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In the interests of keeping everything in one place, I am getting around to posting a few more old stories here. They have been posted in one or two other places before now, though not widely - but at least if I put things all in the one spot anyone who actually wants to read them has a better chance of finding them, don't you think?

Apologies to anyone who has seen this stuff before, I might get around to writing something new one day.

Title: Possession
Summary: Alexandros hears something he doesn't like and Hephaistion doesn't feel like making it easy for him. From memory, another challenge from Nicky.
Feedback: Open to it as always.

Persepolis was not as other places. The light was different here, for one thing; it was softer than it should have been, with plains and mountains all about. It went deeper too, seemed to travel around corners. Ridiculous, of course … but then, the Persians were not a straightforward people. There was no reason the light they lived by in the heart of their world should be any different from what they were.

The people themselves were different too; sleek, watchful creatures with long painted eyes and an alarmingly perfect reverence of whatever they had deemed royal. Alexandros was starting to find that tiresome. He knew perfectly well how to tie his own sandal straps, he hardly needed servants to do it for him. He made a game of it, some days, doing things himself just to see the expressions on their faces. Their faces, though, never changed. They were well schooled, these who served the Great King … even if the Great King they served, in the normal ways of measuring such things, was not.

They would have to get used to him. In Macedon, a king who wanted to pour his own wine was hardly a rarity – here, it seemed, it was an earth stopping miracle. He had almost had to chase them out of his rooms tonight, with a show of temper that had made the meekest of them squeak and scuttle for cover. They would not have gone far, he knew that, but out of his sight was far enough. It was privacy at least, of a sort … as far as privacy could ever apply to kings. There would be a squire or two on his door and a gaggle of servants hovering somewhere beyond them, but in this room there would be only the king and the man who had been his second self from the time they had met, when they were both boys and Persia was a place over the sea.

Hephaistion was sprawled on one of the low couches, idly teasing Peritas with a pillow that had too many tassels for its own good. The hound was pouncing after it, tongue lolling, teeth flashing in mock ferocity. Alexandros was inclined to put his money on the dog; the pillow, he expected, would come off second best.

As for Hephaistion … Alexandros took a breath, steadied himself, poured the wine with hands that were remarkably steady. Never second best. He had seen the way some of the men looked at Hephaistion, he had heard the talk around the camp. Impossible not to. That Hephaistion had never seemed to notice it, or set much store by it if he did, was a wonder in itself. Or so Alexandros had thought, until today. The talk had always been of what a man might do, if Hephaistion were only willing. Today, it had been different. Today, it had sounded as if Hephaistion had been very willing indeed. It was a pair of the Royal Pages that had been talking about it, chatting over chores. They had not known the king was there; they had been very candid.

“Did you hear? Polemon got lucky last night.”
“Oh? What, did Dimnos finally notice him? It’s about time, he’s been mooning after him for weeks.”
A laugh had answered that, brief and knowing. “No, not Dimnos. Better than that. Hephaistion.”
Alexandros, listening, had felt a sudden hollowness at that, as if the wind were blowing through him. It should not have been so very great a surprise – Hephaistion was as human as the next man, after all. He had his appetites. Alexandros had just always assumed that he was enough. How could he not be enough? The second boy had agreed with him, speaking up after a startled silence.
“Hephaistion? But he’s the king’s … How did …? I mean, he’s never even …”
“Well, last night he did.” That had had a smug tone that had made Alexandros’ teeth want to grind. He had held still by sheer force of will. The boy had gone on. “Apparently his standards slip a little when he’s in his cups. Polemon says he managed well enough, for all the wine he put away … he said, in fact, that he was fit for a king!”

It should not have mattered. Hephaistion had never handled his wine very well, and boys would be boys and gossip about it. Men would be men, if it came to that; Hephaistion was as anyone else. It should not have mattered. The best thing would have been for Alexandros to put it out of his head – it was nothing after all, just a warm body on a cool night, a extra cup or three of wine. What he most certainly should not have done was obsess over it like a woman scorned. He was his mother’s son, though; she had known all about jealousy, and betrayal, and being set aside for another. Some lessons were not easily unlearned. His mother had never taken betrayals lying down, either. Alexandros concentrated on the wine, on mixing in the water, half and half. The servants could go hang, and the squires too for all he cared. He was quite capable of doing some things himself.

Hephaistion wasn’t watching the king, but he was aware of him in the way that he always was, in the same way that he was aware of the air on his skin and his own heart beating. Alexandros, Hephaistion had sometimes thought, was a little like the sun. One did not need to look into the sky to know that it was there. He didn’t need to look at Alexandros to know that something was wrong, either. He knew the signs. He ought to, by now … he had had all his adult life and half of his boyhood to learn what they were. That tight control, that stillness under all of Alexandros’ movements … they were telling. The stillness especially. Stillness in Alexandros was never a good thing. When Alexandros was still, one either ducked for cover or one held one’s ground and hoped for the best.

It could have been anything. Kingdoms hardly ran themselves, especially ones so newly conquered as this. Alexandros would work himself into the ground, if he was allowed to … it could be something as simple as being tired from a long day of scribes and petitioners and diplomats with their slantwise glances and sideways words. Or it could be something entirely other than that … something personal, something between only the two of them. In spite of himself, Hephaistion could feel his hackles starting to rise. He thought he knew what was coming. Alexandros, for all his virtues, could be a very great idiot at times. Hephaistion had no intention of ducking for cover. When it came to Alexandros, Hephaistion had always held his ground. His friend expected it of him.
“If you’re going to shout at me, we should get it over with.”

Alexandros felt his back stiffen at that. He had always hated to be anticipated. He turned, slowly, the wine cups in his hands. His face was as much a mask as he could make it, for all the good that would do; masks had never been much defence against Hephaistion. The tilt of his head was purely his own though, he couldn’t do anything about that.
“Am I that transparent?”
Hephaistion snorted. “Not usually. But right now, yes. You’re as twitchy as a cat. Are you going to give me that wine?”
“If I do, are you going to end up bedding one of my squires?” That came out more sharply than Alexandros had intended; he didn’t apologise for it. His face felt hot, and odd, as if it didn’t rightly fit his skull anymore.

Briefly, Hephaistion considered laughing. Even more briefly, he considered smacking Alexandros around the head until the man saw sense. Neither of those things would help. The boy had meant nothing. It was not even as if it were a thing he made a habit of … and what would it matter if it were? That was his body, needing what any man might need, and taking it where it was offered. His heart he kept for one man alone – and if Alexandros did not know that by now, then he was a pure blind fool. The young man didn’t laugh, and he kept his hands to himself. They could fight over this, if they wanted to … a quarrel right now would be blackly glorious. A splendid, rancorous snarl of a thing, with every indiscretion of the past dug up and hurled at each other, and no quarter called. There was a certain pleasure in the prospect of it. If Alexandros wanted a shouting match though, he was going to have to start it. Hephaistion’s voice was steady, and deliberately light. “Is that what this is about? That I had a turn with one of the lads? He was willing enough, I recall. Or perhaps you were saving him for yourself?”

Oh, cruel, cruel. Alexandros made his jaw unclench before his teeth started to grind. He made the rest of his body follow suit; he could not stand here all day, glaring like a fiend. He moved abruptly, all of a piece, jolting himself out of it. The cup he pushed into his friend’s hands spilled slightly, making Hephaistion shift and swear mildly at the stains on his fresh chiton. Alexandros barely noticed. He took a swallow of his own wine, lowered himself to the couch opposite. A turn with one of the lads. Willing enough. It hardly mattered, a part of him was saying. It was nothing. He should pay it no mind. Another part of him though, the part of him that was Hephaistion’s lover and nothing else, wanted to rage and howl. Mine, it wanted to say. Mine, mine, mine. When he spoke, his voice sounded odd in his own ears, all strained and forced. He tried to make it sound normal. After all, it didn’t matter. Best to take it in stride.
“Was he good?”
“I suppose.” Hephaistion sipped his wine and shrugged, eyeing his friend carefully. “I don’t really remember. I’d had too much to drink.” He paused, then looked Alexandros in the eyes, very direct. “He wasn’t you.”
“Really? How long did it take you to figure that out?” Scathing, that. Alexandros couldn’t help it. Hephaistion gave him a look, part frustration, part something altogether else. Anger, it might have been, and pride, and hurt too. So, Alexandros wanted to play the lover wronged, did he? Well, two could play at that game. Hephaistion had never seen the need to pull punches. He and Alexandros had always been able to say anything to each other. He put his cup down, swung to face his friend, eyes glittering, as sharp as claws.
“And what of you? With that boy of yours, that gelded Persian trinket you’ve kept hovering about since the Issus …”
“He came with the tent,” Alexandros shot back. “Spoils of war. I hardly went looking!”
“And you think I had to?” Well, that was a truth; Hephaistion would never have to go short of what he wanted, not looking the way he did. He could have had his pick. The lad would have thrown himself at Hephaistion, not the other way around.
“Damn it Alexandros, you’ve been bedding that little whore for months and never mind what I might feel about it! Do you think I like knowing he’s with you when I’m not? Do you think I sleep better at nights for it? You’re off playing the king all day and half the night, and then you go off with that painted bedboy … and why in all hells should I be alone in my bed when you are not alone in yours?”
“Because you’re my Patroklos. You’re mine.” Stubborn, always. It was his mother in him that did that. She had never known to admit defeat either, even when she was so wrong it hurt. Alexandros was on his feet again, stalking the room. He was fair bristling, like a cat in a strange place, all claws and lashing tail. His eyes were fierce, quick things, like daggers in the dark. “I need you to be there for me, not cavorting with some boy.”

Hephaistion tried not to snarl. A part of him knew very well what Alexandros needed. It was what he always needed … reassurance, proof of love. He wanted to know that his lover was his lover still, and his entirely. Another part of him, though, didn’t care. Some things were truths, and immutable; he loved Alexandros, and no man or woman or god would ever come between them. That did not for a moment mean that Alexandros could not be a royal fool if he set his mind to it, or that Hephaistion had to tolerate it when he did.
“Your Patroklos, yes and always. But I’m not your bloody wife! You don’t get to keep me cloistered or dictate who I see and when. I am a man, Alexandros, the same as you are. Did you forget?” No apologies there, and no regrets either. Pure challenge that was, chin up, eye to eye.

Alexandros was equal to it. He should have been; it was an art of kings to win a battle with only a stare. Alexandros had been perfecting it from the cradle; he did not flinch now. He only said, in a low complex voice, “How could I forget?” For a moment they were still and silent, only staring at each other with all that they were passing between them, love and pride and loyalty, with anger at its edges and possession tangled through it. Possession, and something more … a deep fierce need, that went beyond what either of them might want. It was what they were, one and one and two together – it made things hard to separate, sometimes. Hephaistion, whose eyes had always been clearest when it came to Alexandros, let out a sigh that was half a growl and threw his hands up.
“For Hades’ sake Alexandros, what’s the matter with you? Don’t tell me you’re jealous?”
Those eyes flashed at him, bitter bright. “Should I be?”

Hephaistion blinked. Oh, that was high folly. It would have been laughable if it didn’t make him want to grab Alexandros by the throat and shake him until he rattled. “Over that? Herakles’ balls Alexandros, don’t be an idiot! One night, one tumble with a boy whose bloody name I can’t remember …”
“Polemon.” Hard and biting, exact on each syllable. Alexandros had never much liked being shouted at. Very few people did it, not and get away with it. Hephaistion had more leeway than most. Neither of them would have had it any other way, but that did not mean that Alexandros had to like it.
“I don’t bloody care what his name is, it was never about him!” Hephaistion made a sharp gesture with one hand, a quick, dismissive thing. “Gods Alexandros, you know what you are to me! What we are. What’s one night with some boy to that?”

It hit like a slap in the face, the sudden clear understanding of what Hephaistion had just said. What was it? What was one drop of water in a lake so vast a man could stand on one side and not see the other? Nothing. Nothing at all. Except that it was his lake, that was what it came down to. There were not so many constants in his world that Alexandros felt he could do without the greatest of them; that Hephaistion was his, always and utterly. He had never doubted that, he did not, if he were honest with himself, doubt that now. What he did know, though, was that he did not want to share.

He had not thought he could be so petty as that. It made him want to laugh, almost, at his own idiocy. Hephaistion had always had a way of doing that, of talking him out of his tempers without even knowing what he was doing. Alexandros supposed that it was plain common sense. That was a strength of Hephaistion’s, that and telling Alexandros the truth even when he didn’t want to hear it. Boys would be boys, it seemed … and men, for that matter, would be men. It changed nothing. Not one night, or a dozen nights. What they were to each other, they always would be. Achilles and Patroklos, one and one and two together.

“I,” the king said somewhat ruefully, “am a prize fool, aren’t I?”
Hephaistion nodded. His lips were trying to curve upwards, but he made an effort to sound stern. “Sometimes. Yes.”
“You are mine.” Not a question. Destiny was not always an easy thing. It shaped worlds, kingdoms, the lives of men. “I can’t do all this without you, Phai.”
“I know.” Matter-of-fact, that was. “Someone needs to stop you being an idiot all the time.” He softened it with a smile, though, warm and easy for the man who was his friend. Alexandros did laugh then, with real mirth.
“That’s a lot to ask of one man,” he said. “Do you think you’re up to it?”
Hephaistion shrugged, unconcerned. His eyes were dancing. Up to it? For this man? Oh, always. Always, always, always.
“Oh, I think so,” he said, and the deep love in his voice went right to the heart of everything. Alexandros had never doubted it, not for a moment. His friend smiled at him, sweetly, raised his rescued wine cup in half a salute. “After all,” he said “I’ve had plenty of practice.”

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August 2006

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