THE OTHER HALF
SUMMARY: Bagoas has successfully flirted his way into Alexander's bed, but knows a reckoning with Alexander's other half is coming soon... (For those who don't like Alexander / Bagoas, don't worry, neither do I!)
Disclaimer: Not really movie based, Alexander and Hephaestion belong to themselves.
Author's Notes: A slightly different take on Hephaestion's relationship with Bagoas – sorry if he comes across as the head of the Gestapo, it's just the way it came to me!
Bagoas Note: Obviously this story completely contradicts my portrayal of Bagoas in "The Ivory Eros" but don't expect much continuity from me where he's concerned - he's almost always a plot device! Actually, he's a very confusing subject - Arrian says he won a dance contest in India but another source on the internet says that according to Eumenes Alexander left him in Persia when he went East. Quintus Curtius portrays him as a scheming little tart who gets an innocent man executed, (which is probably why Mary Renault rejected him as an irredeemably silly man!) but some historians seem to suggest Bagoas never existed. Oh well…
Rating: T for adult only content; mild A/H slash and sexual references
The time had come at last. As he watched the rider enter the courtyard below, he caught himself holding his breath and let it out slowly. Young he may be, but he had lost his innocence painfully early and he had not survived through that or through all the more recent upheavals by dissolving into womanish hysterics at the first sign of this latest trouble. He had to do what he always did when matters were beyond his control – keep calm, keep quiet, listen and watch. Above all, at this crucial moment, he had to watch.
The man was tall; he could make that out even while the new arrival remained on his chestnut coloured horse. Broad too, with the musculature of an experienced soldier. Beyond that, little was revealed; his features were temporarily hidden behind the visor of his helmet. Pages and servants hurried to attend him and the soldiers who came behind, but all drew back at once to let their leader through.
King Alexander. His new master. Bagoas could not help leaning further out of the window to take in every detail of what happened next. Others might be watching him, but Alexander, the only one who mattered, had eyes only for the horseman. Just when Bagoas had believed he had seen every oddity of this strange, unstoppable Macedonian's nature, the man stunned him again. Without waiting for his friend to dismount and come to him, he hurried over with outstretched arms, for all the world like a baby clamouring to be picked up. The rider pushed back his visor at last and leaned down to embrace him. And then it happened. King Alexander reached up and kissed the man on the lips.
Bagoas drew back sharply, his heart jumping in his chest. So it was true, all the rumours had to be true. He understood enough now to know that what was true of the Persian court was not necessarily true for the Macedonian invaders. A kiss on the lips did not have to mean a kiss of equals. But nor was it the way Alexander greeted any of his officers who had been away for a time; the reactions of the spectators, varying from amusement to embarrassment to badly disguised exasperation, told Bagoas that this was not something they saw every day.
He forced himself to look out again, to listen too. He had to be prepared. He could not walk deaf and blind into the clutches of the one man besides the new King of Kings who might possibly hold Bagoas' life in his hands.
"…prefer to do to it at once, Alexander…" that man was saying as he dismounted, his voice strong and steady, "I summarised it all on the way back, it won't take long."
"If that's the way you want it," Alexander said with a shrug.
"Better get it over with… then I can relax…" The words were said with an innocent face and toneless voice, yet Bagoas, even from the window, thought he caught a quick glance exchanged between the two men and the very faintest smile tug at Alexander's lips. His companion removed his helmet, revealing loose dark curls cut short. Then without warning he looked up, straight to the open window from which Bagoas watched, and Bagoas caught his first look at this man who meant so much to his King.
He was as young as Alexander and more handsome by Persian standards; with those fine, strong features and liquid dark eyes he would have the women of the court swooning in front of him if he didn't insist on shaving off his beard. Bagoas could never understand why Alexander and his younger officers wanted to go about the streets being mistaken for eunuchs. Standing close to Alexander he was at least a head taller, and he moved with a careless swagger shocking to Bagoas even after all he had seen of the informality of the Macedonians. Just who and what was he? "…Shall we go straight there…?" he was saying.
"Not yet…" Alexander put a hand on his arm. "There's something I need to discuss with you first…" he glanced behind him to where one of the royal pages hovered. "Call the other Generals together; tell them we'll join them in a few moments…" He then proceeded to dismiss the various other courtiers, servants and soldiers who lingered, taking his friend by the arm and leading him further away from the palace entrance. "There's something I need to tell you that wasn't fitting in a letter…" his voice dropped too low for Bagoas to hear more.
He was not sure whether to be frightened or relieved. There was no reason to believe he was himself the subject of Alexander's conversation, one so private it had to be held outdoors and alone. It could be anything, suspected treason, secret plans, bad news from back home. Alexander might just want a few minutes to kiss his friend less publicly. And yet… and yet…
It wasn't as if Bagoas had not had warning. For the last few days, the insoluble enigma that was Alexander had perplexed him even more than he had done in all the days Bagoas had known him. Nothing about this strange Greek – Macedonian, he had to learn to distinguish as they did – was what he had expected. At first he had half expected to be put to death. When Alexander himself had first sent for him he assumed it was to give him pleasure; he had been bewildered to find the new ruler wanted lessons in court etiquette and Persian customs and language. Bagoas gave him what he asked for, answered all his questions, even his more halting ones about the more private elements of Darius' life and Bagoas' role in them. Bagoas was experienced enough to know when a man had a fancy for him, he had turned down enough propositions when he had served Darius and he could see that Alexander was attracted to him – and, perhaps even more, curious about what skills he had that had supposedly well pleased the King of Kings. But unlike Darius, Alexander did not seem to realise he could simply demand what he wanted. It was rather disarming, but it was also very confusing. To resume his position of favoured concubine to a King was more than he could have hoped for, was almost unbelievable when he reflected on the many dreadful futures he might have faced.
Many of his old rivals from Darius' court - concubines, fellow eunuchs and courtiers who had resented the arrival of the fresh young beauty Bagoas and tried their best to ruin him - were, distressingly, still alive and well, instead of hanging from crosses in the palace grounds as he might have expected from an invasion by barbarians from the west, but they did not have the personal favour of Alexander. And once Alexander overcame his reticence and made use of his skills as a lover as well as an advisor and an entertainer, Bagoas thought he might relax just a little. He did not think he would ever fully understand his new master, but he perceived one thing quite clearly – loyalty meant more to him than anything. As long as Bagoas kept his eyes straight ahead, staying away from court intrigue and scandal as much as possible and making sure he was never caught anywhere near someone who might come under suspicion of treachery, he would survive. He might even flourish.
But then he had entered the picture, and Bagoas felt as if the rug had been pulled from under his feet. His old rivals could not wait to tell him all they had heard about him, the King's male lover, closer to him, they insisted, than any Queen could hope to be, his consort in all but name. So what, Bagoas had scoffed. He was the King, he could take every officer in his army to bed if it suited him, and after all, who knew what was customary amongst these Greeks (he deliberately avoided the word barbarians.) No, they insisted, you don't understand. In all this time Alexander has only fathered one child, and his paternity is in doubt, or so we've heard. This isn't some pleasure slave – like you. This is love! What will he think of you, do you think? They're not as sophisticated in these matters as we are! Have you heard the stories of Alexander's mother? What she did to his half-brother? And his father's last wife? They're all barbarians – why should he be any different? What have you become, Bagoas had demanded, hanging about like kitchen-slaves, listening to the gossip of camp-followers and soldiers! Wait and see, they sneered; he's due back very soon.
And that very night, Alexander's behaviour changed. His capacity for talk was yet another aspect of his nature which while far from unpleasant, was utterly bewildering. He had been used to slipping from Darius' bed as soon as pleasure was given and the King resting comfortably. Alexander refused to sleep after their encounters, preferring to talk even more than he usually did, about almost anything. He seemed to survive on almost no sleep and didn't seem to realise Bagoas could not do the same until he caught him stifling a yawn. Bagoas had been mortified, but Alexander had laughed it off and sent him away to bed. Sometimes Bagoas had to wonder what it was Alexander really wanted – sexual pleasure, or just a companion to chase away the demons of the night. Over the last three nights, he was beginning to believe it was the latter.
Alexander had not wanted to make love over these last few nights, yet he kept Bagoas with him anyway. His abstinence did not seem born out of guilt, but simply another of his odd pieces of self-denial, like a man fasting before a banquet. What he did on those nights was talk. About him. Having never mentioned him since the day of Bagoas' arrival, except in conversations with others, now he suddenly couldn't stop. Listening as attentively as he could, Bagoas tried to make sense not of what he was hearing but why he was hearing it. Darius would never have considered Bagoas worthy of hearing his innermost musings, let alone his thoughts about another man. Not that Alexander was revealing intimate details, he was simply recalling past triumphs, acts of kindness, loyalty, courage, selflessness. Last night had been the worst of all. Alexander had simply sent him away with the pages. There didn't seem any reproach intended and he had not wanted Bagoas every night since he had taken him as his lover, but last night was different, because he was due back this morning.
They were making their way back now, heads bent close together in a way which seemed strangely far more intimate than that earlier kiss, so much so that Bagoas felt an unexpected pang of guilt for witnessing it. Still, he wished he could see their expressions. Just as Alexander, moving quickly as always, disappeared from view, his companion looked up once more, and Bagoas could have sworn that not only could he see him, but he knew exactly who he was. Perhaps by this time he was anxious enough to begin imagining things, but he could have sworn he saw a smile twitch on those well-formed lips.
He knew he ought to go back to Alexander's rooms; he might be needed before or at the staff briefing. Instead he sank down on the window ledge and tried to order his thoughts. He did not know how long he had been there when he heard soft footsteps approach, but when he looked up, the shadows about him had lengthened. A youth, clad in dusty armour, inclined his head politely to him. Bagoas straightened up, determined to keep his dignity even if he was about to be stripped of everything else. He had seen this boy not long ago, riding in behind him.
"My name is Iason," the boy said, his manner more polite than any of the King's pages when it came to Bagoas. "My Commander, Hephaestion, would like to see you in his rooms. Immediately," he added, in case it wasn't already obvious.
Hephaestion was tired. So tired in fact that he had nearly made the mistake of not reacting to Alexander's confession with any surprise at all. It was at times like this that Hephaestion dared to doubt himself, wondering if he had finally gone too far. In a way it had been out of his hands, he had been leaving on his mission when the Persian eunuch had been brought to Alexander and had not even had a chance to look at him. He hadn't asked young Hyacinthus to write to him about the matter, but Alexander's page had no end of initiative – if he hadn't, Hephaestion wouldn't have noticed him in the first place. The boy had come to him not long after joining the army fresh from Macedon, insisting treason was being planned against Alexander by some of the camp followers. As it happened, it was all harmless discontent – a bribe here, a threat there and the matter was forgotten. But Hyancithus had proved his discretion as well as his loyalty and he was useful.
All the same, he did seem to forget he was required to spy for Alexander, not on him. When Alexander had told him about Bagoas with that peculiar mixture of defiance and remorse that Hephaestion secretly found both meltingly sweet and more than a little amusing, he had remained quiet, troubled not by what Alexander himself considered infidelity but by his own guilt at knowing already and at not caring nearly as much as Alexander would think he should. Hephaestion could not wish Alexander to be more like his father Philip, could never want him to be anything but uniquely Alexander, the man he loved. But he sometimes wished he could make him understand that he, Hephaestion, had never expected Alexander to remain sexually faithful, had accepted it as a natural part of loving a prince that sooner or later Alexander would take a mistress or two, then a wife, might also take on an eromenos now and then. That simply by letting Hephaestion share his bed after he had become King when most men would have thought it inappropriate was greater proof love than he ever needed. But there was no way to say it without Alexander somehow assuming Hephaestion didn't love him enough! How could a man who could raze a city to the ground and order the slaughter of thousands remain so infuriatingly sensitive?
The sigh Hephaestion had released when Alexander had finished had been mistaken for unhappiness and Alexander had begun sulking, defending his behaviour and apologising by turns. What would his beloved have thought if he had known Hephaestion was simply sighing from weariness at one more task he had to complete before he could claim his reward and was secretly thinking Alexander's clothes off and wishing he could claim it here and now, out in the courtyard in the burning sun?
He couldn't think of anything appropriate to say, so he had boldly seized his King and pressed a kiss to his neck. Alexander had clung to him with relief; only Hephaestion's hand slipping down to his bottom awoke him to their less than private location and he had quickly steered his friend back towards the palace. "You'll come to me, after the briefing," Alexander had whispered, keeping his head inclined close to Hephaestion's, his voice a secret whisper.
"Of course, my love… but let me bathe and change first…"
"Bathe with me!" Alexander's tone was almost childlike in its excitement.
Hephaestion nearly groaned aloud, suddenly wishing that all his fellow generals had been suffocated at birth and Bagoas had had his head cut off instead of his testicles. In this mood Alexander was nearly irresistible. Earn your reward; he told himself, it will be the sweeter for the effort… "And share all this grime and muck with you? That would be about as romantic as having a bath with Peritas! Come, we'll get the briefing out of the way, I'll get clean… and then… then I'll come and get you clean too…"
It was with a loudest sigh yet that Hephaestion sank into the hot water, fighting the urge to stay in his bath all night with thoughts of Alexander. Instead he began scrubbing himself quickly, ignoring the fussing of his newest, youngest Page Admetus who wanted to do it for him. Only minutes later he was out of the water and too sleepy to stop the boy drying him off. He was still naked when Iason returned with a dark, slender youth who could only be Bagoas.
The eunuch was lovely; Hephaestion, who unlike many, had no fancy for any male more boyish or delicate than Alexander, could appreciate that. It was more than his looks, splendid though they were. He moved with the grace of a cat, held himself with the poise of a dancer. A weaker man might easily be undone by the fluttering of those lashes, the lifting of those large obsidian eyes. And he had heard many stories of the skills eunuchs such as he were supposed to possess. "Thank you, Iason – go off and get some food and some rest. Joy to you, Bagoas," Hephaestion said steadily.
In one fluid movement the boy prostrated himself before Hephaestion, who ignored the disdainful snort from Admetus and waited politely for Bagoas to rise. "You sent for me my Lord," the Persian said in remarkably clear Greek.
Hephaestion glanced toward his remaining page. "You can go too. Take the rest of the evening off, I won't need you." When Admetus continued to glare indignantly at Bagoas, Hephaestion grinned. "Go on, Bagoas will help me dress… won't you, Bagoas?"
"Whatever you require of me, My Lord," the eunuch replied tonelessly, lowering his eyes.
As soon as the Macedonian boy had departed, Hephaestion picked up the clean loincloth he had laid out and wrapped it in place, waving away Bagoas' offer to assist. "I'm quite capable of dressing myself, child. Pour me some wine, and take some for yourself, then sit down, I won't be a moment."
When he had dressed, he took the couch opposite the one Bagoas occupied. He noticed the boy sat primly upon it, not reclining until Hephaestion had done so too. In spite of that cool demeanour he was obviously very wary. So he knew who Hephaestion was. So much the better. He raised his wine cup to Bagoas and drank, a show of good faith.
"I know all about you and the King," Hephaestion said bluntly. There was a faint flicker of emotion on Bagoas' face, then it was gone. His self-command was admirable. Good. "He's very taken with you. It would seem your knowledge of the Persian court and its customs is proving invaluable, as is your impressive mastery of Greek."
"I am honoured, My Lord."
Hephaestion hesitated. "Alexander writes to me very often when we're apart. He's told me a great deal about what you've told him of the politics of Darius' court. A complex and dangerous place, even more so than the one we left behind! For one so young, you seem very capable of navigating your way through the maze of politics. Again, we're impressed."
"You are too kind, My Lord."
"Do you like your new position here, Bagoas?"
The dark eyes flashed briefly. Apprehension quickly concealed but definitely there. "Very much, my Lord."
"And Alexander? Do you like him? No, don't answer that," he added cheerfully, seeing the brief flicker of indignation, "that was a very stupid question. Let me rephrase it. Are you… content, to continue in his service? Alexander is a complex person," Hephaestion continued again before Bagoas could respond, gazing down into his wine cup, "in many ways, he is governed by his emotions." Not quite as much as most believed, of course; Alexander could be a fine actor when he wanted, and knew how to play many parts at once. Only Hephaestion knew him well enough to see through him, however many masks he put on. But that was not Bagoas' concern. At least not yet. "He values loyalty above all else. He needs loyalty, and… he needs love." Hephaestion met Bagoas' eyes. "Do you love him, Bagoas?"
For a moment they regarded each other in silence. Between them they might wear as many masks as Alexander. Hephaestion had just dropped one of his; the challenge was there for Bagoas to do the same. He could see the war of desires because he had grown clever at seeing, but for such a youngster, Bagoas hid his emotions remarkably well. To tell the truth or not? Which would be the right choice under these circumstances? Hephaestion could almost sympathise. He let another mask slip down. "The truth is always best, I find."
Bagoas remained subdued a moment longer. Lowering his eyes he said slowly and quietly, "King Alexander has treated me with kindness, gentleness, consideration and respect. He has allowed me my dignity and listened to my opinions. He has spared my life when another might have taken it without a second thought. He has even placed trust in me. He has my gratitude. He has my loyalty." He paused, putting emphasis on the last word. "He has my life. Must he have my heart as well?"
Hephaestion released his breath and took a large sip of wine, amused by his own conflicting reactions – anger mixed with relief. He had no right to his anger, he had asked for honesty and got it, and with it the answer he needed. What contrariness in his nature demanded that no-one, not even this Persian, should be immune to Alexander's charm?
Honesty deserved honesty in return. He took more wine, thrust out his cup for Bagoas to refill. With perfect courtesy the boy obliged; as he did so, Hephaestion said, "I do love him, Bagoas. I fell in love with him almost as soon as I met him and my love has never wavered. Nor has my desire." Just for a moment he let every mask drop, let Bagoas see the real Hephaestion who was so rarely allowed out, except when alone with Alexander. It was a great indulgence, but it felt good. "All of this…" he waved an expressive hand about his surroundings, "this is only the beginning of all that he has – all that we have dreamed of, planned for since we were boys. We would have it no other way. But to get what you want there is always a price to pay. The more you want, the higher the price. I have paid hard and in two ways.
"I have had to harden myself. I have to doubt so that Alexander can trust. I have to be cruel so that Alexander can be merciful. If necessary I have to lie and cheat so that Alexander can remain honest. I have had to stay awake so that Alexander can continue to dream. His dreams are mine, so only one of us needs dream them. Do you see?"
Bagoas regarded him steadily, only the faintest quickening of the rise and fall of his slender diaphragm betraying any tension. "I… think so, My Lord."
"Then there is the other price. I have to be separated from Alexander for long periods of time. It has to be this way, sending me is the closest Alexander can come to sending himself. But it means I can't be with him, I can't watch over him. I can't be there to protect him from the ambitions, lies, treachery and greed of others. That is why you are here with me now."
Bagoas lifted one delicate brow, his eyes never leaving Hephaestion's face. "My life is the King's," he responded quietly, a carefully double-edged answer. Hephaestion grinned. The eunuch was certainly not a fool and still had no reason to trust him.
"So is mine, Bagoas, so is mine. Like yours, my future is bound to Alexander. Alexander once said that I was Alexander too, and perhaps that is the best way to help you understand. I am beyond jealousy in these matters, because one cannot be jealous of oneself. I don't want to know what happens between you and the King. I don't want to know what Alexander tells you, there will be little said between you he won't eventually repeat to me… believe me." A gentle warning, not intended to frighten. "What I need is someone to do what I can't – to watch over him, and to watch out for him, when I'm away, whether to observe how his wine is poured, to guide him in the ways of the Persian court and its members, to listen to the talk of camp-followers and servants… or simply to see that he eats, sleeps and minds his own health the way he should. Out of all the tasks you'll face, I promise you that will be the hardest!"
Hephaestion straightened, his stiffening muscles protesting. He would have liked to have had some sleep before going to Alexander, but lust would restore his energies soon enough. "You haven't touched your wine, Bagoas. Won't you drink with me? Here." Hephaestion refilled his own cup and passed it to Bagoas, taking the other cup himself and raising it to his lips. "Shall we drink to Alexander?"
Bagoas looked at him for a long moment. Then he smiled so captivatingly that in spite of himself Hephaestion drew in a sharp breath. He took a swallow of wine, watched Bagoas do the same? When they placed their cups upon the table between them, both were empty.
The first kiss was like a long, cool drink for a man dying of thirst. Hephaestion breathed out heavily as he closed his eyes and buried his face in Alexander's golden hair. It was nearly over, but there was one last task to complete. Drawing back with great reluctance, he slipped his hand beneath Alexander's chin, tilted his friend's head up and looked down into eyes misty with passion.
"I've just seen your boy," he murmured. "He's very beautiful."
"Do you really not mind? If it comes to it, Hephaestion, I'll send him away, rather than…"
"I'm quite happy, Alexander…" Hephaestion replied. Alexander's usual defiance was now softened by love and yearning; he wouldn't always be so pliant. Even had Hephaestion wanted rid of Bagoas, he would have known better then to take advantage of his lover's gentle mood. "Bagoas doesn't bother me in the slightest…" he paused, allowed a hard edge to enter his tone. "Just make sure he doesn't get in the way when I want to have you!"
Perfect! Alexander's reaction was just what Hephaestion wanted it to be. A bright flash of anger, a shadow of guilt, a small spark of excitement. He liked Hephaestion to defy him, every so often. He also, in spite of himself, needed to see just a little jealousy; no lover wanted their love taken completely for granted. Before the King could speak, Hephaestion pressed a finger to his lips. "Peace, my love. I'm only testing my reflexes against the lion's claws... you wouldn't have me getting slow and stupid…"
Alexander gave a small, rueful smile. Then he took Hephaestion's hand and pressed it tenderly against his own heart. "One thing I can promise you, my beloved… you will find room for no-one but yourself in here."
At last it was all done. Hephaestion let the final mask slip from his face, let his pure, overflowing love for this man shine through. "Gods, but I have missed you, Alexander," he gasped, drawing him close, letting his hands stray over his hair, his face, his shoulders; "each time I return to you your beauty bewitches me afresh… the fire that burns in you heats my blood…"
"Tonight I am your Alexander, only your Alexander, just as when we were boys without a care… I am yours and only yours…" Alexander breathed, rubbing against him as if basking in his love, "I am yours for as long as the Gods keep us together…"
Hephaestion grinned. "I haven't forgotten about that bath you offered…"
Alexander looked up at him, quiet, almost shy, as he sometimes was when they were to make love for the first time after a long separation. Slowly he held out his hand. "Come along. It's all waiting for you."
After slowly undressing each other they stood beside the bath, exchanging light caresses, savouring every moment before Alexander finally kissed Hephaestion and led him into the bath. To Hephaestion's surprise, Alexander sank down into the hot, scented water, leaned back and opened his arms, beckoning for Hephaestion to nestle between his legs, his back resting against Alexander's chest, his head settling comfortably into the curve of Alexander's shoulder. Usually it was Alexander who wanted to be fondled and petted and spoiled. Now the King reached out to the wine pitcher on the table nearby, poured a cup and handed it to Hephaestion before taking a phial of oil and beginning to rub it across Hephaestion's shoulders in firm, blissfully soothing strokes, pressing kisses to the back of his neck as he did so. After a moment of this Hephaestion felt his arms grow so slack he almost dropped the wine cup into the bath; attentive as a well-trained servant, Alexander took it from him gently and laid it aside. A deep moan broke from Hephaestion as warm water was poured over his hair and then Alexander's fingers rubbed gently along his scalp. The water, the heat and his lover's touches had almost lulled the weary Commander into sleep when oily hands slid down his torso and settled purposefully upon his manhood. Muttering a soft prayer, he closed his eyes, stretching back his head to find Alexander's lips.
"To whom do you pray, my beautiful friend?" Alexander's voice was little more than a soft breath in his ear.
"To Zeus, of course… with… oh Gods… all respect to… Aphrodite… and Eros…"
As Alexander's strokes grew slower and firmer, Hephaestion repeated his prayer in silence. Almighty Gods, if this is what Alexander has learned from Bagoas, then bless the boy, bless the boy, bless the boy…