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This story is an act of both faith and outright defiance. Not having been able to write anything worth a damn for the past few weeks (or ever, in some people's opinions I'd wager), this is my attempt to WRITE. SOMETHING. DAMMIT. As a result it's a little weird and a little stilted in places, but at least it is something. I count it as a moral victory, at least.

Title: Comfort From the Cold
Summary: Dreams, memories and wishful thinking?
Feedback: Certainly. Hit me.


The heat was stifling. Alexandros, King of Macedon, Great King of Persia, Lord of Asia and half a dozen other things he couldn’t remember right now, tossed fitfully in his bed. His head was pounding with the heat, and his mouth felt as if he had been swallowing sand. When he shifted to reach for the water jar, his covers stuck to him, damp with sweat. He kicked them aside irritably. Babylon in high summer, and some idiot of a body servant had him swaddled about in blankets enough for half a regiment. He could not remember coming to bed. Perhaps he had been drinking – he had been drinking a lot lately. There was a reason for that, but he could not remember that either.

He couldn’t sleep, but he could not seem to wake up, either. Not all the way, at least – there was a floating, distant quality to things, as if he were seeing them in a dream. The water tasted odd on his tongue, like iron shavings, and his mouth was still dry after it passed. It was the heat, that was the problem. He felt as if someone had wrapped him in wet wool and shoved him in a furnace. No one could think with a clear head in heat like this.

There was a cold pool in the bath house, just through the doors over there and along a short colonnade. They kept it cold with barrels of snow packed in straw, brought down from the high mountains. When he had first heard that, he had thought it an extravagance beyond measure. Right now though, with his head swimming dully and his skin slicked with sweat, the idea of it was the next thing to bliss. It would wake him up too, get rid of this nagging slow feeling.

The room tilted a little as he stood and he frowned at it in annoyance, resting one hand on the wall until it stopped. Rooms had no business doing that kind of thing. He told himself to ignore it – a cold dip would take care of that too. His legs seemed to have the same problem as his head, feeling all slow and disjointed as if they did not want to wake up either. It was not far to the water though. He would feel better then.

The cold water folded itself around him like a second skin as he slipped into the pool. It did not do much to clear his head, but at least that raging heat had gone. He could feel it still, beating within him like a flame burning behind a closed door, but the water kept it at bay. Babylon. What a wretched place. And to think that he had thought of running his kingdom from here. Why in Hades was it so damnably hot? The water was cool, soothing. He hung in it and let it carry him as it would.

The cold began to sink into his bones. Alexandros could feel it, but for some reason it didn’t seem to matter. It was better than the heat, in any case – kinder and softer. It made him think of Macedon and the way a man could feel snow in the wind even in the summer. The cold was a merciful thing, the way it wrapped a man about and held him close, pulling him down into a soft slow sleep from which he would never wake. There was something to be said for that. Alexandros barely noticed that he was shivering. That odd, floating feeling was stronger now, as if his body was nothing much to do with him at all. It was not so bad, once one got used to it. It was a lot like letting go.

“Alexandros,” a voice said. “Alexandros. You can’t stay in there all night.” It was a familiar thing, that voice – as familiar as breathing. Alexandros smiled to himself where he was floating in the dark. He would know that voice even to the end of time, in his bones, in his skin, in his very soul. He opened his eyes looked towards the sound of it.

Hephaistion sat on the edge of the pool, dangling his feet in the water. For a moment he seemed to glow very bright so that it almost hurt to look at him, but then Alexandros blinked and the glow was gone, and it was just Hephaistion in a pale chiton and a warm, easy smile. There was something not quite right with that, a part of Alexandros knew, but the thought was gone before it even formed. He said, “Phai. Couldn’t you sleep either?”
“I’m not tired,” Hephaistion answered. “I don’t need to sleep.” He gave his feet an idle kick, making the water splash. “Will you come out of there?”
“Why?”
“Because,” Hephaistion pointed out, amused and patient at once. “You’re freezing. I can see you shivering from here. You get any colder and you’ll sink like a stone. You never could swim worth a damn.”
“Not like you. You swim like a dolphin.” Alexandros remembered that from their days at Mieza, playing in the wide cold pool in the Sacred Grove. Hephaistion had always had the best of him in the water, all long and sleek and graceful. There had been that time in the baths in Memphis too – gods, it was strange how clearly he could see it, even now; Hephaistion rolling into a shallow dive, his body gliding smoothly through the water, the way the light had struck off him as he broke the surface, the glide of warm wet skin against his own … Alexandros smiled, thinking of it. Still, Hephaistion was right; he was freezing. He wondered vaguely how that had happened – hadn’t he been too hot, only a moment ago? Now, though, his teeth were chattering crazily, his whole body shuddering with cold. Hephaistion held a hand out to him, half laughing.
“Alexandros. Come on, before you catch your death. You’re turning blue.”

There was still something odd here, something out of place. Alexandros wondered distantly what it was. He reached for his friend’s hand, felt it clasp his wrist in that old familiar way, warm and strong and gentle all at once. It felt very real, a part of him noted. That made him want to laugh. Of course it felt real, Hephaistion was right there after all, how else should it feel? In his head a memory shifted, flickering; a tower of flames, reaching to the sky – but then Hephaistion’s lips were against his neck, and he heard his friend’s voice murmur, “No, don’t think of that,” and the image was gone.

It was so cold. His skin seemed to scream with it, wanting to draw away from the sigh of the night air. What in Zeus’ name had he been doing, swimming in a cold plunge pool in the middle of the night? A man could catch ill from fool things like that – Alexandros had seen it happen before. At Ecbatana, Hephaistion had taken ill from less. A deeper chill sunk into him, thinking that. Hephaistion seemed to notice it, and smiled that easy, gentle smile again.
“Idiot. Why do you do these things to yourself? Here. Let me help.”

There was a long low couch set along the wall, looking out over the plaza below and the wide city walls. Hephaistion took him to it, his bare feet soundless over the cool of the tiles. Or maybe they were not soundless at all, and Alexandros’ teeth were simply chattering too loudly for him to hear. He felt his friend drawing him down onto the couch, setting his arms about him, pulling him into a comfortable embrace. He let himself fall into it gratefully, feeling the warmth of Hephaistion’s body seeping into him in the same way that sun could seep into a stone. His skin, that had gone the same hard dull white as marble in the marble in the moonlight, tingled and sparked where Hephaistion touched him. It almost hurt, but it was a good clean pain that left comfort in its passing. The chill began to ease, both inside of him and out. He leaned back against Hephaistion’s chest, listening to the slow steady drone of his friend’s heart beating, feeling the warmth of his hands and his breath against his skin. Something inside him seemed to sigh and shift, like a hand unclenching about his heart. Oh gods, he needed this. This was what he had been missing, ever since … ever since …. He thought of Ecbatana again, and seven black walls. It meant a death. His mind wanted to shy away from that. He let it; it seemed easier, that way. It all seemed very distant anyway, like something remembered from another life. Or from a dream. He felt himself shudder, once, all over.

“You’re still cold.” Hephaistion reached to the foot of the couch, and pulled his cloak up over the pair of them. “There. That’s better.” The cloak was good honest wool, dyed in the lighter of the Tyrean purples, almost amethyst. Alexandros recognised it – he had given it as a gift, because Hephaistion had said he liked the colour. He felt it settle over him, and the way that slow warmth spread beneath it. Hephaistion shifted, getting comfortable, settling his friend back against him again. Alexandros felt rather than heard the soft chuckle in his chest, like the rumble of a cat purring.
“This brings back memories. How long has it been since we had to share a cloak? Five years? Ten? Do you remember that old wolfskin you used to have, back in Mieza?”
“Yes.” Alexandros heard his own voice as if it were coming from a long way off. He was tired, he supposed. “I remember everything.” He did, too; they had shared their first kiss under that cloak, and discovered each other by touch in the dark. It would be in rags by now, venerable old thing that it was, but it still had its magic when Hephaistion chose to invoke it. Even the memory of it could keep a man warm. It was good to be warm. He had been so cold, lately. So very very cold. And in the temples, all the altar flames had gone out.

There was still a strangeness to this, a sense of distance, of inwardness, as if he were watching things unfold with no heed to thought or consequence. It might almost have been a dream, if it had not felt so sharply real. He asked it anyway.
“Hephaistion? Am I dreaming?”
A low laugh answered that, and a brief tightening of the arm that held him. “You always dream. You’re an incorrigible dreamer. It’s your defining flaw.”
“Yes, but right now …”
“Alexandros, what’s the matter? Does this feel like a dream to you?” A kiss fell on his shoulder; there was no mistaking that for real. No mistaking the touch of Hephaistion’s hand either, finding what was most male in him and stroking gently. Alexandros groaned softly and moved into his touch. “No,” he said. “No.” But then he thought of the strange floating feeling in his head, and the way his thoughts would not come together, and he said, “Yes.”
Hephaistion paused a moment and then kissed his neck again. Alexandros thought that he might have sounded a little sad. “Well, at least it is a good dream.”
“I dreamed before,” Alexandros heard himself say. “I dreamed you … you were sick, and then you died, and I was all alone. I dreamed you left me. It was so real, I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up. As real as this.”
“Dreams can seem real sometimes,” Hephaistion said quietly, “and still be only dreams.” Alexandros considered that. There was still the warmth at his back, still that easy touch on his sex, with that steady ache growing behind it. Still real. It was all the comfort from the cold he needed.
“You’re not … you didn’t leave me.”
“Herakles’ balls!” Hephaistion gave him a playful shove. “What a thing to say! Of course I didn’t leave you, Xandros. I never will. I’m right here, aren’t I?
Well. That was true. There was no denying that. Alexandros wondered why he should want to. He glanced back to his friend and grinned suddenly, white and wicked. “Prove it.”
“Is that a challenge?”
“Oh,” said Alexandros, flexing into his friend’s slowly stroking hand. “Yes.”
“Well,” Hephaistion growled, all edged with hunger and laughter in equal measures. “Let me prove it, then.”

It did not last long. Hephaistion knew what he was about, and Alexandros was in no mood to resist him. For a while there was nothing in the world for Alexandros but the shivery warmth of Hephaistion’s mouth on his throat, and the high wonderful ache of his hand on his sex. Then Hephaistion’s hand dipped and squeezed, and he did something clever with his fingers, and Alexandros felt his body pull in on itself and suddenly pulse outward, and he barely had time to hear his friend whisper “Gods, Xandros, I love you,” before it broke over him and pulled him down into the dark.

*****

They found him the next morning, sleeping in the bath house on the long low couch. He didn’t wake when they called his name, and his chest rose and fell in jagged, painful catches. His fever was less than it had been – or maybe it was only that it was cooler out here, with the breeze coming over the water to play on his skin. In any case, he was more comfortable than he had been in days, out here. The doctors glanced at one another with bleak, knowing eyes, and said that he might as well be left where he was. There was nothing they could do now. It would not be long.

Bagoas, who had woken in a panic to find him gone, stayed behind when the doctors had left. His dreams had been odd, last night. He thought that he heard Alexandros talking to someone, and once or twice calling Hephaistion’s name. That was not strange in itself; delirium did that to him, and that deep savage grief that even now cut at him like knives. What was odd, and what had left Bagoas cold, was that he was sure that he had heard someone answer, sure that he had heard a voice he could not mistake saying, “I never left you, I never will.” Hephaistion’s voice, that had been, as clear as day though the man was nothing but ashes and memory, all burned to dust under the Babylon sky.

Alexandros stirred and muttered something that was half a sigh and half a groan. Bagoas lifted the cloth from the bowl, wrung it out, and laid it against the king’s forehead. It seemed to quiet him; he lapsed back into those long slow hitches of breath. The doctors had said only to make him comfortable, and to pray. Bagoas was doing both, as best he as he could.

Bagoas’ eyes were drawn to the cover that lay over the king’s body. It was oddly familiar, and out of place. He knew everything that the king owned by heart – this was not something of his. It was not even a blanket, it was a long cloak of good dyed wool in the light purple of Tyre. Hephaistion’s cloak. Bagoas stared at it long and hard, then looked away.

I never left you, I never will.

Wherever he was now, he would not have long to wait.

(no subject)

Date: 2004-11-10 12:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] susa-938.livejournal.com
My critical faculty deserts me, I'm afraid, and I'm only capable of simply sighing wistfully over the aching poignancy of this. Quite lovely.

And you mustn't keep alluding to other events in your stories, you know - it just makes me want to read them;
“I remember everything.” He did, too; they had shared their first kiss under that cloak, and discovered each other by touch in the dark.."

Ahem... any chance at all...?

(no subject)

Date: 2004-11-10 10:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 3scoremiles-10.livejournal.com
That's a shame, I rather appreciate your critical faculties. ;) I am glad though that this story worked on some level for you, since I've had one of those periods just lately when it seems as if I'd be hard pressed to write so much as my own name, and this was my bloodyminded attempt to kickstart things. I would have settled for anything coherent. If people actually like it as well, yay me. Damned stupid affliction, this writing business.

And you mustn't keep alluding to other events in your stories, you know - it just makes me want to read them
Hmmm ... yes, I can be a tease like that, you've mentioned that before. Tell you what, if you're really interested, send me an email and maybe something can be arranged.

beautifulcollusion@yahoo.com.au

(no subject)

Date: 2004-11-10 11:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] susa-938.livejournal.com
Well - critical faculty re-engaged - I hope... though it worries me I can never quite convey how I feel about something I've read. 'Loved it' sounds trite, but I did.

Alexander's delirium, 'ghost' story - or not, it doesn't matter. I like the dreamlike quality to this and just find it very satisfying on an emotional level - that their love and spiritual connection transcends those blurred boundaries between life and death; and that Hephaistion is there with him, looking after his Alexandros to the end, really. Practical as ever, too. Warming him physically and emotionally - love the business with the cloak. I like that there's touches of humour and earthiness amid all this spirituality too, that never lets it get too sentimental. And that tantalising reference to their youth...you just know these two have loved each other virtually all their lives. Oh, I don't doubt Hephaistion would find a way to be with him if he could.

It fits well with those comforting stories that say those we've loved and lost are there with us, as death approaches, easing the path and preparing to meet us. Guh.. now *I'm* getting sentimental - so much for sensible feedback (it must listening to mopey bits of the Alexander soundtrack as I write).....so I will stop and just say I'm glad you've picked up the pen again. You always manage to make good writing look so easy.
And I'll email you. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2004-11-11 07:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 3scoremiles-10.livejournal.com
Well, Hephaistion's always been the practical one ... and it's always been his task to offer comfort, one way or another. When Hephaistion says to Alexandros, "Why do you do these things to yourself?" he's not talking about jumping into a cold pool in the middle of the night - he's talking about the constant grinding grief and exhaustion, and that's the cold that he's offering comfort from. That was what I was kind of heading for anyway, so if that came through yay me. Anyway, of course he'd do what he could to look after Alexandros - he spent his whole life doing just that, why should something as trivial as death stop him?

damn.

Date: 2004-11-10 05:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hephaestion.livejournal.com
:sniffles:
these death scenes...make me weepy.. i'm going to be a fucking weepy mess at the movie theater.
i loved it.
thanks lisa.

Re: damn.

Date: 2004-11-10 08:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 3scoremiles-10.livejournal.com
Okay, so I was wrong. It did make you cry. Now, why would I ever have doubted that? I know what you're like with those waterworks of yours. ;)

Take tissues. You'll probably need them.

(no subject)

Date: 2004-11-27 01:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bagoasalexander.livejournal.com
Brilliant, positively brilliant.

And thank you for adding my Bagoas, even in a tormented moment of not being very important. LOL!

B

(no subject)

Date: 2004-11-27 03:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 3scoremiles-10.livejournal.com
Oh, I don't know if he's any less important here than he's ever been ... he's the one who knows what the cloak means, after all. Whatever else he is, the boy's observant. ;)

(no subject)

Date: 2005-10-07 03:37 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Hello! It feels odd to leave a comment after this much time. But I have only very recently discovered ATG fiction and ATG fanfiction on the net and think you are simply an awesome author! I have been trying to get a hold of and read as many of your stories as I can locate. What I like the most in your writing is the authenticity of the time period, and the Alexandros/Hephaistion relationship. I think you capture this unique relationship that lasted from childhood to death in a manner few people have, including, ahem... the recent movie!

This story is a particular favorite. Perhaps the best after-Hephaistion's death story I have read so far. It could be a dream, a fevered hallucination, a real visitation. But what a wondrous love story! Bagoas at the end, understanding the depth of that love, is an added great touch!

(no subject)

Date: 2005-10-12 07:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] 3scoremiles-10.livejournal.com
Thanks. A number of people seem to pick this story out as a favourite. Something in the water, perhaps? Glad you enjoyed.

And don't get me started on the movie.

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