BETWEEN FATHERS AND SONS

SUMMARY: Several years have passed since Alexander and Hephaestion's first night as lovers. Now it's time to see if the vows of truth and trust they made to one another can stand up to a real test…

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Excuse the leap forward in time, but this last chapter is really the whole point of the story! So far as I know there's no particular evidence for or against Hephaestion spending time in exile, either with Alexander in Illyria or with the "famous five" after the Carian business, as I've never found any ancient references to Hephaestion's life before Troy, except retrospectively. If anyone else knows differently, please tell me! At any rate, this version of events suited my story!

CHAPTER 5: King

Macedon at last. He should have been overjoyed; perhaps he would have been had the circumstances been only slightly different. If all this had happened a different way… Hephaestion resisted a ridiculous urge to ride through Mieza on his way to Pella, disgusted by the burst of childish sentiment which suddenly afflicted him. Mieza… how seriously they had taken themselves then, worrying and squabbling over things which now seemed so unimportant. If only they had known how much more complicated life would be once they left their school behind, perhaps they would not have been in such a hurry to be men.

He was weary and so was Golden after three days of almost unbroken travel. He had saddled up, grabbing only what he needed for the journey, as soon as Alexander's message had reached him. Such a short message, so blunt, yet so full of pain. "Father is dead. Please come to me, I cannot do this without you." It wasn't even signed.

Every day he had spent in exile he had longed for a note from Alexander or from Philip, telling him all was forgiven and he was free to come home. He had told his family not to write to him – it was simply too dangerous, the temptation for him or Alexander to try to slip in a note too strong. He had little doubt their letters would be monitored.

Perhaps his love for Philip should have soured into bitterness, but all he felt was sadness. Perhaps he should have learned to resent Alexander, but all he felt for him was aching love, fear and loneliness.

But for all of that, he now felt he would have lived out the rest of his life without gazing on Alexander's face rather than receive the note which had at last called him home.

As he reached the outskirts of Pella, he could not stop his thoughts wandering back to the day he had left. He could still hear Philip's voice…

oooo

…"Come in Hephaestion."

Hephaestion had been astonished that it was Philip himself who called him in, appearing at the door of his private office with a hard, unreadable expression upon his war-scarred face. For a few brief seconds Philip's weariness betrayed itself as he eased himself into his seat; the mask was back in place when he finally looked up at Hephaestion, who waited silently, eyes lowered in respect, cheeks warmed by shame. It had seemed somehow unreal while Alexander was planning it, even when they realised their plan had been discovered. Only now, facing the man he loved almost as much as his own father, Hephaestion felt sick with guilt and regret.

"I'm deeply disappointed in you, Hephaestion," Philip said at last. He did not shout, but that made it worse. Hephaestion winced internally and remained silent until he was asked to speak. "Of course I'm disgusted with the others too – Harpalos, Ptolemy, Erigyius, Laomedon and Nearchos were supposed to guide Alexander, not let him make a fool of himself – and myself and Macedon into the bargain. What, I wonder, is King Darius thinking now? What would you say Athens is thinking now, son of Amyntor?"

Hephaestion still said nothing. What could he say? That he had hated the idea from the beginning – that unlike the others he did not believe that Philip was arranging to marry his son Arrideus to the daughter of Pixodorus of Caria in order to replace Alexander? That he had told Alexander, because he had always sworn to tell him the truth, that he should speak to Philip directly instead of offering to marry the girl himself? That it had seemed as though some sort of mass hysteria had built among Alexander and his friends and sent them charging headlong into such a stupid plan which was bound to fail? Or what he really wanted to say – that he was sorry, that he had never meant to fail Philip anymore than to fail Alexander, that he had never forgotten his kindness, nor the duty he owed to his own father's memory? It was too late – too late for all of it.

Philip's expression softened very slightly as Hephaestion's misery obviously became apparent. "Why, Hephaestion?"

Hephaestion swallowed hard, embarrassed to find tears pricking his eyes. "I love him, Sire."

Philip nodded slowly. "That's what he said too. Actually he spoke far more eloquently in your defence than in his own. Otherwise he remains quite defiant. He insists you never wanted to betray me, that you wanted him to come to me first. Is that true, Hephaestion, or does he think so little of me that he fears I would put you to death just to spite him?"

"It's true, Sire… but it doesn't matter. I failed."

Philip grunted dismissively. "Alexander seems to think I can't appreciate such love as you share. I hope you have a little more imagination. The idea of losing that love, of having to sacrifice it to necessity, to ambition, seems very remote to Alexander now, but he'll learn. And when he does he'll suffer for it. But you may yet suffer more." He drew in a deep breath and straightened in his chair. "At any rate, we'll soon find out. Alexander's other friends were chosen to guide and support him – they failed and exile is their punishment. You, Hephaestion, are to be Alexander's. Sending him into exile where he can plot more treachery is no solution; sending you away will be far more effective. You're to leave Macedon by sunrise tomorrow and you're not to return until I give you leave. And in case either of you gets it into your love-sick young mind to try to defy me, keep in mind that I'll be having you watched – by men almost if not as talented as your father. My guards will escort you to your mother's home to prepare – you are forbidden to see Alexander before you go."

"I understand, Sire… and…" Hephaestion forced himself to meet the King's gaze. "I'm deeply sorry to have failed you… and my father."

Philip frowned. "You made your choice, Hephaestion, just as Amyntor did. In a way he was guided just as much by love as you were…" An oddly tender look passed across his face and quickly vanished. "But take this thought with you into exile – I could have presumed on your attachment to Alexander from the moment I saw how smitten he was with you. I could have forced you to spy on him, even to work against him. No doubt you think you could never have done such a thing, but no man thinks that until he realises his choices affect not only him but his family as well. You might find such ideas ruthless, but Alexander understands them and so did Amyntor. I never did it, Hephaestion," he added, his one good eye burning with real anger, "I never even thought about it. And not just because, in spite of what my faithless son thinks, I love him very much. Do you understand?"

Not trusting himself to speak, Hephaestion nodded. He had been glad that Philip dismissed him just then, because he had not wanted the king to see him, a grown man and a veteran of war, struggling not to cry like a repentant child…

oooo

"Hephaestion!" Alexander's grey eyes lit up when Hephaestion entered the room, tired and dusty from his long journey. Alexander rose quickly, took a step forward, then hesitated. He might be a king now, but he still hadn't learned to stop himself blushing like a boy. Hephaestion sensed his lover had wanted to throw his arms about him but when he didn't relax his stiff, respectful stance or let his face soften to a smile, Alexander held back. Hephaestion felt a stab of pain but ignored it. Seeing Alexander again he was moved by his beauty, his grace, his very presence all over again, but he ignored that too.

Finally he spoke, his voice hoarse from the dust he had swallowed on the long ride. "Do you still remember our vow, Alexander?" he asked. Perhaps he should not speak to him so familiarly now Alexander was a king, but if this conversation went badly it might not matter – he could be riding away from Macedon as quickly as he had come. "We promised – no secrets. Did you do it?"

Alexander stared at him unflinching. "No."

"Did you consent to it? Even by not acting against it?"

"No!" Suddenly Alexander lowered his eyes. "But I think it was done for me."

Hephaestion released the breath he had been holding. He knew what Alexander was trying to say; he knew who he silently accused. For now, that was enough. Slowly, almost wearily, he held out his arms and Alexander stepped forward but did not accept his embrace. Hephaestion could actually see him trembling. Smiling sadly, he lowered his head to kiss Alexander's lips, but the young king turned his head away.

"I need to say something, Hephaestion," he said very softly. "I need to say something I couldn't say in Mieza. What I said then… about my father… I was wrong. I'm – I'm sorry. I didn't mean it…" A moan of despair broke from him. "Oh gods, Hephaestion, forgive me, how could I know then? How could I know how it feels? It hurts, it hurts so much…" At last he sank, weeping, into Hephaestion's embrace. "What I said… I don't wish it… I don't wish it…!"

12/1/06