ALL THAT MATTERS
DEDICATED TO FREDERICKA – this is the one I meant!
SUMMARY: Bagoas learns the true meaning of the phrase "be careful what you wish for" as his dreams of a happy future with Alexander after Hephaestion's death very quickly turn sour. (Sorry if Hephaestion is a bit camp and has turned into a bit of a hippie, death does funny things to you…)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: If you wondered why I was so nice to Bagoas in "The Ivory Eros" it's because I'd already vented my spleen in this story! It's is actually one of the first Alexander fics I wrote; I freely admit it was "negatively" inspired by Mary Renault's "The Persian Boy" because Bagoas' constant bitching about Hephaestion really got on my nerves. To all of Renault's fans - please don't hate me, I did like Fire from Heaven and I promise I'll stop complaining… At any rate, no copyright infringement was intended.
DISCLAIMER: As above, I claim nothing and own nothing. Not event the computer I'm presently working on…
HISTORICAL NOTES: In case this gets confusing: I usually try to stick to history when it goes against what took place in Oliver Stone's film, so, to clarify - Cassander was never one of Alexander's Companions; he was left behind in Macedon and only turned up in Persia at the end, though I haven't been able to pin down whether it was before or after Hephaestion's death. If he first turned up in Babylon I assume it was after. So he was in Macedon to see his father being constantly harassed by Olympias. Whether this justifies his later conduct is debatable, but it does make it a little more understandable! And as far as I know Roxana (significantly some say!) only got pregnant AFTER Hephaestion died - it makes sense, as Alexander died about nine months after Hephaestion and his son was born posthumously.
TWO MORE QUICK NOTES BEFORE I FINALLY SHUT UP: Is anyone interested in contributing to an Alexander – Hephaestion fanzine? I've submitted one of my stories to it as I think it's a lovely idea and the person running it is very approachable so don't be scared! It's NOT me but if you want to find out more see the blood red rose . 50megs site or if you can't find it you can email me directly and I'll try to send you the link.
ALSO I would really like to thank Qaddafi the Ripper for being so kind and helping me out with one of my stories – anyone not familiar with this author's truly wonderful Alexander / Hephaestion fics should see the bob did it . org site; it's well worth it.
It had all gone horribly, unbearably wrong. What should have been the happiest time of Bagoas' brief life was turning into an unrelenting ordeal. He had expected Alexander to mourn, of course, but as a King should – graciously, regally, gently. And of course Bagoas would be there to comfort him; once Hephaestion was dead there was no reason not to lavish praise upon him – his bravery, his loyalty, his remarkable beauty. And gradually Alexander would come to realise that he still had Bagoas, and was now free to love him as he should, without being burdened with guilt for his old lover's feelings. For no doubt, Bagoas had often told himself, it was guilt, more than lust, that drew Alexander back to Hephaestion's arms time and again when he had Bagoas to satisfy his every need. That was Alexander – so loyal, so kind, that he would let himself become Hephaestion's boy again now and then, when any other man would have ended any physical love between them years ago. After all, Hephaestion had given up so much to follow Alexander, Bagoas could appreciate that.
That had been the plan, in theory. In practice, things proved a little more complicated.
"BAGOAS!" The Persian jumped involuntarily as Alexander bawled his name. He headed reluctantly back into the bedchamber where his lord stood with hands on hips, his grey eyes, now almost permanently red rimmed and swollen, flashing with fury. "Hurry up, I told you to prepare my robes, Medius and the others are awaiting my arrival!"
"My Lord, I thought you had decided not to go tonight…!" Bagoas protested, "your temperature is high, you have to – "
"I feel fine, Bagoas," Alexander growled, "nothing a few slugs of wine won't cure!"
"But My Lord – Alexander – the physicians said…"
"Physicians! Sons of whores!" Alexander's pale face suddenly grew very red. "I would sooner take the advice of a dog turd on the street!"
"Please, My Lord, I beg you… you must think of your health!"
"Oh stop nagging, Bagoas," Alexander chuckled humourlessly, "you sound just like…" he broke off, his lip beginning to tremble, his eyes sparkling with tears. "By Zeus' thunderbolts, Bagoas, get me ready and get me out of this accursed room!"
Bagoas did not argue any further. Once his name entered Alexander's thoughts, which was almost always these days, the argument was already lost. And he had dared to think that death would free him of Hephaestion!
The night before, Alexander had taken Bagoas for the first time since Hephaestion's death. Alexander had been drunk, but there were now rarely times when Bagoas had him to himself that he wasn't (his sober moments he saved for his Generals, for his increasingly far fetched plans for new conquest.) When he had climaxed he had shouted Hephaestion's name. It was not the first time this had happened, but it was the first time he had not apologised to Bagoas. Instead he had begun crying again, harsh, heartrending sobs wracking his body, and screamed out, Bagoas did not know to whom, "I can't! I can't! I tried, you see I tried, but I… can't…!"
It was nearly dawn before Ptolemy carried Alexander back to Bagoas, so drunk he could barely stand. "He's running a high fever," Ptolemy told him grimly, "he's already been sick once on the way here…"
"I will fetch cooling cloths, My Lord," Bagoas said quickly, suddenly anxious to escape, though he could easily have sent an inferior servant to run such a menial errand. Just as he was darting down the corridor, a foot was stuck out and he tripped over it, landing with a thud on the carpet and grazing his chin.
"For such a graceful little dancer, you are growing clumsy," came a voice above him. Shuddering, Bagoas looked into the steely eyes of Cassander, grinning down at him.
"M-my Lord…" Bagoas mumbled.
"Oh, get up, your Persian grovelling sickens me," sneered Cassander, pulling him roughly to his feet. "Poor Bagoas… you don't look well! Things aren't going quite as you planned, are they?"
Bagoas felt his insides turn to ice. "I do not…"
"Oh, forget the innocence, I'm not a fool. That other little No-Balls told me everything," Cassander nodded, watching the dawning horror on Bagoas' face. "Oh yes, it seemed he couldn't live with the guilt either! What's his name? I can never tell one of you from another… not as pretty as you, though, is he? He came blubbing to me a week ago. Oh, calamity! Oh, catastrophe! A plot to do away with the Grand Vizier!"
Bagoas felt he was going to be sick. "I did not do it, My Lord, I swear upon – "
"Upon the name of the Divine Hephaestion…?" Cassander threw back his head and laughed. "I know you didn't, you wouldn't – how can I put it? – have the balls for it? But the other little No-Balls overheard that Sogdian bitch planning it with her ladies and who better to confide in than you? You, another eunuch, who even Great Alexander would believe?"
"I never had a chance to…"
"Don't lie to me, whore! You had every chance! One whiff of a plot against The Perfect One and Alexander would have cut the bitch's throat, wife or no wife, heirs or no heirs! You just couldn't resist, could you?"
Bagoas felt all of the energy drain from his slender body. A curious peace settled over him. He would die for it, of course; given the chance he would offer to take his own life discreetly as long as they promised not to tell Alexander the truth. "What do you command, my Lord?"
Cassander shook his head. "Nothing, you stupid child, nothing..." Bagoas looked up in spite of himself, but the Macedonian smiled with surprising mildness. "I'm not going to tell Alexander! Not that I wasn't tempted when I saw how much time he was spending in Roxana's bed once he finally stopped bawling long enough to remember who she was… I don't suppose that's what you had in mind, is it, eunuch? Imagine, just imagine what it would do to him to find out he's been seeking solace in the arms of Hephaestion's murderess! I hear she's pregnant, now. What a moral dilemma it would pose for him! Should he execute her before or after the baby's born…?"
"Why…?" Bagoas croaked weakly, "why do you hate him so much?"
"Why?" Cassander's eyes settled upon his, pale and cold as ice. "Why not? You really think the sun shines out of his gilded backside, don't you! Didn't Alexander ever tell you about me? But no, why should he? All he needed you for was to keep his bed warm and tell him the Persians really don't think he's just some destructive barbarian oaf! He saved all the confidences for his real beloved!" For the first time the sneer faded from Cassander's face, revealing a deep, powerful bitterness. "For over twelve years I've rotted in Macedon, watching my father Antipater, the rightly appointed Regent, being bullied, undermined and slandered by that mad cow Olympias and listened to other men's tales of heroism, riches and glory while Alexander threw orders back at us from the Gods alone know where and dismissed our efforts to protect his own kingdom as a "war of mice"! Do you know how long I've waited for a chance like this? I could never have gotten away with plotting against Hephaestion, as it is I'm surprised Alexander didn't crucify me at the funeral just out of spite! And as to plotting against Alexander… why bother? You and the Persian bitch have done me a wonderful favour!" He nodded in the direction of Alexander's room. "How long would you give him, little dancer? A year? A month? A week?"
"NO!" Bagoas pressed his hands to his ears, "no, you are a liar, a liar!"
Gently, Cassander eased Bagoas' hands down. "Don't be a fool, did they cut out your brain with your balls? He's killing himself, and as fast as he can. Now Hephaestion's a Divine Hero there's nothing to stop him! Of course he's having a little help from my brother Iollas and his thick-headed lover Medius, who'd cut off his own balls if he thought it would make Alexander like him more, but all they're doing now is giving Alexander what he wants! And when he finally finishes the job, Macedon will be mine – once I've strung up his murdering witch of a mother!"
"Liar!" wailed Bagoas, "liar, liar, liar!"
"Do you think its true, little dancer? Does each man kill the thing he loves…?"
They both spun as Ptolemy appeared, watching his countryman with hard, suspicious eyes. Cassander nodded politely to him. "I wanted to see how Alexander was, but I can see you have everything under control…"
As he headed away down the corridor, Ptolemy came closer and looked hard at Bagoas' swollen chin. "Are you all right?"
"I – tripped, my Lord," Bagoas whispered, "L-Lord Cassander helped me to my feet… I must get the cooling cloths…"
"You don't have to be afraid, Bagoas," Ptolemy said gently, "whatever happens to – whatever happens next, I'll see you're taken care of."
"Taken care of… yes, thank you my Lord…" Bagoas hurried away.
"I know, I know, but don't you see, my love, it doesn't matter anymore, none of it…! Nothing matters now except… yes, I know I should, I know, but I can't…"
Bagoas stirred slowly, his body aching for sleeping awkwardly in the chair by Alexander's bed. Alexander was not in it; his voice echoed from the balcony. Bagoas' first instinct was to run and draw him back inside, but the next words stopped him cold.
"To Hades with Bagoas – with all of them! You were all that ever mattered my – yes, yes, all right, yes, you're right… you're always right, but it doesn't change anything… oh, can't you stop lecturing me, just for once…" Alexander's tone softened, became positively flirtatious, "didn't I endure enough lectures while you were a mortal man…? Oh, tell me you're pleased with what I… no, but tell me again… oh, just one kiss, beloved and I… no! No, that's not fair!" Now he sounded more like a petulant child – Bagoas could have sworn he even heard him stamp his foot. "Divine Hero you may be, but I am the son of a God! You said so yourself! Oh, how can I stay angry when you look at me that way? All right, all right, I'll try, but only if you promise…" his voice sank too low for Bagoas to hear.
When Bagoas finally worked up the nerve to go out on to the balcony, Alexander was sitting on the stone bench, back to the sun-warmed wall, peacefully asleep.
"Please, I beg you, my Lord, in the name of the love I keep for you, only for you, you must rest, you are sick!"
"I thought I told you to stop nagging me!" Alexander snapped, throwing on his cloak. "It's a summer chill, nothing some wine and some good conversation won't cure…"
He looked awful, his once shimmering pale golden skin reduced to a slick, silvery parody of itself, dark shadows under his eyes. "Please rest, my Lord… In Hephaestion's name, I – "
Alexander's hand swung at him so fast he had no time to duck; the palm caught him sharply on the cheek, knocking him back. "How dare you call upon his name? You… what are you compared to…" he stopped suddenly, glancing twitchily over his shoulder, "What? I know, I'm sorry… I'm sorry, Bagoas… yes, all right, I will… here…" he gave Bagoas his hand. It felt as cold as a dead man's. "I'm sorry, did I hurt you?"
"I am fine, my Lord…" mumbled Bagoas, refraining from rubbing his smarting cheek until Alexander had gone. Only then he threw himself down onto his Lord's bed and gave way to violent, bitter tears.
He did not know how long he lay crying before he felt the gentle fingers brushing back his long hair. "Don't cry, Bagoas… everything will be all right soon…"
Bagoas looked up slowly, certain he was dreaming. As he did so his throat constricted, strangling the scream pushing up from his lungs. A moment later he had thrown himself to the floor in prostration, frantically whispering prayers and supplications.
"Don't, Bagoas, don't," soothed the man seated on the bed, leaning down to draw Bagoas up. "You mustn't be afraid, I haven't come for vengeance!"
"My Lord, my Lord, punish me, torment me as you must but believe me, I am truly repentant, I never plotted against your life, I swear it, a moment of weakness, an evil impulse, that was all it was, now see what little happiness my wickedness has brought me, oh, forgive me, Divine Hephaestion, forgive me…"
"Enough, child, enough, you're embarrassing me! Won't you at least look at me? I think being a Divine Hero rather suits me, don't you?" A low, self-deprecating chuckle. "Come, won't you look at me?"
Reluctantly Bagoas looked up at Hephaestion. For it was certainly he, though looking younger and even more handsome than he had in life. He was dressed in a simple silver-white chiton, his bronze hair crowned with a laurel wreath, but there was a golden sheen on his skin to put Alexander's in the shade. "You… look beautiful, my Lord…"
"Hephaestion to you, just Hephaestion," sighed Alexander's favourite, suddenly looking rather weary. "I really haven't come to avenge myself on you, or Roxana, Bagoas… its odd how such things seem irrelevant after you die, and while I wouldn't have chosen to go so quickly, I'm not sorry I went before my Alexander… after all, with all these traitorous bastards about us, how long would I have survived once he was gone? And would they even have thought for a moment of making me a Hero? Hah! Crateros must have had a good laugh at that! No, Alexander is all I care about now…" Hephaestion lowered his head to look down sadly at Bagoas, his dark grey eyes sparkling like stars. "Poor Bagoas… if only you'd learned to love Alexander the way I did… the way I do… oh, don't get me wrong, my boy, I know I could be an arrogant son of a whore, I can see so much now, but with so many men – some of them, it could be argued, more deserving – fighting to take my place… how could I be otherwise? That was where my jealousy was focused, fool that I was… But no-one could take my place in Alexander's heart, that's the one thing I always knew and the one thing I wish you'd understood. So you took my place in his bed, sometimes? We've been lovers since we knew what the word meant, when you've loved that long and that deeply, sex is – well, I've never said no, who would to Alexander?" he gave Bagoas a disarming grin. "But it's not as important as you think it will be when you're young and burning with lust!"
He rose gracefully, wandering slowly across the room, Bagoas following him with wide, hungry eyes. If this was a dream, let it continue until Hephaestion had finished talking. He had to hear this, no matter how much it hurt. It suddenly seemed his only chance for the absolution he had not until that moment known he craved. As if reading his thoughts, Hephaestion nodded. "Yes, now you see, don't you, poor Bagoas… now Roxana sees too… what I was to Alexander. Not just a lover, not just a friend… I kept him sane. There were moments… terrible moments…" he closed his glowing eyes and shuddered. "You've seen a few yourself, just now. It has been a terrible burden, for all the love I bore him. Never knowing when his demons would seize him and drag his mood down to the depths of Hades, or provoke him to lash out in the most unspeakable ways, implementing all his most unpopular orders when I knew no-one else would because if even I, his Patroklos, began to defy him it would have pushed him over the edge, eliminating men I'd known and fought beside because Alexander feared treachery more than death, losing all my old friends to envy and greed… but it was all worth it, to see that smile Alexander saved only for me…"
Hephaestion turned, regarded Bagoas solemnly. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that unkindly. Perhaps after all it's my fault… they encourage us to meditate over past faults where I am; they say it brings true peace. At least you're willing to hear me out – I've tried talking to Roxana but whenever I appear she just starts screaming! I never wanted to be her enemy, though I don't suppose I ever showed her enough respect. I never intended to make an enemy of you either, I was just impatient. After I'd had you watched for a bit – sorry about that – I decided you were faithful and honest enough and I forgot about you. I'll admit I did notice how you resented me, but I'm sorry to have to tell you I no more considered you a rival than… say… old Peritas! If he'd bitten me on the ankle in a fit of jealousy would I have had his meat laced with poison? Of course not! I doubt I even would have kicked him! No, what I would have done was laughed with gratified amusement at the love and the jealousy my Alexander inspired! You were useful to me, and my Alexander liked you, and that was all that mattered… as long as you didn't get under my feet when I was with Alexander, what you did with him while I was away didn't signify. But you're not a dog, you're a boy – no… no, forgive me, you're a young man… yes, yes, a young man, no matter what others did to you, and I should have given you a little time, told you how much it meant to know that you were looking after my Alexander when I couldn't, that I didn't hate you or sneer at you the way the others did…
"Actually, you did me a personal favour – don't be hurt by this, Bagoas, I don't mean to mock you – but you taught my Alexander to really enjoy love, to enjoy pleasure, without shame. I know he used to tell himself he lay with me only because he loved me, and though we both knew it wasn't true, it put a barrier between us… until you broke it down! Yes, you, Bagoas! After you, love with Alexander was truly… divine! He had always been - been my boy, if you will, but after you, he… Oh. You're not enjoying this at all, are you? But as I said, where I am they… Well, anyway, I wish I'd told you all this while I was alive, but perhaps, after all, you wouldn't have wanted to hear it then either…" Suddenly the demigod broke off, squinting oddly at Bagoas' cheek. "Did Alexander hit you that hard!"
"No, my Lord, I…"
"Hephaestion, and yes he did, I see he did! I told him – I keep telling him, treat Bagoas kindly, make love to him if you want, he loves you! When you're where I am, you realise that love is ultimately all that matters… I keep telling him, stop drinking and get a grip! I keep promising to come to him as often as I can, I'm not a Divine Hero for nothing, and after all, we'll have eternity together, but now is what is important! But he won't listen to me. I'm sorry, Bagoas. I've done everything I can… Don't think too harshly of me," he added suddenly, giving Bagoas such a penetrating look that the young Persian thought his very soul had been ripped open for Hephaestion to view, "I'm really not pulling him from you; its not just grief for me, you see that, don't you? It's the absence of me… without me, the demons are catching up with him, scratching and clawing at him… and there are so many of them now…"
Whether from shock, or guilt, or fear, or fatigue, or even Hephaestion's words, Bagoas could hold back his tears no longer. His whole body began to shake. At the speed of thought, Hephaestion was by his side. "Here, you are exhausted! Come, put your head in my lap, pretty Bagoas, rest…"
Now convinced Alexander's madness was infectious, Bagoas buried his face in Hephaestion's chiton and sobbed until, as if the man had cast a spell on him, he felt himself sinking into sleep.
He awoke several hours, alone on Alexander's bed, to see Ptolemy carrying Alexander into the room. "Fetch the Physician, Bagoas," the Macedonian barked, "I don't care what Alexander said, this is serious! Hurry!"
The end was not long in coming. Bagoas drew back on his stool by Alexander's bed, wrapping his arms about himself and keeping his eyes cast down in the hope the soldiers parading past Alexander's bed would not notice him. He glanced up as he heard Roxana, sniffing behind her veil, give a sudden shrill scream and faint dead away. He thought he caught a quick glimpse of silver, gold and bronze, but his eyes were so sore he wondered if he had imagined it. He rose to help her ladies restore her. He could not be bitter at her for doing what he had wanted to do; if she was guilty, so was he, and together they had lost what they had most wanted to possess.
As he looked up toward the bed, he felt ice water course through his veins. Up until now he had forced himself to believe it was a dream. But there he was, long legs curled beneath him, eyes glimmering like moonlight, tenderly stroking Alexander's hair. "Very well, my love," Hephaestion sighed, "you always did have to have your way… but don't worry, you'll be with me soon…"
Bagoas heard Alexander whimper softly and struggle to raise his hand. Forgetting all about the soldiers, Bagoas raced to him, bent close and whispered in his ear. "It is all right Alexander, you are not dreaming… I see him too."
"Sweet Bagoas," Hephaestion murmured distractedly, not looking up from Alexander's face as the King relaxed. Slowly Hephaestion leaned closer, pressing his lips to Alexander's in a slow, desperately intimate kiss. When Bagoas blinked, he was gone.
Ptolemy came over quietly, put his fingers to Alexander's pulse, bent over and put his ear to his mouth, then his chest. "Its over," he said simply. Wailing erupted from the Persians and Bagoas knew he should join in; it was the least he could do for his King. But all he could do was stare numbly at the spot on Alexander's bed where Hephaestion had been.