Summary: On Alexander's wedding night, Hephaistion and Bagoas find unexpected ally in each other.
Disclaimer: None of the characters are my creation, no more than they are of Oliver Stone's or Mary Renault's. I did enjoy the DVD 'Alexander Revisited', but my views on the characters in this fic are more influenced by Mary Renault's 'Persian Boy' and Robin Lane Fox's 'Alexander the Great'.
Hephaistion remembered little of the ceremony, though he assisted Alexander as best man. He knew it was an honour that Alexander refused to grant anyone else, and he did his duty throughout, holding a torch and maintaining a cheerful expression that was expected of him. He couldn't let Alexander down even though he had bad feelings about the marriage. Still, his heart wasn't there for Alexander.
Like the majority of the Companions, he had been opposed to the union. Politically, it made only half sense. The Sogdians were rebellious and a marriage with one of their chiefs' daughters was not undesirable. Philipp had many wives and often married for the same reason, to solidify his conquest, but it was Alexander's first marriage and there was no need to honour Roxana by taking her as his first wife. Making her as his mistress as he had done with Barsine would have sufficed, securing the Sogdian chief's loyalty. The marriage could have waited till Alexander first married one of Darius' daughters or took a Macedonian queen.
When asked, he said this to Alexander, even though he knew that it wasn't what his friend wanted to hear. What he didn't tell Alexander was his instinctive dislike of Roxana. It wasn't that Alexander was entranced by her like he had never been by any other. He had always known that no one could replace him in Alexander's heart. Hephaistion was the only one with whom Alexander shared his inner most secrets. They had shared and fought together for their dreams and aspirations. More than that, they understood and respected each other. No, he had no cause for jealousy. Besides, such petty emotion was beneath Hephaistion's pride.
Roxana, whose name meant 'little star', was a petite beauty, possibly the most beautiful woman he had ever seen after Olympias. But one needed more than beauty to sway Alexander's heart and in Roxana's case, he suspected, that quality was not something that would benefit Alexander. Roxana reminded Hephaistion too much of Olympias, fierce, ruthless and ambitious. She would drain Alexander just as Olympias had done. She would not be satisfied to remain as one of many stars that lit the night sky.
"But you understand why I have to marry her?"
Yes, Hephaistion understood. Because Alexander would not have anyone who didn't come to him willingly. Roxana's family might have been happy to give her away as Alexander's mistress, but Roxana would have resented it.
Perhaps, he should have stayed longer at the wedding feast and got drunk till he became unconscious. Hephaistion mused, as he took yet another unsteady step away from the crowds and their noise towards the silent darkness illuminated only by moonlight. But he grew tired of putting on appearances. Alexander's mood was often infectious, but not on this occasion. Once Alexander left the feast to join with Roxana, all he wanted to do was to find his own space, to breathe and to think.
He remembered seeing Bagoas at the feast, and the eunuch was his usual charming graceful self. He remembered wondering what Bagoas genuinely felt about Alexander's marriage to Roxana. The boy was perceptive, one of the reasons that made him dear to Alexander's heart. Would the boy have similar feelings about Roxana as he did? If Roxana was truly as merciless as Olympias, the boy would need Alexander's protection more than ever. It wouldn't take long for Roxana to find out about the boy's relationship with Alexander. No one but Alexander invited a eunuch to the table of the Companions, and even with Alexander, only Bagoas was given that privilege.
The boy didn't stay long at the feast, disappearing just as quietly as he appeared, and Hephaistion thought the boy had the right idea. Only, Bagoas' absence at the banquet didn't attract anyone's attention save perhaps Alexander's. He himself could not escape the party till the Companions got too drunk to notice.
He wasn't sure how long he had been walking, but he knew where he wanted to go. He wanted to see the river and his steps carried him towards the edge of a cliff. He would sit on a large rock and look down at the calming flow of the water, reflecting how far he came with Alexander. As he came near his destination, Hephaistion realised that he wasn't the only one who wanted to be alone with the nature. A cloaked figure was sitting on a rock perilously close to the cliff's perimeter. The figure was holding a cup and Hephaistion noticed a large jug next to the rock. He could have turned away for an unoccupied spot, but he felt curious and he didn't feel like any more walking.
So, he approached the lone figure, eying a nearby rock where he could seat himself and create a comforting distance between them. He was nearly there when the figure unhurriedly turned to face him and there was a split second of contemplation in the boy's eyes before Bagoas acknowledged Hephaistion's presence with a graceful bow without getting up.
"There is more wine, lord Hephaistion. It turns out that I'm not much of a drinker, but there is only one cup."
"We drink from the same cup that is Alexander, but we do not complain."
The boy smiled then, though his expression still had an air of sadness, which made him look even more beautiful. If he wasn't Alexander's, Hephaistion thought to himself, I would have wanted him; I would have wanted to exercise the freedom Alexander never took away from me.
"Do you believe there will be enough wine for all of us?"
"Alexander has a heart for the entire army, and it doesn't exhaust his love for us," Hephaistion answered, taking the offered cup. He took a long sip before returning it to the boy. "But Bagoas, you will vex Alexander if he sees you like this. It's not safe to sit there when you are drinking."
Bagoas didn't protest at the suggestion and simply moved to another rock a few feet further away from the edge. He didn't express any doubts about Alexander's concern for him. Whatever made him feel sorrowful, it wasn't fear of being abandoned, being no longer desired.
It occurred to Hephaistion that they had never talked to each other until now, except formal greetings. But then, what was there to say? A commander of the most formidable army in the world who fought at Alexander's side and a eunuch who could never become a man, let alone a warrior. They lived in a completely different world and had very little in common. Didn't they?
"I only hope Lady Roxana would see that my lord Alexander has a big enough heart for all of us, lord Hephaistion."
Ah, so the boy sensed it, too; a survival instinct, probably fine tuned by his life in the Persian court.
"Thank you for the warning, Bagoas. Have you been talking to Roxana's eunuchs?"
"I didn't have much opportunity and that's what concerns me. They seemed nervous about the subject and their praises sounded a little forced. Not like Macedonian Soldiers who never stop talking about my lord Alexander."
Hephaistion smiled his approval. Roxana would find the Persian boy a tougher opponent than she could imagine. Bagoas could certainly look after himself, one less concern for Alexander's future with Roxana as his wife. And the Persian boy would stay as Alexander's rock just as he would, but in a different way. Alexander needed both.
"And not like their praises of you."
Hephaistion raised an eyebrow and Bagoas merely responded by offering his cup once again. While Hephaistion drank, the boy went to fetch the jug of wine he left at the side of the rock where he sat previously. When he came back, the boy carefully poured more wine into the goblet and Hephaistion took another gulp of the bitter sweet liquid.
"You are part of my lord Alexander. I'm naturally curious about you, too."
Bagoas sat on the jagged ground this time, looking up at Hephaistion through slightly hooded eyes.
"There is so much about my lord that I still do not know and perhaps never will. They tell me he became a man at the age of twelve. And you were there. You watched him becoming a man."
In Macedonia, boys became adults when they killed their first man. Hephaistion was slightly older than Alexander, but it was years after Alexander had his first kill, Hephaistion himself could become a man. He wasn't jealous. He knew there was and would ever be only one Alexander. He was content to be Hephaistion.
"You should drink more. This is good wine," Hephaistion suggested, bringing himself down at the boy's level and handing back the cup. "It's a joyous day, after all. Alexander would want us to be happy."
"It doesn't seem to make me happy. It just makes me feel different." Bagoas replied thoughtfully, but still followed Hephaistion's advice. "You are right though, lord Hephaistion. This is good wine."
"I wouldn't have expected you to pick anything less. Let us drink and be merry."
"Like good soldiers before a battle?"
"Yes, precisely like that."
So, that's what they did until they drank the whole jug between them and found themselves sitting side by side, shoulder to shoulder, without ever realising it. They had been singing in turn, laughing at each other's efforts, since neither of them was very skilled in the art. With each swallow of wine, they became more and more comfortable with the accidental brush of a hand and the narrowing distance between bodies which craved warmth.
Bagoas didn't stiffen when Hephaistion put his arm around the boy's shoulder and kissed him. The boy returned it without hesitation. It wasn't fierce or desperate, more an expression of curiosity than passion. It was slow and gentle, and that's what they needed. Both of them would remember it for a long time, drunk as they were. They knew they would never repeat the experience. Perhaps in another life, they could have been lovers. But in this life, Alexander loomed too large for them and they were both Alexander's.
It was Bagoas who broke their embrace first with a rueful expression. He rose to his feet without any words and took a few steps towards Alexander's camp. Then, he stopped without turning and spoke as clearly as he could.
"I'm glad you came, lord Hephaistion."
"I am glad I found you, Bagoas."