When he is a young boy, Alexander meets a man in the archive room. He hadn't thought anyone but himself and old Phoinix visited it, and this man is a stranger. He wears the hood of his brown cloak drawn up, and his features are in shadow. He carries a codex in his arms, larger than any Alexander has seen before.
"Your name is in this book, Alexander. You will do great things." He has an Athenian accent, but he is not from the party of envoys. His voice is sonorous, slow and deep, like the voice of the earth itself.
Alexander draws up his shoulders and raises his chin proudly. "I know," he replies, for even then he believed himself beloved of the gods. "Like Achilles, my name will be remembered for ten thousand years and more. It is my destiny."
"Yes," says the man. He melts into the shadows, and though later Alexander isn't sure if he was real or a sending from some god or just a childhood dream, he never, ever forgets him.
Hephaistion is sleeping peacefully, lips curved in a satisfied smile, when Alexander rises. The maps are spread out on the table still, though the lamp burns low. They had been discussing the future, the plans Philip had put in motion to campaign in Asia, and Hephaistion had looked at the map and said, "All this will be yours one day."
"Ours," he'd corrected him, and let himself be coaxed to the bed with soft words and warm kisses, Hephaistion's callused hands gentle and urgent against his skin. "Ours," he'd said again as they moved together, and Hephaistion laughed into his mouth.
He repeats it a third time now, in a whisper, running his fingers over the inked contours of the land.
A soft laugh greets his words and he looks up, startled. The man, if it is a man, is too exquisite to be real, almost feminine in his beauty. Alexander wonders if his parents have sent him another hetaira. His mother has not resigned herself to Hephaistion's place in his life. Alexander doubts she ever will.
"Who are you?" he asks, curious. "Are you an oracle? A seer?" He feels no fear, though he probably should. He can defend himself against assassins as well as against the wiles of whores.
"Perhaps. Do you wish me to be?" The voice is a soft purr, the sound of his most secret desires; it goes to his head like a long drink of the finest wine Alexander has ever tasted. He feels his body respond, and he steels himself against it.
"Why are you here? Did someone send you?"
"Always so wary, my Alexander. You are wise to be so." A strong, fine-boned hand caresses his shoulder and he shivers. "You want so much, and so passionately." Those long, skillful fingers trace the map as he himself had a moment ago. "All this will be yours."
"Yes," he agrees, and finds his hand drawn back to the map, to the pale slender fingers still tracing hills, valleys. "But you-- "
"I am whatever you want, Alexander."
He looks at the map. "I want everything." Before this, he has only said it to Hephaistion, and only when they are curled up together in the space between sleeping and waking. "The Greek cities of Asia, yes, but also Persia, and beyond." Alexander smiles, and it is as if he is an oracle himself, seeing the future laid out before him instead of the map and the stranger. "All the way to the Encircling Ocean."
"Yours," the stranger confirms, and then, "mine. Mine most of all."
Alexander heads back to the bed, and once he is curled up against Hephaistion, all long limbs and bronze skin in the low light of the lamp, he whispers, "Ours."
The palace at Persepolis burns, walls of pure flame rising into the clear night, licking the sky, outshining the stars. It is a holy fire, cleansing, a beacon to the world that the old empire is destroyed and a new Great King has come.
Or it is a drunken revel, a mistake Alexander can't quite bring himself to regret at the moment.
Already, Hephaistion has organized a fire brigade to control it before it takes the whole city. Alexander does not want another Thebes, though Persepolis tried to deny him. He will render her obsolete, punishment for her recalcitrance, and let her ruined palace stand as a warning to those who try to thwart him.
"I see the party started without me." Alexander turns to see a tall, red-haired Thracian, a fierce smile splitting his beard. They gaze contemplatively at the fire in companionable silence for a few moments, though confusion reigns around them. "Only through destruction can something new be born." Alexander cocks his head, puzzled; Thracians are not known for philosophy. "You have a true talent for it, Alexander. The world will never be the same."
Perhaps it is the wine, or the fumes, or he has again been touched by the hand of some god, but Alexander laughs, wild and fierce and proud.
"It's beautiful," he says, turning his face to the fire, luxuriating in heat and danger.
"Yes," the Thracian answers, still smiling. "Yes."
Wine, madness, anger. Ill omens, ill words, and blood, so much blood on his hands. He cannot ever wash the stain away. He sobs, remembering Lanike's cheerful kisses, her hands gentle on his skinned knees, calming his childish fears in the night.
He remembers the sharp point of the spear, easily breaching Kleitos' flesh, the wild rage of wine and the anger of Dionysos overcoming good sense.
He refuses entry to everyone, even Hephaistion. He can't bear to see the reproach he knows lurks in Hephaistion's eyes.
"You remind me of my brother." The voice is girlish, lilting -- startling. He looks up to see a young woman with wild red hair streaked with blue and yellow sitting at the foot of the bed. She has the look of one touched by the gods.
"Who are you? I said no one was to bother me."
"You don't like it when you make mistakes, especially in front of other people. Dream doesn't either. He acts like a big giant baby." She gives him a pointed look (one eye green and one eye blue) and he shifts uncomfortably, reminded of his mother's cool disappointment and Lanike's long-suffering sighs, the memory of which sets off another wave of anguished remorse.
"I killed him. She nursed me and loved me, and this is how I repay her kindness." He slips forward, rests his head in her lap. "I lost control. Just like--" Like Philip, drunk and foolish. Incontinent.
"Yes." She is pitiless.
"I swore I would never-- I am not like him. I'm not."
"Aren't you?" He gives another sob and she relents. Her touch on his hair is light, like the fluttering of moths' wings, and he shivers. "Destruction is very fond of you -- he's another of my brothers. He might be my favorite, but don't tell Dream. I'm not Dream's favorite, but he would be upset to know he wasn't mine, so I'm not going to tell him, and you won't either, right? Anyway, Destruction is very impressed with you, and Desire is, also. But you'll want to avoid Desire, because Despair always follows after. They're twins." Like the Dioskouroi; his sacrifice to them instead of Dionysos is at the root of his trouble this evening. "And while I think Despair's a love, she's not very fun to be around. The rats, you know. They're snobbish."
He sits up and studies her, head titled to the side, hands dashing at tear-stained cheeks. "I... see."
"You don't, actually, but that's all right. No one really does. You could stay with me. I'd like that, and Destruction wouldn't mind, though Desire might. Desire wants you. But then, Desire wants everything. That's what Desire is, isn't it?"
He nods. His life has been ruled by desire, by longing; he has attempted to keep the delicate balance between desire and necessity and has not always succeeded. "It's a kind of madness."
"Yes!" She laughs, delighted. "Yes, it is." She pats his head and rises. Peritas snuffles at her fingers and she pets him as well.
He doesn't remember falling asleep, but when he wakes, she is gone. Hephaistion is there, and Alexander knows that now, he can face him.
He knows if he reaches the top of the next hill, he will see it, see the Encircling Ocean, the end of the world, and he will name himself master of it, as he has of everything that came before.
But every time he crests a hill, he sees another beyond it, and he is no closer to the Stream of Ocean than he would have been had he stayed at home in Pella.
He can reach it, if they will only follow him, bear him up on their love, their pride, their valiant will. He will rise like Icarus on the wings of his army.
Alexander turns away from the horizon, and beside him is a man, tall -- taller than Hephaistion, with a face as white as bone and hair as black as night.
"Better to fly and fall, than never to try."
Yes, you would say that.
"Do I know you?"
Only insofar as you are a dreamer, and I am Dream.
You may call me that.
"Have I given you offense? Is that why they deny me?" Alexander has perhaps spoken with gods before, or their representatives, at Dodona, at Delphi, at Siwah. He has been called a god himself, son of Zeus-Ammon, descendant of Herakles and Achilles both. But Morpheus is not a god to whom he has paid much attention before now.
Offended? I? No, Alexander. It is not I who thwarts your dreams.
They love you, but they have reached their limit. We create dreams, and we love them, but people are not dreams, Alexander. They do as they will, and we can only direct them so far against it.
Alexander nods; he knows this, but he has not yet found a way to accept it, to believe it.
Morpheus smiles, then, and the stars that are his eyes shine brightly. You may blame me if you wish. I understand about saving face.
Then he is gone, and the stars with him.
When Alexander wakes, he calls for Aristander, has the omens taken, and sees they are unfavorable. The gods have denied his dream, and he will obey.
He wants to give voice to this monstrous grief eating him from the inside and threatening to claw its way out. He wants to scream himself hoarse and attack the enemy that has taken Hephaistion from him, but this is one enemy that cannot be fought with spear or sword.
He has had the doctor hanged, but that doesn't assuage his own guilt and sorrow, and it won't bring Hephaistion back. If he'd been there, he could have kept Hephaistion from dying by the sheer force of his will, but he was too late, too late. They had so little time, and they wasted so much of it on unimportant things. He cannot forgive himself. He knows now how Achilles felt when they brought Patroklos back upon his shield, but there is no Hector for him to kill, no vengeance to be had to relieve the immense weight of sorrow pressing down on him. He cannot breathe, and no longer wants to.
He stares at himself in the mirror, but he can't see anything but the endless stretch of empty days before him, his life without Hephaistion. He takes up his knife and begins to hack at his hair. Achilles did as much for Patroklos, and Alexander clings to the past, to the legend, because he cannot face that lonely future.
When he finally focuses, he sees a squat, naked woman staring back at him, but he is beyond caring. Perhaps she is death, come to carry him away, the way she took Hephaistion from him. He saw a woman that day, pale and dark-haired, comelier than this, but of course Hades would send his most beautiful messenger for Hephaistion.
"I'm not Death." Her voice is like fine, cold mist, shivering in his bones, and he feels as if he may never be warm again. "Unless I am the death of hope."
He lunges at her, knife in hand, intent on killing her, but she sidesteps him neatly, and he falls to his knees at her feet, sobbing, heedless of his dignity.
"What have you done, sister?" A different voice, sly and insinuating, like silk against his ears.
"I only come when I am called," the first one says. She sounds pleased by his wretchedness, which makes his skin crawl.
"This one is mine."
"This one was yours, and perhaps will be again. If you can win him back."
They are arguing over him as if he's a woman, and they, two soldiers with equal claim to her favors, yet he can't bring himself to care.
He hears a disdainful sniff, and then feels a warm hand pressed against his cheek, sending a shock of desire through him, even now. His stomach roils at it.
"Come, Alexander. There's no need for this vulgar display," the newcomer says, and there is something familiar in his (her?) voice. Alexander thinks perhaps he's met him (or her) before. He forces himself to his feet to face them, feeling no curiosity at all. Perhaps grief has finally sent him mad. "The world is still out there, waiting for you to take it. It's what you've always wanted."
They don't know -- and he won't tell them -- that without Hephaistion to share it, the world is nothing.
He has seen her before -- in the amphitheatre on the morning of Philip's death, on the battlefield when the bloodlust was on him, hovering over him the day he took the Mallian bolt in the chest -- though he didn't recognize her until the day in Hephaistion's chamber, the gentle curl of red lips in her pale face as he grieved.
Now, with a sweep of invisible wings, she is at his bedside, unseen by those who stand guard over him, offering him peace.
"Your grieving is done," she says, holding out an elegant white hand.
"There's still so much to do. I must--"
"Let go, Alexander. You've done all you can."
"You've already changed the world."
"And they'll remember me." He knows he sounds like a querulous child, but he can't find it in himself to care.
"Yes, for thousands of years, the world will know your name and what you've done."
Perhaps she is humoring him, but he takes comfort in her words anyway. He has done more than any man who yet has lived. But-- "I haven't had enough time."
"You've lived enough for ten lifetimes," she tells him, both gentle and firm, "and that's more than most people get."
"I am not most people."
She smiles at that and he finds it easier to breathe. "No, that you definitely are not. But it's time to let it go."
There's only one thing more he wishes.
"Will I see Hephaistion?"
"That's up to you," she answers. "Do you want to see him?"
"More than anything."
"Then I think you will."
It is enough. He takes her hand and lets the world fall away.