Now the days of Alexander's life were consumed by this new role, with its attendant questions and demands upon his time. Hephaistion strove to find moments where he might be in Alexander's presence without the rest of the escort nearby, but to no avail; the men were ever at the ready, and even more so now that Alexander had accumulated a larger measure of power as Regent.
Days passed quickly; between dispatches and couriers, matters of small and large importance, much was accomplished. Alexander's attention was often focused on affairs of the local population, but could just as quickly turn to ideas of battle, or preparing the troops left behind by his father. "Maneuvers are taking place on the plains," he told Hephaistion one day, as they drank wine and idly passed scrolls back and forth in the audience hall. Hephaistion knew the idea of the campaign consumed Alexander, but he did not know how to calm the restlessness behind the words. "I have seen many ways they might be useful in battle, but I must be the one to lead them."
"You could send the information to your father," Hephaistion said, against the tightening in his chest; already he could see Alexander meant to go himself. "Or tell Antipatros, and he'll do it."
"Antipatros thinks the Seal is mistakenly on my hand, when it should be on his." Alexander took a long drink of wine and set the cup down, drumming his fingers upon it. "He thinks he commands by standing politely by and whispering in my ear, and that my questions are a nuisance he must endure to continue his rule."
"The men know who commands now," Hephaistion said, taken aback. "There is no question who holds the Seal."
"The Seal is not the issue," Alexander said, holding up his hand. "See how I have made it fit? But in the end, the true power is not in the ornaments of state." He slipped the ring off his finger and dropped it in his cup.
"Alexander!" Hephaistion reached out for the cup, but Alexander pulled it away. The light of mischief shone in his eyes.
"Do you remember how we discovered the copse, where Aristotle's nature was arrayed before us?"
Hephaistion flushed at the memory. "Of course I do," he said fervently. It had been but a single run of seasons passed since that time; the sweetness of those early moments was a golden thread winding down through their days together. They had not needed anything more to tie them together, but this memory would always bind them, for Hephaistion.
"You were right; there is always a crowd, now. Were I but a general, I would have more of my own than I do with all of a kingdom beneath my hand. But come; I have found a way." He rose and was gone, a quicksilver flash, and Hephaistion ran after him.
Alexander led the way as they slipped past the assorted friends and hangers-on in the outer courtyard. "Quiet, now," Alexander admonished him, though such breathless orders were hardly necessary. Hephaistion could see Alexander had made a plan for this, too, and intended to carry it out fully; he watched Alexander's quick pace down the sloping side of the palace walls with admiration, and followed surely behind.
"We are not followed," he whispered, after checking twice to be sure, but Alexander's hand came up to tug at his wrist, and Hephaistion quickened his pace lest he be tumbled down the hill. "But they will worry when they discover you gone."
"Let them," Alexander told him, and pulled him harder still, into a crack between the rocks and the walls. Here a small garden grew wild, overgrown with purple and yellow flowers and an abundance of green as a carpet. Hephaistion caught his breath, for it was a version of their paradise, and they were quite alone.
His surprise doubled when Alexander pushed him roughly against the half-fallen wall, his eyes shining, and took a kiss from him hungrily. This was not the kind of love he had learned to expect from Alexander; that kind of love was a soft press of hands, a gentle exploration. This was more than that, a love not confined to shadows. "Alexander," he gasped, when he had breath enough to speak again, but Alexander hushed him and drew him down. He divested Hephaistion first of his chiton, then of the brittle gold band encircling his arm. Here Alexander's touch lingered.
"Who gave you this?" he asked, not an idle question.
Hephaistion arrested Alexander's questing touch by taking a kiss of his own. When Alexander had stilled, Hephaistion addressed his curiosity honestly, as was his way: "I had it made. I would accept it from no other."
"You will wear nothing I do not give you," Alexander said, "for all tokens between us are sacred, are they not?"
"Yes," Hephaistion agreed, and with his agreement, the whole of his heart opened, and the last doubts were gone.
"It will not be so easy for me," Alexander said wistfully. "I will not have the choice."
"But you would, if you were not..."Hephaistion's characteristic bluntness failed him, for Alexander had discarded words in favor of pressing kisses to Hephaistion's throat, to his chest; Hephaistion found he had lost his speech, and did not care. "Alexander," he said fiercely, and when Alexander raised his head, his desires were made plain.
There was a subtle difference in the way Alexander took him, now; where before they were slow and sure, or quick and rough, Alexander seemed to need something more from him, and Hephaistion struggled to find balance. Alexander's lips against his skin were hot, his touches urgent; he slowed, and then quickened, until Hephaistion bit his lip to keep from crying out. Finally then, when the sun had lost ground in the sky and the night chill bit the air, Alexander claimed him, and they tangled together like two golden threads; to pull one from the other would be to unravel the tapestry entire.
Alexander lay quiet and still, lost in the realm of his private thoughts, as he almost always was, after. Hephaistion stroked his hair, or the long expanse of his back, tracing the muscles beneath the sweat-dampened skin. Always, his own joy was counter to the sadness Alexander felt, and he believed this was compensation enough; with these two sides of the coin, they could be whole, even in their emotions for one another.
"Antipatros thinks to speak on my behalf. He seeks to make his word the governing law," Alexander said slowly.
Hephaistion raised his head and looked at Alexander's distant expression. "Then you must prove him false," he said, and reached to smooth away the troubled determination on Alexander's features.
"I have already decided," Alexander said. "I will lead a campaign out while my father is still at battle. The catalyst will come, and I am ready; it is only a matter of time."
The familiar fear surfaced inside Hephaistion; he spent many nights pushing away the thought of Alexander's broken body, while never much imagining his own fate. But he would be there by Alexander's side.
As if Alexander knew his thoughts, he rose on one elbow and looked into Hephaistion's face, seeking the source of his worry. Hephaistion had long ago decided Alexander should not be privy to his nightmares; these were things that would not come to pass, so long as Alexander had Hephaistion by his side. Satisfied for the moment, Alexander sighed and rested his head on Hephaistion's shoulder. "You will be with me, of course," he said, as if all things in the world could be settled by that one simple statement.
When Hephaistion looked at the sky, he saw Alexander written there, in the trail of light. Hephaistion was content to be the dark curtain against which Alexander would shine.
"Get made a general, then you'll have a tent of your own. We'll never be out of a crowd from tomorrow until we get back," Hephaistion said.
"Oh...Yes, I know. But that's war."
"One has to get used to it. Like the fleas."
-- Alexander and Hephaistion, Fire From Heaven