Tench Tilghman walks up the path toward Washington's headquarters at Valley Forge. A layer of snow covers the ground but far less than in some past weeks. Snow falls around him now and he finds himself constantly brushing it off his shoulders. He fears greatly for his hat. Tilghman reaches the backdoor of the house and shakes off the snow, not wanting to make the floor too wet. It is bad enough as it is outside without bringing it indoors. Once he has knocked away as much snow as he may expect, Tilghman opens the door and closes it behind him again. He pulls off his hat and checks for snow. He finds a sad looking leaf which he cannot imagine where he picked up and sighs. Why should he wish for a clean and presentable uniform?
Tilghman glances at the General's office, seeing it unsurprisingly empty. He hangs up his coat and hat by the front door then makes for the stairs. He could do with some fresh stockings before he sits down to work. As he quietly climbs the stairs, he hears what sounds like faint voices above. Tilghman frowns. He thought most of the other aides were accompanying the General out among the lines today.
As Tilghman reaches the second floor, he spies someone in the bedroom across from the stairs. He opens his mouth to speak then notices it is not one but two people standing very close together. Then he recognizes the red hair of the man whose back is toward him just as he leans in toward the taller man in front of him. It takes Tilghman two breaths to realize that Alexander Hamilton is kissing John Laurens, hand on his face, smiles and soft words. Hamilton has been away this past week in Baltimore; He must have just arrived back.
Tilghman hears snippets of speech, 'missed you...' 'gray without your face...' 'longed for you....' Hamilton leans in again, pulling Laurens close, Laurens’ eyes closed.
Then Laurens opens his eyes and sees Tilghman over Hamilton’s shoulder standing there at the top of the stairs. Laurens' eyes widen and he stiffens visibly in Hamilton's embrace. Tilghman quickly puts a finger to his lips in a 'quiet' motion. Laurens only stares at him and does not move.
Tilghman steps backward down the steps quietly until he returns to the first floor. He creeps over to the front door, opens it then slams it closed again. He shouts, “Hello? Anyone at home?”
He picks up his hat again, twirls it in his hands once just in case Hamilton should rush down the stairs at his shout but neither man comes readily so he hangs it up again. “Hello?”
“Tench!” Hamilton appears at the turn of the stairs then hurries down.
He holds out his hand, which Tilghman shakes. “Good to see you and inside where it is warm, far better for you.”
“Good to see you are returned to us, Hamilton,” Tilghman says, keeping his voice as even as possible.
Hamilton's lips look redder than usual but perhaps Tilghman only sees that because... Tilghman shakes his head and clears his voice. “You are... uh... How was your mission? Baltimore! How did you find Baltimore?”
Hamilton chuckles. “Less snowy but seemingly as cold.”
Tilghman nods as Hamilton talks then looks over his head as he hears footsteps on the staircase. Laurens stops at the first landing and stares at him. Laurens cocks his head, lips pinched tight but Tilghman only nods once at him before looking back to Hamilton still crowing about the Baltimore mission and the ladies of the tavern employ in that city.
Several hours later, when Tilghman is finally able to make his way back upstairs and regain dry stockings, Laurens suddenly marches into the bedroom with Tilghman and slams the door closed behind him. Tilghman stares up at Laurens from where he sits on the bed. Laurens has an expression not unlike when the subject of slavery is brought up in a positive light. In summation, rage.
Tilghman frowns. “Why what?”
“You most certainly know to what I refer.”
Laurens clenches his teeth. “No, Tilghman, last night.”
Tilghman clears his throat and stands up. He does not have his boots on yet so Laurens stands even taller than usual. He wonders if he should attempt an escape through the door behind Laurens. There really is not enough space to flee however.
“You would wish to ask me why...” Tilghman leaves the sentence hanging because Laurens clearly is the one in control of this conversation.
“Why...” Laurens blows out a breath and visibly reigns himself in. “Why did you stay silent? Why did you... why did you protect us?”
Tilghman huffs out an awkward laugh. “Well, I was the only one here, Laurens, there was no one to protect you from.”
“Do not be obtuse, Tench!” Laurens snaps then clears his throat. Tilghman then realizes it is not entirely rage which drives Laurens now, it is also fear. “Tilghman you... are you...” he sighs. “Do you plan to blackmail us?”
Tilghman's eyes widen. “I would never! I should think you know me better than such base behavior!”
“Then what?” Laurens asks hotly. “Why let Hamilton believe we are safe? Why not shout or accuse us? Why not run immediately to his Excellency? Why not condemn us?”
Tilghman stares at Laurens for a long moment, his own actions swirling in his head from just hours before. Perhaps he was foolish in what he did, in hiding their... but, well....
“I know such actions that men my commit together in the absence of women or in the face of unfulfilled lust but... but that is not what I saw.”
Laurens stares at him for a moment then nods slowly. “Ah.”
They stare at each other and Tilghman thinks this might be one of the most uncomfortable moments in his experience, minus his first youthful fumblings with a Ms. Kathryn Barnes and the firestorm of her brother finding them out. Perhaps there is a correlation. Tilghman frowns deeply at the thought then shakes his head back to the moment at hand.
“You need not worry,” Tilghman says in his most magnanimous tones because he sincerely means what he says. “I value both you and Hamilton's friendship and place among our ranks. I would not see you cast out.”
“Or worse...” Laurens whispers.
Tilghman nods. “Yes.”
“Well...” Laurens clears his throat and rubs his hands together once. Then he speaks in a rush. “I thank you for your discretion and care and I entreat you to not think less of us.”
“Laurens, I would not –”
“Do not tell Hamilton you know,” Laurens interrupts him. “He is...” Laurens shuts his mouth then shakes his head. “Please do not tell him.”
Tilghman just nods his head, feeling confused. Then Laurens nods back briskly as if Tilghman were the General, turns around, opens the door and obviously flees the room. Tilghman stares at the empty doorway for a moment and wonders what exactly truly happened and how very absurd it should have taken place with him only wearing his stockings.
Several days after 'the incident' as Tilghman refers to it in his head, Tilghman finds himself and Laurens alone again for the first time since its occurrence. The two of them work at different tables in the aide-de-camp office. Tilghman compiles a report of rations needed for the army and new requirements on cleanliness due to the recent arrival of Baron Von Steuben to their ranks. The Baron has ideas about soldier behavior beyond the shooting, which should supposedly help with the war. Tilghman has reservations but he is also well aware that the Baron's experience far outranks his own so the Baron surely has such knowledge on his side. Tilghman need not question his methods.
“Tilghman, might I ask you something?”
Tilghman looks up from the page of French beside him. “Hmm?”
“I believe you attended an assembly this past evening in York with Mrs. Washington?”
Tilghman nods. “Yes, Harrison and Hamilton as well.” Tilghman grins. “It was a fine affair.”
“Yes...” Laurens says, his gaze somewhere on the papers in front of him. “Quite long I believe. I did not hear your return until past two.”
“Mrs. Washington was making a number of personal entreats to the Quakers with connections still in Philadelphia to aid us in ways that would not contradict their pacifists believes.” Tilghman chuckles. “I should think food would do us well or boots enough for each man and she certainly said as such but...”
Tilghman trails off when he notices Laurens drumming his fingers on the table. “Why do you ask?”
Laurens clears his throat. “I believe Hamilton was... well, taken with some of the... That is...” He clears his throat again and smiles. “You said it was a fine affair, for all of you?”
Tilghman stares at Laurens. “Yes?”
“Dancing and conversation?”
“As most assemblies are, even in war time.”
Tilghman frowns. “Laurens, is there more you should wish to know?”
Laurens stares at him. “No... no.” He smiles again then turns back to his correspondence.
Tilghman feels very much as though he has missed something.
Two days forward, Laurens stalks into a supply cabin behind Tilghman tapping a sealed letter against his knuckles.
“Laurens?” Tilghman asks as Laurens paces behind him, making it far more difficult for Tilghman to inventory the powder supply.
“Why must he prattle on so about this and that woman?” Laurens bursts out, staring at Tilghman.
Tilghman frowns. “Hamilton?”
“Yes. You would think he had never met one with the descriptions he must gush about to Harrison or Meade. On and on about the curve of hips and color of eyes.” Laurens huffs. “A woman he met for a night for a dance and does he think it should continue further? We are at war.”
Tilghman frowns. “The war includes all people in our nation, Laurens, not just the men.”
Laurens shoots him a glare. “I refer not to the war in essence, surely you surmise this, Tench.”
Tilghman clears his throat and nods once. “As you say.”
“One does not find Meade or even Gibbs carrying on such.” Laurens points at Tilghman with the letter. “Nor you.”
Tilghman forgets the number he was on in his count and sighs, giving Laurens a look. “He is a known flirt, Laurens, what would you expect?”
“I expect....” Laurens starts hotly then cuts himself off. “I expect...” He sighs. “I expect more.”
“In deference to you?”
Laurens makes an angry sort of noise, taps the letter on his palm then shakes his head. “I should not...”
Laurens looks at Tilghman. “Does he not know how much I care for him?”
Tilghman's eyes widen and his mouth opens in surprise. Before he can respond, however, Laurens is turning and marching out the door of the cabin.
“Well, I...” Tilghman frowns. He has lost count again.
Three days later, Tilghman prepares the evenings dispatches in General Washington’s empty office for Richard Kidder Meade to ride as courier in the morning. The General signed off on those prepared before rising above stairs. Now Tilghman merely needs to check the address and seal of each.
Laurens walks in and hands Tilghman two new letters. “Orders for the Southern campaign.”
Tilghman smiles. “Mostly a summary of 'do not die nor surrender’ I imagine?”
Laurens chuckles. “As ever.”
“Is that all?'
“From my desk, yes, though Hamilton still writes furiously despite only one candle. I fear for his eyesight.”
“And he already wearing glasses.”
Laurens chuckles again. “But they do become him well unlike many men.”
Tilghman clears his throat and focuses on the courier bag making a noncommittal noise.
Laurens makes a happy sort of sound. “And though I fear for his sight, his hair looks uncommonly fine in the candle light. Such red hair as his...”
Tilghman finds himself with no more letters to pack in the bag. He may be forced to look at Laurens now.
“And at this time of night he always has some locks fallen free.” Laurens chuckles. “It makes him look –”
“Yes, of course, yes,” Tilghman bursts out awkwardly with a laugh at the end high in his voice. “Would you care for some tea?”
Laurens blinks at him then opens his mouth in surprise. “Tea? Oh... ah, I think not with the hour so late.”
“Yes, of course, the hour. Still I would... tea is...” Tilghman clears his throat again then turns on his heal and escapes through the side door toward the kitchens muttering, “Tea... some tea would... yes, tea...”
The next day Laurens and Tilghman sit side by side in the office, Robert Hanson Harrison sits across from them checking the ledger of the daily rations while Laurens and Tilghman translate some French reports from the Baron's aide Du Ponceau. Tilghman dislikes the French aide's handwriting. His G's and Q's always look alike and the ends of his words in general often trail off into incomprehensibility.
“Can you manage this script?” Tilghman asks, sliding the page closer to Laurens. “I think it 'mousquets' and that would concur with the passage before but –”
Laurens hisses in a near whisper. “Did Hamilton tell you this?”
Tilghman frowns. “What?”
“He said of French… well he says many things, but you know how apt his mind, and he –”
Tilghman holds up a hand to stop Laurens’ flow of words. “No, Laurens, he said nothing. I simply find this script illegible.”
Laurens nods. “Yes, of course.”
Tilghman wonders if there is a way to travel back a week to correct some errors in his actions. Perhaps he could have slammed the door closed when he first returned to headquarters and not had seen a thing!
Four days later, Laurens tromps down from the garret, a floor above the other bedrooms, and pauses in Tilghman's doorway. Tilghman glances around the room, no one there but himself and wonders at the occupancy of the other rooms on the floor. Why is it he continues to find himself alone so often in so busy a house?
“In your correspondence how do you best address those you... care for?”
Tilghman frowns at him in confusion.
Laurens continues. “I would wish to be sincere but with danger of interception and… well... I am not as well with words as some.”
Tilghman sighs. “Hamilton is still in residence, Laurens; I know not why you worry now about your words.”
“Yes, but for when we part. You must understand, Hamilton pens a far better letter than I should ever wish to and I would want...”
Tilghman abruptly stands up making Laurens' mouth shut in surprise. Tilghman marches through the door, brushing past Laurens, down the stairs and into the aide-de-camp office where Hamilton sits at work. Harrison and Meade look up in surprise, as does Hamilton, at Tilghman's swift entrance.
“Tilghman!” Meade says. “Please tell me dinner will be soon for the more I read of rations, the hungrier I become.”
“I came to request just that but should you and Harrison be able to collect the General from the field?” Tilghman says in a rush.
Harrison stands. “I should be glad to aid you, Tilghman.”
“And if it should mean some quantity of food...” Meade continues.
“A small quantity,” Harrison quips.
“Do not destroy my imaginings, Harrison.”
The pair walk around Tilghman and Laurens, now finally caught up with Tilghman, then grab their hats and coats as they leave by way of the front door.
Hamilton puts down his quill with a frown. “I had heard nothing of dinner as yet.”
“I know of you and Laurens,” Tilghman says abruptly.
Hamilton frowns. “Know of us what?”
“Tilghman...” Laurens says in a half-warning and half-alarmed tone.
“The nature of your relationship,” Tilghman says with some exasperation because enough is truly enough. “Your intimate relationship.”
Hamilton's eyes widen.
“I do not pretend to understand, however, I do not wish either of you harm and ascertain your affections are, well, are of an estimable quality.”
Hamilton makes a choking noise and Laurens knocks into the doorframe beside Tilghman suddenly off balance.
“However!” Tilghman says with emphasis to bring both men back to their senses. “I cannot for another night listen to Laurens carry on so.”
“I do not –”
Hamilton blinks. “Carry on?”
“I do not carry on!” Laurens insists.
“You are a flood, Laurens, and I am not a dam.”
Laurens sputters again in indignation.
“Please, for my sanity, Hamilton,” Tilghman begs. “Quell your flirtatious ways and speak to your friend more so he need not tell everything about you to me!”
Hamilton makes a noise half like laugh and half like a groan then nods stiffly.
Tilghman breathes out a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”
“I do not carry on,” Laurens mutters as Tilghman turns out of the doorway.
Tilghman shoots him a very skeptical look then heads back toward the stairs to the second floor. As he reaches the steps, he hears Hamilton say. “Just what did you say to him, Laurens?”
Tench Tilghman, aide-de-camp, spends the next week in some kind of war framed bliss. He and Meade spend several days reviewing the Baron's plan for troop training, musket instructions and reorganization of the camp itself. Tilghman translates the French while Meade assesses feasibility within their current situation. After thus, Tilghman finds himself attached to his Excellency for several days trudging through the snow visiting the other Generals of the camp, Knox being overly obnoxious, Lafayette being overly familiar and Weedon being overly dull.
Tilghman could not be more pleased with a return to normalcy. It is not as though he felt offence by the trust Laurens placed in him or wished to be out of the man's confidence, but Tilghman did feel somewhat out of his depth with such odd intimacy. After all, Laurens was previously more often tight lipped on personal matters preferring to discuss the war and his aspirations for a black regiment; such a turnabout throws one for a loop.
However, perhaps Tilghman should not have rejoiced so soon.
Tilghman sits with Hamilton in one of the large command tents out in the field of Patterson's brigade. The Baron is inspecting the entrenchments and Laurens is acting as French translator for the Baron's secretary who then relays it into Prussian. The process is cumbersome and Tilghman longs for an instantaneous ability to speak Prussian one morning when he wakes. No such luck as yet.
“I feel I should ask...”
Tilghman looks up with suspicion. “Should you?”
Hamilton purses his lips, tapping the end of his quill on his nose then begins writing again as he speaks. “You are a most affable friend, and as Laurens as told me, I cannot thank you enough for your choices and discretion.”
Tilghman smiles and looks back at Hamilton and nods once. “Think nothing of it.”
He looks back at his papers, thinking this the end of it but, if he is any judge of Hamilton's character and his past several weeks, he should have known better.
“I would ask you something more.”
Tilghman wonders for a moment if perhaps he has left the reality of the war and through some witch-like magic appeared in a debutant’s parlor.
“You know I care deeply for Laurens, as all my friends, more so with Laurens, of course, and I would do all I can to set his mind at ease and make him happy.”
Tilghman sighs. “And?”
“And I wonder at how much he worries.”
Tilghman glances up at Hamilton. “Worries about…”
“Well...” Hamilton glances away then back to his papers. “About myself and he, about... about how I care about him.” Tilghman forgets how to translate French as Hamilton continues. “I know he fears some young woman shall catch my eye and then…”
“And then?” Tilghman frowns and cannot stop some level of investment in the conversation. “Would it not be in your best interests for a woman to catch your eye? I know you wish to marry at some point, do you not?”
Tilghman shrugs. “Well then, would it not be in your best interests?”
Hamilton frowns and gives Tilghman a severe look. “You do not understand, Tilghman. You do not understand Laurens at all.”
Tilghman wants to ask what marriage could possibly have to do with Laurens and their relations to one another. However, the Baron and Laurens walk back through the tent with Du Ponceau on their heels before he can speak again. He sees Hamilton give Laurens a look and Laurens smile back at him before the trial of translated conversation begins in earnest.
The next day Hamilton sits beside Tilghman on his bed with a loud huff. “I cannot understand him at times, Tench.”
“Please do not say Laurens.”
Hamilton gives him a look but continues regardless of Tilghman's need to stand up and return to work once more. “I am devoted; He knows I am, as devoted as any man may be to a dear friend.”
“And yet... and yet he remains unconvinced by any manner of imagined slights.”
Tilghman frowns. “Imagined?”
Hamilton makes a huffing noise again. “The kitchen women hardly count, as though I should dally with any of them more than a brief spell.”
Hamilton waves a dismissive hand. “They are pleasant to look at and talk to when one's day is long and trying.” Tilghman cannot truly argue with Hamilton there. “And yet Laurens will use a tone quite uncivil about my behavior and what would he have me do? I am not blind!”
Tilghman clears his throat. “Perhaps you should say such to him.” He restrains himself from the much needed 'and not I' in his remark.
Hamilton sighs. “I understand his concern, I suppose, but I do not think myself lacking in showing my...” Hamilton clears his throat, glancing at the doorway. “Well, he knows my affections.”
Tilghman rubs a hand over his face and wonders if could transfer to Lafayette's aide-de-camp office.
Two nights later, Tilghman sits in the office with Hamilton and Laurens. They three of them work silently but Tilghman sees the pair casting glances at each other now and then, soft smiles or the graze of hands. He wonders if it is because they feel freer with him or simply he never thought to notice prior to his knowledge. It makes him worry for them both.
The next morning when Hamilton slides up to him in the kitchen, he puts a mug of tea in Tilghman’s hand before Tilghman can ask Sarah at the fire.
Tilghman grins. “Thank you, Hamilton. I may fall right back to sleep without it.”
“Ah, you may require coffee then. I fear the tea is not strong.”
“Now, Col. Hamilton, if you don't want to drink it –” Sarah starts but Hamilton grips Tilghman around the back and hustles him out of the kitchen.
When they walk back through the side door from the kitchen, both chuckling at the ruffled feathers, they meet Laurens coming down the stairs. Laurens glances over their heads toward the kitchens then frowns just slightly. Hamilton looks somewhat abashed. They two of them both turn to Tilghman at the same time as if to say something then shut their mouths.
“Oh dear, no,” Tilghman mutters.
Tilghman reports to Lafayette's quarters some day later with the usual dispatches and letters from his Excellency and other generals. The snow has risen some, up to his ankles and the men he met along the way seem far worse for the wear them himself. It makes his personal trials with Hamilton and Laurens seem insignificant. Yet this new position, this new intimacy for lack of a better word, weighs on his mind and on his patience.
“Marquis, might I briefly discuss a matter with you?”
Lafayette smiles as he takes the packet of papers from Tilghman. “And what matter might that be?”
Tilghman makes a hmm noise and wonders how best to proceed. “I have been brought into a confidence and it is not as though I should wish to be less congenial or steadfast... I am glad to be trusted but a thing can go too far. Well, perhaps not too far but too frequent... as it were.”
Tilghman chuckles awkwardly. “I care for them both of course and despite my misgivings wish them as well as I could hope but I need not hear every particular and I am no doting mother!” Tilghman sighs. “I simply need to make them understand I... they two are..."
“Are you speaking of Hamilton and Laurens?”
Tilghman blinks at Lafayette. “I... am.”
Lafayette laughs once softly. “Mon dieu.”
“Do you understand the nature of –”
Lafayette laughs again. “They do not hide it as well as they should hope for those who know to see.”
Lafayette’s lips quirk up at Tilghman. “Did you stumble upon something?”
Tilghman feels a flush on his face and quickly paces across the room toward the window. Lafayette chuckles quietly but does not comment on Tilghman's unease.
“You need not relate the whole of events, my dear Tilghman,” Lafayette continues. “But I can suppose the nature of your plight.”
Tilghman glances at him again. “You can?”
“When one has few or none to speak of about certain matters when they find such a person it may become... a rush.”
“A flood,” Tilghman echoes his own past words.
Lafayette nods. “And you wish to stop it?”
“I do have duties required of me.”
Lafayette smiles. “I have no answer for you, Tilghman. You may be forced under this yoke as long as their attachment lingers.”
Tilghman cannot stop a small sound of distress.
Lafayette sits up in his chair, still smiling, then opens the first letter in his pile. “I wish you well Tilghman, try not to suffer too terribly.”
Tilghman stops just before he turns for the door. “Yes?”
Lafayette's expression twists into something devilish and quite unlike him. “Just what did you happen to catch the two of them doing?”
Tilghman's eyes widen, he sputters for a moment then turns and marches out the door. Somehow, he suspects things will only fare worse from here.
Tilghman spends about a day thinking on his encounter with Lafayette. He wonders, not just once, whether he should have brought the matter up at all.
In the end, is it such a burden to have gained the trust of his friends in such a manner? Is it a burden to have spared them public humiliation and likely dismissal from the army which they both highly value in the fight against the British? If they should value him more as a friend, as someone to confide in, could this not be something good? Tilghman works the idea over and over in his mind, ruining several missives he is meant to transcribe and slowing his work enough that Harrison taps him on the shoulder and asks what may be amiss.
By the time Laurens slides up to him again with that look Tilghman has begun to recognize, Tilghman is in fine spirits to hear whatever Laurens may offer.
“Laurens!” Tilghman says brightly as he puts down his quill. “What is amiss?”
“I am looking for his excellency. Mrs. Washington has need of him.” Laurens makes a face. “Something about a Philadelphia family.”
Tilghman frowns. “Oh... I... not in his office?”
Laurens tilts his head and gives Tilghman a critical look. “As we are in the office beside him do you not think I would check it first?”
“I... of course, I...” Tilghman clears his throat. “My apologies you caught me off guard, I thought you wanted to...”
Laurens raises his eyebrows. “Yes?”
Laurens frowns. “We are talking.”
“I...” Tilghman purses his lips then picks up his quill again. “The last I have seen his Excellency was several hours past. I am afraid I am no help.”
Laurens nods then heads toward the door again. “Thank you, Tench.”
“You are welcome,” Tilghman replies feeling oddly put out.
That evening at dinner, General Washington and Mrs. Washington are not among them having an invitation from Congress in York. Therefore, the aides are on their own and, as a result, rather more rowdy than usual in their libations; moreover, because of Gibbs's insistence that rum and beer are good for the constitution. As a head of the Life Guard, they declare trusting his judgement in their best interests, because this obviously makes much sense.
“Not sure ten beers is what I mean, lads…” Gibbs gripes.
Harrison waves his hands. “You have no such count upon me. When would I drink ten?”
“Well, one of us has more than his share and I am sure of it.”
Harrison points at Hamilton. “Blame the Caribbean.”
Hamilton starts to rise from his chair in indignation but Laurens puts a hand on his shoulder so he sits down again. Harrison laughs into his mug, grabbing another slice of the bread, which is nearly all the food that remains on their table.
“I would suggest one might try and cast the blame away from themselves due to guilt!” Laurens says levelly back to Harrison.
He only scoffs and waves a dismissive hand.
“We might find more,” Tilghman says rising from his chair. “Hamilton?”
Hamilton gives him a look of confusion.
“The ladies care for you more than I,” Tilghman explains.
Laurens raises both eyebrows but Hamilton squeezes his hand once so only Tilghman notices. Tilghman feels an odd sense of satisfaction.
Then Hamilton rises with an overly dramatic crowing noise. “If I cannot procure us another barrel from the willing lasses I shall not count myself a man!”
“And if you do I shall cast you one with little sense,” Laurens counters.
“But more of something else?” Gibbs adds.
Tilghman sees Laurens throw a bent quill toward Gibbs, which falls marvelously short. However, Tilghman and Hamilton already walk out the door toward the side entrance. They hurry down the steps and into the kitchen, both slightly worse for the wear but hiding it well enough once they reach the kitchens.
“My dear, dear Sarah!” Hamilton exclaims, throwing an arm over Tilghman's shoulders. “Would you do us the honor?”
Sarah stands up straight from where she leans over the fire and gives him a skeptical look. “Honor of what?”
Hamilton lays a hand on Tilghman's chest. “My dear friend Tench has missed much of our merriment and we would wish him to join us.”
Sarah scoffs. “Drank it all already?”
“Well on our way.”
She looks at Tilghman. “He right?”
Tilghman holds up his hands close together. “If we could prevail upon you for just a bit more.”
“Or what you have on hand.”
Tilghman elbows Hamilton. “As you think we deserve,” Tilghman says, batting his eyelashes as his sisters or Hamilton might.
Sarah's mouth twists until she finally smiles. “Only because you asked so sweetly.”
Ten minutes later, they roll a new barrel into the office, Hamilton bowing over it extravagantly until Tilghman shoulders him out of the way.
“I do declare,” Laurens says in his thickest southern accent.
Gibbs laughs so suddenly he spills half his mug of beer.
“Congratulations!” Harrison commends.
“It was a two man effort, I must admit,” Hamilton says to Tilghman.
They sit once more, the barrel now tackled by Harrison and Gibbs. Tilghman leans against Hamilton's shoulder until Hamilton looks at him. Tilghman oddly wants to say something, something about when he saw Hamilton and Laurens touch hands; he wants to ask if they have talked together about some of their shared woes which Tilghman heard from both sides.
Hamilton raises his eyebrows and says covertly, “Tilghman?”
He drops his voice somewhat, the other two aides in the room fortunately occupied with barrel opening. “You and Laurens...”
Laurens glances around from Hamilton's other side at the sound of his name. Hamilton keeps watching Tilghman, waiting.
“I only...” He realizes he wants to ask why they have not talked to him about anything in several days. “You may tell me anything, you know,” he says in a quiet rush.
Lauren glances at the other two men in the room then back to Tilghman, “You seemed disagreeable –”
“He did?” Hamilton interrupts.
“Likely due to you.”
“I did not mean to offend either –” Tilghman starts but is interrupted by someone in the doorway.
“Gentlemen!” It is Meade. “I present General Lafayette come to cater to us poor aides!”
Lafayette slides up next to Meade with grin and wave of his hand. “Bonjour.”
Hamilton and Gibbs both 'woop' while Harrison grabs two more mugs off a shelf. Meade slides over to Gibbs and Harrison talking rapidly about what sounds like von Steuben but Tilghman cannot listen long because Lafayette sits at their table with a flourish, pouring more beer into all their mugs.
“Bein bein bein, my dear aides, have you missed me writing at your table?”
“How can we miss you when you find yourself here so often?” Laurens quips.
Hamilton laughs and leans up against Laurens for a moment, his mug at his face.
Tilghman smiles at Lafayette and nods. “Of course we have.”
“Ah, the only kind one amongst you. I wonder how he survives such behaviors as the rash Laurens and the brash Hamilton.”
Laurens makes an indignant noise but Hamilton only grins and clinks his mug against Lafayette's. “Hear hear.”
“Now Tilghman,” Lafayette says quietly, as Hamilton leans closer to Laurens saying something they cannot hear, “You must tell me all.”
Tilghman frowns. “Tell you all?”
“Oui, tout. This pair are so... Évident mais insaisissable.”
“What would you have me say?”
Lafayette grins. “I must know all.”
“Know all what?” Laurens asks.
Lafayette looks back at him innocently. “Why Gibbs’ most recent story of our indestructible General, dear Laurens.”
Laurens scoffs. Hamilton whispering in his ear again.
Lafayette turns quickly to Tilghman. “You brought your worry to me of their confidences, so allow me to unburden you.”
“Ah now, he is hardly a burden,” Hamilton says, catching the one word, on Laurens other side. “But Laurens only wishes to tell stories with such skill as our Gibbs.”
“Now do I?” Laurens says indignantly.
Lafayette turns back to Tilghman. “I would gladly ease your conscience with a shared knowledge.”
“Their confidences, as you say, were in confidence,” Tilghman insists back in a hushed whisper.
“I am confident,” Laurens picks up the one word again, “that I have skills enough that Gibbs should find jealousy in me.”
“I find Jealousy in you?” Gibbs suddenly says hearing his name on Laurens' raised voice. “I am not the one wounded in near every battle I fight.”
Laurens bangs his mug on the table and scoffs again. “And what, you call that a negative?”
“Your shoulder might,” Hamilton retorts.
“So lively a pair,” Lafayette whispers again to Tilghman, “they must have stories to tell you. You need not hold that all within yourself.”
“I am no gossip,” Tilghman hisses.
“Gossip of what?” Meade says, popping up from behind Harrison. “I do love a good tale.”
Everyone falls silent and stares at Tilghman. Beside him, out of the corner of his eye, Tilghman sees Lafayette grinning more than he should.
“I....” Tilghman takes a sip of his beer. “I have no... uh...”
“Oh come, Tilghman, do not leave us with naught to enjoy!” Gibbs says.
“And why not you then?” Laurens counters. “Leave Tench to his secrets.”
“Oh, now it becomes a secret?” Meade intercepts. “I am dazzled.”
Hamilton scoffs. “Dazzled by the warmth in this room perhaps. I can feel my feet once more.”
“Dazzled by obtaining another barrel of beer?” Harrison tries.
“Dazzled by the ease of such success!” Gibbs exclaims. “The kitchen wenches can be devils.”
The men of the room all laugh and Tilghman eases back, safe once more from prying. He wonders if perhaps he should not have hoped for more confidences after all.
Two days later Hamilton slides up next to Tilghman where they wait for more French instruction to relay to the troops drilling in front of them with Baron Von Steuben.
“If you are truly amenable...”
Tilghman lights up immediately. “Of course!”
“I had hoped to find a present for Laurens.”
Tilghman frowns. “A present?”
“Yes, it is... well it is a day which... well.” Hamilton clears his throat. “That is not the point.”
“Not his birthday of course,” Tilghman continues brightly, too pleased to notice Hamilton's unease. “He is an autumn birth if I recall.”
“No, not his birthday but –”
“I cannot imagine you would have neglected Christmas, so –”
“It is an anniversary of sorts!” Hamilton interrupts in a hiss.
Tilghman frowns. “Anniversary?”
Hamilton gives him a long look. Tilghman swallows hard and nods three times quickly. “Oh! Oh, yes, of course, oh... I need not have... I mean, I did not ask...”
“I need not trouble you...”
“Oh no, I... I did say you could speak to... if you... uh...”
Hamilton bites the edge of his lip. “So a present.”
“Yes!” Tilghman says in a sudden high voice then clears his throat to calm himself. “Yes... a present, of course.”
“Well,” Hamilton continues. “I cannot think what he would wish. We all have such little needs here beyond what is most basic. A solider lives a simple enough life.”
“But I feel I must give something.”
“So what should I?”
Tilghman frowns. “I... I cannot think.”
“Perhaps you could ask him?”
Tilghman frowns more. “Ask... Laurens?”
“You need not be straight forward and tactless of course!” Hamilton amends quickly. “But perhaps... if he should speak to you of anything, any ideas.”
“I see...” Tilghman replies feeling very much like a spy. “I suppose I could –”
“Wonderful!” Hamilton crows before Tilghman can finish his sentence.
Before Tilghman can comment on the difficulties of such a duty and of Hamilton's own better knowledge of Laurens, Du Ponceau walks toward them looking herranged and they snap to attention.
The next evening Laurens sits down beside Tilghman, several letters in hand.
“Copies?” Tilghman asks.
Laurens nods, “As ever.”
They write for several minutes in silence. Tilghman can hear Meade and Harrison arguing on the other side of the wall in his Excellency's office. Tilghman thinks of Hamilton, his question and his request. Though Tilghman may feel some unease in general, he did say he wanted to be a confidant and wanted to help them both.
“Laurens?” Tilghman asks.
“What would you consider a pleasure of yours?”
Laurens turns his head slowly. “A pleasure?”
Tilghman nods, “yes, a personal pleasure, beyond our usual duties?”
Laurens stares at him, his expression guarded. “I am not sure I understand you.”
“As such with dances, what you enjoy most, what you wish to have more of when allowed time to yourself.”
Laurens stares at him, frowning. “You cannot mean...”
“I do not wish to pry of course,” Tilghman says, “I only...” He cannot decide if he should say Hamilton told him to ask then thinks it best not to. “I only thought I could... well I could… help make you... happier?”
Laurens’ eyes widen. “Tilghman, you… make me… happier?”
“Yes, I wish to help,” Tilghman insists again. This is not going as Tilghman should have intended but he keeps almost saying the word ‘present.’ “What with your personal confidence in me and I would only wish to know what might please you more in such a limited life we live here.”
Laurens swallows and looks oddly alarmed, his voice dropping low. “Tilghman, please, you cannot.”
“I do not mean to overstep!” Tilghman says quickly, worried that his aim for Hamilton might be noticed. “Only wish to be a better friend in your estimation, if I can.”
Laurens sits up straight and clears his throat, not quite looking at Tilghman. “Tilghman, if I understand to what you refer you must understand that Hamilton and I… it is a particular situation that is personal and only between us.”
Tilghman stares at Laurens for a long moment then suddenly realizes what Laurens means. He makes a choking sort of noise a drops his quill. “Oh dear! I did not mean –”
“You did not?”
“No no, I certainly did not mean anything of the kind. I would never –”
“I did not think you tended –”
“Then you –”
“I meant personal as in pursuits.”
Laurens frowns again. “You meant...”
“Interests!” Tilghman says too loudly, “Your interests as in how some like dances while others books.”
Comprehension falls on Laurens face like the shutting of a window and his flushes. “Oh, yes, of course. That is quite the more logical question.”
“Yes, yes.” Tilghman laughs awkwardly and loudly. “Yes, just what interests you may have, of course...”
“What is amiss now?” Harrison says as he appears in the doorway. “Your voices carry quite a way with that laugh, Tilghman.”
“Correspondence!” Tilghman says at the same time Laurens says, “Reports!”
Harrison looks back and forth between them. “I see.”
The next morning Hamilton stops by Tilghman at breakfast. “Say, Tilghman, did you ask –”
“No, please...” Tilghman sighs and is saved by Meade cutting between them with offers of coffee.
That very afternoon Laurens breezes by Tilghman on their ways in and out of headquarters. Laurens stops on the step and looks back at Tilghman in the door. “If you must know, I... well, I did find some time for art in my youth.”
“Some plants and animals.”
“Oh!” Tilghman smiles.
“Why did you ask?”
“Hamilton told me –” Then Tilghman cuts himself of realizing he probably should not say. “I.... he... I beg you excuse me.” Then he turns around and walks back into the house.
That evening Lafayette corners Tilghman in the headquarters kitchen, a sad looking block of cheese in his hand. “And what is afoot now?”
“Afoot?” Tilghman says with alarm.
“I found Hamilton carving into the side of his powder horn and possibly exclaiming about the trials of art?”
Tilghman's eyes widen. “His powder horn?”
“Why an interest in art now?” Lafayette says. “Has he a grander scale in mind? Or a specific person to sit for him?”
Tilghman blushes up to the roots of his hair and practically flees Lafayette's knowing look.
Two days later Tilghman finds himself sitting between Hamilton and Laurens, invited to dine at Lafayette's headquarters with General Washington; more informal than usual and Tilghman suspects a night of respite for his Excellency. At the moment, Lafayette and the General converse across the hall about some new plan with the implementation of Captain Benjamin Walker who speaks Prussian. A welcome savior to them all.
Hamilton, Tilghman and Laurens sit in a row oddly silent, only some wine before them and empty plates without the whole party ready to eat. Tilghman glances between the two, curious as to the seating arrangements. Hamilton and Laurens always sit beside each other.
“So,” Tilghman begins to break the silence. “Are either of you acquainted with Captain Walker?”
“You could have simply said you did not like it,” Hamilton says suddenly toward Laurens over Tilghman.
“Why would you think I do not like it?”
“I do not have such skill as you.”
“Hamilton, if you felt yourself unskilled, why draw it?”
“Draw what?” Tilghman asks.
Laurens smiles in a fond way. “A present.”
“It was meant to be, but your reception was most discourteous,” Hamilton says with a huff.
“Hamilton, I did not mean –”
Tilghman thinks back to his mention of Laurens and art to Hamilton not long past. “For the anniversary?”
Laurens' eyes widen. “You told Tilghman?”
Hamilton clears his throat. “Not in particulars.”
“You drew something?” Tilghman says, still incredulous. “I did not know you had such skill.”
“I do not, as such.”
“He...well.” Laurens only smiles.
“What else would you have had me do?” Hamilton says indignantly to Tilghman as if it is somehow his failing. “You informed me art was an interest of John's, so I felt –”
“I did not mean draw something.”
“Ah ha,” Lauren says with humor, “That is why you asked.”
“And what do we talk of now?” Lafayette says suddenly sitting down across from the trio. “If Tilghman will not disclose, I must give way to the source.”
“An art book,” Tilghman says quickly before Lafayette can question more.
“A book would be welcome,” Laurens replies.
Lafayette peers at Hamilton. “Is this about the strange unicorn?”
“A unicorn?” Laurens asks in confusion.
“Was it intended for Laurens?”
Hamilton blushes. “No, I... was trying my hand as...”
“A gift for Laurens?” Lafayette grins wide. “Oh, mon dieu, a lovers gift. I can only imagine what you would draw.”
“Marquis!” Tilghman squeaks. “Control yourself!”
Laurens almost knocks his plate off the table. “What did you say?”
“Lafayette, you misunderstand,” Hamilton says hurried. “I was simply –”
“Oh, do not trouble so, Little Lion,” Lafayette says, patting Hamilton affectionately on the hand. “You and sweet Laurens are aflutter such with one another I should be blind not to know your ways.”
“What?” Laurens and Hamilton says together.
Tilghman tries to sink down in his chair and escape.
“Did you tell him?” Laurens asks Tilghman.
“Oh no,” Lafayette chuckles. “As though he would need.”
“My apologies,” Tilghman begins, “I should have...”
“What was the drawing?” Lafayette says. “Was it of Laurens? I would so desire to see it.”
“Never,” Laurens says hotly.
Hamilton rubs a hand over his face. “If you did not like it –”
“I quite enjoy it!” Laurens insists. “But –”
“But what?” Hamilton snaps.
“I need no such presents to know your affections, Hamilton.”
Tilghman lets out an uncomfortable whimpering noise while Lafayette leans forward over the table his lips twisting as though he suppresses a grin.
Hamilton smiles then reaches one hand across Tilghman to grasp Laurens'. “I shall keep giving you presents despite what you say.”
Laurens laughs. “If only to improve your skill.”
“Then you can draw some for me instead.”
“Oh shall I?”
“Um...” Tilghman says.
The four of them jump in surprise. Hamilton and Laurens’ hands snapping apart, Lafayette sitting up straight and Tilghman nearly knocking his chair backward as General Washington stands in the door.
The General gives them a confused look as he walks in. “I heard something about drawing? Have we a secret artist among my staff?”
“I am,” Laurens says quickly to steer the conversation safely. “Or was; I have not penned any to paper of late.”
“The war coming first, of course,” Hamilton adds.
Tilghman looks back and forth between them as a pause stretches. “And, ah... what did you draw, Laurens?”
Washington looks at Laurens, polite and interested.
“Well...” Laurens begins.
From there the dinner arrives and the conversation turns normal and less dangerous once more. Tilghman catches Laurens and Hamilton casting looks at one another while Lafayette kicks Tilghman under the table once or twice when he catches them too.
When Lafayette sees them outside after dinner, Washington waiting behind inside for a private word with the Marquis, Tilghman addresses all three men. “Might I suggest we decide to cease such conversations about personal relations all together?”
Lafayette smiles but does not appear surprised. “Tilghman, must you school us so?”
“Yes,” Tilghman says, giving Lafayette a stern look. “I imagine these two can manage just fine without your questions and without my ear. Can you not?”
Hamilton and Laurens glance at each other then back to Tilghman. They nod as one.
“Good!” Tilghman huffs.
“Thank you, however, for the advice,” Hamilton says earnestly.
“And your discretion,” Laurens adds
“And my inclusion in such gossip,” Lafayette whispers with a grin at Laurens and Hamilton, the two men sighing.
Tilghman huffs once more and marches away from the building, leaving the others behind with a call over his shoulder, “I do wish I had simply stayed downstairs!”