The wind whipped through Alexander's blond locks as he rode slowly out of Pella with his legion of men, their wives, their slaves. The rolling hills of the city were not far behind them, but already, they seemed almost a distant memory, the realization of what was to come so much more striking in Alexander's mind. He left the hilltop palace with some glee, some regret, but overall, hundreds of memories, significant only in their wonder, in their place in his past, in their part in making him who he had become.

Men were laughing, joking; Alexander couldn't begrudge them that, though he knew they were facing a difficult journey ahead. Alexander couldn't lie to himself, nor did he want to; war was coming, or rather, he was coming to war, running headlong into it like a child into the woods they had dreamed about, wondered about, but never actually set foot in.

Alexander was conscious of Antipater's words still, but, contrary to what the other man had said, he knew how different this time would be. He had fought battles before, yes; he had fought at Chaeronea at only eighteen—held command even—against some of the fiercest troops in all of Greece. He had subdued rebellious Greek provinces, had watched his army burn and sack Thebes. But true war, battle after battle, conquering—that Alexander had never really encountered.

But he hungered for it; hungered for it far more, perhaps, than he had ever hungered for anything. He needed it almost more than he needed air; he needed it almost more than he needed his beloved Hephaistion. It was the one thing he could remember dreaming about since the first time he read the Iliad as a mere boy with utterly no concept of what he was getting himself into.

But by the time he had found out the truth, the harsh realities of it all, it had been too late to turn back; he had been far too consumed by his dreams, by his hopes and plans of how he would unite all, he would find the ends of the earth. He would be the ruler his father had never been, of the kingdom his father had wanted but had never dared and never been able to try to achieve.

He thirsted to have an empire, and all that entailed. He thirsted, like his childhood hero Achilles, to have his name remembered through the ages as being great, for going places none had ever been, seeing more than any man had ever seen. His fame would be different than that of Achilles; he only hoped that when he died, he'd have a poet as great as Homer to record his exploits.

Marriage, still, was the furthest thing in Alexander's mind. He had finally left Antipater in Macedon; he needn't have to trouble himself with the man's insistence that he marry, and right away, to save from detrimental consequences. Alexander had two loves; his friends, and his country. He also had a new infatuation—glory, an empire, fame, wealth; all of it. He had no time for another relationship, no time for another infatuation even. His feelings were already feverish and all-consuming; he already spent all his time thinking about the impending conquest of Persia, something he was already sure of. And in those little between times, he thought of his friends, of his men, and mostly, of Hephaistion.

Hephaistion, because he was perfect because he was not a woman, because there was no pressure of marriage or children or heirs to deal with. There was only deep friendship, and endless longing, and trust he'd never been able to place in any other individual to the same degree. Others were close; Craterus, probably, Ptolemy, definitely. But none were like Hephaistion, and no wife or woman could ever be like Hephaistion in that way, could ever know him to the extent that their souls were so intermingled that they couldn't live without each other's essence being on the earth.

Nothing could hold Alexander back now; not Antipater, not his mother, not his father's memory, for all distractions had been left in Macedon. He was starting a new journey, now; it almost felt as if he were starting a whole new life; as if he were stripping away everything he had once known and leaving it all behind for a new world. Yet that wasn't entirely true; he'd be in the company of those he knew; he'd fight alongside of those he'd trusted to keep him safe.

Yet there were no distractions now from the troubles of Macedon; no aristocratic body to deal with, no urgencies of marriage and children. Now, he was just Alexander the conqueror, Alexander the soldier, Alexander the man. He wasn't Alexander, the king with no heir. He wasn't Alexander, the king who hadn't married, whom many whispered didn't even like women.

Bucephalus was a bit skittish that day; Alexander could feel it in the animal beneath him, but the horse held steady, whether through whatever training had managed to penetrate or because of the intense trust he held in his master, Alexander didn't know. Perhaps Bucephalus could sense the fact that they'd be leaving behind the world they knew for something new and unfamiliar. Perhaps the big, black horse feared the unknown, the way he'd once feared his shadow.

Alexander wondered what he'd find in Persia when he arrived; he had heard tales, of course, from Persians who had stayed at the Macedonian court, bits from books, from passers-through, from Aristotle. He wondered how much truth was in any of their words, Aristotle's specifically. He wondered if they were barbaric as the philosopher had said; it seemed impossible to Alexander that this was the truth, from what he'd seen with his own eyes, heard with his own ears. But it was still unknown, still too far away for Alexander's tastes; to put it simply, he didn't know.

The clip-clop of hooves approaching Alexander startled him out of his reverie. The only reason this particular sound of hooves had captured the king's attention was because its tempo differed from the regular march of horses occurring around him; this one was faster, choppier—the horse was cantering, and in his direction no doubt. Alexander wasn't surprised when a familiar figure on horseback appeared next to him, on a brown stallion about a hand shorter than Bucephalus.

"Hephaistion," Alexander acknowledged softly, granting a small smile to his friend. Hephaistion looked almost as exhilarated as Alexander felt; his eyes had a little twinkle in them, a desperate delight and almost childish excitement. It made Alexander delighted to see; he loved to make Hephaistion happy, and especially when the other man's happiness coincided with his so well.

"I can't believe we're leaving Greece behind," Hephaistion breathed out, and even his breathing was a bit labored with excitement. "Part of me is quite apprehensive at the prospect, but the other half—"

"—is excited about what lies ahead," Alexander finished for him in one long breath, his smile growing slightly. "I know how you feel. Think of what we'll see, of what we'll experience."

The steady sound of hoof beats beneath them was a background metronome to their words, accentuating them, somehow putting more power behind them. Hephaistion took a deep breath, letting the fresh air fill his lungs, each breath and movement taking them a bit further from Macedon, from Pella, from much of what they had known for their young lives. When he looked back to Alexander, his smile was lighter, more muted.

"You sound as if we're going on some extended holiday rather than riding off into battle," Hephaistion commented after a moment, despite his own obvious excitement. Alexander just smiled knowingly to himself, turning his steely gaze to the landscape around them instead of to his friend. Hephaistion shook his head.

"Is it that you're excited about what you're leaving behind?" he questioned finally, his tone more somber. Alexander turned his gaze back at the tone, surprised by the shift that had been so very sudden. "Your mother?"

Alexander sighed deeply. "Perhaps," he conceded, waving a fly away from Bucephalus' mane distractedly. "She is my mother, but she has always been a great deal of trouble to cope with. Her jealousy, her rage…" He trailed off.

Hephaistion seemed hesitant to continue speaking, but finally, he gave in. "And Antipater?" he prodded.

Alexander felt the irrational urge to become angry all of a sudden. It seemed that Hephaistion was always bringing it up; it sometimes seemed, just to provoke him. Hephaistion seemed so much more preoccupied with whether or not Alexander married than Alexander himself was; almost, Alexander reflected, as invested in the question as Antipater had quite recently become.

But the anger faded as quickly as it had come. Alexander knew that Hephaistion spoke only out of worry for himself, and concern for his friend. He knew Alexander had no desire to marry, after watching his parents' failing marriage for so long, but both knew that he'd have to, that it would be necessary for the preservation of his name, his lineage, his dynasty.

He knew that were Alexander to marry, he'd be required to devote many nights to the acquisition of an heir, and so blessedly few nights were spent in similar actions with his lover already. Alexander much preferred spending his evenings reading, or planning strategy, for battles real or hypothetical. He much rather enjoyed to spend a night over wine and stimulating conversation; but even those nights would be cut short if Alexander were to wed.

Alexander believed that he would feel the same way, were he in Hephaistion's position. He would fear for the intimacy of their relationship, he would fear for his friend's happiness. But Alexander himself knew that he'd never lose the intimacy he had with Hephaistion, would never let himself, no matter what happened or what women he wed. He would fight to keep that intimacy, because it was one of the only things, save for battle, that made him feel as if he were truly alive.

Even so, he did fear for his lover's happiness still. Hephaistion knew his love deeply and truly, believed in its sanctity and sacredness, but did not mean that Hephaistion did not have his brief bouts of insecurity, his brief moments of doubt and fear of loss. Alexander felt them too, sometimes, in the small hours before he went to bed, on nights when he was alone in the darkness. But he banished them always, for he didn't have time to think such things, to have such fears and doubts. Hephaistion's love was something that had so long been constant that Alexander knew he would never survive were he to lose it.

A wife, and heir, jeopardized things, much as Alexander would have preferred not to admit it. Yet one reason he felt he had to put off being wed was not merely because he was waiting to be ready, but also, because he was waiting for Hephaistion to be so. Not only for Hephaistion to be prepared to share him, but also for Hephaistion to be prepared for a marriage of their own.

Then, their wives could have children, children of the same age if the gods willed it, and they could grow and play together. Alexander had long imagined what their children would be like, if his and Hephaistion's could grow together and become great friends like they had. He wondered if those little hours they had spent at Mieza searching for insects, splashing in the water, reading lazily in the afternoon, could ever be replicated by their own children, if his own son would ever be so blessed as to share a bond such as the one he shared with his closest friend.

It wasn't that Alexander didn't want children, then; far from it, in fact. But he believed, that when the time was right, the gods would let him know the right women; for him, and for Hephaistion. The gods would tell them the women that would bear his and Hephaistion's children during the same months, would make his dream possible. And in the deepest parts of his mind, Alexander did not believe those women were in Macedon. Everything had to be perfect for Alexander's son; he had to have the gods on his side, had to have a friend loyal as the one Alexander himself had found. If not, his son might well be doomed for tragedy.

"I'm enacting Antipater's greatest fear, and my mother's," Alexander answered long minutes later, to the question that Hephaistion had nearly forgotten that he had asked. "I'm going to Asia with no heir."

Hephaistion raised an eyebrow. "And how do you feel about that?"

Alexander looked at the expanse of land in front of him, thought of his plans for his empire and his children, of his life with Hephaistion and the glory of his army. He glanced back over his shoulder, but Pella was already long disappeared into the distance.

"Like I'm about to conquer the world," Alexander answered after a moment, a soft smile touching his lips.