REDISCOVERY by Moon71
CHAPTER 16: The end at last! Alexander and Hephaestion finally enjoy some time together – and both realise they have a lot to talk about…
NOTES: The end is here indeed… and I want to thank everyone who has been so kind and generous in reviewing this story and indeed all my stories, as well as all those who have emailed me, and those who don't want to chat but love to read – I know you're out there and that's what matters! Would you believe its only one year since I posted "The Ivory Eros"? I feel like I've known some of you for years!
Please stick with me as I say a particular thank you to some of you:
Fredericka – thank you once again for all your help with this complicated story!! From the reviews I'd say you were right every time!
To Coral Dawn – thank you for all the help you probably didn't know you were giving!
To Joyeee – your huge reviews are a treat to be savoured!
To Trust No-One, Selket, Balliansword, Purple Lolly, Khepri, Del Rion, Norrsken and Euripides – you are all such excellent writers and such loyal reviewers – your reviews are especially appreciated but your stories are even more adored.
To Arlad, Mlygia, Chibizanzo, Songnatasha, Queendel, Madaboutbooks, Kadaj's-girl, A Horse called Hwin and Angstman – you are such wonderful reviewers, all of us writers treasure you.
To Sushoo, Bob, Yolass, Kitten and Liz – I am now so glad I let the anonymous reviews through! Not a flame amongst them (so far…!)
To Parisad and Barbara – Buon Natale and un mare di baci! (Well, it is Christmas...) (Under the mistletoe, Barbie, in the case of Alexander and Hephaestion, you know what I mean...)
Last of all to a few other friends – Marina – Hope you like Hylas' little contribution here; I thought the musical training appropriate to boys of a good Macedonian family! Stonestepper – glad you're reading, looking forward to your next Alexander tale… to Tsuhiyo and Amalc, nice to make your acquaintance! And to Ryo-chan – glad you got it in the end!!!!
A HUGE, MASSIVE HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!!!! And now I'm of to drink some Christmas sherry, or perhaps a little amaretto...
They returned without any kills, to be greeted happily by Admetus and Hylas, who offered their own – a hare which looked as if it had died of old age and a chicken Alexander suspected might have been stolen from a local farm. Hardly enough to keep a party of nine well fed. In the end the meal was padded out with barley-cakes, fruit, edible roots and slightly stale bread, washed down with a great deal of wine. Alexander didn't care. He wouldn't have cared if they had returned with nothing but the recently shed skin of a snake. He kissed both boys warmly and congratulated them on their prowess with the spear and the bow, insisting they would have the use of the Bactrian guide and one of the guards to help them in the morning.
As the light dimmed they all gathered around the fire. Admetus played the kithara and Hylas sang, and though Alexander couldn't bring himself to offer to play as well, he did astonish Hephaestion by joining in some of the songs, his voice perfectly complimenting that of the boy who Hephaestion always insisted was his youthful image. After several cups of wine Alexander felt the urge to talk and launched into a stream of embarrassing anecdotes about Hephaestion's first hunting experiences that had the pages giggling and the guards stifling sniggers behind their hands. Hephaestion's sour look did not daunt him; he felt as if he existed upon a cloud, so light and free did he finally feel, so happy was he at the thought of the days ahead. His outburst high in the hills had forced out of him fears and dark thoughts he had never intended to reveal even to Hephaestion. But, though it had exhausted him, it had been worth it just to feel the euphoria he felt now. The demons were gone – and he suspected they would stay away, so long as he had Hephaestion to turn to.
The next few days would belong entirely to Hephaestion – Alexander would devote himself to his friend's pleasure and comfort. They would ride and hunt and let themselves revel in simple, manly pleasures they had taken so for granted as boys. And they would talk freely and honestly, even about Thais, and Alexander's difficulties with her, if Hephaestion really wanted that. But above all, Alexander would show Hephaestion – with his kisses, with his touch, with his loving, just with his attention – just how much he meant to him, just how often he thanked the gods for him, even if he sometimes forgot to thank Hephaestion himself.
"We'd better ride out at first light," Hephaestion whispered to Alexander as they headed for their tent, "or we'll all starve to death."
"Certainly, certainly," Alexander murmured airily, very slightly unsteady on his feet, his arm slipping shamelessly around Hephaestion's middle, "first light… whatever you say…" The night air was sweet and fresh and made him a little dizzy as he breathed in deeply; Hephaestion gripped him supportively as he stumbled and he smiled up at his friend, nuzzling into his shoulder. "Have I ever told you how infinitely delectable you look in the firelight?"
"I think a fat roasted boar would have looked tastier," Hephaestion sighed, then squawked indignantly as Alexander's hand slid down to his bottom and squeezed. "Alexander…!"
"I know a good way to forget an empty stomach," the King told him with a lustful grin.
"Love, it's well past dawn, we ought to get out there and catch something…!"
Alexander murmured a protest and snuggled closer to Hephaestion. "I can think of better ways to spend a cold morning like this than hunting, Hephaestion…"
"But this is supposed to be a hunting trip..! Aren't we supposed to be out slaughtering wild animals?"
"Well… we can always hunt each other beneath the furs… anyway, I sent your boys out earlier, they'll catch something for us."
Hephaestion groaned. "So its barley cakes and fruit for dinner again…"
"Oh no, they'll do better this time! I told them you'd beat them if they came back empty handed!"
Alexander's wild boy's laughter was like music to Hephaestion's ears. "Well it's your fault, Hephaestion – you've failed to encourage a proper Macedonian bloodlust in them! According to Hylas, you've never even taken him hunting once!"
"You know I don't care much for hunting, Alexander…" Hephaestion grumbled.
Alexander sighed, resting his chin upon Hephaestion's muscular chest and letting his hands slide downwards. "Back to being the Athenian snob, Hephaestion? After all these years? I thought I'd won that war years ago."
"Some victories are incomplete, Alexander."
"So I'm beginning to realise…"
Through the soft, cool morning light filtering into the tent, their eyes met. Alexander's hands stilled, his expression settled into patient resolution. They had known each other too long and this moment was too intimate for him to pretend he did not know what Hephaestion wanted. "Talk to me, my friend."
Hephaestion shifted onto his side so that he was facing Alexander. "Thais has returned to Ptolemy," he began slowly. "Yes, I can see that pleases you, and let's not pretend it's out of some sensitivity to Ptolemy's feelings. And I know what you're thinking, but you're wrong and I want you to understand that you're wrong."
"No, let me finish. It wasn't my decision to give her up, Alexander… The truth is I was quite ready to defy you. You tried to trap me, and I resented it, but what I resented much more was your lack of faith in me... in us."
"No! Never that, Hephaestion!" Alexander protested in a sharp whisper, "I have never lacked faith in you!"
"But in my love…? Alexander, nearly all men, even the most ardent lovers of boys, enjoy the company of women! Why should I be different – and why should you be so… disturbed? Achilles and Patroklos shared their tent with captive women – did that mean they loved each other any less than you and I? Did Achilles' affection for Briseis lessen his love for Patroklos? And you yourself Alexander… you have Roxana…"
"You know why I married her!" Alexander protested, but Hephaestion but a finger firmly to his lips.
"I know why you married one of Oxyartes' daughters, Alexander. But I also know Roxana in particular caught your eye… and I know you have come to care for her… Never, once, did I think that changed your love for me… or your desire… if I in my turn take a woman, why should you think it would make any difference to what we share?"
"Hephaestion…" Alexander rubbed a hand restively through his blonde curls. "This isn't about sex, you know it isn't. I'm not a complete fool – I know you've had other lovers… and I know that my need to keep you to myself is one most men would consider weak and unmanly…"
"I have never considered it so," Hephaestion cried softly, but this time it was Alexander who silenced him, reaching out to clasp his hands.
"Look around you, Hephaestion… look at what is in this tent. This is all that belongs to Alexander. No, let me explain. Everything between here and Macedon, the lands, the cities, the palaces, the people, the soldiers… those pages and servants outside… even Roxana… all belong to the king. Were I not to be king, none of these things would be mine. All that belongs to Alexander are these furs, which we have won on our hunts… the sword that lies beside me to protect us… and you. Yours is the only love I have that I believe in with all my heart. If that love was ever to flicker and fade…"
"It never will. It never will, Alexander," Hephaestion breathed, taking Alexander's face in his hands, "why can't you trust that?"
"Because being with Thais has changed you… you're already different! From the first night you spent with her…"
"If I have changed, I have changed back into who I was… the Hephaestion you fell in love with. Don't you recognise him?" Hephaestion smiled tenderly, unable to stop himself leaning in to brush a kiss across Alexander's lips. "He was a person who knew his own mind and valued his independence – he had strong opinions and vehemently defended his right to express them. You shouldn't be upset by my finding that Hephaestion again… not if you really did love him as you claimed. He loved you passionately… so passionately he swallowed some of that terrible pride of his to love you… and he loves you still. He can be strong for you, Alexander… since I found him again, he has only been waiting for you to give the word, so that he can spring to your defence…! Do you really want to stifle him, to push him back into the shadows?"
As Alexander lowered his eyes, Hephaestion saw the brief glimmer of unshed tears. Then his friend drew in a deep breath and steadied himself. "You say you didn't want to give Thais up… yet you did. If it wasn't in deference to Ptolemy… or to me, then why?"
Hephaestion frowned thoughtfully. "Alexander, you know me better than anyone, even my own parents. You know I have never been much of a lover of women's society... when I was a boy all my love, all my passion was directed towards you, and if my eye strayed it was to youths who reminded me of you… strong, bright, energetic and vital, not soft and submissive… I could never understand the sympathy you felt for women… even why you suffered to hear your mother's counsel when other men would have put her back in her place, even why you spent so much time in the company of women like Aida or Sissygambis…"
Alexander gave him a lopsided grin. "I hope you're not accusing me of effeminacy, Hephaestion… of having too much of a softness for women…"
Hephaestion waved this aside. "Until Thais I never thought I could find much pleasure in a woman's company beyond sex… but I learned with her that there was much besides that a woman could offer. Don't be angry, Alexander, if I'm only just learning what you've known all along… Thais showed me a need I had barely recognised – something I want to have when you and I are forced to be apart… not just quick sexual gratification, but amusement, companionship and the gentle, intelligent counsel of someone I can trust. Thais offered that."
"And yet you gave her up," Alexander prompted impatiently.
Hephaestion nodded. "It was Ptolemy after all, in a way, who persuaded me… nothing he said or did, but… just a moment of clarity of what Thais might be to him. If I, after such a short intimacy, didn't want to give her up, how must he feel? If Ptolemy enjoys Thais' society as much as I did, and had done so for many years, and, indeed, unlike me is a true lover of women, then perhaps taking her from him was not the noblest gesture I could make, I who… as you said… has the love of Alexander himself… and when I heard Ptolemy had given Anahid to Laomedon, it seemed… petty, to stand in his way."
"How democratically Athenian of you," Alexander murmured dryly, his eyes downcast. "But, after all, you will have female companionship soon enough! Drypetis…"
"Alé," Hephaestion chuckled, "come on now. If my memory serves me correctly, Drypetis daughter of Darius has not yet turned thirteen… remarkable and accomplished though I'm sure she is, can you see me talking a child-princess on independent campaigns? When our campaigns are over it will the greatest honour to take her as my wife, but that will be years away, unless you plan to turn back tomorrow…?" He sighed, slipping his arms about Alexander's waist and drawing his hesitant lover close. After a moment, Alexander relaxed, lifting anxious grey eyes to Hephaestion's face. Hephaestion caught his breath. No other, man or woman, would ever see Alexander like this, so utterly vulnerable, so desperate for reassurance. There was tenderness in what Hephaestion felt, but there was pride too. Nobody would know Alexander as he did… and nobody would ever mean as much. Enough had been said for now; Alexander would learn to understand, he was not incapable of understanding how Hephaestion felt. Somehow he would find a way to show Alexander the fathomless depths of his love, to reassure him yet again that no woman, no man, no boy could ever alter that. He bent his head to kiss his friend with possessive hunger but then suddenly drew back.
"You didn't answer my question," he continued at length. "Are you planning to go back…?"
Alexander's eyes flashed brilliantly at the question, a radiant pink flush spreading across his cheeks, a mischievous smile tugging at his full lips as he brought them close to Hephaestion's ear. "I mean to go East," he breathed, "As we dreamed as boys, my Hephaestion, I mean to reach the Ocean itself! I mean to be in India by the time the winter comes…"
Hephaestion shook his head. In spite of the warmth of Alexander's embrace, the fervent whispering, the hands clawing urgently at his back, he could not help his well trained mind snapping to the logistics of the matter. "The army… the Bactrian campaigns have been hard and demoralising, the losses high… your officers have grown complacent, dreaming of satrapies and harems… we'll need to send for reinforcements, work out how to incorporate the men Oxyartes will bring with him… we'll need to send scouts ahead, interrogate the local traders as to what lies ahead, secure guides, order maps…" He trailed off as he watched Alexander begin to shake with laughter. "What…?"
"What a fool I have been," Alexander sighed, wiping his eyes, "not to realise that if I want to steal you back from the arms of a beautiful woman, all I need to do is give you a campaign to organise! I can handle the army, Hephaestion… as long as I know I have you at my side."
"Alexander, I would follow you to the Kingdom of Hades, alive or dead," Hephaestion grinned. "The thought of it… following in the footsteps of the gods Herakles… and Dionysus…"
"Alexander follows in the footsteps of no man!" Alexander retorted, "I shall outpace them both!"
"Hubris, Alexander…" Hephaestion admonished.
"Would you expect any less from me?"
"No, indeed… it shows me that you are truly my Alexander again…"
Grinning widely, Alexander pushed him down onto the furs. "I have never been more Alexander than I am today…"
Hephaestion lifted a restraining hand. "Now, shouldn't we go and kill something?"
"Later…" Alexander growled low as he crawled on top of him, "A lot later…"
It was midday before they finally took to the hunt; though the sky was bright, the mountain air remained refreshingly cool. As they rode out on the trail of Hylas, Admetus and the guide, Alexander talked animatedly to Hephaestion's guards, apparently quite unwearied by his earlier exertions beneath the furs. In contrast, Hephaestion's mood was quietly peaceful, not expansively gay; his mind wandered absently until he had lost the thread of the conversation and he had let Golden drop a little behind. There was so much that had been troubling him which suddenly no longer mattered; so many new factors to be considered in their place. He couldn't help wondering what Thais might have to say about all he and Alexander had discussed. Women did have the strangest ways of looking at things… but that had its uses… Of course Thais was no doubt preoccupied with Ptolemy right now, but perhaps she might still take a moment to spare a thought for him too. He wondered if Nireus had managed to do what he asked, and if so, if his gift had been understood. He thought it should – for a woman, Thais did possess remarkable intellect…
Alexander had fallen back to his side and was watching him curiously. As Hephaestion looked up he was suddenly conscious of how different Alexander looked - his cheeks were brightly flushed, his hair tousled and his eyes sparkling. The effect was becomingly youthful; even the many scars of war seemed to have faded from his skin. With a little imagination he might just pass for Hephaestion's beloved Mieza boy after all. Hephaestion gave him an enraptured smile. "I do love you, my Alexander," he said, "I love you very, very much."
Alexander stared at him in perplexity for a moment and then lowered his eyes, his colour deepening visibly. Such passionate avowals were usually more his own style than his lover's, and Hephaestion had spoken quite loud enough for their companions to overhear. But after a moment he put out his hand for Hephaestion's and clasped it firmly, and when he finally raised his head once more, the smile he gave him outshone the sun itself.
Thais rose gracefully from Ptolemy's bed. Soon enough the army would be moving out again and they would have to grow used to life on the march. Well, that came with camp life. She could rely on Ptolemy to make it as comfortable for her as possible, and she had been with the army too long to find it insufferable. She glanced back at her companion with warm affection. Love was something no self-respecting hetaera should confess to, even within the privacy of her own thoughts. But she had felt the loss of him; he was so very familiar to her… an important part of her life… and there could be great sweetness in that.
He had not been able to disguise his relief when she had come to him or his pleasure when she lay down once more in his bed. For an hour after their lovemaking he had talked ceaselessly, of everything from Alexander's plans to the past festival to the latest court gossip, a subject he always relished.
Quietly she went over to her dresser and drew out the small package from the top drawer. The note which had come with it, delivered by Hephaestion's boy Nireus, was oddly charming in its clumsy phrasing – obviously he was not used to writing notes to a lady. But the ending was all it needed to be. "Please accept this gift from your friend, Hephaestion."
Thais smiled as she held the black obsidian earrings up to the soft light of the lamp, where they glittered darkly. Simple, not highly valuable, but beautiful none the less. She held them in her hand for a moment longer, then put them back inside their silken cloth and replaced the package and the note in the drawer.
So she had won the debate after all.
Once again, thanks for reading! Review if you like - or if you're shy, just send me a PM, even if you have a complaint! Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year with all the love and blessings one person can send to all those who have made her so very happy!