Sorry it's taken me a while to update, been on holiday abroad. Bit of an interlude from the Ach/Pat relationship in this chapter (sorry) with the introduction of a new character, cue the excitement, and we get to see a bit of what Patroclus is really made of.
soso22 - That was my main aim with that chapter (besides an excuse for bath smut) so I'm glad that got across! Achilles is really just your standard teenage misfit, no one gets him and he's lonely. Of course that doesn't excuse his jerkishness but hopefully you can kind of see why he is like he is. Thank you and thanks so much for sticking with this!
Guest - Thanks I'm trying to build it up as realistically as possible but it's tricky without making it boring so it's good to know I'm doing ok! Thanks so much for reading and reviewing (and I'll let you in on a secret, so do I)
Elura The Strange - Haha I'm so glad! There aren't nearly enough Ach/Pat stories on the internet (I should know I've read just about all of them) so I thought I'd go ahead. Thanks for reviewing, I promise I will continue as long as I have readers!
sunamikei - Ok looks like I'm going to be taking up half the chapter replying to this review! :D Firstly can I just say thank you so SO much for your continued support with this fic and for taking the time to review and critique my work, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it. Just knowing that people are READING this at least makes me pathetically happy with myself.
*Leptine is my substitute for Mount Pelion. I can't be bothered to go into the whole Chiron tutoring thing she is how I get in Patroclus' herb genius. I do find his whole ability with medicine and lore really interesting because it gives him a skill Achilles doesn't have.
*I used the phrase invitation because he didn't ask him to be attendant directly, he had to work that out himself (with Leptine's help) but you're right, it was kind of weirdly phrased. Also yes, he did just call him a pretty girl.
*Yeah, I kind of wanted it to sound like it was coming out of nowhere. Like he just got this sudden thought leaping out at him which he doesn't understand. Although I get it sounds kind of weird for a reader. As for everything afterwards, I tried to make it as sensual as possible without making it weird or too sudden. Glad you approved!
Ok. I'm done. You can read now.
Just a dream, it means nothing.
But what if it doesn't?
A remnant of last night's weirdness. Nothing more.
But what if it it's not?
"Patroclus?" whipped Leptine and Patroclus started. "Are you here?"
"Yes," Patroclus answered automatically. "Yes I am here, I am here and I am listening."
"Oh really?" Leptine raised an eyebrow, her hands on her hips. "What did I just say?"
"Err…" Patroclus fumbled in his memory for a plausible answer, his eyes settling on the plants strewn across the table. "You said you had to steam the root…and….err….wear it…around your….scrotum?"
Leptine rolled her eyes. "As a lotion," she sighed. "You have to wear it as a lotion."
She dropped the vegetable on the table behind her and turned to face him, her dark eyebrows crooked with concern. "Okay," she began in a tone of voice that meant business. "What's going on with you?"
Patroclus tried to look oblivious and casual at the same time. "Nothing," he shrugged. "Nothing's wrong. I'm fine. Brilliant, in fact. I just…I love herbal roots."
"Patroclus," said Leptine, fixing him with her sternest stare. "If you're going to last long in this place you really need to get better at lying. You 've been distracted all morning and when you're not trying to amputate yourself," her eyes wondered over Patroclus' bandaged finger where a knife had accidentally slipped "you just sit and stare into space. Don't think I haven't noticed. I know it's something to do with last night."
Patroclus shuffled his feet awkwardly, dully aware that it would be easier to tickle a sleeping Cyclops than it would be to hide something from Leptine. That girl spotted everything. "It's nothing," he reassured her. "Just…when I was attending Achilles last night something a bit…weird…happened."
Leptine's frown deepened. "What kind of weird?"
Patroclus mumbled something inaudible. "But hey," he said loudly. "No big deal. I'm sure it happens to everyone."
Leptine looked confused but when it was clear Patroclus didn't want to go into the details she shrugged, silently resolving to find out later. Patroclus resided back into depressive silence. It had been easy to convince himself last night that what had happened in the bathroom was nothing more than natural occurrence. Yes, Achilles had appeared to respond…positively…to his touch and yes, there had been an instant when Patroclus' own response had been just as…positive. But that was natural, what with the ridiculous proximity of their bodies and the pressing, wet, almost stifling heat of the room. It was normal. It was scientific. And as Patroclus drifted into an uneasy sleep he had half-managed to doubt whether anything had really happened at all, and it had all just been a trick of the heat and the fumes.
Then came sleep. As soon as the curtains of his subconscious had fluttered closed the shadows on the world began to take peculiar shape; delicate lines of tendon strung fine as the strings of a bow, skin like polished wood, the rosy softness of thigh, the curve of a neck. Through snatches of disconnected images the looms of Patroclus' mind wove for him a tapestry of pink warmth and wet breaths, long and laboured and pressing on the walls of his skull until he woke up, cold with sweat and staring in horror at the patch of dark dampening the mattress between his legs.
He had said not a word that morning, only scraped his sheets into a hurried bundle and dropped them in a bucket of cold water before anyone had a chance to question him. Then he had done his chores and followed Leptine to the kitchens, nodding at her throughout the lesson and suggesting an "Aha" or "Mm" at frequent interjections, all the while moving on automatic and hardly hearing her words. His mind had vacated him, had made its home in dark rooms and damp mattresses and it wasn't until the knife fell that he realised he had no idea what he was doing.
"I'm sorry!" wailed Patroclus, wrenching himself back to reality. "I'm sorry. I'm listening now. Promise."
Leptine just sighed. "Forget it," she said. "You're obviously not with it today. Why don't we just leave it for now?"
Patroclus nodded thankfully and sank onto a bench, rubbing his temples tiredly with his fingertips. Leptine bustled about the kitchen throwing things into a steaming brew which she handed to Patroclus. He took it with a grateful smile and drank, at once feeling soothed and calm. Leptine perched next to him, sipping daintily from her own cup and for a while they sat there, neither of them saying anything, just drinking and silently understanding the other's need for thought. Patroclus pondered morosely over all that had happened, wondering if Achilles was having similar thoughts and if he'd be avoiding him from now on. For some reason Patroclus found himself hoping he wouldn't. The prince made him angry and miserable and he couldn't remember a time when he had walked away from a conversation without feeling insulted but at least he made him feel something. Achilles was a distraction, a break from the wearisome predictability of life and without his presence it was as though something was missing, some vital ingredient that held Patroclus from the brink of oblivion and stopped him going under when he slipped.
As he mused Patroclus found himself slipping deeper into despondency and was only saved from sheer depression by the sound of the door opening. They looked up to see Loras, a young slave who often acted as messenger, standing before them and looking purposeful.
"I have a message for you," he said, nodding at Patroclus.
Patroclus looked wary. "From who?"
"Ampelius," Loras answered and the two exchanged glances. "He says despite your new social status you are still required for drills and training instruction by the order of King Peleus. You will attend every session with the other foster sons of Phthia before returning here to resume your duties as a slave, starting immediately. He also bid me tell you that even the smallest beetle can draw blood with a bite." He shrugged apologetically. "I think he meant that as a compliment."
"Probably," sighed Patroclus, his heart sinking. "Ok. Thanks, Loras."
Loras closed the door behind him and Patroclus' head fell into his hands. Leptine put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder as he groaned in self-pity. "What have I done?" he wailed, raising his head to glare condemningly at the ceiling. "Tell me what I've done!"
"Don't worry," crooned Leptine reassuringly. "You'll be fine. Their words can't hurt you."
"No, but fists and javelins might," replied Patroclus through gritted teeth. "Suppose I'd better get ready. I'll see you later."
He hurried back to his room and dressed quickly, unwilling to keep Ampelius waiting for any longer than he had to. One of the compensating factors of slave life had been his exemption from activities with the other boys, a fact from which he had drawn some comfort. He had almost danced with glee upon hearing that he would never again have to watch as his spear fell pathetically short of his target, or endure the laughter when he misplaced his footing and had to flail to avoid landing on his sword. Now he cursed his naivety and it was with considerable reluctance that he pulled on the starched training chiton and headed down the corridor that would take him outside and onto the fields.
The group was already lined up when he arrived. Deiomachus nodded at him when he approached but the others either laughed or sneered, hammering him with names as he took his place in the line.
"Hey Menoitides, how are you liking your new room?"
"Hey Menoitides, when was the last time you took a bath?"
"Hey Menoitides, I need you to service an itch on my-"
"-Hey Menoitides," called a voice and Patroclus turned around.
A boy was walking towards him. He was big, at least a head taller than Patroclus and built like a bull, all power and muscle with a neck as wide as his torso. His shoulders were so large it seemed to take extra effort to propel his body forward and by comparison his head seemed small, although his jaw was square and blunt enough to split rock. His hair was bright red and curly, his eyes clear and blue and were it not for the cruel twist of his slack mouth and the threatening glee in his eyes he might have been handsome. Instead, he simply had the look of an oversized teenage psychopath.
He stopped short of Patroclus who felt as though a lead thing had been dropped on his gut with each step he took. "Mynax," he said and the boy grinned.
"Thrown you out, have they?" he asked.
"No," replied Patroclus, who couldn't think of anything better to say.
"They've thrown him out," Mynax announced, turning to address the group. "Prince Patroclus was thrown out by slaves."
"I'm still a slave," Patroclus stated dully.
It was the wrong thing to say. Mynax's eyes lit up with unsuppressed glee. "Prince Patroclus is adjusting to his new position," he exclaimed. "And why shouldn't he be? It suits him so well." And before Patroclus could retort, Mynax seized him by the back of his head and yanked it so that his neck snapped back and he cried out in shock and pain. Mynax brought his face close to Patroclus' and when he spoke he could feel flecks of spit peppering his cheek. "One might even say he was born to it," he hissed. "You were born to suck my cock Prince Patroclus-"
"-NEKROITIDES," came Ampelius' distinctive roar. "What are you doing with that boy?"
"Nothing sir," replied Mynax, releasing Patroclus at once and blinking innocently. "Just messing."
Ampelius squinted so that his black eyes looked like tiny beetles. "Patroclus? Is that you? You look peaky. Are they letting you out enough? Get enough to eat?"
"Yes sir," mumbled Patroclus as the other boys tittered, as if Ampelius was talking to a badly-behaved pet.
"Hmm," frowned Ampelius doubtfully. "Well, summon whatever strength's left in you, lad. You'll need it today. Leonides, get the javelins. Let's see how much our cellar prince remembers."
It was a torturous session. It soon transpired that Mynax and his friends, all similarly thuggish, had apparently missed Patroclus while he was away and regarded any moment not spent abusing him as a moment wasted. Whether it was simply sticking a foot out as he passed by or sabotaging every attempt he made with a weapon they would not let up until Patroclus turned to Deiomachus for answers.
"Have I done something?" he implored furiously. "Because Mynax is making it look pretty personal."
"It's Achilles," Deiomachus explained. "Mynax knows he doesn't like you so he's trying to win his approval."
Patroclus stared in disbelief. "Why should Achilles' opinion mean so much to him? He's a prince in his own right."
Deiomachus glanced around discreetly, as if to check if anyone was listening. "I was talking to one of the serving girls," he began, with the air of someone about to divulge a great secret. "Apparently, Peleus wants Achilles to start looking for a hetairoi."
Hetairoi. Blood brother. Companion. Someone to fight by Achilles' side in battle and sit at his right hand during peace. Patroclus nodded in comprehension. Of course Achilles was looking for a hetairoi, and of course, only the best would do. A boy of noble blood and pure, unblemished history, strong enough to carry his own weapons and defend his prince's.
That explains all the fawning, thought Patroclus. Anyone would kill for a place like that. "Well he's wasting his time," he stated out loud. "Achilles hates everyone."
Deiomachus shrugged. "Apparently not everyone."
He pointed. Patroclus followed his gaze to where Achilles was sitting, having finished his own drills, and was laughing at something Mynax had just said. Patroclus stared, an acid bubble of bile rising from his stomach into his throat.
"Great," he said, more bitterly than he'd intended. "I hope they're happy together. They deserve each other, they really do."
Deiomachus looked quizzically at Patroclus. "You feeling okay?"
Patroclus blinked, suddenly aware of the inexplicable feeling of resentment in his gut. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I'm fine."
But he wasn't and as Mynax continued to flatter and fawn, once in a while sending scathing looks his way the resentment continued to bubble like boiling water until finally, when Achilles had returned to his training, Patroclus was feeling decidedly un-fine enough as to challenge Mynax.
He strode up to him boldly, aware of every set of eyes following him and his own sweating palms. Mynax had his back to him and he was surrounded by friends, each one a towering fortress when compared to Patroclus' pitiable averageness. He took a steadying breath, forcing himself not to look at Mynax's rock-like fists and scratched knuckles.
"Hey," he said and when he didn't turn around he said "Hey" again, louder.
The chatter stopped. Mynax turned slowly, like an owl at night. His eyes settled on Patroclus and he grinned, his lips twisting unpleasantly as if it caused him pain. Patroclus straightened his spine and tried to look threatening. "Did you put the cows in the hall?"
Mynax laughed. "What?"
"Did you put the cows in the hall?" Patroclus repeated. "And tell Phoenix it was me?"
Mynax's grin became a grimace. "And if I did?"
Patroclus squared his shoulders. "If you did," he said. "And you are a man, you will say you did."
Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a few people nod appreciatively. Mynax pulled back his upper lip, revealing pointed canines. Like a dog's. "If I did," he said slowly. "I see the point was not taken to heart."
Patroclus frowned. "And what point was that?"
"That some people are born to serve others," said Mynax. "Some people are born to be slaves."
The boys behind him sniggered. Patroclus felt the heat creep into his cheeks but he held his gaze as Mynax began to walk slow, deliberate circles around him, poking viciously at any bare patch of flesh he could reach. "Thin arms," he taunted. "Weak knees. Little back. And the face," here he paused, just centimetres away. Patroclus could feel his breath on his skin and prepared himself for the insult. But it never came. Instead, Mynax pulled back his hand brought it sharply across his cheek.
Patroclus staggered backwards. He could feel the mark burning scarlet, heard the sharp intakes of breath from left and right. Through watery eyes he saw Mynax looking triumphant, his features wrought in perverse pleasure as his friends whistled and clapped, bursting with barely contained anticipation. "By the way," he was saying. "I also drew a dick on your tunic."
His skin stung. His eyes sprang salt and he blinked hard, his head swimming as the world spun before him. This was it. No man could sit idle and take such humiliation. Patroclus had to act and fast. He had no other option.
He stepped forward and hit him.
As his knuckles met the side of Mynax's face he became aware that this probably wouldn't hurt him as much as he'd meant it to. He had meant to get him in the nose but he'd turned his head at precisely the wrong moment and the punch was disappointingly softened by the flesh of his cheek. Still Mynax stumbled and when he stepped back Patroclus was pleased to see a matching bruise already beginning to blossom.
"You little bitch," he spat, his eyes burning yellow-white with fury. "You fucking little cunt."
He launched at him with his whole body, fourteen stones of iron-hard muscle and Patroclus, who could barely process what was happening, had no time to sidestep and caught the whole of it, like a torpedo, in his gut. His head slammed against the ground and tiny silver spots popped up with the impact, he blinked and the next thing he knew Mynax was on him, pinning his wrists down with the strength of ten giants, his knees clamped atop his chest.
"Get off," Patroclus hissed. "You fat fuck, get off."
Instead Mynax tightened his hold, laughing manically so that flecks of saliva flew into his face and Patroclus screamed with the pure injustice of it all.
Then, suddenly, Mynax's face began to change. His jaw thinned, his cheekbones slackened until Patroclus was no longer looking into his face but into that of Clysonymus', his eyes bloodless and unseeing, his chiton torn and running crimson. And Patroclus screamed again, wrenching his wrists from the dead boy's clammy grasp and twisting until he had him by the shoulders.
With tremendous effort he seized the boy's sides as if they were handles and pushed him down. His hands flew out, grabbing Patroclus by the ankles and he floundered, losing balance but instead of hitting the floor he shifted his weight, collapsing into his assailant's torso. As he thrashed, kicked, punched and wrestled he realised suddenly that this was all too familiar, that his hands would become sticky with blood and the solid body beneath him would turn limp with a snap, like the break of a twig.
Then the face changed again and Mynax was staring up at him, eyes wide with astonishment as Patroclus threw him down, twisting his legs behind him so that he could not get up. Around them a crowd had gathered and voices were shouting encouragement, shrill and barbarous like chattering monkeys as the two boys wrestled in the circle. And when Mynax finally gasped "Stop" and Patroclus stood up the cheer was so loud birds took flight into the summer air, anxious to escape the shrieks of wild animals.
And now someone was patting him on the back, another on his shoulder and Deiomachus was yelling "I told you he could do some things!" but it was one face he looked for, a silver that stood out from between the trees.
Achilles was watching, his head tilted to the side as if trying hard to work something out. Then Ampelius called "PATROCLUS" and he was gone and Mynax was telling him he would kill him, you ugly piece of shit, if it was the last thing he'd ever do.