That same night found Achilles, once again, unable to rest peacefully. Fresh pain from his battles earlier in the day coursed through him, leaving even the smallest movements unbearable, and both Antilochus' and Agamemnon's words clawed at his heart, leaving raw, oozing pain in their wake.
As he downed yet another glass of wine and gazed up at the stars, his thoughts swirled and he placed his head in his hands. Antilochus is right – I don't deserve to have children of my own someday. Patroclus is so much better than me, and he deserves much more than I've ever given him. I did to him what my father did to me – I forced him into war when he wasn't ready; I traumatized that boy. If he becomes anything like me as a result, I'll never forgive myself!
"Achilles?" His cousin's scared voice snapped him out of his dark thoughts, and he turned to face the young warrior standing in the doorway. "Achilles… what are you doing up? You need to rest, especially after this morning."
Achilles smiled sadly. If only it were that easy…
Without another word, Patroclus closed the door behind him and came outside to sit next to Achilles, who wrapped an arm around his shoulders tightly. Patroclus leaned into the one-armed embrace and murmured, "You know I forgive you, right? I'm not angry at you like Antilochus is. His heart is in the right place, I think, but I don't agree with him at all. You're the best man I know, and I couldn't have asked for a better guardian. I love you so much."
Achilles' felt his throat tighten painfully, and he whispered, "I love you, too, cub. I love you so much more than you could ever imagine, but you're too kind to me, and Antilochus was right in some ways – I shouldn't have left you to fend for yourself in Troy. I should have been by your side every second, protecting you. Most of all, I should never have forced you to go in the first place. Thank you again for being so good to me, but it still doesn't change the fact that what I did was wrong." He lowered his head again.
"No, Achilles! Please don't feel so bad about it anymore. I forgive you! Everybody makes mistakes, but it doesn't make them bad people."
Achilles said nothing further as he lifted Patroclus into his arms and held him tightly for awhile. Patroclus, pleasantly surprised by this sudden gesture, relaxed and laid his head on Achilles' chest, letting the golden warrior's heartbeat soothe him. They gazed quietly at the stars for awhile, before Patroclus suddenly asked, "Achilles, was I a coward for not… doing what Agamemnon wanted me to do? Was I too weak? Did I deserve getting beaten?"
Achilles gasped, honestly shocked by the words that had just come out of his cousin's mouth. "No, cub!" he said vehemently, tightening his hold on the boy. "You deserve only the best life has to offer, not getting almost beaten to death like an animal." Rage threatened to overwhelm him again at the thought. Oh, how he would have loved nothing more than to kill that pig of a king slowly and painfully! But Odysseus was right, as much as he hated to admit it: he couldn't just simply kill Agamemnon, for killing him would only complicate matters and add even more unnecessary conflict to the barely-peaceful Greece. There would be those who supported him, and then there would also be those who called for his blood. Neither he nor Patroclus needed the extra drama right now, so he swallowed his anger and added, "You are not weak, and you are especially not a coward. A true coward would have killed that woman and her babe. By not doing so and trying to protect them, you acted with courage and honor, and I am so proud of you for that."
Patroclus' eyes shone and he smiled brightly, making him seem more like his exuberant and joyful pre-war self, Achilles thought to himself sadly.
"I would have sooner died than kill innocents," Patroclus stated in a solemn voice. "And… I almost did."
Achilles shuddered at the thought and held his cousin even more tightly. Patroclus continued to speak, a distant look creeping into his eyes as he did so.
"I didn't even attempt to fight back against Agamemnon, because, well, I didn't want to. I couldn't bring myself to."
"Why is that, cub?" Achilles whispered, suddenly fearing the answer.
Patroclus sighed deeply before answering his cousin, "I just wanted nothing more than to die with honor in that moment, because something just broke in me seeing all the carnage and human cruelty. I didn't want to live anymore, because I felt I had nothing to live for, except protecting an innocent woman and babe."
"Nothing to live for…?" Achilles spoke sharply now. "You have everything to live for, Patroclus! You're young with your whole life ahead of you. You have so much potential to do good in this world. How can you even say such a thing?!"
Patroclus lowered his eyes and answered in a small voice, "Because I felt like it just wasn't worth living anymore if my cousin – a man who loved me unconditionally for so many years – hated me and didn't want me anymore when we returned home." He cringed as he spoke each word, already knowing how Achilles would react.
His theory proved correct. Achilles jerked back as though he had just been burnt and stared at Patroclus in shell-shocked silence for a few minutes. Then, with a groan, he gripped at his hair as tears streamed down his face and his body shook with silent sobs.
"Achilles, no… don't. It's all right." Patroclus got up and wrapped his arms around Achilles, stroking his hair.
Achilles practically threw his arms around Patroclus and crushed him to his chest. "Stop saying that! It's not all right. I made you think I hated you and wanted to cast you aside. That will never be all right, Patroclus." He pushed Patroclus back gently, took his face in his hands, and stared him in the eyes. "But I want you to know something and you better listen well, all right?" Patroclus nodded and Achilles continued, "Even though I said – and did – some things in anger, I truly did not mean them. And besides, there's *absolutely* nothing you could ever do or say, even to me, that would make me stop loving you." He took the boy in his arms again, and kissed him atop of the head a few times. As he felt the boy start to fall asleep in his arms, he smiled and stroked his hair, whispering, "Everything will turn out all right in the end, cub, you'll see." He continued to speak optimistically about the future. He spoke of sparring again and fighting in great battles side by side. He spoke late into the night while holding the sleeping Patroclus in his arms. He just didn't know who he was trying to convince with these reassurances.