THE MORNING AFTER THE PSEUDO-ALEXANDER by Moon71
SUMMARY: Well, the title says it all, doesn't it?
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Why does this story exist? Well actually I'm not entirely sure. The original story was conceived from the beginning as a dream, so that I could make it as surreal and ironic as possible.The general ideawas to create a future an angst-ridden teenaged Hephaestion might dream up, with everyone happy except himself. It was only after I read all of my delightful reviews that an alternative ending began nagging at me and I finally gave in and wrote it down. So here it is. I do hope it doesn't detract from the original; at any rate I didn't think it deserved a seperate posting so it's nestling here behind it's parent for those who look to find. All disclaimers and warnings are the same as for "chapter 1."
DEDICATION: To all my delightful reviewers; I take in everything you allsay, so you're all involved inmy stories, whether you realise it or not. Andit still pleases me so much when a new review appears for this one!
His head was throbbing so hard that it took some time for him to realise that the banging noise he could hear was coming from somewhere else. Groaning miserably, Hephaestion opened his eyes and squinted in the bright morning light. "Go away, Aithra…!" he moaned, looking for something to throw at the door, "tell Mother I don't want any breakfast…!"
The knocking resumed. "Sir… may I come in?"
Reluctantly Hephaestion looked around him, realising groggily that he was not in his own room, either in his family home or in the palace at Pella. Fragments of the night before resurfaced in confusing flashes: Alexander's wedding, Hephaestion's clumsy attempt at declaring his true feelings, the slap that had been Alexander's only response… and then…
And then what? Surely the rest of it had been a dream? Hephaestion did not know what would be worse… to think that he had spent Alexander's wedding night with an actor-singer-possible-prostitute who looked frighteningly like the prince – or that he hadn't. That he had lost his virginity to a stranger – or that he was still a virgin… that he was still utterly alone…
"Sir, are you all right…?" the muffled, unfamiliar voice continued to call from the other side of the door. Stumbling unsteadily off the bed, Hephaestion made his way over to the door and opened it. Standing outside was a young man, plainly dressed but with a lively, intelligent eyes and an infuriatingly cheerful manner. "Joy to you, Sir… joy indeed…" the young man grinned at him, looking him over with appreciative eyes.
It was only then that Hephaestion became conscious of his own nakedness. Nudity was usually a fact of Macedonian life, to be expected in the gymnasium, the wrestling grounds and the communal baths, but he had never had anyone look at him quite so suggestively. Or maybe it was simply that until last night, he had never considered himself an object of desire. If last night had even happened…
"I've brought your clothes, sir… all clean and pressed, though getting that horrible cheap wine out of them took some work, I can tell you…" the young man held out a pile of neatly folded, sweet smelling garments. "Such a beautiful chiton, too…"
"Thank you." Hephaestion snatched his clothes abruptly, then, with great hesitation, he added, "the… young man… who rents these rooms…"
"Alexander, you mean!" The young man chuckled.
"Well, that's what he calls himself, the saucy little bugger! Mind you… I saw Prince Alexander up close once, when he was riding back from battle beside the King, and if that boy isn't his twin I don't know who is! Of course anything's possible, isn't it… you know what they say about King Philip and his eye for the ladies… who knows how many little Prince Alexanders there are scattered all over Macedon…"
Hephaestion rubbed a hand across his eyes, trying to think. At least some of it had happened, he had spent the night with someone, someone who bore at least a passing resemblance to Alexander. "Where is he? The young man – uh – Alexander…?"
"Oh, he went out earlier, he had some things to do, he said." Suddenly the young man looked straight into Hephaestion's eyes, his own temporarily losing all of their levity. "He told us what you did for him, my friend. Paying off that cock-sucker Thersites, I mean. When I think what he wanted the boy to do…" then he brightened once more. "He also said he stole back some of the money you gave Thersites when the bastard wasn't looking… gave us a very generous tip on top of his rent! So we have you to thank for that as well!"
"My pleasure…" Hephaestion mumbled. He tried to conjure up a clear picture of the singer who had called himself Alexander but all he could recall were warm, skilful hands and soft lips and a hot, marvellously supple and sensitive body. For a moment he recalled grey eyes bright with pleasure and love, but then he began to wonder if those eyes belonged to the boy of last night or Hephaestion's own desperate fantasies of Alexander the Prince. Already the two had begun to seem one…
"Would you like help dressing, sir?" the young man was asking, "Alexander kept insisting you were used to having servants doing for you, but – oh, what an idiot I am, I nearly forgot! He left a message for you… he said for you to go home and get your things together, he'll meet you back here at dusk."
"My things…" Hephaestion nodded dully. "Yes… I mean, no, I won't need help. Thank you."
"Health to you, then, sir…" finally the young man retreated, leaving Hephaestion alone with his tumultuous thoughts.
He was still feeling dizzy and sick to his stomach when reached his father's estate, but his thoughts were finally clearer. So it had all happened. There were times, even as he was caught in the throes of passion with – well, what could he call him but the pseudo-Alexander, at least until he knew his real name – that he seemed to lose his sense of reality, that he was no longer sure which Alexander was the real one and which was the fake. And hadn't the fake one at some point begun insisting he was the real one and it was the fake one who had married Iphis? Maybe that was how he always teased his lovers – as a matter of fact, I really am the prince! Surprise!
Well, there was plenty of time to learn the truth. Once he saw the fake one again he would know how much of the desire – even the love – he had felt last night was real. And whether the pseudo-Alexander had been even remotely serious about the two of them going away together. Even if he wasn't, there was no going back. With or without him, Hephaestion was resolved upon leaving Macedon.
He winced as one of the servants shouted his name and ran towards him, waving excitedly.
"Are my parents home yet?" Hephaestion asked, refusing to slow his steady pace as he headed indoors.
"No, sir, they sent word they would be staying over at the palace with the other guests, but…"
"Good, good… leave me now, I'm in a hurry…"
"But sir, wait, I must tell you, early this morning…"
"I said not now!" Hephaestion gave a small groan as pain stabbed through his head, pushing the servant aside and throwing open the door to his bedroom. He stopped dead, gaping stupidly at the figure that sprang from the bed, blinking nervously at him and blushing radiantly. "Alexander…?"
"Joy to you, Hephaestion," mumbled his visitor, shuffling his feet and staring miserably at the ground.
Once again the certainty of madness suggested itself to Hephaestion as reality blurred about him. He had just spent the night with this man's double at a cheap rooming-house - or was it actually this man he had spent the night with? He eyed the other man doubtfully. "Alexander, what are you doinghere, how do you even know where I live!"
"I don't understand, why shouldn't I know?"
"Alexander?" Hephaestion shook his head. "Prince Alexander?"
Alexander looked up, then and Hephaestion caught his breath. This certainly wasn't his lover. This was his love, the son of Philip and Olympias, and he looked awful. His eyes were red-rimmed, his skin blotchy; there was a faint tremor in his voice when he spoke. "How formal you are… is there no hope for us after all?"
"What are you doing here, Alexander…?" Hephaestion asked slowly, slumping onto his bed as he fought down a wave of giddiness.
"Would you rather I left? Am I so unwelcome, now?" Alexander's tone was plaintive; he seemed so pathetic, so utterly defeated, that Hephaestion could not help taking his hand and drawing him to sit down him beside him.
"I just don't understand why you're here…"
"Have you no idea at all?"
Hephaestion stiffened, letting go of Alexander's hand. "If you've come for an apology…"
"No… at least, not to get one, but perhaps to make one…"
Hephaestion eyed him wearily. What did anything Alexander said matter now? He had his own Alexander, he had a possible new life with someone, whoever he really was, who told him he loved him, who was able to show he loved him in the most delightful ways. This Alexander had Iphis, had chosen Iphis over Hephaestion. Well good luck to him, he was almost ready to wish them good health and happiness. Almost. "Alexander, it doesn't matter. None of it matters now. I shouldn't have said what I did and… yes, I'm sorry if it upset you… but it doesn't matter."
"But it does matter," Alexander said softly, "oh, my Hephaestion…" He reached up to touch Hephaestion's cheek, "oh, my beloved…"
Gently Hephaestion pushed his hand away. "No, Alexander. I know what you want, what you need. I know how much you crave love, how you love to give and receive it, how much it hurts you to lose it, but your love for me and mine for you just aren't the same. For too long I deluded myself with hope that one day… one day you would…"
"Hephaestion, wait, you don't understand…"
"But I do understand, my dear friend," Hephaestion sighed. He rose quickly from the bed and moved to stand by the window, needing to put some distance between them. In spite of his liberating night with the Pseudo-Alexander, the real one had an allure that was quite unique, one that came from tender, cherished memories, of sweet dreams however hopeless. In fact, if anything things were worse now – until last night he had considered Alexander unassailable, forever beyond his reach, his touch. Now he had memories of making love if not quite to him then to one who, as that young man back at the rooming-house had said, might have been his twin, who looked, sounded, even smelled like him. Even more simply, he now had memories of making love, of sex, instead of just fantasies. And those memories were too delicious to stay out of his thoughts for long. He hoped Alexander would keep away, because he was not quite sure he could trust himself. "I learned to understand last night. I've stopped deluding myself. You can never give me what I want and it's time for me to make a new life away from… from Macedon. From you, Alexander. And I'm ready for it now, I'm leaving as soon as I've packed my things…"
"Please, Alexander," Hephaestion sighed, "in the name of the love we have had for one another, let's not part in bitterness. Come on, tell me all about it, let me share your joy at last. How was your wedding night?" He made sure he had a smile on his face when he turned back to Alexander, but it vanished when he saw tears rolling silently down the prince's pallid cheeks. "Alexander…?"
"Oh Hephaestion…!" Alexander wailed, throwing his arms around Hephaestion's waist as the other came closer and burying his face in Hephaestion's breast, "I think I've made a terrible mistake…!"
Once again, reality shifted and Hephaestion became certain he was about to awaken from a dream. Mystified, he stroked Alexander's hair and felt his thoughts divide. He was supposed to be getting his things and getting away from this place. He was supposed to be getting away from this man. From his endless emotional needs and the ridiculous amount of joy it had given him to satisfy them. Yet he couldn't walk away now, not just now.
When Alexander's sobs were finally under control, he choked out the mortifying details of his wedding night. And Hephaestion listened, gently rubbing his back and not knowing whether to laugh or cry, pity for the man he loved warring against the memory of the Pseudo-Alexander declaring that the prince deserved to be "shackled to a domineering cow" like Iphis. "After I… after I struck you…" Alexander gulped jerkily, "I… went and sat on my own for… I don't know… about an hour… just thinking and thinking and thinking… I was so angry with you, Hephaestion, I hated you for ruining things when everything was suddenly going right for me – my parents reconciled, Cleopatra finally happy, the succession secure, a Greek wife for me whom everyone loved, and you… by my side… falling in love with Iphis didn't change my love for you, I'd thought you understood and everything was perfect…"
"I couldn't help the way I felt, Alexander," Hephaestion cut in firmly, "the way I feel. You might be content with some chaste and noble brotherly love, but I'm not. I'm in love with you. And I want you."
Alexander squirmed uncomfortably, rubbing at the back of his own neck as if it was hurting him. "Finally… they came to get me, to put me to bed… with Iphis." He winced. "And all I could think of was you. And I couldn't… perform. Do you understand, Hephaestion?" he suddenly demanded, his cheeks flushing red, "I couldn't consummate my marriage! I couldn't…"
"I – understand, Alexander," Hephaestion cut in quickly. "So… what happened?"
"Iphis went mad! That's what happened!" Alexander clenched his fists. "She insisted I was having second thoughts about our marriage, that it was all just some political manoeuvre on my father's part and that I was deliberately refusing to consummate it so I could get rid of her quickly when the chance came! Well… I managed to calm her down, said we'd both had too much excitement and too much wine and suggested we sleep for a while and try later…"
"And then… oh gods…" Alexander clutched at his head. "We… went to sleep… passed out might be a better description in my case… and… and I…" he stole a quick, furtive glance at Hephaestion. "And I had this… this dream that… that… you and I were… no, I can't tell you, it's too humiliating…! Anyway," he went on quickly before Hephaestion could form a protest, "it… excited me, and Iphis noticed and began… began to touch me and at first it was good but then I…"
"I called out your name!" Alexander groaned with such despair that a gulp of laughter broke from Hephaestion in spite of his best efforts to keep it down. "It's not funny!" Alexander snarled, his grey eyes flashing. "You should have heard the things she said, the names she called me – she accused me of lying to her, of pretending to love her, of tricking her into marriage when I was really – really in love with you… she even claimed you and I were already lovers and I had no intention of giving you up; she said if I'd at least been honest with her she might still have married me, that she wasn't ignorant about these things and the political alliance was important to both Athens and Macedon, but I was nothing but a coward and a liar and a cad and now she could see why my parents had been estranged for so long and she didn't know how my mother stayed married to my father all these years, and… on and on and on… Hephaestion, I'd sooner ride into battle naked, blindfolded and unarmed than go through that again! I think I've married my mother!"
"So… where do we go from here?" Alexander asked after they had sat in a brooding silence for what seemed like hours.
Hephaestion sighed. "Your marriage doesn't have to be a complete disaster, Alexander. Things can still work out well for everyone. Go and talk to Iphis; she's an intelligent girl and you'd be telling the truth if you told her we… we aren't lovers… insist you were drunk. I'm sure you'll… see some results when you've had a decent sleep and things have calmed down. You can still go on campaign and leave her behind here in Macedon if you really can't stand her… she and Queen Olympias seem to have a great deal in common, after all…"
Alexander sniffed and wiped at his tired eyes. "That isn't what I meant, Hephaestion. I meant… where do you and I go from here?"
Hephaestion remained silent for a long moment, staring at the floor. "I don't know, Alexander…"
"I love you, Hephaestion."
"I know, I love you too, but…"
"I mean, I'm in love with you."
Hephaestion closed his eyes, a hot shiver running through his body. How many times had he dreamed of hearing such words? Yet Alexander was an expert in saying exactly what he knew people wanted to hear, not to mention in getting his own way. He thought of the words the other Alexander had whispered in the heat of passion, I love you more than he does… "It's not that simple, Alexander," he said softly, "you can't just say that and hope things will go back to the way they were, because they can't."
"But I mean it!" Alexander cried, "I'm in love with you!"
"And you noticed this… when, exactly?" Hephaestion asked with gentle scorn, "just now, perhaps, when I said I was leaving…"
Anger flashed in Alexander's eyes. Once it would have brought Hephaestion up short, but no longer. If this really was a game to win him back, it was a cruel one. "As a matter of fact I realised it when you told me you… wanted to sleep with me," Alexander replied stiffly; then his shoulders slumped. "If you want to know the truth, I've had… had thoughts like that about you for a long time. Do you remember when we were boys in Mieza? Sometimes I used to slip into your bed when you were sleeping, just to hold you… sometimes to… to kiss you… but then I'd see the other boys carrying on with each other and then falling out and turning to other boys or chasing women and I decided carnal lust was wrong for you and me…"
"You decided!" Hephaestion choked, "and where was I when this decision was being made?"
"Well I thought, as I'm the Prince… anyway," he hurried on before Hephaestion could argue, "you never complained so I put it out of my mind and in the end, when we became men and were still so close I decided we'd made the right decision."
"There's no point in getting upset now, Hephaestion," Alexander declared sulkily, "I'm telling you I was wrong, aren't I?" Then his expression cleared, became boyishly tender as he looked up at Hephaestion. "I love Iphis, but it's you who are the other half of me. You are the one I want… the one I truly desire… don't leave me now, Hephaestion, please."
Hephaestion regarded him through narrowed eyes. Damn, but he was good at this. How strong the urge was to simply give in, to promise not to leave, to agree to anything. What would the other Alexander, the pseudo-Alexander make of it? He'd probably call the real one's bluff! "So, then, Alexander," Hephaestion said, keeping his voice steady, "if I am the one you desire, prove it to me!"
"Come to bed with me."
Alexander blinked at him. "Here? Now?"
"Why not?" Hephaestion glanced meaningfully down at the bed. "I'm ready for it if you are…"
Alexander looked straight up into his eyes, then looked down at the floor. Then with a slight frown he rose from the bed and walked towards the door. Hephaestion watched him with a smile of bitter satisfaction. But his smile vanished as the prince simply drew the bolt across, then turned back to look at his friend once again before throwing off his chiton in one fluid motion. As Hephaestion rose, startled, Alexander came up to him, put his hands on Hephaestion's shoulders and reached up to place a lingering kiss on his lips. As Hephaestion struggled to catch his breath, Alexander drew back the bedclothes and slipped beneath them.
"Well?" Alexander asked Hephaestion softly, "what are you waiting for…?"
Hephaestion held back, watching his friend intently for signs of fear, of doubt; even of distaste. Would Alexander really go this far just to keep Hephaestion by his side? But then Alexander smiled in the way he only smiled for Hephaestion, the one smile Hephaestion knew came absolutely from his heart, diffident, trusting and full of love. And when Hephaestion came closer, Alexander boldly reached out, taking his hand and guiding it beneath the sheets to another part of him that simply couldn't lie. I'm still dreaming, Hephaestion told himself as he sank into Alexander's arms.
"Hephaestion! Hephaestion, open this door at once! You've got a lot of explaining to do, young man!"
Hephaestion groaned and struggled to sit up. Only then did he become aware of Alexander curled up against him, his blonde head nestled against Hephaestion's chest. For a moment Hephaestion simply stared at him. Alexander… which Alexander was this, now? Had he dreamed spending the night with the fake one? Or the morning with the real one?
"Hephaestion, if you don't open this door right now…!"
That was his father's voice. Yes, and this was his own room. Rubbing a hand through his hair, Hephaestion detached himself from Alexander and slid from the bed, clumsily unbolting the door and opening it only enough for his father to see his face. "Joy to you… Father…" he mumbled.
"I'll give you joy, Hephaestion Amyntoros!" growled Amyntor, "just where did you take off to last night? Did you do something to upset Alexander? We had enough trouble finding him to put him to bed with his bride without your conspicuous absence! I could hardly look Philip in the eye! And now Alexander's missing again! Iphis won't say where he's gone, her parents are panicking that the marriage wasn't consummated and Queen Olympias is blaming everything on you! After all the effort your mother made to befriend her and convince her you were – just a minute …" Amyntor leaned closer, sniffing suspiciously. "I can smell perfume on you!"
"Father, I…" Hephaestion broke off as they both heard the bed creak loudly.
Amyntor's scowl deepened. "Hephaestion, if you've brought a whore under my roof – under your beloved mother's roof – so help me, I'll… that's enough, let me past this instant!"
"Father, no!" Hephaestion cried as Amyntor pushed his way into the room.
"Joy to you, General Amyntor," Alexander said very softly as he pulled the sheets up around himself and managed a feeble smile.
Amyntor stared at him for a very long time before closing his eyes and giving a deep, painful groan. "Oh… gods…!"
"I don't understand, Hephaestion," Alexander said yet again as they dismounted from their horses and handed them to the scruffy looking groom waiting outside the rooming-house. "Who do you want me to meet?"
"You'll see soon enough," Hephaestion returned firmly, leading the way inside. He was not quite sure why he wanted Alexander with him; surely seeing the pseudo-Alexander once more would settle in his mind once and for all which one of these men he really belonged to. But it was getting harder and harder to separate one from the other in his mind. In bed they had not been nearly as different as he had expected – in spite of the prince's lack of experience he had been both confident and eager and actually quite imaginative. And when he had laughed with joy, he had done so just like the young singer had the night before. Once and for all he had to see them both together, to prove to himself he was not the victim of some joke played by the gods themselves. Otherwise he might spend the rest of his life being plagued by visions of having been loved by Apollo – or even Zeus himself – in Alexander's form.
And once he had them together? Running off with the fake was looking more and more attractive by the minute, even if it might be the coward's way out. Even if his own parents would finally forgive him for what they refused to believe was not the deliberate kidnap and seduction of the bridegroom during the course of his wedding night, there were still the King and Queen and Iphis' parents to placate, not to mention Iphis herself.
"Alexander!" The young man who had woken Hephaestion that morning passed them on the stairs. "Back already? Did you forget something?" Before Alexander could form a reply, he added with a nod and a wink towards Hephaestion, "you've made a good choice, there, my friend… don't let him get away!"
"What in the name of Zeus are you…?" Alexander was pushed up the stairs by Hephaestion before he could finish his sentence. "Hephaestion… who was that? And what was he doing talking to me like…"
"You'll see in a minute – here's the room." Hephaestion stepped in, pulling Alexander after him.
It was empty. Nothing remained; no trunk, no clothes, no books. But no, there was something left. A note lay on the bed, rolled neatly. Slowly, Hephaestion opened and read it, feeling Alexander's warm breath on his neck as his lover leaned over his shoulder to read it too.
Sorry I couldn't wait, but it suddenly seemed to me that a fake Hephaestion wasn't much use to a fake Alexander unless there was a real one at the real Alexander's side. I hope you enjoyed your wedding morning with the real Alexander as much as your night with the fake one, though I dare say he lacked my talents! At least he isn't quite as stupid as I thought; perhaps there's hope for Macedon after all! Thank you again for freeing me from that old bastard Thersites. Zeus bless you and protect you my dearest Hephaestion; thank you again for my wedding night.
"Hephaestion, I don't understand," Alexander said very quietly, "that's my handwriting!"
Hephaestion looked back at him in silence. Then slowly he went over to the bed and put his hand under the pillow. It was there, cold and metallic, just as he knew it would be. Biting his lip, he removed the dagger with the beautifully decorated hilt and held it up for Alexander to see.
"But… that's my dagger!" Alexander exclaimed, "the one I keep under my pillow! Hephaestion, what does all this mean?"
"Alexander…" Hephaestion began slowly, "last night. You said you had a dream about… us. What exactly happened in it?"
Alexander visibly winced. "In Morpheus' name, Hephaestion, don't make me remember it, it was…"
"Please, Alexander, just tell me!" Hephaestion snapped, feeling the beginnings of panic rising within him.
Alexander swallowed hard. "Oh, very well – I was – oh gods – I was in some cheap, disgusting drinking house filled with lowlife and I was… singing. Singing – publicly! For money! And singing the most revolting songs, too. And some great ugly oaf was telling me I was supposed to… there was this other man, who looked well bred, who wanted to… oh gods!"
Taking pity on him at last, Hephaestion cut in, "and I got you away from them and you took me back to your room …"
"This room, Hephaestion, this room!"
"And then we…"
They stared dumbly at each other for a very long time before Alexander took the dagger from Hephaestion's hand and shoved it into his own belt. Knowing the depth of Alexander's religious faith and his belief in omens from the gods, especially when they favoured him, Hephaestion had half expected him to begin declaring this a matter of divine intervention. But the prince only seemed frightened and confused. "Can we get out of here?" he asked hoarsely, "now?"
Hephaestion nodded, seizing Alexander's hand and drawing him out of the door and down the stairs. Suddenly, facing the combined wrath of Philip, Olympias, Iphis' parents and his own seemed trifling in comparison to spending another minute in that small, sparsely furnished room.