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Alexander’s hand on Hephaistion’s arm stopped him before he could exit the staff tent after a meeting. The king had assembled his top-level officers to hear news from scouts about what lay ahead of them, and where Mazaios, satrap of Babylon, was lurking on the other side of the river. A lively discussion had followed until the king had heard enough and dismissed everybody. The noise of the rest leaving covered his single-word question to Hephaistion, who almost asked, “Tonight what?” but one look at Alexander’s face and he knew “what.”

“You asking me to eat my figs?” He spoke quietly, though there was nobody in the tent now but the ever-present Somatophylakes and some Pages, cleaning up bowls and cups, rerolling maps, and stacking wax tablets. Fortunately, they were busy and talking among themselves, and the clink of pottery was loud. Furthermore, Hephaistion was too much a fixture in the king’s life for any of them to pay attention when the two had a private chat.

Alexander grinned. “Something like that.” Then he sobered. “I’m just…” He shook himself lightly.

“You’re restless.” He always got this way before a march into unknown territory, but he couldn’t permit the men to see it.

“Need the edge off. I have to meet with Eumenes over the latest batch of dispatches right now. One problem with actually settling in camp for a few days is that it gives time for the fucking mail to catch up.”

Hephaistion laughed.

“I’ll send for you when I’m done. We can eat and discuss the meeting. Where will you be?”

“Running with my unit.” Hephaistion had recently been promoted to command the elite hammipoi within the Hypaspist agema, the royal squadron. Their job was to jog among the king’s cavalry during combat, and sometimes to act as a physical shield for anyone unhorsed, as they were more heavily armed. It was a brutal assignment, but also a great honor for the King’s Octopus. “Have to keep up my fucking stamina.”

“Save a little stamina for fucking later,” Alexander whispered before turning to the boys still working at clearing the table. Grinning, Hephaistion exited.

He did eat some figs, as much for extra energy as anything else, then drank an entire skin of water. It was crushingly hot out, but they had to be ready for any temperature. Strapping on his armor and taking his shield, he went to meet his men for their long run.

After, drained and soaking with sweat, he returned to his tent. He had his own now, one of the perks of commanding a full unit. He even slept there sometimes. He’d mellowed since Byblos and Sidon, more secure in his place, and appreciated the privacy. Unfastening his armor, he stripped completely and dropped his chiton in a basket; it was so wet he could have wrung it out. Calling for his slaves to heat water for a bath, he collapsed on a stool and drank water slowly while salty perspiration dried on his skin. Then he went into the small privy where the terra-cotta tub sat. Most soldiers were stuck with the latrines, but he was glad to avoid them for this very private matter.

Getting fucked required preparation, spontaneity a folly of youth and ignorance, which was why they’d developed a code of sorts, shaped over time by their own predilections. If Alexander still took occasionally, Hephaistion preferred it, while Alexander favored using his mouth. When he wanted this, he’d ask, as earlier, giving Hephaistion a chance to agree or demur, as well as time to be ready, clean himself out. These were realities, but they rarely discussed them beyond jokes about figs.

And the figs had done their work. Hephaistion emptied his bowels into the privy chamber pot, then left so the slaves could clean up and ready the bath.

Later, in warm water, he cleaned and oiled his hair, scrubbed his body, and shaved. Finally, he slipped a hand under his thigh to his rear door, fingering himself. This was pragmatic, not erotic, even if thinking about what was coming later made his cock flex a bit. Opening his sphincter, he slid in a forefinger to swish around, finishing the cleaning job. Then he got out and dried off, anointing himself with precious Egyptian amber he’d purchased because Alexander loved the scent, warm and spicy.

The king’s summons came not long after he’d dressed in fresh clothing. The sun was setting, the rest of camp settling in for supper, drinking, dice, and other entertainments. Alexander’s huge, multi-chambered striped tent sat near the center, illumined all around by a forest of torches, Pages guarding the circumference while a brace of Somatophylakes flanked the entrance. He slid between them inside.

It was a bit like traversing worlds. Here, Persian servants bowed to him, soft voices indicating the king was already in the bedchamber, supper waiting.

Alexander had instituted changes since inheriting Darius’s old tent, but fewer than his men might have liked. Hephaistion knew he fought with himself over his love of the bright and beautiful versus a need to maintain personal discipline. So the outer, receiving chamber was simplified, Persian opulence replaced by clean-lined Greek furniture, the king’s throne dominating, and the office had similarly been transformed into a smaller version of his staff tent. Yet the inner chamber, the bedchamber, remained largely unaltered. The monstrous bed still dominated, thick carpets cushioning feet, low tables framed by lush chairs and rich divans off to one side, and the big bath in its alcove. Alexander was a sensualist who couldn’t admit to it. If it was soft, or warm, or shiny, or glittered, he wanted it near him.

Hearing Hephaistion enter, he looked up from where he was directing Pages to set out their dinner on a low, Persian-style table of Lebanese cedar, similarly low, cushioned divans placed to either side. The king approached to embrace him, and as soon as he got a whiff, the iron-blue eyes widened, pupils dilating. More established code. Wearing amber was his way of saying, “Yes,” to Alexander’s, “Tonight?”

Reclining on the divans, waited on by three Pages, they shared a light meal of salted fish from the river, olives and cheese, bread and wine, and a Persian fruit-and-walnut pastry desert. They spoke of the scouts, Mazaios, and the various options raised at the staff meeting, but distractedly. The air crackled like a storm before the lightning. Finally, Alexander pushed aside his plate and dismissed the Pages for the night. Then rising, he crossed to join Hephaistion, climbing onto his divan to kiss him hard. Hephaistion responded in kind. Arms wound tightly around each other, mouths working, tongues sparring, legs gripping, they wrestled for primacy.

For other forms of sex, Hephaistion might accept the passive role. But not for this. He controlled. Just as he prepared, or objected, and Alexander acceded to his decision. Receiving didn’t mean submitting, but it was often still a struggle. He liked it that way; so did Alexander.

He doubted any of their friends understood, but he’d quit worrying about it.

He won the wrestling match, probably because Alexander wanted him to. The son of a god couldn’t give in, but he could judiciously lose to his dearest friend in private. “Bed now,” Hephaistion told him. They stripped and spread a towel on the linen sheets, making a mountain of pillows for Alexander to lean against. Then Hephaistion straddled him, raised up on knees to bend and kiss him, all tongue and mouth, sucking on lips and neck, collarbone, shoulder, and pink nipples. Alexander allowed himself to be kissed and fondled, hissing or wriggling under Hephaistion’s attack. Sometimes he attempted to return the favor, biting at Hephaistion’s neck, or sucking his earlobe. Attention remained all above the waist for now. The only touch below was from the insides of Hephaistion’s thighs on the outsides of Alexander’s.

Finally, Alexander had had enough, and pulled down Hephaistion’s hips so their groins connected. Both had to pause for a moment, and Hephaistion squeezed his eyes shut, then reopened them to stare down at his lover. Alexander was smiling like the dog who’d filched an entire side of roast as he arched his hips to push his hard cock against Hephaistion’s, caught between their abdomens. Hephaistion pushed back and they rolled their hips as they kissed. It was pleasant but not intense. Alexander raised his legs to lock ankles behind Hephaistion’s thighs. They could skate this way for a while, like a water bug on the surface of a pond, not quite breaking the surface to something deeper.

Finally, Hephaistion reached for the flask near the bed and sat back on his heels, spreading oil liberally on Alexander’s cock and balls, then rolled onto his own back, a stray pillow under his ass, to let Alexander return the favor, sliding a slick finger inside him. He grunted when it found his walnut, and Alexander kept a steady pressure against it, sometimes curling to rub.

Often this was just a prelude, but tonight, Alexander seemed content to keep at it for a while, fingering him and pushing his palm hard against the area between balls and anus. It required time, the sensations building slowly, like water coming to boil: nothing much at first, then the bubbles started. Hephaistion could feel it building, his cock filling slowly and twitching. Alexander didn’t touch it. If he did, it would be over too soon.

Eyes closed, Hephaistion let Alexander press and stroke inside as he pushed back against the finger, clenching then relaxing. It was immensely pleasurable, all warm in a completely different way from having Alexander handle his dick. Neither said anything, though sometimes Alexander would lean down to lick his balls or lightly bite the inside of his thighs, which increased the whole-body rise. Almost involuntarily, one of Hephaistion’s hands moved to play with his own nipples, driving himself higher.

He’d begun to pant, and now curled his shoulders up a little, trying to adjust for more pressure on his walnut. “Harder and faster,” he begged, propping himself on elbows while his thighs were splayed apart. Alexander obeyed, inserting a second finger, and Hephaistion let out a deep groan, rocking against Alexander’s hand. The intense body surges were starting, giving him the shakes. His cock was still only half-erect, but that’s not where he was feeling it. It was inside his pelvis, climbing with claws up his spine, making his hips and thighs spontaneously shudder as it hit him with a force like a wave breaking. It was orgasm without spilling, and went on and on, all over his body, not just in groin or cock. His legs shook, thighs flexing. Alexander didn’t stop, but kept massaging and after a momentary valley, orgasm hit Hephaistion again, even harder, making him fall back and twist on the sheets, jaw clenched. Drops of seed dribbled onto his belly but not enough to count, not enough to throw him down like a defeated wrestler. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!” he said as Alexander increased the pressure more and orgasm hit him for yet a third time. His heart was slamming in his chest and he felt like he was dying, but what a death. He shook all over now, curling his torso up once more, fists in the sheets, abdomen clenching, legs quivering, whining and crying out while ecstasy rolled over him. Finally fully erect, he was leaking a thin line, but still not enough to end it.

“Get in me!” he managed at last. He needed truly to finish, but didn’t think he could lift himself back up. His muscles were melted wax and he still quivered uncontrollably, his dick as hard as a ship’s ram. Alexander’s finger disappeared out of his ass, and he could feel his lover reapplying oil, lots of it, inside and out, then he pressed his cock to Hephaistion’s anus.

“Ready?” he whispered.

“Just get in me.” He didn’t want to lose the peak, and opened himself, felt the cock-head pop inside. They both paused. Intensity for Alexander, adjustment for Hephaistion. But intensity, too. His sphincter still buzzed from the orgasms and the sensation of fullness was perfect. Raising himself on arms above Hephaistion, Alexander worked in and out smoothly for a bit and it was delicious, until he pulled all the way out. Hephaistion made a noise of loss, but Alexander was hauling his ass up onto his thighs.

“Sit up on me.”

“Don’t think I can. No strength left.”

Alexander pulled him upright. He felt wobbly, but did manage to straddle Alexander’s lap as Alexander settled back against the pillow mountain again. Hands on his lover’s shoulders, Hephaistion slid back down on his cock like coming home. His right palm was covering the deep, scarred indentation from the bolt the king had taken at Gaza. It had healed poorly, wrecking the muscles there and as a result, Alexander’s head still tilted ever-so-slightly left. Leaning in, he kissed the edge of the scar. Alexander pushed him back to grip his dick, purple and straining for attention. He rubbed his palm all over the wet head, smearing seed and oil. “Oh, by every fucking god,” Hephaistion moaned.

“You really are a siege engine, you know.”

“Shut up and plow me.”

If an orgasm from inside was body-intense, getting his cock stroked while being fucked was the best of both worlds, sharp and concentrated but still deeply piercing, too. It was fast and good and Hephaistion was climbing back into his skin, recovering enough to control their speed and motion. He had Alexander panting and muttering, “yes,” and, “please,” or just, “fuuuuck.” Skin slapped skin along with the funny little wet suction noise as Alexander went in and out of him.

He leaned back so Alexander’s cock was hitting the right spot with every thrust, even as Alexander’s fist pumped him rapidly. “So close,” Alexander whispered and Hephaistion could only groan, head up, mouth open.

His shaft was iron, thighs trembling again as the contractions started deep, but spread up into his dick this time. It flexed and jerked. He’d hit the point of no return and yelled, “I’m there!” even as his cock coughed out long, heavy ropes of white that almost hit Alexander in the chin. After the long buildup, this was more than tension release; the top of his head seemed to be coming off. Beneath him, he could feel Alexander convulsing as he bellowed like a calf before the sacrificial altar, little jets of warmth spurting inside him. Alexander was so distracted, Hephaistion had to grab himself to finish milking while he still shuddered over and over. When Alexander bent to lick his nipple, he nearly howled at the sharp sensation, like being burned. “Don’t, don’t! Too much.”

He collapsed against Alexander’s chest, needing to feel flesh, body to body. Alexander was still inside him, softening slowly and slipping out as they panted, both laughing a little. It always felt amazing when they got it timed right. That took practice, and knowing each other’s bodies, but it still didn’t always happen. Tonight, it had.

“You’re a goddamn dead weight,” Alexander said after a while. “It’s hard to breathe.”

“My muscles aren’t responding.” Hephaistion still tingled all over. “I’ve got aftershocks.”

“That good, huh?”

In answer, Hephaistion turned his head to kiss Alexander’s neck.

“I don’t think I spill as intensely when it’s me receiving,” Alexander confessed.

“You get fucking impatient. For you, it’s all about your dick. Can’t be, to feel it inside.” He wasn’t sure he could explain it better. “Takes longer to get there. Have to let it build.”

“Maybe you can show me, when you get back.”

Abruptly, Hephaistion pushed himself up. “Get back from where?” Then he looked down at the spunk on both their chests. “Fuck, we’re a goddamn sticky mess.”

“Towel and water is on the table. And back from Thapsakos. I’m sending you south with a contingent of Hypaspists to find out what in Hades Mazaios is up to. I want to ford the river there. He’s sitting on the other side, but not with a big enough division to stop me, so why’s he there?”

Hephaistion slid sideways off Alexander onto the towel protecting the sheets. “Shit, Alekos, why are you making me think? My mind’s fucking mush. Can’t we just roll over and go to sleep?”

Alexander ignored that. “I want to know why his force is so small, and he’s not crossing to harry my rear.”

“Maybe he’s not into rear-entry,” Hephaistion replied, smirking.

Alexander smacked his shoulder. “Stop! I’m trying to be serious.”

“But you make it so easy, zoi mou.”

“Only because your mind is perpetually at the latrines. Don’t let it be, when you talk to him.”

Hephaistion pushed himself up to sit, though he’d rather just lie there. Grabbing the small towel on the table, he wet it, then cleaned his and Alexander’s torsos, and between his legs. White still dribbled out his ass. The down side of really good sex was the mess it left. “Talk to who? Mazaios?”

“See if he’ll parley.”

Dumbstruck, Hephaistion just stared. “You think I can convince him to switch sides?”

“That would be ideal, but I’m not expecting it.” He scooted back so he could sit up better against the pile of pillows as Hephaistion tossed the dirty towel under the table and pulled the other from under them, letting it join the first. Then he settled down with his head on Alexander’s shoulder, arm over his chest. Given the height difference, it was a little awkward, but if, during sex, he liked to be in charge, after, he liked to be held. Alexander knew it. He ran fingers through Hephaistion’s curls. “Mazaios is too close to Dareios to go against him, at least publicly. Dareios promised him the eldest princess.”

“Who you have in your possession. You could make him the same offer.”

“No, I need to marry Statiera.”

“Give him the younger one, then.”

Alexander didn’t reply, then said only, “That’s not a bad idea.”

“I do have a few.”

Alexander’s chuckle reverberated against his cheek. “That’s why I’m sending you. I can trust you to negotiate for me. I doubt Mazaios will turn now, but he heard what happened at Issos. Tell him I don’t expect him not to show up for Dareios’s little party, but if he…doesn’t engage as fiercely, or perhaps doesn’t fight at all, and I win, he might still get his princess.”

Hephaistion pulled away to prop himself on an elbow. “You’re suggesting he pull an Alexander.” Not the Alexander next to him, but that Alexander’s ancestor: the first Alexander, king of Macedon during the Persian Wars. “He was at Plataia, but stopped fighting for Persia once Mardonius was killed.” His own Alexander nodded. “But he didn’t fight for the Greeks, either, not till the Persians were in full rout across Thrace.”

“I’ll be content if I can peel Mazaios off from Dareios on the battlefield. I just have to get to Dareios this time….”

“He’s going to have a bigger army.”

“So do I.”

Hephaistion didn’t bother to point out that Alexander’s “bigger” was only a fraction of what Dareios would likely bring, here in the heart of Mesopotamia. He returned to Mazaios. “Is a promise to drop out enough to give him a princess?”

“Dangle the girl, and see how he reacts.”

“What if you don’t like what I negotiate?”

“I told you, I trust you.”

“I’m not you, though.”

Alexander grinned and pulled his head close to kiss him. “Yes, you are, agapete.”

Hephaistion wasn’t reassured. Whatever the king said, and as much as Alexander might trust him, this duty was much more important than finding a king for Sidon. “How far are you willing to go, to get Mazaios on our side, or at least, not on Dareios’s?”

“He can keep Babylon; that I assumed. And don’t outright promise the girl, at least not immediately, but if that’s what it fucking takes, then go ahead. He’ll want something from you that proves you speak for me, so here.” He pulled off the seal from his forefinger and handed it over.

Gobsmacked, Hephaistion stared, but didn’t take it. “By Zeus! Won’t you need that?”

“Eumenes has the spare.” He took Hephaistion’s hand and slid the ring on his thumb. The gold felt heavy with duty. “Go be my voice. Get me Mazaios.”

Hephaistion sighed. “I’ll do my best, my lord.”

“Don’t call me that. We’re in bed.”

“And you just gave me the most important assignment I’ve ever had, so yes, I will call you that.”

Scattering the pillows with an arm, Alexander laid back on soft linen and tugged Hephaistion after. “I need to be me tonight, not the king. Don’t ‘lord’ me.”

“Then don’t be the king in bed, and I won’t ‘lord’ you.”

“We talk policy all the time, including in bed.”

“Yes, but it doesn’t usually include making me your fucking ambassador.”

“Acute or gravé,” Alexander replied. It referred to nitpicks about accents, and an edge of irritation infected the dismissal. “No use of ‘lord’ in bed, ever again. Promise, damnit.” He kissed Hephaistion’s face and neck between words.

It tickled and Hephaistion laughed. “All right, goddamn it, fine. No ‘lord’ in bed, my not-lord, King of Macedon, Son of Ammon, Pharaoh of Egypt, and soon-to-be Great King of Persia.”

The recitation resulted in a pummel of tickles instead of kisses, and they both wound up rolling around, laughing their heads off until Hephaistion conceded and they lay still panting, wrapped around each other. “By Zeus, I’m really exhausted now,” Hephaistion complained.

Alexander kissed the bridge of his nose. “Sleep, then, my agapete ambassador.”