Disclaimer: I do not own…. blah blah, bliddy blah, I'm so stuffy, give me a scone.
Even though her eyes are closed, Briseis can feel him watching her. He has been watching her for a long time now.
In her mind, she is not ready to open her eyes just yet, to acknowledge his presence and intent, to allow conversation to validate what has happened between them.
I do not regret it, I will not regret it, she thinks. All her life, Briseis has lived by the belief that in order to live full and to live well, she must never regret the decisions she has made. Inviting Achilles to take her body was one of them, and she will not regret it.
Achilles' second, Eudoras, pushes through the heavy slats of the tent threshold. My lord…Briseis hears, rather than sees, him stop and push outside again, and Achilles goes to join him. Left alone, she shifts under the covers, feeling both the mildly satisfying pain between her legs and the flame of a blush colouring her face at the thought of another man seeing her body near unclothed.
However, she supposes, Achilles would probably not look too lightly on another man appraising his property.
His property. Briseis doesn't like to think of herself as the object and instrument of someone else, if anyone but her patron god Apollo. For now, she refuses to think of herself as a captive, and a woman being locked into submission. She doesn't want to think that way because it infers that she has no choices to make – and therefore all the regret to take. And yet, Achilles' startling tenderness and care causes wonder.
Alone in his tent, she will be honest with herself: she has begun to think slightly fondly of him. It's an unnerving truth, but a truth nonetheless. Not surprising, actually. She has told him that he is like all other men to her, but now Briseis realizes the magnitude of that lie: no man has possessed the strength of self to stand before her proudly, completely not humble and possessed by the truth of his own greatness. No man has touched her with that same confidence, in both himself and in herself. No man has treated her like an equal in a situation whose odds are so horrendously stacked against her, and no man has cared for her completely without cause.
Her eyes are open, and full of confusion, when Achilles walks back into the tent. He looks at her intently, and inclines his head in greeting when he sees that she is awake, and he reaches for a goblet of water. At least, she thinks it is water. He is smirking very lightly, "Good, you are awake. I was wondering how long you were willing to keep up the pretence of sleep."
Face burning, she raises herself up on her elbows. "What pretence?"
He smiles, but does not answer, and instead walks over to the side of his pallet to hand her the goblet. She takes a thirsty sip as he looks down at her, leaning forward to briefly smell the scent of her hair. Jasmine.
They stare when he leans back, and Briseis hands back the goblet. "I would have thought you'd be gone by now, killing my countrymen and laying siege to our walls."
Achilles shrugs, and walks across the tent, rolling the muscles of his broad shoulders, as he answers lazily, "Not today." A careless glance back at her, and then, "And haven't I already battered your walls, and found them to be…lacking?" His eyes rove over the state of the bedcovers.
The heat of another blush threatens to spread to her neck, but she presses on, "And my countrymen?"
The water goblet is placed back beside the platter of food, now refreshed with fruits and breads. He answers seriously, "I've given them the gift of their lives today, but tomorrow may not be so lucky." His back is turned to her.
There is a moment of silence, but her mind is alive with images from the night before. She is itching to get ahead of him somehow, and casts out, "Then you lied to me last night."
Briseis draws the covers tightly around her shoulders, a tantalizing strip of bronze skin showing from her neck to her sternum. "You told me that you would kill many Trojans today."
He turns and laughs, amusement in his eyes. He might have been pacifying a child: "Would you like me to go and sacrifice a few to validate our actions last night? It's of no consequence to me."
She misinterprets his expression for one of patronization, and falls into silence. It doesn't matter in that moment, because the muffled call of my lord! comes from outside, and his attention is immediately drawn away.
But then, the most curious and telling thing happens: he has started towards the threshold when he suddenly looks back at her, this small and fragile bird-like thing on his bed. The same soft expression flashes in his eyes, and he takes the few steps to cross the tent to her side, runs his fingers over her cheekbones and tilts her head up. He admires the curve made from her shoulders to her neck to the lovely shape of her jaw, and then kisses her softly, then casually leaves her to her thoughts.
She has a great many thoughts, none of which are remotely helpful.
Even in her enemy's camp, Briseis feels stricken by uselessness. The sun is high in the air and beaming down on her, and she is not sure of what she should be doing. Not sure of the protocol for being a captive, not sure of her place, save for at Achilles' side. She doesn't want to admit it, but this 'captive's life' is far easier when he is around.
The Greek soldiers at day are nothing like their counterparts at night: they are consumed by the work at hand, barely sparing the sharply frail woman standing outside the great Achilles' tent a glance. They are harsh and stony in their own way, and all somehow fashioned the same, as if they have been chiselled from a different stone, but all by the same sculptor. Achilles, she realizes, does not belong in that sphere. He is no mere soldier, not made of stone but of a smooth and unyielding iron, fashioned by Daedalus, father of Icarus.
Near to the shore, an unshaven man is taking stock of the ships. He is looking at her, a flash of something dangerous in the whites of his eyes, and Briseis clasps her arms closer around her body. This feeling is what she had expected out of being a Greek captive, this terrifying uncertainty and vulnerability, not the haven she had found within the iron of Achilles' arms.
The man visibly licks his lips at her, and she turns away. Briseis sees no familiar face amongst the nearby men, but why should she recognize anybody?
She begins to discern the character of the men around her, and their collective attitude towards her. All of them, save for the one at the shore with the ships, keep their eyes cast away from her, their posture wary and suspicious, but also predominantly cautious and avoidant. Briseis wonders why that might be.
"I would not recommend wandering alone outside until the men are adjusted to the presence of a woman." She whirls, and he is standing beside her, blue eyes serious and matted hair askew. She nods absently, and then looks away.
His fingers dart up to grasp securely at her jaw, turning her eyes back to his. There is no discernable expression in them, just a cold and clear blue, blue like the water. He lets go of her once she can maintain the eye contact on her own. "You have not been bothered?"
She is silent. No, she has not been bothered but…that feeling of discomfort will not go away, and her glance darts inadvertently back towards the shoreline, back towards the unshaven man at the ships. Even still, Briseis shakes her head.
She doesn't know it, but Achilles has seen every shift of her expression, and has followed every movement of her eyes. He sees the shifty glance to the shoreline, and marks it in his mind for later correction. But at the present, he draws his arms up to her shoulders and steers her back into the tent.
The flaps fall back into place, and her sense of discomfort evaporates almost instantly, because his lips are back at hers, and the metal haven of his arms clasped securely around her limbs.
Long after it is finished, he holds her until she is completely content, wondering to himself why he was spending his time in such a matter, and refuting in kind, why should he not? This is a woman like no other, and merits the full capacity of his attentions.
Which reminds him of something.
Achilles slips out from the covers, arranging her limbs comfortably and at her small moan of protest, mutters, "There is something I must take care of."
When she next lays eyes on the unshaven soldier, late in the afternoon, and many interludes with Achilles later, she has a transcendental epiphany. I have power.
Briseis doesn't know how he knew, but it seemed as though Achilles had the mastery of both his men and of her to see everything.
The soldier is sporting an unclean bandage about his head, spotted darkly with what must be blood, and covering his entire left eye. She stands outside in a loose dress, and he does not look at her once. He passes her by, and all Briseis can think of is, he did not have that bandage before.
She has no idea what Achilles thinks of her. She sees and notes that expression in his eyes, but she has too much of an approximation of him as the demi-god warrior to understand what the quality of that expression is. She knows his tenderness, his protectiveness, and sees him as her haven – more so, she admits shamefully, than that of Troy. But whatever he thinks of her, it is something that has tired her to him –and him to her- and it gives her power.
Power to do as she wills in her enemy's camp, because Achilles cares for her. Power to say what she wills to the Greeks, because Achilles cares for her. Power to defy even the great Agamemnon, because Achilles cares for her. She is the reason that the Greeks did not taste victory yesterday – and yesterday was before Achilles had ever touched her. What could she cause now, what power did she wield? It was terrifying.
No, she thinks later, again in his arms. No, I do not regret.