|Nothing But the Truth
Author: moon71 PM
As Crateros prepares to return home to Macedon, Hephaestion tells him a story...Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Humor/Romance - Words: 5,710 - Reviews: 12 - Favs: 20 - Follows: 1 - Published: 02-28-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4101197
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH By Moon71
SUMMARY: The night before Crateros returns to Macedon, Hephaestion tells him a story.
DISCLAIMER: I greatly doubt Hephaestion ever told Crateros any stories. But you never know.
RATING: Mild descriptions of boys doing naughty things, nothing very shocking.
DEDICATION: Dedicated jointly to my two treasured Russian translators, Marina and Helena, for caring for my stories enough to take such trouble for them! If you're a Russian reader, I hope you're enjoying them!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a sort of semi-sequel to my equally daft story, Joy and Health, but you don't have to read that story to enjoy this one.
If I have failed to reply to any reviews or mails lately, please don't think I've got so rammed up my own backside that I don't bother to reply these days – my computer contracted not one but two viruses (BOGOF isn't always a good thing!) and had to be completely reconfigured. If I hadn't had most of the stuff backed up it would have been a real disaster. As it is, until I'm sure of my anti-virus status, I won't be on the internet much at home. (Anyone writing stories – keep them backed up! Or even better – routinely email them to yourself! If I hadn't done that with this one, it wouldn't be here now!) But I look forward to returning to normal ASAP!
Perhaps he felt just a little torn; he would admit that. A part of him longed for Macedon – somewhere in his heart a spark of excitement had flared when Alexander had told him he was to return home. A part of him, long suppressed in deference to his king, which ached to hear only Macedonian voices, see only Macedonian faces, even to hear men of his own clan talking in the Orestid dialect, something he hardly seemed to hear in this alien world where Greek and Persian seemed to prevail. More than that, he would be seeing Macedon as a healthy, able-bodied man not yet past his prime, returning to his home as the most powerful man in Macedon as well as one of the richest, instead of as a limping, broken, forcibly retired veteran on a pension.
But after this night this was, quite possibly, the last share he would have in Alexander's great Eastern adventure. For all that he was tired and homesick and could only sympathise in his heart with the men who had mutinied, much as it went against everything he believed in to spare such traitors a thought, there was a lingering sadness in that. And there was that one thorn in his side, that one nagging little doubt that he could not quite learn to ignore – that a battle that had raged, sometimes hot, sometimes cold, for years, was finally over. And that he had lost…
"Son of Alexander…?"
Crateros looked up sharply as a tall figure appeared in the large, elaborately decorated audience hall Alexander had seconded for his military briefings since they had returned to Ecbatana. For a moment he locked gazes with the younger man standing quietly in the doorway; then he gave a wry grunt of laughter and looked away. "Amyntoros," he muttered, "did you get lost on the way to Alexander's bedroom?"
Hephaestion lowered his eyes briefly as he always did when he allowed a mild insult to wash over him, but to Crateros' surprise, he actually smiled. "Actually, no," he answered slowly, "it was you I was looking for… Crateros."
Crateros shook his head, rolling up the plans laid out before him. "Come to gloat, have you?"
Hephaestion sighed audibly. "What is there to gloat over? You being made Regent of Macedon? I never knew promotion was such an awful thing!"
"Oh come on, Amyntoros… we both know who won this little war."
"Someone had to be sent to take control of Macedon… Alexander couldn't leave his mother and Antipater fighting forever…"
"And I was the natural choice…" Crateros nodded with more bitterness than he had expected to feel. "I can't deny the perfection of Alexander's reasoning – in one move he not only separates Antipater from Olympias, he separates me from you… and there was only one way that would work. Even if I pretended to enjoy hobnobbing with eunuchs, prostrating myself on the floor and wearing Persian perfume, I would still have been the one to be sent away."
Hephaestion was silent for a long moment, his head bent. When he raised his eyes once more there was an odd sparkle in them. "Only because if Alexander had made me Regent Olympias would have had me poisoned in a week."
Crateros glared at him, then tossed the roll of plans onto the table and threw up his hands. "If you haven't come to sneer, what exactly do you want from me, boy?"
Hephaestion favoured him with one of those cheerfully boyish smiles that too often made veterans melt, diplomatic envoys agree to surrender and page boys fall hopelessly in love. Crateros was made of sterner stuff, but he could not help softening just a little to the appeal in the other man's eyes. "I wondered if you'd take a cup of wine with me… if you'd care for it…"
Crateros regarded him doubtfully. "A drinking night? You and me? Alone?"
"I promise not to keep any weapons within reach," Hephaestion answered dryly, "and I'll taste the wine before you do…"
Crateros groaned. "What am I, some Persian Courtier looking for assassins under the bed? Come on, Amyntoros, if you're that keen we'll go back to my rooms. But only if you drink your wine unmixed like a real man…"
As he led the way from the hall, Crateros had the small pleasure of seeing a nervous look pass across Hephaestion's handsome face.
Crateros smirked into his wine cup. "Carry on, Amyntoros – after another drink or two I might even start believing you…"
Hephaestion slumped down on his couch with a plaintive sigh. "I doubt you'll believe me even then… but I have always admired you too. You were like a younger version of King Philip to me… the consummate Macedonian Companion… I knew I'd never live up to that… anymore than Alexander would. Of course as it's turned out," he added, taking a sip of wine and swallowing it slowly, "Alexander rewrote the rules. Now he is what all Macedonian youths seek to emulate. But I know sometimes even now he doubts that he will ever really step out from Philip's shadow… just as I have sometimes wondered if I will ever step out from yours!"
"What utter crap!" Crateros sneered. "You're telling me you envy me? I've seen you hot young bloods, spouting Greek, riding Persian horses, sitting at the feet of Indian philosophers and looking down your noses at old Macedonian ways…"
"Maybe all that is true," Hephaestion admitted thoughtfully, "in a general sense. But the fact remains you're the better general, you appreciate Alexander's tactical genius in a way I never can… you're important to him in ways I can't be…"
Crateros grunted dismissively. "Is it necessary to rehash all that again? I'm the lover of the King, you're the lover of Alexander… how many times has Alexander shoved that down our throats?"
Hephaestion suddenly threw him a disarming grin. "Did you hate hearing that as much as I did? It always sounded to me as if Alexander was saying, "Don't worry, my heart… you may not be as good as Crateros, but I love you…" But then that's Alexander… he knows how to play us, even me. Oh, I admit he never anticipated you and I going for one another's throats in India, but up until then he was quite happy for us to distrust one another… for all that he genuinely loves us both, we were more useful to him in rival camps…"
"Now I can see why you mix your wine," Crateros laughed, "Dionysus certainly knows how to loosen your tongue…"
Hephaestion looked down into his empty cup, then up at Crateros. "Refill it," he said coyly, "and I'll tell you a story that will cheer you even when your backside is smarting from weeks of riding west."
Crateros gave a growl of disgust. "Like the one you told me before Issus, about you and Alexander no longer being lovers? I don't recall being very cheered by that!" But he beckoned to his servant who stepped forward to refill the cup to the brim.
Hephaestion took a large gulp and shook his head. "That was just a bit of fun. Besides," he added slyly, "you asked for it. But I swear this story is completely true. Come on, let me tell it. I've never told it to anyone before, and never will again!" Taking Crateros' sullen silence as acceptance, he curled up catlike on the couch, propping his head on his hand. "My first time with Alexander!"
Hardly seeming to notice Crateros choking on his wine, the younger man launched into his story with great enthusiasm.
"The thing about Alexander, you see, is that from a very early age he has cultivated the art of… well, of being Alexander. You know what I mean… everyone would, if they thought about it for long enough, but they don't… not even people who knew Alexander when he was just a toddling baby seem to realise that so much of what they see now is a carefully studied performance. Sometimes I don't think even Alexander realises it himself now, except sometimes… when he and I are alone…"
Crateros failed to suppress a yawn. Hephaestion scowled across at him.
"Well, all I'm trying to say, is that people have become so entranced by the image that is Alexander that if he told them things happened in a certain way they would probably believe him, even though their own memories could tell them it wasn't so. Our time in Mieza is a perfect example. When Alexander talks of Mieza to Perdiccas or Leonatus or Iollas or one of the other boys who studied there with us, he talks as if it was a romantic idyll, with he and I strolling through the gardens of Midas hand in hand, Homeric lovers in the making. And even though they know it wasn't really like that – even though I know it was never really like that, somehow we still find ourselves nodding when Alexander reminisces like that and almost fancying we remember it just as he describes it.
"The truth was rather different, I'm afraid. It's true that Alexander and I were frequently together, but that wasn't because we were in love. I thought Alexander a rather peculiar little thing… he had this rather condescending manner with the other boys, the ones he'd grown up with; he was always watching them and correcting them when they did something wrong, as if they were already soldiers and he was their commander.
"Alexander apparently didn't know what to make of me! He behaved to me with a sort of formal politeness and watched me constantly. He soon took to hanging around me, wanting to study with me, even asking Aristotle about me. The other boys took it to mean that he had a real liking for me and they teased me relentlessly, but I don't think it was that… not then… no, Alexander had seen that Aristotle and I got on especially well, and that I seemed to pay more attention to his lessons than the others and understand them better and I think… in a way, I think that irked him. Alexander was supposed to be Aristotle's darling, not me! Even then, Alexander was being created, and Alexander couldn't come second to any other boy!
"And so there we were, in our Mieza idyll. And so, I honestly believe, things would have stayed, except for that one matter which seemed to worry all who knew Alexander at that time – his lack of interest in sex. Of course at the time I knew very little of the truth, but I pieced things together over the years. Alexander's parents were doing everything they could to make sure he took a healthy interest in sex. Because he was such a favourite with the soldiers there was a rumour going around that he was really a bit of a…"
"I remember," Crateros cut in gruffly, "I was even questioned by General Parmenion about it myself and I have no need to be reminded of what he was suggesting! Get on with this silly story, unless you haven't made up the ending yet…"
"I told you," Hephaestion said with the deliberate articulation of one not sober, "the story is completely true, though you will have to take my word for it. Where was I? Oh yes, it was around this time that they sent Callixena to his rooms – really, the whole thing was so badly managed, they called him back from Mieza on some pretext, which made Aristotle mad, then sent him to bed early and sent in Callixena… well of course she was virtually sent flying with a boot-print on her backside! Well after that shambles they began to think in more subtle ways. They guessed Alexander would never listen to them, so they looked elsewhere. First they bullied Aristotle into giving us a day long lesson on reproduction and sex with the emphasis on the health benefits of an active sex life, how a lack of sexual appetite was a cause for concern and how repressing the need for sexual release could be damaging to a youth's development into a man… and how a man's virility in bed was an indication of his virility on the battlefield…"
Hephaestion lay back on his couch, chuckling and rubbing his belly. "Poor Aristotle, you should have seen the look of distaste he wore throughout the lesson! A shame I was hiding my face behind my sunhat all through it, or I might have had even more fun watching Alexander's! Whatever he made of this, it was enough to send him scurrying back to dear old Lysimachus, his favourite pedagogue. And Lysimachus was ready for him!"
In spite of himself, Crateros leaned forward on his own couch. "Well? Get on with it!" he demanded restively.
Hephaestion grinned. "The first I knew of it was when I was on my way to breakfast about five days later. I had noticed Alexander staring at me more and more of late and it confused me. I wasn't like him – I had the same urges as any other boy, and for all his oddness, I have to admit I had noticed how pretty Alexander was. And because he hung around me so much, the other boys tended to keep their distance for fear he might think they were trying to interfere between us, so nobody ever made me any offers…
"Anyway, I was on my way to breakfast when suddenly Alexander called after me and asked me if I would come to his room for a moment as he had something of grave importance to discuss with me. He sat me down on the bed and started off by asking me if I agreed with what Aristotle was saying about the need for sexual release. Though he was quite matter of fact about it, he was blushing as red as a sunset. When I had agreed that a need for sexual release was indeed healthy, and that moderation in all things was a fine principle, he asked me quite simply, if I would like to share such a release with him!
"Well, I've already admitted I hadn't really had any offers at Mieza, but I'd had one or two at Court and this had to be the most inept. There seemed so little pleasure in the prospect for him that I had to ask him why he had chosen me! His answer was, quite simply, "Hephaestion, I have found you to be intelligent and sensible and well mannered; I have also noticed that you are of clean habits and… and your physique, and your features… are both pleasing to me… and I think you are also… discreet."
"Now that, my friend," Hephaestion declared expansively, "is a direct quote. Those words so astonished me that I've never been able to forget them!"
Though Crateros eyed him sceptically, he could not deny the quote had a faint ring of authenticity. "And? What then?"
"Well… I stared at him for a moment, as you can imagine. But as I did so, something awoke in me… a sort of… understanding, so that Alexander didn't seem quite such an oddity anymore. I could see Alexander recognised it, because though he blushed even harder, he also gave me a very small smile. I nodded, and he went on to say that if I accepted the proposition, I should come to his room that night; if I didn't, he would take it as a refusal and that would be an end to the matter."
Hephaestion paused, stretching luxuriously. When he caught Crateros' gaze fixed upon him he grinned in that smug way he only allowed himself when he had scored a major and public hit on one of his rivals. Crateros snarled at him. "Come on, Amyntoros, get on with it! If you don't get a move on you'll have to send the end of this dreary story to me in a letter! Now I know why you Athenians water your wine – you're more boring drunk than you are sober!"
"Now there's no need to be rude," Hephaestion admonished gently, "I was just resting my voice… so anyway, for some reason I decided to go to Alexander's room that night. And though he was affected as ever, I could see he was relieved to see me. He didn't say so, and he didn't smile, but… there was that look in his eyes! You know the one I mean Crateros… the one where you know it's really Alexander looking out at you, not Alexander. That look of real happiness. I still see it now even in public… when he's watching the games, for example, or when he's listening to some of the old veterans talking about his childhood, or his father…"
Crateros considered this for a moment, then slowly nodded.
"And so," Hephaestion continued with an crooked smile, "we... did the deed! It was awkward to say the least. I mean Alexander was technically skilled – as I found out, he'd had some instruction – but there was something rather workmanlike about it and I felt rather… humiliated afterwards, as if we'd been completing an assignment for Aristotle! And the way Alexander was afterwards, he might well have been!
"This, I later discovered, was where Lysimachus had come into it. When Alexander had confided his worries, and admitted he was repelled by the prospect of a hetaera, the kind old man was sympathetic – he pointed out that it didn't have to be some painted courtesan, it could be a pretty serving girl or even some local village maiden, so long as Alexander treated her respectfully; or if girls did not yet appeal to him, why not a youth like himself? Surely there was some comely boy Alexander might have a liking for amongst his friends? Alexander had admitted of all the boys he thought me the most handsome, and because my father was out of the picture at that time, he felt he could trust me not to presume on his affections too far.
"So far so good, but I was left feeling rather unhappy. I had been in Athens long enough to see how boys were courted there; how young men made a tremendous fuss over them, wrote them poetry and gave them gifts and made a great show of grief when the boy treated them coldly. I was hoping after we'd done it Alexander might at least open up to me a little, say I was pretty or give me a few extra kisses, but he just turned over and went to sleep. Well… actually… I don't think he really slept all night, not now I know what he sounds and feels like when he's truly asleep. I think he just didn't know what to do with me – whether to turn me out of his room, ask me to stay, talk to me or embrace me! It would seem Lysimachus forgot to explain that part!"
Hephaestion laughed richly at this and in spite of himself, Crateros could not help joining in. He had to say one thing for Hephaestion – he was an excellent storyteller.
"The next morning I awoke on my own. Alexander had already gone for his morning dip and left me to stumble out of his room in yesterday's clothes. Needless to say it was all over Mieza by the afternoon, though Alexander pretended not to be aware of it. He did not even speak to me again until the evening when he thanked me very politely and asked me if I would like to come to him again that night. By that time I was fuming and I said no! He was quite gracious about that too; he accepted my refusal, though I did notice him giving me an odd look.
"The next morning he asked me again. I refused. And he asked me the morning after that, and I refused again. That happened a total of five times. Each time I refused; the whole experience had just been too strange, too… well, at the time I would have said, too thoroughly Alexander – when that had a totally different meaning for me, and being Alexander just meant being… eccentric. Besides, during all that time he never tried to court me in any other way, never kissed me or tried to hold my hand or wrote me any poetry or said anything nice to me. When the other boys got bold enough to ask him if I was his beloved he said no, which made me even angrier and made Alexander seem even stranger.Each time Alexander accepted my refusal like a stoic, but there was something there… he looked sad and rather lost…
"And there was another problem. As stupid as this will make me sound – now don't laugh at me, Crateros, I know you will, but I'll ask you not to anyway – ridiculous as this does sound, I… I actually… in spite of the awkwardness of it all, and the embarrassment… I actually think I fell in love with him that night. You see when we were actually doing it…"
"Amyntoros…" Crateros shifted uncomfortably.
"Not that we were actually doing anything very complicated…"
"But just the idea of doing that, for the first time, with someone else… looking into Alexander's beautiful grey eyes, seeing that look on his face… touching his smooth skin, hearing him moan…"
"What - ?" Hephaestion blinked, then shook his head. "Well, I was just trying to explain that… oh, well, anyway, there it was. A standoff. I was in love but I didn't like the way Alexander was treating me; he wanted me but wasn't prepared to court me properly or acknowledge there was anything between us. Finally I had enough and I decided to go looking for a beloved of my own, so I went for a walk in the gardens with Marsayas, the little brother of old General One-Eye.
And, by all the gods of Olympus, Crateros, that was all it took! That night, there was a knock on my door and before I could get out of bed to answer it Alexander burst into the room, scrambled into my bed before I could stop him, threw his arms around me and declared that he wouldn't share me, that he ached for me, that he couldn't stop thinking about me, that his whole body was hungry for me and that he loved me more than anyone else in the world! And that, my dear friend, was that. Alexander was mine and I was his from that day on."
Hephaestion chuckled softly. But then he suddenly frowned, turning solemn dark eyes upon Crateros.
"By the time we left Mieza, Alexander had been born, and of course by the time Alexander became King, Alexander became more and more prominent. And there were times when I would look at him and wonder which Alexander I was looking at. But then I would remember our first time in Mieza, and I would see through Alexander and know the truth." Hephaestion smiled once more, a soft, curiously affectionate smile which seemed genuinely for Crateros. "And there you have it."
For a long moment Crateros just stared at him. Then he threw back his head and laughed. "All right… I admit it…" he cried, "yes, I admit it… you really did have me going there, Amyntoros… just for a moment, mind, but you did have me going! That story is the biggest pile of cow crap I have ever heard in my entire life, but you did have me going!"
"But it's true!" Hephaestion wailed indignantly, nearly falling off his couch in his passion, "I swear it to you, Crateros, it really is true!"
"Give over, Amyntoros," Crateros chuckled, beckoning for his servant to refill his cup. "You really must think I'm just some thick-headed boor from the hills if you think I'll believe that!"
"I've never thought that, son of Alexander," Hephaestion answered softly, "not really… not in my… my…" Apparently losing the thread, Hephaestion blinked across at his companion. "What was I saying…?" He seemed to think deeply for a moment, but then his expression became quite blank. "Oh well, it can't have been…" Trailing off again, he exhaled heavily and flopped back on his couch. "Ah… listen, Crateros, would you mind if I stayed here tonight…? Only I think I'm about to pass out…"
Hephaestion, it seemed, was a man of his word after all. Within seconds, he was snoring softly.
Crateros looked ruefully down at the sleeping man. Hephaestion never could hold his drink like a true Macedonian, even if he did have an impressive imagination. Beckoning to the servant to bring a fur to cover him, Crateros headed to his bedroom, to the last night he would spend in an over-comfortable Persian bed with the scent of Persian perfume lingering in the air.
Crateros turned as he heard the steady clip-clop of a horse's hooves on the hard stone of the courtyard and saw the groom leading a pure white horse towards him. Only it wasn't the groom – Crateros blinked in the pale dawn light. It was Hephaestion. "Going riding, Amyntoros? The early morning does wonders to clear a hangover…"
Hephaestion gave a small smile. "My head is quite clear, son of Alexander. The horse is for you."
Crateros stared at him, then at the horse. "Persian," he grunted, "very pretty, I'm sure."
"He's a cavalry charger," Hephaestion assured him, "I called him Pylades, because he should be a good friend to an Orestid on a long journey."
"You always were a romantic fool… Hephaestion," Crateros noted bluntly, but he could not help a touch of admiration as he looked over the horse. "He's beautiful."
Hephaestion didn't answer. He was gazing at Crateros with a strange, intense expression. "What - ?" Crateros barked, more sharply than he had intended.
"I don't know… it's just that I…" Hephaestion frowned. "It doesn't matter. A strange fancy, nothing more. Health to you, Crateros." After a hesitant moment, Hephaestion leaned forward and embraced him. Crateros caught his breath, then held the younger man tightly.
"Look after Alexander for me, Hephaestion," Crateros answered, his voice just a little rough, "if you're good for anything, you're good for looking after Alexander!"
"Alexander," Hephaestion murmured, "or Alexander?"
Crateros grinned and shook his head, pushing Hephaestion away. "Health to you, Amyntoros," he said as he mounted his new horse.
"The story was true," Hephaestion called after him, "I swear it by Athene!"
Waving dismissively, Crateros rode out of the courtyard.
Hephaestion smiled and shook his head. Alexander continued to regard him thoughtfully for a moment, before beckoning for the servants to clear away the dishes. He indicated the mixing bowl but when Hephaestion shook his head he ordered that removed too and finally dismissed the servants and the waiting pages altogether, waiting until they'd gone before moving to sit upon Hephaestion's couch. It had taken a long time to train the Persian servants that when he wanted to be left alone, he really wanted to be left alone, not to find them hovering discreetly in the shadows. He had thought privacy hard to find in Macedon, but here it was almost impossible. Had Darius, he wondered, been so used to it he hardly noticed? Had he just occasionally longed for a moment completely alone with his beautiful wife Stateira? Alexander shook his head to clear it. Hephaestion's mood was infectious. He reached out and stroked his friend's thigh.
"I was just thinking about Crateros," Hephaestion said at last. "When I wished him health that morning I had the strangest feeling… but now I can't remember what it was."
"Oh yes, Crateros…" A sly smile stole across Alexander's face. "I heard you spent the night in his room before he left… is there something you're not telling me, my friend?"
To Alexander's relief, Hephaestion's mood seemed to lighten. "Oh, no… if I was going to seduce the old warhorse, I would have done it while he still outranked me! No, I just told him a little story… about our first time together!"
"Hephaestion!" Alexander shrieked, then caught at his throat. Even after all these years of practise, he still managed to scream like a woman when he was taken off guard. "Hephaestion," he repeated in a gruffer tone, "you didn't… seriously… you didn't tell him about…"
"Alexander," Hephaestion purred, glancing about them to see all the servants really had gone before slipping an arm about his waist. "Have faith! I told him you caught a glimpse of my thighs one day when I was mounting a horse, and you fell immediately in lust with me – or at least with my thighs – and that night you came to my room and thrust me onto the bed and tore off my clothes and…"
"Hephaestion…!" Alexander gasped, fanning his flushed cheeks. "Tell me you didn't say all of that to Crateros! You make me sound like a sex maniac!"
"Oh come on, my love," Hephaestion smirked, "Crateros loves you. He'd love you if you tried to lay the entire Royal Harem in one night! You're his King and that's all that matters to him!"
"Be careful Hephaestion," Alexander admonished, "first that beautiful horse, then spending the evening with him… now this… you're beginning to sound as though you really care for him!"
Hephaestion shrugged dismissively. "Absence is already making the heart grow fonder…"
Alexander sighed. "Well, as long as you didn't tell him the truth. I mean about back in Mieza. That talk Aristotle gave us… and that stupid proposition I made you…"
"Alexander…" Hephaestion grinned, lying back on the couch and pulling Alexander down on top of him, "would I do that to you…? Besides, even if I did, the old goat would never believe me…"