ONE WAY OR ANOTHER by Moon71 (1 / 3)

SUMMARY: Having missed his chance to share Alexander's childhood, Hephaestion joins the army as it prepares to cross the Hellespont and reflects on what might have been…

DISCLAIMER: Well, who owns history, after all?

AUTHOR'S NOTE: (if anyone cares!) This story is actually one of my oldest. I gave up on it several times, then finally thought up a decent ending and decided to recycle it. Sadly, by that time, I had already stolen bits from it for other stories – this was not only the birthplace of the Narcissus / Nireus / Helenus sub-plot from "Competing for Second Place" but also the first appearance Amyntor ever made in one of my stories. So if it seems "recycled" – that's because it is!

DEDICATION: To Norrsken, for being a wonderful writer, a generous reviewer and a lovely new friend! A story with a touch of magic.

They were bored. It was quite obvious they were bored. Even Nearchos, the straightforward, patient, practical Cretan who of Companions had been the most friendly to him when he had arrived, seemed to be having trouble keeping awake; Ptolemy was politely muffling yawn after yawn, Crateros was pulling faces and rolling his eyes and Philotas was continually falling asleep, only to be nudged awake by his scowling father. He couldn't really be angry with any of them; he had spent days and nights putting together this report and now he was boring himself with it.

The heat didn't help; it was a stifling, airless evening and the crowd of bodies in the tent made it so much worse. So did the anticipation, of course; in just a few days the army would be crossing the Hellespont and war with the Persian Empire would begin. These men had all seen combat at Thebes; many had served under King Philip too. It was hardly surprising he was chosen last to give his report, or that these seasoned officers considered listening to it somewhat beneath them. He had worked so hard on the duties assigned to him since his arrival, had been quietly proud of his achievements and was quite excited at the thought of presenting his report to the King, but now all he wanted to do was crawl back into his tent and hide under the camp-bed. He was almost relieved when Crateros broke in, "with respect, Alexander – couldn't he finish this drivel tomorrow? I think I'm about to pass out!"

King Alexander threw his General a freezing look before turning level grey eyes upon the speaker. "Please carry on, Hephaestion."

"Yes, Sire… moving on to the availability of supplies once we cross over to Troy, I have discovered that as far as the purchase of oil, grain and wine is concerned…"

He should never have come. It had all been a huge mistake, he could see that now. He had been living in a fantasy world! He knew it quite clearly whenever he looked across and met Alexander's gaze. The King was polite to him, even gracious, but quite impersonal. How could he ever have imagined there was even the vaguest sympathy, the slightest understanding between them? He should have stayed in Macedon. He should have listened to his mother.

She wouldn't blame him for this disaster; she would blame his father. Even now she might be sitting at home, worrying about Hephaestion and blaming Amyntor for her son's misfortunes, for filling his head full of nonsense about war and glory and phalanxes and cavalry… and princes called Alexander.

"I have to go up to the palace tomorrow, Hephaestion," he could still hear his father saying, "why don't you come with me? Come on, it's better than moping around the house with only your books and your mother for company!" He had glanced over his shoulder to his wife and winked theatrically at his son. "You could play with Prince Alexander! Wouldn't you like that? Come on, he's such a pretty little fellow, and terribly sober and studious… just like you!"

"Alexander…" Hephaestion had murmured thoughtfully, "that's a nice name."

"Of course it is!" his father encouraged him, "and the prince is a very nice little boy – but I do think he's rather lonely up at that big palace…"

"Lonely!" Hephaestion's mother scoffed, bustling around the kitchen, "he's got all those noblemen's children to play with, he doesn't need one more bowing and scraping to him!"

Amyntor frowned but persevered. "I don't think he has much in common with them, he spends too much time with grownups. Every time I go to Court he chatters to me like he hasn't got anyone else to talk to… or perhaps anyone else willing to listen. Do you know, the other week he was telling me all about how he was reading about Cyrus the Great! Cyrus! What do you think of that, Hephaestion?"

"Alexander… Paris of Troy was called Alexander," Hephaestion recalled.

"Yes, and what a wicked young man he turned out to be!" his mother declared with satisfaction.

"Now, Mother, that's enough," Amyntor admonished. Hephaestion never heard his father call her anything but that; it seemed to comfort her, but this time it did not calm her.

"I don't want him going to the palace," she cried, the pitch of her voice rising in panic, "they're barely civilised – their crude language, their drunken orgies, they're little more than tribesmen! And as for that Queen Olympias, the things one hears…"

"Mother, I said that's enough!" Amyntor's voice was low but strict. "Don't forget King Philip was kind enough to welcome us to Macedon when Athens turned its back on us! I'm sorry, my dear, I know you don't like to think of it, but its time we concentrated on the future, not the past." He turned his steady eyes upon his son. "So, Hephaestion?"

Hephaestion looked up at his father. Alexander. It was a very nice name. Did the prince really like reading about Cyrus the Great? Surely he couldn't be any worse than the local boys Hephaestion was supposed to have made friends with, who were rough and stupid and made fun of his books and his Athenian accent. Then, because his conscience would not let him do otherwise, he looked at his mother. She was not a truly artful woman; there was no malice in her. Even then he knew what lay behind her sharp words and short temper. He could see the deep, aching fear in her eyes, though he was not to fully understand it until years later.

He bit his lip, lowering his eyes to the scroll spread before him. "I'd… rather not, Father," he said very softly, "don't forget my new pedagogue is arriving from Athens in three days, I need to finish the reading he sent ahead for me." He kept his gaze fixed on the text to avoid seeing the disappointment on his father's face.

Hephaestion paused to wipe the sweat from his brow and quickly scanned ahead through his report. He had to skip some of it or his listeners would soon be comatose. It was childish to be disappointed that his work was receiving such a cool response, though he had so enjoyed it at the time; the logistical state of the army had been a shambles, and not just that – he had managed to sort out disputes, solve problems, identify errors. What had he imagined? Alexander embracing him publicly and naming him his second in command? Supplies of cornel wood for replacement sarrissas – no-one would miss that, and it would leave out a whole page. He launched ahead to the next subject.

"Hephaestion," Alexander interrupted in that same patient tone, "I believe I asked you about materials for sarrissas. Did you forget to investigate that?"

Hephaestion blinked briefly and cleared his throat. Hiding under his bed was no longer an option. He wondered if anyone would really miss him if he deserted. "N-no, sire, I only thought… as you said, supplies of…"

It's a divine punishment, he decided as he droned on automatically. That, or else he's finally having his revenge for my stupidity all those years ago… Then he cursed himself for his own egotism. As if Alexander would even remember!

"Oh, by the wisdom of Athene, not again! Hephaestion, your father's gone off to his meeting at the palace without his notes! The last time I sent one of the servants they reappeared drunk six hours later – run along and take them to him, will you? And Hephaestion – "Hephaestion's mother froze his sudden frenzy of eager activity with one of those looks she cast so well. "Make sure you come straight back. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Mother." With slightly reduced enthusiasm, Hephaestion had headed off to the palace, clutching his father's papers. He would have liked to spend time looking around the grounds even if he did not get a chance to look inside, but whenever he considered defying his mother's orders her reproachful gaze, and the fear behind it, chastised him and he quickened his pace. He made his way up the palace steps, explained to the sentry who stopped him why he had come and handed over the papers. The sentry, probably bored with his tedious duties, had been friendly, even kind, and suggested Hephaestion take them to his father himself, but Hephaestion had reluctantly declined. He turned to make his way down the steps.

"Look out – catch!"

Quite instinctively Hephaestion thrust out his hands and caught the ball which was flying towards him. Mutely he looked down at the boy who had thrown it.

For a moment Hephaestion was certain this was no ordinary boy but some magical sprite straying in from the woodlands beyond. He was so fair that the faint pink flush suffusing his cheeks and spreading all the way down his neck to his chest seemed more like the painted colouring on a marble statue; his blonde curls seemed carved out of gold. Standing over this pale, fragile figure, Hephaestion, who was dark of features, broad and still childishly chubby, felt like a huge, ungainly thundercloud hovering over the sun.

"Joy to you," the other boy said suddenly, with a slight inclination of the head and a formality startling in someone his age, "I don't believe I've seen you here before."

"No – " Hephaestion finally found his voice, "no – I just came to give something to my father…"

The blonde boy nodded gravely, as if Hephaestion had said something terribly profound. He considered for a moment longer and then asked, "would you like to play with me? It's a new ball," he added, nodding to the toy Hephaestion still held.

Hephaestion looked at it. In fact it was a very handsome ball, made of highly burnished dark red leather with gold stitching. He lifted his gaze from the ball to its owner. The boy was watching him with such large, hopeful grey eyes that Hephaestion was sure he could not refuse. Yet he heard himself say, "I'm sorry… I promised my mother I'd be home straight away."

As Hephaestion watched, those tender eyes grew dark with sadness, and then hardened to flint. "It doesn't matter… I have to go inside now; they'll be waiting for me." And with that he headed up the steps. Hephaestion suddenly wanted to call after him, but a lump was choking his throat. He had almost gathered the strength to follow him when he saw his own father appear in the doorway. The other boy stopped to greet him with respectful familiarity; Amyntor smiled warmly and replied. They spoke too softly for Hephaestion to hear, but when Amyntor nodded in the direction of Hephaestion himself, the other boy shook his head and said a few last words before disappearing inside.

"Hephaestion…!" Amyntor called, a frown creasing his brow.

Hephaestion looked up slowly. What had he done wrong? Was the boy a servant? He was certainly plainly dressed. Was his father angry he had been loitering with him? "Yes, Father?"

Amyntor drew in a deep breath, apparently changing his mind about something. "Thank you for bringing my notes… tell your mother I'll be home for lunch."

"Yes, Father…" Hephaestion sighed, making his way down and out of the grounds. He no longer wanted to explore them; all the fun of visiting the palace had died along with the hope in that small boy's eyes. He felt sick, he even felt a little like crying, and all he wanted was to go home and bury himself in his reading.

It was what he was doing when Amyntor finally returned. He greeted his wife cheerfully enough, but once she was occupied supervising the preparation of his meal he sat down opposite his son and regarded him reproachfully. "So you finally met Prince Alexander," he observed coldly.

Hephaestion's heart skipped. "I don't – that boy, the one with the golden hair – that was the prince?"

Amyntor sighed and shook his head. "Poor little wretch… he sat through that meeting with the King and his counsellors, quiet as a mouse. I suppose he prefers it to being with his tutor – that oaf Leonidas fancies himself a Spartan, what does he know about bringing up children? Tell me, Hephaestion, would it really have been so hard for you to leave your books for a few hours and play with him?"

"Did he say – "

"He didn't say anything. He didn't need to."

"I promised Mother – "

"Your mother would have coped, Hephaestion. She'll have to learn to cope, soon or later. And you're big enough now to stop hiding in her skirts."

Amyntor didn't say anything else; nor did Hephaestion, who stared down at the scroll spread before him but could not read a word for the tears blinding his eyes.

It seemed a fitting punishment that from that day he could not seem to get Prince Alexander out of his head. Whenever his mother was out of earshot he would ask questions of his father about Alexander – what books he was reading, what toys he played with, who his friends were. He secretly longed for Amyntor to suggest his accompanying him to court again, but he never did. Too often, when he was supposed to be concentrating on his lessons, his mind would wander to that fateful meeting on the palace steps, only this time he and Prince Alexander spent a happy afternoon kicking and tossing that splendid ball and when it was time for Hephaestion to go home, the pretty little prince had given him a kiss on the cheek and asked him to come and play again tomorrow. This last section of his fantasy always gave Hephaestion a delicious little shiver down his spine and he could not help imagining it again and again. But then his pedagogue would catch him daydreaming and rap his knuckles with a wooden cane and Hephaestion would see that disappointed expression yet again and feel like a fool.

All the same, Hephaestion made use of what knowledge he gained. He learned the prince loved horses and loved to ride, so he begged for a horse of his own and practised riding him as often as he could; he heard Alexander was very active and had been driven hard by his tutor, so Hephaestion, who had previously scorned the gymnasium because of the other boys there, forced himself to train there regularly. He worked his way through Herodotus, Xenephon and Homer, hoping one day he would be able to discuss his thoughts on these authors with Alexander. Everyone who he asked seemed to think the prince was near enough perfect, or at least fancied himself so; therefore Hephaestion had to be perfect too. When they met again, nothing should go wrong.

By the time the philosopher Aristotle had been invited to Macedon to tutor Alexander, Hephaestion had just about managed to put such silly thoughts out of his head. Amyntor, on the other hand, who had been lukewarm about the matter since the day he had gently reprimanded his son, now seemed to gain a new enthusiasm for the subject.

"Now, Mother, you have to admit this is a brilliant opportunity for Hephaestion – Aristotle is well respected, just think what he'll learn from such a man!"

"Amyntor, you should be ashamed of yourself!" Hephaestion's mother scolded, "pretending it's our son's education you're interested in! You just want to have your son in with all the other sons of Philip's courtiers!"

"And why shouldn't I, after all? Antipater's sons will be going to Mieza, so will General Parmenion's and… anyway, you can't keep Hephaestion away from Court forever, at least this way he won't be in the thick of it, he'll be with other boys, getting an excellent education! At least consider my position for once, Mother… Philip himself has asked me about Hephaestion, even young Alexander asked me if he'll be coming…"

Hephaestion, listening silently by the door, caught his breath. The prince had really asked about him?

"I don't want him to go, Amyntor," his mother was saying stiffly, "he's not like other boys, he's sensitive and shy and he'll be bullied by those rough Macedonian boys and the prince will only look down his nose at him – no-one in Macedon likes Athenians, thanks to that awful Demosthenes!"

"Mother, it's thanks to the likes of Demosthenes that we're in Macedon now! King Philip knows it, so do his Courtiers and so do their sons! And as to him being bullied – look at him! He's already as tall as you and he's got more wit than all those other men's sons put together!"

"I don't want him to go, Amyntor," his mother repeated, but this time her voice was unsteady, "I don't want him to leave!" Suddenly, quietly, she began to weep.

"Helena, my love…" he heard his father sigh. It startled Hephaestion to hear him use her given name, but as he retreated into his room it was with the gloomy certainty that he would not be joining Prince Alexander and his friends at Mieza.

A deep sigh escaped Hephaestion as he progressed to the next paragraph of his report. He didn't really need to read his notes, he had memorised most of it, but if he stared at them he wouldn't be tempted to stare at Alexander, or to stare at his officers, some of whom he could identify as the sons of men his father Amyntor had consorted with back in Pella, sons who had been allowed to go to Mieza, who had shared Alexander's childhood, who were Alexander's friends. What sort of an idiot was he, wallowing in childish jealousy because they were so close to the beautiful young king and he wasn't? Letting himself be plagued by guilt because so many of the men his father mixed with had been able to present their handsome sons before Philip when Amyntor couldn't, and not because he didn't have a son, handsome or otherwise, but because his wife wouldn't let him?

Why had he come out here? Why had he agreed to join the army at such a late stage? What good would it do him or anyone else? Just because of a moment when he had refused to play with a little boy with lonely grey eyes; just because of a glance from a handsome young man on a fine black horse? Suddenly his whole report seemed absurd, quite meaningless. He had already heard himself referred to several times as the "logistics bore" as he pestered people with his questions and ideas; Actaeon, the Page assigned to him, seemed to think the post beneath himself; even the engineers, who handled the building and maintenance of bridges, siege machinery and fortifications, the men he had most wanted to meet, regarded him with a dull suspicion as if he was a spy on the lookout for cost-cutting and shoddy workmanship. He was on the verge of tearing up his notes and announcing his intention to return home even if it meant disgrace, dishonour and possible crucifixion, when he accidentally caught Alexander's eye once more, and thought he saw the ghost of a smile. For a second he thought the King was laughing at him. Then he remembered the young man on his black horse.

He did not know quite why he had gone out to watch King Philip leading the army out against Thebes; it had been several years since Amyntor had reported that Philip had asked him if his son was to join the Royal Pages and Hephaestion's father had had to endure the humiliation of admitting that he wasn't. His mother had grown quite hysterical at the thought, claiming Hephaestion would seduced and bursting into tears when Amyntor had retorted that a chance would be a fine thing. "Becoming some officer's eromenos is probably the best thing that could happen to the boy," Amyntor had persisted, "as it is, he's well on the way to turning out a lonely, maladjusted little prig!"

"I suppose you'd like him to attract the attention of King Philip himself!" Hephaestion's mother had shrieked, "I've heard all about his taste for boys! What does it matter if our son is treated like a – like a – like some camp-follower so long as you improve your position at Court!"

"By Athene's sacred arse, woman – "

"AMYNTOR!"

"Well, I've had enough of it! Face up to it, Helena – we're never going back to Athens, never! This is your home now and after all these years you'd better get used to it!"

So ended the subject of the Royal Pages. By all rights Hephaestion should have been too ashamed to show his face amongst the crowds while the army rode out, but something lured him there. And though he didn't want to admit it, he rather suspected it was a need to glimpse Prince Alexander one more time, just in case – all the Gods forbid it! – he never returned from the campaign.

He had felt his chest constrict as he saw Alexander riding not far behind his father, smiling at the cheering crowds and talking to Ptolemy, the one gossip suggested might be his half-brother. Alexander looked so dashing in his armour, so at home on the back of his horse Bucephalus. The fragile, pretty boy with the wistful gaze had grown into a very personable young man, not nearly as tall as Hephaestion himself who had shed his puppy fat to shoot up like a vine, but well proportioned, smoothly muscular and graceful, his features strengthening to a more masculine beauty without losing the sensitivity that made them so compelling. As Hephaestion watched him, he wished him well at the same time as he prepared to let go of all his childhood fancies. From today he would not allow himself to think anymore of Alexander. He would focus on making a life for himself in Macedon, a life that kept him away from Court. He had had his one chance that day on the steps of the palace, handed to him by the fates, and he had thrown it away. He could not blame either of his parents for that. Health to you, beautiful prince, he thought sadly, I'm sorry we never played with that nice ball…

And then, as if his thoughts could be heard, Alexander had turned and looked directly at him. For what seemed hours, the two youths gazed into one another's eyes. There was the trace of a smile on Alexander's full lips, as if he was telling Hephaestion that all was forgiven. Then, almost imperceptibly, the prince raised his hand, as if in invitation.

Hephaestion hesitated, doubting his own senses. Just as he summoned the courage to take a step forward, Ptolemy touched Alexander's arm, pointing to someone in the crowd on the opposite side. Alexander had turned away and, feeling an utter fool, Hephaestion had dived back into the mass of bodies and pushed through in the direction of his home.

Fresh perspiration broke out over Hephaestion's brow as he looked away from the king once more and recalled the dreams which had visited him for nights after he had watched the prince ride off to battle. In his dreams, he had pushed through the crowd, grasped Alexander's hand and clambered onto the back of Bucephalus, slipping his arms around the unprotesting Alexander's waist as they rode off together to glory.

Idle fantasy, nothing more. He really had tried to make a life for himself in Macedon; he had even considered marrying. But his heart was not in either project. Then Philip had been assassinated.

It had been an unhappy time for Amyntor's family; even his wife had had to admit that Philip had been kind to them and without him their future was uncertain. But, Hephaestion realised as he stood by and impotently watched his father weeping, for Amyntor it was far more than that. Perhaps he had held ambitions for his son, but he had also loved King Philip as a friend – and his affections did not stop at Philip. "That poor boy," Amyntor had lamented, "they're already saying he had a hand in it! Maybe she did, the gods alone know, but not Alexander…"

Hephaestion's mother had tensed, biting her lip; he could tell she was not nearly so convinced of the prince's virtue but at least this time she kept silent, merely placing her hands upon her husband's shoulders and rubbing them gently. After a moment Amyntor reached up, clasping one of her hands in his and offering his other one to Hephaestion, who took it silently. "We'll weather this, Mother, just as we always have. That poor boy will either kill or be killed… one way or another, he'll never be the same…"

It was then that Hephaestion realised something that brought tears to his own eyes, tears of frustration, guilt and grief. Amyntor genuinely loved Alexander too and perhaps after all it had been as much pity for the boy he always described as lonely, as ambition for himself that had motivated him to try to bring Alexander and Hephaestion together.

Kill or be killed…

"I'll go to him, pledge myself to him!" Hephaestion had cried, "I know he doesn't know me but surely – "

"NO!" his mother shrieked.

Growing hot with anger, Hephaestion turned on her for the first time in his life. "Mother, you know I love and respect you, but I have to do this or I'll never live with myself! I know I don't really know Alexander but I – I can't explain it, but I care for him, and I – "

"Your mother's right, Hephaestion," Amyntor interrupted, startling both his wife and his son, holding up a hand to forestall Hephaestion's protests. "Now is not the time. This is Macedon. The succession could degenerate into a bloodbath. Alexander isn't the only one with a claim to the throne and he doesn't need you to get yourself killed along with him – or to do some of the killing for him. His friends will be back from exile within days, let them take care of it."

Feeling rather foolish, Hephaestion had subsided. But he had seen the glow of love and pride in his father's eyes and knew his words would not be forgotten.

Alexander had successfully taken the throne and the much talked of Persian campaign had become closer and closer to reality. It wasn't until after the destruction of Thebes that Amyntor had told him, quite deliberately in his mother's hearing, that someone was needed to handle logistical matters for the army before it crossed the Hellespont and he had put Hephaestion's name forward. Before Hephaestion's mother could begin her objections, Amyntor sat her down and put a finger against her lips. "Listen to me, Mother. Listen to me, and look at him. He's twenty-two years old. His legs are so long he could step over any city's defensive walls, his shoulders are broad enough for two cuirasses, he's strong, he's clever and he's very handsome and you can't keep him prisoner here forever!"

At these words, his mother had begun to cry, but not violently, only softly and sadly as she buried her face in Amyntor's breast. "I know…" she had whispered, "I know…"

And so with a mixture of excitement and dread, Hephaestion son of Amyntor had finally taken his position as one of Alexander's Companions, though he hardly felt the honorary title was well deserved.

Hephaestion glanced sharply up from his papers, thinking he was hearing things. But the growing amusement of the others confirmed his suspicions – Philotas was now so deeply asleep he had begun to snore and Parmenion, rather than shaking him awake, was dozing quietly against his son's shoulder.

"My friends," Alexander spoke up clearly and firmly, "it has been a long night, you are dismissed."

Amidst gasps of relief and groans as men stretched cramped muscles and shook out garments soaked in sweat, the meeting broke up. Hephaestion quickly gathered up his papers, too thoroughly miserable to worry that Alexander had not even bothered to acknowledge that his report was not finished, let alone apologise for cutting it short. He was almost at the exit to the tent when his name was called.

"Hephaestion, where are you going?"

Hephaestion turned back in surprise. Alexander was still sitting where he had been, regarding Hephaestion with innocent surprise.

"Sire?"

"You may call me Alexander, you know… but where are you going? You haven't completed your report!"

"I – I thought…"

"I'll hear the rest of it tonight. But first take some wine with me; this accursed heat leaves a man parched as a desert, doubly so, I would have thought, if one's been speaking for a long time… Narcissus," he addressed the young page waiting in attendance in the corner, "wine and two cups… bring a fresh pitcher of water, too."

Hephaestion found himself watching the boy as he moved gracefully about his tasks. How old could he be? Fifteen? Perhaps the very age Hephaestion had been when he had been invited to Mieza to study with Alexander. Some of the boys who had shared his studies had been in this tent tonight now honoured Companions to the young king. Had one of them been Alexander's beloved back in Macedon, walked hand in hand with him in the gardens of Midas, shared his bed on cold nights? Had things been different, perhaps, just perhaps, Hephaestion himself might have been the one who… but no, he was being a fool! Oh, why not admit it – he had been infatuated with Alexander since the day he had met him on the steps of the palace in Pella. But that did not mean his feelings were returned! So many men and women loved the golden boy of Macedon; Alexander would have his pick from hundreds. Hephaestion blinked as Narcissus appeared at his elbow, giving him a radiant smile as he offered him wine and gracefully wiggling his behind as he moved back to serve Alexander.

"Are you hungry, Hephaestion?" the king asked, his eyes fixed impenetrably upon the page. Hephaestion called himself a fool for the stab of jealousy that persisted; why shouldn't Alexander be interested in a beautiful youth like that? "Bring a basket of fruit, Narcissus… Please carry on, Hephaestion…"

A little dazed, Hephaestion sipped his wine and looked at his notes once more.

"Would you like me to cut up an apple or two for you, sir?" Narcissus offered, leaning so close Hephaestion could feel his soft breath against his cheek, "they're very ripe and sweet…"

"Ah…no, thank you…" murmured Hephaestion, "now, as to the logistics for a possibly prolonged siege campaign…"

"Some more water in your wine, sir? Strong wine in this… hot… weather, can be very… intoxicating…"

Hephaestion glanced nervously towards Alexander, but the king was gazing thoughtfully into his wine cup and didn't even seem to be listening.

Narcissus glanced at him too, then whispered, "I do hope Actaeon is looking after you properly, sir… if he isn't, do come and tell me, I'd be… only too glad to help… in any way I can…"

Hephaestion looked up slowly and bemusedly into the boy's large green eyes. And suddenly it was not so easy to look away again. It was as if all the long, lonely, frustrating years were collected in those eyes and reflected back at him. What had been the use of any of it? Who had he been keeping himself for – Alexander? Why shouldn't he take a lover, a boy just like this one? As if the king cared what he did or who he did it with! As he gazed at Narcissus he saw both sympathy and encouragement there, as if the Page could read his very thoughts and was accepting an offer he had not yet made. He had caught the boy smiling at him before…

As if awakening at last from a dream he had been locked up within since the day he had joined the army, Hephaestion finally began to see things clearly. Camp gossip about Narcissus' accommodating attitude to any one of Companion's rank… and not just him. Other boys and men had been looking at Hephaestion with curiosity, maybe with real interest, despite the smirks and the teasing. Perhaps, just perhaps, a night in the arms of Narcissus would rid him for his useless dreams of Alexander at last.

He allowed a small, experimental smile to tug at his lips…

TBC