Fandom: Alexander (book)
Pairing: Alexander/Hephaestion, mention Alexander/Roxanne
Warnings: slash, character death, pregnancy
Summary: There is something subtly wrong with the world, but Alexander can't figure out what. Slash. Alexander/Hephaestion, background Alexander/ Roxanne
Dedication: Moon71, having just reread that terrific story 'The Finest Persian Silk'
There is no justice in life or death, love or war. There is no justice to be found. The good die young, the bad prosper, and the mediocre live out their lives in perfect oblivion as to what might have been.
It has not rained in so long. Not proper rain. There were India's swamps, marshy lands and pouring rains, a perpetual miasma in the air, the thin veil of moisture that you sucked in with each inhalation, the wet humid breath of the Gods, blinding their eyes and filling the air with the sickly stench of rotting vegetation. Every breath was a little sip of despair, the coldness of mortality sinking deep inside, curling and writhing like the sinuous snakes charmed by their master's flute. He hates India with a deep and abiding passion, an urge to destroy, to raze the miserable place to the ground. The country that stole what he loved.
Alexander leaned his aching head against his hands, and gazed at his surroundings. "Why do I feel so sad?" he asked Hephaestion pensively. "I feel..." he paused."Like everything worthwhile has gone out of the world." He turned and looked at Hephaestion unhappily, and then his gaze lightened. "Perhaps not everything," he murmured.
Hephaestion smiled acknowledging the compliment, his eyes crinkling, as he pulled his seat closer. "Tell me what is wrong."
It was a moment before Alexander replied, looking away. "I feel," he said softly. "As though there is something terribly, grievously wrong which I cannot remember. Sometimes in fleeting dreams, both day and night it comes to me, and I feel as though I would go mad with the sensation of unutterable loss."
Hephaestion's eyes were grey with sadness. "Alexander you do not understand," he whispered. His eyes searched Alexander's face for a moment, and then he softened. "Just a while longer," he murmured, ignoring Alexander's interested and puzzled glance. He brushed his lips over Alexander's neck. "When you are ready to know, you will know," he said very softly, tickling the sensitive skin with his breath. In a gesture of tenderness he rarely showed, he settled himself against Alexander.
"Imagine if Ptolemy caught us," Alexander mumbled into the inviting skin, so conveniently situated.
"How terrible, the King and the general showing such lack of decorum," was the amused reply. "He would
probably lecture us sternly..." Hephaestion continued.
"While you groped my leg," finished Alexander. "I doubt he'll ever forget that. The look on his face when he finally realised what you were doing as he was talking..." Hephaestion laughed, and Alexander caught at his hand. "Stay with me tonight?"
Hephaestion nodded. "Of course. Between three and four of the clock, would be perfect, I can slot you in between my numerous other lovers," he teased gently.
Alexander sighed. "I know," he said mournfully. "How you find any time for me is a miracle."
At that moment Eumenes entered, seeming to find nothing abnormal in the fact that Hephaestion was perched half on, half off Alexander. He made his customary polite bow to Alexander, ignoring Hephaestion as usual. Hephaestion made a movement to get off, but Alexander encircled his waist more firmly, such endearments were rare, and he intended to make the most of them, regardless of the consequences. Eumenes left a scroll on the table, and then left quietly, though not before throwing a puzzled glance at Alexander. Alexander glanced over the documents idly. "Boring," he pronounced. "Having been so utterly indiscreet in front of Eumenes, shall we now compound our sin?" he suggested.
Hephaestion looked at him in disbelief. "In the middle of the day? We'd get nothing done in the rest of it. Not a chance." He swung himself up, dropping a kiss on Alexander's head. "I can see I am distracting you from the task at hand," he said mischievously, moving towards the exit. "Oh by the way," he stopped, and looked thoughtful. "How long have you had this odd feeling for?"
"Only four days or so." Alexander replied. Hephaestion left, leaving Alexander in a brown study. There was definitely something very wrong. But he could not pinpoint what it was, no matter how hard he thought. The feeling was more or less constantly there, in a dulled and insistent form, except for those minutes he could snatch to be with Hephaestion, a blurring of his vision, as though he was struggling between two polar extremes. There was something he was missing he knew. Something very important, as though the whole world was subtly askew, canted to a different perspective.
A subdued knock came, and Roxana entered, her dark hair awry, and her movements distracted. She looked wary, and walked very quietly. Alexander gazed at her, perplexed at her movements. "Roxana?" he asked. She rarely came to him now, and he still more rarely went to her, when their love had resulted in no progeny, leaving her believing she was barren.
"Alexander," she said. Her eyes searched his face fearfully, evidently not finding what she feared. "Alexander," she repeated softly. "Thank the Gods you do not believe the rumours."
He stared at her in incomprehension. "Rumours?" he repeated, before calling to mind that one of the women in the harem had accused Roxana of having a lover. "Of course not." He had asked for her movements to be watched but nothing had convinced him of the veracity of the concubine's statement, and he had put it down to pure jealousy on her part.
Roxana fell to her knees, "thank the Gods," she whispered. She stood, and embraced him, mumbling into him her request. "Alexander shall we try once more?" Her dark hair veiled her face, and its expression, but her whole posture spoke of pent up fear. Obviously his calm reaction was not what she had expected.
Alexander looked at her with slightly bemused affection. "Not tonight," he said, fingering the waterfall of hair, relishing the softness. "Tomorrow perhaps?" She nodded, and made as though to say something. Her eyes searched his face again, and she sighed as she put the words away unspoken. One hand rested on her stomach, but Alexander did not notice anything, turning again to his papers and thoughts. She bowed her head, and glided away silently.
Later that night Alexander kissed Hephaestion lovingly, feeling the younger man smile against his lips, as they moved together the way only those who had been lovers for so long knew how to do, the intimate dance, the give and take of bodies eager for mutual release. Finally he caught at Hephaestion's sleeve. "We should move to the bed," he whispered. Hephaestion nodded, and in accord they moved to the bed, so different from the one where they had first consummated their affections. It made Alexander laugh, the contrast between the hard pallet, and this luxurious resting place. Things had changed so much in the intervening years, but as he fumbled with laces and cloth, he knew that some things had not changed in the least. He looked at his lover, taking in once more the beautiful sight. Hephaestion was older now, taller and stronger than those days in Mieza, battle hardened, and whippet thin, scarred and toughened by war, and Alexander marvelled once more that the Gods had gifted him with this beauty for his own. Their hands entwined as they fell back upon the bed, Alexander kissing Hephaestion with all the force he could muster, feeling the huskily indrawn breath that greeted him. Their lovemaking was slow, Alexander taking the time to appreciate what was given to him so freely, in such a way. When he was finally inside, they moved together, their passion evoking more passion. It had been a long time since they had made love in such a way. Their time together was often brief, and they were forced to make the most of it, in such swift heady encounters that it scare seemed, they had been together at all.
Hephaestion was lying afterwards as he always did, one arm flung across Alexander, and the other tucked tightly into his body, his head facing Alexander's. He looked young as ever, his youth not denied by the sight of the first silver hair. Alexander leaned across and plucked it out, the short pain not waking the other man. They had spent the night, as they always spent those nights that they could snatch, in drinking and talking, then finally in love, their ardour having waned little since their boyhood. Hephaestion slept now, his breath easy, and for a little while Alexander matched the own rhythm of his breathing to that of his friends, finding a small pleasure in that unity of spirit. Alexander clutched the warm body closer, a sudden fear possessing him as to what would happen if he lost him. The skin was warm and smooth as always under his fingertips, marred with the passing traces of scars honourably won, and Alexander marvelled again at the quiet beauty of his lover, seemingly not diminished by the years passing. He felt a sudden surge of love all over again, and in an excess of affection, pulled the other man even closer. Hephaestion murmured, half waking, only to settle down in a deeper rest.
Dawn was past, and when Alexander opened his own eyes from a deep and refreshing sleep, he was rewarded with the sight of his general dressing. Alexander yawned, amused that Hephaestion was up before him. "Hephaestion," he said quietly, knowing the other would hear him. He was given a smile that warmed him. "You look younger," he said.
Hephaestion pondered a moment then replied. "I am of the firm conviction that eating a lot, with no exercise and few distractions apart from the love of his king, does indeed cause a man to look younger if only because the lines are filled out." Alexander laughed out loud, at the remark which was so typically Hephaestion, and felt a kiss dropped lightly on his head before the other man left. He stretched cat-like, before rising to begin his daily duties.
As he strode through the hall, he wondered why everyone seemed so serious and grave, indeed why there were no smiles to be seen, or music to be heard. At last he saw Eumenes, and flagged him down with a cheerful greeting. "Good morning Eumenes," he said with a good-natured look. The other man looked at him with a stunned expression, and returned the greeting in a stifled way. "Why on earth is everyone so gloomy?"
Eumenes looked at him shrewdly, and obviously did not like what he saw. "My King," he said slowly, "may I speak to you privately?"
He followed Alexander into another room, and looked at him carefully. "My Lord," he said respectfully. "If I may ask you such a blatant question, why has the Lady Roxana not been punished?"
Alexander looked astonished. "Punished? What on earth for? The lies of the concubine were just that. Lies. Nothing more needs to be said of it."
"You don't understand..." Eumenes began, but Alexander held up his hand.
"No more. I have found her innocent." He strode out, his temper blackened by the incident. He knew how to keep control of his wife, and he knew the difference between lies and the truth. His mood was lightened a little, by a glimpse of Hephaestion in the distance. Gradually the mood generally lifted, with smiles and even the odd laugh filling the air. Some of them seemed natural, others forced, but Alexander did not notice the difference, was merely happy.
That night he watched Hephaestion busy himself with a map. "What are you doing?" Hephaestion asked Alexander without raising his eyes from the complex lettering involved.
"Nothing," was the benevolent reply. "Merely wondering why you still haven't finished that map. You've been working on it for three weeks now."
"I never will," was the cryptic reply, and Hephaestion put the ink aside. "It's been such a time Alexander," he whispered.
A quiet knock on the door came, and with a smile Hephaestion exited into the second room, which led out into the passage, where Roxana would not feel uncomfortable at meeting him. She walked in, arrayed beautifully as always in red silks, her features touched subtly with coral and kohl, and her eyes cast down. She looked young as always, small and slender, and he was conscious of affection towards her. She was indeed very beautiful, far more so than Hephaestion's wife Drypetis, though older. In her gaze was the look of a wild animal that had perhaps never been fully subdued, but merely tamed over the years. She held out her arms to him, and he picked her up as always, and took her to the bed.
He had always known he was not a true lover of women, their graceful curves had never tempted him as much, their softness and fragility had tempered his spirit with them, wary of causing harm, and Roxana was no exception to this rule. But she was his wife, and he was surrounded by memories so he did well enough as usual, well enough to make her sigh with pleasure, and curl into his embrace. Afterwards she looked up at him, eyes softened hazily. "Alexander," she mouthed, and he bent to listen. "Do... do you love me more now?"
He sighed, and looked up at the darkness above him. "What do you mean more now?" he asked.
There was a stiff silence, and no reply. When he next looked at her, she was asleep or pretending to be. He kissed her cheek, and stood wrapping himself in a robe, and leaving the room silently. He was still awake, though the place was quiet, and the languor of love still suffused his limbs, so he determined to visit Hephaestion's rooms. The way was velvety black, broken only by the flickering circles of light that denoted a torch here and there, a rich darkness that enfolded and protected like a blanket. The other man was asleep, arm curled around his pillow, embracing it like a cherished companion, his mouth slightly open as he dream travelled, occasionally muttering to himself or kicking out. Alexander nudged him across one side, then clambered in warming his feet, laughing to himself at his childish conduct.
The next day was warm, a sultry clinging heat, that dampened foreheads and anointed silks with darkened patches, and the most even tempered grew irritable. It seemed longer than it was, a sullen miasma of a day, clinging to its discontent. Everyone seemed in a lethargic mood. Several times Alexander saw groups of people congregate often with those closest to him part of it, and then break up hastily when they saw him approaching, throwing sidelong glances at him that he did not understand in the least. It put him in an irritable mood, particularly because he did not see Hephaestion at all. No-one was willing to tell him, where he was either, the most anyone ventured was that they hadn't seen him recently. Alexander found himself missing Bucephalus. The horse had implied a level of simplicity in his life that was now lacking. Once all he'd had to do was fight the enemy, a clearly defined nation, now he had to guard his back against his own men, take the risk of mutinies, and the vicious backbiting that was the lifeblood of the court that surrounded him. He sighed, as he looked at the campaign sheet in front of him. Then something caught his attention, though it just as carefully escaped his mind, leaving him frustrated and uneasy. Something was definitely not right, and it wasn't something that anyone was willing to tell him, even if they could.
Hephaestion stayed again that night, prompting Alexander to teasingly ask him just what he'd done to merit this reward. Usually Hephaestion was more discreet in the nights they spent together, judging when indiscretion could be allowed, and when it was best to concentrate on the task at hand. He had been more scrupulous than Alexander even, in ensuring that those nights he should spend with Roxana were spent with her. When Alexander had asked, perhaps just a touch petulantly, if Hephaestion was trying to foist him off, Hephaestion hadn't taken it as a joke at all, indeed had been rather insulted that Alexander would think him selfish enough, to care for his own pleasure, to the detriment of Alexander's duties. A humph was his only answer to Alexander's comment, before they had fallen back on the bed, with an enthusiasm as infectious as always. So engrossed were they in their mutual pleasure that the knocking went unheeded, as did Roxana's entry into the room. "Alexander," she whispered.
Alexander growled in frustration, Hephaestion's eyes lighting up with laughter, as he pressed a not so subtle kiss to Alexander's mouth. "Roxana, I am busy at the moment."
Roxana hesitated. "I was told you were unoccupied."
"You were told wrong." Alexander said, barely restraining a gasp.
She walked closer with a measured tread. "Whom are you with?" Her voice was no longer timid, indeed it was angry, with perhaps even a tinge of hysteria colouring her tones. "Not even two weeks after, and you have taken a new lover to supplant me with already? I came here to comfort you, to offer you consolation, but I see you have no need of such a thing."
Alexander stilled, and Hephaestion eased himself away, looking at Alexander with pain in his eyes. "I am so sorry," he whispered, and in those words was a world of misery and pain. They were Alexander's words in Hephaestion's mouth. Roxana pulled open the heavy curtains, embroidered with golden thread tarnishing just a little from the excessive dampness of the atmosphere, and gazed at Alexander, with no regard for either his modesty or that of his companions.
"There is no-one here," she cried with a tinge of superstitious terror in her voice.
Alexander turned to Hephaestion only to see his friend shaking his head. With an icy flush that flooded his body with the cold salt sea, chilling the very blood in his veins, he suddenly realised what had perceived him as being so wrong. Looking down at his hand, he saw the gold ring on it. The ring he had given to Hephaestion which was mirrored on the other man's hand. "You took it from my dead hand, as a memento," Hephaestion whispered. On his head was a silver hair, nestled amongst its fellows. The one Alexander had plucked out the night before as they lay sleeping.
He shook his head helplessly. "No," he said quietly. "No it isn't possible. You are Hephaestion." He said the words hopelessly, as though already knowing the answer, knowing what must come.
"No," was the reply. "I am your memories of Hephaestion. You couldn't bear the thought of living without him, and after three days of mourning your mind snapped a little. This was the only way you could carry on, so your mind made it possible. I am so sorry." Hephaestion's form shimmered and flickered, until it was gone, only empty cold air left behind. The full enormity of Alexander's grief struck him them, a tidal wave of loss and anger, denied and magnified. Roxana was afraid at last, screamed until a doctor came, and attempted to subdue him, eventually forcing a sedative down him.
Roxana stared at him in sorrow. "What can we do for him?" she whispered.
The doctor answered heavily. "You claim to bear a child madam. Do your utmost to ensure it lives." He left with a grave dignity.
When Alexander awoke it was with full knowledge in his mind. Roxanne was kneeling beside him, her head buried in her small hands, her thin shoulders shaking, murmuring something in her native language, as she spasmodically tugged at the coverlet. He did not move, merely let his emotions wash over him. For a time, a battle was fought, a battle for his mind, a fierce and bloody one with many casualties, as he lay still and cold, his Sogdian princess sobbing beside him. He fought with the skill and strength of many years, the determination that he would ride the tiger which was his pain; would still continue, eternal and invincible. He fought his greatest battle, with his greatest enemy. Himself. When he finally moved, and surveyed what was around him it was with eyes that were not quite sane, and perhaps never would be again.
He looked more with curiosity than pity, at his sobbing wife, noting with an impartial eye the fact that her weeping had not stained her face, though her eyes were red, and swimming in yet more tears. She licked her lips nervously, across sharp white teeth, but it took a little time before she could form words. "I was so worried," she finally whispered. Her voice was hoarse from screaming, and raw from coughing. She wiped her face with her sleeve, too miserable to be polite. "I made them let me stay with you." She scrambled up, and sat next to him on the pillow, curling into his side.
Alexander sat up, and looked at her. "Roxanne," he said, and he sounded as though Hades echoed behind his voice, as though he spoke into the halls of eternity. There was something in his voice that compelled her to listen. "I know." The words were like slivers of ice, working their way through her thick skin, past her facade and her pretence. "I know," he repeated. "I know why."
She stared up at him, frightened out of her wits, too afraid to move, though his warmth was not comforting, but rather utterly alien to her, the feeling that she lay beside something that was no longer quite human, but merely wore its mask. "It wasn't me," she pleaded. "I swear it," the words fell uselessly from her tongue, sounding unreal to her ears.
"But you knew there was a plot against him?"
"I knew, but I believed that he was dangerous to you. I swear I did not kill him." She was babbling, frantic to have him believe her. She had not meant to have done anything. She had known, but then there were many who had known, many who jealous of the king's general, had turned a blind eye to the new servant on Hephaestion's staff, his taint of insolence when he spoke the King's name. She had thought, o vain and unhappy thought, that she would not need to destroy Hephaestion herself, that it could be done for her. And then her hand had been forced, in the most terrible way, when she had realised he knew.
Roxana came from a family with ten brothers and sisters. Two sisters were married, with five children between them, and her three oldest brothers totalled eleven children so far. Her family was fertile, boundingly so, and the fact that she was childless after so long had raised eyebrows. Alexander's mother Olympias had had a great deal of trouble bearing those children that survived, and though Philip's liaisons were many, his successful progeny was low. One night, after having been with Alexander again, and having felt the cold emptiness again, she was certain she would never bear a child, and having seen the beauty of his two new wives was scared out of her mind of supplantation. With her maid, she had concocted a plan. Her maid- Rinana was beautiful, and fervent enough to have a dozen lovers if she so chose, and she was utterly dedicated to her mistress in every word or deed. She was the only person Roxana trusted implicitly, and together they had devised a way to commit the ultimate treason. They picked a man, a blond good-looking Macedonian officer, as intelligent as could be expected, and easily seducible, then Rinana had promised him a night. Bringing him to her room she had extinguished the lights, and led Roxana in. She had lain with the man when she was most fertile, a fierce coupling that had shocked her, and excited some undiscovered part of her at the same time. He had not been gentle as Alexander always had been, but he had given her a depth of pleasure she had not known, and he had seemed pleased at her violent reaction to his caresses. Before dawn she had bade him leave in a soft voice, and he had gone. A week later he was assigned to another section of the army, and he had left with them. Her first month passed, and her bleeding did not appear, and then a second began. Her body began to put on weight, her breasts to swell, but still she held from telling her husband, afraid her treachery would appear in her eyes, hoping he would notice. She had prayed that it was Alexander's child, that it had been implanted in her womb before she lay with the officer, but she knew that the laws of nature could not be so easily disarrayed.
One day, she had encountered Hephaestion. He had been suffering from an illness that made him quite haggard, but he'd refused to go back to bed, though he had been sick quite a while. Finally he had been sent back forcibly by the doctor. Alexander was at the games, and for some reason she had gone to Hephaestion's suite, to enquire after Alexander. He had been sitting up, and with an accuracy she had not expected, his eyes went straight to her stomach. She did not even show, could not be certain that she was carrying, and yet he guessed immediately, and his eyes had been mirrors, that did not show her his thoughts, merely reflected her own back. A sick certainty had coursed through her veins, a sudden and terrible feeling that he knew not only about the babe, but the manner of its conception. She had panicked, and taken from her belongings the small vial of poison her mother had given her, meant for her own ingestion if the need was great, and added it to the wine taken to him on his sickbed. She had done it fast, afraid that he would pass the message on when Alexander returned. In the wine, and a few drops on the fowl. It was painful, but it was swift enough especially in the man's weakened state, maybe twenty minutes in acting. He was dead before Alexander got the word to return immediately. To preserve the secret of her child for perhaps only another day she had murdered.
"Is that so?" There was no expression in his voice, and she didn't have a clue whether he believed her or not. A hand rested softly, almost caressingly on her neck. "Of course my Queen," he murmured. "You wouldn't soil your beautiful hands on him would you? You would just let him die at the hands of others, foolish in your belief that you could not be connected to it."
He stroked her hair calmly, with light touches, and she recalled how he'd loved the feel of her hair. Gently he wound it around her neck twice and began to pull, and she began to struggle and gasp, suddenly convinced she was about to die. His hands were merciless, one hand dug cruelly into her shoulder as he strangled her with her own hair. "Please," she managed to get out. "Stop. I bear your child." She was released without ceremony, and the next moment, a dagger was at her abdomen, ripping the cloth, revealing the belly which had just begun to curve, his eyes noting her body's changes. She dared not say a word, or tug the shreds around her, sensing that this was all that stopped him from throttling her. This was an Alexander she had never seen. The man she knew was courteous always, and gentle, a man of mercy. These things were neither in his movements nor his eyes, and she could predict no move he might make now. Finally he released her, and she dared to speak. "Think of your child," she said softly. "I know you blame me for his death, but I did nothing." The hand was at her throat again.
"And what of the children he will never have," Alexander hissed, tightening it without mercy, until finally he loosened it, and stood, cold and remote suddenly, his face a mask of impious pain, a pain too strong for an ordinary man to bear. "Speak to me madam and your life is forfeit. You bear my child, and for that I release you for the injury you have done to me. " He pointed to the door, and trembling she stumbled from the room, still feeling the cord around her neck, clutching the cloak she wore around her, fleeing to her own rooms.
Finally Alexander understood the strange looks and atmosphere in the place. Heartsick with sorrow, he stumbled to the map Hephaestion had been drawing. Nothing had been added to it, since the two days before he had died. He recalled the cryptic words. 'It never will be.'
"Hephaestion," he murmured. "If you too were Alexander, then he surely has died with you."
The ending was rushed, as it usually is with me. Just to clear up some probably confusing points. Hephaestion is not a ghost. It's a figment of Alexander's imagination that his mind constructed to help him bear the grief of losing the real thing. You probably all guessed that in the first five minutes lol. It's made up of memories, which is why Hephaestion seems a little younger, and why no-one else- Eumenes etc reacts to his appearance. Hope you enjoyed.
P.S. Also I know most scholarship has Roxanne conceiving after Hephaestion's death, but I've taken some dramatic licence!
Make my day. Tell me you didn't guess he was dead!