I've had the need to write an Achilles x Patroclus fanfiction for sometime now, whether as a means to get back into writing after a very long hiatus or simply to satisfy my own indulgences I don't really know. Either way, this is the first proper piece I've written for about a year so I hope it meets any standards and that you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
Please note: this story is based on the ILIAD rather than on the movie but no one reads anything over there and I'm very selfish. A few details: Patroclus and Achilles are round about the same age and if they are cousins (haven't decided yet) they are very loosely related. This is set prior to the Trojan war when Patroclus is first exiled to Phthia; hopefully it will evolve into a kind of philosophical exploration of their relationship with some cutesy teenage angst thrown in there too for the benefit of us fangirls (embrace it, it's a way of life.)
Also it's ok to laugh, I wrote this mainly for the poops and giggles.
Today was a day of celebration. Wine was poured not from clay but from silver, a heifer had been stalked, speared and roasted and the palace was heavy with the smell of dripping fat, incense, purple and stinging burned in their candle holders and someone had sketched a phallus onto Patroclus' best tunic.
It was difficult, he decided, unless you looked at it from a certain angle, to tell exactly what it was. It had been done very crudely with a stick of kohl and the hand was shaky, as if belonging to a child. But despite this it had remained resistant to all his attempts to wash it or brush it off and he supposed that whoever had done it had gone over it in wax or oil, resulting in a hard, translucent sheen that served both as a protector and an emphasiser. But still, he told himself, it is difficult to tell what it is. It is barely possible, unless you look at it from a certain angle.
In a desperate gesture of reassurance he laid it out on the mattress and surveyed it, arms folded. He tilted his head. He looked at it from a certain angle. Shit.
This, he realised with a pang of regret, was exactly the reason his mother had told him to pack a spare. She had foreseen this, in her uncanny, all-knowing, motherly way. It was evident in the way she kissed him goodbye, the way her eyes shone sad and accepting as clear as if she had said "My poor boy, my poor, poor son. They will tear him to pieces. They will make him meat for their dogs." He supposed he should have wondered when she hugged him so tight he felt his ribs wince and the imploring look she'd sent in his father's direction. And when she'd burst into tears he supposed he should have done more than pat her awkwardly on the back and assure her that despite what his father said he had never once considered himself a "sitting target," although this was partly due to the fact that running had been second nature to him since the invention of the sling shot.
He crossed over to the heavy wooden chest and rummaged through his belongings, sending tunic after tunic flying for the mattress; Too little…too much…too Thracian, too embroidered...too bloody orange…and he wondered, perhaps if his this had been intentional, if Menoetius had purposefully neglected to waste fine things on the son who had brought him nothing but shame since day one. The thought was an unwelcome one and Patroclus dismissed it quickly as his fists curled around something of fine, woven material. With considerable relief he yanked the tunic over his head and turned to look in the mirror.
A pale, skinny young man looked back at him, big dark eyes set into a nervous thin face that was all apprehension and insecurity, the kind of face, Patroclus noted grimly, that his father would have described as "punchable." He held his arms awkwardly by his sides as if he didn't know quite what to do with them, self-consciously aware of the pinched, gangling look of someone who had grown a lot in a short space of time. The tunic hung off his frame like something dead, and he saw, with an increasing sense of despair, that it was purple.
Purple was rich and deep and looked like the touch of velvet. Purple was a gesture of wealth, status and high society. Purple was reserved especially for kings; kings, heroes and their sons.
Purple was so not his colour.
Instead of showing him off as regal and impressive the tunic only made him look insipid and washed-out by comparison, highlighting the dark circles from lack of sleep round his eyes and the sharp angles of his chin and jaw. It hung just above his knees, revealing the scabs and scruff of childhood and shamefully skinny legs, like the bones of a sacrificial offering and his arms stuck out at the sides as if they were trying to escape. He supposed his mother had packed it in the hope that he would wear it with pride, that it would give him confidence and standing among the other boys. Instead he just felt faintly sick.
But it was the next best thing he had, the only thing worthy of a king's reception. So with a sigh he turned away from the mirror and, casting a mournful look at the abandoned tunic, left the room.
As his feet made slap-slapping sounds against the grey tile he knew that if he was going to be honest with himself, he really wasn't that surprised. He'd noticed the other boys sizing him up as soon as he'd walked in; caught every suppressed smirk, discreet nudge and whispered taunt as he took his place in the long line of royal castoffs, the blood beating against his ears as he tried valiantly to blot out the hushed hum of "murderer" from behind him and within. If he had been bigger, more imposing, they'd have stayed out of his way; maybe even looked at him with a little admiration. But looking like he did and being, generally, a pretty nice person he had only let down their expectations and thus served as another massive disappointment.
He entered the hall cautiously, taking care not to look at anyone directly. Of course they looked up when he walked in, grinning vulgarly to each other and making crude gestures; he felt his cheeks warm but said nothing and took his place quietly in the line.
The boy in front of him, Deiomachus, turned to give him the once-over. "You're wearing purple."
"Well noticed," said Patroclus, craning his neck to see what was happening at the front.
"I thought you were wearing the other one? The green?"
"Yeah well, so did I," he replied through gritted teeth.
Deiomachus frowned. "So what happened?"
"Erm," he bit his lip. "Well…don't say anything, no big deal, what's a joke between friends…but someone drew something kind of…phallic…on the back."
"By kind of phallic you mean…?"
"Well, um, a phallus, actually."
It was with great restrain that Deiomachus held back a hoot of wild laughter, possibly stifled by the arrival of the King and his two armed guards. "Someone drew a dick on your shirt?"
"Hey keep it down alright? I'm sure they didn't mean any harm-"
"-Right," the boy smirked. "Sure. You know you can report this?"
"And let my new father know I've been targeted for abuse on my first day, no thank you," Patroclus muttered. "Gods, what's taking them so long?"
King Peleus, it appeared was no longer quite the man he had been thirty years ago. He was lowered rather than sat into his chair and his knees gave a loud click that echoed across the hall. It was hard to imagine, thought Patroclus, that this man had sailed with Jason, shaken hands with Hercules and been given a goddess for a wife.
Once seated he folded his hands in his lap and surveyed the boys with polite curiosity, rheumy but bright eyes tracing each face one by one. As they fell on him Patroclus attempted to stand a little straighter but they passed him quickly, indifferent to the entirely unremarkable. He felt his shoulders sag.
"Welcome," he greeted in a voice that was surprisingly carrying, not at all like the expected rasp of an old man. "Long has it been since such promising young men as yourselves have stood in my halls, a credit each of you to the fathers that brought you here. I trust that you will all do your very best to uphold the name of your house and abide by our customs, for remember that this is now your country and I am now your king. Shame and disgrace are foreign words to our tongue and I look forward to the day when it can be said that you have repaid my generosity with honour and duty."
He paused to bless them with a friendly, fatherly smile and the boys understood that he was waiting for an expression of gratitude. A murmur of thanks rippled across the hall until, satisfied, Peleus quietened them with a slight raise of his withered hand. "Phthia rejoices the receiving of its new sons," he declared warmly. "May you give her just cause."
He leant back as if exhausted by the speech and gestured for a man to his right who held a piece of linen in his hands. Immediately he cleared his throat and began to read off names. "Eukleides."
A tall boy with a lolloping gait strode up to where the king sat and knelt. There was an exchange of words, too far away for Patroclus to hear, then Peleus touched the boy's forehead lightly and he re-joined the group.
One by one another followed suit until the number of the unblessed dwindled, leaving Patroclus one of the last waiting anxiously. Some of the names he recognised and knew that these were the sons of kings and famous men. So what? he thought angrily. I too am a prince. I have as much of a right to be here as anyone.
And more than most, said a nasty little voice at the back of his head. He ignored it and tried to focus on what was going on but the gloom of the hall was bringing back unwanted memories; snatches of high ceilings and arched doorways, wooden benches scraping the stone floor as they were arranged for a trial, the look on his father's face as he knelt in supplication, his mother crying softly into her shawl, the dead boy's parents screaming profanity after profanity until the sudden slam of a door yanked him out of his reverie and he spun round to glimpse the source of the disruption.
A boy stood in the doorway.
He was lean and slim as one of the young trees that grew wild on the beaches of Patroclus' home country, of average height but somehow he seemed taller. His limbs were a light brown from the sun, like polished sandalwood and the strength in them was obvious yet without the crude bulk of a brute. Instead he was delicately muscled, slender yet wiry with a face as fine featured as a girl's and framed by a dazzling shock of golden hair.
He strode through the hall, casual as a gust of wind and knelt at the king's feet without sparing a look behind him. As he passed Patroclus thought he caught the dry salt smell of the sea. "Apologies for my lateness, Father," he said. "I lost track of the time."
"Rise, my son," said Peleus with a smile. "And take your place beside me." He patted the seat next to his own and the boy sat, one foot dangling over the edge with a sort of casual elegance. "Here I present my son," spoke Peleus to the group, voice filled with a pride Patroclus hadn't even thought possible. "The prince: Achilles."
"Hail, Achilles," chorused the boys dutifully. The prince didn't even bother acknowledge them, only inclined his chin slightly to show that he had heard and instead focused his energy on flicking the dirt from beneath his nails. Inexplicably, Patroclus felt a surge of instant dislike and was still glowering at him when the scribe called out Menoitides.
"Menoitides?" he called again. "Is the son of Menoeitus present?" and Patroclus realised with an unpleasant shock that he had been so busy disliking Achilles that he had missed his name. "Here my lord," he managed to stutter and hurried forward to the patch of stone floor where the others had knelt. But in his rush he stumbled and with a cry was sent sprawling to the ground with an ungainly thud.
Achilles was the first to laugh. His mouth opened pink and wide as a cat's and his head fell back against his chair as he began to shake uncontrollably. His reaction was quickly copied by the boys behind him and soon the whole hall was filled with the sound of wild laughter, even the guards clutched their ribs and wiped tears from their eyes as Patroclus stood, cheeks burning, and turned his face towards the heavens.
Dear Zeus, he prayed, trying desperately to look anywhere but in front if him, if you have ever loved me, even in that sick and twisted way of yours, do me a favour. Kill me now, and make it quick.
He had no such luck. After what felt like an age Peleus raised his hand again, his leathery old features twisted with repressed amusement, and beckoned him closer. Patroclus shuffled forward a few steps, keeping his eyes fixed on the old king rather than straying to his right.
"You are Patroclus, son of Menoeitus?"
"I am, my lord," Patroclus replied with as much dignity as it was possible to muster under the circumstances.
Peleus nodded, suddenly serious. "I have heard your story, young man," he said with a frown. "You are here today because, as your father tells me, you have been exiled from your home. This is so?"
"Yes my lord."
"And that you killed a boy, no older than yourself."
"Yes my lord."
"Over a game of dice, no less."
"Yes my lord."
Peleus raised a thinning eyebrow. "And you are aware of your sin?"
For Gods' sake. Yes, I killed a kid, yes I know I've earned myself a one way ticket to Tartarus, yes I'm pretty bloody upset about it. He struggled to regain composure over his face as he replied "Yes my lord. Very aware."
"I should think so. Gambling is a very serious crime and I will not tolerate it as long as you are under my roof. Is that clear?"
Patroclus stared in disbelief, searching the old king's face for signs of jest. There were none. So he cleared his throat and replied automatically "Yes my lord. Very clear."
"Good," said the king approvingly, reaching to touch Patroclus' brow in blessing. "Rise, Patroclus, and be welcome. You may still yet make a good man."
He supposed he's meant it as a reassurance but as he got to his feet and concealed himself at the very back of the line Patroclus had the unsettling feeling that he had been cursed rather than blessed. Certainly that was the impression he got upon catching sight of Achilles' still smirking face and the snickering green eyes that had never left him. He felt the heat rise to his cheeks and he stared fixedly at the floor in an attempt to block out the scornful mutterings of the other boys, anger and shame bubbling acidly in his stomach. Please Lord Zeus, he found himself begging, please let it be over soon.
Finally Androclides re-joined the assembly and the scribe folded the linen back into his tunic. With a wave of Peleus' wrist the boys dispersed and were seated at long oaken tables laden with meat, fish, bread, fruit and wine; watered almost to impotency and sharp tasting to Patroclus who was used to the sun-sweet grapes of the south. He sat at the end, far away from the others who had scurried to avoid him like a bad omen, and stared down at his plate for some sign of deliverance, for an indication that some God up there had not yet forsaken him. None came and the bread stuck in his throat when he swallowed.
A movement from the top of the dais made him look up and he noticed Achilles slipping from his seat to join the boys at the far end. Patroclus was surprised, he had assumed that the boy prince had his own private quarters and would be reluctant to mix with the cast-offs and strays of less important families. The others, it seemed, had made the same assumption for they leapt up at once, tripping over each other to make room and pulling their plates round so that the prince had all the space he needed to spread his stately bread with stately honey and flick his noble princely hair out of his noble princely eyes. Patroclus watched him, distaste increasing with every chew, bite and swallow.
"Huh?" he swivelled round to meet the grinning face of Leonides, gesturing towards his lap.
"You saving that for later?" he asked.
Patroclus glanced down and felt a sinking feeling in his gut. Somebody it appeared had upturned a wine bowl and its contents was dribbling steadily onto Pactroclus' tunic, staining the rich wool inky dark. The upper end of the table guffawed and Achilles' perfect features twisted into a leerish grin until Patroclus' face burned hot and red as a burning spit.
Purple, he concluded, staring down at his dampened lap, was really not his colour.