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Idolatry

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Hephaistion isn’t as graceful as he intended to be. His imagination has painted this moment dozens of times over, spilling details colored with the rich hues of imagination and desperate fantasy that allows no dull tether to the mundanities of reality. There never seemed a need to impose reason over his close-held desires, when they are so far above Hephaistion himself that he can only imagine them as Icarus gazing at the sun and craving the light that is more than any human flesh may bear. But that same restraint that has seemed such wisdom now gives way like rotting cloth tearing to a rough pull, and when Hephaistion finds himself looking down upon his Alexander there is nothing he may take for guidance from the rubble of daydreams Alexander has destroyed with the all-encompassing blow of a single word.

Hephaistion intends to be gentle. He hardly knows what it is he does, drunk as he is on the heat of Alexander’s lips upon his and the certain grip of Alexander’s fingers in his hair; but he does intend that, means to offer reverent adoration as he has always given all of himself in answer to the casual demand for dominance in Alexander’s level grey gaze. But when Alexander urges them down it is to pull Hephaistion atop him, to take the rough weight of the forest floor against his own back, and when he opens his knees to invitation Hephaistion finds himself seized by a kind of madness, some incarnation of desire held too long at bay by his own deliberate restraint now surging free to claim the length of his body and the heat of his blood for itself. Hephaistion’s speech fails him, self-control disintegrates, and in the first madness of desire every inclination of Alexander’s body is a demand Hephaistion must answer with instant obedience. Hephaistion doesn’t feel the rough of the branches and leaves crushing to heavy sweetness beneath his knees, hardly notes the rasp of his breathing coming with anxious need to scatter the peace of the forest before it; it is all he can do to fit his hips between Alexander’s lean thighs and press forward to claim this great impossibility for a happiness so keen he thinks he must expire from it upon the spot.

He doesn’t last. Another childish dream, polished by long-carrying as a smooth stone may be worn to sleek beauty by the work of idle fingers: that he will show the merits of his stamina, that he will remain in control of himself even as physical pleasure overtakes the strain of his body. But Hephaistion feels himself raw as an unravelled seam by the very touch of Alexander’s lips, undone by the opening of the other’s thighs into such invitation, and with the point of his own desire urged to dizzy heights by the simple awareness of Alexander breathing rough beneath him Hephaistion can only offer the unthought animal reflex in him in answer. His hips jolt forward once, twice, perhaps a third; then his voice breaks on a note of protesting surrender, and his overtaxed desire spends itself from his body at once. There is hardly even pleasure in it, or at least not the kind Hephaistion has found for himself from a quiet room and a few minute’s peace: this is overwhelming, a sensation enough to eclipse his mind as much as his body until all that is left for him to do is to wander his way back to himself after it is done, like a traveller too long in the wilderness unable to recognize his own home when he lays eyes on it once more.

Alexander is still calm beneath him. His knees have not tightened to pin Hephaistion where he is or to stall the motion of the other working into him; his length is half-hard at his stomach, much as it was when they fumbled their clothing free to bare their bodies for use rather than appreciation. Looking comes after, as the rush of Hephaistion’s heady desire draws back to leave space for his usual attention instead and brings a fresh ache to the beat of his heart in his chest. Alexander is lying beneath him, his body open and accepting for Hephaistion’s need; his hands are wound into the other’s hair but his gaze is drifting away, reaching up for the sky past his new-made lover’s shoulder instead of holding to the other’s features. Hephaistion is left to gaze unobserved for a span of long moments, his heart pounding on too many things for him to name but all taking the shape of the form beneath him. Finally he draws a breath into his lungs and speaks in a voice that sounds raw and ragged, as if he had been shouting over a battlefield instead of gasping into an elegant shoulder.

“I am sorry.” Alexander’s head turns, lashes shutter the focus of his grey eyes for a moment; when he opens them again they are fixed on Hephaistion’s face with the same intent focus he gave to the clear of the sky overhead and the play of clouds drifting across it. Hephaistion presses his lips together and ducks his head, swallowing to clear his throat so he may continue. “I am afraid I have hurt you.”

Alexander shakes his head. “It’s no worse than I thought it might be,” he says. His voice remains as smooth as ever, full of that calm certainty that seems to pull at Hephaistion’s very soul within him to assume command more than ask for it. “And now I know what it is like.” He lets go a great sigh, as if he might be freeing the expectations and fears of childhood in one breath; when Hephaistion looks back up to his face Alexander is smiling at him, his lips curved onto warmth that never touches the calm consideration of his gaze. “I am glad to have been taken by you, Hephaistion.”

Hephaistion’s face colors fever-hot. He cannot bear to go on meeting Alexander’s gaze in this; better to turn aside and fix his attention to easing himself free of the grip of the other’s body still tight around him. Alexander doesn’t flinch as Hephaistion moves, doesn’t so much as draw the cringing inhale of pain that might form itself to someone else’s lips, but Hephaistion can see the ease of relief in the flex of the other’s thighs as they draw apart.

“Alexander,” Hephaistion says, wishing to offer another apology, a voicing of some regret for what hurt he has done; but he cannot form the undoing of this even in the shape of an apology, not when everything in him wishes too much to cling to it as tightly as he may. This is more than he had ever expected, more than he ever dared to truly let himself hope for; and it is something he can no more hand back over than he can stopper his breathing and go on living. He cannot lack Alexander, and it was fear of that loss that held him back before; to now know this further part of the other is such that Hephaistion feels he must be angering the gods with every beat of his heart that proclaims Alexander the only divinity he may ever truly obey.

Alexander’s fingers curl into Hephaistion’s hair, the force a reminder of the present and an urging at once. “Come here, Hephaistion.” Hephaistion lifts his head, offering up his attention with necessary obedience to his Alexander’s urging, and Alexander presses both hands to cradle Hephaistion’s face and draw him down to the soft of the other’s mouth before his.

Hephaistion must touch. He cannot restrain his fingers, cannot hold back his hand from seeking out the smooth line of Alexander’s skin now laid bare before him; the best he may do is trailing along the flex of the other’s waist or the strain of his thigh, mapping the shape of lean body and the elegant flex of well-trained strength along it before he dips down farther in pursuit of that same desire that so eclipsed his own self-conscious control in the moment of their joining. Alexander does not buck up to meet Hephaistion’s fingers, does not whimper or arch as another might in seeking out the relief of contact for the physical desire rising in him; but he is hot when Hephaistion’s fingers find him, arousal stirred by the tenderness of touch more than the rough use of instinct. Hephaistion traces along him, shaping the heat of Alexander’s body to his memory by the weight of his palm against the other; until he may make a foray of his own, and slide his fingers down to wrap close about the heated proof of Alexander’s want.

Alexander does not chase the pull of Hephaistion’s fingers, neither urges the other on nor pants or strains to find the relief of his own pleasure. He remains languid, sprawling where they laid him down, and Hephaistion cannot decide if it is distraction or uncertainty that makes him so pliant. Perhaps it is simply the instinct of a ruler, to accept this tribute with the same grace with which he accepts all other proofs of devotion; Hephaistion certainly feels himself a supplicant, even with his own desire spent and Alexander’s yet hot beneath his touch. But Alexander lies still upon a bed made by gods rather than man, as comfortable as a king on his throne, and Hephaistion must dip his head low to the span of the other’s shoulder to find his breath when he holds the heat of Alexander’s body pressing to such glowing radiance against the grip of his hand.

It is no difficulty to stir Alexander to arousal. He was hard with it before Hephaistion’s fingers slid over the angle of his hip to find out the heat of his length, and however clumsily obvious Hephaistion may have made his inexperience the application of hand to heat is a simple one, easily parsed from one form to another. But Alexander holds steady, firm as if resisting the seige of some invading army, until Hephaistion can feel his wrist aching with overuse and his own arousal is beginning to renew itself just from the awareness of Alexander hot and hard against him. Hephaistion’s fingers slide, his thumb bracing and his wrist working to stroke over Alexander with all the affectionate care long years of desperate love may bring; and Alexander remains calm beneath him, his breathing unruffled and his touch in Hephaistion’s hair unhurried. It is only after the passage of long minutes, when Hephaistion’s own breathing is rasping itself towards tension once more in spite of his too-recent spending, that he begins to feel the first tremors of strain in the body beneath his, as the mortality of physical pleasure begins to make itself known at last in the compact frame of the man to whom he long ago pledged the whole of what he has to offer of himself.

Hephaistion pushes onward, urged to greater efforts by this proof of some success, and he finds more of the same, as Alexander’s thighs begin to tighten and Alexander’s fingers begin to flex. No more the idle wandering of touch patterning through Hephaistion’s hair; Alexander’s hand has fallen to the curve of the other’s shoulder to tighten as if bracing himself against some great onslaught or reaching for a point against which to fix his own attention. When Hephaistion dares lifting his head to gaze upon the other’s face Alexander is looking past him still, his face turned up to the illumination of the distant sky overhead, but the focus in his eyes is shifting, turning darkly inward instead of facing out to consider the span of the world around him. The pallor of hurt is absent from his face, the blanched-out white replaced with a flush of steadily darkening color; but his mouth is still set, his lips pressed tight together as if to form a wall for whatever arousal may be rising within his body. He seems to fight a war within himself, in the quiet space of his soul where even Hephaistion can hardly assume entrance; awareness of it aches in Hephaistion’s heart, as if this simple distance might prove as mortal as a belly-wound. His grip shifts, his hold falters; and Alexander’s lashes move, his head turns to track the partner tipped in over him.

“Hephaistion,” he says, level instead of surprised. His far hand shifts, lifting to stroke through the weight of the other’s hair again. “Is it too much?”

Hephaistion shakes his head. Better to lie by motion than to find words for the excess that Alexander has always been, to him, that overwhelming force that he feels must snuff out his mortal existence even as it sustains him with the ambrosia of the gods. “Do you wish me to stop?”

Alexander shakes his head. “No,” he says, clearly enough that some part of Hephaistion’s heartache is eased, enough to grant him the drawing of a full breath. “It is only different, with someone else.”

Hephaistion exhales hard. “I am not someone else,” he says.

The softness in Alexander’s eyes is like a victory, a surrender won unbloodied by the resolution of some misunderstanding more than a true conflict. His lips shift, his mouth eases; when he smiles Hephaistion’s own lashes flutter, trailing the persuasion of his Alexander with helpless loyalty.

“You are not,” Alexander agrees. “You are of my own soul, Hephaistion.” His hand at Hephaistion’s shoulder draws up, his hands curl far into the other’s hair. “Continue.”

Hephaistion obeys. He can do nothing else, when Alexander asks; and to persist in this pursuit is a pleasure keener even than what physical relief he found for himself. Alexander tenses beneath him, his back curving as his legs work; but his lips part instead of tightening, this time, loosening to gasp at Hephaistion’s skin as if he is doing the breathing for the both of them together. Hephaistion’s heart is pounding, his body tensing with expectation of a second precipice, as much higher from the first as Alexander’s gaze from his own; but he continues, working his wrist with his full strength as his gaze seeks the having of Alexander’s flushed cheek and fever-bright eye beneath him. Alexander’s chest pulls, straining with the force of the air with which he fills himself; Hephaistion sees something in his eyes shift, the soft of attention tightening out-of-focus once more. Hephaistion strokes up again, his grip as full of Alexander as his eyes and thoughts, and so it is that he sees pleasure break wide over Alexander’s handsome features, softening the firm lines of composure to sudden shock and parting his lips on a gasp that seems to spill from him with as much unstudied instinct as his pleasure over Hephaistion’s fingers. Hephaistion’s breath catches, his face heats, and when his eyes blur he must turn his head down once more to let Alexander’s shoulder catch the warmth of his tears.

They stay there for a time, wound together by the heat of their bodies in the cradle of nature around them. Hephaistion eases his grip and shifts his knees down; Alexander lifts one arm about the other’s waist, that he may hold them the closer to each other. Hephaistion can imagine for himself a life just like this, with Alexander’s breathing against him to guide his own and the heat of the other’s body for sustenance.

Alexander’s fingers touch at Hephaistion’s hair, winding through the locks with the idle possessiveness of affection. “I am glad that you caught me,” he says.

Hephaistion turns his head to urge closer to Alexander’s shoulder. “So am I.” He pauses for a moment, wondering if he dare ask for more; but pleasure has eased the strain of uncertainty by the proof of indulgence, and Alexander has ever been generous with his boons. “You might catch me, next time, if you would like.”

Alexander’s fingers slide into Hephaistion’s hair, repeating their slow work as counterpoint to the play of his thoughts. “No,” he says, and at once, before Hephaistion’s heart has yet finished sinking itself to the deepest point of the earth, “I would like you like this again, next time.” His hand cradles the back of Hephaistion’s head against him. “Perhaps we may bring our pleasures into nearer alignment with each other, with practice.”

“Oh,” Hephaistion says, as his heart reverses its motion to rise with twice the speed with which it fell. “Yes, Alexander.” He would press his face to Alexander’s shoulder, following some vague instinct to keep hidden the glow of too-much love across his features; but Alexander’s touch urges his head up, and Hephaistion lifts his chin obediently. Alexander’s grey eyes wander his face, mapping Hephaistion as surely as he might a new-conquered land; and then his lashes dip, and Hephaistion follows him in to press his mouth close to the curve of Alexander’s lips before him. Alexander holds him steady, bracing them the one against each other, until their single soul may claim a unified form for itself at last.