This is for Pauline from Athens, who persuaded me to write one more story.
Alexander and Hephaestion were sitting on a wooden bench beneath a heavily-laden apple tree in the orchard at Mieza. In the warm autumn afternoon they were discussing Cyrus the Great, and his generosity towards his defeated foes. Alexander was saying that it behoved a King to show magnanimity towards those he had conquered as it would lessen the sting of defeat. A King, Alexander declared, must prove himself greater in character than other men, or there would be nothing to distinguish him from the common soldier and he would not be worthy of other men's respect.
Alexander talked, but Hephaestion, who had just turned fifteen, was not paying complete attention. He totally agreed with everything Alexander was saying anyway, and the warm, apple-scented air full of the drone of wasps around the fallen apples was making him dreamy.
He was watching Alexander's lips. They were curved like a bow, Eros's bow perhaps, or Paris, Alexander of Troy's bow, that slew Achilles. The dip in the middle of his upper lip corresponded to the hand grip, the fuller lower lip corresponding to the drawn swell of the bow-string. His lips curved up at the corners too, like the ends of a horn bow that stopped the string from sliding off the ends. The corners of Alexander's lips would quirk slightly when he was amused. His lips were often parted as if ready to speak or smile, ready to respond to the world around him, yet full of wonder and ideals. Hephaestion knew from long observation they were sensitive lips, capable of the tiniest movement, expressive of Alexander's every thought and emotion, from anger to tears, from vexation to tenderness. Hephaestion wanted to kiss them.
Profoundly embarrassed, Hephaestion sat back quickly, blood rushing hotly to his face. He had been leaning towards Alexander, about to kiss him. What in the gods' name was he thinking of? Men didn't kiss. Alexander would think he had gone off his head.
Alexander had not noticed his consternation, he was staring, eyes unfocused, at the ground beyond his knee, making a point about how respect for one's enemies would increase their sense of their own nobility and honour.
As the rush of blood through his body receded, Hephaestion tried to make sense of what he had been about to do. Why had he wanted to kiss Alexander? They had sex enough. Sex together whenever they needed it. If you didn't have sex you'd just die. It was like sleeping or eating. You needed sex or you'd explode, or go round tearing people's heads off like Heracles, or something. But kissing? Kissing was for girls and babies. It was too soft for men. Real men didn't kiss, did they?
"Tell me that you love me," he said, without meaning to. He looked round at Alexander, frightened because he'd just said that out loud and suddenly in need of reassurance.
Startled, Alexander looked at him, puzzled and a little pained because Hephaestion hadn't been listening to him. His upper lip did that little tightening it did when he was thrown off balance. "I love you," he said quietly.
"Did you just say that because one day you will be a King and a King should love all his subjects because he must lead them and because you want them to love you back?"
Alexander's head came up. "I love you Hephaestion," he said, his voice rising, his full lips open. "Not only as a dear friend and companion, but because I cannot imagine the world without you." His eyes flickered slightly in anxiety. "You colour my whole world," he said, not sure if that sounded silly.
"Men don't kiss, do they?" Hephaestion said, showing the whites of his eyes as he stared sideways at Alexander.
"Sometimes they do," Alexander said, suddenly aware how important this was to Hephaestion. His eyes moved over Hephaestion's face, trying to read his thoughts. He made up his mind as Hephaestion stared back at him, his eyes wild. "Sometimes, when you're sleeping in my bed, I watch the moonlight on your face and I've wanted to kiss you." His face warmed with an embarrassment he refused to recognise.
"Why didn't you kiss me?"
"I didn't want to wake you."
Hephaestion gripped the edge of the bench with his hands and straightened his arms tightly. "Does that mean," he said, "that you wouldn't think me a great big girl if I wanted to kiss you right now?"
Bright flags of colour appeared in Alexander's cheeks, but he held Hephaestion's eyes resolutely. "No, I wouldn't think that."
They stared at each other, unsure, yet eager.
Alexander leant forward quickly and placed a clumsy kiss on Hephaestion's lips, their noses pressed awkwardly against each other's cheek. He drew back, his face aflame. Hephaestion lunged forward in turn and, misjudging the distance, stole a hard kiss, crushing Alexander's lips against his teeth. He paused, a finger's length from Alexander's eyes.
Alexander's eyes grew wide, full of glittering light as he stared into Hephaestion's brilliant eyes, the most alive things he had ever seen. He could feel Hephaestion's breath on his lips. Hephaestion's eyes half-lidded as he moved forward gently and took a still, breathless kiss from Alexander's lips.
"You taste of apples," he said after a moment.
"I ate one. You gave it to me."
"Oh. Yes. I did."
"It tasted sweet."
"I think I love you," Hephaestion said softly. He closed his eyes and laid his lips as lightly as a butterfly's wings against Alexander's lips. Alexander leant into the kiss, exerting pressure as he moved his lips very slightly against Hephaestion's. He drew back.
"I know I love you."
Hephaestion's eyes were very large. It took him a moment to find his voice. "I mean love, love. Not just like friends."
"The very best of friends. Like Achilles and Patroclus. Only death can part us."
"Really?" Hephaestion blinked his crystal eyes. "But…" He raised his hand and tentatively touched Alexander's cheek with his fingertips. "When you come near me," he whispered, "my insides start turning round, and my heart starts beating fast. Sometimes when you lean against me, I can't breathe because I don't know what I'll do next. Is that love?"
Alexander nodded in agreement. "I'm scared everyone will see how my heart leaps when you walk into the room," he said, his voice low. "They must notice how I watch you all the time. Yet when I come near you, I feel safe and confident; I feel I can do anything and it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks because I know you'll always be beside me and you will never leave me. You don't even have to touch me and I can feel your arms safely around me. I've never felt alone since you came into my life. And I was lonely before you."
Tears gathered in Hephaestion's eyes. "But what about kissing? Are we supposed to kiss?"
"I don't care whether we're supposed to or not. I want to: you want to. Why can't we kiss?"
They stared into each other's eyes. Then Alexander laid his hand carefully against Hephaestion's cheek. He leant forward and kissed Hephaestion's lips slowly, exploring delicately the tenderness of his mouth. After a moment, Hephaestion began to respond, moving his lips soundlessly against Alexander's.
Slowly they drew apart and looked at each other with new eyes. A smile began to grow in Alexander's eyes. Hephaestion gave a quick, wry smile and then squirmed.
"We shouldn't have done that. Now I've got a problem."
"I have one too. Come on," Alexander said eagerly, grabbing Hephaestion's wrist and jumping to his feet. He began to run across the grass that was turning green again with the autumn rains, dragging Hephaestion after him.
"Where are we going?" Hephaestion asked, trying not to stumble on the tussocks of grass.
"To your room, it's nearest. Oh." Alexander stopped so suddenly that Hephaestion bumped into him. He turned to face Hephaestion, smiling. "I've just realised why it's called making love."
"Oh. Ohhh, that's what kisses are for!"
With a laugh, Alexander threw his arms around Hephaestion and kissed him.