefully, I lifted his head into my arms.
"I know, I know. I love you, too."
Tenderly, my lips pressed against his clammy forehead.
"You can rest now," I spoke through the kiss.
The moment I broke contact, both his world and mine were plunged into permanent monochrome.
I wouldn't want to live in a life of colour without him anyway.