Over the wine-dark sea of the gulf of Issus, a sliver of bright-golden dawn was breaking. The air was mild and Zephyr blowing over the sea brought with him a faint scent of lavender and thyme overlaying the heavy smell of salt. There was something settling about the quiet stillness that Hephaistion needed, after the furious battles over the past few days. He was keeping watch over the seaside of their temporary fort having taken the late-night guard shift nobody else wanted for just that reason: To finally have some room to breathe.
The battle of Issus was over, they had won. Against all odds, it seemed, even though Parmenion was already urging them on to conquer the rest of Asia. Pure folly, of course, not to speak of hubris, and yet there was something tantalising about conquering Persia which none of them could resist.
It kept him awake at night, Alexander's drive to succeed where his father had failed—and Hephaistion himself liked the image of conquering old Troy and their hinterlands. It was too soon, however, for a campaign that large. They had fought for a reprieve and had gotten it, had paid their dues to the soldiers and gotten more besides, but the upkeep of an army the size of that—Parmenion must have forgotten the simple arithmetic from his school days. Hephaistion wasn't sure he could ever forget the numbers and formulas their teacher had drummed into them, but Parmenion always seemed to forget the things he didn't like.
A soft clacking of horse shoes was coming from the wrong direction, not raising any alarm. An early riser? His change of watch? When he turned the horse and its rider were almost upon him. He knew that horse, however, its smooth familiar gait and the soft hand of its rider. Alexander himself, battle-worn and battle-won. "Hard at thinking, I see," he said with a smile to soften the blow of his words. "A drachmae for your thoughts? I have way too many of them, my general tells me."
Hephaistion snorted, before he could stop himself. He looked up at his King, his victorious King, and was relieved to see him so happy. Alexander dismounted swiftly, Bukephalus still showing no sign of his advancing age, nervously dancing at his side.
"Don’t promise me that for things I would give you for free," he said, coyly, now the one who had to look up. “I’d shout them at Parmenion, too, if I’d think that would change his mind. He’s being greedy, when he always had been the one preaching restraint before.”
“The army has to move sooner or later, and now that the payment of the campaign is certain, forward is as good as an option as any. Parmenion hasn't convinced me that he's the one with the best plan forward however, and even so I’d much rather your thoughts revolved around someone else, truth be told.”
“We can’t all be thinking about you day and night,” Hephaistion said with a grin acquiescing to the unspoken request of letting the maneuvering rest for the evening, and then pulled Alexander closer. He went willingly, letting go of Bukephalus’ guide reins who kept standing there looking proud like the trained warhorse he was. “Though of course, I’m only thinking of Parmenion because of you. I could be sitting at court lazying about, drinking wine not sparing a single thought on any of your royal guests, or your generals, or even your person…”
"Luckily for me, you like paying attention to my person," Alexander said with a quick grin. "Very fortunate, that."
Hephaistion hid his smile underneath a drawn-out grimace. It never went well to let Alexander run roughshod over him, in any of the ways. He was far too prone to take all the liberties Hephaistion offered. "Are you so very sure about that? If I hear one more comment from Parmenion about suckling tactics out of your dick, I’m not sure nectar and ambrosia could keep me here."
Alexander leered, "And we all know how much you like my nectar."
Hephaistion burst out in laughter, knocking his fist into Alexander’s shoulder pads. He was wearing only his light armour, his hair tousled from the wind or maybe sleep, and looked like the most beautiful man Hephaistion had ever seen. And yet, whenever Alexander opened his mouth Hephaistion wanted to make him shut up. Preferably with his mouth, but sometimes a fist did just as well. “See, I don’t know why it bothers me when he does it either,” Hephaistion admitted. "It shouldn’t bother me. It’s nothing to you, and it’s nothing to me. And yet, unfailingly, he manages to find my weak spots." He ducked his head, trying to ignore the burning in his heart—he had always known that he’d have to defend his position again and again because people would think Alexander had paved the way for him, that he’d not gotten to where he was because of hard work. He’d tried hard to hide Alexander’s influence on him and vice versa, but some things couldn’t be hidden away entirely.
Alexander slung an arm around his neck and ruffled his hair, and when Hephaistion tried to pull away, tugged him closer into a proper hug. "I’m sorry he’s giving you grief," he said.
Alexander smelled good, always smelled good, a blend of citrusy cedar and the leather of his armour. Hephaistion sighed into his embrace. They were due some relaxing after the harsh battle and the preceding march, but it didn’t look like they’d have much time to rest. "He’s not," Hephaistion said against Alexander’s shoulder, and then, because he could, licked the stripe of visible skin along his nape. Alexander sucked in a sharp breath—they hadn't had time for a bit of relaxing in quite some months. "Here?" he asked, his voice high.
He was right, this was too open a space, and too far from home. Hephaistion let up in his explorations and took a step back, or he would have if Alexander hadn't pulled him back in for another embrace. "I'm going to need someone to negotiate the release of Sidon, since Parmenion is right about us needing to move. Regardless of the fact that we just won the pay for six more months, and evened out our war chest to something we don't have to worry about..."
"We still cannot eat silver, yes," Hepaistion agreed. "It makes sense. Parmenion is an able general, which is why his failing to take in the more political machinations are so grating. The army needs to eat, and Darius' forces have been bleeding this area dry for months."
"We do have Antipater for the political maneuvering," Alexander said, hitching himself up against Bukephalus until the height difference between them was negligible again, the horse not minding the antics of his master. They were hidden from view of the main fort by the bulk of the horse. While there were some who would know what they'd been up to, and some that were convinced they knew what they were up to, the plausible denial left a thin veneer of polite fiction—and that was all that mattered to either of them.
"You should kiss me, I've been good," Alexander demanded. "I conquered the unconquerable and all because you whined about the state of our war coffers."
Hephaistion laughed—Alexander was adjusting the truth just a little bit—but then concurred that kissing was the more pleasurable pastime instead of arguing and proceeded to fulfill the demands of his King.