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Processional

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Vice President Aaron Burr, Esq.
Desires the honor of your Presence
At the Wedding of his Only Daughter and Jewel of his Heart
The most Remarkable and Wisest of Creatures on this Earth
Beautiful and Accomplished beyond all Reckoning
To 
Phillippe Humlidon

 

“Father,” Theodosia sighs, pulling the invitation away from him, “That’s not how you spell his name.”

“He doesn’t deserve to have it spelled correctly,” Aaron points out, trying to snatch it back.

“How many of these have you written like this?” She sifts through the pile, her scowl deepening. “I only agreed to let you help because your hand is better than mine. If you’re going to be difficult—“

“Says the daughter who is marrying the son of a bastard whoreson disgrace of—“

“Mr. Hamilton is a great deal nicer than you,” says Theodosia, sweeping away all the cards Aaron has inscribed in the past hour. Have three small glasses of wine, he reflects glumly, and suddenly everything you do is judged. “Now, if you don’t want to help, I understand. You can just keep drinking!”

“You are occasionally a good daughter whom I love,” Aaron says, and retires to the divan where he finishes another two bottles and wakes up the next morning with a crick in his neck and an ungodly hangover.

*

If it wasn’t for the dancing, Aaron believes he could make it through the entire wretched affair. He’s made it through the procession, and kissing his daughter on the cheek and allowing that smug-faced student take her hand, and through the wedding vows, and through Hercules very nearly breaking his arm keeping him seated while the pastor asked if anyone had any objections, and through the gladhanding at the church where he had to stand next to Alexander Gods Be Damned Hamilton, and through the carriage ride to the reception hall, and through the toasts, and through Hercules very nearly breaking his foot this time stepping on it every time he got too sentimental (“murderous, Burr, you were murderous, not sentimental”) about his daughter getting married to that thing in a new suit, and through the dinner.

But now there is dancing, and there is Alexander Gods Be Damned Hamilton again, standing there making a face like a rancid lime, saying something about dancing with his wife.

“It’s tradition,” he’s saying. That’s what Aaron thinks he’s saying. It’s difficult to hear over the sound of the quartet and the people and the four glasses of wine. Theodosia’s wedding has been worse on his liver than his last Governor’s race. Which he lost, thanks to the creature in front of him. 

“Who will you dance with, then?” he asks, determined to be spiteful. Theodosia and Phillip had run into the middle of their duel nearly six months ago, waving their hands and shouting down every objection to their interference; that doesn’t mean Aaron doesn’t want to shoot Hamilton in the knees any less.

Hamilton’s face crumples into even more of a lemon. “I can sit this one out,” he says.

“Careful, Alexander,” Aaron warns, “I’ll begin to think you don’t want to be the center of attention.”

“How can I be, in the presence of the former Vice President of the United States?” Hamilton says, and Aaron will freely admit that he’d challenge the bastard again then and there if it weren’t for Mrs. Hamilton coming up at that moment and pinching her husband firmly in the side.

“What my dear husband means,” Mrs. Hamilton says, still pinching as Hamilton makes a series of entertainingly pained faces, “Is that I would be honored to accept your invitation to dance, as is the custom, while my husband, who has had too much to drink to be secure in his footing,” this said with another pinch, “Shall observe us and see how it is done in New York.”

“She can never remember the steps to the Reel,” Hamilton warns as Aaron gets to his feet and bows over her hand.

“That’s because you make up your own steps to it, my dear,” Mrs. Hamilton calls over her shoulder.

Aaron takes his charge out to the floor, where the other dancers are congregating; his daughter and newly-minted son-in-law are not among them, and he catches sight of them resting their feet at the other side of the hall. Theodosia catches sight of him and waves cheerfully. He sighs and smiles back. It’s a false one, and she’ll know it, but she’ll appreciate that he’s trying. Or at least, she ought to.

They dance the first few measures in silence; Mrs. Hamilton counts the steps to herself, just loud enough for her partner to hear, and Aaron doesn’t trust himself not to laugh at an inopportune moment. But when they get to the processional she seems more sure and turns to regard him. “You’re very quiet, Mr. Vice President.”

Aaron flinches; from Hamilton, who so clearly wants to kick the entirety of the world in the shins, that title does not sting, but from his gentle wife there is something that wounds. “No longer a vice president,” he points out.

“Or a governor,” she agrees, but when he looks at her she does not seem malicious so much as disapproving. “My husband is, as you might observed, can be—“

“An ass?” he supplies.

She still blushes prettily, even after all these years. Aaron has a momentary flashback; meeting the celebrated Schuyler sisters in Manhattan one evening at a party, years before Alexander Hamilton had ever benighted their lives. Angelica had drawn admiration like a flame will draw moths, and Margaret’s quiet solemnity had its share of admirers. But he remembers his own attention captured by plain little Miss Eliza, laughing brightly in the candlelight.

Before she can protest, he adds, “Forgive me. You deserve better than insults.”

“Insulting my husband is no insult to me,” she points out. “Suffice it to say that you are not the only person in the world who has been been tempted to challenge him to a duel.”

“The only one to do it, however,” he says. “I indulged my curiosity — all other challenges have been issued by your husband, rather than recieved.”

She laughs, turning gracefully at the bottom of the line; her hand squeezes his briefly as they join and separate amidst the crowd. “I cannot decide what is less surprising,” she says. “That my husband has issued nearly every challenge, or that you took it upon yourself to find out. Or,” she adds ruefully as they promenade up the line, “That he has survived to the age of fifty.”

“Has his birthday passed?” Aaron asks. “I must send him a present.”

She flashes him a smile. “Hemlock is not in season, alas.”

This time it is he who laughs, and even while he does it he cannot remember the last time he did it. It’s as though a boulder has loosened out of his chest, a boulder that has caught the bracken of his heart for more than a decade, and as it tumbles free he can feel the clatter of sticks and rocks and rushing water against his ribs, leaving him gasping for the sweet air. He blinks, and they are still dancing, at the top of the line and Eliza is smiling at him, puzzled but happy.

But instead of asking him what’s wrong, she turns back into the dance, counting under her breath for a few moments while they navigate the reel. And when they rejoin again, she says, “My son is inexpressibly lucky to have found your daughter’s favor.”

That surprises him, so much so that he cannot make meaningless dissembling that it is his daughter who is fortunate. “Not many here would agree,” he says instead, too blunt and honest. Talk less, he thinks.

Everyone here would agree,” she counters, as the music comes to an end and they share a moment of polite applause. “But I do not mean it the way everyone here would mean it.”

He takes her hand and leads her off the floor, deliberately in the opposite direction of where Hamilton is glowering at them. He wonders if he’s been glowering the entire time; he can honestly say he had not paid him the least attention throughout the dance. The first time in a quarter century where Hamilton and he have been in the same room and he has simply forgotten the other was there.

“Then in what way do you mean?” Aaron asks her. Time is short; at any moment Hamilton will accost them and accuse him, no doubt, of propositioning Eliza.

She looks over at where her son, laughing, has pulled his bride’s feet into his lap, curling his hand over her ankles protectively as she makes some tart comment. Her expression is wistful, remembering something he cannot see. “In the same way I suspect you were lucky, Mr. Burr,” she says, turning her dark gaze on him. “A marriage can bring two people together over time; and that love is as deep as any ocean’s depths. But a marriage that begins with that kind of love — from both sides,” she adds, faltering. But she clears her throat and continues, “Such a marriage is a blessing for all who are privileged to witness it.”

“It always ends badly,” Aaron warns her. He watched his wife’s chest rise and fall for the final time eleven years ago, and to this day he sees the life pull away from her face whenever he closes his eyes. “That kind of love can consume even the wisest of us.”

“We are none of us wise in love,” she replies.

“I think the man who has you for a fool, Mrs. Hamilton, is a blessed man indeed.”

It draws a smile from her, and a playful curtsey. “A fine compliment, Mr. Burr.”

“No longer a Vice President, then?” he asks.

She cocks her head, regarding him thoughtfully. “Too formal a title,” she decides. “For someone who is family.”

“What have you been discussing in such low tones?” Hamilton demands from behind him. “Me?”

Aaron bows over Eliza’s hand, feeling lighter than he has in years. For someone who is family. “We were discussing true love,” he tells him, ignoring Eliza’s imperfectly supressed laughter. “So rest assured, you hardly featured.”

And with that, Eliza pulls her husband away before he can challenge Aaron to another duel. Aaron watches them leave, then goes to pester his daughter. He does not feel the need for a drink, but another dance would be wonderful.