They talked more about Tyre. Or really, Alexander did. Hephaistion ate and listened as his friend pontificated on the importance of controlling the coast.

Finished with the food, Hephaistion let Alexander disrobe them both and lead them to bed. They curled under fleece, face to face. "So, I told you about my day; you didn't tell me about yours. What's been bothering you all evening, Alekos?"

Gods. Alexander hated how Hephaistion could do that, read him like a public inscription. He might have objected, but there was little point. It just opened the door. "I had a conversation with Parmenion this afternoon."

One of Hephaistion's dark eyebrows rose. "And?"

"We talked about the royal Persian women." Alexander sat up abruptly, unable to lie so close to his lover and deliver this news. Hephaistion's expression was flat, full lips pulled tight, eyes not giving away anything.

"I'm going to offer a contract to Barsine, to become my pallake." Mistress.

A long silence followed. "All right," Hephaistion replied finally.

"I need an heir."

"Or at least a bastard who'll do in a pinch," Hephaistion replied.

Fair enough. "This changes nothing between us."

"Then why are you acting like it does?"

Alexander met Hephaistion's dark eyes. He saw pain there, but mostly confusion. "You've always known I'd have to marry."

"Of course I did." Hephaistion sat up, too. "You're king. But why're you making a show of it, if it won't change us?"

"I just wanted to tell you, personally, before word of the negotiations became public. It's not marriage, but—."

"If you say it doesn't change us, I believe you. But when you act like it does, I get nervous." The sweaty curls on one side of his head were flat.

Relieved, Alexander buried his face in his friend's neck and hugged him tightly. "I was afraid of how you'd take it."

"You've had sex with women before." Hephaistion hugged Alexander back.

"But only for a night or two. With Barsine, I'll need to house her in my quarters in Sidon and visit regularly." He pulled away, adding, "I'll assign you quarters near mine."

"But not your chambers?" Erupting from the bed, Hephaistion stalked about the dark room. "You said it wouldn't affect us."

"It doesn't."

"Yet you banish me from your bedchamber?"

"Of course not! I didn't banish you from anything!"

"Then what would you call that?"

"Giving you official quarters like before with the Hypaspists. You have an assigned tent there, but sleep with me. She'll have her own rooms; I'll go to her there."

Silence stretched while all their idealism slammed up against ugly reality. Abruptly, Hephaistion collapsed onto the reed-thrush floor near the doorway, sobbing in heaves. Alexander scrambled out to cross and embrace him. "Stop," he whispered. "Oh, gods, Phaistonaki. This is about heirs, not about you."

"I know," Hephaistion sobbed. "I'm being stupid. I knew this would come. I've advised you to it before myself. But now that it's happening, I …" His voice cracked. "I don't want to share you."

His lover could be an idiot, but at least he was an honest idiot.

Alexander wrapped arms and legs around him on the soft rush floor. "That's the truth. Now we can talk. Tell me more."

"I'm selfish."

"You're the least selfish person I know. You're also the only man I will ever love with all my heart. The only person I'll ever love with all my heart."

Hephaistion had buried his face in Alexander's neck. "I'm being stupid, please forgive me."

"You're being honest, so no. I won't forgive you. There's nothing to forgive." He tilted up Hephaistion's face and kissed him. He could taste tear salt on Hephaistion's lips.

"I know you have to marry, produce heirs," Hephaistion whispered. "I want you to. And I should probably have them, too. But I don't want to. I only want you. How ridiculous is that?"

"Not at all," Alexander told him, pushing his face against the side of Hephaistion's. "I only want you, too. But this world isn't friendly to us. I just didn't want you to think I was shoving you aside." He pulled his face back to stare at Hephaistion's profile. "You are the center of my world. You always will be. You can come and go in my chamber, in my bed, no leave needed, forever."

"But I need a bed and chamber of my own now," Hephaistion finished. It was bitter.

Alexander didn't answer immediately, because it was true, and he ached to admit it.

"Yours will always be near mine," he said instead.

"That's not helping," Hephaistion replied. He rose to stalk the room again, as if looking for something.

Alexander followed with his eyes but remained seated. "What?"

"I need to go. I need to be alone. But I don't have my own rooms yet."

Erupting to his feet, Alexander caught him. "Please don't. Gods, please don't. I told you, you're the center of my world, agapete."

"I need to cry!"

"Cry with me then. Do you think I want this? I hate it. I hate it all. I don't want a mistress, or a wife. I want only you. I've only ever wanted you. But I need to be king. If I walk away, who else would it be?"

And there, suddenly, naked, was the choice.

His ambition versus his passion.

Which was higher? Alexander wanted to say passion, but he knew it was ambition.

Hephaistion was staring at him, and Alexander suspected he was asking the same question. And knew the same answer. "Stay here," Alexander whispered. "This is your room while we're in Byblos. In Sidon, I'll find you a house near mine, and my rooms are open always to you."

"Even if you've got her in them?"

"I said I wouldn't bring her to my rooms; I'll visit hers. You can come any time."

Hephaistion pulled out of Alexander's grasp, looking around for a moment, almost wild-eyed, then he grabbed a random bag and his most immediate personals, tossing them in. It took Alexander a moment to realize what was actually happening. "Are you leaving?"

"I'll need my own house in Sidon. Let's make the break clean. I'll go back to my tent tonight."

Stunned, Alexander couldn't reply for a moment, then said, "By the gods, no!"

"I can't fucking sleep here tonight! I can't bear to see you right now!"

He may as well have put his spear right through Alexander's chest. He kept packing, including his armor. "I have to get out of this room. I need to be alone."

Alexander was too stunned to feel much, but he wasn't about to let Hephaistion leave at this hour and return to the Macedonian camp. Walking out into the hall, he called again for the slave. "Make a room with a bed for Lochigos Hephaistion," he ordered. Then he stood in the hallway, just staring at the opposite wall. He couldn't go back in and watch his life fall apart.

When Hephaistion exited, Alexander wouldn't look at him. "Down the hall. You're not going back to camp. I've had a bed made up for you there." He gestured to the slave, and Hephaistion followed him. Alexander couldn't watch that either.

He reentered the bed chamber, sitting on the big bed he didn't need anymore. He should be up early. As always, there was business to conduct, but he kept sitting, staring at the floor. Then he rose, lighting every lamp in the room, as if enough light would drive out the shadows. Lying down in the middle of the floor, he curled into a ball and cried until he was sick.

At some point, he finally fell asleep. It was fitful.

A hard rap on the door woke him before the sun was fully up. Stiff from an awkward night on room rushes, he pushed to his feet. He was sure his eyes were swollen. He answered the door.

It was Hephaistion, already in drill armor with shield and spear. He didn't look any better than Alexander probably did.

"Can I come in?"

He'd never needed to ask before.

Alexander stood aside, admitting him. The king had no idea what was coming, but no one had ever accused him of cowardice. Setting down his helm on a table, Hephaistion appeared just as uncertain. Alexander was sure the armor wasn't by accident. "I'm sorry for my temper. Yesterday was bad."

A light of hope flickered in Alexander's chest. They'd fought before and made up. Lovers did. "I made it worse. I'm sorry. Can we start again?"

Hephaistion glanced up. "You need to do this—take a mistress. But I haven't changed my mind, either."

Alexander sucked in a startled breath. "What?"

"If you really meant only to go to her in her rooms, yet won't let me stay in yours, maybe you need to think about why? You say 'we' haven't changed, but that's a big change. You've set me aside."

"I haven't-!"

"Shut up!"

They glared at each other. Hephaistion continued. "I've got to deal with the fall-out. The only thing worse than being the king's beloved is when one stops being the king's beloved. I'll remove the rest of my things to camp after drill. I still have to command. Give me the space, and respect, to do so. My loyalty to you as my king hasn't altered. I'll still be your Hypaspistes Oktopos. But I won't take second place when you try to tell me I'm first. I'm not a fool."

Stricken mute in shock, Alexander had no idea what to say at first. This was the most terrible day of his life.

"You're first in my world," he asserted finally.

"No," Hephaistion replied. "I'm not. Your desire to be Great King is."


Notes:

I don't know if Alexander was gay but having children (and wives) wouldn't be an argument against it, since he was more or less required to. Gay men can and do have sex with women, it's just not our preference. While I doubt Barsine's son Herakles was Alexander's bastard (it's sorta fishy, how he pops out of nowhere), Alexander probably did keep her as a mistress, which made the fiction of a "bastard" plausible later. Also, yeah, I know the ancient Greeks didn't have a word for "homosexual," or "heterosexual" either, but that doesn't mean none of them exclusively preferred their own sex, or exclusively preferred the opposite. Personally, I think he was gay, but there's no way to know.

All the anti-Parmenion propaganda was made up after Alexander had to kill him because Philotas did something stupid.

Alexander's silver palm cup is a slightly bigger version of those found in the Royal Tombs at Vergina. Most of them have a picture in the bottom that the drinker would see only when the wine was gone.

The bit about Alexander as a runner is true, and supposedly, he did write personally to his soldiers, or at least dictated personal letters.

Admetos bought it big time at Tyre, so I wanted to give him a little due in advance.

Yes, "dekas" means a ten-unit, in Greek, but Philip increased the line to sixteen and didn't change the name, and a lochagos would be a reasonable officer's position for Hephaistion at that age. If Heckel is right, Hephaistion went on to command the Hypaspists agema later, but probably not immediately after Admetos's death.