Title: Witness of Love and Gods
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Alexander the Great (movie)
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: Alexander, Bagoas, Cassander, Cleitus, Crateros, Hephaistion, Ptolemy
Pairings: Alexander/Hephaistion, Hephaistion/Ptolemy (implied Alexander/Roxanne, Ptolemy/Thais)
Summary: Movie-fic. Ptolemy told much about Alexander and his life to the generations after, but there are also many stories that shall never be repeated...
Warnings: m/m -relationship, violence, character’s death
Author’s Notes: Here we are: the second chapter to the last. It has been a long way to get this far, but yet there is still the final chapter! It will be a challenge, to me. We shall see how I come up with it, and all that angst to come.
This chapter’s events (considering the way back to Asia), I wish to point out, are more from the history than the movie itself. The movie did not give us much information considering Alexander’s journey back home, so I think no one will try to kill me because of this! And there isn’t horribly much details in the chapter about that journey, anyway. Just the fact that Alexander’s army divided into three groups on his way home: Craterus went through north, Alexander along the coast, and Nearchus with the fleet. Not a major thing for the story, but just little something to make it look realistic!
Now then, to the chapter! This is the beginning of an end, a prelude for the final chapter. Enjoy, people!
Many thanks to Kitt of Lindon of betaing this!
#Shortest route on map may turn out to be quite different in the nature. Maybe Alexander knew this when he set out from India with his army. Maybe that was a final planned path of conquers on his journey – until he would start another campaign. By his order, Crateros took a part of the army through north, strengthening the hold on the already conquered lands. Nearchus took his part on fleet, making his way along the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, near the shores. Alexander followed the coast on land, leaving supplies to Nearchus when possible, knowing there was little in this dry land to support men, not to speak of those who only landed to refill their stocks.
I went with Alexander, following him through the burning desert – which gave me a new definition for “hot”. Those long months on our way home, delayed at times by subduing another city or tribe under our command, were an awkward time for me. None knew what would become of us when we returned to Babylon. Some dared to hope that we would go all the way back to Macedonia, but I saw that unlikely: as Alexander had said before, Babylon was his new home. Who knows for what reasons.#
There seemed to be no end for the dry, lifeless land. Sand whisked through the air with the wind, stuck mercilessly into all it could find: cloth, skin, food... Ptolemy frowned, trying in vain to pull the hood of his cloak to cover his face, wiping away the sand that had already gathered on his skin like another layer. At this point, he would have gladly welcomed the endless rain of India. But as it was, he had to stand and suffer.
Muttering beneath his breathe, Ptolemy turned his back to the wind. How people lived in this land, he could not imagine. But there were cities and villages, and people in them. Few of them defiant, others laying down their arms as Alexander’s army encountered them. How far on the desert the people lived, he did not know, however. Maybe they all live near to the coast. That is reasonable enough.
“This makes me miss Macedonia even more.”
Ptolemy lifted his gaze from the sand gathering on his feet, only then noticing Hephaistion beside him. The other man looked at the vast brown land before them, his eyes narrowed against the wind. If there were tears, they could be easily blamed to be a fault of the sand. “We all miss Macedonia,” Ptolemy began, then laughed harshly at the absurdity of the thought. “Those of us who have seen it,” he corrected: there weren’t many of those with them anymore.
Hephaistion turned to look at the other man, his own hood down around his neck, leaving him exposed to the cruel wind. “We should speak…”
They hadn’t done much of that since their sudden turn home. Ptolemy hadn’t found the courage to face the other man in private, and Hephaistion hadn’t shown any sign of willingness to do so. Now, however, there was an opening and Ptolemy used it to dive in. He nodded, glancing around. “Now?”
“Alexander is making preparations for the fleet. We are not going to move on until tomorrow,” Hephaistion stated slowly, as if detailing some discussion he had had with Alexander before. “We shall rest the night here. Or rather in the city nearby,” he indicated with a slight movement of his head to a nearby fortress on shore, surrounded by thick stone-walls. Not that those walls had kept Alexander outside for long. “Men shall camp outside, but I am hopeful to sleep in an actual bed tonight.” It was a normal arrangement that the soldiers slept in a camp and the higher officers in a city, if such an possibility showed itself. Sometimes Alexander made difference to the code, and made them all camp outside. It didn’t seem to be happening today, according to Hephaistion.
Ptolemy nodded again, noting that the wind was calming down some. The sun was hanging low, marking the swift set of a day. “How much time do we have?” He did not dare to ask if Hephaistion would stay with Alexander tonight. Firstly, it was none of his business, and secondly, he had nothing to say to it even if it would happen: Alexander was the king, and he had the right for his lovers. Ptolemy was merely stealing time. How come I came to look at the situation from this point, in the first place? When did things start to change between us?
“We move into the city within an hour,” Hephaistion answered, a small smile tugging his lips. “And yes, Alexander requested for my presence tonight. You were going to ask it, weren’t you?” he teased, seeing Ptolemy’s troubled look.
“No, in fact, I wasn’t,” Ptolemy confessed. “I know better than to ask.”
Hephaistion was silent for a long while, a small frown appearing to his face. He tilted his head to the side, as if thinking hard on something. “When did we become this casual with each other?” he finally uttered, the smile apparent only in his eyes.
Ptolemy snorted, shaking his head. “India changed us.”
“Alexander’s choice did. It surprised us.”
“You still believe I made him turn back home.”
“Maybe,” Hephaistion sighed. “It seems so absurd he would make such a decision himself. But then again… I have spoken with him. He is so tired, of all this. He needs to gather his strength as much as the men do. Then he will set out again. South, he said. To Arabia.”
Ptolemy did not comment to that. He had known Alexander’s dream would not stay idle for long. There was still many lands to conquer. All they needed was time. “So, what is your sentence?”
Hephaistion gave him a funny look. “Should I condemn you of not making him continue? For allowing him to finally make his own decision, and turn back?”
“Was it his decision?”
Now it was Hephaistion’s turn to be silent. After a drawn-out look between them, he finally made his move. “He never said it to me with words, but I know I did something to alter his mind.” He gave Ptolemy a half-heartedly accusing look. “He spoke out your name, but you never told me if he… If you spoke. When I was not listening. You never told me of that.”
“He told me not to,” Ptolemy defended himself, knowing it was no excuse. “He came to see you, a few days after the last battle in India. You were asleep, in fever, and he told me to not wake you. So I didn’t. He also told me to remain silent of his visit – and I did. For the better of worse, I do not know.”
“You said nothing else to him?”
“Would I lie to you in a matter like this, Hephaistion?”
Hephaistion broke the eye-contact they had held for several minutes now. “We all lie. For those we love, mostly. To those we love, even. But most of all, we lie to ourselves.” He bowed his head, sniffing softly. “What did I do wrong?”
Ptolemy took a step closer, hoping no-one would catch them now. He was beyond caring, but the result could be painful. “Maybe it is time to go home, Hephaistion,” Ptolemy began, his fingers careful as they caressed the dark hair falling on his companion’s face. “Alexander just needed to understand that. The end of the world will remain where it is, waiting for him. There are other things, however, that do not wait,” he said sternly, forcing the other to meet his gaze. His thumbs wiped away the mingled mass of tears and sand on Hephaistion’s cheeks. “He realised that he could have lost you. He was so numb, the last few years. But the sight of you woke him up. He remembered what it was like to live.”
“No ‘buts’. There has been enough of them. We are going home, and we shall rest. Then we go ahead again, to the end of the world and beyond it.” Drawing a deep breath, Ptolemy pressed their foreheads together, his voice low. “He needs us still, Hephaistion. To watch his back. The situation has probably settled down for a moment, but it will be inflamed again. At the latest when he will speak forth his will to go to Arabia,” he laughed. “But we shall be ready, then.”
Hephaistion nodded, careful not to brake the contact of their bodies. His hands came up, fingers curling around Ptolemy’s wrists, the gentle pressure both reassuring and forgiving. “What gives you the strength to go on?” he mused, his eyes trying to search the answer in the other’s gaze. “You make no profit of this. You risk your life, only to give him another day… And yet it may all end tonight.”
Ptolemy did not answer. He was not sure himself, anymore. His resolve was shifting. Instead of answering, he moved his fingers to the dark stresses, sealing their lips together. It was an endless moment, not a hurried, stolen flash in the dark. And it was not nearly enough. But here in the open Ptolemy did not dare to risk them more than he already was, and after another second he let go of Hephaistion. “We should go back.”
There was no smile, merely regret in Hephaistion’s eyes. ‘I am sorry’ they seemed to say, but Ptolemy did not venture further that road. It was not his to walk, even if he was dreading it every moment he spent alone with Hephaistion.
#The rest of the journey back to Asia was nothing out of ordinary. More sand and heat, unbearable wind blowing on us from the endless desert or from the sea, and few little scuffles with the natives that could barely be called as battles. Yet all that discomfort did not feel nearly as overwhelming when I again started to spend my time beside Hephaistion.
It was like a drug I could not get enough of. My body yearned for him, and every time I tried to deny myself I always ended up to stand behind his door. He welcomed me with an expression of understanding, yet there was a light of amusement in his eyes every time. Though it did not remain so for long after I trapped him beneath my body and gave in for the desire we both felt. I had my ways of wiping that wry smile from his face, sometimes for an entire week.
But in Babylon, when we finally reached lands known to us, the inevitable happened. And from that began a circle that kept spinning to the very end.#
They had stayed in Babylon for a longer time than in the other capitals of Asia. Hephaistion did not try and pretend that he did not know why. It was commonly known that Alexander was fond of this place. And now he has found something else to be fond of, he thought with a painful irony. After all these years, Alexander had taken another wife. Two, actually. Either he was desperate to get a heir, in love, or just trying to confuse all and everything around him. If it was the final option, he was being successful. The world was shocked. Hephaistion was merely… “Broken,” he breathed out to the still air. The word had a power enough to make his eyes glaze over with unshed tears.
“Broken” was not a correct word, of course. Hephaistion, of all people, had seen it coming. Known it was only a matter of time. He had pushed Alexander to it several times during the years of their long journey. Alexander needed a heir to strengthen his position as a king. Now the chances for that were better than ever, which in turn awoke a new possible threat from the side of the king’s opponents. If Alexander managed to continue his line, it would take his commanders further from power when a time for a new king would come.
A silent thud from the other side of his rooms told Hephaistion that someone had entered. The possibilities were lined in few, as there had been no knock before entering. He did not turn to look, instead waiting the other to reveal itself. A warm hand that pressed against his bare shoulder told him exactly who invaded his space. A mere touch divided this one from Alexander, for there was warmth in it. Alexander hadn’t paid attention to him for months now, too single-minded with his plans and marriage.
Ptolemy, however, found this as a possibility not to waste.
The hand was joined by another, caressing Hephaistion’s neck and shoulders, moving his hair aside gently. Lips followed, searching new areas to conquer as the callused fingers moved to undo the light garment around Hephaistion’s body. The cloth slid down unhindered. Hephaistion smiled, shifting his face to the side, away from his lover. His own hands caught Ptolemy’s wandering ones, drawing them around his body so the other could hold him.
Ptolemy halted for a moment, merely pressing their bodies together. He nudged the other’s head with his own, smelling a clean scent of skin, dark hair tickling his nose when he inhaled again. “You should not worry so much,” he murmured.
“Was it not you who told me that we must to be on our guard at all times?”
Ptolemy did not answer in words, instead spinning Hephaistion around in his arms and pressing the other’s body against a pillar lining the other side of the wide doors that opened to a balcony outside. They were both breathing swiftly now, eyes locked together. “Keeping a low profile does not necessary mean that taking some liberties in private would be forbidden,” he spoke against the other’s lips. Hephaistion groaned under his weight, his squirming movements more for a show than a real need to get away. Ptolemy’s hands strayed from soft heated flesh to the solid cold stone behind, marvelling if this was the contrast Hephaistion felt between him and Alexander.
Hephaistion kissed him before Ptolemy was able to voice his question, nothing gentle in the way the other’s lips crushed to his, fingers burying into his hair. It took a few minutes before Ptolemy was able to draw himself away, Hephaistion’s attack continuing as relentless as from the start. “Stop for a moment,” Ptolemy said harshly, his right hand curled around the other’s neck to hold him back. Hephaistion swallowed with some visible difficulty, eyeing Ptolemy with keen interest. The noise from the city below was distant in their ears, the thrumming of hearts and the rush of blood much more intense. Ptolemy moved his thumb up and down the length of Hephaistion’s neck, smiling softly to himself. “What is this devil that has possessed you today?”
“Loneliness?” Hephaistion suggested, trying to move forward but leaned back as he found Ptolemy’s hold unyielding.
Ptolemy snorted. “Truly, Hephaistion. What is the matter with you?”
This time Hephaistion did not guess. He knew. Turning his head to the side, he looked over the city spreading before them in all its glory, high towers shining in the rays of the sun. It was like a dream, so far, but yet so near you could almost touch it. Smell it. “Do you remember… the first time we kissed?”
“I do,” Ptolemy answered with all honesty he had. And Gods only know I shall never forget.
“Was it a mistake?”
“I can hardly tell that. Mistake or no, we are both guilty. Or blessed.”
Hephaistion laughed sharply, the sound full of pain. “Blessed indeed. Blessed with lies and constant danger to live in,” he spat. “Do you not regret, Ptolemy?” he turned to look back at the man before him. “Do you not regret, even once, that you took the lover of your friend to your bed?”
There was something in Hephaistion’s tone that alarmed Ptolemy. He had thought about this, naturally. Kings had many lovers, but his friend, Alexander, only one. Hephaistion knew, better than any, that Alexander did not share his heart easily. It seemed so to many, that Alexander loved all his people and army. But there are many ways to love. And the love in itself belongs to Hephaistion alone. “What should I answer?” he finally stated. “That I regret, but would change nothing? Would it please you?” Hephaistion’s eyes refused to meet his. “I tell you: it would add your pain further. It would give you a permission to cry, if I did so. But I do not have to say it. You have the answer in your heart.”
There was a barely audible sniff from the dark-haired man. Ptolemy tasted his tears as he sought Hephaistion’s mouth to kiss him again. There was no force behind it, this time. Yet the slowness of it made Ptolemy’s skin heat up and burn for the other’s closeness. His hands slid down the naked body before him, tracing the familiar curves with adoration. Hephaistion’s breath hitched against his lips, his fingers fisting in Ptolemy’s own robe. One hand made its way to his hair, giving them both a moment to breathe free air as it tugged back gently.
Pressing their foreheads together, Ptolemy guided Hephaistion away from the pillar. As much as he would have enjoyed to feel the sun upon his skin, he knew some things had better to take care indoors. His hands on the strong backside, it was easy enough to gauge Hephaistion to his bed.
“Hush,” Ptolemy ordered, straddling his lover’s body as he had the other laying on the mattress. “Words are… overvalued,” he smiled, Hephaistion’s hands opening his robe before he was even finished. Fingers played over his chest, searching every scar and place worth attention. As much as Ptolemy would have liked to enjoy this further, he knew their time was limited. There would be a feast later, and they would be missed long before it even started. Gently, he pushed Hephaistion’s hands lower, his own making their way down the long, naked thighs, drawing them further apart.
Ptolemy was just leaning in to kiss Hephaistion again as the other’s body tensed beneath his. A fraction later he realised there was a sound from the door. “Great king.” A greeting, made by a servant, left no room for guessing.
They both sprang up from the bed, Hephaistion pushing Ptolemy to the other side of the room. “Stay quiet,” the blue-eyed man hissed, drawing aside a heavy garment on the wall, revealing a small recess behind. There was no time for further words nor for a search of a better place, because the door of the room was opened at that second.
Through the heavy fabric, Ptolemy was just able to make out Hephaistion’s form. The other man stiffened, Alexander stepping inside. There was a moment of silence, but for his credit, Hephaistion did not even try to cower away or hide himself. Alexander stared at him for a moment, his eyebrows raised in surprise.
“It is already past mid-day, Hephaistion! Have you no sense of time?” Alexander finally asked, walking closer.
Without a verbal answer, Hephaistion walked to the balcony doors, reaching for his deserted robe. He drew it on quickly and then faced the king. “Can I help you?” ‘At this hour’, he might have added, if he had the nerve. As it was, he did not continue his line.
Alexander smiled, walking to the balcony. “I used to spend a lot of time in your rooms,” he said quietly, looking out at the city. “Or you in mine.”
“I think that is why they are so alike,” Hephaistion agreed. “It made no real difference – then.” Alexander turned to look at him, strange light in his eyes. Hephaistion shifted under his stare, noting unconsciously that he was leaning on the same pillar as some time before. He stepped away from it, hoping his expression did not give him away.
“Cassander has spoken to me of… very strange things, lately.”
Hephaistion’s gaze shot up from the tiles he had been currently staring at. “Cassander’s news are usually ones with a great amount of bizarre embedded in them,” he said somewhat bitterly.
Alexander snorted, pushing up from the railing he had been leaning on. Like a predator, he advanced Hephaistion. He smiled when his lover did not back away, meeting him as bravely as any enemy on the battlefield. His hands played with the hair on Hephaistion’s shoulders for a while, slowly moving up to his face, back down to his neck. “He said that you have been unfaithful to me. My loyal, dear Hephaistion.” Their eyes met, holding each other. “He has nerves, does he? To claim a thing like that. To make it sound like a crime… a betrayal.” Hephaistion swallowed under the thumb caressing his neck. “You, of all people… You could be my ruin, my downfall. You know that. I know that. Yet I make nothing to change it,” Alexander practically purred. “Why is that?”
“Because I would never betray you,” Hephaistion answered with a small voice. He tried not to tremble beneath the other’s hold. Get a grip of yourself! he commanded, but it was no use.
“No,” Alexander shook his head. “Because I love you. And when you love, you will suffer the consequences.” He caressed the cheekbones he knew so well, his eyes shining. “And with killing you, I would kill myself. Because you, too, are Alexander.” That statement was sealed with a deep kiss. “Cassander should watch his forked tongue,” Alexander whispered, holding his shivering lover close. “It will make him lose his head, one day.” He looked at Hephaistion, smiling again. “Do not miss the feast,” he reminded, eyeing his companion up and down.
“I will be there,” Hephaistion answered, his eyes following the shorter man as the king left his rooms. He stood motionless for long minutes, staring at the door, expecting it to open again at any moment. It did not, however.
“Hephaistion?” came a timid call, Ptolemy’s hands firm and reassuring upon the other man’s shoulders. “Are you –”
With a shuddery breath, Hephaistion turned to Ptolemy, practically collapsing in his arms. The other man held him, and burying his face to Ptolemy’s still bare chest, Hephaistion wept.
to be continued…
Author’s Note: Well, this chapter was a pretty good foretaste to the next (and the final) chapter. It made me emotional, at least. You? Tell me, people! This is your almost final chance to do so!