Chapter: 7 of unknown
Rating: As always, for anyone who wants to read, but there very well could be some mature, adult situations. I trust you to regulate yourself, but you're probably mature enough to handle anything I write.
Notes: Sorry for the long, long, long pause in writing. A mixture of school, life, and family emergencies took over all of my spare writing time. I hope to get this story back on track. For those of you that have been waiting, and are coming back to read, thank you so much!
Thank you to everyone who sent me little nudges to continue (Trolius especially). It is because of you all that this is being continued.
The force of the arrow piercing his skin sent him backward several steps but, despite the pain, Hephaestion was able to remain standing. Another arrow threatened to strike his chest and had he not quickly stepped to the side, he feared that the bolt would have struck its intended target. Without hesitation he found a bit of cover, some large barrels that had not been properly stored, and attempted to survey his wound. His shoulder seemed to throb, its muscles tightening fiercely, but he couldn't make out the wound itself. Firmly gripping the excess of the arrow he snapped the wood and threw it to the ground. For a moment the world spun, but the pain subsided after a few moments and Hephaestion poked his head around the barrels. The marksmen had positioned themselves on the crest of a small hill and already Hephaestion could see that they had managed to kill several of Cassander's men.
"Can you shoot?" a voice called out. Hephaestion looked to his side. He spotted Cassander and noted that he had also managed to take a small amount of cover. He held his own sword but beside him, thrown to the muddied landscape, was the outline of a bow.
"I'm not an archer," Hephaestion answered, checking once more to see if the enemy had moved. Even through the anarchy that was erupting around them Hephaestion could hear Cassander laugh. It was no secret that neither of them had been very good with bows. Ptolemy had been the star student when it came to archery, and even that was not saying much, and he was not present to help tutor them. Drawing a quick breath Hephaestion motioned for Cassander to throw him the bow. Cassander was more than willing, throwing the bow and a small quiver of arrows to Hephaestion.
As he put the first arrow into place he felt a screaming pain in his shoulder. Nonetheless, he was able to pull the arrow back and release it. Whether or not he struck his intended target he could not tell, but the clenching muscles in his shoulder told him that he wouldn't be able to continue working with the bow. Tossing the bow down he glanced over at Cassander. Cassander had begun busying himself with hand signals at some of his men. They were seemingly surrounded, being attacked by an unknown number of archers, and where archers perched swordsmen were sure to follow. Cassander hissed at one of his men, and within seconds he was thrown a shield. Upon grabbing it Cassander turned his attention back to Hephaestion.
"You have a better position," Cassander stated, a smirk pulling at his lips. He lifted the shield and then made his way towards Hephaestion, dodging several piercing arrows in the process. Once nearer to Hephaestion, he collapsed.
"Do you have a plan?" Hephaestion asked.
"Of course I do," Cassander answered. "I'm putting it together."
Alexander sat, quietly watching the rain that had begun falling once again. He had not moved for several hours and had long since noticed that the cup of honeyed wine in his hand was empty. As Cassander shifted behind him Alexander glanced over his shoulder. For the first time in years it seemed as if Cassander was not invested in gaining Alexander's favor or crown. Instead, for the first time, he seemed genuinely interested only in telling Alexander the events that had occurred –events which greatly explained why Hephaestion had been refusing to speak to Alexander. It was not only that his shoulder ached or that he was tired. Alexander was beginning to understand that he had long ago failed Hephaestion.
"Should I go on?" Cassander asked.
"I don't care how you killed your attackers. I want to know about him. Hephaestion. Tell me what happened, what happened to the children to make him hate me so?"
Alexander could see him, sitting with Ptolemy, positioning himself in a way that he knew the king would not be able to see him. For a moment he envied Ptolemy. Hephaestion had not spoken with him in such a manner for what now felt like a decade. They seemed content despite the fact that they were wearing damp clothes and splashes or rain were still blowing underneath the tarp they'd huddle under. Hephaestion should have remained in with the medics but there were others that needed to be tended to. As soon as Hephaestion realized this there was no way to keep him in the medic's tent. There was also no way to reason with him about sending the physician to his tent either –he'd have none of it. This troubled Alexander, yet he was down to only one solution and he did not want to force anything upon Hephaestion by using his kingship. He had done it before. It had not gotten them anywhere.
Cassander drew in a quick breath, pulling Alexander's thoughts away from Hephaestion and Ptolemy. He knew that there was no threat from Ptolemy, that Ptolemy would not attempt to take Hephaestion's love from him, and he knew time and time again that Hephaestion was loyal. Hephaestion's heart belonged to him alone, and he knew this. However, there was a recent pang when he thought of this, for he was sure Hephaestion had at one time thought the same of him.
"Perhaps if you stopped staring at him," Cassander said, reaching for a piece of chicken that Bagoas had brought in for Alexander. He'd not touched it yet, and Cassander thought the complaints from his stomach were going to overpower his own voice at any moment. Alexander turned to face him, a deep scowl etched on his face.
"I don't mean never look at him again. I only mean that part of the man would like some privacy. It is not a large part of him. For most of his life he's had no problem being your living shadow. For now, let him speak with Ptolemy."
"Does he speak of this?"
"There is no way to know. But I doubt it. I think he speaks with Ptolemy to avoid thinking."
"Ha! To avoid thinking? Ptolemy thinks himself Aristotle's shadow."
"Yes," Cassander said again. "Hephaestion does not feel like thinking, so he'll let his friend speak while his mind wanders."
Two days prior...
Hephaestion slid his hand over his shoulder and pressed against the throbbing pain caused by the bolt in his flesh. Cassander stood behind him, ready to pull out the excess of the wooden shaft that Hephaestion had been unable to reach. They had decided it would be best to leave the rest, in case the wound should begin to bleed if the tip of the arrow was pulled out, for neither knew how to fix such a wound. The crude form of heating a sword and burning the skin closed would work but they had no time. Yet Cassander had a feeling that if he were to mar Hephaestion in such a way it would cost him his head. Hephaestion, on the other hand, was worried that burning it closed could weaken him and he'd be unable to help in any future attack. This had only made Cassander laugh –only Hephaestion could think of defending others when he was near death.
"Ready?" Cassander asked. He did not give Hephaestion time to answer, but snapped the bolt instead. Hephaestion slumped forward and let an unintelligible curse fall from his lips. Cassander surveyed his work. The arrow may have moved a bit within the skin, but there was no flowing blood. There was still enough for the physicians to work with. All in all, he was pleased –mostly with the fact that Hephaestion had not lost consciousness when the tip of the arrow scraped against bone.
"It isn't as bad as it feels."
"We have to find the children," Hephaestion said, as if he had not heard Cassander. "Not to bring them back to prison, but to make sure that they are safe. They warned us, Cassander. Without such warning things would have been worse."
"They are safer without us finding them. If I find them, they will return to what you call prison, and I will, in turn, behead them as ordered."
Hephaestion glanced at Cassander, and then reached up and placed a hand on his cheek. Cassander momentarily sucked in his breath and waited for Hephaestion's next action. Hephaestion ran his thumb over a cut on Cassander's chin, smearing blood over the lower half of his cheek. For the first time in a long time, Cassander did not know what Hephaestion was attempting to tell him without speaking. As he began to frown, Hephaestion moved away from him again. Finally he spoke, cutting through the heavy silence.
"One day you will break Cassander, and the callous man you have attempted to become will fade away." Before Cassander could speak Hephaestion continued, leaving him nothing to do but listen to the hardened words. "I used to pity you for what your father had forced you to become. I would look at you and see Antipater staring back. But I've come to realize that you're not your father. You're a scared boy attempting to find himself. Your hatred for the world is only a defense, and just like the lines of Guagamela, you will be broken."
He left him then, saying nothing more. It would have been advisable to sit and rest but that was not the Hephaestion that Cassander knew. Within seconds he was searching for a horse.
Reaching up Cassander wiped the blood from his face and released a deep sigh. Had Hephaestion not been so captivating he would have let him go. It had nothing to do with knowing that Alexander would execute him should he not return with Hephaestion. Instead, he found himself needing to follow Hephaestion. He could care less about the children. He was interested merely because Hephaestion was willing to risk his life in order to look for a band of renegades. Whatever the blue-eyed general saw was absent to Cassander, absent to a king, absent to all of the others that would not move to help aid in a search.
"Wait," Cassander called. It was enough to get Hephaestion to turn back. "If you're serious about this you shouldn't go alone."
"I don't need your help."
"You do," he insisted. "We don't know what other threats are awaiting us. The rains threaten a landside. You're destined to worsen your shoulder if you're not careful. Perhaps you don't need my help but you've got it. Follow me."
"I won't let you harm them."
A moment of silence passed before Cassander answered. "I know. Don't worry. I don't plan on killing your whelps."
A/N: Alas, more chapters are on the way! If you have time to leave a review I always welcome comments! I know that several readers have been waiting for years, literally, for me to update this story. Sorry to have let you down! But don't worry –no more timeouts until this and my other story, Vacationing in Athens, are marked 'finished'.