The Royal palace was riot of colour and music: like every night, after the taking of Babylon, the feasts were animated by dancers, poets, singers, wine and the passion's fumes saving no one amongst the guests.
The King was sitting in the throne nestled against the young Persian eunuch, by then devoid of any clearness of mind, he had put aside all inhibition to enjoy those joyful days.
Anyway all seemed to do the same, or at least almost all, since Hephaestion had left the banquet before the hall became an extension of the rooms of the generals and their lovers.
It was not a spectacle he would like too see.
Propped against the cold wall he was staring out of a great window. He smiled faintly, he had drunk too much and he felt relieved, despite the weight oppressing his soul.
Better not to think of that: he was in the mood to go to his rooms and don't think anymore, forgetting and sleeping.
He knew in the morning he would come back to him.
During the meeting with the generals he would treat him as if nothing had happened, he would keep him with a banal excuse and with sorry and guilty looks he would apologize, he would say it was the wine's fault, he would say he loved him more than any other.
"And it will start again" he whispered inadvertently.
"A sad drunk, my friend?" Kleitos asked moving closer to him, resting an arm on Hephaestion's shoulder.
Hephaestion hadn't noticed his arrival, he slowly turned his head and he looked at him without really seeing him, then he smiled again.
He liked Kleitos, he was maybe the only one in the army not waiting for him to make a mistake, to show a weakness, to suffer a humiliation, like that evening, when the King had officially introduced his beautiful eunuch and all seemed to be happy looking at the pain showed on the young general's face. He had never complained the hostility around him, he was aware of his power and he knew his relationship with the King would earn him many envies.
But sometimes he felt alone.
"No, not really, but I was starting to feel uneasy there…"
"I agree, orgies should be more private" he exclaimed, trying to ease that heavy atmosphere.
"What are you saying? I should be surprised to see you here and not elsewhere with a nice slave or some Persian boy!", Hephaestion said those words with some bitter irony.
Kleitos smiled and whispered in Hephaestion's ear:
"I'm glad you think of me as a good seducer, but you know, I would be loyal to you for all my life, if I got your heart…".
Hephaestion sighed, lowering his head:
"I'm drunk, Kleitos, that's true, but not enough to come to your bed".
His friend's look became hard and he moved before him, cupping his chin and staring at him with an intense look:
"Don't make fun of me, beautiful general, because I have already confided you my feelings, I don't want to disclose them again and I don't want you to change your mind, but I deserve respect", he emphasized the words with low and hoarse voice.
His lips were dangerously near Hephaestion's, but Hephaestion didn't pull away.
"I respect you more than you think…" he whispered on the other's lips. Kleitos bent down and they kissed, their tongues met slowly, then they deepened that union enthralling them with passion and intensity.
When they parted Hephaestion slumped against Kleitos's shoulder; he sighed, closing his eyes.
"I fear your drunk would be enough to take you to my bed".
"Then do it. I don't care about tomorrow, I want only to remember how is to make love with someone who loves me". His voice was weak and Kleitos felt sad.
"Alexander loves you and you love him…and I love you" he smiled "that's why I will take you to your rooms and I will put you to your bed".
"He wouldn't be jealous, I think he doesn't care…"
"You speak so because you weren't there some day ago, when Alexander told me you are his and he is yours".
"Did he say so?" Hephaestion asked, relieved.
"Yes, he did, but his tone was not so kind".
Hephaestion sighed and Kleitos held him, taking him to his rooms.
"He has suddenly fallen asleep", thought the general, and he was so beautiful with his long hair loose on the pillows: he would have stayed all night sitting in his chair watching him in his sleep, but he knew in the morning he wouldn't have any right to be there. Hephaestion would apologize, like every time their relationship exceeded the bounds of friendship, and he would come back to Alexander. Hephaestion didn't look for him, Kleitos knew that, he took advantage of Hephaestion's weakness and he was ashamed for that, but he couldn't help doing it.
Dawn was breaking and Kleitos thought he had really watched him sleeping 'til morning.
"Have you spent the night with him?", asked a voice behind him.
Kleitos swung round and stared at Alexander, on the threshold: he looked anxious, but the general was quiet.
"What if I did it?" asked.
Alexander passed a hand through his hair and inhaled deeply.
"Maybe you had the right to do it, tonight".
"I think your love doesn't deserve that".
The King didn't answer and he moved closer to his lover, brushing his hair.
"I thank you", he whispered.
He was sincere, despite his pain and his jealousy.
"I love him, maybe I can only cause him pain, but I love him".
Kleitos stood up:
"I know" he only said, before leaving.
Hephaestion woke up some moment later, Alexander was at his side smiling to him, but he didn't return the smile.
"Good morning", Alexander whispered.
Hephaestion avoided his gaze and stared into space.
"I thought you would come here later" he smiled bitterly "but maybe you are here to send me away from you".
"Listen to me", Alexander tried, but Hephaestion turn round, looking into his eyes with a painful gaze:
"I'm tired, Alexander, I will not listen to you, this once…You always make me believe that nothing has changed and when you hold me and you kiss me I really believe it, but when you go away from me I don't know you anymore and things are so different now…".
Alexander's heart stopped for a moment.
"Hephaestion, you know I…you…"
"Please, Alexander, don't remember me what I am for you, your words strike me…I've been away for two months, hate and contempt were around me, I was alone, and when I have come back I understood that our love was strong and eternal but not enough…you have replaced me with a Persian slave".
His eyes were dimmed with tears and he pulled away his King's hands.
"I want you know I don't love him…but I would do anything…"
Alexander kept his lover's face between his hands trying to appease the fear devouring him:
"Maybe this is one of that difficult moments we feared, and you're right…I promised I would do everything to have you again, and let me…"
"Alexander, maybe it would be better if…" the beautiful general whispered, beating at his lower lip, without lifting his eyes.
"What?", the King's voice was desperate and angry, now.
"Our love…we thought it was a divine and inseparable union, but now it seems so human and frail" he murmured in a whisper.
Alexander looked at him silently, his hands shivering, then he folded him in his arms:
"No, I will never let you go, Hephaestion"
He nearly cried out:
"We'll overcome this…we will find the way".
Hephaestion kept silent. His mind and his heart were a frenzy of conflicting feelings: rage, delusion, loneliness, fear, love's need, Kleitos and that kiss, the boy and the pain of the last night, the wish to forget all and the wish to remember everything, Alexander's begging look, his words, the wish to kiss him and to forgive him.
"I don't know, Alexander" he sighed, resting his forehead on the brow of the man he still loved more than everything.