SUMMARY: Growing up is never easy. Alexander and Hephaestion know they're in love, but the question remains: which sort of love is right for them? Hephaestion knows what he wants but Alexander isn't so sure. If they can't agree will he lose Hephaestion forever?

RATING: T for sexy(ish) stuff, not to mention lots of tears before bedtime and a rather heavy dose of teenage angst

DISCLAIMER: Not mine; not (ever) based on Stone's film and not, in spite of the notes below, not based on Renault's Fire from Heaven either.

DEDICATION:To all those who continue to read and (hopefully!) enjoy my stories. Sorry that I have been so slow to post, to review and to reply to reviews or PMs, but I hope this makes up for it a little!

STORY NOTES: I think this is only the second or third Alexander story I ever wrote… probably between A choice of words and The Ivory Eros. It was originally included in Nadja Lee's lovely Alexander Fanzine which is one of the reasons I've never posted it, but as I've had no feedback on it there, I think enough time has elapsed to post it here.

I am still in two minds about this story – for me, now, it's too angsty and too melodramatic and the boys are just a bit too emotional… and I feel rather too acutely the influence of Mary Renault – that is to say, I think at the time I was writing this partly in response to her rather irritatingly chaste and self-righteous Alexander and her equally (for me) rather too drudging and passive Hephaestion. Since then I've read so many other Alexander novels and written so many Alexander stories of my own that just one other person's vision hardly matters anymore.

Having said that, I am quite happy with the scenes with Philip and the setting of the changing seasons, and I would certainly be happy to know what everyone else thinks of this!

A moment of quiet had descended over the riders as they turned their horses back towards Mieza. Alexander had initially been nervous when his father had arrived, pulling him out of his lessons to take him riding; he had even asked Hephaestion to come with them. Hephaestion, however, had politely declined, and once Alexander and Philip had set out, Alexander found he was grateful for his friend's tact. He had quickly begun to enjoy this time alone with his father, who, away from the charged, hedonistic clamour of the Court and all its tensions, jealousies and political manoeuvring, seemed relaxed and attentive to his son, listening indulgently to Alexander's increasingly frenetic flow of words.

Alexander loved to talk; to express his ideas and share his thoughts; he had been shy to do so with his father initially; but once his first attempts at conversation had been warmly encouraged there had been no stopping him.

When the silence lengthened, Alexander glanced toward his father. He met his one-eyed gaze with a bashful smile, at once attracted and unsettled by his intense masculinity. Philip grinned at him. "You are growing up so fast, my son," he observed, "and in so many ways… tell me, what's this I hear about you taking up with Amyntor's son?"

Alexander suddenly felt as if a cloud had passed over the sun. He should have known this short interlude of unity with his father could not last. Who had been sending tales back to Pella? Philotas? Cassander? Maybe neither; they weren't the only ones with fathers at Court. It might even have been Aristotle. "I haven't 'taken up' with anyone, Father," he replied sharply, his face growing hot, "Hephaestion is my best friend!"

Philip laughed loudly, but not unkindly, at his son's indignation. "Peace, Alexander… I'm not criticising you! It's quite natural for a healthy young man like you to have a… best friend…" he gave another short chuckle, leaning over to cuff Alexander affectionately on the ear. "How big the boy's grown… I hardly recognised him back there! He'll be taller than his father by the end of the year if he keeps it up!"

Alexander could not suppress a sigh as he listened to his father's words; he was already self-conscious about his small stature and, to his own mind, rather girlish looks, without hearing Philip praising Hephaestion. With a sensitivity that surprised his son, Philip leaned over once more, ruffling Alexander's golden curls. "Don't be downcast, my son," he joked, "as many women will be pleased to tell their men, size isn't everything!"

The words had been intended to cheer him, but the bawdy reference only increased Alexander's discomfort. "I would never be jealous of Hephaestion," he said stiffly, hoping his father would change the subject.

"I wouldn't blame you if you were," Philip replied cheerfully, "he's grown very handsome too… come on, don't tell me you haven't noticed! You're as much my son as your mother's, whatever she says…" He nodded approvingly, as if examining Hephaestion in his mind's eye. "A fine physique the boy's developing; broad shoulders, legs like a wild colt… nice firm arse…"

"I love him, Father!" Alexander blurted out the words before he could stop himself. Philip drew up the reins of his horse and turned to his son with a look of gentle reproach, though whether at the implied accusation or the sentimentality Alexander's words conveyed, Alexander could not be sure.

Keeping his eyes down, he nudged his horse gently forward. His mind was spinning. I love him, his own words echoed endlessly in his ears, I love him, I love him.

Well, of course he loved him; but somehow, spoken out loud, to his father, knowing what such words meant to a man with Philip's appetites, changed everything. Alexander had long appreciated Hephaestion's beauty in the privacy of his own heart; it had filled him with love and pride because it seemed to exemplify their perfect friendship, almost as if Hephaestion was made beautiful by Alexander's love.

Could there not be some truth in that, after all? Certainly it was when Alexander saw the warmth in his friend's eyes, or was clasped close in his arms, that he could feel his most self-assured, could think of himself as attractive, manly, even heroic. But if Philip had also noticed Hephaestion's beauty, then surely others had too? And their appreciation might not be as chaste and pure as Alexander's.

The thought of some man wanting Hephaestion for his eromenos, of treating him the way Alexander had seen many youths treated at Court, filled him with panic. The thought that his father might assume that Alexander was already treating Hephaestion like that; that he might think of using Hephaestion while he was still young and… fresh… and then throwing him over for another, younger, fresher boy, sickened him. They were supposed to outgrow each other; in a few years, people would naturally expect them both to take up with younger boys, then to marry. Alexander's head began to ache.

"Tell me, my son," Philip said softly, breaking in to Alexander's rapid thoughts, "does it hurt to think as deeply as you do? You certainly don't seem to enjoy it…" Alexander glanced up at his father, wary of mockery, but Philip just smiled. "You're still so young, in so many ways…"

Alexander wanted to protest, but suddenly he held back. Young, yes. He wanted to be young for just a little longer… "Race me, Father!" he cried suddenly, digging in his heels before he could second guess himself. To his relief, Philip laughed boisterously and urged his horse on after him.

He had taken his leave of his father in renewed good spirits, warmed by the embrace Philip had given him upon parting and excited, almost in spite of himself, by the promise of another visit, "matters at Court permitting." Contentedly he headed for the room he shared with Hephaestion, confident in the expectation of finding his dear friend waiting for him with the study notes he had promised to keep of the lessons Alexander had missed.

But when he arrived, the room was empty. The lamps had not even been lit. Frowning, Alexander headed back outside, gazing about in the fading light of early spring for some sign of Hephaestion.

He was about to give up, assuming Hephaestion must be inside after all, when he picked up the faint murmur of voices. A moment later he found his friend sitting on a low wall on the very edge of the compound, leaning back over his shoulder to talk to the two youths who stood on the other side of the wall. Both were tall, one several inches taller than Hephaestion, and as Alexander drew closer he saw they were older than he had thought, healthy, handsome young men several years older than any of the boys who shared the Prince's studies.

Was it just his imagination, or was Hephaestion blushing? He certainly had a small, almost coy smile on his lips; one Alexander had never seen before. And wasn't the taller of the two men brazenly staring at Hephaestion's long legs as he swung them carelessly? A cold, sickly feeling spread through Alexander's body. It wasn't jealousy; at least not yet. Suddenly the cool, innocent spring air seemed charged with raw, heavy sexuality. Suddenly Hephaestion was not just his special friend, he was nearly a man, who had the urges and desires of a man. Who might, just as suddenly, outgrow his boyish, younger friend in favour of older, rougher, more sensual men.

Then Hephaestion straight up into Alexander's eyes and his comely face lit up with a grin that seemed for Alexander alone. With a quick, almost dismissive word to his companions, he jumped down from the wall and ran over to the prince, hesitating diffidently before putting his arm about Alexander's shoulders. "Alexander! Come on, I asked them to keep supper back for both of us so we could eat together," Hephaestion began a little breathlessly, adding in a softer tone, "how was your ride…?"

Alexander glanced back at the two young men who lingered by the wall before slipping his arm deliberately around Hephaestion's waist. The other boy glanced down at him, surprised but obviously pleased; drawing just a little closer to allow Alexander to tighten his grip. His body was almost feverishly hot beneath his thin chiton. "Who were those men, Hephaestion?" Alexander asked, trying to keep his tone neutral. The shorter one of the two had moved away, but his companion, the one who had gazed so intently at Hephaestion, still remained, watching them, until his friend called him away.

"Oh… just boys from the village," Hephaestion replied quickly and dismissively. "But tell me about today! Did you have fun? What did the King say?"

"He – he said you - he said he was pleased that we were friends," Alexander changed his mind in mid sentence, not sure if he really wanted to see Hephaestion's reaction to Philip's flattering words.

Hephaestion glowed happily; Alexander knew his friend held a quiet, childish affection for the King, who reminded him of his own father and uncles, or at least that was how Hephaestion explained it. Alexander found himself wondering if it was more than that. An adolescent crush, perhaps? He wouldn't be the first youth to fall hopelessly in love with Philip. Alexander felt his heart squeeze painfully. He couldn't lose Hephaestion to his father, to that young man back by the wall; to anyone!

Without thinking twice, he turned and threw his arms about Hephaestion's neck, leaning up to press a desperate, impulsive kiss to his lips. Hephaestion stared at him, wide eyed, a full spectrum of emotions playing over his face too fast for Alexander to read. "I love you, Hephaestion," Alexander gasped, "I really do love you!"

Hephaestion's arms, which had been stealing tentatively about Alexander's waist, suddenly tightened crushingly and Alexander caught his breath as Hephaestion buried his face in the sensitive skin of his neck. Something coarse scratched at him as Hephaestion shifted his head slightly to speak; Alexander had not noticed until now that Hephaestion's beard had started. "I love you too, Alexander," he heard his friend say with a breathless laugh, "oh, I love you too…"

To Be Continued…