Pairing: Alexander/ Hephaestion
Summary: Alexander hates ugliness, so what happens when Hephaestion sustains a wound? Based on Alexander's reaction to the ugly eunuch he had executed.
Alexander had worked his way through the first large group of wounded men, before he realised that Hephaestion wasn't with him. Panic swelled in his throat, and he gestured towards the doctor who came speedily to his side. "Hephaestion?" he enquired roughly. The scent of death and rot was heavy in the air, and Alexander could feel the heavy thud of his heart in his chest in an almost leaden regular thump. The whole world seemed to be an abattoir, and the faint ringing in his ears was making him feel sick. He got a hold of himself.
The doctor's expression didn't change. "He's alive and well. He had a minor wound which I treated, then sent him to rest in his tent." Alexander said nothing more, simply continued to walk amongst the wounded, exuding vitality as he went, imparting strength and courage to the many who responded visibly to the simple fact of his presence. Many raised a feeble cheer on seeing him, and he smiled at them, pressing a hand here, a smile there, a word of praise to a brave man. Fighting men were so easy to judge and to manipulate, and he knew that a simple word of thanks could bind a man to you for life. He neither hurried nor dallied, and he breathed a palpable sigh of relief as he ventured outside again. There were matters awaiting his attention as a dozen scribes standing politely by, reminded him. But that could wait. There were more important things.
He walked swiftly to Hephaestion's tent and stepped inside. A page was standing by with a bowl of bloody water. Alexander's heart nearly stopped in his chest. The damn fool of a physician had said a minor wound, and he jerked his head shortly at the page, taking the bowl of water from his hands as he left. Hephaestion was sitting on his pallet, very still. Worry gnawed at Alexander. Hephaestion had been wounded before- a sword thrust in the leg, an arrow in the shoulder, he'd even been knocked off a siege ladder, and he'd always treated those wounds exactly, now Alexander thought it, as he had treated his own- with arrogance and complete confidence that they would soon heal, that his body would be restored to him in precisely the same condition.
There was no such casual assurance in Hephaestion's demeanour here, and slowly Alexander sat beside him. The tent seemed almost stifling, perhaps why Hephaestion seemed so reduced. He'd been comforted enough times in the midst of depression by Hephaestion, that it was only right he comfort Hephaestion in his own melancholy. "Show me, Hephaestion," he commanded gently, and though for a moment there was tensed defiance in his posture, Hephaestion finally sighed and leaned back. He'd been wounded on the face.
Judging by the bandages that had just been changed, it reached from his forehead to his ear. One eye was covered in bandages, and Alexander could not restrain an audible gasp. Hephaestion divined the reason for this, and gave a thin bitter smile. "I was lucky not to be blinded," he said conversationally. "The wound merely passes near the eye. The doctor said it will not scar badly- the wound appears to be healing cleanly already. Alexander could find no response to this, but then Hephaestion didn't seem to be looking for one. Hephaestion spoke politely, and as if from a distance. "I really think I'd rather be alone now." Alexander could not read the look in Hephaestion's eyes, half pleading, half what was almost fear, so he merely nodded and stumbled from the tent. It was not until an hour afterwards, that he realised what had been so fundamentally odd about the situation. They had not touched once.
In the days after, Hephaestion was different. He positively avoided Alexander, and indeed all his old friends, even going so far as to snarl at Anarchon when he innocently enquired as to his health. Long horse rides became common, and often he was not back for days at a time. He lived off the land on these occasions, and once he came back bruised and bloodied from a vicious encounter with an animal. After this Alexander had tried to order him to stay in camp, and was met with such a look of dislike from Hephaestion that he didn't even try and enforce it. Hephaestion spent his evenings now with grim-faced men, all of them hard drinkers, matching them drink for drink, where before he had usually played games of skill, or merely spent the evening in quiet talk. Alexander could do nothing to stop him, until such a time as Hephaestion's activities caused a dereliction of duty. But Hephaestion was too clever to be caught that way, and every day found him at his post, excepting his riding trips, and these passed off under the guise of scouting trips. His moods grew uglier and darker. His wound healed cleanly, the scar almost no more than a marking on fair skin, rather than the twisting of flesh, others less lucky experienced. It merely made his face look older. Hephaestion had always looked younger, but the scar added a measure of gravity to his features that brought him closer to his true age.
Finally in desperation Alexander wrote to Aristotle. The sage's advice was typically cryptic, but he had scarcely expected anything else. It comprised in the main of 'the seasons may change, yet the earth remains the same.' However hard he looked though, he could see no deeper meaning, and he wished that for once the sage could break the habit of a lifetime and make something clear. Hephaestion neither spoke to him now unless it was necessary, nor met his eyes. As for late night liaisons they were a thing of the past, and Alexander did not dare to ask him why.
The only thing Hephaestion seemed to take much interest or pleasure in was his letters, and from courtesy, he and some few others were exempt from the military censorship that the rest of the army took for granted. Hephaestion would spend hours reading or writing these letters in his tent, pacing up and down until they were finished to his satisfaction.
When one of the officers in charge of the letters asked to see him, Alexander could barely raise the spirits to care. He knew the man and smiled at him encouragingly when the man hesitated. Finally, twisting his hands and mumbling his words, the man blurted it out. "You said sir that some people are free from checking, and no doubt as you have reasons. As you know, those letters don't pass through our hands, but have their own personal couriers." Alexander nodded patiently, waiting for more. "Well a friend of mine is one of the lord's couriers, and occasionally we'll have a drink together. Now last night we got a bit drunk, and he told me a secret. One of the men he delivers to is Demosthenes. I remembered you saying you specifically wanted to know of any mentions of him." The man's face was wretched. "I wouldn't have told, if you'd been anyone else my lord."
Alexander smiled gently at him. "You did entirely the right thing, and I won't forget it." He held out a gold ringer, he'd taken from a finger, and the man took it with a look of awe as though it came from the Gods.
"Thank you my lord," he stuttered.
Alexander held up a hand as the man made as though to leave. "One last thing. Just which lord did this courier work for?"
The reluctance to answer was plain in the officer's voice. "I'm afraid he was the Lord Hephaestion's." He left, and this time Alexander did not stop him. He sat down, hard.
There must be some mistake; Hephaestion had obviously allowed someone else to use the same courier to take their letters. But he knew it wasn't true. The yawning grief of betrayal tore away at him, though his heart insisted stubbornly that there must be some mistake. His growing rage would not let him rest, and he decided to confront Hephaestion now. Incensed he strode into Hephaestion's tent. The man he wanted to see was asleep on his cot, peaceful as a babe, arm tucked under his head. The scar was concealed, tucked into the pillow. Alexander wiped an arm roughly over his eyes, and was not surprised when it came away damp. Hephaestion was his heart, his inner self, and it felt as though his own hand had attempted to stab him in the throat. Roughly he shook Hephaestion awake. He sat up, hazed, swinging himself out of bed. "Is it an attack?" he asked, and reached instantly for his sword.
Alexander shook his head. "Only your attack."
"What?" said Hephaestion in disbelief, reaching to pull an over tunic on. Alexander blocked him. He knew the psychological advantage that would come from him being fully clothed, and Hephaestion only in an under tunic, knowing as he did how vulnerable Hephaestion felt not properly clothed. Hephaestion was properly awake now. "What are you talking about?" he demanded.
"I have just been told you write continually to Demosthenes," he said tightly, his head pounding, willing Hephaestion to deny it.
That hope was dashed as Hephaestion spoke. "Yes I do write to Demosthenes." Alexander turned to walk away, only to be confronted by an incandescently furious Hephaestion who shoved into his hand a small pile of letters, and rough drafts. "There you are," he said harshly. "And I defy you to so much as find a breath of treason. Demosthenes was an acquaintance of my fathers. As a child he taught me, played with me, throwing me in the air, taking me for walks until we moved to Macedon. We have much to talk about." His eyes were bright with hurt and anger. "How could you think I would betray you?" he asked softly. "You may have cast me off, but I would never harm you in word or deed. Do you really think I would ever do that to you?"
Alexander looked at him. "I don't know what you would do anymore," he said softly.
Hephaestion's face dulled. "So it comes to this," he said softly. "I think this is probably the worst way to die. If you are so determined to see me dead, then at least grant me the privacy to do it myself in the next battle, rather than force me to face a farce of a court."
Alexander looked as though he had been hit. "What on earth do you mean?" he said. "Determined to see you dead? I love you Hephaestion."
This words did nothing to change Hephaestion's face of set defeat. "That is not true," he said softly. "You loved who I was. Who I used to be, before time and wear wore me out. When I was beautiful and young, and you could pretend we were both heroes, on long summer afternoons, when we rode for hours by ourselves, and it seemed as though time stood still. Then we grew up, and age began to tug, scars to form... Can you blame for believing you would wish my death? You executed a man because his looks offended you, when you had spared all others who committed the same offence. How much worse then is it to be the former beloved of a king? To be the continual reminder of aging."
Alexander shook his head. "You fool," he said. "I would love you no matter what happened."
Hephaestion looked at him. "You mean if I had been ugly as a youth, you would still have fallen in love with me? Look carefully at the truth, and draw your conclusions from it. If you only loved me because of my looks, then what will happen when those looks leave me?"
Alexander took two angry steps towards him, and kissed him harshly, brutally almost, running his fingers across the scar, feeling Hephaestion shudder at the touch. "Your beauty is only one of the things I love of you Hephaestion. If there was nothing else then you would be as Bagoas to me, a beautiful face and body to be used and cast aside. Yet you are part of me, so much so that when I thought I had lost you, it was as though the world had stopped turning, and left me desolate. You argue that if you were not beautiful I would not have fallen in love with you, yet then why did I not love Philotas? Your beauty is part of who you are, and that is why I love it."
"If that is true, then why when I was wounded, did you turn away in disgust? Why did you leave?"
"I thought you wanted me too. You told me you wanted to be alone, and I assumed you meant it. Hephaestion, I would rather be old with you, than young with the most beautiful man or woman in the world." He saw all too clearly now, how it must have looked to Hephaestion, hurting and alone, as though Alexander did not care, in fact actively did not want to know. And how that belief had festered into self destructive behaviour, and a belief Alexander would rather he was dead, and out of the way. He wished he knew of a way to rectify the mistake, to convince Hephaestion, but he only knew of one way, so he demonstrated it. Again he kissed Hephaestion, hands tugging through hair, this time slower, and softer and gentler, feeling Hephaestion respond, shivering under his fingers. As Alexander looked at him, he felt desire well up as sharp and urgent, as it always had been with Hephaestion. He pulled them both closer to the bed, feeling eager fingers undo his own laces, and ripping at the light cloth of the under tunic Hephaestion wore, feeling the soft skin, and the harder ridges of scars. There were little preliminaries, both of them knowing what they wanted and needed, experienced hands, sliding over bodies they knew almost as well as their own, lips following the trail marked by questing hands. Alexander opened his eyes, and looked at Hephaestion. "Which?" he asked, surrendering himself.
Hephaestion closed his own eyes, and answered softly. "You." Alexander nodded, fingers expertly moving, until Hephaestion was moving with him in pleasure, rather than pain. It had been too long, he thought. Too long, since they'd been like this, in love. As he entered the other younger man, his hand sought for and found one of Hephaestion's, holding on to it as though to a lifeline, until together they spasmed, lying there in the dark, finding comfort in the closeness of their bodies.
"I love you," he whispered into the dark, throwing an arm over Hephaestion, drawing him closer.
"And I you," was the murmured reply, as the other man was almost asleep.
It is damn impossible you know to write a tasteful love scene. I had to settle for non-explicit, in order to get across in some measure that it is supposed to be an act of love. It's a promise they'll have proper sex in my next one-shot though.