When he sees the boy for the first time, Hephaistion thinks, He's beautiful.
And then, Alexander wants him.
Days go by, and Alexander doesn't say a word about it. That's when Hephaistion knows it's serious. They could joke about a passing fancy, a desiring look that'll never be more than a look. They have done before. They've been together a long time, and the world is full of pretty boys.
Alexander says nothing, but he's almost the only one. The whole damned army gossips like women at a festival. Even--no, especially--the other generals, all wondering if there'll be a quarrel, if Hephaistion will be sent off to a distant command, and what'll be in it for them if he is. They drop their voices ostentatiously when Hephaistion's around, but they make sure he still hears.
Hephaistion says nothing either. Not even to Ptolemy, who invites him to a drinking party one night and really means to be kind. There's nothing he can possibly say. Complaints about Alexander's faithlessness would make him sound like a spoiled whore, and the rest of what he's thinking would be worse.
In these days of slow-bleeding agony, Hephaistion would give up his rank and his honor, would put on Persian clothes and wash Alexander's feet like a body-slave, would even let his manhood be cut away, if only Alexander would look at him the way he used to. The way he looks at the boy. This is the bitterest truth, and Hephaistion will never say it, not even to Alexander. At least he can pretend his pride's not broken.
On the sixth day after the boy arrives, Alexander grows tipsy and reminiscent at dinner, chewing over old battles with his guests. And Hephaistion watches, tormented with hopes, the way he did years ago in their boyhood when Alexander was near as chaste as Artemis. Ever since, Hephaistion has never pushed very hard, never asked very often. It's months since they've been to bed together. Hephaistion's missed it, and maybe it would cure this trouble. Maybe it would make Alexander remember.
They walk to Alexander's rooms arm in arm, Hephaistion's heart thumping, and the boy's there with Alexander's bath. In the lamplight and shadows, he's lovelier than ever. Fresh as a flower, and delicate. He's never been to war. No blade has ever touched him but the one.
Send him away, Hephaistion thinks, but Alexander doesn't. And he's afraid to ask in case Alexander says no. It's the first time in his life he's ever been a coward.
Alone in his quarters, he reads the Symposium until dawn. The last bits are Alexander's favorites--love drawing the soul to the gods, away from flesh and change and time. But Hephaistion has always thought, secretly, that Aristophanes had the right of it. Each divided creature seeks its severed self, and finding it, is whole. Wants nothing else.
Looks like they were both wrong. And Plato, too, who didn't write a story about this. Lucky man, if he never needed one.
Hephaistion reads a lot, these nights when he can't sleep. He returns to every book he ever read with Alexander. Except The Myrmidons, because it makes him weep. He reads until his head aches and his eyes are gritty, and not for a second can he stop wondering whether it's happened yet. Whether it's happening now, whether Alexander's kissing the boy, touching him, whether they're naked and twined in Alexander's bed while Hephaistion sits here feeling sick.
Every morning, despite himself, he keeps an ear out for the news.
It comes a few days later. Whispers and laughter, always behind Hephaistion's back, like the Erinyes.
He'd thought it would feel like dying, like the merciful worst. But it doesn't, and there is no worst. He's Prometheus, always devoured, always renewed to be devoured again.
Somehow, he gets through the day and even speaks calmly to Alexander at dinner. Then he goes to a brothel he's heard about, full of Persian boys. The prettiest is still a far cry from Alexander's boy, but Hephaistion fucks him twice and stays with him half the night, playing with his slim and unscarred body. We're even now, he thinks. I've betrayed you as much as you've betrayed me.
In the morning, he doesn't feel any better. But then, he didn't expect to.