Summary: An AU in which Patroclus is not Achilles' cousin, but rather a captive whom Achilles has rescued and claimed. The early development of their relationship in this new context, slash not intended. Set approx. two years pre-movie. Rating for some adult themes, but nothing explicit. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: As usual, I own nothing and no one.
Author's Note: It had occurred to me that despite my almost exhaustive exploration of these two characters, I've never really done an in-depth look at the beginnings of their relationship. But considering that I have done a couple of oneshots on the topic and that I mention it almost religiously in every other fic with them, I feared I might essentially end up repeating myself. And who wants to read that? So I've given it a little twist, for better or for worse, just to change things up a little. I admit, this one is quite a bit darker than most of my other Achilles/Patroclus fics, but hopefully it'll still come together happily in the end. Enjoy!
The spoils of war were the spoils of war in any culture, and Achilles son of Peleus was not one to experience guilt over claiming them. Yet today it almost felt wrong, somehow, taking these spoils – moderate valuables and even basic commodities that had once belonged to other Greeks. But there was no option of returning the goods to their original owners now, for those people were all dead. This way, at least, the spoils would remain in Greek hands.
Not that the Greeks were immune to fighting amongst themselves, of course. Only by the persistent, determined efforts of Agamemnon, the High King of Mycenae, had some semblance of order been established in recent years among the independent city states. Achilles himself had little love for Agamemnon, but he had to admit however grudgingly that the idea of unity was sound from both a political and military standpoint.
After all, it wasn't his own lands in Phthia that had been attacked; yet with more efficient communication, it was Achilles and his fearsome Myrmidons that had been called upon to repel these raiders from the North. Macedonians, most likely, who had dipped south into the Greek farmlands to murder and plunder while encountering little or no opposition.
Word must have reached them that the Lion of the Myrmidons was on their trail, however, for they had abruptly turned back northward and attempted to make a harried escape back to the hills of their own country. But they were not fast enough. After nearly a week of hard riding, Achilles and his soldiers had caught up to the marauders and slaughtered them to the last man. Now there was the ensuing business of going through their camp to reclaim anything that could yet be salvaged.
While his men went about their own enterprises, Achilles' attention was drawn to one tent that had been set up slightly apart from the others. The dwelling of a leader, perhaps? Yet the warrior knew immediately upon entering that this tent had been reserved for other purposes altogether. The smell and the stifling closeness of the air were evidence enough to ensure his own conviction, but there near the rear of the shelter was irrefutable proof.
In a far corner of the darkened hut, a pitiful figure lay huddled against the back wall. It was a young man, stripped naked and painfully bound by his hands and feet; he couldn't have been more than fifteen or sixteen years old. Although the child appeared to have a naturally slim build, he was now alarmingly thin from malnutrition. The other signs of abuse were more glaringly obvious, and most of them spoke of such sickening treatment that even a battle-hardened warrior like Achilles would rather not contemplate the details.
Of course, the boy was probably dead by now, as it seemed highly unlikely that he could have survived such an ordeal. Achilles' heart went out in sympathy toward the defenseless prisoner, and he found himself wishing that he could have arrived here earlier, in time to spare this child even a small fraction of his suffering. Or, if nothing else, it was a shame he had not witnessed this scene prior to the battle, so that he might have purposely inflicted even greater pain on the boy's tormentors as just recompense.
But feeling curious and uncommonly optimistic nonetheless, the Greek warlord cautiously stepped forward and knelt to lay his fingers across the captive's throat, searching against hope for a pulse. He was rewarded with far more than that, though, for the youth flinched and even moaned softly at his touch. Alive after all, then!
Achilles grinned and hastily severed the bonds that held the boy's limbs fast, but then suddenly he hesitated. Nursing an abused prisoner back to health would require vast amounts of time, yet there were many other pressing matters that required his attention now as well, including the wellbeing of his own faithful soldiers. Perhaps even a personal interest such as this could still be delegated, as long as it was given to the proper person.
He stepped back out into the piercing sunlight, eyes searching for his trusted second-in-command; and there he found him, chatting and smiling with a few of the other men after their victory.
"Eudorus!" Achilles called. "Come with me; I have a favor to ask of you."
The black-haired Myrmidon nodded and immediately obeyed the summons, but he was admittedly perplexed by his commander's choice of words. Normally with Achilles, a "favor" was no different than any other order. Why should he see fit now to specify between the two? He found himself being led to a tent on the far side of the camp and followed his lord inside. Once he had blinked a few times to let his eyes adjust to the dim light, Eudorus understood completely why he had been brought there.
"He is alive," Achilles supplied in answer without waiting to be asked.
Surprised, Eudorus walked over and dropped to his haunches beside the captive to examine him in turn. "He must be a Greek – a prisoner taken from one of the villages they sacked. I had not expected to find any survivors, especially not here in their camp."
"Nor did I," his commander concurred gravely. "Apparently he was of greater use to them if they kept him alive – even if just barely. I want you to begin caring for him as best you can, Eudorus, and I will check back here later. Don't question him without me, if it can be helped."
A loyal bow answered him, and with that Achilles withdrew, entrusting the frail prisoner to his captain.
His charge must have been even more aware of his surroundings than expected, for as soon as Eudorus attempted to move him, the boy involuntarily began to tremble and weep; but he did not resist. Either he lacked the willpower or the physical strength to do so – perhaps even both. The Myrmidon made a few half-hearted attempts to soothe him, realizing all along that his words were only falling on deaf ears. Finally, he wrapped the youth in a blanket before scooping him up and moving him to one of several fur beds within the shelter. Considering the captive's height, he felt dangerously light-weight.
Much to Eudorus' exasperation, the boy did not quiet when he was laid down again, but rather began to moan and pull his face away from his guardian's inquiring fingers. The Myrmidon sighed, already frustrated with how this situation was playing out. Naturally he felt sorry for the child, but his patience as a primary caregiver was beginning to wear thin. Leaving the boy there for a moment, he went to fetch some healing supplies and boiled a small pot of herbs so the youth could inhale the vapors. That remedy finally helped to settle and calm him so that Eudorus could go about his work.
The warrior took a quick evaluation of the boy's injuries – at least, those that he could see on the outside, for surely there was also more damage internally that remained hidden from his sight. He immediately observed a great number of welts, bruises, and even evidence of marks from teeth that made the older Greek's stomach turn. To make matters worse, the boy's captors had cruelly scorched the soles of his feet – as if everything else they'd done to him wouldn't have been enough to prevent his escape.
Eudorus silently thanked the gods that the youth was unconscious while his injuries were cleansed and dressed. Those raw burns in particular would have been excruciating, and doubtless they would continue to pain him for quite some time. Suspecting that it was also these festering burns which encouraged the fever he felt on the boy's brow, Eudorus lifted the captive's head and forced some cool water down his throat.
The Myrmidon captain also seized this opportunity while it was available to clean the child up in general, which was no small task considering his abused and neglected state. And surely he would not be so calm and compliant once he woke.
As he worked, Eudorus was also taken aback to notice just how strikingly this young man resembled Achilles, for not many Greeks could boast the same fair coloring of his lord and master. Were it not for the considerable age gap between them, the two could practically be mistaken for brothers or cousins. Most likely it was this unique aspect of the boy's appearance which had persuaded his captors to keep him living for their enjoyment, at least for a time.
Achilles himself returned to the tent some hours later, shortly before sunset. His first glance upon entering was for the boy, who by now was lost in a deep slumber; only then did he turn to his comrade, asking, "Will he recover?"
Eudorus nodded slowly. "He is young and was likely strong when they first took him. I believe he will recover as long as he retains the will to do so."
Achilles appeared noticeably relieved. "Thank you, my friend. It will be dark soon; why don't you take some food and then pass the night in here with us as well?"
"Very well, my lord, I shall. But how long do you intend to stay here?"
"The brigands were kind enough to leave this camp set up for us, and so it would seem a shame to waste it. I expect we will remain here at least two or three days before leaving – a bit of time for the men to rest and for him to recover." He nodded briefly in the direction of the unconscious prisoner.
"Do you mean to take him with us, then?"
Achilles shrugged. "I don't know what else is to be done; he'll die if we leave him."
"He still won't be able to walk by then," Eudorus informed his commander, grimacing. "There is only so much we can do right now."
"We'll manage. He can ride with me, but I fear that in and of itself will be painful enough."
"How long do you suppose he was with them? Based on when we first learned of the attacks, he couldn't have been their prisoner for any more than two weeks."
"I would guess only one week at the most," Achilles conjectured. "But it was obviously long enough."
"He does look an awful lot like you, my lord," Eudorus noted with smile. "Is that why you've taken such an interest in him?"
"Partly, I suppose, but there is more to it than that. I can't explain it, Eudorus, but I feel as though this boy is bound to me, and I to him. Perhaps because he is in such desperate need of protecting, whereas it would do me good to have someone to protect."
Eudorus had no response for that, as it was certainly a far more meaningful answer than he had expected to receive.
Patroclus woke to find his circumstances had not changed much. He was still here in this same dark, hateful tent, but at least he was temporarily free of his bonds and had been granted the rare luxury of a blanket. What could have possibly prompted such 'generosity' on the part of his captors?
He shivered and reflexively curled up tighter on himself, pulling the blanket closer around his shoulders as he did so. Yet he fought to betray as little movement as possible, fearing what new terrors may come with the discovery of his conscious state. He was dreadfully sore, as usual, but at least the pain today felt no worse than he could last remember.
Cracks of sunlight filtering in on the far side of the tent indicated that it was already morning, but surely he couldn't have slept through the entire night? He couldn't even remember the last time he'd been permitted to do that.
There was only one other person in the tent with him now, and the young Greek did not recognize him. The man's dark hair and sun-browned skin were common enough, but surely Patroclus would have remembered such pale and piercing eyes – like two shards of sharp blue ice which contributed greatly to the overall fierceness of the man's appearance. A true warrior, beyond any doubt.
Yet when the stranger finally noticed that Patroclus was awake and caught the youth's eye with his own, he offered a friendly smile of greeting.
So it was morning, then.
Patroclus froze at his words, though, having absolutely no trust for the man's smile, and the youth wished desperately that he could somehow shrink under the blanket and disappear. But as it was, he scarcely had the strength to even move. He was caught, as always, and his heart started beating like a war drum inside his chest when he saw the stranger rise and step toward him.
As soon as Eudorus stood, the boy's blue eyes went wide with fear and utter helplessness, silently begging for him to stop – to come no closer and cause no further pain. But they obviously did not expect him to obey. How well Eudorus knew that look; he had seen it many times among abused captives before. The Myrmidon halted and dropped to his knees several feet in front of the boy, ensuring that he was in plain sight.
"It's all right." His voice was low and steady, as though he was trying to soothe a skittish kitten. "My name is Eudorus, and I am a Greek from Phthia. I promise, the men who hurt you are dead now; we killed them all yesterday. What is your name?"
The youth only frowned at that, for certainly none of his previous captors would have bothered with such a question. When there was no answer, Eudorus was briefly tempted to press him, but thought better of it. It was too early to expect much cooperation from the prisoner. And besides, hadn't Achilles wanted to be here when the child was questioned?
The boy shifted where he lay, wincing in pain from the movement, and then he abruptly glanced down at his feet as though noticing them for the first time.
"You're welcome," Eudorus stated evenly when he saw that his charge had finally taken note of the bandages. "Those burns on your feet are clean now, but the skin is raw, and several of the blisters were already broken. You will require careful attention there for some time yet."
The child was staring back at him now, obviously confused. Eudorus stood again, retrieved some water, and came back over toward the boy, much closer this time.
"You are dehydrated and feverish, child. You must drink to fight off the infection from your wounds."
But the boy stubbornly closed his mouth and shied away. Why should he be so resistant even to water? Perhaps he expected that anything being presented to him would have been drugged first. Eudorus took a long sip of the water himself, making sure the boy was watching him, before offering the cup again.
"You must be very thirsty."
The demonstration must have been convincing enough, for the child opened his lips this time and drank greedily until the cup was dry.
When that was done, Eudorus remained kneeling in front of the boy and slowly pulled the blanket back partway down to his hips. The youth shivered, and Eudorus could hear his rate of breathing increase dramatically. But there was still no fight, not even any pleading; just the sound of soft weeping as the child anticipated the worst.
"Easy. I don't want to hurt you."
But it would be difficult for Eudorus to avoid hurting the prisoner if he wished to accomplish his desired task. It was painfully obvious what the boy had endured up until yesterday, but Eudorus still wanted to gauge for himself just how severe the internal damage was. He reached down beneath the blanket and very gently applied pressure to the lower part of the stomach. The boy immediately groaned out, not in fear this time, but in actual pain. The older man moved his touch around a bit, always evoking the same response.
This was bad. Eudorus let his hand linger there a moment, actually feeling for the first time how frightfully skinny the youth was. His mobility would be very limited, and they would have to start him slowly on a simple diet of broth and soups. It would be a long and unpleasant recovery.
"You should try to relax," he told the boy grimly while covering him up again. "You're not doing yourself any favors by staying tense like that. I'll get you some food, as well."
The Myrmidon rose and turned his back to the youth, but the surprise of words being spoken from behind made him halt.
"What do you want with me?"
Eudorus looked back at his charge, secretly grateful that the boy had at last found sufficient courage to speak.
"Right now, I want only for you to rest and begin to recover," he replied.
Those deep blue eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Why?"
Eudorus sighed and answered truthfully, "Because those are my lord's orders."
Though his face was yet childish, the course of nature had already lowered the boy's voice into a deeper register; he was also very hoarse, probably from long nights of screaming.
But what more was to be done to pacify him? It seemed all Eudorus had to do was move, and it would send the child into a veritable panic. Perhaps he would simply have to panic for a while until he learned for himself that he was in no danger; well, at least in no great danger. For truth be told, Eudorus still had no idea what Achilles' personal plans were for the rescued captive, but surely it couldn't be anything too terrible if he wished to have the boy cared for like this. Only time would tell for certain.