He jumped down from the bannister, holding back a laugh as the sound of footsteps pounded against the castle floors. He hadn’t been caught yet, and there was no way in hell he was letting the cocky-ass Crown Prince catch him so easily.
Patroclus sprinted past the guards at the front door, letting out a loud whoop as the prince yelled for the guards to catch him. The crown he’d stolen -the whole reason for this game of cat and mouse- was tucked away safely in his bag, and with the head-start he had, the guards wouldn’t catch him. Brown curls fell in his face as he scrambled up a tree, hiding in the high branches as the guards passed beneath him, his position in the trees concealed under cover of night.
He rested his head against the tree trunk as he caught his breath, the adrenaline pulsing through his veins making his hands shake as he rode out the excitement high. He pulled the crown out of his bag, turning it in his hands as he studied it. He hadn’t held one since he’d been exiled for an accident (his father had always hated him, though, and was only looking for an excuse to get rid of him), which had been almost ten years ago.
“Pity, it’s such a beautiful crown. I almost feel bad for stealing it.” He scoffed, settling it back in his bag, beside a roll of bandages. He had escaped the castle with minimal injury, thanks to the crown prince being an oblivious and cocky asshole, and not realizing what he was doing until Patroclus was almost out of the room after stealing the crown.
Once the guards passed underneath the tree again, Patroclus waited several heartbeats before carefully climbing down, making his way back to the tent he’d been hiding out in. He’d probably have to consult with one of the thieves’ guilds, find out how much he could get for the crown. Not that they could know who he’d stolen it from, they might turn him in to get a payment, depending on how long it took for the bounty to be sent out.
But that could wait. For now, all he needed was some sleep and a meal. Stale bread and water, the best kind of post-robbery meal. (Note the sarcasm.) He curled up under a blanket on the floor of his tent, a smile present on his lips as he thought about how he’d outsmarted the royal family.
Achilles was livid. How the hell had that street rat gotten into the castle so easily? How had he escaped capture with just as much ease? He tugged at his golden hair, the firelight reflecting it. It was just as much insult to his father’s guards as it was to him. He should’ve seen the scrawny boy when he snuck into his personal chambers, noticed the gangly arms as they reached for the crown his maid had set on the vanity as he had changed into his bedclothes.
“Achilles, calm down. We’ll have that thief caught in no time, and your crown with him.” His father hadn’t been mad, surprisingly enough. Now he was just sitting at the head of the table, eating as if nothing had happened the night prior.
“But he could be selling it right now, and what will come of your reputation —of our reputation— if it gets out that our guards didn’t catch him, that I didn’t even see him until he was leaving the room?” His father looked at him, an eyebrow raised.
“Are you suggesting that we do something else to try and find him? Before news gets out about the crown missing?” Achilles took a minute to think about his father’s question.
“Let me try and track him down on my own, Father. I’m trained just as well as any of your men, if not better. Then we don’t risk anyone letting anything slip.” He left out the fact that the thief had made it personal, the witty comment burning in his mind even hours later.
“What, your highness, shocked to see me? I honestly thought you were too blind to notice me.” He grit his teeth, the boy’s voice ringing through his ears. The sarcasm dripped from his words, and a cocky grin had crossed his lips, the firelight catching on his brown eyes. He’d dashed out the room, a laugh trailing behind him as Achilles attempted to force his limbs to move and follow the boy.
His father sighed, setting his goblet down on the table and steepling his fingers, looking at Achilles over the tips of his fingers. “Do you really think you’ll find him?”
“There’s nothing to suggest the guards will find him any better than I will. At least on my own I’ll be quieter than a group of fully armored guards.” The king seemed persuaded by his argument, though he wasn’t fully on-board with the idea.
“You could get hurt. We don’t know how much of a threat this thief poses to your safety.” Achilles raised an eyebrow, leaning back into his chair.
“If he wanted the royal bloodline dead, he’d have killed me when he snuck in and I didn’t see him. I think he only wants the crown, likely to sell for money.” From the look of him, Achilles wouldn’t have put it past him to have been exiled from a neighbouring kingdom or something of the like.
“I don’t like this, Achilles. You could get hurt by someone else, or worse. Is it really worth it just to get a crown?” Achilles slumped back into his chair, bracing his arms against the table as he attempted to control his anger.
“It’s not about the crown, it’s about the impact it will have on our reputation!” His father’s expression didn’t change, making Achilles purse his lips.
“Achilles, a reputation isn’t worth your life.” Even still, his father looked back and forth from Achilles to the table, and let out yet another sigh. “But I suppose I can’t stop you, can I?”
A pause, then he continued. “Please, be careful. I don’t need to lose you over a reputation.”
Achilles’ eyes lit up, his shoulders relaxing with his father’s begrudging approval. “I will be. Thank you, Father.”
The king nodded, but there was something about the look in his eyes that betrayed the hesitant smile that graced his lips. Achilles, having lost his appetite in his eagerness to catch the crown’s thief, excused himself from the dining area to start preparing for his quest to get the crown back. The king pushed his plate away from him, propping his elbows on the table and hiding his face in his hands. “That boy is going to be the death of me.”
Slipping into more common clothes, Achilles strapped a sword to his belt, pulling his hair into a ponytail (much like the ones that the women wore) as he paced around the room in his boots, trying to think about what else he’d need to bring.
Patroclus woke with a start, beads of sweat on his forehead as he caught his breath. How long had he been asleep? It was at least noon now, the sun high overhead and the heat so intense it was almost suffocating.
“Oh god, I can’t wait until I have the funds to sleep in an inn, and not this tent on the ground.” He stretched, hearing his back pop as he stretched and attempted to massage out some of the knots in his shoulders -either from sleeping on the hard ground or the high-stress situation he barely escaped from last night- as he made a mental plan of how to get away with the crown and not get caught again.
“For one thing,” he mused in the quiet tent, “a wash-up is probably in order. The king will have guards looking for me, but at least I have a better chance of getting away if I don’t look exactly like I did last night.”
So he did. He left the tent and went to the nearby stream, where some sheep were drinking from it as he cleaned the dirt from his face and arms and drenched his hair. He then took a knife and started cutting the hair, making it shorter than it had been since he was a prince.
As he waited for his hair to dry, he changed his clothes to the last set of fine clothes he still had from his exile, knowing they would be looking for him in his commoner clothes. After he was done, he took a look at himself in the reflection of the crown, and smiled. “I’d like to see them try and find me now. I don’t look much like what the prince saw.”
Hell, had he been able to look more feminine, he would’ve made himself look like a commoner woman, but unfortunately he was built like the bricks that the castle was made of, so there was a very slim chance that he would pass for a woman.
There were many other things he wished he could do to change his appearance, and very little he could actually do to change it. What he’d already done would have to be enough. Packing up what he could carry, he left the tent in the woods, making a mental note to come back later to grab what he’d had to leave.
As he slipped into a crowd when he got to the center of town, he caught hushed whispers from some of the people in the crowd. The prince hadn’t been seen all day, and the king said he’d left on a diplomacy matter. More like he’s embarrassed and trying to save face for his bloodline. Whatever, at least I don’t have to worry about accidentally running into him here.
He made his way to the tavern, sitting down at the bar and giving the barmaid a warm smile. Briseis was an old friend, someone he considered close to a sister, not that he’d ever actually gotten to know his siblings, but his affections were the same nonetheless. “You look like you’ve been busy, Chironides. What have you been up to?”
He shrugged, patting his bag. “You know, doing my job. Any news for me, Brie?” She looked at the other patrons in the tavern, her eyes settling on a blonde woman about the same age as them, her eyes trained on the pair. She had a sword strapped around her waist, and her hair was in a low braid.
“Outside of the new customer, whom I’ve never seen? No.” Patroclus hummed, letting his eyes travel over the new woman. She was beautiful, he had to give her that. Almost as beautiful as the prince, although hopefully much less cocky. He smiled at her when they made eye contact, giving a soft wave. Her cheeks flushed red, and she averted her eyes, ducking her head down.
“She doesn’t seem so bad,” He murmured, turning back to Briseis. She was watching him with an arched brow, a smirk playing on her lips. “What?”
“Nothing, Chironides. In any case, does that mean you’ll be heading down to the docks today?” He nodded. She knew what he’d been planning, and they’d agreed to call the thieves’ guild the docks any time they were in public, just in case.
“Yeah. I need to help them out with some transportation of goods, so I’ll probably be down there all day. Do you need me to pick something up for you, Brie?” She shook her head, wiping down the bar counter. “Alright. I’ll be heading out then. I’ll see you around, Brie.”
Patroclus pat the bar as he left, whistling a tune to himself as he started for the thieves’ guild, their local one, at least.
Achilles watched the man leave the tavern, his hair shorter than it had been the night prior, but it was most certainly the thief he was here for. He tugged on the end of his braid, which his servant had done when he’d come up with the idea of disguising himself as a commoner woman, before putting gold on the table and leaving the tavern, pursuing the man who’d stolen his crown.
Cursed skirts, why must you limit my movement so much? He sighed, hiking up his skirts only high enough to walk a moment’s pace away from the scrawny boy who’d stolen his dignity. He turned down an alley, seeing ‘Chironides’ climb into a sewer grate.
After a moment, and wrinkling his nose, Achilles followed him down into the sewers, holding back a groan of disgust as he stepped through the sewage. The thief took a sharp turn, and for a moment, Achilles was worried that he’d been caught, but the other man paid him no attention, continuing wherever he was headed.
Voices were echoing from further down in the sewers, and Achilles held his breath as he followed behind ‘Chironides’, and the crown. This is my last chance. I need to get the crown back before he gets to his location.
“You know, you’re going to lose me if you choose to stay behind that corner.” Shit. He’d been caught. The man was leaning against the wall, a sly smirk on his lips as he watched Achilles hiding behind the corner he’d just turned.
“I, uh, I can explain…” He laughed, shaking his head. Is it illegal for a laugh to be that lovely? Wait, stop, no.
“No need. I assumed you’d follow me here, after all, you don’t seem to be from around the kingdom, so you wouldn’t know this is the path to the thieves’ guild. If you don’t want to get lost, I’d suggest you walk a little faster.” Achilles picked up his skirts again, hastening his footsteps as ‘Chironides’ waited for him to reach his side, and then started walking again. “Pardon my asking, but where are you from, if it’s not around here?”
“A small town near the southern port.” It wasn’t a lie —technically. He’d been born there, and his mother gave him to his father when he was barely 2 years old, so he didn’t remember anything except the kingdom.
“Ah, it sounds beautiful.” His companion smiled at him, and for a moment, Achilles almost forgot why he was so mad at this man in the first place. His smile lit up the sewers, and so had the laugh that he’d been graced with moments before. “So, does the mysterious woman from a southern port city have a name?”
“Pyra. The barmaid called you Chironides, yes?” A nod, with a small hum in response. “Can I ask why your mother chose such a name?”
“Ah, a mentor of mine was named Chiron, and she wished to honor him for all the trouble he’d eventually have to put up with.” A joke, cracked to avoid the truth. So it’s not his real name? Interesting.
Achilles pointedly turned his attention to the bag, and ‘Chironides’ followed his gaze, his demeanor changing slightly. “What’s in the bag?”
“Ah, just something I need to bargain a price out with a friend at the guild.” Achilles raised an eyebrow, and he shifted the bag to his other hip. “In any case, is there a reason you decided to follow me down here?”
“I was curious, that’s all. As far as I know, there’s not a dock in town for you to have gone and visited.” Achilles knew for a fact, actually, that the docks were nowhere near town, and that ‘Chironides’ had been lying to him from the start.
“Ah, yeah. You see, thieves’ guilds are, y’know, a tad bit illegal, and while I don’t necessarily sell or buy anything illegal from there, I can’t just be telling the whole town about my habits.”
It made enough sense. At least he was trying to use his head, rather than just being a stupid thief. The voices Achilles had heard earlier were now louder, and he grabbed ‘Chironides’’ arm, trying to make himself smaller.
“Ah, Pat, you’re just in-” The man who’d greeted them, or more rather the man that was with Achilles, paused, eyeing Achilles intently. “Who the hell is that? You know we have a strict policy.”
“Come on, Od, you’re being ridiculous. As long as she stays here, she can’t do any harm. It’s not as if she’s going to tell anyone you’re here. You’ll have moved by the time we leave.” The man, tall and scarred, shook his head, grabbing Achilles’ arm.
“I’m afraid she’ll have to wait in one of the cells for you, Patroclus. We can’t make any exceptions.” Achilles wrenched his arm from his grasp, pulling out his sword.
“Keep your filthy hands off of me.” Patroclus, hmm? If that’s his name, well, at least I know it before killing him. Achilles turned to him, opening his mouth to say something before getting interrupted by the man who’d previously grabbed his arm, this time fully restraining him.
“You brought a guard in here?” Shit, his sword was engraved with the crown emblem. Well fuck, there went his cover. “That’s it, both of you are going in a cell until we can talk to Agamemnon.”
He and the other thief, who’d restrained Patroclus, tossed the both of them in a cramped cell. Achilles hit the ground first, letting out a hiss of pain as they carelessly ripped his sword sheath from around his waist. They also took Patroclus’ bag, leaving it hanging on a hook near the door leading to the cells.
“Well fuck, things really just can’t go my way, now can they?” Patroclus looked over at Achilles, scoffing. “And let me guess, you’re the prince in disguise.”
Achilles scoffed, straightening his back as he slid into a sitting position against the wall of the cell. “It’s not so much of a disguise when people see right through it, now is it?”
His eyes went wide, looking at the blonde prince in disbelief. “God, you really are dense. How did you not figure that out?”
“I-I don’t know, I guess it really didn’t occur to me that you’d be the prince, not for real.” Achilles sighed, letting his shoulders sink as he watched the bag on the hook. “Did you really think that pulling out a sword was the way to get me to not sell your crown?”
“I don’t know, but at least I tried to do something, right?” Patroclus didn’t respond, looking down at his hands.
God, I’m an idiot. Patroclus looked at Achilles, his blonde hair still pulled back into a braid, and the hem of his dress splattered with mud. It had been a few days now, and it would surprise him if there wasn’t someone out looking for the prince.
Achilles shivered, shrinking further into the corner he’d claimed. “Are you cold?” It was the first thing either of them had really said since the beginning of their imprisonment, and it seemed to take the prince by surprise.
“A little. I’ll be fine, not that that’s why you were asking.” Patroclus sighed, shrugging off the leather overshirt he’d been wearing. He offered it to Achilles, who stared at it in confusion.
“With all due respect, your highness, I’d rather not have you die from the cold. I might not be your biggest fan, but if I’d wanted you dead, I’d have killed you by now.”
Achilles scoffed, shaking his head. Patroclus sighed, giving the other man an irritated look. “Until you can prove you could’ve killed me by now, I refuse to do anything.”
Is that what it’s going to take to get you to take the fucking overshirt? Fine then, I’ll show you I could’ve killed you days ago. Patroclus draped the overshirt over one of the bars of the cell, before turning back to the prince and tackling him, a dagger that had been in his boot now in his hand and pressed against Achilles’ throat.
They were so close now that Patroclus could feel Achilles’ breath against his lips, feel his racing pulse beneath his knuckles and the warmth of his body pressed against Patroclus’ chest, even if he was cold. Achilles’ blue eyes were wide, and his breathing was quick, surprised by the sudden attack. “Is that good enough proof?”
Achilles swallowed hard, licking his lips before nodding. Patroclus let out a self-satisfied hum, removing the dagger from his throat and getting off of him before offering him a hand up. Achilles accepted it, and then grabbed his other hand, snatching the dagger from it. He shoved Patroclus’ legs out from beneath him —forcing him into a kneeling position, and held the tip of the dagger up underneath Patroclus’ chin, tilting it up to look him in the eyes. “For the record, thief boy, this is far more intimidating, and also much more like how you handle a dagger.”
He then tossed it in the air for a moment, catching it by the blade and tucking it into the band of Patroclus’ pants before grabbing the overshirt that was draped over the cell bar, and pulling it on. He seemed much more content than he’d been since they got locked up. “Thank you, Patroclus.”
Hearing his name fall from the prince’s lips definitely didn’t make him go weak in the knees, no, what are you talking about? Patroclus wasn’t replaying the scene of his own dagger being used to tilt his head up to look the prince in the eyes either, you’re crazy.
“You’re welcome. I really am sorry, I didn’t mean for most of this to happen.” Achilles let out a laugh, looking at Patroclus over his shoulder. “Really! All I wanted was to sell the crown to maybe get to Olympia, but that was it! I didn’t want you to get stuck in a cell, or even get hurt.”
“Then why bother stealing anything in the first place, why don’t you just get a job?” Patroclus winced, rubbing the back of his neck.
“Ah, that’s…that’s a little complicated.” Achilles motioned for him to continue, and he really had nothing better to do, so… “I may or may not be incapable of working here, because I was exiled from a neighbouring kingdom for an accident? And that accident may have been fatal?”
“How do you accidentally kill someone?” Patroclus groaned, burying his face in his hands.
“You’re an idiot and accidentally shove them into hitting their head on a rock?” Achilles nodded, running his fingers along the hem of the overshirt’s sleeves. “Gah, anyway, I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean for you to get dragged into this.”
“It’s fine, Patroclus. I was the idiot who overreacted anyway. I got us into this mess in the first place.” Was it weird to find someone who’d probably been planning on killing you extremely attractive, especially because they were wearing your shirt, and it fell past their hands, and they messed with the extra fabric that went past their fingertips? That’s totally normal, right?
“I’m sure there’s a way we can fix this without anyone getting hurt, right?” Achilles shrugged, pulling the braid out of his hair and redoing it. “We can lie, say you stole the sword from your brother, who is a guard, and snuck off. Or…something like that.”
“They haven’t even spoken to us since they threw us in here, and have only visited us to give us food and clean out the waste bucket.” Patroclus hummed, running his hands through his steadily growing brown hair.
As they were theorizing a way to get out of the cell without pissing off the thieves’ guild, the door opened, and they both turned to find Briseis standing in the doorway, the worry on her face immediately being replaced with relief. “There you two are. Pyra, why did you follow him down here, I told you it was a bad idea.”
Odysseus was standing behind her, watching their interaction carefully. “So she isn’t a guard?”
“No, ‘Dysseus, she isn’t a guard. She’s just stubborn, and stole a guard’s sword. Can we please let them out now?” He sighed, pulling the keys out of his pocket and unlocking the cell door.
“Alright, next time, will one of you just say something? Agamemnon wasn’t super happy with the news, especially when the prince has apparently gone missing, and there are search parties looking for him.” Patroclus mumbled an apology as he and Achilles left the cell, Briseis awaiting them with open arms.
“Don’t forget your bag. My apologies, m’lady, but I’m afraid we’ll be keeping the sword.” Achilles let out a laugh, higher pitched than his normal speaking voice.
“If it will keep me from getting stuck in another cell, I won’t object.” Briseis pulled Achilles into a hug, while Patroclus grabbed his bag from the wall, taking a quick peek inside to ensure the crown was still there.
It was, and Odysseus still hadn’t seen it, so he closed it again, letting it rest on his right hip. “Thank you, Odysseus, I hope this won’t affect our relationship the next time I come by.”
“As long as your lady friend doesn’t have a guard’s sword on her next time? I think we’ll be on much better terms.” And they were on their way.
Achilles savored the fresh air as soon as they stepped back into the alleyway he’d followed Patroclus into days before. Patroclus smiled, and it lit up the alleyway the same way it had lit up the sewer, and again in the cell when he’d proven himself capable of killing Achilles yet restraining himself.
Achilles could still feel the weight of Patroclus straddling his waist, the pressure of his forearm against his shoulder as the dagger pressed into his skin, smell the wood that clung to the clothing he wore, even the overshirt Achilles was still wearing. He could close his eyes and still see the look in Patroclus’ face when he tilted his chin up with the dagger, the way his wide brown eyes reflected the light.
“So, I suppose I should give you this back.” Patroclus’ voice broke through Achilles’ thoughts, and he turned to find something wrapped in bandages. His slender fingers wrapped around the object, and he found it to be his crown. “I suppose this is the last I’ll be seeing of you, Your Highness. You should hurry on, before a search party finds us and your cover’s blown.”
Achilles wrapped his hand around Patroclus’ wrist. “I’m sure my father would love to meet the man who saved me, and helped me get my crown back. We’ll just leave out the part where you stole it from me in the first place.”
Patroclus laughed, and Achilles reminded himself to always make the man laugh like that, no matter what it took.