THE VISITOR by Moon71
SUMMARY: In the last few weeks of his life, Alexander pays a visit to Bagoas' house and Bagoas speculates on what might have been.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine
RATING: Harmless (this isn't Alexander / Bagoas, I swear…)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story was inspired by the anecdote in Aelian's Varia Historia which describes Alexander's last few days, including a visit to Bagoas' house. Now there is (as always) some controversy as to which Bagoas this was. It could be the same "boy" who danced in India; it could be a different Bagoas (I understand some people believe there were two – one the dancing boy, the other the trierach) or the reference "Bagoas' House" could really have meant the house of Bagoas – i.e. the Vizier Bagoas who made Darius King. However for the purpose of this story this the same Bagoas who appears in some of my stories.
DEDICATION: This story was directly inspired by a fascinating discussion on LJ between Parisad, Coral Dawn and Heroineanilem concerning the reference to Bagoas' House. It is therefore dedicated to all three of you.
NOTE TO BAGOAS HATERS: If anyone was unlucky enough to watch Alexander Revisited and is now either feeling queasy over the Alexander / Bagoas stuff or has just had all their Persian Boy-related hatred reawoken, I hope this story will provide a little light relief. Bagoas here is as far distant from Stone or Renault as I could make him without reattaching the missing parts of his anatomy.
It was a beautiful little house, really much finer than the one had had occupied in Ecbatana. The houses in Babylon had their own unique character, at once welcoming and defiantly exclusive, just like the city itself. Babylon remained Babylon, whoever claimed to rule it. It would be a nice place to settle once and for all, Bagoas mused as he sat still, letting his servants put the finishing touches to his hair and make-up. It seemed like only yesterday that he had fantasised of settling in such a place, having decided that after India with the desert fiasco and the mutiny, Alexander was just too dangerous a patron to be relied upon. But then there had been the Susa weddings and for a while it had almost seemed as though the days of the Great King were really returning and Bagoas had simply not been able to pass up the chance of gaining a position of real status in what could have been a truly reborn Persian Court; besides, he had suddenly been useful to Alexander all over again with so many Persian-Macedonian matches to arrange and so many families to be placated and dowries to be negotiated, and the time to ask for a generous pension and a nice house had never quite arrived.
And then Hephaestion had stunned everyone, including Bagoas, by having the poor taste and equally poor timing to die just when Alexander's plans and Alexander's empire were both in a delicate state of transition. Had he lived, things would have been so different. Even if something had happened to Alexander, with Hephaestion the Empire would have probably survived, at least in Persia. As to Greece and Macedon – as far as Bagoas was concerned, they could sink beneath the sea to join their god Poseidon and good riddance to them.
What was it they said? He who hesitates…
Hearing the doors flung open and voices in the hall, Bagoas took a deep breath, smoothed his layers of colourful Persian silk and drifted out to meet his visitor. As his household prostrated themselves before the guest, Bagoas bowed very low, straightening only when Alexander came to him, holding out his hands in greeting. "Joy to you, Bagoas… you look beautiful as always…"
Bagoas bent and kissed both of Alexander's hands, pressing them firmly though they felt unusually clammy and trembled faintly in his. "You flatter me, my lord," he said formally, with only the faintest smile. Since Hephaestion's death, Alexander was so unpredictable it was stupid to take chances.
"Now Bagoas," Alexander laughed fondly, "you know I'm only Alexander under this roof."
"As always, you honour it with your presence… Alexander," Bagoas replied with a warmer smile. Quickly he gestured to his steward, a trusted and reliable Babylonian by the name of Hillallum, who began directing the other servants to bring in the wine and food and the household musicians. He waited until Alexander was reclining upon a plush couch by the fire before taking a seat opposite, observing silently that Alexander refused the water offered to mix the wine and only picked distractedly at the dishes laid before him. Bagoas was a past master at watching while he seemed to have his gaze averted and he watched Alexander now even as he amused his guest with the latest gossip of Babylon's elite.
Alexander looked awful. Being so fair skinned he had always caught the sun badly, but the red flush on his cheeks, glowing as they did with a moist, unhealthy sheen, had more to do with wine than sunburn. Those restless, flickering grey eyes were now glazed, dreamy and bloodshot, rimmed by dark shadows. Even his golden hair seemed lustreless and his boyishly sculpted face was bloated. Something was different tonight, however. Something had changed.
Bagoas had heard the stories from his connections in the royal residence – night after night Alexander attended parties and drank until the early hours. There was no Hephaestion to encourage him to mix his wine or distract him away from his drinking friends to a private assignation – or to drive the demons back into the shadows far more effectively than that sot Dionysus ever could. For a while Roxana had given him comfort – real comfort, it seemed, not just dreams of fatherhood, whatever her enemies said – but now she was with child and it was hardly appropriate for Alexander to go to her bed. Bagoas had heard that he had not gone near Stateira since Hephaestion's death; gossip had it that one meeting with herself and Drypetis had been enough to send him into fresh paroxysms of grief, for the lost dreams of the children he and Hephaestion would never share. Some even said he had clung to the vain hope that Drypetis might yet be with child, and when it was quite apparent that it was not so, Alexander had sunk into a depression blacker than the one he had suffered upon Hephaestion's death.
So many rumours, so many stories, all of them containing a ring of truth…
Bagoas noted quickly that Alexander was distracted, interested neither in the conversation, nor the food, nor the music, nor any of the other entertainments Bagoas always had standing by. He had not danced for Alexander himself since Hephaestion's death, nor indeed had he entertained him with the arts of love. Such pleasures belonged to a time of happiness and hope, of Alexander and his Hephaestion luxuriating in the glamour and sophistication of the Persian court like the excitable, impressionable boys they had been not so very long ago. Bagoas himself had helped Alexander pick out the first set of Persian garb he had sent to his beloved friend, carefully selecting the rich colours which would compliment Hephaestion's dark beauty. Even then he had seen a glimmer of a bright future in that tall, imperious, intelligent young man – the Macedonians might think him haughty and conceited, but to Bagoas those were the perfect qualities needed for a man who might one day govern the Persian Empire if Alexander, so reckless of his own personal safety, might fall. Bagoas had never been anything to Hephaestion while Alexander was there, but the man who became Grand Vizier struck him as logical, even ruthlessly practical. He could easily have been convinced of Bagoas' worth.
Ashes – such dreams were all ashes, burned along with that magnificent funeral pyre. Bagoas sent away the musicians, the food, the waiting servants, keeping only the discreet Hillallum who retreated quietly to the other end of the room. Alexander seemed to relax at last. Giving Bagoas a rather watery version of one of those sweet smiles he used as rewards for good service, he held out a hand, beckoning for Bagoas to join him on his couch. Something was definitely different.
Bagoas forced himself to look deep into Alexander's eyes for the first time since Hephaestion's death. To look into the depths of madness had been chilling, but to glimpse the unmitigated despair and the wrenching loneliness which lay at the bottom of it – that was more than he could stand. But all of that seemed to have gone now – no more wild hysteria; no more homicidal rage lurking just below the surface, ready to explode over the first person to do or say the wrong thing. Alexander returned Bagoas' gaze with a dreamy serenity before averting his eyes with a shy, almost secretive smile.
So there was some truth in the latest court rumours after all. There was a growing feeling that now the funeral was over, Hephaestion's shade appeased by a blood sacrifice in the form of a rather pointless war and his divinity assured by an oracle, Alexander was beginning to reconcile himself to the loss – to rally, to make plans for the future, to concentrate on the Arabian Campaign. Bagoas had had serious doubts when he had heard this and he had them now, even when Alexander really did seem so much calmer. "Alexander…?" Bagoas began softly, "what is it…?"
Alexander shook his head. "It's no use, it's no use… I have to tell someone! Someone who I know I can trust!"
"You know you can trust me, Alexander…"
"The others…" Alexander shifted restlessly. "None of them would understand. I see the way they watch me…" He frowned, looking down into his empty wine cup. Bagoas quickly refilled it himself. It was not his place to tell his lord how much he should drink; his business was to please and to entertain. He watched as Alexander lifted the cup to his lips, and then suddenly lowered it. "It's just as described in the Iliad," he whispered breathlessly, leaning closer to the Persian, "only so much better! When Achilles tried to take Patroklos in his arms, he vanished back to the realm of Hades! But when Hephaestion comes to me…" He stopped then, looking directly into Bagoas' eyes. "He comes to me, Bagoas. I knew he would, and now he has."
Bagoas swallowed hard, forcing his hands to stop clenching into fists. "Hephaestion… comes to you, Alexander…?" he echoed, keeping his voice steady by sheer effort of will. "In your… dreams, perhaps?"
"At first," Alexander replied, speaking with some of his old rapidity as he warmed to his subject, "at first I'd only catch a glimpse of him, you see; when I tried to look more closely he would vanish… but gradually he's stayed for longer and longer… if only you could see him, Bagoas! He's so beautiful! So utterly perfect! And he comes to me so often now… he hardly ever leaves my side…"
Bagoas felt a cold shiver run down his spine. "Is he… with you tonight, Alexander…?" he made himself ask, though he dreaded the answer.
Alexander grinned with a touch of his old mirth. "Don't be frightened, Bagoas… you don't have to humour me, I'm not mad! I was," he added thoughtfully, "I really believe I was, when I thought I'd lost him. But now I know he's still with me, everything is so much clearer! No, he's not here with me now; he knows I'm all right with you. But I know he'll come to me before I sleep tonight… and I know he'll be there… when I wake…" Alexander lowered his eyes once more, the coy smile returning to his lips. "That's what I needed to tell you, Bagoas – I had to tell someone, I had to share it with someone! Last night… last night was different! Hephaestion came to me, and he… we... Hephaestion made love to me, Bagoas," Alexander breathed, "it was so sweet and so passionate… just as when we were boys…" Alexander suddenly lifted the wine cup once more, gulping down the contents and holding it out to be refilled. "No-one else understands! They never did understand! Idiots!" Alexander shook his head, but not with his usual vehemence; only with a sort of contemptuous pity. "They think I'm learning to forget him! They compare Perdiccas to him, just because I've promoted him! What do they know? I've spelt it out for them – wasn't Troy example enough? I even said it before the Persian royalty! Hephaestion is Alexander too! But they still don't understand!"
"I understand, Alexander," Bagoas said soothingly, trying to slow the pounding of his heart. Alexander had just said more to him about his relationship with Hephaestion than he had said in the entire time Bagoas had known him. Revered Hephaestion was not a fit subject to discuss with a concubine.
Alexander reached out and caressed Bagoas' cheek. That brief burst of animation seemed to have drained him; his eyes began to wander. "If only you could see him," he said with a deep, weary sigh, draining his cup once more, "he's so beautiful, Bagoas… so beautiful… just as he was the day we… the day we raced at Troy… he was magnificent that day… not even Achilles possessed a body like Hephaestion's… and I remember thinking, he is mine… and for a moment instead of wanting my men's love, I wanted to feel their envy, I wanted them to hate me for having him, and to be able to… say to them… yes, cry, tear at your hair, scream… he's mine… and that night we made love… oh, how we made love… That was the day, I told them… told them all… the entire army, all of Macedon… but they don't listen…"
"Hephaestion was always beautiful, Alexander…" Bagoas answered quickly, taking the cup from his unsteady hand and laying it aside, "you are… truly favoured by the gods, to see him still…"
"Yes…" Alexander nodded drowsily, "yes, we've always been favoured by the gods… he and I… it was stupid of me… to doubt them… when they took him away…" He sank slowly back onto the couch, closing his eyes. "One… should not doubt the gods… one should never doubt… the gods…"
A moment later, he was fast asleep.
Bagoas did not know how long he sat staring down at the sleeping man, only that the approach of Hillallum shook him from his trance. He looked up at the steward and nodded; that was enough. Hillallum effortlessly gathered Alexander into his arms and began to head for the bedchamber reserved for the King's private visits. Slowly Bagoas rose to follow. Though he himself had taken no wine, his head was hurting and his eyes were sore. His handpicked body servants waited in the private room to undress Alexander and put him comfortably to bed. Bagoas continued to stare down at him for a moment, then he forced himself into action.
"Prepare a bath for me," he said slowly, "and a light meal." He suddenly wanted to be rid of all his make-up and perfume, as if it was blocking his ability to think, reminding him as it did of the King. He turned to Hillallum, then took his arm and led him out of the room. "I want to see my man of business first thing in the morning, Hillallum. And start making… arrangements. I know I can trust your discretion."
"Always, sir," bowed the steward, and Bagoas favoured him with a genuine smile as he dismissed him.
It was only when he was left alone to look about his charming Babylonian house, at once tastefully ornate yet welcoming, that he was touched by a sudden reluctance. He was doing the right thing, of course; Alexander could not last much longer in that state. Reality had to be faced. Maybe… if Hephaestion…
But Hephaestion hadn't. And if Alexander's Companions couldn't agree on another natural successor then there could be a civil war. And perhaps Alexander's favoured courtesan, wealthy and important as he had become, might be the first casualty. Bagoas had seen kings fall before, and one didn't survive such catastrophes by closing one's eyes and dreaming. Better to be ready to get out… to disappear… at least for a while…
He who hesitates is lost… Bagoas was surprised by the bitterness he felt at that thought. But then again, he had grown very fond of the house.