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At Least I Have a Friend with Me

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There are too many people here.

Alexander hesitates at the edge of the massive foyer. To his left are multiple doors leading directly into the nave, all thrown wide open. To his right are the doors that would lead him back outside, to fresh air and sunlight and the genuine delight of not being here.

Straight ahead are dozens upon dozens of people. Stunningly dressed, mingling and greeting each other and slowly moving deeper into the church. Wedding guests all, though none arriving with quite so much invisible baggage.

Behind him, of course, is the only part of all this that's so far kept Alexander from bolting.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" The words are pitched low, Washington standing close behind him to murmur directly in his ear.

The question ignites stubbornness beneath Alexander's skin, and he straightens his shoulders. "Why wouldn't it be a good idea?"

"Oh, any number of reasons," Washington answers with audible bemusement. "But mostly the fact that you are, and always will be, a terrible liar."

"That's why you're here to sell the story."

A hand settles on his shoulder, and he is suddenly very aware of Washington's proximity. Warmth fills the narrow space between them, more pleasant than it has any right to be. Alexander reminds himself that this isn't why he asked Washington to participate in this farce.

"You just seem.. anxious." Washington's hand remains right where it is, and Alexander tries to ignore the way it amps him up and settles his nerves at the same time. "There's still time to call off this ridiculous plan. I can leave, you can go in there alone. No one needs to know you brought reinforcements."

"No." Alexander sounds distinctly more certain now. "It is a good idea. It's a great idea. Best idea I ever had." Okay, it's not that good an idea. At twenty-five years old Alexander has entertained some genuinely fantastic inspirations, and this... Probably doesn't make the top fifty.

Washington's hand falls from his shoulder, and suddenly he is standing at Alexander's side instead of behind him. Surveying the crowd of fancy dresses and suits entering the church, the river of pleasant smiles, the ushers guiding people to their seats.

Washington's voice is still low and private when he says, "I am literally twice your age. If it's credibility you're going for, that's going to raise some eyebrows."

"Fewer than you might think," Alexander says, then bites his tongue, because that? That is not something he should admit to his... His... Whatever the hell Washington is to him. Friend? Mentor? Former boss? All of those are true, but somehow he hasn't found a word to encompass the complicated devotion he's always felt for the man standing beside him.

It doesn't help that Alexander's been in love with him for years; maybe asking Washington for this favor really was a terrible idea.

How the hell is he supposed to make it through the ceremony and reception? How is he supposed to pretend Washington is his boyfriend without giving himself away?

Washington's right—Alexander is a terrible liar—how can he expect to come through this with his dignity intact?

Fuck it. It's too late to back out now. Alexander keeps staring across the thinning crowd, pretending not to notice Washington's curious regard.

"Come on," he says before Washington can ask any other incisive questions. "Let's get this over with."

It takes all the courage he can muster, but he grabs Washington's hand and strides toward the nearest usher, plastering on a smile that he hopes is convincing. Washington follows without protest. Silent and reassuring and letting Alexander lead the way.

- — - — - — - — - — -

The ceremony is gorgeous.

Of course it fucking is. Beautiful church, beautiful service, beautiful flowers. A flawless string quartet positioned to one side of the apse.

And Eliza. Stunning in the kind of dress designed to cling low and tight to her figure, with a train that stretches halfway across the church. Her hair has been braided and gathered at the nape of her neck, and god, her smile. She's beaming like fucking sunshine as she moves down the aisle on her father's arm, and the sight of her makes Alexander's heart clench.

Her eyes catch on him as she passes, and for just an instant the smile changes—softens into something more private, a glimpse of pleasure—she's probably surprised he came. For all the conflicted feeling kicking up in his chest, Alexander smiles back and it's the easiest thing in the world.

God, he's so happy for her it aches. Despite his lingering regrets—faint even on his worst days—it's a relief to see her like this, radiant as she reaches the altar and takes her groom's hand.

The reception that follows is, not conveniently at all, halfway across the city in a massive banquet venue. Washington volunteers to drive even though they arrived in Alexander's car.

"You don't have to do that," Alexander protests, but he's grateful at the idea of sitting in the passenger seat, ignoring the parade of guests traveling like a convoy across town.

"I don't mind." There's unaccustomed gentleness in Washington's eyes as he holds out a hand for the keys. "You're all jitters, Alexander. Let me do this."

Alexander doesn't have a counterargument, so he hands over the keys and circles to the far side of the car. He is jittery as hell. God, he almost skipped out on the greeting line in the church lobby. Hadn't wanted to shake any hands, look anyone directly in the face, be here at all. It's ridiculous. He knows there's no ill will here. Eliza has never held a grudge in her life, and she wouldn't have invited him if he weren't genuinely welcome.

But he still feels like an intruder. Thank fuck he barely had time to hug and congratulate Eliza, then watch Washington shake hands with both bride and groom, before the crowd swept him along. Maybe if he's lucky the reception will be so crowded no one will try to talk to him.

At least with Washington at the wheel Alexander can disengage his brain from anything meaningful for a while. Silence fills the car for the first several blocks. Not quite comfortable, but not noticeably strained either. Alexander's thoughts are distracted and heavy. He wonders what kind of saint Washington must secretly be, to throw away a Sunday on this exhausting ordeal.

He is selfishly, unapologetically glad Washington is here. He's honestly not sure he could've set foot in that church alone, and he would be running like hell from this reception.

Eventually, not even halfway to their destination, Washington clears his throat. "Not to beat a dead horse, but... Are you sure about this? There's still time to back out. I don't think anyone would blame you for no-showing your ex's wedding reception."

Alexander returns his attention to here and now, and hears himself ask, "Do you want to skip out?" If Washington wants to ditch, that takes the burden off Alexander's shoulders. Lets him off the hook. He holds his breath in anticipation of the answer.

But Washington only shakes his head and says, "No, I'm fine." Then, perceptive as always, he asks, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Alexander lies. Then, honesty edging forward more softly, "It's just... a lot. I'm not looking forward to smalltalk with the family I almost married into."

Washington breathes a noncommittal sound. "So you... don't get on well with the Schuylers?"

"Oh, we get on fine. Or at least... We did. Before I left. I haven't really spoken to any of them since... Well. Since." He shrugs helplessly. "I'm not entirely sure what I'm walking into here." Hence begging Washington to be his plus one—his fictitious boyfriend—when normally a lack of romantic life is the last thing Alexander stresses over.

He couldn't have done it, couldn't have made himself show up alone today. His thorny pride would never have allowed it, knowing he did this to himself. He didn't have to cut ties when he and Eliza broke up. Hell, he loves all the Schuylers—almost as much as he loves Eliza herself—but when he first held the invitation in his hand, he knew he couldn't bear to show his face alone.

God, he was a mess when he ended things with Eliza; he hadn't wanted any of them to see just how bad. And he knows it's ridiculous, but he can't help needing this today. A plausible cover. The lie that he's with someone, that he hasn't spent the past two years alone. Normally he doesn't care what anyone thinks. But there's something about a wedding—about this wedding in particular—that makes it matter more than it should.

"Hey." Washington's voice nudges him back into his own head. "I'm sure it's gonna be fine."

Alexander laughs, but it's a self-deprecating sound. How bad must he look that Washington feels the need to bolster him? His former boss and longtime mentor has never been one for unnecessary encouragement. Criticism and expectant silence are more his areas of expertise. There's a reason Alexander has spent so many years striving for the man's approval. To see him worried enough to be gentle is... atypical. And strangely pleasant. And Alexander shuts that train of thought right the fuck down.

"Yeah," he agrees after a few seconds too long. "They're going to love you, anyway. You've got respectability oozing from every pore. And in a month or two I can just... mention that we've broken up. Assuming I even talk to them again."

"So they don't know who I am?"

Alexander blinks and considers. "Oh. Um. They probably do know who you are." An angle he should have thought through, though it's certainly too late now. "I did almost marry Eliza, and I was working for you at the time."

"I remember," Washington says in a tone so soft it almost sounds fond.

Alexander shivers as warmth kindles in his chest. He keeps staring straight ahead through the windshield instead of giving in to the urge to see just what expression Washington is wearing. Maybe this is a mistake. Maybe he should have asked someone else to enact this deception with him. He has other friends—closer friends—surely one of them would have agreed.

But then, he would've had to admit why he needed help, and he went to such lengths to convince his friends he was fine after the breakup. The thought of admitting how hard it actually was... It's daunting. Awful. Painful to his unyielding pride.

Washington is a different story. Washington had a front row seat through the worst of it, and never said a single judgmental word. While Alexander was busy evading his friends, his social life, everything but the nonessentials... there was still Washington. Because the one thing Alexander couldn't sweep aside was his job. And Washington is especially right about one thing: Alexander Hamilton is, and always has been, a terrible liar.

He honestly can't imagine why Washington agreed to this farce, but he's grateful just the same.

"You never asked why," Alexander hears himself say, too late to bite his tongue and stop the words short.

He glances left and sees Washington's eyes are still on the road, but his brow is furrowed.

"Why what?"

Shut up, Alexander's brain screams, while his mouth continues, "Why I called off the engagement."

The confusion clears from Washington's expression. "Ah. That. It wasn't really my business. And... Honestly, reading between the lines, I always assumed it was her decision to call things off."

"Nope." Alexander slouches in his seat. There's a thin veneer of bravado in his voice—a lightness he does not at all feel—when he continues, "That was all me."

"Okay, I'll bite. Why did you call off the engagement?"

Oh. Okay. Fuck. He practically begged Washington to ask the question; he can't dodge answering it. He sure as hell can't lie. But then, maybe he can tell the truth without admitting every single detail.

"God, this is gonna sound so bad. It's the most cliche bullshit in the book, but. We wanted different things." Alexander lets his eyes drift out the window again, forcing himself not to tense. He shoves aside the familiar guilt that always comes with thoughts of Eliza—the wondering if he was wrong, if he could have done better, should have tried to meet her halfway—and draws a slow breath. "Eliza wants a big family. More than anything she wants that, and she wants it now. Money's not a big deal. Fuck, you know who her parents are. And yeah, she's got her job, but she'd quit in a heartbeat if she needed to. She wants to adopt, foster at-risk kids, you name it. And that's... That's huge, right? Like. That's a big responsibility. She needs a partner who wants all that, too."

"And you don't want kids?" Washington sounds genuinely surprised, and Alexander risks a glance. Finds Washington's eyes on him for just a second before they return to the road.

Alexander could obfuscate, but what's the point? "I don't know if I want kids. But I sure as hell don't want kids now. You know the hours I keep." Hell, it's even worse than when he worked for Washington. Some nights he doesn't make it home from the office. It's hell on his social life, but the thought of balancing a family also... The idea makes Alexander itch.

There are days he thinks he never wants that kind of responsibility. There will always be an ugly voice at the back of his head saying he'll make a shitty dad. But in the short term, he's damn sure he made the right choice.

It's just. Sometimes the right choice hurts like hell.

"And she didn't want to wait," Washington says quietly.

"She was willing to." Alexander's shoulders hunch despite his best efforts to stay loose. "She wanted to make it work. But at the end of the day I didn't know. I couldn't make any promises. I never lied to her. About anything. I couldn't lie about this."

Even if putting his career first was a hurtful thing to do—even if it wasn't just his career he was putting first at the time. There was Washington too, and a whole basketful of feelings Alexander knew damn well he shouldn't harbor for his boss, making it damn near impossible to separate the professional from the personal.

Eliza had known about that, too. It hadn't made their split any easier.

"I think I understand now." Washington turns the car into an enormous parking lot, and slots into an unlikely space right in front of the building.

"Understand what?" Alexander turns as he unbuckles his seatbelt, and is surprised to find Washington peering at him intently. There's a kind sort of comprehension in the normally stern face, and something else he can't quite pin down. Something heavy and almost hesitant that makes Alexander's face warm for no damn reason at all.

Washington pulls the keys out of the ignition and hands them over. "Why you didn't want to do this alone."

- — - — - — - — - — -

The reception locale is exactly what he pictured: an enormous banquet hall with high chandeliers; half a hundred tables decked out in ribbons and garlands to match the decorations along the walls; a dais for the wedding party; an elaborate wedding cake beside a towering pile of gifts; a dance floor that takes up more than half the room. The food is incredible, the music loud, the celebration boisterous.

There's alcohol—an open bar in one corner—but Alexander barely drinks.

His caution is twofold. He doesn't want to embarrass himself in front of this crowd. But even more importantly, he doesn't dare get tipsy when Washington is standing right there—perpetually within reach—looking so good it's distracting.

For fuck's sake, it's not like he hasn't seen Washington in a suit hundreds of times. Hell, it's a struggle to remember ever seeing him wear anything else. But somehow the effect is worse tonight. Maybe because Washington has set aside the aura of somber businessman and is instead smiling and shaking hands, charming the socks off everyone Alexander introduces him to.

Even knowing it's a front, Alexander can't help admiring this warmer, easier side.

How many times has Washington admonished him, For God's sake, Alexander, call me George—yet this is the first time Alexander has actually felt like he might be able to do it.

His distraction is not at all remedied by the fact that Washington seems determined to make their ruse believable. He's a constant presence at Alexander's side, always standing a little too close, offering to get him another drink, hovering like the supportive boyfriend he's supposed to be.

The first time Washington's hand settles at the small of his back, Alexander nearly jumps out of his skin.

Washington immediately moves as though to take the hand away, murmuring a soft, "I'm sorry, I thought—"

"It's fine," Alexander says just as quietly, leaning into Washington's side and turning to put the words directly in his ear. "You just caught me off guard."

Whether it's the words or the physical proximity that reassures him, Washington leaves his hand right where it is. The warmth of his palm tingles at the base of Alexander's spine, pleasant and maddening.

Fuck. He really didn't think this through. A hundred buried fantasies bubble to the surface of his thoughts, uninvited and inconvenient. Alexander has spent years relegating this attraction to the back of his mind. Telling himself his feelings for Washington are not a problem, because it's not like he'll ever admit to them. He's never harbored legitimate hope.

But tonight there's an illusion of intimacy between them, and Alexander can admit—in the privacy of his own mind—that he was not at all prepared for it. Washington is good at this. He's casual and easy, confident in every touch. He occupies Alexander's space like he belongs in it, and that...

That feels really damn nice, honestly. Fuck.

They've barely been here an hour, and Alexander is already going out of his mind.

He manages to keep his composure when Washington kisses his temple—Christ, what kind of sap even does that, and why does it make his heart beat so fast?—and disappears from Alexander's side. He doesn't even hear the explanation for where Washington is going. He's too busy trying to keep his face from lighting up red as a Christmas ornament.

He should have known he wouldn't be able to pull this off. He could have asked anyone else to help him, but he asked Washington. Over Gil. Over Hercules. Over even John. At least he's actually slept with John a couple times. There's nothing complicated about those affections; surely he wouldn't feel so flustered and off-balance at every innocuous touch.

But Alexander's skill at self-delusion is limited: Washington was the selfish choice, and he knew it. He should have realized he wouldn't be able to compartmentalize.

"Excuse me," he says into a lapse in the conversation. Washington has only been gone two minutes, but Alexander doesn't even remember the names of the people he's talking to. He's pretty sure they're guests of the groom. "I need another drink." He doesn't need another drink. He just needs a moment alone. Outside. A little bit of quiet to regain perspective.

The sun is beginning to set when he ducks through a side door and out onto an empty stretch of sidewalk. There's green lawn before him, a corner of parking lot alongside. He sees catering staff rolling layered carts through a set of doors farther along the wall, but no one comes near him.

The door he came through is propped with a rubber doorstop, which means he doesn't need to worry about getting locked out as he ducks across the pavement. He makes his way onto the lawn. Suddenly he wants to take his shoes and socks off, ground himself with the feeling of grass and dirt. He barely resists the urge.

At least the air is cool. Between the breeze and the relative quiet, he feels... not steady, exactly. But calmer. Confident he can go back into that banquet hall, and lean into Washington's well-intentioned touches, and not give away just how much he is savoring things that are not his to enjoy.

His confidence lasts right up until he returns to the party and discovers that, in his absence, Washington has been cornered by both Angelica and Eliza.

And oh. Oh that cannot possibly be good. He crosses the room as quickly as he can without breaking into an all-out run, and is relieved when he draws close enough to hear them talking shop. Phillip Schuyler's business holdings, of all things—Angelica's been running more and more of the company—and Eliza's plans to sell her own shares to her sister. Dry. Polite. Boring.

Thank God.

Three sets of eyes turn to acknowledge his arrival. Washington smiles and raises an arm in obvious invitation.

"There you are," he says as Alexander slips close against his side, and then there's the warm weight of Washington's arm about his waist, a hand settling far too comfortably at his hip. "I was getting ready to send out a search party."

Alexander laughs, and is proud it doesn't sound forced. His usually quick mind isn't giving him anything to say, so he slips his own arm around Washington and steals his drink. Takes a sip—nothing but diet coke—and quirks an amused eyebrow. An open bar not twenty feet away, and apparently Alexander isn't the only one abstaining. Washington just quirks his eyebrow in return and steals the drink back.

"So." Alexander turns toward Angelica and Eliza, scrambling for something—fuck, anything—to say that won't sound trite or pathetic. He already offered his congratulations. What the hell is he supposed to talk about with his former fiancé and would-be sister in law?

"So," Angelica echoes, with a pleased twist to her mouth. From the particular spark in her clever eyes, Alexander surmises she's made far more judicious use of the open bar. He's got no delusions that a few drinks can do anything to soften her steel-sharp wit.

For some reason the idea makes him anxious as hell.

He doesn't have long to wonder why. Before anyone else can interject, Angelica continues, "So this is the guy." There's something smooth and sly in her tone, even as she drapes an arm over Eliza's shoulders. "That boss of yours. The man you were such a mess over even while you were dating my sister."

Eliza makes a soft sound of amusement, eyes all for Washington when she says, "George, please ignore my sister's flare for the dramatic. Believe me, there are no hard feelings."

And fucking hell, Alexander should have considered this. Should have expected this. Of all the potential blind spots, how is this the one disastrous contingency he didn't foresee? Of course Eliza told Angelica everything. Of course Angelica knows.

Fuck.

He feels Washington tense beside him, but doesn't dare turn and look. He doesn't want to know what expression has overtaken that infuriatingly handsome face.

"Eliza," he blurts, extricating himself from Washington's side, "would you dance with me? For old times?"

"Of course." Eliza blinks at him, brow faintly furrowed but smile still in place.

This. This isn't a good plan either, Alexander knows in a barely rational corner of his brain. This saves him from the immediate awkwardness, but it leaves Washington with Angelica. Angelica is smart. What if she figures out this is all a poorly planned ruse? Worse, what if she admits more embarrassing truths to Washington, not realizing they're supposed to be secrets? Angelica's not malicious—she would never throw him under the bus if she knew the real score—but Alexander has gone out of his way to sell a different story tonight. He can't fault her for believing it.

It's too late to worry about that. He's already made his move, he can't change his mind now that Eliza is tugging him toward the dance floor.

"I'm sorry if Angelica made you uncomfortable," Eliza says as they step from carpet onto wood paneling. "She's been so curious since we got your RSVP. She worries about you."

The music chooses that moment to cut from boisterous pop number to an easier jazz tune, and Alexander takes Eliza in his arms. Her bustled train is a lacy texture grazing his hands, and he can smell the vestiges of her perfume when she wraps her arms around his shoulders. The smile she gives him is familiar—warm and a little bit sad—and Alexander feels suddenly out of his depth.

Two years is a long time to spend trying not to miss someone.

"It's fine," he lies. "You know I'm not great with feelings."

Eliza shakes her head. "You're better than you think. And I'm glad you're doing okay."

"Yup." Alexander grins and prays the expression is convincing. "That's me. Always okay. Better than okay. Absolutely terrific."

Again that not-quite-sad smile. "Thank you for coming, Alex. It means a lot to me."

A moment later Alexander's arms are empty, and he realizes the groom has smoothly cut in and reclaimed his bride. Eliza laughs as she's twirled away, sparing Alexander an apologetic glance before fastening her attention where it belongs. Alexander doesn't mind. It's a relief, in its way. A reprieve from... whatever closure he was meant to be seeking in their conversation.

It's startling to realize he's not at all jealous. His chest aches sullenly—he will always have regrets—but there's a feeling of finality creeping over him. Standing alone on a busy dance floor, watching his former fiancé dance with her brand new husband, clarity closes over his head like a tidal wave.

He isn't jealous. This was never his life. He made the right choice.

It's a feeling both exhilarating and overwhelming.

"Hey." Washington's voice joins the tumble of too much information in his head. Alexander startles, turning to face the man who has spent all day pretending to be his boyfriend. Washington's expression is unreadable, his eyes wide and piercing, his brow smooth. "Can I cut in?"

"Technically it's not cutting in if I don't have a partner."

"Do you want to dance or not?" There's something heavy in Washington's tone. Not impatience—not irritation, as far as Alexander can tell—but... something.

He wishes like hell he had any idea what to make of it.

"I... Yeah," Alexander says after a moment too long. His heart is beating hard and fast. "Sure. Let's dance."

He lets Washington lead.

It's surreal to be moving so slowly when panic is doing its damnedest to knock him over. Washington's arms are muscular, and they feel so utterly, distractingly good holding him. Alexander's lungs keep forgetting they have a job to do.

He wonders just how much of this is showing on his face. At least Washington doesn't look angry. Or offended. Or... Hell, Alexander still doesn't know what to make of the cryptic way those dark eyes are drilling into him.

Any fleeting hope that Angelica's words went unheeded evaporates when Washington asks, "Was there any truth in what Miss Schuyler said?"

Alexander forces a laugh, but it comes out strained and wrong. Shaken. He feels like his whole world's been upended. Washington is a good guy—he won't turn Alexander out on his ear for having a crush—but there's no way things stay the same. Not with this hanging awkwardly between them for all time.

"Alexander." Washington's tone carries the strangest balance of urgency and kindness. Pressing, but... It's almost like he's trying to reassure without words that he won't hold a grudge.

And God, Alexander has to give a truthful answer. Anything else and Washington will see right through him. But he can't do it while looking Washington in the face. Any bravado he might have clung to is long gone, and he drops his gaze.

He's glowering at Washington's tie when he finally speaks. "Some truth. Maybe."

"Some?" Washington echoes, and his voice is lighter than it has any right to be. He almost sounds amused. Which. Fuck that. Nothing about this is amusing. Alexander has never felt so exposed and humiliated in his life, and suddenly anger edges out panic in the confused tumble of his thoughts.

"Fine," he snaps, keeping his voice low. "It was all true. So what? So what if I've got feelings and... And fantasies and... Fuck, what does it matter? I have zero delusions about how you see me."

Even on his most confident day Alexander has never been able to convince himself Washington might want him. Lord, why would he? Some fucked up kid half his age, all stubbornness and vitriol, who only has a career path because Washington helped set him on it in the first place?

Surely George Goddamn Washington has better things to do with his life.

He knows Washington is about to say something. Knows it's bound to be diplomatic and soothing, and probably rife with pity. And he can't. He doesn't want to hear the inevitable confirmation of truths he already understands.

"This doesn't have to be weird," he says before Washington can speak. "You're not into me. I get that, it's fine. We don't have to talk about it. In fact, let's never talk about it. Let's just pretend we never had this conversation, okay?"

Washington breathes a noncommittal sound—a low hum of acknowledgment but not agreement—and tucks Alexander tighter in his arms.

God, Alexander can't even hear the music over his own heartbeat. He's too warm in his suit. He hates the flush he can feel creeping up the sides of his neck, spreading across his cheeks. He's shaking so hard, surely Washington has noticed.

"Relax, Alexander." Washington breathes the words directly in his ear, and the brush of lips sends an entirely different sort of shiver along Alexander's spine.

"Relax?" he hisses. "How the fuck am I supposed to—"

And then Washington moves against him—the barest shift in the sliver of space between them—and Alexander notices.

Oh.

Oh.

Oh, fuck, this he did not see coming.

The brush of hard heat must not be intentional, because a moment later Washington eases away just far enough for modesty. Just enough to pretend that wasn't an inconvenient erection nudging Alexander's hip.

Just enough to maintain the illusion that they are only dancing.

Alexander can't breathe. He can't keep moving in time with music he doesn't even hear over his own frantic pulse. His blood is roaring in his ears, and oh God, he wants.

He wants so fucking much.

Of course Washington notices his stillness and tries to withdraw. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to—"

"No," Alexander gasps, thoughtless in his need to keep Washington close. He uses his grip in Washington's suit to drag their bodies flush. "Don't you goddamn dare leave now."

He's still staring at Washington's tie, though from this close the pattern is blurry. He is terrified to raise his eyes. Desperate for whatever the fuck this is. Helpless to make himself move.

Washington has frozen, too. He's fallen utterly still with his hands at Alexander's hips.

The dance floor is crowded around them, dozens of couples swaying to the same lazy rhythm. No one seems to have noticed the off-balance stillness in their midst.

"What," Alexander starts, only for his voice to give out. He inhales slowly, eases his death-grip on Washington's suit jacket. "What exactly are we...?" Christ, he doesn't know how to ask the question. He doesn't even know where to start.

The music changes abruptly, the quiet rhythm bursting into a new song, loud and fast and energetic. It's a popular song, judging by the shouts of excitement that fill the air, and a moment later an influx of people surges onto the already packed dance floor.

Alexander remains perfectly motionless amid the overwhelming press of people, holding his breath without meaning to.

His stillness shatters in an instant.

"Fuck this," he growls. He twists out of the loose hold and grabs one of Washington's hands. "Come on."

He doesn't dare raise his eyes, or look over his shoulder, as he drags Washington off the dance floor and toward the periphery of the room. A dozen vaguely familiar faces are clustered near the side exit Alexander used before, so he veers the other direction. There are other doors, farther from the bright lights illuminating the dais and the dance floor. Shadowed and heavily shut. Alexander tries every latch, until one door finally swings open under his hand.

The hallway on the other side is dark, lit only by the glow of sunset through a window on the far wall. The dimness doesn't dissuade him; if anything it makes him more bold, confident they won't be interrupted. He pulls Washington into the hall behind him and lets the door thud quietly shut.

Considering Alexander is the one who brought them here, he shouldn't be startled that they are suddenly alone.

For a moment he stares down at Washington's hand, still clasped tightly in his own. Music pounds a muffled rhythm from the other side of the door, but despite the throbbing bass everything feels quieter here. Alexander can hear his own unsteady breathing. His heart is still racing, his chest tight and hot.

He lets go of Washington's hand and pleads, "Talk."

Now, belatedly, he raises his eyes, and he can read the cornered shock on Washington's face. They're standing so damn close together; Alexander didn't intend to crowd them into a corner, but now that he's here he can't bring himself to retreat.

His skin rushes warm when Washington's gaze dips to his mouth, for a just an instant, before meeting Alexander's eyes with enough soulful focus to melt a glacier.

The lapse makes Alexander feel bolder, and all the lost confidence returns to his voice. "Come on, old man. My cards are on the table. It's your turn."

Washington blinks at him a moment. Blank and stunned, silent so long Alexander wonders if he's going to say anything after all.

Then Washington is moving—surging suddenly forward—backing him against the opposite wall. Washington doesn't touch, but there's something eloquent in the way he crowds close.

Alexander has always known Washington was tall, but it's disconcerting the way he needs to tilt his head back to keep meeting those piercing eyes. He tries to hold his tongue, but he's never been good at silence.

"George?"

Washington's eyes slide shut—just for a moment—at the sound of his name. When they open again they're on fire.

"You're full of surprises tonight, Alexander." His voice is deeper than usual, smooth and suggestive. He's still not touching—he seems to be waiting on some unknown cue—waiting on permission, maybe. This is unfamiliar territory for both of them.

"Bullshit." Alexander lets a hint of teasing sneak into his tone. He reaches up to twist his fingers lightly in Washington's lapels, tugging him closer. "I'm an open book."

Washington shakes his head in obvious disagreement, but he's smiling faintly now. The barest upward quirk at the corners of his mouth. Even better, his hands settle once more at Alexander's hips. There's caution in the touch, but the warm weight is grounding just the same, and Alexander's own smile widens with a flash of teeth. His rational brain can't fathom how this is happening, but he doesn't care how as long as he gets what he wants.

"You're a confusing and contrary young man," Washington retorts at last, though humor continues to glint in his expression. "And I had no idea you were entertaining... fantasies."

And fuck, it's not fair for him to say it so easily. The suggestion behind the words, the unmasked affection, the casual observation of something Alexander has been keeping under wraps for years. He can't remember a time he didn't harbor this stupid crush. Hell, he probably fell for Washington the first time he laid eyes on his brand new boss. He definitely started imagining himself in Washington's bed that very first night—Eliza had teased him for it, harmless infatuation that it was.

He wonders when Washington started imagining him.

Alexander can't ask the question directly. His curiosity isn't enough to outweigh the perpetual self-doubt living inside him. But he needs to know, and Washington's crowding proximity is so goddamn reassuring. Washington wouldn't toy with him. He wouldn't bait Alexander if he didn't intend to follow through.

"What about you?" Alexander asks. "Do you have fantasies?" His face flushes with the question, and he feels ridiculous. Flirting is supposed to be easy; he's never been this self-conscious about it before. But then, he's never flirted with George Washington before. At least, not deliberately. There's a vast difference between the easy banter they've settled into over the years and... this.

Whatever the fuck this is.

"Fantasies," Washington agrees, easing forward so that there is no space at all between them. Chest-to-chest the heat is overwhelming, and Washington's face is so close. An unsubtle prelude to a kiss. "Feelings. You have no idea, my boy. The things I have wanted to do to you."

Alexander's eyes flutter shut for a helpless moment, and he bites back a groan.

"Jesus," he breathes when he trusts himself to form coherent words again. He meets Washington's hungry stare head-on, trembling for entirely pleasant reasons. "Why the fuck didn't you say something?" He lets go of Washington's lapels to twine his arms around his neck, enjoying the way he has to stretch onto his toes to reach, the feeling of broad shoulders and measured strength.

God, he wants Washington to wreck him. More than that he wants to wake up in Washington's bed—wants to sneak into the kitchen and set the coffee brewing—wake him slow and hungry. And not just tomorrow, but the next morning. And the next. The thought is as terrifying as it is thrilling; he hasn't been with anyone that way since Eliza.

One night stands he knows how to deal with. This? This is something else entirely.

"What could I possibly have said?" Washington sounds a little breathless now. "It would've been wildly inappropriate to proposition an employee, even if you'd been single at the time."

"I'm not your employee anymore." Alexander doesn't mean to grind his hips forward—doesn't mean to be distracting when... When this is important, damn it.

But Washington is right there, and Alexander can't help it. His cock is growing desperately interested in the proceedings, and he's never been a paragon of self-restraint.

It's gratifying—and also feels damn good—when Washington's hips stutter forward in answer, and Alexander becomes abruptly aware that he's not the only one eager to be touched.

"I didn't know," Washington groans, and Alexander can't wait another second. He can't just stand docile and patient, he fucking can't

He's already on his toes, and he leans in and presses his mouth to Washington's, using what leverage he has to reel the man in. Relief bursts in his chest when Washington surges readily forward to meet him. Not just accepting the kiss, but claiming it. Taking over like the control freak he is, as any hint of hesitation melts away.

And oh, this is even better than Alexander imagined. He knew—hoped—Washington would be forceful with him, but the reality is incendiary. Strong hands hold him still as Washington deepens the kiss, and Alexander clings with everything he's got.

He doesn't want to stop. He's so hard he aches, and the friction is almost too much. He knows Washington is right there with him; there's no mistaking the way Washington's hips are pinning him to the wall, the way their bodies are rubbing together, the way restless energy spirals and sings between them searching for release.

When Washington withdraws, Alexander actually keens with disappointment. Fuck, he's so close, they can't stop

But Washington holds him at bay, denying him the friction he needs. "Easy, Alexander."

"George," he whimpers, not quite embarrassed enough at his own neediness to choke the reaction down.

At least Washington looks every bit as demolished as Alexander feels. Pupils dilated in the dim hallway, kiss-swollen mouth ajar, chest rising and falling rapidly. He has barely retreated at all. He looks an absolute mess.

Alexander draws a shaky breath and forces his libido back under control. He sounds very nearly human when he asks, "Why the fuck are you stopping?"

Washington actually laughs at that, bright and startled and impossibly fond. The sound makes Alexander's chest hurt. It makes him hope that this is only a temporary ceasefire and not a rejection. Surely Washington wouldn't be staring at him like that if he intended to spurn Alexander's advances.

"Alexander, we are at a Schuyler wedding. And if we continue like this, we will both ruin our suits. Do you want that entire reception hall to know what we've been up to?"

"Yes," Alexander blurts. Fuck, he doesn't care if they all think he's barely better than a randy teenager. He wants every last one of them to know that Washington is his.

Washington laughs louder, a startled chuckle that starts in his belly and carries through the empty hallway. "What am I going to do with you?"

Alexander waits a beat. Then, slowly, lets a sly grin spread across his face.

Washington's eyes widen, and for several seconds neither of them moves. Electric potential thrums between them. Alexander catches his own lower lip between his teeth, willing Washington to kiss him again. To finish this. God, he aches to finish this.

But instead Washington takes a single, decisive step backward. Completely away. And says, "Later, my boy. I promise we will continue this later. But right now you have a reception to attend."

Right. Eliza. Alexander is here for a reason.

He closes his eyes and thinks unsexy thoughts. A litany of things that never fail to ease him back from the edge, as he clenches his hands into fists at his sides. Even without Washington touching him it's difficult, but he fights his uncooperative body back under control. When he opens his eyes he feels significantly less like he'll shake apart at the slightest provocation.

Washington still looks completely floored, but at least there's no sign of the erection he was sporting a moment ago. With their respective hard-ons under control, surely they can go back out there and mingle without embarrassing themselves.

"Ready for this?" Alexander moves reluctantly for the door that will lead them back amid the noise and chaos of the reception. He's already calculating in his head, trying to figure out how quickly they can excuse themselves without seeming rude. Soon, surely. He's the ex-fiancé, no one can expect him to stick around until the party shuts down.

"Ready."

Washington takes his hand, and Alexander opens the door.