The World Within

Title: The World Within

Author: Bone

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Fandom: Alexander

Pairing: Alexander/Hephaistion

Rating: NC-17

Notes: I haven't read The Persian Boy. Therefore, this is just movieverse, not Renault-verse or, you know, based on any particular events in history. What I know of the culture of the time comes from The History Channel and the flick itself. Many thanks to Killa, Maygra, and Destina for beta-reading. These historical figures do not belong to me; like the producers and the studio, I am borrowing them and bending them to my purpose.

Archive: Written for pleasure, not profit. Please do not archive.

"Stay with me tonight, Hephaistion."

I lift my head, Alexander's words drawing my attention from the bath I'm ritually preparing. Not a ritual for Alexander, but for me—my precious private time with my new king. I do everything I can to make it relaxing for him, pleasurable. It's something he lets me do for him.

But perhaps not tonight. Hephaistion turns his head deliberately toward me. He is as jealous of me as I am of him.

Alexander follows his glance and says to me casually, "I'll take my own bath tonight. Thank you, Bagoas."

And with that, I'm dismissed, forgotten, like one of the harem cats: a pet during the day but a nuisance at night.

They move to the balcony, a matched set of height and breadth, warriors who have already seen more of the world than anyone else ever has. Alexander has told me this is true, told me of his gods and his ancestors, and his vision of the worlds that await him.

While their attention is focused on each other, I slip behind a loosely woven curtain that hides a space just large enough for me. From here I can see the whole chamber, even the balcony where they now stand, Alexander surveying Babylon, Hephaistion surveying Alexander. You can't survive in harem life without developing strengths. I have several, including a knowledge of every corner of this palace and an ability to render myself almost invisible. They will not think of me again tonight. Hephaistion hasn't visited Alexander here in his private chambers since he came to Babylon, and I want to see them together, see how they are with each other when Alexander's generals are not with them.

The times I have stood where they are, I could hardly take in the beauty before me—Babylon is a wonder, a true oasis, lush and green. The sound of water and the lilt of women's voices remind me that the palace is a haven, far from the dust and fury that lies beyond. But the view that moves me so holds Alexander's attention for only a moment; then he turns, as always, toward Hephaistion.

They stand close together on the balcony, heads tilted, talking in hushed tones. There is no air between them. I feel the intensity of their connection as shivers that race up my arms and across my chest. I have heard that Alexander says of him, "he is also Alexander," but I never saw until now how they fit together, how Hephaistion seems an extension of Alexander.

Alexander puts his hand out, slides it in Hephaistion's hair. Whatever he says makes Hephaistion lean into him, and Alexander embraces him, buries his face in Hephaistion's neck. When Alexander lifts his head, Hephaistion is waiting for him, pulling Alexander's mouth to his, making him groan. He is heavy-handed, his mouth far more aggressive than I would dare, but Alexander meets force with force, familiarity and hunger obviously displacing any need for refinement.

I have found in the few chaotic weeks since he chose me that Alexander does not practice the art of love; if anything, he seems to extend his battle strategy to the bed, where his persistence, fearlessness, and complete lack of inhibition generally leave me overwhelmed and contentedly defeated. They are not the talents I was taught, but I respond helplessly, a willing captive to his tactics, be they front, rear, or flank.

I brace for pain; I am seeing, after all, what I've dreaded and still can't resist watching. Yet instead of pain, what I find coursing through me isn't jealousy to match Hephaistion's, but desire. As if I can feel what he feels as he kisses his king. It's an unexpected gift. It's one thing to be told they love each other, to hear their men speak of them in one breath, but it's another to see their heads angled, their mouths tightly sealed, strong hands joining them together.

What is left of the man in me rises—in my body and in my spirit. Despite the cost paid in my youth, I still feel what they feel, and I know well the heat of Alexander's mouth, his marauding tongue.

A catcall from below breaks them apart, though Hephaistion seems reluctant to part with Alexander's mouth. Alexander leans over the balcony and makes a rude gesture, then smiles at Hephaistion and leads him back into the chamber, down the steps to the bath.

"Come, bathe with me," Alexander says, tugging off the clothing I chose for him to wear this morning, abandoning it in a pool of jumbled color on the floor. I wish I could take his robe, slide it on my body while it still holds the heat of him. He steps into the bath I prepared for him with oils and rose petals, all golden hair and golden skin. Sometimes, when I wash him, I imagine that the water itself takes on the gold of his skin.

Hephaistion never takes his eyes off Alexander, not even while he disrobes in turn. When he's naked, I see that he's more muscular than Alexander, broader through the chest. He has lean hips and strong thighs, with a thick, heavy phallus that rises to stand before its king. He looks like a statue, perfect and remote, except for his eyes, which burn with bright blue fire.

Battle scars adorn both their bodies like permanent jewels, marks that delineate their beauty rather than detracting from it. I look down the smooth unblemished skin of my torso; my only scars are hidden.

What would it be like, to wear your wounds with such ease? To know when people saw evidence of your pain, your÷courage, they admired you?

I don't delude myself; were it not for the path forced upon me, I would not be here. Most likely, I would be turning to dust on the remains of a battlefield somewhere, one more nameless soldier sacrificed on Darius' altar.

My own scars are what led me here, to him.

Hephaistion steps into the bath with Alexander and stands while Alexander drops to his knees before him. Only long years of experience keep me from betraying my presence when I see my king debase himself, lowering himself before a soldier. Hephaistion doesn't protest as he should; in fact, he encourages Alexander with a hand under his chin, leading him to the hard evidence of his lust.

"It's been too long," Alexander says, his voice hoarse. He lifts his hands to Hephaistion's broad thighs, looks up at his sky bright eyes, and in the same way I felt Hephaistion's desire for Alexander when they kissed, I now feel Alexander's desire for Hephaistion.

Alexander's hands flex on his muscled legs, fingertips pressing deep, and his face flushes, his eyes flashing their own dark fire as he watches Hephaistion. A scraping twist of jealousy snakes through me when Alexander's lips touch him, taking the long length of him in his mouth, sucking strongly. Though he has claimed me, bedded me, given me such rough and tumultuous pleasure that my soul has seemed to lift from my body, Alexander has not yet done this to me, has never held part of me inside himself the way he is Hephaistion. I am viscerally reminded that despite my renowned skill, I am not equal to Hephaistion in his eyes, and may never be.

The light in the chamber seems to dim when Hephaistion's eyes close, his lower lip caught between his teeth as Alexander opens wider, takes more of him in. I can't look away, not even when Hephaistion's thighs tremble, when he bends to drop his hands to Alexander's shoulders, his long hair obscuring his face, urgent sounds escaping his throat. His hands clench brutally on Alexander when he reaches his peak, and Alexander absorbs the blow, leans his head back in acceptance of the demand Hephaistion makes of him.

Hephaistion can't stand when he's done. He draws his spent penis from Alexander's mouth and slumps shakily into the bath. Alexander smiles at him, pleased with what he's wrought, and Hephaistion growls when Alexander licks the corners of his lips.

"You're right," Hephaistion says, his voice a low rasp. "It's been too long. I've missed you, too, more than you know."

Alexander smiles differently then, less with his face and more his heart, and stands, water sluicing off his skin. His own penis stands firm and proud, merely from the act of servicing Hephaistion—a telling gesture. When I lie with him, I have to coax his weapon to steel with my hands or my mouth, or by rolling him between my thighs. Never have I seen him engage this state without my touch.

Their positions now reversed, Hephaistion leans toward Alexander, his mouth opening, but Alexander holds his head away, stroking his cheek. "I want more than that. Will you comply?"

From the look on Hephaistion's face and the alacrity with which he commands his unsteady legs to hold him upright, I think the answer is yes.

They're like boys as they slosh out of the bath, splashing water from one end of the chamber to the other. Alexander shakes himself like a dog, then stands behind Hephaistion, licking water from his wide shoulders, tracing a drop down the indent of his spine. I see Alexander's fingers disappear between Hephaistion's buttocks and he shudders, thrusting his hips back against Alexander's hand, widening his stance.

His breath catches in his throat, and Alexander crowds up behind him. "Here, my sweet Hephaistion?"

Hephaistion shakes his head. He reaches behind him, wraps an arm around to press Alexander against him for a moment, then says, "I would rather the bed. I want to see you."

Alexander bites his shoulder, dragging another shaky breath from Hephaistion, then pulls himself away and walks awkwardly to the bed, his erection altering his gait. Hephaistion follows him, his own arousal already renewed, but when Alexander motions for him to lie down, he shakes his head. "Lie on your back, Alexander. I'll ride you."

Alexander laughs as he follows Hephaistion's instructions. "I am the better rider," he says.

Hephaistion's face melts with love under Alexander's regard. "Next time," he says.

"Fair enough," Alexander says, pulling Hephaistion down to kiss him before settling him across his hips.

"There," Alexander says, pointing to a jar of salve near the bed. Hephaistion digs his fingers in, gathering a generous amount, which he then offers to Alexander.

As they begin to move together, Alexander's hand disappearing between Hephaistion's thighs, his breathing becomes increasingly desperate, and Hephaistion murmurs to him appreciatively, urging him on with his voice and the powerful rhythm of his hips.

Then Hephaistion rears back, sitting up just as he would in a saddle. His hand drifts between his legs, and he bites off an epithet: Alexander has mounted his assault. Alexander throws back his head in bliss, his bright hair like the sun at night. He gasps when Hephaistion moves, rocking on him. Hephaistion's face changes, tightens, as he slowly lifts himself, then descends again. This time, Alexander cries out something that I don't understand. His words provoke Hephaistion to a stronger gait, a deep, rolling counterpoint to the thrust of Alexander's hips. He rides astride Alexander's body, bearing down on him with a strength and heft I will never attain.

He may well be Alexander, but I will never be Hephaistion.

Pleasure abruptly slackens Hephaistion's face, disrupts the strenuous pitch of his body, and Alexander bellows beneath him. Hephaistion drops down, stretches across Alexander's body, and Alexander clasps him, his arms wrapping tightly around Hephaistion's ribs.

Eventually, Hephaistion rolls off him, panting. Alexander immediately pulls him back against his side, holding Hephaistion's head to his shoulder with one large hand wound in his hair. He laughs at something Hephaistion whispers to him, and they lie together, Hephaistion taking his place at Alexander's side as if he can imagine being nowhere else, until Alexander sleeps.

Only then does Hephaistion rise, gently tugging his hair from Alexander's possessive grip. He returns to the bathtub, grimacing a little as he lifts himself into water that must have cooled by now. No matter how strong, we all have places that are tender to invasion—something Hephaistion is apparently remembering now, given the care with which he sits.

I find I have a grudging respect for his vulnerability, and his willingness to open himself for Alexander's pleasure. It shows me Hephaistion has his own brand of courage. It isn't easy to receive a man the size of Alexander. I know; I have taken my own share of late-night baths in recent weeks.

He doesn't linger in the bath. After cleaning himself, he steps out, dries h imself off, and after glancing up at Alexander sleeping, he turns and pads deliberately on large bare feet to my hiding place.

"I know you're there," he says quietly. "Come out, Bagoas."

I shift the curtain and stand to face him.

He knew all along that I had stayed. He wanted me to see, to know the claim he has, which no one, Greek or Persian, will ever usurp. He knew.

I force myself to look at him. I expect to see triumph, or pity. But when my eyes meet his, I see÷understanding. In his eyes, I see the accumulation of years behind him and the uncertainty of years ahead, and the deep and weightless connection he shares with Alexander. He may begrudge the time I spend with his king, but if anyone would understand how I feel, it is Hephaistion.

For we are among the blessed few who receive whatever Alexander has to give of himself, for whatever time he has to give it, in whatever measure.

Without a battle, with barely a word, Hephaistion and I seem to achieve a strange truce. We may still despise the other for what we are each given, but we will also share our bitterness over anything, or anyone, that turns our beloved's head from us. In this, at least, we share common ground: We will offer Alexander whatever he needs, as often as he allows it.

"I'll watch over him," Hephaistion says to me softly.

Alexander is as safe here as he will be anywhere, but I understand his meaning, and I nod before slipping silently away.

We do not have to like each other, but we need not fear each other—only the world beyond.

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