Summary: A companion and continuation to "A choice of Words" – this time from Hephaestion's POV. Hephaestion muses over his deteriorating relationship with Crateros and Alexander's damning words, "you are nothing without me!"

Disclaimer: I wouldn't recommend laying any claim to Alexander, his Off Licence bill would be horrendous.

Warning: sex scenes and so on

Dedication: To Ancient Galaxy, who demanded a sequel and now has one.

Author's note: This follow up was really inspired by Ancient Galaxy's review – as is so often true with me, when someone suggests an idea, my immediate answer is "no way", but then my mind gets working… however, grateful thanks are owed to Barbara for all the thoughts and discussions on the original story which helped to shape this one – and get it finished!

ALERT TO ALL WRITERS: A while back I mentioned that a Hephaestion / Alexander Fanzine is in progress. The creator (NOT ME!) is still having trouble getting good fics AND art for it. I have submitted one of my stories which HAS NOT been posted here! I think the idea of the Zine is lovely and I hope some more of you will support it. I can't post the web address here but if anyone is interested, please email me direct and I can send you the link. Go on, the creators are really nice!

How exactly had it begun, and how had it developed into something quite this awful? Hephaestion was no longer sure. He turned his head to look at the oil lamp beside his bed. He never let it burn through the night as a rule, but tonight the darkness seemed to choke him. It shouldn't have got this far, gone on this long. They should be back in one another's arms by now. Alexander had tried; Hephaestion grudgingly conceded that much. But for some reason it had not been enough.

You are nothing without me.

Silently Hephaestion cursed the night, knowing when dawn came he would want to curse that too. Night and day, dark and light; all were equally abhorrent to him in his desolation.

He had let it happen. He could admit that now, after seemingly endless bitter days and nights of blaming Crateros, blaming Alexander, even daring to blame the gods themselves. At the very least he had not stopped it happening – perhaps he simply had not wanted to. All he could remember now was that he had been tired and worried and just basically fed up with everything and everyone around him.

Perhaps if he hadn't been he would have used more diplomacy when addressing Crateros that day. It started off as a simple admonition – the men were complaining more and more vocally about India with its heat, its humidity, its biting insects and strange sicknesses. A certain amount of complaining was natural, even cathartic. But of late the discontent seemed to be more personally focused on the plans and policies of Alexander himself and for the first time Hephaestion had begun to have a real sense of fear, far more, indeed, than he had ever had over the trouble that had brought down Parmenion's family. As it was the men closest to Crateros, not just those under his command but the hardened, inflexible veterans who were drawn to his traditional ways, who were doing most of the complaining, Hephaestion did not see why he shouldn't warn him to keep them in line.

Perhaps too he should have been ready for Crateros' ill tempered response, but he wasn't. The older General had turned, snarling at Hephaestion to mind his own business and stop his dirty little spies and sneaks from sniffing around honest Macedonian soldiers, insisting he was now no better than some backstabbing Persian courtier and he should stick to building bridges, monitoring supplies of cooking oil, kissing Persian arses and doing whatever else a king's lapdog did these days. The men around Crateros laughed; Hephaestion could see they enjoyed laughing, that it gave them relief to hear someone so supportive of Alexander's Persian policies mocked, though they would rather have died than admit it. Perhaps he should have done what he had done for years; looked down his nose at Crateros and walked away with quiet dignity.

But he didn't want to. He was sick of this stupid Macedonian boor and all those like him who grumbled and sulked about Alexander but hadn't the courage or the imagination either to say it to his face or to change their rigid way of thinking long enough to consider that there might be ways of thinking and ways of living that could be very different from their own but still work in their favour.

And so he had told Crateros exactly what he thought of him. He had let all his anger, all his resentment pour out. And while he did, not once did he consider what Alexander would make of it. Of course he and Alexander had always been close; as boys, in the sweet clouds of first love, they had called themselves one heart, one mind, one soul and thought they could grow no closer. But war, hardship, pain, treachery, knowledge of death, even just the relentless power of change – all of it had altered them in ways they could not have predicted. It could have torn them asunder. Instead, endless glory and victory had proved how well they complimented each other; had ultimately fused them together so tightly that Hephaestion had truly begun to believe the words Alexander had spoken to Queen Sissygambis – that he, too, was Alexander. And if he was as much Alexander as Alexander himself, what need did he have to hide his contempt, or watch his words, or pander to conservative old fools like Eumenes and Crateros?

And so everything had erupted. The aggression between the two Generals had spread like a disease to their men and suddenly those around them were posturing and shoving and shouting insults. And as if trapped in an endless cycle, so the hostility of those about them fuelled the fire of their rage until he and Crateros were facing each other down with curses and snarls and drawn swords. And it had felt exciting, invigorating, more stimulating than any rush into battle, and Hephaestion had looked into Crateros' eyes and known the other man felt it too, and for the first time in their lives they seemed to be in perfect accord.

But then Alexander had seemed to explode from nowhere, flashing between them like a lightning bolt from Zeus himself, his face red, his eyes sparking, his voice screaming, more furious than Hephaestion had ever seen him. And here was another first for Hephaestion – being the victim, not the witness, of Alexander's terrible temper. When Alexander had shrieked at them that if this ever happened again he'd execute them both, Hephaestion had stared at him dumbstruck, looking for some sign, some reassurance than he didn't mean it, not where Hephaestion was concerned. But Alexander had met his gaze and known exactly what he wanted and had shouted, "don't look at me like that, Hephaestion, I mean every word I say! I've had enough of both of you! The next one to start trouble dies where he stands! Do you understand?" Hephaestion had looked sullenly away, refusing to accept these words, but Alexander was on him at once like a hawk sighting prey. "Hephaestion, look at me when you talk to me, and answer me when I speak! I said do you understand!"

Still coldly defiant, Hephaestion had looked at the man he loved and muttered, "yes, Sire, I understand."

Alexander's eyes had bulged in their sockets; not even that dreadful night when he had killed Cleitos had Hephaestion seen him so incensed. "You would be wise to speak to me with more humility, son of Amyntor," the king hissed, stepping close to glare up into Hephaestion's face, "I don't know if you've taken leave of your senses or are just an utter fool to behave like this, but what you are now I have made you – you are nothing without me and don't you ever forget it!"

Hephaestion could still hear the eerie silence. Nobody moved; nobody spoke. So great was the force of Alexander's anger, so utterly crushing his words, that there was no sound at all, not even a growl of protest from Hephaestion's loyal men or an ill-suppressed snigger from one of Crateros'. Hephaestion had hung his head, his heart thumping, his eyes burning, and would not have looked up again if Alexander had put a knife to his throat. Finally, what seemed like hours later, the order came from somewhere to march on, and blindly Hephaestion led his men onwards, still not looking up from the ground in front of him.

They had made camp very soon afterwards; once his pages had pitched his tent, working with their usual quiet efficiency, one of his loyal lieutenants had come to him to report that Alexander had taken Crateros aside and could be heard yelling at him for at least half an hour. Hephaestion received the news with gratitude for his man's kindness but without any satisfaction. This was no longer about Crateros. Though they knew better to bother him with words of support, or even complaints against Alexander – they were loyal enough to be capable even of that – his staff lingered: dashing cavalrymen, clever engineers, diligent secretaries and scribes, just long enough to let him know they were there. His pages saw to his comforts but avoided his eyes, not because they were embarrassed but because they knew he wouldn't want to see their sympathy or their indignation at their King. And in the midst of his torment, he felt ridiculously close to sentimental tears.

Hephaestion shifted restlessly on his cot, reached for the wineskin one of his servants had dutifully left by the bed. He stared at it for a long moment before raising it to his lips and drinking deeply. By the gods, he was tired. Too tired to stop his mind running where it would. He let it run to Crateros, the better to stop it racing like some stupid love struck child back to Alexander.

Crateros was what he professed to be – a soldier, unimaginative except in military matters, ambitious only for military rank; outwardly indifferent to matters of politics and court etiquette and ferociously, even blindly loyal to King Alexander.

But not completely blind, and not completely indifferent. He couldn't tell Alexander what he really thought of his "new foreign ways", his not always popular marriage to Roxana, his use of Persian dress and Persian soldiers; and even before Persia, Greek language and Greek customs vied with Macedonian. Philip had started it, but Alexander had let it flourish.

It wasn't fear of punishment that stopped a man like Crateros voicing his doubts to Alexander; it was his own conditioning, his own quite genuine loyalty to the man who was his king. Hephaestion understood that. Had admired it, too, in earlier, simpler times. Crateros was the King's Friend. No harm could come to the king with Crateros nearby. And he was a brilliant soldier… far more brilliant than Hephaestion.

What you are now I have made you…

So Crateros turned his resentment against Hephaestion, the one who thought and acted so in unity with Alexander but who did not have the natural protection of a king. Like a true strategist he found the cracks in Hephaestion's defences and attacked. Hephaestion's talents for logistics and engineering, hardly the skills of a true Companion. Hephaestion's apparently doglike willingness to adopt whatever customs Alexander favoured. And Alexander's continuing devotion to him and the amorous quality of it the young king had never quite managed to disguise. Sometimes Hephaestion had been tempted to gently reprimand his lover when he would find Alexander's grey eyes upon him in public, misty with longing and love, or during a drinking party when Alexander's hands would stray to Hephaestion's thigh or his arm would snake about his waist or he would lean over and voice his erotic musings in what he thought was an intimate whisper, but was in fact quite audible to all present. Once the company, even Crateros, had laughed companionably about it. But things had changed. The jokes became jibes. The good-natured exasperation became jealousy. Doubts rose and grew.

Here lay the weakest spot in Hephaestion's armour and Crateros knew it. It was unseemly, improper for the king to be so infatuated with anyone, let alone one of his Generals. Philip had had male lovers as well as mistresses and wives. But young men, pages or raw recruits. And he would tire of them quickly enough and reward them handsomely with good positions in the army. A king's privilege, perfectly acceptable.

Did Crateros, in his heart of hearts, really care? Not in the way the fussy Greeks might when they heard whispers of Alexander behaving just a little too submissively in the company of his beloved. Not in the way the Persians might when they saw their Great King behaving like a flirty boy. No; all Crateros saw was what he wanted to see – Hephaestion as a man desperately clinging to a rank in the army and a status in the king's life which he did not deserve. That way, the unthinkable was made at least palatable – if his beloved King Alexander was "going wrong", he was doing so because of the insidious influence of the unworthy Hephaestion.

Hephaestion, who was nothing without Alexander.

Alexander, who had just announced that fact to the entire army.

Would anyone else really have cared what Alexander and Hephaestion did or how long they continued to do it for if Alexander did not attract and cultivate the army's personal devotion as he did? Alexander was so good at suiting his manner to whoever he was dealing with – to young women he became the noble gallant, to older women the adoring long lost son. With his men his manner could be commanding, inspiring; but it could also be boyishly playful. Hephaestion had watched Alexander play the tease, drawing each of his soldiers under his spell, offering just the barest hint that in another world, another life, this beautiful young man would willingly be their beloved.

Only Hephaestion was untouched by the magic Alexander weaved because he was the only man in the army to have had his fantasies of the golden prince made real. The only one to have heard his own name called out with desperate desire and need, the only one to see Alexander so completely vulnerable. The only one capable of breaking his heart. Not even Philotas had done that. Not even poor Cleitos, dying at the point of Alexander's spear.

Nothing without you? Hephaestion's mind rebelled as he swallowed the last of the wine, careering towards Alexander with masochistic delight. No, my dearest, not quite nothing. I've possessed your body, your mind, your heart. Above all your precious heart. And I could break it; he thought with more weariness than malice, I truly believe I could do it. If I haven't done it already…

Was that why he had rebuffed Alexander's clumsy, oddly pathetic attempts at seduction after that dreadful disaster of a drinking party – to make Alexander suffer? All Hephaestion had really wanted was to get away from him. He was still furious with him – as his friend, even as his king. He was too tempted to throw a few cold, unpleasant facts in his face; the grumblings about his taste for Persian things, his desire for integration, his choice of bride, his lack of heirs. How would Alexander feel if he knew just how tired even his officers were of his relentless pothos? Just how little they now shared his dreams or even cared about his talk of Arabia? How would he like to hear the kind of things Hephaestion heard, aimed at him as they were aimed at Hephaestion? Had he any idea how hard Hephaestion worked to protect him from their spite as well as their treachery?

Rising clumsily to his feet, Hephaestion paced the length of the tent. With a hot shiver he remembered the sweet little kisses with which Alexander had caressed his face that night, the warmth of his arms about his waist. How dear Alexander could be with eyes softened by love, real love, even that night. It seemed a crime, a sin against lovely Aphrodite herself, to deny him, yet Hephaestion had done so.

And Alexander had responded with more threats. If you so disdain to share my bed tonight, do not think you will be welcomed back to it the next time it suits you! Hephaestion had felt a jolt of alarm. This could be it – Alexander could make himself do without just about anything, even Hephaestion's lovemaking. It shouldn't matter, not unless Crateros was right about the reasons he had Alexander's favour; but he had never feared losing his right to his place in Alexander's bed before. Mistresses, wives, eunuchs, pages; none of them had replaced or even rivalled him there. But Alexander's stubborn, Spartan conditioning was a far more formidable rival than any mere living person.

Hephaestion had almost pitied him, even in the midst of his anger. He knew what Alexander wanted; not just to win him round with lovemaking, but because their making love would reassure Alexander that everything was once again fine between them. And Hephaestion had been tempted, so tempted to give him what he wanted. But if he had come to him then, without real forgiveness, without real tenderness, only to affirm his territorial rights, to satisfy an animal longing, maybe just to give them both a spurious sort of peace, wasn't he really what Crateros thought him? And Alexander would know – if not during the night then by the morning he would realise that all was not forgiven and forgotten. And what would he think of his philalexandros then?

He had been so angry that night. It felt good to be angry. While he was angry he could concentrate only on his own sense of injury. But the anger cooled, even as Hephaestion threw himself into his work and studiously avoided being alone with Alexander. And when it was completely gone, he was left cold with his own growing doubts. He shouldn't have lost his temper; in doing so he had failed Alexander. And if, after all, he was Alexander too, he had failed himself.

If he was Alexander too. If he was worthy of his rank, of his king's favour, of his friend's love. If he wasn't just what Alexander had made him. He had struggled over the years to be everything he believed Alexander wanted, even needed him to be, not because he was afraid he was unworthy – those had been the doubts of youth, long banished by necessity – but because he shared Alexander's dreams and his nightmares too, because he had strength, because he had cunning and wit, because he could do things for Alexander that Alexander could not do himself. And he had been sure that Alexander understood and was grateful.

You are nothing without me. Was that, could that really, honestly be what Alexander thought? Had Hephaestion been so very wrong – about his abilities and Alexander's recognition of them, about the quality of their love, the depth of their understanding? Could Alexander really love him as much as Hephaestion had believed, and still utter such words?

Was he nothing without Alexander? And what would he be now that Alexander had banished him from his bed, from his love, from his favour? It was too late, it was all too late.

Hephaestion sank back down onto his bed, pulled up the furs, threw an arm over his aching eyes. "Alexander…" he whispered into the empty air, "am I really nothing without you…?" He rolled over onto his side and prayed for the mercy of Hypnos.

He had fallen into an uncomfortable doze by the time he felt the gentle fingers upon his brow and he dismissed them as the remnants of a dream. Even when he heard Alexander whispering his name he only shifted restively, wanting to wake before Morpheus could trick him into thinking Alexander had come to be reconciled at last.


Hephaestion opened his eyes, struggled to sit up as he made out Alexander's form in the flickering light. "…Alexander…?"

He gazed stupidly at his beloved as Alexander wished him joy in a gentle tone. For a moment the sound of Alexander's voice made those stinging words resurface fresh in his vulnerable, sleep clouded mind; you are nothing, Hephaestion, nothing… nothing… But then they faded at last. He was so tired, far more tired than he had been that day Crateros and he had attacked one another, and suddenly all he wanted was peace and love and trust between them once again. If it was not too late… if…

It took him a few minutes to absorb the fact that Alexander was completely naked; a few moments more to understand just what that meant. Not since they were boys had Alexander allowed himself to be utterly, unreservedly vulnerable, even before Hephaestion. Yet here he was, quite bare in more ways than the mere physical, when surely he could not know for certain what Hephaestion's response would be.

"I know I said you would not be welcome in my bed anymore," Alexander breathed, "but you did not say I would not be welcome in yours…"

Hephaestion said his name once more, wanting to say so much, lost for a beginning, not certain how to continue if he found one. Suddenly Alexander's lips touched his and he said what Hephaestion had not yet known he had wanted to hear. "It would seem that without you I am nothing… nothing that matters, anyway."

No. Now that he heard it, he could not stand it. He caught Alexander to him, gasping out his protest. Alexander mustn't say it. He mustn't. Not that. Not that. Afraid he would say it again, Hephaestion stifled him with an impulsive kiss.

The kiss was strong, and deep, and good. As good as light to a man who has feared he will end his days in darkness. Too good, perhaps. When they drew apart at last Alexander tried to clasp Hephaestion to him but Hephaestion could not let him; he slid from the bed to his knees and buried his face in Alexander's lap, suddenly unable to speak or to move; he did not want to see the unclouded love in Alexander's eyes or hear the contrite words he knew Alexander wanted to say, the explanations he would need to give. No more words - above all, no more words.


Hephaestion moaned and shook his head. Suddenly he only wanted Alexander to go, to leave him until he recovered himself, until he made sense of the emotions tumbling inside his mind. He had wanted an apology; he had held out for it, he had tormented both himself and Alexander until he got it. But now it was unbearable. Whether Alexander was the son of Philip or the son of Zeus, in Hephaestion's heart he was a god -Hephaestion's god, all the more so for being a mortal man with mortal flaws; desires and lusts, jealousies and fears he did not try to hide from the one who worshipped him. And one should not humble a god.

"Hephaestion…" Alexander whispered again, trying to draw Hephaestion up.


"Please, my Hephaestion… lift your head so I can kiss you…"

Reluctantly Hephaestion did as he was told, but when Alexander kissed him he pulled back. "Leave me, Alexander…" he gasped, looking away, "please leave me now…"

Alexander smiled sadly and shook his head. "I don't want to leave you, love. I want you to take me to bed."

Hephaestion snapped back, staring at Alexander through the lamp's failing light. Alexander grinned boyishly at him and at last Hephaestion felt his anxieties ease away as he slowly, reluctantly smiled back. In seconds, without quite knowing how, he was in Alexander's arms once more; Alexander's hands were sliding possessively over him and Alexander's mouth was upon his, warm and familiar. With that startling, wiry strength, the smaller man pulled Hephaestion down on top of him, eagerly spreading his thighs to let his lover settle between them.

It was as it usually was now only after a long separation. Over the years they had exchanged violent, aggressive passion for more sophisticated, studied but loving pleasures which could be slowly savoured like the finest wine. They could no longer share a bed every night, so when they could come together they devoted the night to love, and when they could not be together as lovers of the body, they compensated with loving looks and avowals buried within poetry, plays and philosophical rhetoric. Until those damning words had been uttered, such elegant courtship had been a strange joy to Hephaestion because it spoke both of restraint and of longing, of love in its highest forms but also of secrets still shared only between himself and his beloved king. Only when they had been miles apart for longer than a few days did they allow violence to replace tenderness as they roughly laid claim to one another all over again.

Hephaestion forced himself to pause; to remind himself that the nightmare was over, that they were together once more. As he slipped inside Alexander's body he rested for several moments, gazing down into his lover's eyes, revelling in his heat, kissing his mouth, stroking his hair, breathing loving words. But Alexander's fingers were restlessly squeezing Hephaestion's bottom, pushing him deeper down inside himself, impatiently thrusting his hips so that his erection pressed hard against Hephaestion's belly. It was too much. Forgetting elegance, Hephaestion seized him and loved him.


With a deep, contented sigh, Hephaestion reached instinctively for Alexander's warmth and drew him close, sleepily nuzzling into his lover's shoulder until he found a suitable place to plant a kiss. Within seconds he was asleep once more.


The second time the wakefulness in Alexander's tone filtered through. Hephaestion opened his eyes and looked straight into Alexander's steady gaze. "Alé… what is it, love? Can't you sleep…?"

"It amazes me that you can…" Alexander answered quietly, "after all that's happened…"

Suddenly Hephaestion was wide awake. He propped himself up on an elbow, studying Alexander's solemn face through the shadows. Of course he could sleep – the last few days had exhausted him, physically and emotionally. He wanted to sleep; he wanted to luxuriate in Alexander's embrace and know he was back where he belonged. Now things were as they should be again and he was not going to brood over the details as he might in the aftermath of a battle. This was one war that should never have been fought; in a way, he, Alexander and Crateros had all both won and lost and each one of them would take away some scars. "All that is over now," he said after a moment, "its over and its best forgotten. I want it forgotten," he added, not without some force. And he meant it – it was necessary for him to forget, even more so because he knew Alexander never would.

Then he smiled, reaching out to caress Alexander's brow as if to rub away the lines of tension he knew were there. "If you really can't sleep there are other things we can do to pass the night…"

Alexander did not pull away from his touch but Hephaestion heard him draw in a deep breath. "Hephaestion, I want you to promise me you won't fight with Crateros again."

"I'm hardly likely to if I'm under threat of crucifixion!" The words were out before Hephaestion could stop them. So a little spite still lingered – would linger yet a while, until he was finally ready to let it go. He saw Alexander wince very slightly as if stung, felt the stiffening in his muscles. He wanted to take it back, to insist he had not meant it; Hephaestion could tell. But he couldn't. Not even for the one he loved. To show him he understood, Hephaestion leaned close and kissed him soothingly. "I promise."

Alexander continued to gaze solemnly at him. "Tion, I know what he said to you…" At Hephaestion's questioning look he added, "some of your men told me. And I know why he said it."

Hephaestion swallowed hard. "…Alexander…"

"…And why you've never told me." Alexander touched Hephaestion's shoulder lightly. "I know, Hephaestion. But I need him. We need him." Hephaestion felt Alexander's fingers tighten insistently upon his arm. Then the grip relaxed as he sighed heavily once again. "At any rate I don't think he'll bother you again, and not because of my threats, either. I think he understands now."

Hephaestion frowned. "Understands what…?"

Alexander's pale eyes glinted strangely in the dim light. "That his king cannot live without you."

Hephaestion shivered uncomfortably, drawing closer into the reassuring heat of Alexander's body. The euphoria of waking to find Alexander in his bed and peace restored between them was beginning to fade and he did not want that; reaching out, he stroked his hand down Alexander's back, over his hip, across the muscular curves of his thigh. He smiled in satisfaction as he felt Alexander shiver hotly and shift closer, but as he was about to kiss him Alexander spoke again.

"There's one more thing I must ask of you, Tion," he said in a tone that was almost apologetic.

"Ask it," Hephaestion replied patiently, tracing the curve of Alexander's bottom.

"Never refuse to come to my bed again."

Hephaestion froze. Then, unable to stop himself, he burst out laughing. "Is my king ordering me to submit to his sexual advances?"

Alexander apparently did not share his merriment. "Hephaestion… I have to tell you something. Something I've never shared with a living soul."

Hephaestion stopped laughing at once. Once again, his light mood was overshadowed by the darkness haunting Alexander's. "Tell me…"

Alexander surprised him by slipping his arms around his waist and pressing his cheek against his shoulder. Too often, when so deeply troubled Alexander would draw into himself and away from the comfort he knew Hephaestion could offer. "For as long as I can remember," he began in a low, hoarse whisper, "there have been times when I've been woken in the night by strange… feelings." He could not say "fears", but the meaning was plain enough to Hephaestion. "Before I met you I… I would lie awake alone, rather than seek company. I thought I was teaching myself to be strong. But then I met you… and grew to love you… and to trust you. And suddenly I knew there was no weakness in asking you to come to me, or even to come to you myself."

Hephaestion knew this. He had noted it back in the idyllic days at Mieza even before they had become lovers, when without explanation Alexander would slip into his bed and lie quietly in his arms. He had noted it once more when Alexander had begun to take other lovers – even when he had the likes of Bagoas or Euxippinus sleeping in his tent, he would still send for Hephaestion in the early hours. At those times, just as in Mieza, Hephaestion never asked questions; he knew what pride, what conditioning Alexander had had to lay aside to give in to such an impulse.

"Most of the time the fact that I could send for you if I wanted to was enough," Alexander went on slowly, "but the night after you and Crateros fought… and in the nights that followed, I realised that I couldn't. That if I did, you might just refuse to come. And I thought I might go mad."

Hephaestion said nothing. He was nearly deafened by the thumping of his own heart. What use were words when it came to solacing such terrible, desperate loneliness? If at that moment he could have offered Alexander his soul as proof of his love, he believed he would have. Instead he pulled away from Alexander's now convulsive grip only enough to find his lips, to kiss him deeply, to settle his body upon Alexander's and give him as much warmth as he could. He heard his friend's shuddering sigh, felt his body relax and melt sinuously under his own. "You are my life, Tion," Alexander panted, "the very blood in my veins, the beat of my heart…"

Grinning, Hephaestion began to let his hands wander once more. "Go on, dear heart," he purred, "you know how your poetry… inspires me…"

But Alexander placed a restraining hand against Hephaestion's chest. "I should go now," he said ruefully. "It's getting light."

It was a vaguely amusing thought; Alexander for once being the one to have to sneak through the shadows back to his tent like a camp follower. But Alexander's hard, sinewy body felt just too good beneath him, and this night was far too special, and the healing wound between them still too tender, for Hephaestion to let him go. "Stay," he murmured, leaning in to nibble Alexander's ear.

"You know I can't… you know how they watch us… for your sake, Hephaestion…" Alexander smiled for the first time. "I wouldn't want Crateros saying you'd lured me back with the sinful charms of your magnificent thighs…"

"I don't care." Hephaestion looked straight down into Alexander's startled gaze. He knew the fierce defiance in his voice had startled his friend, but he remained determined. Something had changed in him tonight; something had grown, strengthened, finally found clarity, and he wanted Alexander to understand and to share in the joy he felt. "I don't care what Crateros says. Or what he thinks. Or what anyone else thinks either. What happened could have torn us apart from each other forever, shattered the trust between us beyond repair. Instead on this very night I feel closer to you than I ever have before. Surely only the gods themselves could have engineered such a result - and it seems to me that to care about jealous gossip and spite after this would be to sneer at their merciful compassion."

Alexander's lips parted to speak, and remained parted. For what seemed the first time since Hephaestion had met him, Alexander was lost for words. It also seemed that those parted lips were aching to be kissed, so Hephaestion kissed them.