Disclaimer: Troy and The Iliad do not belong to me.

A/N: Here it is, a story about the friendship of Odysseus and Achilles, their loves and their battles. I'm trying on the Troy fandom for size and I don't know how much I'm going to write, but please tell me what you think of it!

The Fox and the Lion

I: A Grain of Sand

The clash of metal shivered through the air, and sunlight flashed on bronze blades. With a whirl, the warriors separated, their swords cutting whistling paths through the last of the sun's rays. The weapons flickered, meeting and retreating, darting in and away once more, as their wielders' feet danced among the waves on the shore. The intricate pattern of muscle and metal continued without pause or hesitation, neither man slowing or faltering. Yet one of them was clearly the stronger, pressing forward always, while the other gave way. The latter fought shrewdly, but ever on the defensive, expending all his effort to keep his opponent's blade away from his flesh. To any who knew the art of war, the outcome was only too plain; and to those who knew the fighters, it was even plainer.

Before the duel could come to its inevitable end, however, the stronger of the two stepped back suddenly and dropped his blade onto the sand. His companion stood warily, anticipating some trick.

The strong one, now weaponless, gazed at his friend contemplatively before twisting his lips in frustration. "Why are we doing this, Odysseus?"

Odysseus raised his eyebrows in perfect innocence. "When I returned from today's battle, wearied by great and heroic deeds, I sought out my friend Achilles, intending to show him the spoils of the day and the goodly armor I stripped from many a Trojan warrior. When I arrived at your tent, however, you sprang upon me with your sword, demanding that I spar with you. No doubt you were lonely after your long seclusion. Or perhaps eager to remind the Achaeans that you are as skilled at fighting as you are at brooding in your tent?"

The flash of Achilles' eyes indicated that few could make such a remark without dire consequences. He replied gently, however. "You should be a poet, Odysseus…"

"I could," Odysseus replied, leaning lightly upon his sword, "It's a good way to be remembered. The war of the Achaeans and the Trojans would make a marvelous story, full of battles and kings and heroes—like the great Diomedes, Teucer the bowman, the sons of Atreus, Agamemnon and Menelaus, Nestor the wise, Idomeneus the famous spearman, and no less than two Ajaxes!"

"And what would you say of Achilles?"

"Achilles?" Odysseus shrugged dismissively, "He didn't fight much."

The other man's scowl turned to a bark of laughter. "He had no reason to."

Odysseus gazed at his friend silently. If a lion took on human form, it would look like Achilles: fearsome, golden, rippling with muscles, and aloof. Yet there was something distinctly human about him, even pitifully so, as if the animal fierceness disguised a hidden frailty. Most men would laugh at such a conjecture—Achilles, as everyone knew, was a creature born to kill, invulnerable and ruthless. But Odysseus was no more ordinary than Achilles, though his gifts did not manifest themselves outwardly, and he perceived more than most. "They say you are part god," he said wryly, looking out upon the ocean, "They believe it, too. You have the fickleness of an Olympian, if nothing else."

"I am no god!" Achilles growled.

"That is evident."

"What would you have me do?" Achilles snarled, pacing restlessly along the seashore, resplendent in the dying sun's bronze caresses. "I will not bow to Agamemnon! His avarice brought us here. Men die every day at his behest. I, for one, will not be a slave to his greed!"

"Then even more men will die for your pride. Why feign indignation? You knew the reason for this war when we set sail. No one forced you to come. You wanted glory—well, you're not winning much by sitting on the outskirts of the battle."

Achilles halted and directed a steely glare at the tents lining the beach, interspersed with newly-lit fires and piles of plunder. Men's voices and captives' cries made a low murmur that melded with the patient voice of the sea. After a moment, he snorted and resumed his pacing.

"It's about this girl…" Odysseus observed, watching a small wave spill over his foot.

"Briseis." Achilles' voice was flat.

"Yes, Briseis. A good name. But is she worth the lost glory? Is she worth the men's lives? Are you content to have people say a woman was more important to you than battle, more important even than your allegiances and oaths?"

"Would Penelope be worth it to you?" Achilles countered.

At this, Odysseus fell silent, staring westwards over the Aegean. Somewhere there, between the beach and the setting sun, lay Ithaca and Penelope, whom he had left for Agamemnon's war. The chariot of the sun laid a golden path over the water, beckoning him home. He had not wanted to come to Troy—the gods knew the measures he had taken to avoid it! Yet here he was, and he felt in his heart it would be long before he saw his wife again. The immortals played with men. But Odysseus was not one to let his thoughts show, and his bitterness remained hidden with the rest of them.

"She is not your wife," he replied in answer to the question, "only a captive."

"She is mine," Achilles said fiercely, "and the Achaeans will fall under Hector's blade until I have her back."

"You've become soft-hearted," Odysseus said with a wry half-grin.

Achilles made no immediate reply. The last sliver of sun sank beneath the horizon, its golden light extinguished. Darkness flooded the Achaean camp, rolling over the waves. Only starlight remained, otherworldly and faintly silver, lending the landscape a ghostly dignity. The campfires seemed brazen and feeble in the face of the night.

"Look!" Achilles said suddenly, flinging his arm out towards the camp, "Look at them, Odysseus. They are nothing! Sparks! Puny, flickering, pale, little sparks. Even the stars outshine them. That is what we are—tiny lights in the great night, doomed to be extinguished all too soon. We are the leaves that wither, raindrops that fall and are lost. Our names are written in the sand only to be washed away by the next wave. We have little and can expect less. When something is given us, something true and with meaning—should we not take it while we can? There is no tomorrow. We have only this moment to live. I will not waste it."

"I have not asked you to," Odysseus said softly. He hesitated, then continued. "And if the girl is returned to you… you will rejoin the battle?"

"Perhaps. But if Agamemnon does not give her back, I will leave him at Hector's mercy, and laugh when he falls."

"I spoke to him today." Odysseus ignored Achilles' sharp look. "He… apologizes. The girl is yours, if you want her." He fell silent.

"There is more," Achilles said suspiciously, "Well?"

A moment of uncomfortable silence reigned. "He gave her to the men," Odysseus said at last.

Achilles muttered a curse and broke into a run without a glance back at his companion. Odysseus watched him go, the starlight glinting on his golden hair. He hoped, for the men's sake, that none of them had touched the girl Briseis. But he did not follow, remaining instead by the darkened shore.

"Well, goddess, I did my best," he said to the murmuring waves. They made no reply, but he knew, if Achilles did not, that the immortals were there and watching. Life might be short, but Hades awaited men, and glory those who earned it. Odysseus did not care much for glory or renown. Still, he was not fool enough to deny the gods what they wanted. Athena had sent him here, and he would do her bidding as long as he must. If that kept him from Penelope… he looked once more westwards, over the sea. She was there, too far away. He would not go to her. His deeds here would keep her safe, from Agamemnon's army, from the gods, from fate. Sometimes a man had to obey to serve his people best.

Turning from the water, Odysseus walked slowly up the beach to the tents. Achilles would have found his woman by now. For a moment, he regretted having attempted to persuade his friend to give up Briseis. If Achilles had found something to live for—something besides killing—Odysseus was happy for him. The moment passed quickly. Achilles needed no pity; he deserved none. He, like every other man, was but a grain of sand upon the beach, and the gods would have their way with him.

A/N: I'm not sure if this is a one-shot or if there will be more chapters, but I hope you enjoyed this much. Thanks for reading!