SUMMARY: Though apart, on a hot and sleepless night, Hephaestion and Alexander seem to find ways to communicate…

RATING: oh I don't know, T for a bit of you-know-what.


DEDICATION: to Joyeeeee, with lots of love and best wishes for Easter on a molecular level.

THANK YOU: To the very talented Trust No One – it was your review of The Substitute which inspired me to let Hephaestion off the leash for a little while!

LAST OF ALL BEFORE I LET YOU READ THE STORY: As spring finally arrives on my cloud encrusted island, I want to wish all my loyal and generous reviewers, all my readers and everyone else out there a very, very happy Easter, with love and blessings and new beginnings.

The night is hot and Alexander knows it will be long. Drawing himself up, his body oily with perspiration, he gently detaches himself from Roxana. As he reaches for the Persian robes he usually wears to visit her, he hesitates, studying her lithe, feminine body in the moonlight. He has never been a slave to the charms of women and Roxana can never be to him what Hephaestion has been and will always be, as a friend or as a lover. But she is exotic and beautiful and she behaves to him as a woman should to her husband and king and on nights like these, with Hephaestion so far away, she has often been a source of comfort. Sometimes their lovemaking has even enabled him to sleep through the night without the aid of wine.

But not tonight. Alexander knows there will be no peace tonight, not even in the arms of Roxana. Silently he leans down and kisses Roxana's lips. He could wake her, lose himself in more lovemaking; yet he feels no inclination for love. Were she Hephaestion he would have wakened her for conversation – after long experience he has learned not to hesitate to do so whether his friend is sleeping beside him or in his own tent. But she is not Hephaestion, and so he will have to find another way to survive the night.

When Alexander appears, his page Helenus jumps to his feet too fast for the boy to have been sleeping. He waits for Alexander to pass then treads softly behind him, his head bent. Alexander's personal guard follow in their usual discreet but watchful way. Again, were he visiting Hephaestion's tent in the depths of the night, he might have come only with a page for company, but there is no reason to be clandestine when he goes to his wife, and every reason to be quite visible.

Alexander glances over his shoulder at Helenus, who quickly raises his head and straightens his slumping shoulders. Alexander hides a wry smile. He is not the only one waiting for the night to end. Helenus' lover is with Hephaestion's men and the boy frets without him. Alexander secretly hopes he is not as obvious in his discomfort as Helenus, but he knows his Companions, particularly his closest friends of the Royal Bodyguard, will relax and stop watching him with sidelong glances only when Hephaestion has safely returned.

Alexander looks up at the sky. The night is perfectly clear; a glistening sea of stars spreads out as far as the eye can see. In spite of the inevitable hum of noise from the camp, it seems to Alexander he can hear the silence. He walks on, focusing only on the sound of Helenus' footfalls behind him. The boy shows no sign of faltering. Alexander could beckon him closer, engage him in conversation to pass the time. But he feels no urge to do so and he senses Helenus is content as he is.

Alexander turns in the direction in which some days ago he had watched Hephaestion ride. He increases his pace just slightly, as if by walking far enough he can catch him up.

Madness, of course.

At last he stops, closing his eyes in silent prayer.

Good-night, Hephaestion. May Morpheus send my love to you in your dreams.

The heat keeps him from sleeping. He wanders out into the makeshift camp, gently waving down the guards who snap to attention when he passes. His pages know better than to disturb him and he makes his way into the night alone. He is used to the anxiety he feels when parted from Alexander; it is now a part of him, like a recurring pain in an old wound. But tonight his needs are more basic. He has woken from a dream of his beloved friend that has nothing to do with anxiety and now his body his stiff and aching with desire.

When he is sure he is alone he crouches down with a soft moan, running his fingers through his hair. "Alexander…" he whispers, haunted by the vividness of the dream, fancying even now he can still feel the hard muscle of Alexander's body, taste the salt on his skin, hear the gentle murmur of his voice. Loneliness is easy to rationalise – lust is not.

He knows he can go back to his tent, call young Hylas to him. But Hylas, so deeply infatuated that even Hephaestion cannot miss it, is still such a child that he would probably run away in terror if Hephaestion actually tried to take him. Besides, Hephaestion does not care for soft-skinned boys like him.

He starts slightly as a large, calloused hand comes to grip his shoulder, turning to look up at Ariston, one of the men assigned to help him in the fortifying of yet another town. Ariston was a soldier, a Foot Companion, but after getting trampled by a horse at Issos he limps too badly to serve. All the same he has escaped being invalided home or settled in one of the endless Alexandrias because his father is one of Hephaestion's most favoured engineers and the son has proved his aptitude for the same role. Hephaestion can remember when Ariston was the beloved of one of his companions in the Foot, but recently he has married and this is his first separation from his fresh young bride.

"Are you all right, sir?" Ariston asks.

Hephaestion is about to answer him when he detects the huskiness in the young man's voice, sees the strange brightness in his pale blue eyes. Ariston is handsome. He would probably be considered beautiful except for the deep scar which cuts a path down his cheek to his neck. Hephaestion likes scars; they speak eloquently of acts of masculine courage, of dangerous experiences shared. He loves every scar on Alexander's body, even the ones which evoke such painful memories. Perhaps that is why he can let Hylas sleep in his bed without ever wanting to caress him. So far, Hylas has no scars.

Without yet understanding why, Hephaestion reaches out and traces Ariston's scar with his fingers. Ariston's skin is hot and damp with perspiration and his gaze is feverish. He draws Hephaestion's hand from his face and squeezes it hard before releasing him. They stare at each other for a long time, making sure they both understand and that the understanding between them is acceptable to both.

It is inevitable this must happen; it should really have happened years ago but there were too many reasons against it. But Ariston has nothing to gain from talking of this night; he wants Hephaestion because Hephaestion is there, not because he is a powerful officer or Alexander's right hand. Perhaps his dreams haunt him too – perhaps his pretty young wife has come to him tonight as Alexander has to Hephaestion.

They move together to the protection of the woodlands. There will be no kissing, no tender caressing, no words of love or praise. After just a few moments of rough rubbing and squeezing, Ariston turns his back to Hephaestion placing both hands flat against the trunk of the nearest tree and bracing himself against its unyielding bulk. Hephaestion moves close, slides his hands up the other man's muscular torso, appreciating the hard contours beneath the slick skin. And the scars, which his fingers eagerly search out.

He grips Ariston's manhood before he pushes into him, enjoying the warm weight of it in his hand and stroking its most sensitive curves. The coupling is meaningless, but it feels good and it brings relief. It does not take long to draw to a climax; they are both too frustrated for that. When they move apart, panting hard in the humid air, Hephaestion feels strange. Not guilty, only a little confused. Reluctantly he looks into Ariston's eyes.

The young man grins at him, understanding perfectly. He holds out his hand. Hephaestion grips it, then suddenly embraces him as he might a brother. For a moment they hold on, acknowledging their fleeting bond. Then Ariston moves away, back toward the camp. Hephaestion lingers. He knows when they meet again in the morning they will not talk of it, nor even acknowledge it with a gaze.

If Alexander asks him about this he will tell him the truth. But only if he asks. Alexander has certain needs he does not want to use Hephaestion to satisfy. Hephaestion is no different.

Hylas is awake when Hephaestion returns to his tent, though he's not supposed to be on duty. When Hephaestion looks at him quizzically he whispers that the howling of the wolves has disturbed him.

Hephaestion grins. Hylas is correct; the wolves are indeed in good voice tonight. Personally, Hephaestion likes the sound, admiring the comradeship it seems to embody, alleviating the vacant loneliness of the night. But he knows what Hylas wants, and now, finally at peace, he is in the mood for simple comfort. He beckons to him and the boy follows him deeper into the tent, curling up beside him on the camp-bed. The heat of his body is soothing despite the sultry weather and the sound of his soft breathing is hypnotic.

Hylas has improved greatly in a year. Hephaestion hadn't wanted him; he was the only page he hadn't gently manoeuvred Alexander into giving to him. He knows what the others say, that Alexander selected the most unattractive boys for Hephaestion, but it only shows how short-sighted they all are. He hasn't picked them for their looks but for their intelligence, their quick thinking and their willingness to learn. And they have repaid him for recognising their qualities with unswerving loyalty and discretion. Hylas didn't fit at first, but between them Hephaestion and his pages have managed to remould the newcomer into the required shape and in return the other boys give him their friendship and allow him into their circle, a privilege granted only to very few.

Hephaestion breathes a heavy sigh and closes his eyes, finally ready to surrender to sleep. Be safe my Alexander, he prays with fervour even as tiredness tugs at his consciousness, may mighty Zeus protect you and may Hypnos be merciful and for once come speedily to your bed… and if he does not, may you at least draw comfort from the certainty of my unwavering love.

At last Alexander lies down upon his own bed, staring up at the soft tent roof with vacant, sleepless eyes. A cup or two of unmixed wine has soothed him; the soft breathing of the page boys sleeping at the foot of his bed reassures him. He knows he will not sleep, but suddenly there is no torment in that; his weary mind has filled with thoughts of Hephaestion so vivid that he almost feels it is Hephaestion's quiet breathing he hears. When he closes his eyes at last, the illusion is nearly complete – Hephaestion is surely lying beside him; Alexander can almost feel the heat of his body. So long as he doesn't move, Hephaestion will linger until first light. A strange delusion – perhaps the wine, perhaps a form of madness; perhaps the gift of some benevolent god. Silently Alexander speaks words of love to Hephaestion and, in the barest breath, he thinks he hears him whisper back.