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On the Construction and Tending of Greenhouses

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*

It was, of course, to be an unrivaled spectacle. The grand ballroom had been decorated with new tapestries of radiant colors made with dyes that could only be found across the oceans. The crystal chandeliers had been set with new candles and polished until they glittered like diamonds. Windows has been wiped until they were completely clear and the wide gardens could be seen outside, freshly planted with exotic flowers in a rainbow of colors. Between the tapestries and the windows has been arranged lattices to which white orchids, roses, and lilies had been expertly hung as if to make the appearance that flowers were blooming from the walls. Elaborately carved pews has been settled in rows and freshly upholstered with white cloth bearing embroidered ornate designs. Where the pews did not reach were white carpets sewn with gold thread.

The center carpet, which was white and embroidered with designs of rich red roses, led to a raised dais in the back of the center of the room. Behind this was an open space, and against the back wall were more trellises, these also containing white flowers, with the notable exception of birds of paradise on one side, enormously sharp and and bursting with orange, and the other side, peppered with violets. In the center of the trellis, in the center of the dais, in the center of the room, intertwined one bird of paradise and one violet.

Several hours from this moment, two men were to stand on the dais and join together their political powers, and, much less importantly to anyone there, their individual lives.

The man of the violet was a war general of great renown, and brought land and not-unsubstantial political reputation. It was only a strange twist of events that he was to be married much later than a man of his status normally would have been. First, he had taken to a terrible illness as a child, which rendered him unfit for being betrothed or arranged; second, he had been at the side of an older brother who had lingered half-dead for some years before finally passing away; third, he had gone to fight in two wars, and although he had come back bedecked in medals and a substantial growth in property, there were no parents left upon his return who would have arranged for him to be married.

Unlike most men, he was master of his own fate and benefited from a lack of guiding hands, such as a father or lord, due to his age. His own desires tended towards more bachelorly pursuits, rather than matrimony. He was bent only by the hand of decorum and reputation, and it was this hand (which made itself known in hushed tones in ballrooms like this one) that suggested there might be some mental or physical failing, or secret indecency or horror, which was why the man did not find himself husband or wife, for he could surely have his pick.

He did not wish to be married, but he could not be seen as mentally or physically failed, and as such approached a close friend and political ally about possible resolutions to this situation that would not disturb his lifestyle. His friend, to his surprise, indicated that he had just the thing. The thing, as fate had it, was his fourth child and single son, of which the violet general only knew that the boy tended to appear as little as he was able at social functions.

The solution, and our bird of paradise in question, was somewhat of a collective thorn to many sides, for it had taken to speaking out of turn, and, unbecoming of a fourth child, reading, rather than some domestic handiwork such as wood carving or embroidery. The general indicated he did not mind reading - in fact, a husband hiding in the library was not likely to disturb his habits.

That the bird of paradise enjoyed reading was not his only peculiarity, and alone would not have led him to the end of being married to a disinterested general twice his age. For the bird of paradise possessed what could kindly be called a passionate spirit and less kindly an argumentative temper. He had the habit of expressing his opinions on things which people do not want the opinions of fourth children on. This, combined with a vicious wit, a sharp mind, and a head filled with books, led him to regularly humiliate men and women with better standing, much to the embarrassment of his parents. Then, there was the matter that the son had been adopted by some mysterious kindness (likely the results of the inexplicable affection his three older, true blood sister siblings had for him), resulting in the complex situation where even his strong house standing did not permit him to promise much rank to anyone. Lastly, there was the thought that while one could formally and technically abandon the endless, blank purgatory of being rankless and stationless, such things stuck to one’s soul like tar and, for the bird of paradise, he could always smell the hot asphalt of his beginnings despite his current luxury.

And so, even if he had been perfectly demure, he would perhaps only be a third-rate prospect. Unmarriageable might have been putting it kindly.

Of course, the adopted, opinionated, too-bright fourth child made it clearly known that he did not wish to be married, an opinion which was promptly and repeatedly ignored by most everyone, and received only a comforting hug from his three adopted sisters and an invitation to vent from his best friend, a rebellious squire from one of the nearby wealthy families.

The general expressed to his friend that he did not mind an ill-tempered, sharp-mouthed, too-witty stubborn boy of nebulous birth with hardly any standing rank of his own once removed from his adopted castle, and as such the deal was struck. On the next sunrise, the sewing of wedding garments began.

This returned us to our opulent ballroom, where the two men now stood.

The violet general wore a white coat embroidered with purple thread among other elaborate clothes. At his side rested a ceremonial sword encrusted with amethysts and diamonds, the sheath inlaid with intricate designs of gold and obsidian. Representations of medals were sewn into his jacket, the designs set with colored gemstones that glittered in many colors. Upon his head, he wore an understated platinum circlet that twisted in delicate circles, set with tiny sapphires. He wore white gloves, each embroidered with a violet that had inset in it tiny purple garnets.

The opinionated, adopted, stubborn fourth child dazzled in his radiance and his scowl. He wore a long white coat sewn with diamonds and pearls in elegant patterns which he complemented with an aggressive jut to his shoulders. Below this, he wore a white waistcoat with buttons made of brilliantly orange hessonites. The dress pants, which had been tailored specifically for the occasion (the son was a little short), had sewn patterns along the seams inset with small tourmalines, which glittered as the man shifted his hips in a bored, irritated manner. His clenched fists stretched the fabric of the delicate silk gloves that he wore, white and decorated with sewn birds of paradise, the different colored jewels set into the fabric. His eyes glittered with suppressed rage the same way the diamonds in his own circlet, intricate and ornate, sparkled in the light of all the candles.

It would be a great well of gossip for some time, how a man, seemingly rescued from eternal spinsterdom and about to be whisked away by a noble hero who he certainly did not deserve (being that he was, of course, a fourth son who enjoyed reading and did not know his place), could be so angry while so well-ensconced in decadent luxury.

There were vows, which were said speechlike by the violet and acidlike by the bird of paradise. They exchanged the left glove on their hands, as was the custom, and on both sides the given glove was placed in the right breast pocket, over each man’s heart. There were feasts, which were consumed at a perfectly moderate pace by violet and left untouched by the bird of paradise. There was dancing, of which the violet was very good, and of which the bird of paradise gave the impression of a stiff wooden board with blocky legs and unhewn arms.

“Hello, Lord Schuyler,” the violet said, when they sat after a dance.

“Don’t call me that, General Washington,” the bird of paradise said, his voice a storm of quiet fury. “Hamilton. It’s Hamilton.”

The violet’s eyebrows went up. “Hamilton,” he repeated, the word a question.

“My real name.”

The violet thought on this for a moment. “Hello, Lord Hamilton,” he said, softer this time, for it would be rude to be overheard saying such a thing, despite the request.

This time, he was given no response. They watched a man make a speech. The violet's thoughts were far away.

What does that name mean to you, Lord Hamilton?

Chapter Text

There were feasts for several days after the wedding. Then, finally, the decorations were removed, the excess food was carted off to feed the peasants (a tradition Washington insisted on), and the guests left, muttering to themselves the various notable events of the wedding. Of course, the thing of most attention had been the young Lord Schuyler-Washington's complete inability to understand the incredible luck which had found him. To be married to General Washington despite his horrid temperament and the wide variety of suitors that had been available to the older man- it was the sort of thing only caused by divine intervention. There were definitely no small number of complaints regarding their own sons and daughters as reasonable suitors, instead of the sour-faced young groom.

It was a peculiar match, but General Washington was a bit odd, but no one could deny his incredible political power, military ability, or strong reputation as a man of good standing. As such, his choice was dismissed as perhaps a favor to the elder Lord Schuyler, or some other extenuating circumstance.

This left only Washington, and, as he resolved to think of the boy, Lord Alexander Hamilton.

"I presume," he said, when they had been alerted by the servants that the last guest had left the premises, "That you are not interested in consummating our marriage." Such a thing would usually be next. Then, there would be discussion of their wedded crest and symbol. Washington had been long partial to the violet, which he had acquired when his father had married his second wife, his mother. Perhaps there was a way he could convince Hamilton to keep it for them, which was not completely unusual, and especially not in circumstances where the balance of power was so unequal.

Hamilton, unable to see his thoughts, managed to compress acres of disdain into a roll of his eyes.

"Very well,” Washington continued, unperturbed by this complete disrespect, "If that expression has sapped you of energy, I can show you to your new chambers, or I can provide a more complete tour of my - and your - grounds. I want it to be clear that while I understand this is not your choice, I resolve to make it as painless as possible for you to pursue whatever desires you had before we were wed. In the interest of complete disclosure, I am at fault for your present situation, for I was beginning to hear rumors with some vitriol regarding my bachelorhood, and I suppose I found it necessary to be married, despite how little I truly wanted to be."

Hamilton looked up at him and crossed his arms across his chest. While they were not wearing the elaborately jeweled robes of the ceremony, his clothes were not ill-tailored. He wore a white silk shirt embroidered with orange patterns along the sleeves, and over it a white waistcoat with pearl buttons and embroidered with grey thread. This he complimented with a pair of grey breeches and a bird of paradise brooch over his heart.

"I'm distinctly charmed to hear that the complete erosion of a life I rather liked is at the whims of a man who only viewed me as a thing to improve his reputation," he said, in a voice suggesting he was not, in fact, charmed about it at all.

"Perhaps so, though you might also see me as a man who would permit you to rebuild those walls as you saw fit, rather than to my own designs, which would be well within my power," Washington replied, folding his arms behind his back.

"If the best you have to say for your character is you are not a tyrant, it is little comfort," Hamilton snapped.

Washington frowned, and did not manage to conceal the full irritation that had grown in his voice. "Would you like a tour of your grounds, or not, Lord Hamilton?"

There was a contemplative silence. He realized two things in that silence.

First, he had of course thought that Schuyler had been exaggerating his adopted son's poor temper, although perhaps now he began to see that might not have been the case. He’d had watched with an irritated but undoubtedly impressed consideration as the young man had not cracked his mask of complete disdain once during their long wedding ceremony. But that was different than him being senselessly disrespectful while they were alone in the foyer.

The second was that his new husband was without a doubt exceptionally intelligent and of the habit to deeply consider what his actions might mean. He obviously considered the question a very serious one by his expression: if he were to say yes, he might indicate that he accepted that the grounds were his, and that he accepted that he had been married; however, he would have known that Washington's grounds were vast, and a guided tour of the place would obviously benefit him in all kinds of ways.

"I would like a tour, General Washington," he said, after a few moments.

"We shall take horses, if you are a decent rider."

"I can manage myself capably enough."

And so they made their way to the stables, to which the tour began.

Washington possessed a substantial amount of land and an impressive castle upon it. There were fields and farms. There were stables and forests and barns and a greenhouse bursting with flowers (he was considering building a second). There were all the accommodations required for noble living. Everywhere were servants that, at least at a glance, did not look ill-treated, and bowed quietly to their lord when he passed.

They passed an area to which four cabins were being built on the other side of an orchard.

"Visitor's cottages," he said to Hamilton, who followed him a step or two behind. Washington had privately noticed that while the man could sit upon the horse, he lacked the skill and grace of a life in the saddle, and he wondered idly if the man would agree to lessons. So far, this seemed terribly unlikely. "Two of them are yours. Please feel free to invite any men or women of decent character to your lands. If you believe them to be sensible, you need not first ask me for permission."

This proclamation seemed to take Hamilton by surprise. "Mine?"

"We are married, and things that are mine are also yours, and it would be spectacularly disrespectful for me to build visitor's cottages for my guests and not for yours." There was a beat. "This is not a prison, Lord Hamilton. I have not brought you here to string you upon a rack and torture you until you admit some deep confession."

Hamilton shot him a loathing look as a response and urged his horse closer to one of the cabins in progress, studying the foundation. Whatever he looked for, he found, because he resettled his horse back at Washington's side shortly after.

There were a few other things, armories and such, and a brief discussion of walls, to which Hamilton, much to Washington's surprise, pointed out some structural failure he had never noticed.

I have married someone very smart and very dangerous, the general thought to himself.

They were met at the main doorway to the main castle by a stablehand, and next to him, a tall, broad man, wearing a knowing smile and a rich servant’s coat.

"Lord Hamilton," Washington said, "This is Lafayette, my head servant and very close confidant. Please feel free to ask him for anything, or allow him to shoulder any mental burden or secret you may have. I've found no more loyal man, and I have met many." He handed the reins of his horse to the stablehand.

"Hello, General," Lafayette said to him, in his comforting, peculiar accent. He then turned to Hamilton, and bowed low, the picture of elegance. "Lafayette is all that is required, Lord Hamilton. It is a truly magnificent honor to meet you."

Hamilton studied Lafayette from upon his horse with the same intensity that he had considered the tour. "Hello, Lafayette. Have you been in General Washington's service long?" he asked, as he slid off his horse and handed the reins to a stablehand.

"I have indeed, and I find it the most magnificent place for a man to be."

Washington took the lead, entering the castle. He listened to the other four footsteps behind him. Lafayette was filling up their empty space with some pointless small-talk about the history of one of the tapestries in the main foyer, which perhaps he had seen Hamilton looking at. He discussed each corridor they passed in summary, permitting no silence, and adding side facts about the various art Washington had displayed in his hallways.

They stopped at a junction. Washington allowed the two younger men to catch up to him.

“To the left is your wing, Lord Hamilton,” he said. Hamilton blinked at him, permitting a single moment of confusion to flit upon his features.

“My wing?” The young lord echoed, looking down the hallway.

“Yes, the rooms and the suites in this direction are more yours than they are mine; if you should forbid me from entering, I would not disobey. Your private quarters are at the far end of the hall, and up the steps. If you have art or other items worth displaying, feel free to display them. The same applies for any renovations you wish to make, within reason, of course. I understand that you have taken to reading - there is a small library in this corridor, and Lafayette can direct you to the main library at your request.”

Only as he spoke did the general consider that perhaps there was a circumstance where a fourth child, especially an adopted, unruly one, was not granted much in a household. There was also still the mystery of the Hamilton name to be pondered.

Hamilton stared down the hallway.

“I will explore my wing alone,” he said, and he took one step down the hallway, as if waiting to see if Lafayette or Washington would follow him.

“Shall I set a place for you for dinner, Lord Hamilton?” Lafayette asked.

This question, for one reason or another, snapped the young lord back into what he clearly thought of as his unpleasant circumstances. He turned in the hallway and looked at both of them, the scowl resetting itself upon his face. His eyes flicked from Lafayette to Washington, who he stared at coldly.

“You need not set a place for me at dinner unless I specifically request, Lafayette. I do not intend to dine with my husband.” The final words were said with venom. “Please bring my dinner to my quarters.”

“Yes, sir,” Lafayette replied, and walked away.

Washington studied Hamilton, whose eyes were still following the servant’s retreating form. He had a feeling the man would have served well in the army, for there was a rumbling sort of energy that surrounded him. He had a presence, despite his poor behavior and slight stature.

“Is there anything else I can provide for you, Lord Hamilton?” he asked, once the man’s eyes had returned to him.

Hamilton tilted his chin up and set his expression as if he were a stubborn child. It was a role he had obviously had much practice in playing. “No, thank you,” he said, and then he turned sharply on his heel and walked down the hallway. Washington admitted to himself he had not felt so clearly and completely dismissed by another man for some time.

How does Lord Hamilton do that?

Chapter Text

The event worked exactly as Washington had planned it. As he had suspected, Hamilton had more or less disappeared completely into his wing, and the only place that he saw him was in passing from one hallway to another, or outside near the cottages that were being built, instructing the servants. In both of these areas, Hamilton pretended he did not exist.

The more clear addition to his household, rather than a husband, was a stream of servants like ants appearing and disappearing down Hamilton’s corridor. Most of them carried books from the main library to the library in the young man’s wing, which had resulted in a quick meeting headed by Lafayette about which books were too valuable or too worn to be taken from one library to another. Also not uncommon were servants carrying thick essays from the wing to be reproduced for pamphlets, and, slightly less common, men with food.

The rumors about him having some malady or secret disappeared, and as an added bonus, he went some time without being invited to a social event, likely due to Hamilton’s extraordinary ability to ruin his own wedding.

All in all, it was a riveting success and Washington was completely displeased by it.

Well, displeased was not perhaps the correct word, for he was not displeased by the fact he could continue to hunt, draw maps, work in his greenhouse, and study war as much as he liked. It was only he had not expected to wonder so persistently about his new husband. In truth, the description of him from Lord Schuyler had presented him as an argumentative bookworm, a caricature which would make for a boring man.

There were many words, unpleasant and all, to describe Lord Alexander Hamilton, but there could not be a single man or woman that would use boring. A deep curiosity had wormed itself into Washington’s stomach, and it appeared at odd intervals.

I wonder what Lord Hamilton is doing? his mind would say, in between copying some map, or reading some war manual, or considering the harvest.

To satisfy his curiosity and avoid the offense of the young lord that despised him, he turned to Lafayette, who in turn reached out to the servants, who presented these facts about his husband as the most visible parts of his personality:

First, he very much liked to both read and write, and would become so single-handedly driven at his task that he would completely forget about all other things such as the status of his clothes or the time of day. The most irritating part of this for the servants was that he would leave his food to get cold, forcing them set assignments for a man or woman to bring him a hot plate every hour.

Second, that he would write long lists of possible books for them to bring him from the main library, if they were available, and while turning down all gentle suggestions to actually relocate himself. Washington liked his servants to have some basic reading skill, and those who were better than others were quickly pressed into service into finding Lord Hamilton the books that he wanted.

Third, he despised sleep and was more commonly found slumped over his desk, candle still burning, than he would ever be found in his bed. This created the peculiar challenge of dressing him, which the servants found they mostly did in the library and to a litany of complaints regarding him being pulled away from his research.

Fourth, that he was a consummate pacer, and would mutter to himself and walk in and out of his various rooms without seeing a thing, and the servants had quickly learned they would be obliged to dodge him as he spoke under his breath and stared at the ground. He was not always speaking the common tongue, which had terribly started the servants at first, before they had been pacified by Lafayette.

“I suspect,” Lafayette said, as Washington recopied one of his maps, pondering this review of his husband, “That he is from a distant land, originally. He knows my tongue, and well enough to mutter it without thinking. There is some accent there, although it is not one I recognize. Perhaps a trading colony of my people, and he has always known both. But, if so, how did he become a Schuyler? A mysterious child, indeed.”

He looked up from his map and frowned. His close friend and servant was sprawled unservantly into one of the visitor’s chairs, his face twisted into a look of concentration as he pondered his words.

“Did you ask him where he had come from?” Washington asked, dreading the answer.

“I did, sir,” Lafayette said, unashamed.

He sighed. “You are my friend, but you are Lord Hamilton’s servant, and perhaps to ease his misery you could withhold your forwardness.” It was a gentle chastisement, for he found that he had long ceased being able to discipline his friend. But, despite himself -- I wonder where Lord Hamilton is from?, his thoughts asked, rebelliously -- he could not stop his mouth. “And what was his response?”

“He looked at me for a long time and said…” Lafayette sat up very straight and peered at him very intently, as if to play at being Hamilton. Then, he said something in his exotic language that Washington did not understand.

He gave the servant a vaguely annoyed look.

“He said ‘Nowhere of note. Where are you from?’”

“And you said?”

Lafayette said something else in his musical native tone, and then said, “I am from the war, Lord Hamilton.”

It was a perfectly Lafayette answer, part true and mysterious, and a little more sideways than what would be expected of from a servant.

“And he said?”

“He nodded and went back to writing his essay. On financial policy, if I am still able to read upside down.” Lafayette stood up and adjusted his coat, smoothing out the wrinkles acquired from sitting leisurely across a couch, as if he was a nobleman. “You know,” he began, and Washington waited for some unservantly opinion, “He is painfully intelligent. Far more than a fourth child should be. And he understands the world quite well.” There was a pause. “You are -- how do you say? -- in over your head, General Washington.”

Washington scowled. “You overstep your boundaries.”

Lafayette shrugged. “My apologies,” he said, without meaning it. “Can I get you anything else, sir?”

“That is all.”

Lafayette bowed and left. Washington sighed and stared at his half-completed map. He took a breath and steadied his thoughts, banishing his husband from his mind. He concentrated on the parchment and dipped his pen in the inkpot.

I wonder what Lord Hamilton thinks about financial policy?

Chapter Text

  

**

He was considering an invitation to a ball of General Greene's when his attention was drawn by the sound of shuffling feet.

He looked up.

Hamilton was standing in his study, observing him. There was a piece of paper in one hand, and the other was behind his back.

This was a peculiar event, for he was quite sure the man had never made a serious effort to talk to him in what would broadly be considered shared space - and his study, with his medals on the walls and hung with his favorite maps, was certainly his territory, if one was so crude. His husband, who usually lingered as a curious question at the edge of his thoughts and a ghost of a man who occupied his - their - castle, looked extremely solid in the daylight that streamed into the room.

“Hello, Lord Hamilton,” he said, the words edged with a question.

“Hello, General Washington,” Hamilton said. There was a poorly-disguised anxiety there, but the man took a breath and smoothed out his voice until he presented what he presumed to be cool and confident front. “The library is missing some books.”

“Have you read all of them yet?” Washington inquired, tilting his head and letting his eyes drift down to the paper clenched in the Hamilton’s hand.

“There are some references to other texts. I’ve already had servants search for them.” A beat. “I do intend to read all the books, although these are more valuable to my interests at present.”

He said this in a way belied the difficulty of the task, for Washington’s library was of an impressive size. Regardless, he thrust out the piece of paper, and Washington took it, eyes scanning the list of ten or twelve books. He could make a good guess based on the titles that they were philosophy, politics, governance, and finance titles. Intensive reading for a fourth son.

I wonder what Lord Hamilton thinks about politics? his thoughts said, which he kept inside him.

“Also, Lady Eliza Schuyler-Shippen is coming to the castle in two days, at dawn. I already alerted Lafayette.”

Washington was lucky that he had the paper in front of him to half-hide the expression on his face, for all at once his thoughts jumped like locusts from one question to another. He steadied himself after a moment, and in the pause, Hamilton stared at him, his eyes getting darker and a frown slowly twisting down his lips, as if he was readying himself for some assault. The young lord was just about to open his mouth and begin what Washington guessed to be some torrent of abuse, but he managed to begin first.

“Shall I have dinner with you and Lady Schuyler?”

Hamilton shut his mouth and blinked at him. It was clearly not the question he had been expecting, and it took him a moment to provide a response. Washington, again, wondered what he was thinking.

“She will want to, so we will,” he said, finally, a bit stiff. It was a half-answer, a sort of surrender to the decorum of being married that Hamilton refused to accept and Washington had no care for.

With an agreeing noise, Washington placed the list of books to the side and picked up invitation that occupied the main position on the desk. He looked at it for a few moments, and then held it out to Hamilton, who snatched it from him, quick as a snake. The young lord’s eyes flicked over the words, and the scowl resumed dragging his mouth down, until his whole face was displeased and unpleasant. He let his hands fall, the invitation having replaced where his list had been.

“I suppose you cannot go without your husband,” he said, the word again infused with venom. Then, he sighed, and even though the anger left his eyes, there was still something sharp and aggressive there, which he was currently focusing on his stockinged feet. “Will you get me those books if I go to Greene's ball with you?”

“I will make the best effort to find these books even if you do not wish to attend Greene's ball.”

Hamilton’s eyes snapped up to meet his, narrowed and suspicious. He pressed his lips together in a tight line, and Washington watched the little gears in his head turn. He was being judged. Sized up. Considered in a way that one considered a political enemy or dangerous opposing general or game animal. This consideration of other humans seemed to be Hamilton’s default mode of interacting with people, and he made a note to work on crafting some question to the lovely Lady Schuyler-Shippen regarding that the overwhelming distrust that radiated off the man in front of him in every way and at every turn, without actually mentioning it.

“I will not attend the ball,” Hamilton said, finally. Then: “When should I expect my books?”

Washington made a concerted effort not to appear disappointed; in truth, he had been thinking about the best way to convince his recalcitrant husband to attend. Ah well. He would not force him to do such a thing, if he did not desire to. Hamilton's words rattled softly in the back of his head. At least he was not a tyrant. To disguise this consideration, he looked back down at the list his husband had provided. “I will set men to find them today, and I hope they will be back as soon as they are able.”

Hamilton made an agreeing nose. He put the invitation back on Washington’s desk, folded his hands behind his back, and stared at his forced husband.

I will not dismiss you, Washington thought. I am not your master.

“Is there another matter for which I can provide assistance?” he said, instead.

“No, General Washington,” Hamilton said, and, perhaps only finally realizing he was not going to be dismissed, turned on his heel in an abrupt gesture and left as quickly as he had seemingly appeared.

Now returned to his solitude, Washington put the invitation and the list next to each other on his desk, and studied the invisible outline where his husband had stood.

Chapter Text

Washington had a long-time habit of waking before or at dawn; he had never had much of a use for sleep, and that opinion had intensified with the introduction of various disturbing war dreams which visited him, on and off, with no apparent pattern. On this particular day, it was well worth it. His eyes scanned the glowing, beautiful horizon, which seemed to be embroidered with gold lace set with rubies and other fiery gems. It was a beautiful sunrise, and for a moment his thoughts were emptied with the awe of it.

Such was not to last, not with their intended visitor, and his mind quickly refilled with questions. He would have to be brief: although Lafayette had explained that Hamilton did not like to be roused when he did manage to finally collapse from exhaustion, the young lord would likely quickly remember the upcoming events of the day, and hurry himself through his morning routine to hurry to the entrance to the estate.

It was inconsolably rude to meet one’s husband’s guest before one’s husband did, but Washington felt that it would be unlikely that Hamilton could dislike him more than at present. This thought made something unpleasant stir in the pit of his stomach, but that thing could not be considered at this juncture.

The unbroken line of the horizon was disturbed as the carriage came into view. He leaned back in the saddle, patient.

Eliza - Elizabeth - was the middle Schuyler sister, and was married to Margaret Shippen, a lovely, independent woman in her own right, with a not-insubstantial power behind her name. There was the oldest, Angelica, who had married John Barker Church, an excellent match to the best that Washington knew them, and then the youngest, Marguerite, who had been courted and married into extremely wealthy Van Rensselaers. Then, of course, there was Alexander, who while technically older than some of the daughters, was viewed by rank as the fourth child - a dark-eyed mystery who would make only token appearances at events before disappearing. It was a sign of exquisite breeding and matchmaking that the Schuyler marriages leant towards neither men nor women, and would somewhat explain Lord Schuyler’s adoption of young Lord Hamilton, for now he could complete his set: a same-gender marriage of both types, and two daughters wed to men.

The lovely middle Lady Schuyler took her coachman’s hand as she stepped out of her carriage and smiled at Washington, who had dismounted his horse and bowed low to her. She offered her hand, which he kissed tenderly.

“A pleasure as always, my lady, to see your shining face,” he said. She looked around him.

“Have you come without your husband?” she asked, looking at him, faintly confused. A frown began to work itself across her face. “I hope he has not upset you so terribly. Can you forgive him for his ill behavior? He can sometimes be stubborn, but I can assure you a good man rests within his heart.”

“His behavior is not a bother to me,” he replied. Lady Schuyler arched an eyebrow at him. Yet again, he found himself being studied. “We pursue our own interests. If his interests rest in the library and he does not wish to be disturbed, I shall not disturb him. Especially being that I am the cause of the shift in his lifestyle; the least I can do is not interrupt him as he resets his habits, and provide him a place to call his own within his new estate. Do you think eight rooms and a small library is too little? I confess to be unaware of his holdings as a Schuyler.”

“But surely,” she said, the smile on her lips, set only by social rules, not matching at all confusion in her eyes, “You must have him out of the library for dinner, at least on occasion?”

He saw in her face Lord Hamilton’s familiar suspicion. Perhaps that look was a look of all Schuylers, when they felt something uncomfortable occurring to and around them.

“I have long since only eaten with Lafayette. I will not upset a man if he does not wish to join me.”

She looked placidly past him towards his castle, and then back to him. When she spoke, there was something careful in her voice. Scouting the territory that she had originally misjudged, he thought. It would not be unlike reviewing a map, only to go to the location to realize the map was terribly inaccurate, and one would have to learn the terrain over again. “The general is too kind, as he always is,” she said, slowly choosing her words, “For Lord Schuyler-Washington has always been required to have dinner with his family, and a wing and a library is vastly larger than his holdings at his previous home.” There was a short pause, and she re-arranged her skirts below her. “I hope he has appeared properly grateful.”

“I must leave the question unanswered, for I remain unaware of what ‘grateful’ might look like on his face,” he replied, a smile just at the corner of his mouth.

She frowned at him, but whatever she was about about to say was disturbed by the sound of horses in the distance and coming closer. When she turned back to look at him again, she said nothing, only gave him a little smile with a hidden message that he could not identify.

Hamilton appeared, behind him Lafayette. Hamilton shot Washington a look of pure venom before sliding off his horse and sweeping up his adopted sister in his arms. She laughed, surprised.

For a split second, Washington saw a very different man than the one who he married. The man who rushed to cover the space between his horse and their guest was, despite his short size, seemingly taller than he appeared. He had a good nose and a sensible cut to his jaw; a grin had split his face open and seemed to somehow compliment the dark bags under his eyes, making them seem less a weight that he carried and more of a trophy of some incredible accomplishment. The eyes themselves, which he had always known to be deeply suspicious and completely opaque, where bright and thrilled, and the color sparkled in the rising sun.

Lord Hamilton looked happy - thrilled, even, his exuberance bursting out of his form in a way that Washington did not expect. There was a whole different creature behind the tall stone walls and glares. It was a creature he had never seen before, and he thought perhaps he might want to know more about.

I wonder what to do to make Lord Hamilton smile again? he thought, and then sternly clamped down on himself. He would not be rude to the man or interfere with him. It was clear that Hamilton had no interest in presenting him such an expression.

“Betsey!” Lord Hamilton said, in a voice of pure joy and completely ignorant to his husband’s whirling thoughts. Hamilton laughed, and it took Washington completely by surprise. It was the first time he’d had heard the man laugh, he realized. It was a charming thing, completely free of his moodiness. He would have liked to hear it more. It might lighten the dark halls of the castle.

“Alexander, please,” she gasped in surprise, “You’ll embarrass me in front of the general!”

“I am just leaving,” he said, holding up his hands in surrender, as if that could defend him from the sudden and much more familiar rage that flitted in his husband's eyes as they caught his gaze. Instead, he looked at Lafayette, who was passing the reigns of a horse to Lady Schuyler. “I will be called for dinner?”

“Yes, sir,” Lafayette said, nodding. Satisfied, Washington clucked his tongue and his own horse took back off towards the stables, trying to settle his mind.

 

*

 

Washington made a point to make himself scarce with the lady in attendance. It was not as if he did not have many, many questions for her about the Schuyler household which had never previously interested him, only that he was struck by the complete rudeness that would entail asking for the whole story. What could be done, if his husband had been mistreated, anyway?

Family habits and rituals would not come up during what could ingenerously be called his gossip sessions with Lord Philip Schuyler, or during their war meetings or political planning. How a man demanded his children show respect, adopted sons and all, was not really a subject of discussion between a lord of a house and a family friend, as close as they might have been, and even if they were even now closer by marriage.

Such questions could never be asked at dinner, which the four of them ate together, Lafayette rounding off their group. At dinner, Lord Hamilton appeared neither the exuberant friend nor the reluctant husband, but somewhere in the middle: while he carried the flow of conversation, answering questions that were asked and providing questions of his own, there was a stiff kind of distance to it. Formal. Not the boy that had thrown his arms around his adopted sister. That was the boy he wished to learn more about.

The issue at present seemed to be that Washington had been struck by that moment where Lord Hamilton had been charmed by Lady Schuyler. He had never seen the man that had appeared so suddenly. That man - not the ill-tempered young lord who was his husband - had taken him completely by surprised, because he had not expected someone so pleasant to be hiding under all that disdain. He had asked for a husband who would not be a bother and he had been given a distasteful bookworm, exactly as he had expected. Nowhere had it been included that, in certain company, the man had a laugh like silver bells.

He had not expected, or been prepared for, anything or anyone else. He was not sure exactly where he had been mislead, or if he had mislead himself. The only thing that could be certain was that he had seen a completely different man for a moment or two, and that man had stirred his interest in a way he had almost completely forgotten. Generally, he found other people to be various degrees of boring, with only a few exceptions to be noted. This might be one.

In this end, again, he enlisted Lafayette, who was the best spy a man could ask for. And Lafayette reported that, yes, Hamilton was cheery with Lady Schuyler, going on about nothing and listening to the woman's gossip with an attentive kindness. From somewhere he produced jokes, which made the lady laugh, sometimes uproariously. Lafayette would not have had matched the man he saw that week with the ill-tempered bookworm that they had all become familiar with.

Washington resisted the urge to ask Lafayette what Hamilton said about him, although the servant, with his smirking eyes, clearly knew that the question hung between them. But it was perfectly Lafayette to not provide that information if it was not asked of him. In the end, he felt a queer sort of relief when she left, for he would no longer be tempted to approach Lady Schuyler with his questions, and he would no longer run the risk of seeing the charming secret man who appeared to him like a vision.

Lord Hamilton stood in the main hallway of the castle after he had wished off his adopted sister. Washington waited behind him, with his hands folded behind his back.

“We should have new jackets tailored for Greene's ball,” Hamilton said, matter-of-factly.

Forgetting himself, Washington stared. Hamilton looked up at him. Guarded. That smile - that laugh - was far away, so far that Washington wondered how long it might take to return.

“Yes,” he said, catching himself after a few moments. “I shall have Lafayette call the tailor immediately.”

He went to go fetch his servant.

What have you said to my husband, Lady Elizabeth Schuyler-Shippen?

Chapter Text

At least it could be said for Hamilton that he looked completely stunning in his new jacket and properly-hemmed pants. The jacket was rich silk with embroidered sleeves and small, semi-precious stones at the wrists that shimmered in the light and sparkled when he moved, giving him the impression of bracelets or jeweled cuffs. Their joint symbols of violet and the bird of paradise were sewn in a large, brilliant pattern across the back of the coat; they had not yet picked a new crest for the house of Washington-Schuyler, as such a thing might have required them to be in the same room together, or, heaven forbid, have a complete discussion. It was perhaps more openly possessive than Washington would have preferred, but he realized after viewing the jacket on the man that that was precisely the point. It had been designed to announce such a thing, ideally with an unkind sneer. I have been married to a disinterested man twice my age out of his own selfish desires to quash rumors. Look upon the object you have turned me into and be ashamed.

Washington admitted to himself it was particularly brilliant and vicious way to protest his treatment.

What could not be said was that Lord Hamilton appeared to enjoy himself. He wore his familiar scowl that he had perfected during his wedding, and he refused to dance with anyone but his husband. Those dances were stiff, like he was a statue animated by some amateur magician.

The other option to present oneself as acceptable company in a ball such as this, was of course, to engage in pleasant conversation. Washington had zero confidence that Hamilton would take that approach; the last sad-flickering hope of this was promptly quashed by a visit by his friend, General Knox, who came up to stand next to him when he was speaking to General Greene about some agricultural innovation.

“Your husband is quite the charmer,” Knox said dryly, when they turned to him. “And his coat reminds me of a servant’s. How could Mr. Mulligan have allowed such a thing to pass through his shop and be worn? His eye is usually most discerning.”

Washington let his gaze drift to where Hamilton sat. His husband was observing the goings-on with his usual intent gaze and frown.

“I sympathize with your plight, George,” Greene added. It was known that Greene was having troubles marrying his own children off due to some rumored financial difficulties. There had been some brief discussion of Washington marrying his middle son, although Greene confessed that neither his sons nor his daughters would provide the solitude or peace of mind that he had sought in a partner. “It seems that Phillip could have the thing annulled, if you desired. He would not force you to suffer such poor behavior unduly. He is your friend, after all. At least such a thing does not tarnish the reputation of his parents, because, you know.” He gave them both a knowing look.

“He is much less unpleasant when left to his own devices, and he suits my purposes perfectly. I suspect he may also do well in our arrangement, despite whatever appearances he chooses to show.” Something in Washington’s stomach twisted unpleasantly at the conversation. He changed the subject. “I hope your pride does not bleed too much, Henry.”

Knox shrugged. “Oh, it is nothing not oft-repeated. Though I admit, the boy has a tongue.” He leaned in, conspiratorially. “Has he used it on you?”

Washington rolled his eyes at his friend’s salacious smirk, and Greene chuckled. Both men waited for a moment, and then made equally disapproving noises when he shook his head.

“There are benefits to marrying men half your age, George, besides that they will wear the coat of a servant,” Greene said.

“Enough.” Washington could not completely repress the growl in his voice. His eyes flicked back to Hamilton, who was sipping from a goblet and staring at him. His husband toasted him with a sarcastic smile and took a gulp of wine.

“Or might your pleasure be granted by Lafayette?” Knox asked. Greene snickered.

Washington’s head snapped back to them. “I beg your pardon?” he asked, his voice cold.

“Easy, George,” Knox held up his hands in a fake-surrender. “You know our affections for the man. We were also in the war, and we know his skills and his cheer. It is only you are accumulating peculiarities at a remarkable rate.”

“As long as my reputation outweighs my peculiarities, I see no reason to disturb them.” Both his friends leaned in again, as if they were waiting for some juicy explanation of Hamilton’s coat (He is and remains deeply opposed to our marriage and has chosen to wear it to indicate he is a slave and his will is forced) or some update on his exotic head servant (Once you have realized your bond with another human, even if it is not traditional, you will do anything to keep them near you). “And,” he added, sharper, “I am well within my right to keep my own privacy in my lands.”

Knox sighed heavily.

“It seems unlikely that your exploits will be forgotten, or overshadowed, by your unruly husband,” said a female voice, and the circle opened to permit a woman.

“Lady Dandridge-Custis,” Washington said, bowing his head in a greeting. “A pleasure to see your beautiful face, as it always is.”

“Martha, as it has been for you for a long time, George.”

Greene looked at the two of them, and looked at Knox, and offered him his hand, the very beginnings of the next song starting. After a considering moment, Knox laughed and took it. Washington’s ears caught the beginning of the argument about who would lead; the thought of his friends dancing, unequal in form as they were, settled his stomach a little and even caused the beginnings of a smile to tug at his lips.

He focused back on the lady, whose eyes were watching Hamilton. He too turned to study his husband, who wore a distant expression complimented in its queerness by the sight of his lips forming words to himself and no one else.

I wonder what essay Lord Hamilton is composing in his head? he thought.

“That looks like a scowl that has been long since perfected,” she said. “It reminds me of the one he wore at his wedding.”

“He is less unpleasant when left to his own devices,” he repeated. The lady - Martha, he reminded himself - made a soft acknowledging noise in her throat.

“I presume that it was not you who had him wear that coat,” she said, casting a knowing smile at him. He nodded, so she continued. “It’s quite a tactic, to seek to humiliate one’s husband in such a roundabout manner. He must be storing an impressive mind underneath all those frowns. I suppose I know that you would defend the devil himself were he under your obligation, but he must not be all spite.”

No one could simultaneously compliment and cut him like Martha could.

“There is another man. One that smiles,” he said, slowly.

He had been set to wed the woman, but then his brother Laurence had gotten sick, and then there had been the first war. When he’d come back, not quite the general he was now, she had gone from Dandrige to Dandridge-Custis. He regularly wondered what it might have been like had they been wed, and despite the lack of formal connection, there was something unending about their courtship of one another. He long maintained that she was the wisest woman, if not person, on the continent, and she was always there, a half-warm smile on her lips for him. And so, there was perhaps no one (other than Lafayette) he trusted more to keep the secret, mysterious treasure that was his husband’s flash of cheer.

Martha, being the wisest woman certainly at the ball and if not on the continent, seemed to understood the gravity of this secret, for she took a step closer, angling them to both keep an eye out for any possible eavesdroppers. She gave him a thoughtful sort of look. “Perhaps you might see more of the man who smiles if you spent few hours viewing him as a complete creature, rather than object for your personal and political pleasure?”

He flinched back at the viciousness of the rebuke. Martha adjusted her shawl, as if she had not just thrown acid in his face.

“He is a man, as I am,” he retorted, after a moment, but it was a feeble sort of thing. Despite his skill in working a room of egotistic military general or short-sighted politicians, he had never quite learned how to apply those skills to this particular woman. He took another breath and continued. “He is brilliant enough to see he is not my servant or thing. I have provided him with a complete wing of my castle, and two cottages, and a library, and I will construct for him a greenhouse if he desires. He has already had Lady Schuyler-Shippen over. He is more free with me than he ever was under Phillip Schuyler. He is not even required to have dinner with me.” A breath. “He acts out of spite.”

Martha sighed, and her gloved hands came up to idly fix the knot of his neckcloth, which knew already to be perfect. When she was finished, she stepped back and took him in. “You know very well that a boy so offended by the loss of his liberty - even if he has gained privilege - will not feel so kind to his jailor, style yourself however you may like, over a few rooms and a book or two. Perhaps you could use the Washington charm I have always known you to possess and speak to him as if he is a real human being, rather than discussing him like he is a concubine or a particularly impressive title.” Finally, as he knew it to be inevitable, she frowned. “You know I have never approved of this plan of yours. Do not soil yourself by dragging this poor creature through your selfish mud.”

Washington sighed and looked away, feeling properly chastised. His eye caught Phillip Schuyler, who was looking particularly unhappy as he spoke to a woman Washington didn’t know. He turned his gaze back to Martha before he could be noticed.

“Should I not leave him to his own devices?” he asked her, thinking of that laugh. “He has expressed to me to desire nothing else.”

Martha looked over at Hamilton, and then back to him. “Have you asked him what he wants, George? Lafayette skulking around is not the same.”

He opened his mouth to respond, and then shut it.

Then: “I have not.”

“Have you asked him if he likes to ride, or shoot, or survey?”

“I have not.”

She tutted at him. “Perhaps you should ask him, and then he may express to you his desires. Unless it is more to your liking that you create them for him, as you have seemed to do up until this point.”

Washington scowled. “I hardly deserve this treatment. I have not harmed him so grandly that I should be flogged.”

Martha shook her head, but her expression slowly eased, until a gentle smile had settled upon her face. “There is no reason that this mysterious other half of your unpleasant husband cannot be coaxed to reveal itself, if you put your considerable funds, skill, diplomacy and charisma to it.” She gave him a firm nod. “You have never failed to convince a man who disliked you to give you men and weapons, and this can hardly be worse than some stubborn politician. Certainly you can convince your husband to dress appropriately by treating him as if he is a real human.”

Washington nodded, more to himself than her. Somehow, it seemed so much more sensible and reasonable in Martha’s voice. She always managed a peculiar sense of completeness with him. He had considered asked for her hand before he had settled on Lord Hamilton - and what a difference - but she had told him plainly she would expect him to be a father. It could not have been so bad, for Martha, but he could not help but still think it was not what he wanted.

“I still think about--” he began, for standing here with her brought back memories of their courtship of long ago.

“Perhaps you could begin your tenure as a decent husband with a rescue,” Martha said, cutting him off. She tilted her head to the side, and Washington followed her eyes to see Phillip Schuyler storming across the dance hall on a direct path to Hamilton. His husband was looking without seeing, still muttering to himself. Martha nodded.

Washington grabbed her hand and kissed it quickly, then took off, thanking god for his long stride. All at once he had the idea, which appeared perfectly formed in the front of his mind. His heart skipped as he saw Hamilton notice Phillip; the young lord’s face flickered with panic before smoothing over completely, long-prepared for what was clearly going to be simply another colding in a long line of scoldings. A play they knew.

New act, Washington thought to himself, beating the elder Lord Schuyler by three steps and clearing his throat. Hamilton turned and stared up at him, confused and overwhelmed for only a second before he set his shoulders back in the nature of men accustomed to being addressed.

“My darling,” he said, and Hamilton barely repressed the smirk, “I know we are in the middle of the song, but perhaps you would grant me the pleasure of a half dance?”

Hamilton looked at his outstretched hand, considering. Washington forced himself not to look at Lord Schuyler, who was standing silently at the edge of his peripheral vision.

“Thank you, my wonderful husband,” Hamilton said, finally, the jewels at his wrist glittering as he took the offered hand and allowed himself to be lead to the dance floor. They melted into the crowd, and only then did Washington permit himself to re-find his Phillip Schuyler - there, talking to that woman again, shrugging in what he would guess to be an apology and gesturing to them.

“Managing my father is one of my best talents,” Hamilton said in a soft voice, eyes fixed on the combined violet/bird of paradise pin that Washington wore. It was new. He would have noticed, in the absence of a new crest. “I am not a maiden in need of defending. Your rescue is not required.”

“Required suggests a minimum, to which I aspire to stand far above,” Washington replied, in an equally soft voice. Hamilton snorted. They said nothing else, but Hamilton danced less like a block of wood, at least. When the dance finished, they bowed to each other, and his young husband slipped from his grasp without another word. Washington folded his arms behind him and studied his retreating back, suddenly lost in the crowd.

“General,” said Martha’s soft voice, behind him. He turned to see her offering her hand, which he took. For a while they danced with only the accompaniment of the quartet and the sounds of his thoughts, considering in endless circles his husband, and his husband’s father, and this woman he cared with a peculiar tenderness for, only that he had presently decided to marry another, in which his thoughts would circle around again, not unlike a horse track. As the sun set, candles were lit, and the party shimmered in the half-darkness of the evening. They would leave soon. Hamilton would disappear into his library, and Washington would take the steps up to his study.

He was sitting at his seat, nursing his wine and wondering where his husband had gone off to, when he was approached by less pleasant company. He studied the man for a moment, then stood to his full height, as to not give any additional advantage, and considered at length, the proper title. General might have been generous, for he himself had fought to have the thing ripped from the man; Lord sat somewhere in the middle, but he had never been sure the man had other station besides the military; Mister seemed vicious.

“Lord Lee,” he said, deciding on the middle term, at least for now. “Have you been enjoying this fine event set by General Greene?”

Lee eyed him disdainfully. He had clearly come prepared with some weapon, which Washington waited for him to draw from his mental sheath. If nothing else, the appearance of Lee indicated it was time for him to return to his own home, where he was not bothered by cowards.

“Where is your husband, General?” Lee asked, eyes turning to the empty chair next to Washington.

“He is his own man,” Washington replied, with little effort to keep the irritation from his voice, “If he wishes to mingle, I shall not restrain him, as he does not restrain me.”

Lee quirked an eyebrow at him, making an acknowledging noise in the back of his throat. “Mingle seems generous for the manner in which he attacks people. All I have is apologies for his unhusbandly behavior.”

At this, Washington’s frown grew more evidently onto his face, and his eyes narrowed. It was one thing for his friends to make playful jabs at his choices, and completely different for a known enemy to use similar words. His voice was soft. “That seems to be an ill-mannered thing to say about a man, or a man’s husband.”

“One does wonder, though,” Lee continued, his voice the fake-meandering of a man who wants something, “How could a man of such good breeding become so poorly tempered? I have never seen him so moody while under the guidance of the good Schuyler name. Was it perhaps only the guidance of the Schuylers that had inspired goodness in him? And now, in less decent company, he has unwound into a malcontent?”

“Do you approach me only to slander my company?” Washington growled. It would have been exceptionally poor form to wrap his arms around the man’s neck and shake him until he choked out an apology, but he nevertheless entertained the image. “Or might I provide some other assistance, perhaps refer you to a pamphleteer so you may begin rehabilitating your own image?”

Uncharacteristically, Lee hardly seemed disturbed by this barb. Such was a bad sign, and something hot like worry began to itch next to the anger at the base of his spine.

“He is a young man,” Lee said, instead, looking into the crowd, perhaps to try to spot the object of his poisons, “And married so late. Perhaps his sullenness is because he is unsatisfied? At that age, a boy can become quite upset if they are not properly tended to. I hope Lord Schuyler has not found him an inadequate match, be that for his physical or mental pursuits. One could become quite unruly if they were forced to suffer a man of….” His eyes flicked down Washington’s body, and then back up again. “...defects.”

“Lee,” Washington hissed, his fists clenching at his sides. “Speak plainly your accusations.”

“Oh, they are hardly accusations, only rumors. It seems so terribly unlikely that a man of your courage, bravery and standing could display such a failure to perform.”

As if things could not be worse, Washington saw Hamilton appear behind his enemy. His husband’s face, as usual, was contemplative. The last thing he needed at this juncture was the man’s acidic words or temper - not only to forward Lee’s gossip, but to disrupt his own frayed nerves.

Lee looked over his shoulder, then back to him, and smirked. “What dispels gossip quicker than a first-hand explanation, then?” He gestured Hamilton over.

His husband took a step forward, and then another, and then he set a playful little smile upon his face - a wholly uncharacteristic thing that suggested he may have been some playful kitten and not the badger Washington knew him to be. It was not the man he had seen with Lady Schuyler, but it was a convincing facade nonetheless.

“Hello, sir,” Hamilton veritably purred at Lee, and it was excellent that Lee’s gaze was upon him, because Washington had momentarily lost control of his expression as a result of the stunned shock of the man’s acting. His mind raced, reaching and fighting for a conclusion, and only after a few terrifying seconds did he realize Hamilton was rescuing him.

“Hello, Lord Schuyler,” Lee said, the triumphant smile on his face faltering only slightly as Hamilton walked around him, picked up Washington’s arm, and slid it around his own waist. “General Washington and I were just discussing you.”

“Were you?” Hamilton asked, and he smiled adoringly up at Washington, who forced himself to grin back. “I hope you do not blame him for my poor dancing. The general requires of me much…….exercise.”

Lee stared openly this time, and his eyes whipped between the two of them. He opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it, and then opened it again. “Does he?” he managed, in a strained voice.

"Oh, yes," Hamilton murmured. He looked up at Washington with huge, dark eyes, and Washington felt an unfamiliar streak of heat curl at the base of his stomach.

“I believe no further explanations will be necessary?” Washington rumbled, but he kept his gaze on Hamilton, reaching to caress the man’s cheek with his other hand. He squeezed Hamilton close to him; the silk of his jacket was smooth, and he could feel the man’s heat bleeding off his body through his clothes.

Lee’s face twisted as he stared at them, as if he was not sure which emotion to show. Hamilton laughed, and Washington could hear the secret mocking in it. The young lord reached up to unclip the general’s pin and attach it to his own coat. This settled, he broke the touch and turned back to Lee. “Explanations about what, General Lee?” he asked, a picture of demure innocence. When Lee said nothing, Hamilton continued, “Perhaps too forwardly, I admit to some reservations to being married to a man so senior, but I can assure you they have been well laid to rest.” A beat, in which he looked back at Washington with a gaze that could only be described as well-satisfied. “I cannot deny the experience."

With a peculiar noise squeezed out of his throat, Lee turned on his heel and swept away. All at once, Hamilton dropped the face he wore and instead smirked viciously in the retreating man’s direction. Victorious.

I wonder what Lord Hamilton would look like--- Washington’s rebellious thoughts began to think, before he could stop himself entirely from considering impure notions. Such a thing was so unlikely that it should not even be considered, even in the most idle of manners. Hamilton was already untangling from him, then sat at his chair and drunk deeply of his wine.

There, he told himself, sternly, he must even drink to forget his acting.

“We should retire,” he said instead, and Hamilton looked up at him, and, shooting one more look of disgust in Lee’s direction, nodded.

I wonder what Lord Hamilton would look like---

Chapter Text

A few days later, Lafayette called him from the greenhouse, where he had struggling with some particularly stubborn orchids. While they seemed to be healthy enough, none of his efforts had resulted in any blooms.

He washed his hands in a basin and sat down at the head of the small table him and Lafayette ate dinner at everyday and stared, puzzled, at the strange third table setting. The glass was on the wrong side, as well as all the utensils placed to the right. He made a note to bring it to Lafayette’s attention, because such sloppiness could not be permitted.

Putting this thought to the side for a moment, there was only one reasonable possibility here, and yet it seemed odd that his husband would--

Hamilton appeared out of a hallway. Gently speaking, he was dishevelled. His dark hair was pulled away from his face with a violet ribbon but, if there had ever been a queue done, it had become unravelled. His fingers were stained with ink. His jacket was wrinkled, as if he had slept in it. He had not shaved.

Washington did not usually approve of such a rumpled appearance; he thought a man should always look his best, even in his own home. But somehow, in some peculiar way he had yet to identify, it suited Hamilton to look so distressed.

The young man’s nose was buried in a thick tone about financial policy. He hardly looked where he was going, and somehow his feet steered him unerringly to the table and to his place-setting. He put his book down where his plate should be, and Washington quirked an eyebrow at him. It was a queer sort of thing - worth his study.

He should have felt disrespected - Hamilton had not acknowledged him in any way, not even the barest of nods - to say nothing of putting his book flat on the table without even so much of a Would it upset you if…?

No, he thought to himself, it is your dinner as much as mine.

They were served. Lafayette sat at his left, across from Hamilton. The head servant grinned at him and drank his wine.

The peculiar place setting made perfect sense now, for Hamilton’s plate was set where the other half of his utensils would be, and he clearly was used to the glass being where it was, for he reached for it without looking and grasped it surely, taking a sip. Washington withdrew his complaints, his eyes flickering to the servant standing at Hamilton’s elbow attentively.

Lord Schuyler would not approve, he thought to himself, unable to stop the beginnings of the smile at the edge of his mouth.

“General,” Lafayette said, and Washington pulled his attention away from the mysterious creature that was his husband and reset it on his friend, although it quickly wandered back. It was clear that Hamilton had long-since mastered the skill of not looking where he was eating; he very deftly managed his utensils without paying any attention to them. The reason for the man at his elbow, Washington quickly discovered, was to turn the page for him if he happened to reach the end of the page and be cutting his food at the same time. The whole sight of it - Hamilton sitting there in his rumpled coat and his unpleated hair, eating and drinking without looking, his eyes glued to the book, a man turning the pages for him when he was unable - was so ridiculous that Washington did not know how to react to it.

Lafayette was talking about something - some gossip he’d heard, or some update on some political thing, but it was in the background. Washington found the sight mesmerizing. He had, quite frankly, never seen something so flagrantly disrespectful. For all his complaints regarding his present circumstances, Hamilton was clearly making the best of his situation, and showed no hesitation push the boundaries of Washington’s kindness until it snapped like a twig. He read in silence, not making conversation or adding to the background noise of Lafayette’s speech.

Washington thought about what event his husband might best like to do. He recalled the man was not much of a rider, but he was not incapable; perhaps he might like to go riding. He had no idea if the man enjoyed hunting or shooting game. He had a sneaking suspicion Hamilton was a good dancer, when he tried, but such a thing would involve others, which ruled it out entirely. Perhaps he had an interest in gardening?

He did not know, and he considered it at length, mostly studying the man and listening to Lafayette carry on a one-sided conversation.

Riding seemed to be the simplest answer, and if the man were to deny, he would understand. He considered the words carefully, running over them in his head as he finished the rest of his wine, covering the glass with his napkin. It was important not to patronize him or demand his attention. It was a thing they could do as equals. He was not the most spectacular at speeches, but it could not have seemed so difficult. The only misfortune seemed to be right as he was about to make his request, Hamilton stood up, the book in his hands, his eyes still focused on it. Without looking at Washington, he turned and walked back down the way he had came.

Lafayette smothered a small noise in the back of his hand, though his eyes were laughing.

“Say nothing,” he snapped at the servant, who set his expression into something neutral, then took their plates to the kitchen. Washington was left alone in his thoughts, and he folded his arms across his chest, looking at the empty seat.

The next evening was more of the same, only this time, Washington was prepared.

He took a breath and put down his utensils.

“Lord Hamilton, I might ask you if you would be interested in a ride with me.”

Hamilton looked up from his book. That was a good sign. He could consider it well into the man’s character to completely ignore him. However, such was not the case, as Hamilton looked at him, momentarily confused. “Beg pardon?”

For a moment, he felt uneasy, as if this was a set-up for some mocking joke. But he steeled himself and continued. This man was not a politician or fellow general - any humiliations would be purely personal and private, and he had to resist the urge to give into to them.

“I would ask you if you would be interested in a ride with me. Do not feel obliged to agree; only if you desire such a thing would I enjoy having you.”

He watched the man process the request. There was a long silence, in which not even Lafayette talked.

“Yes.”

“Yes, you would be interested in a ride?”

“Yes, sir.” He nodded, once, in a decisive manner, and then he turned back to the book. “When?”

There was a beat. He had not thought it would be so easy.

Hamilton’s eyes flicked back up at him. He was smirking. Pleased with himself for catching Washington off-guard, as he had done with Lee, perhaps. It was a briefly disquieting thing, to compare himself to someone so vile. “Perhaps later in the week, if you are already in possession of riding clothes.”

“I have some, from my father.”

“That will suffice.” He picked up his glass of wine and took a sip, considering the thing. “Would you like to go to the stables and select a horse? There are a few available - one could be permanently yours, although it would be ideal if your horse were to not upset Nelson, mine, who can sometimes be a little temperamental. But he is a good beast.” He put the glass down, and picked his utensils back up, tearing away a piece of duck. “And perhaps we shall have some new riding leathers made for you, rather with the violet instead of the bird of paradise--”

Lafayette caught his eye and frowned. Lafayette did not usually frown unless something had gone wrong, and he had been long trained to re-evaluate under the circumstances if such a thing occurred. He looked back up from his plate.

“The violet, it shall be?” Hamilton said, quietly, and too late Washington had realized his mistake. He opened his mouth to explain - that they had not discussed symbols, and it hardly seemed Hamilton wanted to, so he had merely assumed, but - “I cannot express my exquisite pleasure to hear that, along with all aspects of my life, my married symbol has been decided for me. And what an amazing coincidence that it so happens to be the symbol of the husband who decides himself married to me. An extraordinary turn of events, wouldn’t you say, Lafayette?”

Lafayette sucked in a breath. “Certainly, the general merely meant for you to select riding leathers more appropriate to your station - they do not have to be crested, of course, and could even have such a thing done later, after your symbol is established. Or, if you have some idea, you could express it; the general would be amendable on your insight --”

“I think it would be perfectly appropriate to have them crested with the violet,” Hamilton said, acidly, “Perhaps if I am lucky, I can have the violet inked into my flesh, so no one will ever forget who has plucked me like a grape from a vine.”

“Lord Hamilton,” Washington said sharply, having re-found his voice after it had momentarily escaped him, “You are well aware it was not my intention to make such an implication. Shall I consider our affair cancelled?”

Hamilton stared at him with all his familiar anger, and he stood up with his book, leaving his meal half eaten. “No,” he said, as if such a thing might be akin to surrender. He pulled his shoulders back, staring down his nose at Washington, “We shall still ride. I will wear my father’s leathers. I require none other. I shall select a mount. Your assistance is not required. Alert me when you wish me to be there and I shall be.”

With that, he stomped back into his wing.

Lafayette sighed. He stood, collected the half-eaten meal and took it into the kitchen.

“Perhaps,” the servant said, when he returned, “You should involve the man in your decisions.”

“He would have to leave the library for such a thing,” Washington retorted. It was an uncharacteristically sullen thing for him to say, for while his husband’s poor temper was no longer unexpected, such a thing had come as a complete surprise, especially as he felt they had been making progress in becoming more comradely. They had worked as a peculiar team at the ball, him rescuing Hamilton from his father and Hamilton rescuing him from that scoundrel Lee; Hamilton had appeared from his library, albeit his nose still in his book. Hamilton had even looked up at him when he had asked for his attention. But then the man had become so sour over some meaningless misstep he had taken suggesting the man have a violet on his riding leathers.

He growled at nothing and threw his napkin down over his meal, appetite having disappeared; Lafayette gave him a knowing sort of look, which he was not sure how to interpret.

“Speak, if you have words to share.”

The servant shrugged and sighed again, staring at his empty place setting. He folded his arms across his chest and looked into the middle distance as he gathered his thoughts. “You have married a rose,” he said, after a few moments. “Of course, it is not a requirement to add such a thing to one’s greenhouse. And roses do grow wild, and perhaps it is just as well to admire them from a distance. And the work to grow roses, as we know, is not insubstantial. There are thorns, and mildew, and black rot - but is the result not incredibly beautiful and rewarding?”

Plainly, Lafayette.”

“If you wish to leave your husband to his sulk, then do so. But if you wish to be his friend, you know you must manage the mildew and the thorns. The rose is not a friendly thing to grow. Are you done with your meal, sir?”

Washington stared resentfully at the half-eaten duck, as if it had suggested to ask the man if he wanted new riding leathers, which was clearly a terribly offensive question. It seemed there were no inoffensive questions anymore, somehow. “Yes,” he said, and he stood, wrenching his thoughts from flowers as he stood, folding his hands behind his back and letting his feet take him back to his study. He could grow a full greenhouse of rosebushes before he could convince his husband to bloom.

Chapter Text

Hamilton did not come to dinner for the following days.

Washington was thinking over some minor political issue as Lafayette dressed him a few mornings later. Greene had finally managed to find a suitable match for his middle daughter, Cornelia, but ‘suitable’ might have been somewhat of a stretch; the family was certainly lucky to have the daughter of an esteemed general, despite whatever potential monetary problems might have existed, and it would be somewhat of a marriage down, despite that the family was wealthy.

“Sir,” Lafayette said, as he wrapped Washington’s neckcloth into a perfect knot and selected a cravat pin, a small violet sapphire, to hold the knot in place, it has come to my attention that Lord Hamilton has injured himself. Shall I call for a physician?”

“Injured?” He repeated, when Lafayette stepped away. He turned and studied himself in the mirror, adjusting his cuffs.

The servant nodded. “He fell off his horse.”

“We have not yet been riding.”

“The men believe he was practicing, sir.”

Washington frowned. His brow wrinkled in concentration, trying to wrap his head around this possibility. “We’ve just risen. Before breakfast?”

“The best guess offered was that he was practicing in secret at night.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Lafayette sat in his dressing room chair and grinned at him. “He is a man of competition. He will not be seen as some idle child, nor will he allow himself to be handicapped or played down to. He probably already knew of your heroism at the war, and your skill on horseback.”

“So he has been riding around the grounds at night in an attempt to improve.” The possibility seemed absurd, only this was a man who brought his book to dinner, and had scowled every moment of his wedding. Absurdity could no longer be a decent reason to dismiss an idea. “And now he has fallen off his horse in the middle of the night and has hurt himself, and severe enough to call a physician.”

“A perfectly adequate summary, sir,” Lafayette said. Washington stared at himself in the mirror. The reflection had nothing to contribute to the discussion, as much as he might have hoped otherwise.

“I shall visit him,” he said, suddenly. Only after the words had come out of his mouth did he realize that they had some sense to them. It would a thing that a proper husband would do, despite his persistent failures at such a thing. “I have some skill at being a battle medic myself. If such a thing is beyond my ability, I shall have you summon a physician.”

Lafayette looked suddenly very pleased with him, and offered him an approving nod. “General, that is an idea so brilliant only a man of your genius could think of it.”

“Thank you,” he said, and Lafayette bowed a low servant’s bow. Then, steadying his spine for what would likely be the inevitable stream of abuse, he walked through the castle until he came upon Hamilton’s wing. He took a hesitant step across the archway, wondering for an absurd moment if the man had rigged up some kind of deadly trap; of course, such a thing was merely a flight of fancy, and no spikes came at him from the walls.

This was his first time to observe the corridor which he had granted to his husband, and it all looked marginally the same. The man must have had no art worth moving, then. He paused before the open library door, then took a breath before looking inside.

He could see the injury immediately. Even if he had not had a long history viewing men injured, it would have been clear to any man that Hamilton’s arm hung at a peculiar angle from his shoulder, and made stranger by the fact that he had placed the limb haphazardly on the desk, as if it were nothing more than the potential to be in the way of his writing. And write he did, at a furious pace, his hand flying across the parchment, muttering to himself to accompany the noise of pen on paper.

He had clearly been injured before he had been dressed this morning, for both his shirt and his jacket had only been hung over the injured limb. Occasionally he would look to the servant standing at attention near his desk and ask for some book, and the man would hurry into the shelves for the item.

Washington pulled his glance away from the center table to study the library itself. It was more than possible that the room held twice as many books as it was designed, for the various decorative items had been moved to make room for more books on top of couches and side-tables, and books had been set in piles five or six tomes high in these areas, as well as on the floor surrounding Hamilton’s desk. Washington had definitely noticed that the amount of books in the main library had been reduced, but it had not seemed like such a serious quantity in comparison to his collection there. Here, it seemed as if Hamilton had procured at least half his books. Part of him felt annoyed that the books, many of significant value, were being handled so carelessly; however, there was certainly a part of him that rather liked to see them all being used.

It was a surprisingly nice scene, to see his husband at work. He almost regretted that he would disturb it.

He caught the eye of the servant, who touched a hand to the desk within Hamilton’s view. The young lord looked at the hand in confusion.

“General Washington is here to see you, sir,” the servant said. Hamilton looked over his misshapen shoulder and frowned.

“You’ve separated your shoulder, Lord Hamilton,” Washington said, his eyes moving to the malformed joint. “With your permission, I could resolve the injury for you.”

“It hardly bothers me,” Hamilton replied, stiffly. “Has Lafayette reported this injury to you? I told him to pay it no mind.”

“He suggested you might require the use of a physician, which I would agree, if I were not a capable medic myself.” Washington moved some of the books off one of the chairs, and sat down what he believed to be a reasonable distance from the desk. “More families will know if I call, though. I can see no reason to share the news of your injury if I manage it. But if you are to leave it as it is long enough, you will become permanently disfigured. May I see your injury?”

Hamilton scowled at him, as he expected.

Then, also as he expected: “You may.”

“Stand for me, sir?” He asked. Hamilton stood, cradling his limp arm to his chest. Washington hesitated, then pulled the jacket slowly away from the damaged limb, watching Hamilton wiggle his other arm out. This first step completed, he looked to the servant standing, pretending not to be very interested in the proceedings. “Help me undress Lord Hamilton,” he said, and the man came over, and between the three of them, they were able to remove the waistcoat with only a few groans of pain as they slowly slid the arm out of it. The shirtsleeve hung empty, and as such came off without too much effort.

Washington stepped back to study his shirtless husband. He had fallen off plenty of horses in his time, and Hamilton’s visible injuries were the textbook definition of a fall of medium severity; aside from the shoulder, he also had a nice bruise blooming across his side and on some of his chest, which was currently only slightly blue, and had not yet taken on the more interesting greens and yellows bruises tended to flower with.

“There may be some discomfort,” he said, as he ran his hand over the bruise, poking and prodding with expert fingers; he was no doctor, but he knew what a broken rib felt like. Hamilton bit his lip and stared sternly out into some middle distance, suppressing any indications of pain that a lesser man might vocalize. It seemed that nothing had been broken, which was good. Then, his hand came up to study the mangled shoulder. The bruising there had deepened nicely into purple, and he felt the injury as tenderly as he could to get a better idea. To his limited knowledge, nothing felt out of place other than the obvious.

“Sir,” he said, to the servant holding Hamilton’s clothes. “Set those down and fetch Lafayette. Have him create or procure a sling.”

“Yes, sir,” said the man, and hurried off.

“You are under no obligation to tell me how you came to remove your arm from your shoulder socket, but my guess would be that you’ve fallen off a horse in the last…” He took a moment to study the bruising down Hamilton’s side. “...Five or six hours. It would be inconsolably rude for us to go riding with you in such a state. We shall reschedule the event for some later date, after you recover. Luckily that you tend to more stable habits; when the thing is properly set, it should not bother you overmuch if you are reading and writing.”

Hamilton offered what he took to be a noise of agreement. “It is as you say, General,” he muttered, not making eye contact. There was a pause where he expected a further explanation, but there was nothing.

“Well,” he said, “There is no evidence of an unusual separation, so I shall be able to fix this for you.” He glanced at Hamilton’s desk, finding a small, flat piece of wood with burnt designs. “You should put this in your mouth, so you are not to bite down on your tongue. There will be some pain.”

He took hold of the damaged arm and offered the bookmark to his husband. Hamilton set it between his teeth, still watching him with suspicious eyes.Then, recalling his military self, he placed one arm on the man’s chest and grabbed the arm in question, and shifted them both.

There was the satisfying sound of bones popping back into place, accompanied by a stifled grunt of pain.

“There,” Washington said, reaching around Hamilton’s body and put the settled arm back into the care of the uninjured one. He lead the other man back into his chair, and sat him down, then took a seat himself. “When my man returns back with the sling, we shall settle you properly.”

“I was not aware you had medical training.” Hamilton said, quietly, as he caught his breath.

“One does not spend as much time as I have in war camps without acquiring a skill or two.” Washington closed his eyes, thinking back. “And it is sufficiently easier to do on another man than oneself. If it does not improve, or you become feverish, there may be some deeper infection, but from my inspection, it seemed a perfectly normal type of injury.” A beat. “Have you had breakfast? Might I entice you into such a thing?”

“I….have not had breakfast.” There was a deliberation to the man’s voice, although perhaps it was only a delay as he recovered from the shock of his bones being shifted around. “I may be enticed. And, you may have new riding leathers made for me, with or without the violet.”

This time around, he knew what to say. “I shall not have things made for you,” he said, carefully, glancing towards the doorway of the library and cocking his ears for the sound of footsteps. “If you desire things, you may send for them. You are not my servant. You may have your own things.”

Hamilton looked away from him, and into the library. His face was unreadable.

“Sir,” Lafayette said, appearing before Hamilton had a chance to say something. In his hand, he held the sling. The other servant stood at ease.

“Come, Lafayette, let us set this sling on Lord Hamilton’s arm, and manage for him a semblance of proper dress.” He looked towards the second servant, “Have another place made for Lord Hamilton - we shall be there shortly. Apologize on my behalf if the cooks are angry that I am late.”

The servant bowed and left. Between him, Lafayette and Hamilton, they were able to manage the man’s arm successfully into the sling. Hamilton put his good arm in his shirt, and then the jacket, and let the other side hang over the bad arm; it was not the sort of thing one should be seen in public with, but it would do for now, without the aid or alert of a doctor.

He thought he might like to help Hamilton down the hallway to breakfast, but such a thing was territory of a servant, and there was, of course, that Hamilton hardly liked him. So he restrained himself, standing up and letting Lafayette take his proper place.

They settled at the table, though there was some confusion as Hamilton’s place-setting had been made as if he had a book, which he did not. Things were resettled, and more food was brought out. Washington forced himself to not watch his husband manage his silverware and instead concentrated on his own breakfast.

“General,” Hamilton said.

“Yes, Lord Hamilton?”

“Your breakfast would not have been cold had you called for a physician for me.”

He looked up at his husband, who, in his usual way, was abstaining from proper manners entirely and using the side of his fork to cut his potatoes, rather than trying to manage his knife in the sling.”No, I suppose not,” he answered, “But I am well capable of managing a fair number of medical ailments and felt it would display stronger character to assist you myself, if it was within my power.”

“If nothing else, I always remain a useful tool to display your character.” Hamilton’s voice was bitter.

Washington clenched his fist around his glass and took a breath. He could feel Lafayette looking at him.

“Who am I displaying my character to, in this instance?” He asked, careful to keep his voice even, “Am I letting my breakfast become cold so I can impress my servants?”

“You are displaying your character to yourself, General. Perhaps if you take adequate care of your husband, you may convince yourself you have not plucked a man out of a life he enjoyed. And now that it seems he cannot be plied with items, perhaps your care will make some effort to soothe your conscience.”

It was a stinging retort, and not only because of at least the semi-truth of it. Washington let go of the glass, and folded his hands into his lap, to better clench them. “There is a proper way to treat one’s husband, even if one’s husband is unhappy about their circumstances. I aspire to it.”

“It is merely another version of using me to prove you are a gentleman, then,” Hamilton said, nodding more to himself than anyone else. He leaned back in his chair, resettling his arm in the sling. Despite his characteristic disheveledness, his clothes being half on, and few pained beads of sweat still drying across his brow, he projected an air of ultimate confidence and assurance. There was something like a politician in him, or a career war-man, and despite the harshness of the words, Washington found himself engaged in listening. Hamilton’s voice was calm, but intense. “One would think a man of your great accomplishments would not require the broken back of a fourth son for his esteem. You should cease to think of me as your husband, regardless of papers you have signed with my father, and clothes you have dressed me in were I a doll, and the presents you have given me to assuage yourself. I deny you the privilege of viewing me as a husband, and if you thought it a right, all the more so.”

It was a peculiar thing to say, and exceptionally harsh, so much so that Washington felt his breath catch in his throat. He had been in wars, and lost battles, and men had suffered and died around and beneath him, and because of him, and yet somehow those things struck him more dully, as if he had been expecting them, or he could settle them in their own mental boxes. But this - this struck him wholly in some sensitive, fleshy part of his spirit.

Hamilton saw he had no response, then his husband - the young man he had brought into his castle - got up and walked away without another word.

He sat back in his chair and stared at his half-eaten breakfast.

Chapter Text

“Lord Hamilton’s books have arrived,” Lafayette told him, during his evening ride, some time later. Both he and Nelson, the great brown horse which he had grown somewhat of an affection for over the past couple of years, were panting with the exertion he had put them both through. It would be ungentlemanly of him to let his riding skill atrophy, and there was always the possibility that there would be another war that he would be needed for. Plus, he genuinely enjoyed the habit. There was something to be said for the carefulness of waiting for some particular flower to bloom, and another thing, no less extraordinary, for the wind in one’s hair and the scenery to be speeding by faster than he could see it.

Behind him, Lafayette, a more capable rider than one would think a servant to be, rode a smaller, grey horse a few steps behind. Washington gave an acknowledging nod to the man’s statement, though his pace didn’t slow. He heard the sound of Lafayette urging his horse a little faster, until they rode closer to side-by-side. It might have been a dangerous thing, had they not done it so many times, and surrounded by cannonfire and screaming men.

“Perhaps,” Lafayette continued, now next to him, his voice mixed in with the sounds of pounding hooves and heaving breaths from both the two humans and the two horses, “That you could give them to him.”

At this, Washington stopped abruptly and looked over at the servant, his wonderfully blank mind filling up all at once. He had made a distinct effort to put Hamilton from his thoughts, after the young man’s newest unkindly proclamation. Sitting for hours in the greenhouse had presented him with no reasonable solution, and no answer to the problems that plagued him regarding the behavior of the young lord. Perhaps such a thing would come later, or the answer was to leave things be -- nevertheless, he had resolved to not let such a thing bother him too much, and furthermore decied to resume thinking of it at some later date. With a dedicated effort to restore normalcy, he pursued his habits and did his best not to consider the ghost in his secondary library.

Nelson hardly minded the quickness of his action, but Lafayette’s horse - of which Washington had forgotten the name - reared back in disapproval. His servant managed the beast without blinking, muttering something in his native language to it.

“What would possess me to interfere where I am unwelcome?” Washington asked, perhaps a little sharper than he intended, once they had both settled. He removed a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed the sweat from his face. “You know more than anyone the man’s unkindness.”

“Unkindness is --” At this, Lafayette paused, letting the reins of the horse rest on the pommel of his saddle. His horse, seeing the opportunity, bent its head to graze at some scrubby grasses and wildflowers growing under them. “He had made clear his reasons for his anger, sir. And they are sensible, if you are stubborn young man determined to upset who you see as your jailor.”

“This does not provide an answer regarding why I should suffer his temper again,” Washington retorted. “Perhaps it is you who wishes the charm of his company.” He put a particular emphasis into the word. He thought, again, that perhaps it would have been better not to know the man had a brilliant smile, bright eyes and a charming laugh when he was not so displeased, for he could not entirely shake some persistent desire to reveal those things again. Washington was a war man, and a sensible one at that, understanding well the solid things that inspired and encouraged men of all statuses to do as other men wanted, as well as having a strong understanding of the things men would not do, and the things one could not force them to do; despite the rational knowledge that the easy resolution to the problem of Lord Alexander Hamilton was to let him be, he seemed unable to completely set himself to this course of action, likely due to some irrational sense brought on by some fault in his character he had yet to uncover and resolve.

“He is adequately tempered to this servant,” Lafayette said, mildly. “And you know, sir, that it is your company that drives me and that I seek, even when you are in poor temper about your sullen husband.”

Washington sighed, and he urged Nelson to a trot. Lafayette picked up his reins and followed.

“How will he ever consider you in greater spirits if you are not to be around him?” The servant asked.

“My presence hardly creates endearment, which you have surely noticed,” he replied, dryly.

“Perhaps if you apologized, he would consider you further.”

“What shall I apologize for, Lafayette?” He stopped again, with a rough jerk on the reins; at this, Nelson snorted at him and bent his neck to cast a disapproving eye on his behavior. It seemed perfectly adequate that not only Hamilton was to be so upset at him over nothing, but also Nelson, and Lafayette providing only half a solution to any problem, as he was wont to do. “Shall I apologize that I have granted him more property than he has ever had? That I have, without questioning, called him by some dead name no decent man should acknowledge? That I have permitted him full use of everything I possess, some of which he abuses? Perhaps it is that I require nothing of him, and that if he wishes to be found rotting in the library in a decade’s time, he may do so?”

As per usual, Lafayette seemed unmoved by the force of his temper. Rather, contemplation had settled onto the servant’s features. “You could apologize for bringing the man to a new place he does not know, with servants that report his behavior, as if he is a child,” he said, slowly, “Or perhaps that you say the man may have his friends, and yet meet them at the gate to deem them worthy. Or, perhaps, that you have given him only things, and things that are clearly yours, and perhaps he feels very much like you attempt to placate him like he is some beast.” Finally, Lafayette sighed, and pulled his gaze away to draw his gloved fingers through his horse’s mane. “If I may speak unguarded, sir, your vision of a decent husband rings truer to being a decent master.”

Washington slumped in the saddle. As per usual, in these kinds of events, the fact that he did not like that Lafayette was right was completely irrelevant to the fact that Lafayette was right.

“I shall bring him his books,” he said, completely resigned, and he turned Nelson back towards the stable. “But I should say that you will suffer my complaints of his temper afterwards.”

“As any proper servant would, sir,” Lafayette replied, offering him an encouraging sort of grin, which utterly failed to lift his spirits.

Once he had changed from his riding clothes into something more standard, dunking himself in cold water to remove the sweat, he studied the pile which sat in the main foyer. It was not all of the books, and the ones that could not be found were indicated on the original list, along with the cost of the ones that been purchased. Most of them were of reasonable cost, but there was one or two that Washington would tried to bargain down before purchasing. He collected them in their bundle and walked down the hallway to the secondary library. Hamilton was not at his desk - instead, the man had found some position which allowed him to curl on one of the couches without disturbing his injured arm. The book he was reading was on the philosophy of law.

“Lord Hamilton,” he said, and Hamilton looked up, frowning at Washington before his attention was drawn to the pile that he carried. “Your books have arrived. Not all of them, it seems - but most.”

Washington set the pile on the desk. Hamilton grunted in acknowledgement, and then immediately put his nose back into his book.

“I apologize,” Washington said, “For how I’ve treated you. I know that this...is not ideal. That I wronged you, and that I...have treated you poorly.” It was stilted and awkward the moment he said it, and he was no speechmaker, despite the many capabilities that had vaulted him into his place of reasonable political power. “I hope that we may reconcile and establish an arrangement of some sort. I enjoyed seeing you at dinner, and I would like you to return. I would still like to ride with you, if that is not an unpleasant future. If there is anything else I can provide for you - my company, or art, or lessons of any kind, or….” He stumbled. What did Lord Hamilton want? “....You need only ask, so I may provide.”

Hamilton looked up at him very slowly, and with a resigned deliberation, placed his bookmark in his book.These were the actions of a predator, not prey, and certainly not a man interested in making amends. Washington had a very bad sense, which reminded him of the five terrible moments in between stepping to a trap, and the jaws of the trap shutting around him.

“I do not accept your apology, General Washington,” Hamilton said, and he unfurled from his couch. Even with the injury, he projected a complete control of himself. “You can not - or will not, perhaps - return the thing that I desire, which is a separation from you, and a return to my previous lifestyle. I understand that you have removed those things from me without considering how I may value them, or even that they may be things that I value. More importantly, I understand that you have created this arrangement understanding that am----” There was a beat, and a bitter smirk twisted at the end of Hamilton’s mouth. “---an ill-tempered, solitary bookworm. So I ask you, then, why you approach someone ill-tempered and solitary with these requests for companionship? And what would possess you to believe they should be acknowledged, nonetheless accepted?”

Washington took a breath, closing his eyes for a moment and giving himself a stern mental nod. Politicians with unreasonable desires were easily managed. Other generals, or other such army men, could be bribed with promotions and the promise of pay and glory. But Hamilton struck some peculiar new thread of argumentative, one he had never handled. It was as if the man fought only for the purpose of standing alone, that his disagreeable nature was to maintain a wall of thorns around his island, which sat in the middle of a cyclone.

“My estimation of you as an ill-tempered, solitary bookworm was incorrect,” he began, forcing the hesitancy out of his voice, “And I apologize that I viewed you as something so minimal. Only after learning more about you do I understand that such a thing is…..an unreasonable contraction of your character. You are, as evidenced by all your behavior, a hard-working, determined, well-read and well-thought young man. The type of man that I would have be in my service, were we in the army. And that I would be honored to maintain a more proper company of.”

Hamilton studied him. It was not like the council. It was not like a war meeting. It was not even like a surrender, or a victory. It was more like his mother, for his dark eyes could glean a more complete understanding of the nature of a man’s character than anything. It was wholly uncomfortable, and he was not a man accustomed to being made wholly uncomfortable. He clenches his toes in his boots and resisted the urge to squirm, an urge which had not struck him for a very long time.

“We are not in the army, General Washington,” he said. “We are in your castle. And so I shall not be in your service, or maintain with you proper company, because you are not able to order such a thing, no matter how much you might like to. And I feel sweet relief that such a thing is how it is.” Then he sat himself back onto the couch, and re-opened the book, and dropped his eyes to it.

The dismissal, again, was abundantly clear, and a slap across the face. Washington took a staggered step back. The frustration building at the base of his spine flashed hot.

“I confess --,” he said, in a strangled type of voice, staring away from Hamilton and into the library. He had no confession, he realized. Confessions, like apologies, did not come easy to a man such as him. What he had was confusion, instead, and staring at his books being placed in uneven stacks, and lying half-open on the floor, and sitting inconsiderately upon couches and end-tables, his various art swept aside --

“No,” he said, and Hamilton still did not at least grant him the hair-thin honor of his glance. The frustration that sat heavy in his stomach twisted up his chest like a vine, until it was making his whole body hot, and it seemed overwhelming once released. “You are insensibly intransigent with me, sir,” he said, only managing to keep the hot core of his temper restrained. The edges of it snuck out, like weeds. “It is not what you wish to be returned to Lord Schuyler’s household. It is not what you wish to be placed under his rules, which I know are more repressive than mine. It is not what you wish to have all the things I have granted you removed from your possession.” Still, Hamilton did not look at him, and this made it seem worse, somehow, and finally the last chains of his restraint snapped.

“I have given you anything you could have wanted! Cottages, and books, and more books, which were not inexpensive, I may include, and the complete solitary existence which you pretend to desire, which I have seen you do not, for you care for Lady Schuyler--”

Oh,” Hamilton finally said, even in the one sound, the timbre of his voice vibrated with rage, his carefully-held calmness dissolving in an instant. “You wish to discuss Eliza? After you have snuck up on her and pestered her with your questions about me, as if I am some pest to manage? You tell me I may have guests, and then you welcome them before me, as if to mark them for your approval? You promise me my solitude, and then you bother me about my health? You bring me the books, only I must now suffer your complaints about accounting?” The man’s face had twisted into a snarl. “You bring me things because you view me as an inevitable inconvenience in your life that you must manage. I must be accounted for. Can I be bribed to accept being passed from one man to another like an acre? Perhaps, you think to yourself, and you will certainly try.”

At this, Hamilton snapped the book shut and threw it at his feet. The sound of the leather binding hitting the wooden floor echoed loudly through the silent room. The man stood up, and with an ease of practice, removed his jacket and slammed it down in front of him. “You may save your coins, General. I will settle for a servant’s quarters, if you have extra! Perhaps, if you find yourself in luck, there is a root cellar I may frequent! Or a prison, then! I might like a prison, I think. Maybe you may find a good shackle you may bolt around my neck, and then when your comrades come, you may show me off as some tamed pet! And everyone shall be quite impressed, shan’t they?”

Hamilton was heaving with the force of his rage, and it consumed the library so wholly that Washington was not sure he had ever seen a man so small appear so large. His own anger left as quickly as it had appeared, as it was wont to do, and the empty space inside him seemed vast for him to consider.

He shrank in the face of the torrent.

“I---” This was a feeling, he was sure, he had never felt before, “---would not imprison you, or grant you servant’s quarters, or make you live in a root cellar. I seek your happiness. I have wronged you and I wish to settle the thing. But settling does not come easy, and learning is difficult, for a man of my age, who for a long time was set in his ways. I might require of you your patience, and perhaps a hand in learning.”

“You might!” Hamilton said, and immediately poured his unending anger into whatever spaces Washington had vacated, “But I am in no means obligated to give you such a thing, and nor shall I. We are not a team, General. This is not a thing we have entered into. I have not enlisted, or signed my name, or willingly given any part of myself to you. You have made this decision for me. You made this decision to marry me! And so I hope that is a decision you come to understand the full ramifications of and take whatever future actions you deem necessary. As will I.”

Washington stared at Hamilton as the young man swept past him, leaving his jacket and book on the floor.

He was left alone in the library, with the burnt ashes of the wildfire departed.

He picked up the book from the floor and set it on the desk, and the jacket on the back of the chair, brushing the dust off the sleeves. Then, he made his way to the greenhouse and, spotting his uncooperative orchids, picked up one of the ceramic pots, and threw it, as hard as he could manage, through one of the glass panes. This did not resolve the black mass of twisted frustrations that was now sticking to his bones and flesh all over. He sat down on a nearby chair and glared at the hole in the glass and the dirt, roots, leaves and flowers that were now scattered on the ground.

Servants appeared to clean the mess up, but they froze at the sight of him.

“Leave it,” he snarled, and they scattered like leaves.

“Sir,” Lafayette said, from somewhere. “Lord Hamilton is ---”

“The updates on Lord Hamilton may cease,” he said, without looking up.

“Yes, sir,” said Lafayette, quietly, and there were footsteps, leaving him with only the bitter ends of his thoughts and the shadow of the man he had married.

Chapter Text

He waited at the gates, thinking about the letter he had penned.

-- I seek your infinite wisdom, for I have erred, and have exhausted my own considerable intelligence on the matter, and know that of course the full breadth of my knowledge does not compare to yourself even if I am read a hundred more pamphlets. Perhaps, if I am to find myself blessed, you will honor this poor fool with the pleasure of your exquisite company. You need not dedicate all the time to my entertainment, even on my land - pray, do not fear to bring your ledgers or a novel or your embroidery. It is only that I fear I seem to be in need of companionship of a particular sort, which has only seemed to have grown after my change in circumstances, of which you are aware ---

-- and so on.

His guest elegantly stepped down from her carriage and climbed upon the horse Lafayette offered her.

“You seem less distressed than I recall your letter,” Martha said, as they began to walk back to the main gates. “I confess to some expectation that Lafayette would have to fetch me, for you would be consumed with your senseless distraughtness in your study.”

Lafayette chuckled.

“Perhaps I shall only allow my servants to view my misery, in the future,” Washington replied, dryly. Martha shook her head affectionately and smiled at him. “How is the estate?”

“Oh, things are as they always have been. There is some debate on the forecast, if there is to be a late frost, and when things should be planted...I would hope to have your insight? And there is also -- Lord, George, has a coyote broken into your greenhouse?”

For they had just passed the structure, which he had not yet had cleaned up, and the shattered pot and the orchid inside it, as well as a fair bit of dirt and glass, continued to lay spread upon the ground. Without preamble, Martha directed her horse to the damaged area, moving off the path. Washington followed without protest, knowing immediately that his guest was far too wise to study the destroyed pane of glass and not come to the correct conclusion.

“It is a particular coyote that breaks a pane of glass at chest height,” she said, looking over her shoulder at him. “I might think this action is more appropriate to the letter I received.”

“Martha,” he said, slumping in the saddle and trying to express his complete despair in the word.

“This poor flower must have wronged you terribly for you to leave it here for days,” Martha said, and she slid off the horse with a grace that belied the many skirts she was wearing, handing the reins to Lafayette without asking. Ignoring Washington’s sputtered protests, she picked the orchid out of the mess and, gathering her skirts in her other hand, walked towards the door of the greenhouse.

“Your gloves--” He managed, feebly, following her.

“--I have more pairs than I can appreciatively manage; it will do me no harm to dirty them.”

“Your skirts, the floor is usually damp on this side, and--”

“General Washington.” She fixed him with a sharp look, stopping his tongue. He cleared his throat and gathered his dignity.

“I shall bring you another pot, and some stones for the bottom,” he said, bowing his head, and hurried to the supply shed where he kept the spare equipment. When he returned, Martha still had her skirts in one hand and the sad orchid in the other. She was studying the shattered pane of glass and making conversation with Lafayette, who stood with the horses on the other side of the hole, about local politics.

“MIght you risk damaging all the plants with an exposed area like this? You should have a craftsman fix it.”

“I shall,” he said, and he took the orchid from her and set it into the new pot, putting it where the old one had been. He resisted the urge to look at her, instead staring at the plant, which stood clearly out from all of its neighbors, all of which appeared much dirtier. He saw her fingers come up and brush against his.

“Now,” she said, and turned to face him properly, “Tell me completely of your catastrophe, so I may resolve it for you, for it is perfectly insensible to think that the demigod unifier General George Washington, the peacemaker and war hero himself, cannot manage one ill-tempered bookworm.”

She folded his arm at his side and slipped her own arm through it when they exited the greenhouse, and they walked the somewhat-considerable distance back to the main castle, Lafayette with the horses behind.

It was a beautiful day, and not overwhelmingly hot, a few stray clouds keeping the direct heat of the sun off them. Washington kept his eyes forward on his approaching castle, content with the feeling of Martha’s arm linked in his.

“Would you tell me the story of your husband from the beginning, general?” she asked.

He took a breath and let the sense of his estate comfort him - servants going about their business, the smell of industry and wheat and animals, and his perfectly decent life that he had built for himself. He started with the wedding, and Hamilton’s decadent clothes, and the great offense the man had taken to everything about it.

“No,” Martha said, in one of his pauses, and she stilled - so he stilled as well. They met eyes, and she smiled at him, and he felt all of a suddenly very blessed to be permitted the company of someone so wise. “How did you come to presume you needed to be married?”

“You are intimately familiar with that part, I recall,” he said, because she had been one of the first people he had come to with the situation, long before it had devolved into him throwing plants through windows.

“A lady can hear the same story twice, especially in such a charming voice,” she said.

So they resumed walking, and he did start earlier, about a circulated rumor about his impotence, or some mental defect, or some equally slanderous notion about why he, an incredible hero of great renown, was not married. These rumors were not uncommon, and had never been completely silent, but only now was the thought passed by men and women of station, and it was this fact which made the rumor dangerous, and forced him to address it. The rumor found it peculiar because his lack of marriage was not, of course, for lack of suitors, despite his age, and yet while he entertained his suitors, he did not call on them again, or dance with them any significant number of times at an event, or present them gifts indicating his interest. What, this rumor passed around by men and women of station wondered, could have been the issue? Could the mighty General George Washington have some terrible defect? Might he not be fit for what we have blessed him with? Might he not be worth the lands granted?

Addressing these sort of things head on, of course, would have been useless. ‘I am not married because I do not wish to be married’ would have never been an acceptable answer. He would have to be married, and he would have to do so relatively soon, if at all was possible.

He had thought of marrying Martha, of course, the widow of which he had previously courted; there had been some discussion with many of his friends regarding their various children, and they had made suggestions about particular widows and widowers, or unmarried men and women of his station for one reason or another. There were political considerations to be reasoned with, that of course marrying into or allowing a particular family to share his name might enhance their power, or promote his, and he would be assigned the faults or ills or them - and all such similar considerations.

Alexander Schuyler had been a perfect answer to these questions. The Schuylers would not neglect or abuse having married into Washington power, for he knew Phillip very well and understood the man not to make such terrible decisions, and Phillip demanded no dowry or other change in valuables, being that he was quite wealthy himself. They already shared many political beliefs. And, of course, that Alexander was a recluse and required very little other than a book and the occasional threat to maintain his manners, the latter of which Washington cared little for.

So there had been the wedding, and he had met Eliza Schuyler-Shippen, and the ball, and Hamilton at dinner, and this debate over his riding clothes. There had been his injury, and the books, and the things Hamilton had said, as vicious as a falcon, and now it seemed they were here.

Martha was an attentive listener, asking detailed questions and nodding along. She hmm’d and I see’d at appropriate intervals, keeping a thoughtful, contemplative expression as he wound towards the conclusion as they strode towards the castle.

“It is not that I went to the greenhouse with intent to destroy it,” Washington was saying, as they stood at the entrance to the main gate, “It is only that I had so much frustration I could not otherwise identify how to express myself. I have given or offered more than I would offer a politician, and yet he still plays the poor slave. I have asked him what he desired, and sought to grant it -- as you suggested! - and yet it still seems we have managed to find ourselves here.” He sighed. “I am at a loss.”

They strode through his empty halls, towards his favorite tea-room, where they would be served. Martha looked thoughtfully at his tapestries and sculptures.

“George,” she said, as they sat, and were served tea, as expected, “Please correct me if I am to be mistaken, but per your tale, it seems as if the reason you married Lord Hamilton was, in essence, to keep your life exactly how it was, correct?”

Washington thought on this for a moment, and then nodded.

“So,” she continued, drawing her bare finger across the rim of the teacup, the gloves having been taken away to be scrubbed, “Why have you made such an effort to accomplish the complete opposite?”

Washington provided no answer to this question, because he did not have one. Instead, he studied the enameled teacup with a great amount of pretend interest.

“Even at the ball, you have seemed to grow in the opposite direction of your stated goals. You said he was not unpleasant when left to his own devices.” She took a sip of the tea. “So why do you not do just that? You did not marry him to make a friend.”

There was another silence, in which Washington took a long sip of tea. The warmth of it did not comfort him as it usually did. He sighed, and looked at everything but his guest. Finally, as if forced, he looked at Martha. “Have I been…. incorrect, in offering him my friendship?” he asked, his hesitant voice sounding strange on his ears. “Have I misunderstood your advice? Did you not suggest I should offer?”

“No, you have done perfectly well in following my suggestion.” She took another sip. “I have only misjudged your husband’s persistence, and perhaps your intent in misdirecting yourself.”

“He is very persistent,” Washington agreed, sighing and shaking his head. “Especially in seeing tyranny where there is none.”

It would not have been gentlemanly to add bourbon to his tea, but he nonetheless considered it.

“You of all people should perhaps not disdain a man who sees tyranny where another man does not,” Martha retorted.

“If I require side-comments regarding my behavior, Lafayette is always extensively accommodating,” he said, sharply.

“What do you require from me, George?” she asked, meeting his eyes and completely unafraid, “Do you wish advice on your situation? Do you wish me to only sit here and reflect on how terrible you have made yourself? Shall I only take care of you when you are so distraught because a man you have forced to marry you is upset? How is it you have found the one creature who is not throwing himself at your feet to serve the mighty General George Washington?”

He suppressed all but an irritated grunt. “I seek your wisdom. As I always do, despite….” He made a gesture into the air, “.... despite my frustrations.”

“My wisdom, my friend, would be to return to your original strategy.”

“My original strategy?”

“He clearly shows no interest in accepting your gestures, especially if he is always to be thinking you do it to boost yourself. He is well aware you have married him to ignore him. So do so.”

It was not an unexpected answer, but nonetheless it seemed terrible. He was not a man who surrendered - there was something to the art of the tactical retreat, yes, but something about him ached at the thought of ignoring the man he had brought to his castle. “I have considered it; it is not altogether unwise, only…”

“Only?” Martha echoed.

“I suppose it is irrational and senseless, only I merely wish more of the man I saw smile at his sister, and --”

“George,” Martha’s voice was sharp again, and she studied him with an intent, unsmiling expression, “I will be frank with you. You know very well that the smile was not intended for you, and you were never supposed to know of the man who wore it. You stole it. You have become infatuated with someone - something - that was never yours, that was not for you, that you should not been have permitted to view. You would not indulge a man who has stolen from you and asked you for more. No decent creature would. Why do you attempt make this boy do the same?”

“I have stolen nothing,” he protested, dropping the empty teacup on the saucer loudly, “I have only given, and offered--”

“You have stolen a man from his home, George!” Martha said, even sharper now, “So what is the difference if you have stolen him and decked him in gold or stolen him and discarded him into a root cellar?”

“--A home in which was inferior in every manner--”

“--A home which was his home, you senseless twit! How is you have nearly singlehandedly saved our country, and yet you pretend to be such a dullard?” She made a disguised noise at him and put the teacup and saucer on a nearby endtable. “It matters not if his home was a prison or a palace, or his father is a tyrant or a god, or that he possessed only dirt or a library of ages. You have removed him from his things, and his family, and his home, and you have tried to replace that with your things, and your company, and you. The issue with your husband is not that you are lacking in anything- status, wealth, items, or anything you can imagine. The issue is that you are you, sir. When you presented me your situation at the ball, I offered you advice based on the way you had briefed me; with this new understanding, I offer you a new strategy: you have married a man to ignore him, and he desires nothing more than to be ignored - so put him far from your thoughts, forget this smile you have stolen, and resume your regular activities that you placed yourself in this situation specifically to enjoy.”

“I will not be a man who surrenders,” he said, recoiling.

“For God’s sake, George, you are not at war with your husband.” Then she stood, her skirts in one hand, and without fear she reached over and tweaked his ear as if he was a child, the hand snapping back before he could catch it. “You cannot strategize or politik to please a man you have dragged into your life against his will. You cannot be so frustrated that you have married a solitary bookworm and be angry he prefers he books to you! You have tried to warm him to you, despite some irregularities in your attempts, and you have not been met with success, so you shall reorganize your priorities and cease your attempts. Unless you wish to throw yourself at his line of bayonets and rifles until you are a red smear on the grass.”

“Martha--”

“And quite frankly, I perfectly agree with him you should suffer the consequences for this plan of yours. You did not marry this boy with intent to befriend him. You married him with intent for him to be a ghost. So manage yourself so he is a ghost.” She took a rattling breath in her lungs, and all at once sat herself back down in her chair, glaring furiously at him, “So that is my advice to you. You are not required to heed it, of course, though not heeding my advice has only lead you into this state with a hole in your greenhouse, but please continue to ignore me as if you have any sense left in that head of yours after all the battles. After all, I am not your wife.”

Washington sat very still as he absorbed this torrent. He could not recall the last time he had been a victim of a tongue-lashing, and certainly he must have had parents at the time that someone had both the bravery and rage to be so visibly angry at him. Being shouted at had emptied his mind in a peculiar sort of fashion, not entirely unlike a particularly difficult ride where he could think only of his burning thighs and the sweat dripping down his neck and the pounding of his heart in his chest. Only instead of those things, he could only see Martha, glaring at him with furious eyes. There was nothing but the pulsating feeling of her anger in the tea-room, and the heavy sense of her disapproval, and the sight of her intertwined hands in her lap.

He picked up his tea cup and drank his tea in silence, staring only at the dark, steaming liquid in his cup.

“General Washington, Lady Dandridge-Custis,” Lafayette said, in the doorway, interrupting the silence he could surely sense, “You are awaited for dinner.”

Martha looked up at the servant from her own teacup. “Are you to join us, Lafayette?”

“I serve at the general’s pleasure,” Lafayette replied, with a bow. It was hardly an answer.

Martha looked at Washington, who did not look up from his teacup.

“I suppose that he shall,” he said, feeling very tired all of a sudden and not at all ready to manage himself properly for dinner. “And I suppose he shall be the only one who joins me, henceforth.”

“Lovely,” Martha said, and Lafayette offered her an arm, which she took. The three of them settled in the dining room and were served. It was, like it had been for a long time, like he had never married.

Chapter Text

For a while, the plan worked perfectly. It seemed, in many ways, like he was not married.

There were his various personal friendships and correspondences, which he continued to manage, as he always had. Hamilton remained a very small part of these conversations, and Washington carefully kept it that way. His husband was ill, he would say, or unsuitable for company (which seemed the truer of his excuses), and he would change the subject, and such a thing would be dropped, as was the polite step. Washington understood, of course, that this would lead to gossip, as such a thing usually did, but there was nothing to be done for it. It was less harmful to married to a mystery than it was to be unmarried, especially at his age; it was natural, of course, that with planned pairings, not all matches would be perfectly compatible.

He would attend balls on his own and offer apologies for the lack of Hamilton, because he was ill, or occupied, or otherwise unable to attend, of which no one pried. There was something unsettling in his stomach about it, yes, but not thinking about it resulted in a smaller unsettled thing, and so he put it out of his mind.

There was also hunting, and riding. Of course, there was also the greenhouse and the ever-present challenge of managing all his plants, and then making sure they caused no trouble for one another. There were maps, and books, and politics.

Hamilton came and went as a ghost. Sometimes his horse would be gone. Sometimes the Schuyler carriage would be at the gates, and other times another carriage that Lafayette indicated belonged to Henry Laurens. Somehow, his husband carefully planned these visits so that Washington would catch no sight of him or his companions. It was impressive, really.

This was not an uncommon arrangement, that they would be married strangers, and he settled into it despite the bad taste in the back of his mouth that it caused. Above all, he was a man of routine, and this would simply be another routine he would have himself manage.

After breakfast one day, as he was wont to do, he put on his work-clothes - a dark waistcoat and a cotton undershirt and no jacket - and went to the greenhouse. Despite the tumultuousness of the past couple of months, the flowers gave him great peace, and there was a gentle thrum of excitement in the back of his mind as he thought of a to-do list for himself. He had several new seeds to try, and had spent the past couple of days removing the dead flowers and leaving them for the farming men to use in their fertilizer along with the horse and other animal manure, and now the boxes and pots were ready to be reset with fresh dirt and fertilizer of his own. There was also the matter of repotting some growing items, that required a bigger space to live.

He was in a good mood. There had been a freshly slaughtered hog yesterday, and the sausage at breakfast had been marvelously spiced with some exotic seasonings he had acquired through a friend of a friend. He hummed something low and tuneless as he settled on his gardening stool, rolling his sleeves up to his elbows. Managing plants seemed to be both difficult and mindless, and he lost himself in the heat of the greenhouse and the cool, wet dirt.

Then, he heard a murmur.

He looked up, frowning. Servants were not allowed in the greenhouse unless specifically ordered, which left only one answer to the question, short of the absurd. But this was a routine time for him to be here; Hamilton would have surely known and made some effort to avoid it. He took his hands out of the pot and stood up, looking through the green leaves and exotic flowers.

It was Hamilton, sitting in a chair in the corner, a book in his lap, which he was deeply engrossed in. Very quickly, something peculiar like shame flared hot in Washington’s chest, followed by anger, before he suppressed them both and gathered himself together. This was his routine, and he would not be cowed or bullied, especially by the stubborn bookworm he had taken on as part of his family. But, he added to himself after one furious moment, Hamilton was welcome to sit and read his book in the corner, as long as he was not troublesome. This resolved, he sat back down and resumed his humming, and forgot that Hamilton was there, which he had become accustomed to doing.

He became, a little while later, aware of a prickling sensation at the back of his neck, and not the beads of sweat collecting at his collar. It was the sense of being watched, and he resisted the urge to act on it, even when it persisted. Instead he resettled the dirt and the fertilizer into the box, spreading evenly, adding seeds, and crafting holes where the bulbs would go.

“You’ve hung these on the wall,” Hamilton’s voice said, from behind him. There was no greeting, or any other sort of introduction, despite that they had seen nothing of eachother in some time, and Washington felt the twinge of irritation at the rudeness, which he suppressed. “They won’t die without dirt?”

He looked over his shoulder. Hamilton was studying a trellis that was hung with a variety of small orchids attached to pieces of tree bark. He was still irritated, but less so at the sight, for reasons he could not explain. He decided it was because of his orchids.

“They would do much worse planted in the ground,” he said, as evenly as he could manage. “Most of them are doing rather well. Some of them several years old. In the wild, they grow on trees. It’s best to mimic natural conditions as well as you can.”

Hamilton made an acknowledging noise. “Your servants manage them well.”

“You know who manages them, sir,” Washington said, and could only manage some success at keeping the irritation out of his voice. “And it is not the servants.”

Hamilton’s hand stopped as it traced a lengthy, winding vine on the trellis. He looked over his shoulder.

Washington realized this was the first time they’d looked at each other in weeks. Hamilton looked characteristically unkempt, exactly how he’d remembered the man, and had discarded the sling despite that it not been the designated time he was supposed to wear it. He also realized that he himself was terribly underdressed to have company, even if that company was nominally his husband: covered in dirt, no neckcloth or jacket.

They said nothing to each other. He swallowed.

Hamilton turned back to the wall of orchids. “How do you water them?”

“That bottle, over there.” He pointed, although Hamilton wasn’t looking, to a little end-table next to the trellis, where a glass and metal bottle, not unlike a perfume mister, sat. “The correct way to water them is to spray them until they’re dripping with water.” He looked down at his lap, as if it would provide some answer to this peculiar circumstance. He had a hunch that perhaps Hamilton was here to avoid servants, and had lost track of time, but that was the barest of explanations. He could not explain anything else - why they were talking, why Hamilton was not rending him for something he had done, why he was not as angry as he thought he should be. Instead of anger, he merely felt very queer, although perhaps it was only the heat of the greenhouse and the effort of his work. Yes, he decided to himself. It was merely he had not drank enough water. He thought about his orchids, and Hamilton.

“You can water them, if it pleases you,” he said, and then found himself very surprised that he had said it.

If Hamilton realized his confusion, he made no indication. “If it requires careful management, I am not well-equipped,” he said, dryly.

“Watering is not so difficult.” Washington replied, and, realizing that he could not disappear himself out of his circumstance, stood and wiped his dirty hands on his handkerchief. Then, he walked over to the little end-table, trying to observe and not observe Hamilton all at once. The argument that had ended his attempts at creating something between them rung clear in the back of his mind, and he waited, inevitably, for the man to start on his rage again. Steadying himself for it, he picked up the little mister bottle and gave the orchid wall a thorough spray.

By this time, Hamilton had turned from the orchid wall, away from him, and strolled down the walkway, studying one of the flower boxes. “How do you know which ones to plant together?”

“I have two systems that I use,” Washington replied, and he sat back down in front of the box he had been managing, covering the planted bulbs with dirt and packing it lightly. “The first is--” There was a beat. This did not seem a dangerous question, but he knew that would not stop Hamilton from attacking him if he provided the wrong answer. He considered it for another second. “Have you read much about gardening?”

“I know a little.”

He gathered the watering can and watered the new bulbs. It was safer, he decided, to talk to the flowerbox instead of Hamilton. Flowerboxes, after all, did not throw books at your feet. “Certain plants consume and make certain specific resources from the soil. You should select plants that both use and create different resources. Additionally, different species survive best in different types of soils. I find the best combinations are same-soil and different-resource species.” He stopped, not knowing what else to say, and put the watering can down, glancing back to the man and wondering if this would be the point where he would be shouted at. To his surprise, his husband did not look like the discontent academic he had come to know, and he was somewhat transfixed by the less-vicious side of the man. Without saying his goodbyes, Hamilton pushed through the doors that separated the more humid half of the greenhouse to the drier half.

He stared at the doors. He did not know what the next step was to take.

He took a breath, then followed Hamilton into the dry half of the greenhouse, which was covered with desert plants. Cacti and succulents stuck out in odd angles from their pots, growing dangerous, thorny and spined arms with no regard for one another, or any humans that might admire them.

“What are these?” Hamilton asked, and pointed to the succulents at the end of the row, under the angled greenhouse roof, where the most light would be concentrated.

So, Washington thought to himself, it had been the correct step to follow, albeit at a distance. Hamilton had not attacked him, or fled, or started on one of his vicious torrents. This made a feeling that he could not identify surge in his chest. He drew upon the success, keeping his voice even. “Those are desert plants,” he said, “I acquired them many of them during the war.”

“They bear no flowers?”

“They do. But only for a short time. I have never seen them.”

Hamilton looked down the aisle at him. He had not forgotten the studying gaze, even though it seemed less hard than he recalled it.

“You have plants that you have never seen the flowers of?”

He nodded and stood, then carefully began to walk towards Hamilton and the succulents that had caught his interest. Hamilton’s gaze had retreated back to the plants, and one of his narrow fingers drew down the dark, ribbed surface of a leaf.

His husband did not withdraw, or cast him one of his vicious glares, when he came closer.

It is nice to see you again, Lord Hamilton, he thought. After such a drought of the man, scowl and all, it seemed a momentous occasion, and one he took extreme care not to reveal the importance of. But he relished it in secret, to stand here with Hamilton, at peace instead of war. He had realized, after some time, that it was purely impossible to completely forget the man. His best management was to place him on some distant mental shelf, only a thing that caught his eye every so often.

He still wondered about the creature within his husband who had laughed so brilliantly at the castle gates. Even despite that he knew the man was not meant for him, it seemed a desire he could not abandon. The man studying his plants must have been the closest he’d gotten so far. It was a peculiar kind of accomplishment, but one nonetheless, and he took a moment to treasure it.

“Why do you have plants with such rare flowers?” Hamilton asked, disturbing his thoughts.

This question was not altogether uncommon for people that he showed the greenhouse to, and he had a variety of explanations for this answer which he selected depending on his audience. Usually, he had a set speech about competition for pollinators and how it changed how the plant evolved, discussing orchids and the exotic jungles to which men had ventured for these things. But he also had the sense this was not the time for that. The last thing he wanted to put in Lord Hamilton's mind was competition, especially seeing him so distracted from his usual anger.

His husband was peering at some spiny cactus, and Washington resisted the urge to chuckle as the man reached a finger out, then quickly, as expected, drew it back, studying with some discontent the spines now embedded in his finger.

“The value of the species is not the flower,” he said, as Hamilton held his hand up to the bright light and plucked the tiny filaments out of his flesh. “Perhaps, in many ways, it is the opposite.”

Hamilton looked at him, his face puzzled.

“The reason that there are flowers at all, to the best that we know, is so that the plant may attract pollinators - bees, birds, whatever inhabits the habitat with them. But the act of creating the flower is an incredibly intensive process for the plant.” He looked down the row at his collection, considering. “The effort and energy that the plant must use to grow this whole new part of oneself, only to better their attempts at spreading seeds -- perhaps, if there was a choice in such a matter, they would all decide to be desert plants. That cactus you seem to be acquainted with could live for hundreds of years and grow to be taller than this greenhouse. And while some of the orchids could become much larger than they are now, many will not.”

Hamilton returned to the cactus, studying it with a new appreciation on his face. He looked again at his hand. “I would prefer to be a cactus than an orchid,” he said. “I imagine the spines are good for defending against predators.”

You are a cactus, Lord Hamilton, Washington thought, and the thought had a peculiar affection within it he had not intended.

“But,” he continued, snapping Washington from the thought, which was a strange relief, “The cactus may be hardy and persistent, but still, that is not beautiful.”

“I suppose that would depend on what you take to be beauty. The sky is beautiful, but it is a different sort of beautiful from a map. A dress-suit can be beautiful, and that is a different beauty from a man’s war-clothes. A ceremonial weapon and a battle weapon are both magnificent, but they are of completely different uses and values.”

Hamilton stared at the cactus, and then perhaps realizing that the wrestle of his own thoughts was completely visible on his face, looked away. Washington resisted the urge to come any closer, or ask, despite the intensity of his curiousity. Such things were not for him, unless Hamilton decided they were to be for him, which seemed to be a lesson he had learned very slowly, like a dull child. He forced himself to look away, to the flower in the pot nearest to him. There were a few holes in the leaf in his fingers. He frowned, and then went over to retrieve his stool, leaving the other man to his silence. Only when he was up to his forearms in soil, feeling the roots of the plant to see if there was any other damage to be identified, did Hamilton speak again.

“Your effort in your endeavors is clearly visible,” the young lord said, with an uncharacteristic hesitancy, “Yet you have never once seen the flower of this cactus, and perhaps there are more which also bloom rarely. And even some flowers shown now are -- not extraordinary. And if the flowers are made only to attract birds, and there is no competition for birds, the flowers will hardly be impressive.” And, now more like Washington knew him to be, he gathered steam and became a boulder of words, rolling down some inevitable hill to a conclusion one could only see if they stared downwards. “And yet, you come here every morning, the great general George Washington, up to his elbows in dirt, trying to understand what is wrong with a plant, and one with no visible flowers, or even perhaps a use other than to reproduce itself. You could use this time to expand your property, or survey your lands, or for politics, or for art. And yet instead, you have grown a cactus that you have never seen bloom.”

I don’t understand, is what Lord Hamilton said, although understood he was not technically permitted to know that there were things Hamilton did not understand.

Washington pulled his hands from the dirt and brushed them off back into the box. He reached for the stained handkerchief and cleaned himself off. He could sense the energy vibrating within his husband, barely restrained. Itching, Washington thought, for a fight. They would fight. Hamilton would throw some quality of his into his face. He would attempt to explain himself, and every explanation would be hollow and unfulfilling, and then, those too would be thrown into his face. Hamilton would be angry they had spoken and demand to never see him again.

He thought, for more than one moment, to leave the conversation here. It seemed, though, that there was some part of him that refused this action. Some part of him would have him talk to Hamilton despite the danger. Some part of him demanded he continued the conversation.

“To see the cactus bloom is not why I attend to the cactus,” he answered, turning away from Hamilton and checking the leaves of the other plants, to see if there were any holes or mites living on them. To look at Hamilton’s face - to see what was sure to be the scowl he had come to know well - would be to speed along the argument. “I brought the cactus to my greenhouse, and so it is my responsibility to attend to it. But I brought it here knowing the chance of my seeing its flowers was rare. It is the same as having an aloe, or a desert lily. My intentions in having the cactus is not to see the cactus flower, but rather to have the cactus thrive, and perhaps I shall learn something in the process of tending to it: be that about myself, of which I am in a continual state of self-improvement, or so I should like to think; or about growing plants, a gentleman’s hobby in which I am always seeking to become more skilled; or perhaps about the cactus itself, a resolute thing of great determination and perseverance, that has chosen somewhere some difficult and harsh, and built itself in a way to so greatly succeed in its ambitions that we think of it one with the landscape it has chosen.”

He risked a glance at Hamilton, who would likely be ready with some vicious riposte about how he had torn the cactus from the desert, perhaps, or something about entrapment in a greenhouse.

Hamilton was staring at the cactus.

“And--” Washington added, even despite the risk of it, “If I am to see the cactus bloom, imagine the sense of the reward.”

Hamilton looked at him. It was not a way he was accustomed to Hamilton looking at him. It was searching, yes, but it was not searching with the intent to destroy. Hamilton was not studying him as a battleground. He was studying him as an untilled field.

“It would be rewarding indeed,” Hamilton said, quietly.

Washington’s stomach twisted, and all at once thoughts flooded into his head, as if a dam had burst.

How might I manage you to bloom?, he thought.

How might I tell what you need to grow?, he thought.

I apologize, he thought.

“The Schuyler greenhouse is not half as impressive as yours,” Hamilton said, saving Washington from inevitable failure of saying the wrong thing. Instead of offering a reply, which he suspected would be the wrong thing to say no matter he managed, he offered a small, sitting bow to accept the compliment. “The servants have said they wish the plants would grow mouths to express their desires.”

“Plants are always telling a man what it is they need to thrive. It is only that men are not listening. And I am not so impressive, after all. A number of my orchids are not being very talkative at all.”

“No?”

“No, they seem to be interested in frustrating me as much as they are able.” A sigh. “As for many of the other plants, though, we communicate well enough.” He turned back to the leaves which he had been studying and continued. “These little holes - they say ‘I may have mites.’ And the color of these leaves--” he slid off the stool and took a few steps down the aisle, to another plant, “-- says ‘I have been too frequently watered.’ And the tangle and visibility of these roots,” he gestured to another, “Says ‘I need a larger place to live.’ Perhaps it is not words, no, but…. Men are not always good at listening to those, either.”

Hamilton chuckled. Washington smiled, before he could stop himself. There was a peculiar moment between them that Washington thought he might have liked to save, and reference at times when things did not seem to be going well.

“It was not my intention to interrupt your routine,” Hamilton said, breaking whatever odd silence that suddenly sat between them. He moved the book he had been holding from one arm to another, and without delay gently slid past Washington towards the door at the other end of the greenhouse.

“I was not interrupted,” Washington said, and Hamilton bowed slightly and left.

He shook himself out of a daze that Hamilton had put him in, for his husband had brushed him slightly in his hurry to leave the greenhouse, and his side was peculiarly warm where there had been incidental contact. He stared at the space which Hamilton had removed himself from, his thoughts a tangle worse than any set of roots. If he was being honest with himself, he felt it entirely possible that the words were hardly true at all. Then, in an attempt to remove some of his odd feelings, he cleared his throat and demanded a soldier’s discipline from his thoughts, shaking his husband from them.

Chapter Text

“General Washington!”

It was not all that surprising to have his name shouted in the middle of the street, even if had been some time, and it was his policy then, as it was now, to ignore such a thing.

While he did not prefer to be in town, it could not always been avoided. He’d been on his way to a meeting with the council - a meeting which he, admittedly, was not thrilled to attend - regarding what he and the other generals loosely referred to as their country, where they would resolve border disputes, review foreign correspondence, and decide the threat level of new complaints brought to their attention.

He did not recognize the voice either, which was surprising, and contributed greatly to his decision not to acknowledge it. It was a fairly late hour, so that those invited could all arrive and travel by daylight, and so the meeting would not be disturbed. He was early, but purposefully so, to discuss his agenda for their country - support a unified front, and to keep out of the various conflicts which erupted around them, and do not become partisan to each other - with Greene, Knox, and Phillip Schuyler, his closest allies.

“General Washington!” the voice shouted again. It sounded young, and male - and angry. Upset with his politics? He sighed and stopped, giving in turning to face his aggressor.

It did appear to be a young and angry man - perhaps his husband’s age, in a squire’s peace armor. He could not make out the crest of it in the dark, but it had the obvious sense of being well-made - clean lines and crisp carving and without any dents.

“Hello, sir,” he said, putting a hand on the ceremonial sabre that he wore and letting the other rest at his side. “I confess you have me at something of a disadvantage, for it seems you know my name, but I am unaware of yours.”

The man stared at him, as if he had not been sure his plan would work, and had not yet established a next step. Washington resisted the urge to sigh, thinking of his comrades, who would certainly note that he was late.

“Sir,” the man said, regathering himself and pushing forward in the way young men were wont to do upon realizing they had not been denied, “I demand you explain your ill-treatment of your husband, for I shall not permit it, and challenge you to defend your honor, that you have been given a great number of titles and honors, and yet you cannot be sensible to a man forced to your side and half your age.”

Washington frowned at this, and peered at the man in some confusion. The man took a step forward, closer to him, until he could see the anger in his eyes, and the determined set of his mouth, and a sabre of his own at his side. He could see the crest now, but could not immediately recognize it.

“What say you, noble general?” The words were spat.

“Sir,” Washington said, a little angrier now, for it was one peculiar thing to be stopped in the street by an upset squire, and another thing to be challenged to defend his honor, especially regarding his husband - whom he had not mistreated in the slightest, and even when he was to have deserved it. “You do me a great disrespect, and I shall not accept your challenge for two reasons that any man will see honor in - first of which you have not told me your name, so I am victim to great confusion of who challenges me - and second, of which I have not mistreated my husband in the slightest, unless he is secretly tortured by reading too much and going about his personal business without my attentions.”

This seemed to take the man by some surprise, but he persisted - as young men, Washington thought, were wont to do. “He has written to me of your tortures, that you have attended too closely to him, and demanded he accounts for your coins, and wear the violet despite his displeasure of it--”

“Young man,” Washington growled, drawing himself up taller, “Someone has made a dreadful fool of you, and not only yourself.” This someone could only be his husband, to know things that he had not spread outside his estate, although there was some possibility of servant’s gossip on these sorts of things - but he did not think that to be the case. “I suppose if one considers torture to be that one is granted too many servants, then perhaps I have tortured him, or if I have purchased him books at his request that were costly, and in my anger at his ungratefulness mentioned so, or that I have offered to have him made new riding leathers, and thought in error he might prefer them with the crest of his married family and not his father, then I am guilty of your accusations.” There was a beat. Washington thought of his husband, staring thoughtfully at his cacti. “And I have done nothing of this recently. You are delayed, sir, and terribly foolish. Now return to your man, and cease this bother.”

The young man looked at him, and took a step backward, perhaps reconsidering. He took a breath to manage himself taller as well, and while he was not Washington’s height, he was not a small man. “You have not abused Lord Schuyler-Washington?” the man repeated.

“I have not, sir, and I would invite you to my grounds to see his condition, were you sensible enough company to share your name.” This time he did sigh, exasperated. “Begone with you, and I shall not seek to have you more thoroughly punished for wasting my time.”

Perhaps he should have waited for the man to agree to dismiss the complaint, but if the man did not share his name, he hardly felt obligated to. He turned and strode down the street, brushing off a few sputtered additions behind him. He was late now, and would have no time to make any plans with his allies. He heard about four footsteps of the young squire, and then no more.

The meeting had well begun by the time he arrived. He took in the faces of the men and women who looked at him. A few of them looked disappointed that he had arrived. He took some secret comfort in upsetting them, and particularly their leader, a Lord Adams, of which he did not in any manner enjoy the company of.

“General Washington,” said Phillip Schuyler, his eyes confused, “Please, sit.” He gestured next to him, to where Knox and Greene sat.

“I was waylaid, but it has been resolved,” he murmured, low, to his allies, who all cast him sideways glances as he joined them. “What have we covered, and what is to be discussed?”

“There was some discussion of war histories,” Knox said, in a low voice, as a man talked about something else, “I suggested you should be sent a manuscript.”

Washington nodded. “I will review it, if it arrives.”

A throat cleared. The group looked up.

“You have arrived just as your skill is needed, General Washington,” said another man, in a voice that suggested it would have been much preferred for him to have been killed in a duel with a rude, nameless squire. This man was Lord Henry Laurens, and he was holding a letter. Henry Laurens was the sort of man who thought you could win a war without paying one’s soldiers, or feeding them, or providing them horses or guns, and for this reason Washington disliked him with a resolute ferocity. It was only the gentleman’s standard of politeness that had stopped him, several times during war-meetings, from strangling him and taking out from under his corpse his stash of coins, which Lord Laurens would have preferred to never use, or touch. Lord Laurens preferred to use his coins for one thing, and that was to impress upon other men that Lord Laurens had many coins.

“Have I?” Washington asked, meeting the cold, coin-glittering eyes of this man he disliked. “In what way may I be of service?”

“There is a call for troops along the coast,” Laurens said, and he held the letter out, which Washington took. “Not many, but enough. The possibility of skirmishes exists; we must send reinforcements of some kind. And some supplementary troops - squires and aides, and such.”

Washington made an acknowledging noise, his eyes skimming the letter from one of their men, regarding the coast, and the ever-present possibility of danger even in their time of peace, and a call for a few men to support them. A frown crept down his face. Finding more troops would be dragging them from the fingers of the other lords. He then handed the letter to Knox, who repeated this process.

“If we were to have a collective army, sir,” Knox said, eyes hard on Laurens, “This would not be a situation worth debate, for they would merely be reassigned.”

But they did not have a standing army, and in no small part due to Lord Laurens, and Lord Adams, and former ambassador called Lord Jefferson. These were the sort of men who despised the thought they might be one complete country, or have to separate for even one moment from their wealth. Instead, Washington saw the future of pleading with each man individually for some small bit of his militia, and he only barely bit back the groan which would have well-vocalized his frustrations on the matter.

“Well,” Adams said, with a casual type of shrug as if he did not understand the trouble with the situation, “We do not, presently, so we shall have to arrange alternatives.”

Washington took the letter back from Knox and read it over again, and agreed with himself that it was worth it to send troops, despite the struggle it presented. He looked up at Laurens, and let his eyes fall to the man’s jacket and waistcoat, surely new for this event, to impress upon the group that he was very rich indeed. The thing was embroidered with gold, and sewn with jewels, not even tastefully so. Washington thought idly of how ostentatious the man’s carriage must have been, his eyes falling to the man’s crest for a moment, which was -- familiar --

There was a moment, which seemed very long in his mind.

The young man who had nearly assaulted him had --

He heard Lafayette’s voice in the back of his head, explaining that the unfamiliar carriage belonged to Henry Laurens, for he had a son, John, one of Hamilton’s repeated guests, a squire who craved combat --

His husband would not be not the type to entertain the incompetent. Lord Hamilton would like that, if his friend were to finally be closer to the glory he so craved. And any son of Henry Laurens would surely be well versed in the necessary fields of tactics and strategy, as well as all the proper subjects that any young man of standing was educated in --

Of course, any son of Henry Laurens would also always be held back from anything that was remotely dangerous, for Henry Laurens was the sort of man that he was --

Though, if General Washington suggested that a noble-born, well-educated, military-minded man of a decent age be sent to battle, there would be no room for a gentleman to make an argument.

He suppressed a smile and instead cleared his throat, for all at once he saw the many birds lined up, and felt the weight of the stone in his hand.

“Lord Laurens,” he said, to Laurens, offering the letter back to him, “You have a son of military age, if I am not mistaken?”

Laurens sat back in his chair, as if he had been offended; all at once his eyes became very dark, like a man suspecting a trap. “Yes, General, I do,” he said, very slowly.

“And this son of yours has the benefit of decent schooling and military education, as of course I know he is grandly important to you, as sons are to their fathers?”

“Yes,” said Laurens, again very slowly, “My heir.”

Do not make this suggestion, sir, Lord Laurens did not say, but Washington heard it nonetheless, and quite clearly.

“All the better, then,” Washington said, and he gathered himself in his chair, stroking his bare chin as he considered the situation. He had never felt so blessed to have been waylaid by an unruly youth on the street. Certainly it was a thing of providence, that he was provided the opportunity to lift his husband’s friend into the honor which he craved - and even despite the boy’s attitude. Lafayette, he thought, would be very pleased by this event, if he managed it successfully. “For it is a father’s responsibility to lift their children to greater glory, is it not? Of course, such a thing will not only improve the name of Laurens, but to have a man as educated as he there, composing reports and reviewing the events, will allow us great confidence in the letters that arrive; we shall know that not only are they accurate, and well-considered, but of course here is a man who has our allegiance, and shall never become disloyal.”

“A marvelous idea, general,” Greene said, and Washington could see the fellow general’s eyes laughing, “Could you imagine, if you had not been here? We would send someone less qualified, and less able.”

“Certainly,” Knox concurred, and there was a low murmur of agreement throughout the room.

Washington took a glass which Greene had poured for him and wet his lips with wine. It tasted very good, and better because Lord Laurens was staring at him, not joining in the general assent.

Adams glanced at Laurens. They had some secret communication.

“Very well,” Laurens said, in the way of a man who was not accustomed to surrendering, and furthermore was not going to forget he had been forced to surrender.

“Marvelous,” Washington said, and he took another sip of wine. “We should discuss the greater troop movements as well, I think. Presuming my correspondence is accurate and up to date, I have a number of suggestions so we may maintain peace for as long as we are all alive, and as long as our children are all alive, and our children’s children.”

“Let us hear them, then,” Adams said, and Washington fell into the easy rhythm of troop movements and war strategy and things he was far more comfortable with than politics.

Chapter Text

It was only a matter of time, Washington knew, with a man like Henry Laurens. He had barely arrived back home before Lafayette had delivered him the letter, which expressed as a gentleman might express, in a slithering, sideways type of manner, without a single insulting word used, the following: that he had wildly overstepped his bounds, that he was in no way anything less than a tyrant who did nothing but wrench power from others, and that he had doomed Henry Laurens to having no heirs. The letter added, as acidly as a letter could add, several jibes at the fact Washington had no children, and furthermore had married an adopted son.

The letter also indicated that Washington should expect a visit, very soon.

It did, in many ways, remind him of being yelled at in the street and being challenged to a duel without even being told the man of the name who challenged him. It made perfect sense that this was his husband’s friend, and that this was his husband’s friend’s father.

He told the whole story to Lafayette, and had him read the letter, and his servant had laughed in pure delight. Lafayette, being from the war, also did not like Lord Henry Laurens.

“Even better, sir,” Lafayette had added, once he had managed to calm himself down, “I suspect that you have not shamed yourself, for the son, John, has the core of a good soldier, especially if there is a man holding his leash.”

“Indeed?”

Lafayette nodded, more firmly this time. “Although I must confess some concern, that Hamilton will see this as a way for you to twist his friend from him. He seems to be quite capable of viewing you only as a demon capable of great horror.”

“Yes, the thought occurred to me. But we managed an entire conversation without him accusing me of destroying his independence. Perhaps he will understand it as the boost I intend it to be.”

“If the boy fails, Lord Laurens will relish the task of eviscerating you for it.” Lafayette grinned.

Washington folded his fingers together and rested his elbows on the worn wooden arms of his study chair. The chair had helped him think of a great number of ideas, and resolve an even larger number of disputes. He set his chin in his thumbs and studied the letter on his desk. “How will he fail it?” He mused, working through his thoughts as he spoke them, “Henry would have persevered to have his heir educated in every manner that he could manage. Doubtless the boy speaks a number of languages, and writes in more, and has a comprehensive historical and military education. He is a squire, and so he will know combat, even if only in concept. Henry would demand a decent understanding of tactics all the while actively prohibiting the boy to use that knowledge.” There was a beat of a pause, and he drew a finger down the dried ink of the letter, looking without seeing the words. “Lord Hamilton does not make friends easy. He would not have an incompetent waste his time. And the boy must like him enough to be swayed by my husband’s reports of my allegedly ill behavior despite whatever squire’s rumors that are spoken of me. And he is either, or both, brave enough and reckless enough to challenge me in the middle of the street.”

Lafayette plucked the letter off the desk and took it with him to where he sprawled in his preferred chair. His eyes idly drew down the words. “Say nothing to Lord Hamilton about it,” he said.

Washington tilted his head.

“It will seem a much grander gesture, I think, if his friend is to write him a breathless letter of his promotion, correct?” Lafayette dropped the letter into his lap and held his hands up, as if viewing an imaginary canvas. “Think, sir. You are John Laurens. You have made a right fool of yourself in front of your hero, General Washington, becuase me, Alexander Hamilton, has filled your mind with nonsense.”

“I would be very confused,” Washington said. The confusion he pretended of this imaginary John Laurens was matched, in part, by his own at his friend. “Why, ‘Lord Hamilton’, have you spoken mistruths about your husband, General Washington? I acted in your honor, and I have been made of fool of, for I have acted on incorrect information, and the general was terribly confused by my statements, and dismissed me like a child.”

“You could think the general’s confusion was a farce,” Lafayette said.

“General Washington does not lie,” Washington said, scowling.

“Well, yes,” Lafayette held up his hands, “Of course, we are both well aware that General Washington’s character is too marvelous to lie. But if you are John Laurens, and if you have been told that General Washington is, in fact, a right scoundrel, you might also suspect him to be a liar.”

Washington could not suppress an irritated growl at that. “It is not only that he pretends I am an abusive husband, but also a liar, of course.”

“Even if General Washington is a liar and a right scoundrel,” Lafayette continued, snorting back his laughter, the opposite effect Washington had intended by glaring at him, “He has still decided not to make an example of your foolishness, which is in some manner my fault - and he has granted upon you the promotion you have always desired, that you knew your father would never present you. Scoundrel or no scoundrel, he has done you a great favor, and one which presents some risk to his scoundrel neck.”

“You are enjoying creating an abusive, lying General Washington too much, I think.”

Lafayette had the sense to at least pretend at being offended. “I am merely trying to understand the best way that you may impress your husband, in my continuous attempts to better serve you, sir.”

Washington sighed. “Regardless,” he said, resettling himself in the chair, “I announce to you, my friend, Lord Hamilton, that General Washington, a man of incredible integrity, honest, with dignity, and in no way possessing a scoundrel’s character, has granted me this promotion - that my father would never grant me, that is one of the few peacetime promotions where I could manage some battlefield honor--”

“--The thing we both know you crave, for you do not wish to be a squire that is lost to history or a man with no military actions--”

“--And I am unimaginably thrilled by this event. And so…..” He glanced off, looking up at one of his maps, then back to his servant, “How does Lord Hamilton manage his response?”

Lafayette made a thoughtful noise and chewed his lip. “He will know he has told his friend nonsense, and you made a fool of yourself on that information. He will know the general has supported you despite the risk. He will know that this promotion is what you have always desired, and now you have it. But you have also sent his friend away.”

They looked at each other and between them found no answer.

“Well,” his servant said, and stood, straightening his jacket, “You have already done it, and so you cannot withdraw the thing, and so we shall see how your husband reacts, and hopefully he will thank you.”

“Do not be so ambitious,” Washington said, and he opened a desk drawer and pulled out some paper, and cut a fresh pen, for John Laurens was one soldier despite whatever he meant otherwise, and Washington had many other soldiers to assign, and manage, and outfit. “I shall settle with him not thinking I am out to destroy him.”

“We must be ambitious, sir,” Lafayette said, grinning fondly at him, and Washington all of a sudden felt very grateful for his friend. “For only with ambitious goals do we accomplish incredible things, such as making Lord Hamilton think you a decent man.”

“No, Lafayette,” Washington said, “We must be reasonable. We shall start first, I think, with dissolving the mental image of scoundrel General Washington.”

“Now that is much too ambitious, sir,” Lafayette smirked at him, “For as long as I persist, scoundrel General Washington shall persist.”

Chapter Text

He hardly needed a moment of catching Lafayette's eye to have what he thought to be a fairly comprehensive understanding about how this meeting was going to go. His servant’s face was drawn and unsmiling, suddenly much more worn than usual, and his eyes were dull in a way that suggested any attention he might show to their guest went no further than pure professionalism.

“Lord Laurens,” Washington said, nodding his head as little as he could manage. Lafayette helped the man down from the horse and hurried himself off to the stables.

Laurens gazed at Lafayette’s retreating back for a while instead of acknowledging him. “I express some concern that a foreigner could not maintain the noble estate of Washington-Schuyler to the demands required of it,” he said, finally, and turned back to Washington, managing a slight nod of his own.

Washington’s eyebrows went up. “Your concern for my affairs is noted and appreciated. I can assure you with great confidence that I have never had a servant as capable or elegant as Lafayette. I could inquire if he has any brothers or recommendations, if that would interest you.”

“No, sir,” Laurens said, “You have done enough for the Laurens household.”

“Come to my tea-room, Lord Laurens, and unburden yourself.”

They walked in sharp silence. Washington reviewed his thoughts. He was not, in all honestly, concerned that Laurens could punish him in any significant manner, politically or otherwise. Laurens could yell at him, if he desired, or perhaps threaten him, but they both knew that Lord Laurens would have to pretend he was thrilled with the corner that Washington had backed him into. The position he had given to the younger Lord Laurens was perfect both for the father and the son: it was, as he had told the council, the perfect first military posting for a man desperate for glory and honor, in which he would be surrounded in every moment by army men and army goings-on. There could be skirmishes, but they would not be serious. There were many upsides for glory, and none of the typical downsides of rain, tents, fleas, or the endless dinner of dried meat.

Even better, no gentleman could suggest that they would prefer their oldest son to be safe at home when they could be in battle, gathering reputation and standing for their name. Such a thing bordered on cowardly, and Lord Laurens could never admit to it, even if Washington knew it to be completely true. He resigned himself to enjoy the evening, as much one could enjoy being tongue-lashed. Tongue-lashed, he reminded himself, feeling pleased, by a man he had completely outwitted, and possibly pleased his unruly husband as a perfect addition.

“No amount of discussion, or tea, could unburden me of the weight you have forced me to bear, general,” Laurens said, when they sat. They were served.

“Such as I have often said,” he replied, “Only to find that writing a letter or having company clears my mind quite thoroughly.”

Laurens cleared his throat. “Well,” he said, and his voice was cool as studied the teacup that he had been given. Washington had considered using his third-best tea set but abandoned the idea; the cup that Laurens held in his hand was exquisitely made, and perfectly painted with the violet, “I shall tell you now, if you did not already know, that John is my oldest, and my heir. If something is to happen to him, I shall be terribly distraught. The circumstances of my estate would be --- chaotic.”

Washington took a sip of his tea. “From my understanding, the position is not one of undue danger, and especially not in comparison from the skill, experience and reputation your son is likely to obtain from it.” He paused for another moment, and then continued. “In fact, I could hardly imagine you could design a better first posting for a man. He will assist a good officer, and he will have the comforts of a fort, rather than a tent. You may send him with servants, and if you deign not to, I suspect some will be provided. The weather, from my understanding, is not too wet, and the food not too terrible. This hardly even includes the reputation and friends one has the potential to acquire from such a posting. No name other than Laurens deserves this opportunity.”

Laurens watched him very closely, and he might have been uncomfortable with it, had he not already suffered, and become quite familiar with, the attentions of politicians.

“I was not aware you felt my name worthy of such an opportunity as the one you have granted it,” he said, finally. He took a sip of the tea, and made a peculiar face before setting the ornate cup and saucer aside.

“It was the perfect opportunity to display such, then,” Washington said.

Laurens took a very large breath, which swelled his stomach and caused the jeweled buttons on his waistcoat to sparkle. Washington thought that it was a thing intended to be intimidating, and that Laurens, quite incorrectly, thought he could cow Washington in the privacy of his tea-room, holding his teacup, and drinking his tea. Instead the thing made the man look somewhat froglike. Laurens was not fit, and his ostentatious clothing did not slim him.

“General Washington,” he said, with hard, angry eyes, “Does it not occur to you that you have sent my son to die?”

At this Washington’s eyebrows went up again, and he set his teacup and saucer on his own end table, and crossed his arms across his chest. He looked away for a moment, studying one of his paintings as he composed his thoughts, and then returned his gaze to his company. “Sir, I am general of the armies, as much as they may exist at peace, at the request of the council, and with no advertisement of my own. Assigning young men to dangerous tasks is one of my most important duties in that position, and something I consider with great care and thought, and will not shirk. I may repeat that in comparison to the many things I have had men do for their country, this position is not one of great danger, and nor would I assign your son to such a thing if it was within my power to avoid it, which I am glad to say that it currently is.”

Based on his expression, Washington thought Laurens was not at all comforted by his comments. “Yes, general, you suffer so, with the privilege of your position, and all the terrible responsibility of managing an army that barely exists, and all the lavish attentions of the populace, oh Great Unifier.” The man’s lip twisted in visible disgust as he turned his head in a wide circle to study the tea room, which while not extravagant, was well-constructed and decorated with his paintings. “And all the while you send my son away to some bare-bones fort.”

Washington managed the feat of not rolling his eyes. Instead, he placed his emotions away from his face and out of his posture, and picked up the teacup again to study it. He had selected his favorite tea and his favorite tea set, although it did not appear Laurens liked his tea selection much at all.

“The fort will be no castle, perhaps, but it has been long held by our men and as such should be well-furnished. It seems likely your son shall have a bed--”

“A bed,” Laurens interrupted, sharply. “An incredible honor, that a Laurens might have a bed. I suppose there might even be fleas in the bed, if he is lucky.”

At this Washington sighed. “His accommodations, to my understanding, will be luxurious for a man actively serving. And the sacrifices he does make are for the protection of his country, a noble and honorable thing, and to the improvement of his name. If there are skirmishes, there are medics, and medical facilities.”

“You think he may be shot?”

“I do not think it likely, but men are occasionally shot in the course of defending their country.”

Lord Laurens stared at him.

“This is unacceptable, General Washington,” Laurens said, and his voice was cold and furious, and when Washington looked at him again the man was sitting at the edge of his seat, clenching his fingers into the wooden arms of the chair, and staring at him with unhidden anger. Washington had expected half-idle threats, written in a gentleman’s hand or spoken in his voice, but some part of him acknowledged being shouted at was an inevitable outcome, and that he was perhaps not all that upset with it. In many ways, he had long preferred the obvious violence of war to the political backbiting that a man like Henry Laurens hid behind. “I shall ask you once, and only once. Why have you assigned John to die on the coast?”

Washington put down his teacup again and intertwined his fingers in his lap. He held Laurens’ gaze for a long while as he considered his answer. Of course, there was a complicated and extensive answer to this question, as there usually was in the case of military and political appointments. It was not that Henry Laurens, Washington knew, had never selected a man to his benefit, or his enemy’s displeasure, to serve at some post. It was only that he was not accustomed to having such a thing done to him. There was also Lord Hamilton to consider in the matter, although Washington felt quite confident he would rather go to the gallows than discuss his marital distresses, as on and off as they seemed, with the man he hosted.

“Die?” Washington echoed, instead, and then picked back up his teacup, which had been refilled and was still steaming, “Lord Laurens, you do your son and your name a great injustice with this assumption.”

“You will not speak to me about great injustices, sir, for what you have wrought upon my estate,” Laurens snarled, outright this time. “You will answer my question, and I shall repeat your answer at my son’s ceremony, which I can scarcely imagine will even have a body.”

“Lord Laurens, I understand a distant posting can be quite frightening to a father who cares so tenderly about his son,” Washington said, still calm, because, while he would never have admitted to it, he felt a secret delight at the suffering of Henry Laurens, even if it was ungentlemanly to do so. His memory of being denied basic necessities such as food, and clothes for his troops, usually because men like and including Henry Laurens were too attached to the funds in their coffers, seemed particularly clear at this moment. He blew on the steam on the top of his teacup “I wish I could ease some of your worry about him, and feel the facts I have provided about the posting should do so. My only desire would be to know of some way I could convince you this is a position that, in the scale of postings, is quite safe, and the skill it will bring to the younger Lord Laurens is far greater than the danger.”

“There is nothing you can do to ease me, General Washington,” Laurens growled, “Not after you have already far overreached in your station and position. You know very well that neither of us can withdraw him, and you mock me with this display of your fake kindness, and serve me tea that tastes like moss.”

Washington glanced at Laurens’ teacup, which was still full and not steaming. He resolved to order more of his tea, which was his favorite. “Lord Laurens, what is the great concern for your son’s health? You indicated at the council meeting that he had a marvelous education, and being that he is a lord’s squire, he will also have a good grasp of military history and tactics. You are senselessly worrying for nothing. Most men in war return, and in perfect health. You have just recently surrounded yourself with them.”

They sat in a sullen kind of silence, which Washington relished.

“Did you do this for your husband?” Laurens asked.

Washington tilted his head. “I beg your pardon?”

He had expected the conversation to reach this point, although he found it difficult to predict what it would further look like. There were so many ways that he imagined Lord Laurens could inappropriately reference his marriage and his husband that he was not yet sure which one the man would use.

“Your husband,” Laurens repeated, with the gaze of a man who thought he was very stupid indeed. “Alexander Schuyler.”

Washington pressed his lips together and glanced away, fake-considering. He thought of the man who had challenged him in the street, and wondered what his reaction might have been to hearing the position he had now obtained. He certainly must have told Alexander by now. What would that letter look like?

He forced himself reluctantly back to the conversation at hand. There were many different ways for him to approach the question, none of which were going to be the complete truth. He considered them in his head, and then selected, bowing his head in a mock apology. “My apologies, sir,” he said, with a soft frown, “But I cannot quite be sure how my husband is relevant.”

“You plead ignorance at your own peril, general,” Laurens said, his voice low and annoyed, “He spends time on your grounds enough. Unfortunately, your husband is closely connected to my son. Certainly, Lord Schuyler has heard enough of John’s complaints of not having a proper post. It is peculiar that he is granted one in such a surprising manner, and by a man I do not usually think of as owing me favors.”

It was strange to think of Lord Hamilton as Lord Schuyler, despite, of course, that was very much his real name in any place but the grounds of his estate. He wondered which one John Laurens knew his husband as, and kept his slightly-puzzled face as he took another sip of his tea. “Lord Laurens, Lord Schuyler and I are quite independent from each other. I do not spend time with his guests; if your son has made complaints regarding his lack of a posting to my husband or otherwise, I have not heard them.”

That much, at least, was true.

“He has been in your army, I know. He has not in any way advised you? Or did you not seek his suggestion?”

Washington sat back in his chair and shifted his expression to something terribly unimpressed. “I have been assigning postings such as these long before I was married, and I see no reason to change my process to include a rank and file soldier, no matter in what way we are intertwined. And furthermore, I confess to some confusion why you might suggest that I would.”

“It is not so unlikely to include one’s partner in one’s decisions,” Laurens retorted.

“Perhaps not about one’s estate, or one’s property, or one’s children, or things of which both partners should have a fair thought about,” Washington replied, “But the army is much bigger than that, and presently my burden, and a burden in which my husband is not in a position to have an informed opinion on the matter.”

Washington privately realized at that moment, that likely the opposite was true. Lord Hamilton had been an enlisted soldier, and his obsessive reading would certainly give him a decent understanding of military history. He might do well as an advisor, with Washington adding in his experience and practical understanding. He mentally thanked Lord Laurens for giving him the idea at all, and felt even more cheered by the fact that likely the man would be furious to know that he had inspired such a thing.

“Perhaps you have done so to impress him, then,” Laurens snapped.

At this Washington’s eyebrows went up further, for the statement was completely true, of course, but it was clear from the way Laurens said it that he thought it to be the most unlikely of possibilities.

“Impress him?” Washington echoed, for he could play along just fine if Laurens did not wish to believe the truth he spat out so disbelievingly. “By sending his friend to a far-off posting on the coast?”

“They will still write letters, as they always have, only I shall not even be able to manage them!” At this, perhaps at the end of his not-extensive temper, Laurens stood up and threw out his hands, dramatically, and then pointed one accusatory finger, “And Lord Schuyler will continue to fill my son’s head with these stories of throwing oneself in front of bullets and dramatic rescues and violence and pointless recklessness and then I will have to bury him! Because of you, General Washington!”

Washington put his teacup down and stood up, folding his arms behind his back and casting his eyes down upon his guest. “Lord Laurens,” he said, resolutely, “If you had never wished your son to run the chance of danger than you should have not have let him become a squire. And this position is not one of great danger, and we are thankfully in a time of peace, no matter what the rumblings are along the coast. He will go, he will acquire some crooked scar and a head for battle, and then he will return to you as a lieutenant colonel or something similarly impressive. You need not further worry for your son or the name Laurens.”

“You speak as if acquiring a crooked scar is like one has danced too much!” Laurens spat at him, “And not as if it involves blood and misery! What if he is shot, general? I have seen the scars of men shot, and so have you! And to speak of it so callously, as if you can stand so high above your perch, as if the general of the armies is protected from all sides by the men and women he assigns around him like shields, ignoring that they have fathers, and --”

Laurens stopped cold, for Washington had fixed him with a very dark, very cold, very ungentlemanly stare. This stare matched the color of his thoughts, which now might have been best represented dark thunderclouds, so dangerous that lightning crackled between them. “Henry,” his mouth twisting around the man’s given name as if to crush it to ash, “Do not under any circumstances speak to me as if you understand what it is to command a suffering army. Am I understood?”

“George,” Laurens spat back, “Why should I not? Have you not caused them to suffer? Like you shall cause John to suffer?”

“Lord Laurens.” Washington took several calculated steps forward, closing the distance between them and bringing his full height and bulk to bear. He was taller and more rugged than Laurens, but Washington could see that the man’s anger suppressed any fear that was evoked. His voice was tightly controlled, as if imprisoned, but he could not manage to withhold the whole thing, rage seeping through the cracks in his facade as he spoke. “How dare you suggest to me I do not know what I do. How dare you throw at my feet my burden as if it is a privilege. How dare you cast your eyes from your council seat to my war-meeting and think I enjoy sending men to the battlefield. There is not a single man upon this earth who knows how soldiers suffer like I do.” The cracks in his prison became larger, and the rage built, surging out like waves. “You know nothing about war, and you know nothing about me, and you know nothing about this burden. Have you ever written letter to a father telling them their daughter has died? Do you understand the horrible knowledge that someone’s husband bled for hours in excruciating agony? Has your army ever been defeated because you were wrong, and men and women died by the hundreds, and then afterwards you listened for hours to the screams emanating from the surgeon's tent? Because of you?”

He had clenched his fists, so hard that his hands shook and sharp pains shot up his arms from where his nails dug into his palms. He sucked in a harsh breath, feeling his heart pound in his chest, held barely in check by his ribcage. Laurens sat up in his chair and held up his hands, as if to surrender, but it was much too late for diplomacy or gentlemanship.

“Do you think I do not know that every man has a father, or a mother, or a sister, who they will never return home to? Who must comfort themselves until their dying days that their child or wife or sister died for honor? Died for some meaningless border or political dispute? Do you dare think yourself excluded from the horror that it is to be an army father? Do you think my father did not pray every night that I would return? Do you think my mother did not think, for many many nights, that she would lose her son?”

“General Washington, if I may--” Laurens started, and Washington was much too focused on his own rage to consider the glimmer of anxiety which had grown in the man’s eye, upon this display.

“No, you may not.” He cut the man off sharply, and he took another small step forward, which was matched by Lord Laurens sliding back further into his chair, “For I also have something peculiar to add, given your sudden great concern for the welfare of army troops now that your son is among them.” His lips twisted into a bitter sort of sneer, eyes dark with fury. “For it seems it mattered to you little the conditions that soldiers suffered, when you denied my requests for funds for bandages, or food, or weapons. Did it not occur to you that those men were sons and daughters, that fought as your son may fight? You did not seem to be so concerned that they might only have a bed. You seemed to not mind that they were bleeding and desperate and starving then. And now you have remembered fleas and bullets. You have a peculiar memory, Henry.”

“General---”

He gathered his senses once more, and pointed at Henry with one outstretched finger. “So I will repeat myself again, and you will not argue with me again, for brave men and women have suffered as your boy will never suffer because of you, and your boy will never suffer for the boost I have given him, and given him when I could have cast him to a bog, or a forest, or a desert, if I so desired. John Laurens will go to the coast, and he will have a soldier’s fort of luxuries, and he will return more glorious than he left, and you will embrace what you have started by setting him in a soldier’s clothes.”

He took a breath, and then glanced over his shoulder.

“Lafayette, see Lord Laurens to his carriage, and have him attended to before he leaves, if there is anything he requires.”

“Yes, sir,” Lafayette said, and then he swept into the room and set himself at Lord Laurens’ side. Lord Laurens looked at him, with some soft disdain overwhelmed with terror, and the two of them departed.

Washington sat back in his chair and picked up his teacup and finished the tea in two swallows. He stared at the teacup, still taking great gulps of air, trying to manage himself. It was difficult; Laurens had gotten him thinking of war-suffering, which he was intimately acquainted with in a thousand ways and differently than many other men, and the misery of his command, and all the very many sons and husbands and nieces and mothers that were dead because of him.

“Half-way,” he said to the servant who refilled his teacup, for his hand shook so badly he could barely hold the cup, and he did not want to spill.

“You have always been a very good general of the armies, sir,” said a voice from the hallway, and he startled, dropping the delicate teacup and shattering it on the floor. He cursed without thinking, waving off a man who appeared to clean it. He knew the voice, of course, and the man attached to the voice, and the fiercely expressed opinions that came with the man and the voice.

Flay me while the wounds are freshly reopened, Lord Hamilton, he thought, bitterly.

“Thank you, Lord Hamilton,” he said instead, softly, and only out of obligation. His hunch must have been strange without the teacup, seeming bent over nothing, shoulders curled inwards. He stared at his breeches. There was a queer kind of pause between them.

“And your tea,” Hamilton said, in a peculiar tone of voice, “is also very good. And if Henry Laurens does not like it, he can be drowned.”

Washington realized, at this point, that Hamilton had likely heard the entire argument. However, the part of him that should have been surprised, upset, and concerned had been burnt away. Instead, he felt the way that he often associated with war: so completely exhausted that there was no energy to feel anything, and instead of a human felt much closer to the starved carcass of a horse, after it had been stripped for meat. Let Lord Hamilton hear and see and think whatever he wanted of him. Let Hamilton rend him from limb from limb with words. Let Hamilton identify and abuse, over and over again, the obviously-vile core of his being, so that it was pulsating, red and obvious like an infected wound.

“I am proud to have served in your army, sir,” Hamilton said, this time with a serious kind of intent, not unlike a soldier. “And have remained alive, as John will, and having suffered much worse, because of Henry Laurens and his ilk, and they can all be drowned.”

Washington sighed. He stood. He could feel the familiar war-aches in him. His thighs burned from too much riding, and his back ached from being bent over his desk. The ever-present headache from the reports, never good. His wrist stung from writing too much.

“Thank you for your service, Lord Hamilton,” he said, as he had said to many men and women before. He folded his hands behind his back, not bothering to look at his husband, for he could not manage the energy to protect himself from whatever that face might be presenting him with.

He left the tea-room. He had little energy left, and hoped that it was enough to climb the steps to his study.

Chapter Text

He cancelled his appointments. He was supposed to attend one of Greene’s balls about the engagement of his daughter, but the thought of reviewing their various war stories almost managed to make him physically ill. He managed his affairs distantly and without attention, because he was visited with frequent and intense war-dreams. It was not that they were all death and pure misery, but they pressed into his chest and through his head like lead. He remembered the incredible weight of decisions, and the arguments associated with them. The very cold winters. The terrible possibility that they could lose, and all be hanged. And of course the hellish chaos of battle, even for a general: men furiously reloading their rifles, drawing their sabres or stabbing viciously with their bayonets. The panic of things not going as planned. The sight of blood spilling and all the other monstrosities. The terrible act, and the associated knowledge, of taking another man’s life.

He would wake in the sharp, silent darkness, the next strategy already planned in his head, thinking of troop formations and starvation numbers, and then realize he was in his bed, and the war was over.

There were parts of his routine that he abandoned in what became his dreary exhaustion: he ignored the greenhouse, for it was much too bright, and Nelson, for he was much too energetic. Instead he sat in his study and maintained his correspondence only out of the fear that Martha or, worse, Knox or Greene, would appear at his estate wondering what had happened to him that he did not respond to their letters. He retrieved his old war journals from where he had archived them in his study, and read through many of them.

He had been awoken this particular day long before sunset by a particularly vivid and gruesome dream about the first war. He had, then, none of the burdens that he suffered in the second, but that scarcely made things less horrible, and doubly so because he had been at the scene of a terrible massacre of his fellow soldiers. It had been the first truly monstrous event in his war career, easily thirty years ago now, and yet the thing still stood in his mind with sharp clarity. He still could not understand how he had had the instinct to clamp down on the fear and move sensibly while men around him panicked and died, and sometimes both at once.

With trembling fingers, he lit his candle and stood. He knocked on Lafayette’s door, and the servant appeared. His expression in the low candlelight was so desperate and pathetic that Washington would have been angry that he was pitied so much, if only he could muster the strength for it. He had to focus all his energy on standing, for if he did not, he would return to his bed and possibly never leave it.

They walked in silence in the halls of the castle, and then the sun rose, and then Lafayette dressed him, and brought him his breakfast in his study, and, for once, held his tongue.

“If I am in need of anything, I shall call,” he said, looking up at Lafayette, who was watching him with visible concern.

“I shall prefer to remain with you, sir, if it is all the same,” Lafayette said, his voice tender.

“I said, Lafayette, that if I am in need of anything, I shall call.”

Lafayette looked at him, eyes searching. He wondered how he must look, for he had dressed away from the mirror this morning. He knew that it could hardly be decent.

“As you wish, sir,” Lafayette said, softer this time, and closed the door when he exited. Washington sighed, and then returned to the journal. Soon enough, the words began to swim when he looked at them, even in his own neat script. His eyes felt heavy, and the world blurred, and the exhaustion of war-dreams stole over him.

A knock startled him back into consciousness, tendrils of memories sliding away as quickly as they had appeared.

“Lafayette,” he growled, in a voice half-thick with sleep, “I said I shall call.”

“I am not Lafayette,” said Hamilton’s voice, at the other side of the door. “You should open the door, sir.”

He could not have thought it would be worse than Lafayette. Of course, he did not have to accept Hamilton’s company, and likely if his husband had not thrown open the door to rend him then he might even accept being turned away. But he was in a mood where self-flagellation seemed very appealing, and Hamilton was the perfect weapon which to lay upon himself, and willingly, at that.

“Come in,” he said, and closed the journal, secreting it in a desk drawer. He sat up the best he could manage.

Hamilton looked more decently dressed than usual, with his neckcloth pinned and his jacket pressed and his hair pulled back from his face. In his hands, he was holding a pot, and in that pot was an orchid tied loosely to a stick. The orchid was in bloom, and beautiful at that, the flowers blue with yellow at the tips, with white pistils.

“That should be in the greenhouse, sir,” he said, tiredly, eyes on the flower.

“It does better with a little less sun,” Hamilton said and, after taking a deep breath, walked over and put the plant on his desk, as if he was a student looking to impress his tutor. “I think it shall look better here.”

He took a step back, and kept his eyes on Washington, a wary expression written on his face. Washington looked at the pot, in which several crude holes had been made in it and the roots sticking out and held to the sides with twine. This was new, and presumably Hamilton’s doing. He thought, maybe, that he should be irritated that Hamilton was managing his plants, only he felt too tired to be so.

He looked up at his husband. Hamilton looked - different. Anxious, perhaps. He maintained all of his usual energy, which was visible in the way he shifted from foot to foot, seeming younger than usual. He seemed expectant, like he was merely waiting for Washington to say something innocuous that he could pick apart like a carcass.

“Do you always keep your study so dark?” Hamilton asked, as if he could not bear the silence, and strode over to the window which Washington had pulled the shade across, letting only the barest light in. “It can be harmful to the eyes to read in the dark. And the mood is very dour - you could benefit from some light.”

Washington had barely managed to form the protest in his mind before Hamilton threw the shade open. The sun, as if in revenge for being held back, nearly blinded him with the intensity of it; it was a summer day, and around noon, and he of course had been sulking in the dark, and now he had been veritably assaulted by both the sunlight and his husband.

“There,” Hamilton said, resolved, as he tied the shade into it’s designated notch. The study looked more terrible in the bright sunlight, for he had not put away all his books when he had started them and then inevitably lost interest, and his pile of war journals looked dusty and ragged on the end-table. Hamilton busied himself by moving the plant on his desk out of the direct sunlight.

“Lord Hamilton,” he managed, shading his eyes with his hand. “Is there some manner in which I might be able to assist you?”

Hamilton gave him a very searching look.

“I shall be quite distraught if you let half the greenhouse die because you are feeling morose,” Hamilton said, and gathered himself up again, trying to appear taller than he was. “You are not the only man with bad war memories, and you should not permit them and their icy tendrils into your heart in this manner.”

Washington stood, and still half-blinded, untied the shade and allowed it to fall back over the window, plunging them both back into familiar darkness.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, not managing to keep all the irritation from his voice. “I have managed myself and my thoughts very well in my life, and will continue to do so as has been effective for me.”

“It is a peculiar effectiveness that results in one sulking in a dark study like a child.”

Washington sighed, and drew a hand over his face. He very strongly considered returning to his bedroom, locking the door, shucking off all his clothes, and going back to bed. Perhaps it would rain, if he was lucky. Certainly no one would notice if he responded to his letters a day late. Maybe Lafayette would not even bother him with his attempts at cheer and unbearable pity.

“Rend me and be done with it, sir,” he said, opening his arms wide, “Announce to the world the many ways I have wronged you. Find my soul and crush it under your boot heel. Pronounce me a monstrous tyrant. Set fire to my journals, if you desire. I merely beg that after you are done, sir, you leave me be. You may be anywhere in the estate, or anywhere in the land, besides my study.”

He slouched back into the chair.

This speech seemed to have a peculiar effect on his husband. Hamilton took a step back, and put his hands behind his back, and stared at some imaginary mote of dust on his study floor. He shifted from one foot to another, and appeared again moderately anxious, as if he had not prepared himself for this circumstance. Washington waited, inevitably, for the torrent.

“You should go to the greenhouse,” Hamilton said, again, and this time more resolutely. His eyes had resumed seeming hard, his lips pressed into a serious line. “All you are doing is drowning yourself in your dark thoughts. You shall not resolve them with… this.” He gestured to the musty study. ”All you shall do is feel worse about things long since resolved. The vision of it is unbecoming.”

“Unbecoming,” Washington repeated.

“Very much so,” Hamilton said, and he held a hand out, as if Washington needed guidance around his own estate.

The issue being here was that he did not really want to take the hand, or want to go anywhere besides his dark, musty study, or want to spend any extra time in his ill-tempered husband’s company - only that his feet stood without his command, and they walked the rest of him around the desk, and his hand grasped Hamilton’s wrist, and Lord Hamilton’s hand - which was smaller than his - grasped his. Hamilton’s flesh was very warm, almost to the point of concern. Washington realized, distantly, that this was the only time, besides the ball and when he had set the man’s shoulder, that they had ever touched.

“Good,” Hamilton said, and then he turned, twisting his arm out of Washington’s weak grasp, and half-tugged him out of the study. The rest of the castle was surprisingly cheery, and in no way matched his sullen mood, or the dull exhaustion of his senses. He thought to be offended by it, only he was too tired.

Hamilton did not let go of him as they walked down the steps, or through the hallways, and only when they reached the main foyer did he apparently make the decision Washington would not flee, like a mouse back into a hole, into his study. They shared an uneasy silence, and made worse by how Hamilton kept looking over his shoulder, in his intent way, to make sure he was still there.

“We used to have those orchids where I was raised. The one I brought you, I mean,” Hamilton said, suddenly, as they walked out of the castle and over to the greenhouse. “My mother - not Lady Catherine, my real mother - called them King’s Heads, although I suppose that may not be the name you know them by. I noticed you decide against letting anyone else know what species anything in your greenhouse is. Everything is well-named and indicated, in the Schuyler greenhouse.”

Washington made an acknowledging noise to this confession, shading his eyes from the day’s sun again. It was as nice as it had appeared, warm and sunny, the sort of day on which Washington might have preferred to ride, were he not in such a mood. Instead, the thing seemed offensive, not unlike Lafayette’s forced cheer.

“It was given to me as a gift,” he answered, “Some time ago, as thanks for my service. From merchants, who disdained some policy our challengers might have forced upon us.”

“I’d never seen them growing here,” Hamilton continued, right after he’d finished speaking, “I thought they might be King’s Heads, but thought to confirm first. I knew you --” A pause. “I--” Another pause, this one longer, and then, as if Hamilton had never said the word before. “--we... must have some books about the matter, especially given that… we…. have an extensive library, and of course your interest in greenery.”

Hamilton opened the greenhouse door, and took his wrist again, and tugged him inside. He had not been there for what seemed like some time, and while most of it looked just as he had left it - wild greenery overflowing pots and stands, plants blooming from all angles, the oppressive humidity which slunk down his neck - Hamilton half-dragged over to a particular collection of his flowers which had definitely been changed from how he remembered them. Some pots had been hung on the wall, and repositioned so they were shaded, a little, from the intense greenhouse sun; other plants had been removed from their pots entirely and tied to sticks, and a third group modified in peculiar ways, roots dangling or twisted up or stems shifted in odd manners. The one characteristic that they shared was that the vast majority of them had exploded into unfamiliar blooms: red and blues and purples, yellows and pinks and whites, even a peculiar orange flower with tiny white spots on the petals and several twisting stems, like a sea beast.

Washington realized, distantly, that many of the flowers he had not seen before, because they were exceedingly difficult to coax into bloom, and Hamilton had managed, in his way, to get them all to bend to his will.

It seemed quite fitting that in addition to every other failure that plagued him, his husband had managed his own greenhouse more skillfully than he. He glanced over at Hamilton, who was looking at him expectantly. Waiting, perhaps, for him to say just the thing that would reveal some deep flaw in his being.

“Would you agree, general, that it is quite beautiful?” asked Hamilton.

“Yes, sir,” Washington said, softly. He thought of his dark, quiet, cool study, and wondered if Hamilton would persist if he merely turned and walked away. A bead of sweat dripped down his neck.

“I consulted several different references,” Hamilton was saying, sweeping in front of him to adjust one of the plants he had hung on the wall, “But none of them mentioned some of the things my mother had told to me, and some were in fact directly contradictory. My mother’s advice, as you can see, was correct, so I addressed letters to their authors, and indicated the places in your - our - books.”

Hamilton was still looking in him in that way. He wondered, idly, if saying whatever Hamilton wanted of him, and then taking whatever attack there was to be, would then allow him to retreat back to his solitude.

“What would you like me to say, Lord Hamilton?” he asked, folding his arms behind his back. “What comment am I expected to make? I have said it is beautiful. You clearly have done hard work and gathered much research, and succeeded where I had failed.”

It appeared that he did, indeed, manage to succeed in offending his husband, for the younger man took a step back and folded his arms against his chest, his expectant expression quickly replaced by a frown. Washington waited, still feeling very much like a dulled edge, and waiting for the inevitable hammer to beat down on him.

“It is not a matter of succeeding or failing, sir,” Hamilton said, “Only that it has come to my attention that you managed some assistance of John, and so I have managed this for you.”

He blinked, and looked away from Hamilton and to the flowers. That was not the familiar torrent he had expected.

“You are not being grateful!” Hamilton said, and it was a strange kind of relief to be yelled at. He was very accustomed to it, and it did not require any effort, and of course, Hamilton was right. It seemed like Hamilton was very good at being right, and he was very good at being wrong. “You have helped John, so I have managed your orchids for you!”

“Yes, Lord Hamilton,” he said, “I am a terrible gardener, and you have managed my orchids very well.”

“You are a marvelous gardener!” Hamilton said, sharper, and then gestured to the rest of the greenhouse with a wild swing of his arm. “You have managed this whole greenhouse by yourself! You have grown plants here which, I imagine, do not grow elsewhere on this entire continent. Only under your tender care do they thrive! But one cannot manage every plant. So I have done these for you, when you struggled. Because you have helped John, because he cannot always manage himself, and I cannot always manage him.”

It was possible that he had reached some new level in which his ears deceived him, but did not think it likely. What he had heard then, was that Hamilton had complimented him for his caretaking of the greenhouse, but had done so angrily, as if the point of such a thing was to only insult him further. It was a peculiar kind of insult, but, as he considered it, it was not so unreasonable for Hamilton to be capable of insulting a man by complimenting him. After all, gentlemen were very good at this.

The frustration, then, was that Washington no longer understood what was the correct response. If it had been a gentleman he disliked, like Henry Laurens or John Adams, he would have merely replied with some other half-insult, perhaps reflecting on Adams’ ability to stay out of combat or Laurens’ ability to count his coins. But he did not wish to insult Hamilton. He instead only wished for them to politely end whatever mystifying and frustrating dance Hamilton had initiated.

“What do you wish of me, Lord Hamilton? Just say what your preferred response is, and I shall grant it, and then if possible I would request you leave me be.” He sighed, and felt very tired, and worse because he was confused. “Is what you wish for me to be properly grateful? Than I assure you, I am. Or do you merely wish me to indicate some part of me that you may twist your dagger into? You have out-gardened me. That should be enough.”

He did not know exactly what his intended effect should have been with these words, only that he was quite sure, again, he had missed his mark. Hamilton pulled his shoulders very straight, and brushed a stray hair behind his ear, and looked away again as if he had been offended. Washington waited to be told what to do, and he waited for what seemed like a very long time indeed.

“It is only that you….. have a very marvelous greenhouse,” Hamilton said, in a slow voice, not looking at him. He pointed to the peculiar orchid with the black flower. “How did you come to acquire that one?”

“I took a clipping with me, when we were in a jungle, on a campaign some time ago,” he answered, automatically, for there were very few plants whose provenance he did not remember. He did remember the campaign, mostly because of a terrible encounter with an ant colony, and the success of it, in which the other side had suffered worse from the environment than they had.

“A black flower in a jungle?” Hamilton asked, in his most interested voice.

“When everything around you is green, you may do well by being black,” he answered, automatically. “The purpose of the flower is to attract attention, and you may do so as much with absence of color as much as any other strategy.”

“And that one?” Hamilton asked, pointing to a thick-stemmed plant down the line, tall enough that the pot was on the ground.

“A man you would not like called Lord Jefferson gave it to me - he insisted it must have been damaged, for he had heard of brilliant yellow flowers and seen nothing; it was only he was not watering it enough.”

Hamilton continued to ask about other plants, and the effort of remembering each one was terribly exhausting, a peculiar kind of torture he had not envisioned. He thought, more than once, about simply excusing himself and going back to his study, or maybe his bed, if he could manage it. Only he could not, for he had not been dismissed, and he would admit to a strange kind of entrapment to the questions and the company of the man. It was not so much that he did not want to leave, to escape this miserable effort where he recalled all the different times of his life, some better than others - only that in some way, he was unable to do so. It would be terribly rude to let the conversation hang, when a man inquired of him information only he could provide, and especially his husband at that.

They walked through the humid half of the greenhouse, then the desert half, where Hamilton asked about his many cacti and other succulents, and about recreating desert conditions, and the manner in which he had split the building as he did. It had been a complicated engineering feat, to make half the building be wet and half the building be dry, but he did not manage his efforts with anything less than the best attempts, and after some failures he had attained success. He explained, first briefly, and then in more detail, about airflow and glass and precipitation effects, which generally did not interest other people but seemed to be of great interest to his husband.

“What about this one?” Hamilton asked, as he had done several times now, and pointed to flurry of green leaves with a root system nearly overflowing out of the pot.

“That one needs to be repotted,” he said grimly, feeling hardly capable of such a thing, but nonetheless knowing it needed to be done. “I will find a new one.”

“I know where the storehouse is, and can take directions.”

He fixed his husband with a tired, confused look, which said husband seemingly pretended to ignore. So, seeing no other alternative, he provided the dimensions and size and type of dirt the pot would need, and Hamilton hurried away.

This was without a doubt the best time for him to escape back to his study. He was free of the man’s company at last, free of his particular, intelligent questions, and his attentive expression, and his pointing fingers and acknowledging noises. He knew where the pot required was located, and he could quite easily cover the vast majority - if not the entire - space between the greenhouse and the main castle in the time it might take to fetch it. If he was lucky, Hamilton would take it upon himself to repot the thing. If he was not, he could at least sequester himself in his study or his bedroom and post Lafayette in front of the door to have him fend off his husband.

Only, his feet did not take him out of the greenhouse, or in fact move him at all. His feet stayed where they were, and instead of disappearing, he found himself a stool and waited, covering his mouth with his hand as he yawned in the warm, bright sunlight of the greenhouse. He thought, absurdly, about having Lafayette bring him some coffee. Then, sighing, he went to fetch the nearest watering can to avoid being idle. If he was going to be here, the least he could do was manage the plants which he had terribly ignored in his melancholia.

This was how Hamilton found him, sleeves rolled up, with dirt under his nails, for watering one plant had led to a second, and then the to-do list had appeared, almost fully-formed, in his head. He knew of some small other plants which needed to be checked for pests, which he had done, and then there had been one thing and then another, and then Alexander cleared his throat, hefting the pot.

“Excellent,” he said, and gestured his husband over. “Have you ever repotted a plant?”

“No,” Hamilton said. “I confess to little interest, in the Schuyler household.”

He made an acknowledging noise, and set his exhaustion to the side, and explained the process, and the two of them managed to move the plant from one pot to another, along with most of the soil, and only dirtying their clothes in the slightest. Given the size of the plant, it was without a doubt a task better suited for two than one, and Washington took a step back when they had finished, wiping sweat from his brow and wondering how difficult it might have been if he had done it alone.

“Well,” Hamilton said, taking a resolute step back and brushing dirt off his hands. “That was not so difficult.”

“Easier, with two,” Washington replied, and sat back down on his stool. He idly offered Hamilton his handkerchief, as a gentleman did. Hamilton, in his familiar manner, looked at it suspiciously before taking it and wiping the sweat from his neck, then pushing it into his own pocket without thinking.

“Well,” Hamilton said, taking another step back and taking the greenhouse in. He glanced out of the glass wall, perhaps estimating the time. “We’ve done well. I should return to my library. Good evening, General Washington.”

Washington did not even have time to form the thought that might have been a complaint, let alone say something, before Hamilton had disappeared down the aisle and closed the greenhouse door. He slumped on the stool and ran his hand over his face and looked over at the barely-setting sun through the glass. He was still feeling very worn, and even moreso now, because of his husband, and the prospect of the man forever being some inexplicable puzzle that never provided a reasonable answer to the question he presented. He knew that he had erred, but it was only now, sitting here, did he wonder if the error would be forever this unmanageable - that Hamilton would yell at him for his attempts to be good, and he would be forced to ignore the man despite his desires otherwise, and then they would manage this pretend sort of reconciliation, without any process, or terms, or sense. It was as if Hamilton was playing some game with him, and he selected the rules to be as terribly inexplicable as he could manage, and then refused to announce any of them, and Washington was seemingly punished and praised for no apparent reason.

It would have been easier if he was not drawn back to Hamilton, every time, if his intent interest in things was not so hypnotizing, and if the narrow set of his shoulders was not so well-suited to his form, and his face, twisted in concentration, did not seem so handsome. Washington felt betrayed by himself, in some manner, and worse, could not even enunciate that betrayal properly.

He stared at the repotted plant. His thoughts stretched out like ragged supply lines, twisting and desperate, half-filled with food or bullets at best, and at worse carts filled with injured men and their sad moans.

He picked up the watering can and moved to the next plant, and then the next, and there was still much to be done, for he had neglected his greenhouse duties terribly, and he was already here. He settled into a sort of daze as he managed his plants, the work suitably hard enough that he could empty his more confused thoughts from his mind, where they grew and regrew, despite his attempts, not unlike weeds.

Chapter Text

A beam of light woke him, quite rudely, by striking him directly in the face. He groaned, and thought idly that Lafayette should turn the brightness down significantly. He preferred the morning dim, with far fewer candles, and to watch the sunrise when he was able.

He sat up in his bed, blinking and shaking his head. How could he be so abused by the sun? His shades had been designed so that the sun would have to be high in the sky to disturb him like this. His room did not become so completely bright until midday. He could not recall an event in his life where factors had converted where he had not only desired to sleep till midday - he did not approve, generally, of such slothfulness - but also that he was not awoken by some need, be that war, or politics, and also Lafayette, who knew his habits, did not awake him.

He uttered an irritated grunt as he pulled himself out of his bed and studied his very bright bedroom. It was unkempt, and he berated himself for it, for he had no servants maintain it in his poor mood, and so it suffered.

His eye caught on a platter which had been left on his desk, which on it had three biscuits and a small ramekin of jam and a delicate spreading knife. Instead of any sort of joy that these things had been delivered to him, he instead felt the following, all at once: first, another rush of irritation that Lafayette and clearly been here and had left him to keep wasting his day away despite the servant was well aware he would not approve, and second, that he was very ravenous and knew that three biscuits would merely whet his appetite.

He cast one last glance, still sullen, at the shaft of sunlight that was still aimed directly at his pillow. He set himself to the biscuits, still smarting at his head servant and the man’s obvious choice to leave him only half a breakfast, and worse, still sleeping. His servant was his friend, yes, and there was no one closer, yes, and he was good at making his own decisions even if they did not always seem very servantly decisions, yes, but this was too much. He ran this irritation in his mind over and over as he ate.

In the middle of this process, and when he was most of the way through the second business, he had a third thought, which completely overwhelmed the first two: his irritation at Lafayette’s came without any exhausting effort, and furthermore the irritation persisted easily, without him forcing it. He was annoyed without trying, and furthermore thought he could be for a much longer while.

He put down his handful of biscuit and drank deeply of the glass of milk that was provided, feeling very suddenly puzzled. He did not feel incredible, perhaps, but at least -- passable. More importantly, the ever present to-do list at the back of his mind beckoned, somewhat seductively. He did not need to dragged to it, as if it required the tendrils of a sea beast to make him do things. Things needed to be done, and he needed to do them. This thought then layered itself nicely with his other two thoughts, and caused him to be even more frustrated at his servant, for not only was he being slothful, but also there were many things to do, and one could not sleep and do them.

He picked up the remaining whole biscuit and studied it. It must have been the extra greenhouse work. He did, after all, believe that hard work could solve the vast majority of a man’s problems. He had not done so much work in days, or sustained company, for a while.

He settled his thoughts in order, and rang the servant’s bell.

Lafayette appeared. His hands were folded behind his back. His clothes were perfect, and his expression was subdued. Waiting.

“Lafayette,” Washington said, meeting the man’s eyes. He knew well enough that Lafayette was not generally upfront about the decisions he made, but hoped anyway that his friend would be apologetic and provide a decent explanation.

“Sir?”

 

He sighed. He felt very deeply and very tenderly for this man, although that did not dull his current urge to grab him and give him a very firm shake.

“Why is it midday?” he asked.

“Midday usually arrives around this time, sir,” Lafayette said, placidly. He glanced at the half-eaten biscuits. “I suspect you must be quite hungry. Should I have the kitchen prepare you a proper meal? Would you prefer luncheon or breakfast?”

Washington sat, very slowly, in his desk chair. “Why do I find it is mid-day and I was awoken by the sun, and you have left me breakfast?”

Lafayette lifted his chin. His eyes were hard and unapologetic. “You have not slept well these past few nights, sir. I would not disturb your sleep when it seemed so sound, when such a thing has been so rare. You may be as angry at me as you wish, but I shall only be comforted that you have the energy for it.” Then, his expression softened. “Although, of course, I confess to hope you are not too distraught; you know, of course, that I act always and only in your best interest.”

The fight went out of him at the tone of Lafayette's voice, which was devoid of its usual of sarcasm, and was instead completely genuine and kind. He sighed. “Have luncheon made,” he said, “I will arrive shortly.”

“Are there other events I shall prepare for, sir?” Lafayette asked, carefully. “Perhaps I could arrange your work-clothes. Or a ride? I would imagine Nelson rather misses your company.”

“A ride, I think,” he said, and Lafayette’s back went straight, the beginning of a smile in his eyes. “I shall dress myself.”

“Shall I accompany you, sir?” Lafayette asked, leaning in.

He knew Lafayette would have liked to accompany him, and he could not deny the pleasure of the man’s company. His servant was one of the few horseman that matched his caliber, and they could ride closely at great speeds that would have been inappropriate many others.

“No, I think,” he said, and some of the joy went out of the man’s shoulders.

Lafayette looked at him, as if he was deciding whether to ague. But in the end, he just bowed and disappeared in a flurry of coattails. Washington watched his back for a while, considering if it was a flaw of his, or merely an incredible streak of charisma on his servant’s behalf, which stopped him from being angry at the man. He finished the biscuits, then put on his riding clothes.

He looked at himself in the mirror. He looked weary, but he thought that he always looked like that. His clothes, of course, were exquisitely tailored and clean, and well-fitted to his form. He ran his hands over his face, wondering if his reflection had managed himself better than he had. Perhaps his reflection did not feel so weighted down by war-thoughts, and other matters in the past that had long since been laid to rest? Or perhaps it had not been so foolish as to marry a disgruntled veteran who also spent time as an academic, with an endearing streak of stubbornness?

“How shall we manage, sir?” he asked the mirror, in a soft voice. His stomach gave an answering rumble, in response to which he could not manage to completely suppress the chuckle. “I see,” he answered, and took his jacket off and folded it over his shoulder as he made his way down to the dining room.

He thought a moment, detoured to his study, where the orchid was still looking very beautiful in the shade on his desk. He walked over to it, reaching out to replace it back to its greenhouse home, but then stopped. It looked out of place, yes, but not in a terrible way. A little color in all the wood-browns and map-beiges of his things. Hamilton had said, after all, that the plant would do better with a little less sun. He opened the shade a little, as to not leave the poor thing in the darkness.

His luncheon looked and smelled extraordinary, and only manners stopped him from messily picking up the whole thing with his bare hands and stuffing it into his mouth as quickly as he was able. The meat was tender and juicy, and well-spiced with something traded from somewhere; the vegetables were fresh and delicious with a moist, sharp crunch; the wine that Lafayette had selected was a perfect complement. It was a substantial portion, but perfectly sized, and he felt noticeably more sensible afterwards. He suppressed his wandering thoughts with some effort, making his way out to his stable, where Nelson waited for him.

“You will accept my apologies for being so distracted, I hope,” he said to his horse, who cast him a judgmental eye. “Most of us do not get to spend our retirements eating apples and engaging in only some exercise, you see.” He could sense the energy in the beast’s powerful flanks, and without a hitch he drew himself into the saddle and clucked his tongue, and Nelson went easily under his command. He stared out into the past-midday sun, working on emptying his head, and when he had led them into some empty space, leaned forward and rose from the saddle and snapped the reins. Nelson took off, bursting with speed, and the rushing air felt wonderful against his skin, down his neck and ruffling through his riding jacket.

He realized, in the silence of the wind, that he and Hamilton had never gone riding. He wondered if his husband had any skill. He had been a soldier, although not all soldiers were decent riders. Hamilton had at least tried to practice, and then fallen - he could not have been so impressive. Washington rode and allowed his thoughts to move through his head like low tree leaves. They stung only for a moment, and were gone.

He wondered what Hamilton’s military honors had been. He must have had some, for Phillip to notice him. Had he suffered their terrible sunburns in the desert, skin flaking and blistering, their parched throats and bitter sand-food? Had he been in the bog where they all shat and bled from insect bites, eternally damp and wet and mold-ridden? Had he been in the blood-soaked plains, sleeping under bullets and cannon fire? He could not imagine the man brought low by dysentery or sun sickness. He could not imagine Hamilton not completely tall and strong, ultra-competitive, stubborn past all reason. He could not imagine anything but Hamilton completely unique in the misery of soldiers, in that he suffered and stood above it all at once, like that bright blue orchid on his study desk.

What did the orchid on his study desk mean? What did it mean, that Hamilton had grabbed his wrist and half-dragged him to the greenhouse? What did it mean, that Hamilton had asked him about one plant after another, and then offered to dig around in his workshed, and then repot with him?

He was convinced it must have meant something. There must have been something Hamilton was too stubborn to tell him in words, as any sensible man might do. There must be some secret he was supposed to know, that he was supposed to have understood somehow. Hamilton had provided him some information he should have discerned, like a military code. Only he did not have the key. He did not have the key, and in fact hardly knew at all that there was a code to start.

He had been given codes without the key before, he thought, as he pushed Nelson harder and faster, bending low to the beast’s neck, startling servants and farm animals as he blew past them in a haze of dirt more acceptable for a battle than his estate. He had been given codes before, and he had broken them, and Lafayette usually did help. They would have war-councils where they would review intelligence and try to put the pieces together. He could put the pieces together.

He knew his speed could rally men, and knew the sight that he displayed had an effect on infantry. He imagined his thoughts as soldiers, and pushed Nelson harder, hearing the horse’s panting breaths. Washington could rally his thoughts into organized lines, and they would be well-outfitted and well-equipped, and present decent reports, with clear information. He would not have sloppy, drunk troops, and his thoughts could not be so either.

Here was a thought equipped sensibly: he knew that, despite all the events that had occurred, he wanted to make Lord Hamilton happy. He wanted his husband to approve of him, and of them. He did not know how this battalion had become organized, or what their commander looked like - only that it stood, and drilled neatly, and prayed at breakfast.

Here, a thought in disarray - drunk soldiers, brought low by bad morale and insects and sickness: he did not know how to manage this, or even if he would be permitted to do so. Martha had said - and been right - that it was completely up to Hamilton whether Washington could be permitted to enjoy his company. But Hamilton did not, or would not, or could not, provide the answer to the question. He could not even provide some gentleman’s answer, some half-request or demand phrased as a suggestion. Or, Washington thought, perhaps it was that Hamilton had provided too many answers.

Hamilton would demand they never speak again, and then bring him plants; he would make ill-tempered comments about him and then compliment him; he would throw some terrible quality of his in his face, and then engage in some teamwork with him, and then abandon him. Washington knew men of all sorts: the virtuous and the valorous, the devious and the scheming, the cruel and the vicious. But he had never known anyone like his husband, who vacillated wildly through personalities as if he was an actors’ troupe, and each man played some different facet of him. Hamilton followed only his peculiar rule of reciprocity, and none other that Washington could perceive; he was a creature of chaos, a walking theatre stuffed with characters, and Washington did not know how to select the correct act, or even if there was a correct one to select.

He swerved to avoid the edges of some farmland, and was plunged into the dark shade of a little wood, high trees blocking the afternoon sun. Sweat cooled on his back.

Here was a battalion, skill unknown: Hamilton had been at his confrontation with Henry Laurens. You are a fine general of the armies, he had said. Laurens did not know the bloom of dark thoughts he had caused, the black petals of his miserable memories opening, making his burdens seem very real, and very heavy. But Hamilton has sensed it instantly in that moment, and sought to comfort him. And you have good tea, he said.

Hamilton.

Comforting him.

It must have been meaningful. A kindness? Because of his act with John Laurens? Or was there truly some decent part of him that Hamilton wished to support? It did not seem to match the reciprocity that Hamilton appeared to obsess over. Hamilton’s act with the greenhouse had been in thanks for his act with John Laurens. Washington had not - what, earned? - additional kindness, and yet even so it had been given.

The greenhouse --

He took a breath, and stopped himself. His thoughts needed to be disciplined, and have order. It was not yet time for that question. To charge too early could be disastrous. Patience, he thought to himself, as he emerged from the wood, near the edges of his estate, and spotted the far watchtower for a second before it was gone, victim to his speed. He turned, galloping along the estate boundary.

Hamilton coming to his aid against Henry Laurens would have been unacceptable, especially after he had explicitly denied his involvement. Had Hamilton heard him deny it?

You helped John,Hamilton said, in the greenhouse.

It is not time yet for you to march,he thought, and steadied himself.

Did Hamilton see him differently in his rage? In his misery? Hamilton had been a soldier; he had known of a soldier's miseries, his companions insects and dysentery, the cauterizing iron and blood and death. What had Hamilton thought, when there had been votes of no confidence against him? Had that furious pen created works against him? Had he fought with his friends that he was an acceptable man to lead an army, as if such a thing existed?

You are a good general of the armies.

Washington was sure, though, that Hamilton was not a liar.

Perhaps, he thought, he had said it not as a comfort, but as a fact. Henry Laurens was wrong, and Alexander Hamilton was correcting him.

This was a decent conclusion, reasonable and good and sensible, and fitting well into what he knew. He settled with it, and dismissed this battalion as it was.

He called the next line of soldiers to drill.

The effect Hamilton had had on his greenhouse was substantial. Research, and earthworking, and modifying plants and pots and his displays - then the pressure, of course, of waiting. What did John Laurens’ letter to Hamilton look like? Had he mentioned the failed duel attempt? Did he suggest Washington had been responsible? How had Henry Laurens phrased the order to his son?

Hamilton had thrown open his study shades and called his melancholy unbecoming. He did not cast him pitying, pathetic eyes like Lafayette, or push liquor into his hand like Knox or suggest shooting like Sullivan. He did not even rationally point out all the reasons he should not feel so miserable, and then expect this to resolve his mood, like Martha. Hamilton had taken action - had half-dragged him to the greenhouse and asked him questions upon questions. Directed his thoughts to the lives of his plants, instead of letting them linger on the deaths of his soldiers.

He drew Nelson to a slow stop. His thighs burned, and under him, his horse heaved for breath. They were both unaccustomed to the effort and exertion, for he did usually not spend so much time with his thoughts.

Hamilton had convinced him, somehow, to work. And he had worked until he was exhausted, and slept a rejuvenating, dreamless sleep. He had awoken and felt decent.

Hamilton must have intended to disrupt his sullenness. If he had reinvigorated the greenhouse in gratitude for John Laurens, he did not need to appear in Washington’s study with orchids. That must have been extra. Hamilton had never done extra.

He did not understand. He glanced down at Nelson, who had bent his chestnut head to eat some pale scrubgrasses.

“My deepest apologies, for I could not save you from the misery I seem to have become quite capable of inflicting,” he murmured to the horse, as he turned his beast towards the castle. His body ached from clutching the saddle and staying even. Nelson tossed his head in disapproval.

“Yes, like Lafayette and my husband, you may also be unruly to me, and say it is for my own good.”

They set back at a more moderate pace. Washington relished the sweat that dripped down his neck. It was a long journey, in the scale of casual events; the bath Lafayette usually drew after his ride would be lukewarm, at best.

Why would Hamilton demand his attention if not to remove him from his lingering dark thoughts?

Could he really have wanted more than just some reciprocal validation regarding his greenhouse efforts? It was possible, but -- there had been questions, and they had repotted that ferm. Hamilton had called them we. That could not have only been for John Laurens.

Was it a different kind of pity? Could Hamilton merely not bear to despise someone so pathetic, and needed him improved so he could resume his hatred in peace?

He mind caught, again, like flesh on unsanded wood, on that we. Hamilton had call them we. He had made an active effort to do so.

“Come, manage some extra effort for me, sir,” he said, and kicked his heels against Nelson’s flanks, and the horse took off at a decent gallop, one that cleared his mind of excess distraction. He stared down at his thoughts. He had studied his troops many times before.

His first battalion: Hamilton had heard his disagreement with Henry Laurens and indicated that he thought Washington was a decent military commander. Washington’s sense was that he had meant it as a fact, not as a comfort. But that Hamilton viewed it as a fact, in and of itself, was a comfort.

His second battalion: Hamilton had gone through a substantial amount of effort into solving his stubborn orchids. This was in response to his promotion of John Laurens. Hamilton would not have done so, if he did not approve of Washington assigning John Laurens to the coast.

His third battalion: Hamilton had intentionally selected we. Twice. Washington could not identify why this had happened.

His fourth battalion: Hamilton had actively sought to drag him from his misery. Could he not stomach hating Washington when Washington could barely drag himself out of bed? Did he merely dislike Washington appearing as an overburdened commander? Did Washington dare to think, despite the many voices that had told him otherwise - that Hamilton perhaps…cared?

“It must not be so difficult for horses as it is with men,” he murmured to Nelson, who snorted. He chuckled despite himself.

If he did not have answers, it was at least a kind of relief to have questions. He pondered these questions further as they went back to the stables. He made sure before sliding off Nelson’s back that his legs would hold him. His whole body felt raw and overworked - a consequence of too much exercise too quickly, without building oneself up. He must have looked a mess, sweaty and a little shaky with the effort. He took a few cautious steps before making his way back to the castle and up to the washroom where, as predicted, a tub of water was waiting, and Lafayette along with it. His servant was passing the time by sewing one of his handkerchiefs.

“Quite a ride, sir,” Lafayette said, taking him in and secreting his needlework in a pocket. “I can have a new bath drawn?”

“It is fine as it is,” he said, and Lafayette undressed him efficiently, tossing his sweat-soaked underclothes into a pile. He levered himself into the room-temperature tub, and then displayed his troops for Lafayette’s inspection, as he had many times before, and told the whole story of his study and the greenhouse. Lafayette scrubbed him and nodded along.

“He asked about your mood, sir,” Lafayette said, during a pause. “I explained that you did not suffer on the front lines, but a general's life is not so easy as an enlisted man may think. He said ‘he is not tending to the greenhouse.’ And I said ‘not usually in this mood, sir,’ and he said ‘hmm,’ and strode off.”

Washington waited until he had been scrubbed completely, and stood up. He took the towel Lafayette offered him.

“But,” his servant continued, “Your questions are reasonable. I cannot be sure, of course, though I suspect Lord Hamilton was distressed by your melancholia, as it is easy to be so. Whether that is because the sight is intrinsically distressing, or he has a personal care for you….” A shrug. “I wish that he had confessed to me some secret of his feelings, so that I could provide it to you. Of course, that is precisely why he has not done so.”

Washington stood, dry. Lafayette gathered new clothes and dressed him.

“And the ‘we’?” he asked.

Lafayette looked at him with a face that held no answers. “I only know, sir, that you should not ask. You must suffer your questions, and perhaps if you are well-behaved, you shall be provided the intelligence to answer them.”

“Well-behaved,” Washington echoed, and Lafayette grinned at him. He buttoned the sleeves of his shirt, and sighed. “How is it I have found myself in a position where I must be ‘well-behaved’ to have answers to questions about me?”

“I believe, sir,” Lafayette replied, and he wrapped the cravat about his neck with expertise, “That you married into it.”

Chapter Text

For the last hour, Washington and Lafayette had been sitting in the main library and painstakingly crafting a letter to Lord Jefferson requesting additional troops from his small militia. There was no one, Washington thought, not even Adams, who was less likely to spare men than Jefferson, and so the request required as much care as they could both manage. Washington would have preferred to be writing in his study, but Lafayette had insisted on the library, which was more brightly lit by a wall of windows, and it was a silly argument to want to be up in his study instead, so here they were. He did, after all, have a perfectly fine desk in the library, which he was now sitting behind, and Lafayette in front of the desk, in a very nice chair.

It was actually all very pleasant, despite that it involved Lord Jefferson, one of Washington’s least favorite individuals. He was feeling much improved, less exhausted and less morose, about himself, and Lord Hamilton, and the war. He had managed in some way to untangle his thoughts, or at least provide some sort of reasonable understanding of their tangle, and as a result felt better about his persistent to-dos, and himself, and the future. There was also the pleasure of Lafayette’s company, who contributed in many ways to their letter, and provided some snide, entertaining commentary on Jefferson’s character and affairs, which Washington should have told him to manage more properly, but did not, mostly because he agreed with it.

Their conversation, about some particular sentence or some particular word, was interrupted by the sound of nearing, stomping footsteps. They looked at each other, and then the library entrance, alarmed.

There was exactly one moment, like stopped time, where Washington envisioned Hamilton storming into library, face contorted into familiar rage, his shoulders shaking as he went off on some torrent about something he had done.

In that moment, he was very confused about what his latest transgression might be. Had Hamilton waited, for some reason, to be angry about the younger Lord Laurens and his posting? Or had something upset in him the greenhouse, and it had only occurred to him now? That hardly seemed characteristic of the man. And they had been doing well, and Washington, as stupid and irrational as it was, had hopes that perhaps they could be a them. Hamilton had called them a we, in the greenhouse, when he had been so terribly morose.

Just as he imagined, Hamilton appeared, consumed with his anger. In his hand he held a loosely bound set of papers. Washington’s eyes were drawn from his husband to the manuscript, and then he realized, with a jolt of anger, what it was. This anger was replaced immediately by a soldier’s hunch, and then with exquisite teamwork, he went for the letter and Lafayette went for the inkpot just before Hamilton dropped the papers on the desk, exactly where both these precious items had been.

“This,” his husband said, his face twisted in rage, “is the most counterfactual war history I have ever read, and I was in this war! I can only imagine what people will be like if they believe this is what we did in twenty, or fifty, or a hundred years! They will know nothing about our experiences! Are we enlisted….golems? Machines, like waterwheels? Dull reflections of humans? Is it only that we rise from the dirt, like blind chicks, at the command of our superiors? Why? Is this your doing? To present all the glory to you and your ilk, and leave the rest of us gone from history like slaves?”

“That is not yours, Lord Hamilton,” Lafayette said, cooly, unruffled by Hamilton’s anger. He set the inkwell down on the desk, now that it seemed safe again.

“It is sensible, that after I am slandered in this history, I am chastised by a servant,” Hamilton replied, acidly.

Lafayette rolled his eyes, and opened his mouth to respond, but Washington held up a hand. “An explanation, I think, would be nice,” he said.

HIs servant cleared his throat and sat up in his chair, evening out his expression. “You received a manuscript of a war history, but it seems it was intercepted, perhaps by mistake, by your husband,” he said, gesturing to the papers, “It seemed unwise to bring up the war, given your mood, so I merely was going to have it intercepted when Lord Hamilton was going to send it back to its author, likely riddled with his opinions. But it seems that he has brought his complaints to you instead.”

At this announcement, Washington decided he was not yet sure whom he was more angry at. His husband, on one hand, had without hesitation read and scrawled unthinking over his mail, which must have been the war manuscript Knox had had him sent. But his servant had kept both the arrival and the theft of the thing from him, ostensibly to protect him, in the way he did not like to be protected.

For one miraculous moment, there was silence. Then, as things tended to be --

“It is a blessing that I came across this, sir,” Hamilton said to him, “For what it lacks, I have in excess, and you have none of. And further, you would not even know of your blindness of these matters. You would be the ignorant leading the ignorant.”

“Lord Hamilton,” Washington said, trying not to sound as irritated as he felt, “that may be as it is, but it is still inconceivably rude to intercept another man’s manuscript. Even if you took it in error, you should have quickly known that it was not for you, and even if you did not wish to see me, you should have handed it to a servant.”

Hamilton did not seem chastised. “It is about a war that I fought. It demeans the work that I did, and the suffering that I experienced, and my friends, and the memories of the men and women I know who died. If not for me, then I shall take this action for them. I will not let their memories be so disrespected.”

Washington suppressed growl at the back of his throat. Lafayette looked at him.

“I would not allow you, or your allies, to be forgotten or ignored. But that does not excuse you for -- this.” He gestured at the manuscript. “I have left you alone as you desired. We have spoken only on your terms. I have asked nothing of you. But it is not acceptable for you to read my post.”

Hamilton met his gaze, hard. Washington waited, with a resolve tinged with regret, to be shouted at.

“Lord Hamilton,” Lafayette said, interrupting the moment, charged as it was, “General Washington would not allow your heroics to go unrecorded or forgotten. It would hardly surprise me if he specifically sought you out after reading this piece, to learn how it may be improved.”

Hamilton’s anger shifted away from Washington, effortless and powerful, like a cannon on a well-greased base. “How might you have come to know what sort of general your master is, Lafayette?”

Lafayette's eyebrows went up.

“Unless…” Hamilton’s eyes narrowed, “These are empty supports that a servant makes of his master, and I should take no comfort in them?”

Washington saw the trap Hamilton had effortlessly steered his friend into, and Lafayette laughed a little laugh, and said nothing. Hamilton swung back to look at him.

Washington thought, You said yourself I was a decent general, but hesitated.

Instead, he said, “I will promise, in the future, that when I am brought matters of war history, I will discuss them with you; if I feel soldiers are being disrespected or ignored, I will consult you. I have always worked as much as I have been able to ease the suffering of the common soldier, and my correspondence and my fellows can attest to that. In return, if you are to come across these manuscripts, or any of my other post, you will bring them to me. We will discuss them together. Is that agreeable?”

Hamilton looked again at Lafayette, who was wearing his best opaque expression. He looked back at Washington.

“We knew very little of you, in the field,” he said, his gaze scrutinizing. It was different than a politician. “Tell me what you did for us.”

“If you need to know what I have done for you,” Washington said, “You need only write to General Gates, and ask him how he feels about our fights about blankets because he did not believe that the desert could have such a cold night. I sent sketches of the frostbite. And when there was no food, I pulled from my own estate. Ask Lord Laurens - Henry, not John - about the events on which I asked him for more supplies, for our men were bleeding and dying because there were no bandages. Ask my aides or my colonels or my majors about how I requested from the council, over and over gain, blankets and cloth and guns.”

Hamilton watched him with hard, angry eyes. It reminded him of presenting to the council, but not because of the way politicians felt when he watched them, but in the importance of the matter. His marriage, of course, was not as impressive as the war. But he felt the same intensity of it in his stomach, and his toes, and at the hair at the back of his neck.

Hamilton made a considering noise. Washington wondered what went on, in that head.

“Very well,” Hamilton said, after a pause. “I suggest you review my notes. I will be in my library for further references.”

He turned on his heel.

“Lord Hamilton!”

He stopped. He did not turn around.

“Your information regarding your annotations would be preferred now, if it is not an imposition.”

Lafayette shot him a puzzled, alarmed sort of look.

“You are right, of course,” he continued, not looking at his servant, “You are a much better man to discuss this matter with than Lafayette; your war experience is far more complete than his.”

Lafayette’s gaze became knowing, and then he turned his expression back to opaque again.

“I am not good to read with, sir,” his husband said, still facing away from him in the hallway.

“I am not concerned,” Washington replied. “We must make sacrifices so that history is remembered as it occurred.”

“I will miss my dinner,” Hamilton said.

“You may have dinner with me, or after,” Washington said.

Hamilton's suspicious face turned to him, carefully sizing him up. “With you, I suppose. I may starve if I am forced to wait.”

“I will make sure that such is arranged, sirs,” Lafayette said, and was gone. Hamilton watched the servant as he disappeared down the hallway, his eyes on the man’s retreating back for a long time. Washington used the momentary respite to resettle his thoughts. He was still angry that his husband had read the manuscript that was sent for him, but he could not allow that to disturb him now. He gestured to the chair where Lafayette had been sitting, and pulled it closer, so that they would both be looking at the text the same way. Then, he folded the letter to Jefferson and placed it in the desk drawer.

“You will become irritated with me very quickly,” Hamilton said, as he sat in the chair. Washington turned the manuscript to the first page, where only a few scrawled words lived in the margins.

“Why is that?” Washington asked.

“I read very quickly, and have many comments. You would be wiser to consult me later.”

Washington looked up from the manuscript. Hamilton was looking at him as if he was a weapon that had not fired when it should have, and might now go off at any moment. Such a thing was terribly dangerous, and not suited for a proper battle. He did not feel like a misfired weapon. His anger had cooled, crystallizing in the back of his mind into determination, although he could not exactly identify what it was he was determined to do, other than push forward. He reached for words and found them lacking, and cleared his throat, fighting the urge to shift under his husband’s gaze.

Skittish, that was the word. Hamilton was looking for him to resist. Looking for his gun to go off. He had settled many horses and angry men and furious subordinates; this would be another.

“We are well-suited,” he said, after a moment. Hamilton frowned at him. “Despite my fondness for it, reading has never been a strength of mine. You shall read ahead, I think, and think of your commentary when I catch up, and then we shall discuss.”

Hamilton was still frowning at him. “John and Eliza both become terribly bored of reading with me, and you shall be too, and you shall make me have to wait for dinner.”

It was a very peculiar thing to say. “I am not Lord Laurens, or Lady Schuyler.”

Hamilton was not dissuaded from his present train by this observation. In fact, he made a dismissive sort of noise. “If they cannot manage it, you certainly shall not.”

“Every end must have a beginning, sir,” Washington said, adopting the most casual air that he could manage in the circumstances, “So shall we?”

A chuckle - not quite willing - not quite forced - came from his husband. Washington pretended he did not feel a queer burst of accomplishment high in his chest.

“Yes, we shall.”

Hamilton had not mislead him - he read at a furious pace, and then erupted into half-complaint, half-war-stories. His original complaint - that the common soldier was considered nothing and the general everything - was completely correct. There were parts Washington would read about himself that were outright falsehoods. The George Washington of this story was a genius who always knew exactly what cards he had in his hand and how to play them, and furthermore managed to correctly deduce every time what cards his enemies were holding, and the cards that would appear correctly in the deck. It did not remind him at all of the sleepless nights and the terrible fear and the burden that felt like an iron ball shackled to his chest.

“So you did…” Hamilton would say, and Washington would recount some shouting match, or one thing or another, or movements or strategies or self doubt.

“It seemed that you--” Hamilton would say, and Washington would resist the urge to laugh, because Hamilton's impressions of him were just as he wanted a common soldier to think of him - unflappable, impenetrable, and unperturbable. He had appeared the perfect keystone to the war effort. Soldiers could never know the nights he had lain awake, or the terrible letters to Martha he had written, or the misery, or the guilt, or the horror.

“I did not understand that you --” Hamilton would say, and Washington would present all these other events that had happened, and the reasons for the steps that he took, and the various ways men had opposed him. Hamilton nodded along, and would say, “Of course, in such circumstances, all you could do was --”

“Indeed, sir,” Washington would say. Hamilton was writing furiously in the margins with his pen as Washington told some story about the desert. He would never forget the heat, and the flies, and the taste of sand.

“If it is not untoward for me to say…” Hamilton started, hesitant at first, then gaining speed, “The General Washington of history must be the one displayed here, not the one that sits with me. Of course, you are and were but a mortal man, with mortal fears, and mortal doubts - but to the common soldier, and to the common man, you have always been a hero. The Great Unifier.” There was a pause, where Hamilton closed his eyes, and perhaps thinking about some myth of a much larger being than he ever was. “You should forever be the keystone, in books, and in history. Men should always aspire to be you. They should always desire to match themselves to you in terms of heroism, and grace, and courage and bravery.”

Washington put his pen down, for where he was composing some note on a separate sheet of paper. He looked over at his husband, who had resumed muttering to himself at the manuscript, cursing some inaccuracy. A peculiar brick had formed at the pit of his stomach, heavy and unsettled. It was a very serious thing to say, to suggest a man should appear much more important than they felt. He was not quite sure that this character within him - The Great Unifier - was a falsehood, exactly, for he had very much been that man, and presented all those characteristics, and he would have done it as long as it would have been necessary. It was only that he could not forget how false that bravado and heroism had felt on one occasion or another.

“I have not always been so heroic, or graceful, or courageous, or brave,” he said, carefully, when in fact what he would have liked to say is I do not understand, because you despise me, and yet you suggest to mythologize me.

“In three hundred years, the nuance will be lost, general,” Hamilton replied, easy and confident. “But you will persist as a figure in history, as silhouette of a real creature, and that creature should be the Great Unifier, and not a man consumed with his misery.”

It was not that Washington had not thought about this. In fact, how history would present the actions that he commanded, and the war itself, was a fairly common thought for him while he was in the process of engaging in it. It was only that it seemed different, somehow, now that he was looking at a real manuscript.

“Although, with this particular piece, it was not you who could use some additional description.” Hamilton snorted, apparently not attending to the effect he was having on Washington, and he turned the page on the manuscript.

“I was not finished reading,” Washington said, and Hamilton sighed, and turned the page back.

“You truly are a very slow reader. How did you manage the whole war when it takes you eternity to get through a page?”

This question, presented in the annoyed voice he was familiar with, did at least put aside his deep concerns about his historical portrayals, and instead brought more to the surface this thoughts about how Hamilton looked when he was annoyed: the faint frown creasing his lips, the line of his brow, and the set of his shoulders.

“I had many aides, and much was read to me,” he answered. “Did it seem slow, at the front?”

“No, I suppose not,” Hamilton said, and turned to scrawl on his own piece of paper. This was their process, for a while. Hamilton would read ahead and write down all the complaints he wished to express, which were usually numerous, and by the time Washington had reached the end of some particular section, they would discuss them, and agree on some edit of this paragraph or that paragraph. This progressed, reasonably, for a while.

“Ah, I am thrilled to see in what ways my personal additions to the cause can be demeaned,” Hamilton said, dryly, as he started a new chapter. “Not that I am opposed to history understanding quite clearly how heroic Angelica was, or how well she managed her troops - but I did save her life several times.”

Washington looked up from where he was finishing the previous chapter on the desert, still thinking about the heat and the sand, but had to force his mind to go over the words that Hamilton said again. He had a sneaking suspicion that Hamilton had not realized what the words meant before he said them.

“You served under the eldest Lady Schuyler?” Washington asked, his voice even. Hamilton did not usually talk about himself, and Washington carefully noted this information in his head. “I knew something of her movements. Was she a good commander?”

“The best,” Hamilton replied, without thinking; he had gotten that far-off look in his eye Washington knew well from sitting around for hours recalling war stories. “She was an incredible leader. Brilliant tactics, genius intellect, and with an marvelous knack for second-guessing the enemy. When we lacked provisions, she always found a way to make adequate substitutions, or at least make our suffering seem less terrible. A wild devil in battle.” He laughed.

Washington was stunned by his ease, by the sudden relaxation in his whole body. It was a real laugh, and accompanied by that laugh was a real smile, closer than ever to what he wanted. The smile was not for him, no, but it had not been stolen - merely carelessly dropped in his presence, which seemed in some way equally important.

“What was the most memorable thing?” Washington asked, softly, his gaze trained on the cast-back expression of his husband.

“Well, I imagine it was never boiling like the desert, but it was hot. And we were all covered in pollen from that spring. Luckily, I was not affected, but other men - every moment there was sneezing and cursing. There was no cover for anything we would do. There was some kind of comedy to it, that we would try to disguise our moments. And our enemy, too. We would throw ourselves into those battles with as much strength as we could manage, for we had nothing else. And the insects. God, I think the insects must have been the most memorable.”

Hamilton closed his eyes. Washington saw the memory in his face.

“I had read reports,” he said, for at some point he must have heard something about insects.

“We would all sleep under our blankets, and no soldier turned another away. Angelica and I would burrow under her blankets like voles. And there was a rumor that we were - entangled, even though she was married to John Church.” Hamilton rolled his eyes, and laughed a derisive sort of laugh. “Even if it was the military, she cared too much for the name of Schuyler to engage in anything of the sort. And besides that, we were hardly desperate to expose our privates in those conditions. Once, when one of my arms came free, I was awoken by the sense that my arm was burrowing into the dirt.” He unbuttoned his sleeve - not the sleeve of the arm which he had damaged from his fall from the horse, but the other one - and drew his finger down the flesh. When Washington looked, he could see that it was peppered with tiny white spots. “I thought it would be less suffering to throw myself upon a bayonet. It itched so badly I bled myself scratching. Angelica was furious. She wrapped it so tightly I thought my hand was going to fall off. But it stopped me from scratching.”

Washington heard the soft noise of his pen hitting the manuscript. He was struck again, and quite intently at that, that Hamilton had presented all these things about himself without noticing he had, or perhaps not considering the company in which he said them. Washington bit the inside of his mouth to restrain himself from asking any of the questions that rattled in his throat. His thoughts snapped from one statement to the next, trying to identify the best way for him to approach these things, as if there could be one.

“Is there some history between yourself and John Church Schuyler, that I should perhaps be aware of, for reference?” he asked, because he knew the man, and Phillip Schuyler’s various opinions of him.

“There is no history,” Hamilton made a dismissive sort of gesture. “Only, it would be a difficult decision to establish who is more boring: him, or a fern.” A beat, in which Washington thought that his attempt might be rebuffed, but Hamilton just smirked. “Actually, I have lied: I have now met several more interesting ferns. But she has decided to marry that bore anyway, even if Lord Schuyler was never excited to hear it, because it would benefit her name, in the end. When it has always been quite clear to me, and all the other soldiers who knew her, that what she requires is a man or woman of her equal ferocity and intelligence, and not some wealthy block of wood. She chose him, when she could have married ---”

Hamilton stopped. Washington heard the word vibrating in the air, and so clearly he could reach out and touch it, if he wanted.

Hamilton’s head whipped around to face him, and angry, vicious eyes dared him to ask.

“I will include the insects in our manuscript notes,” Washington said, instead, picking up his pen and ducking his head, scrawling in the margins. Even a career of keeping his face even could hardly counter the whirl of emotions that rattled like pots and pans in his head, making it impossible to think.

“These numbers, at least, look decent,” Hamilton said, in a restrained sort of voice, his eyes back on the paper, as he reviewed the written results of some battle. They reviewed the plains campaign, and Hamilton had opinions about what had been written, and the portrayals of superior officers, and enlisted men, and how each place had been portrayed. Washington thought of things he could give, or what he had received, even if perhaps by accident. He explained, at reasonable times, what he had heard from plains reports, about the best of knowledge about how the campaign had gone, here and there.

“Do you still have those reports?” Hamilton asked.

“I believe that I do, and I intend to more closely match the numbers provided here with my correspondence, for the sake of accuracy. You are welcome to be there at the time, although I suspect the task will be terribly uninteresting.”

“Perhaps,” Hamilton said, opaquely.

The war talk that they exchanged had a much different ring than his normal discussions of such a thing, owing to Hamilton’s remarkably different experience from anyone Washington would have usually spoken to. Hamilton did not always have a cot, or an edible breakfast, or a gun; his wounds had been cared for without laundum to ease his pain; he recounted with a nostalgic fondness their ragged uniforms. Washington knew his husband to be very talented with his words, and here it was displayed in a completely different way: each story was riveting and perfectly told, with all the important details included in their particular places, and the pointless minutia left out. Washington, of course, knew the result of the war, but even so he found himself entranced by each individual tale.

He had his own selection, which no longer seemed so terrible - not that the stories did not have war-horror to them, but that all of a sudden he knew at this moment that they had already happened, and could not be reversed, and for all the mistakes, things had gone well enough. They did not twist in his chest like weights, or remind him of stormclouds crawling into a previously-pleasant day. They were merely events - decisions he had made, the hissed arguments with other men, the fear he forced himself to banish, the sight of battle. Hamilton was an excellent listener, and asked questions looking to know more, and did not doubt him or seek to poke holes in the stories that he told, or discipline him for his decisions.

Eventually, Lafayette summoned them for dinner, and the three of them ate a perfectly-prepared venison.

Lafayette finished some report on his farmlands, and some other administrative miscellanea, and then Hamilton said, “General,” in a distant voice that made Washington watch him with some concern.

“Yes, Lord Hamilton?” He asked.

Hamilton took a sip of his wine and looked contemplative. There was an unfamiliar caution in his voice as he spoke. “What was it like, to be doubted, and threatened with replacement?”

Washington drank his own wine and thought about those weeks or months, when they had been losing, and all he could have seen from any angle and for miles were men suggesting he was unqualified, and not worthy, and undisciplined, and disastrous. Men had put pamphlets suggesting he was gutter trash - a pretend king or a failed tyrant - on his desk, and he could not bring himself to read them.

“It is…” he started, slow, for there were many ways to answer the question, and yet he could not help but think there was some particular answer Hamilton wanted, like this was a test. “...very isolating.”

“I thought I could have managed the army better, but you were certainly a preferred option than that fool Lee or Horatio Gates,” Hamilton said, disdainfully.

“I was very blessed to have officers that supported me, even when I did not feel capable,” he said, and was careful not to look at Lafayette.

“And you dueled no one over these slights?”

“I did not, and for two reasons,” he answered, for this was a part of the story that he remembered very well, and had considered at length at the time. “The first and main reason being that my position was, and is still, not a matter of personal honor. I am general at behest of the council, and of the other military men - if they no longer desired me in this capacity, I would not seek to maintain it. The second being that I did, of course, make mistakes, and it is indecent to not accept one’s punishment when one does so, especially at the scale on which I erred.”

Hamilton lapsed into uncharacteristic silence on this and picked inelegantly at his meal. Washington watched him for a moment or two, then resumed eating.

“You would have simply accepted a demotion of such significance?” Hamilton said, suddenly. “You would have been disgraced. And - you are not a Schuyler, or a Van Rensselaer, or - what would you have had?”

Washington twisted his fork in his fingers and examined the delicate enameled violet on it. He looked at his dinner, mostly eaten, and the glass of wine, and the table, which was inset with many different types of woods, in curled patterns. He had gotten the table very soon after coming back from the war, when his things had not been so impressive. It had been one of the first impressive things that he had owned.

“The matter is not to have things, Lord Hamilton,” he said, consideringly, feeling the words out in his mouth as he spoke them. “My intent in being general of the armies is not to enrich myself, though I am not so foolish as to deny the various improvements made to my station.” He stabbed one of the vegetables, and chewed it as an excuse to think. “Perhaps had all these events occurred to me twenty years ago, things would be different, but this is now how things are. I did not command in the second war for my sake, or for my name, or for my glory. Everything I have done, I have done for our land, and our country. I serve at its behest. And despite the attempts of suggest it, the last thing I desire to be is a king or, as you have sometimes considered, a tyrant. I can hardly think of more terrible fate than to be so.”

Hamilton watched him warily. His voice was calm and sharp. “How curious, that a man who has everything desires nothing.”

Washington spread his hands, palms up, and offered a surrendering shrug of his shoulders. “I would give these things up, if that would convince the other council members that we would be stronger as one country. I would give Lord Jefferson every spoon and every teacup and every book I---” A beat, and a risk -- “we owned if he would agree to a standing army and a single governing body.”

“I would be very upset if you gave our books away,” Hamilton retorted, but the sharpness was blunted with humor now, and Washington felt a monstrous sort of relief, that he had turned the blade aside.

“I think you would be, only I would accept it, because our country is much larger than us, and we must all make sacrifices, some terrible, to improve it.”

Hamilton made acknowledging noise. “Lafayette,” he said, turning to the servant, who was very intently focusing on eating. “What is for dessert?”

“Raspberry cake, sir,” Lafayette answered, automatically. “And port, though we also have recently had a new shipment of tea, and there is always brandy if you prefer.”

“Port,” Hamilton said, and Lafayette nodded, delicately balancing all their plates and silverware and glasses and disappearing off into the kitchen. Hamilton watched him all the way into the kitchen, and Washington wondered of the relationship between his enigmatic servant and his extremely inquisitive husband, and thought that if anyone could pierce the mystery Lafayette intentionally wrapped around himself, it would be Hamilton.

Lafayette reappeared, with three raspberry cakes and three glasses of port, and set them all down, and sat. Hamilton drank his port and ate his raspberry cake without complaint. Washington drank his port and ate his raspberry cake and suppressed all his questions about what his husband thought about his servant and what his husband thought about the war and what his husband thought about him. Instead he asked Lafayette about his estate, and about their supplies and suppliers, and Lafayette had answers.

He finished his cake before Hamilton did, because Hamilton had gotten a long sort of look in his eye and only occasionally remembered that he had requested and then been served dessert. Lafayette looked at Washington, and then at him, pointedly.

Washington took a breath, and finished off his port, as if the sweet wine would give him confidence. “Lord Hamilton, would you be interested in having dinner again tomorrow?”

Hamilton’s gaze snapped back to the present, and to him, and then to their plates. “Beg pardon?”

Washington opened his mouth to apologize, but Lafayette said, “General Washington wanted to know if you wished to have dinner again, tomorrow.”

Washington cleared his throat, because otherwise he would have shot his servant a very unpleasant look. Hamilton looked at both of them, and then at all of their plates, in their various states of emptiness.

“I suppose that I shall,” his husband said. He polished off the rest of the cake with some speed, and stood. “When shall we review the rest of the manuscript? I presume your most honorable author --” this was said with an enormous amount of dry sarcasm. “--will want your incredibly esteemed opinions sooner, rather than later. We still have a fair bit of time to review.”

“We can do so tomorrow, before dinner, and then be served after? As we have done today.”

“Very well.” Hamilton brushed his napkin over his mouth, and already Washington could see that his mind was elsewhere. “Good evening,” he said, distractedly, and walked back down his corridor. Washington watched his retreating back, and Lafayette reached over for Hamilton’s glass, and drained the last swallow of port that had been left there.

“Shall we start a count of how many nights the chefs only have to make dinner once?” Lafayette asked him with a grin. “Or is that too much asking for trouble?”

“When have you ever not asked for trouble,” Washington replied, still looking at the now-empty hallway. Lafayette laughed, and picked up their plates, and took them to the kitchen. Then, he appeared again, empty-handed save for a second glass of port for himself, which he drank slowly after sitting back down. Washington cast a critical eye on the glass. “Drink too much and you will be sloppy,” he said, coolly.

Lafayette did not seem chastised. “You know I shall not be, sir. It is only that port is a very good thing to occupy oneself with while wondering what might become a man’s history.”

Washington drew an idle finger across the table’s decorative inlay, his thoughts smoothed by the liquor. “Should I say, if he asks?”

“If it is all the same, I would prefer you to not.”

He stood. “As you say, then.” A beat. “I shall be in my study - bring me the manuscript when you are finished, so I may compare those numbers. I will be looking for the reports in the meantime.”

“Of course, General,” Lafayette said, and sat back in his chair, and looked very thoughtful and unservant-like.

Chapter Text

They did this for several days in a row, eating dinner and talking politics and reviewing the manuscript. Hamilton had many political opinions, which he was quick to share. Where he lacked the complete knowledge of some situation, Washington would provide, and then Hamilton would continue. His husband did not spare or mince words on men he disliked, and there had been an especially expletive-laden rant about John Adams, the dramatics of which had been so impressive that Lafayette, sitting in, had to leave the room because he could not hold back all his laughter.

They had an easy camaraderie, and agreed on almost all high-level political circumstances; Washington had never met anyone so young and brilliant and outspoken. It was the same passion, only pointed in some different direction, and it cast him in a new light, one that Washington was drawn to like a moth. It became Washington’s favorite part of the day.

He knew that it was terribly dangerous to become accustomed to this, where he could ask questions and Hamilton would have answers. And yet he was not sure that he would have been able to cease, or even that he wanted to. It was all just so unbearably pleasant, that perhaps the eventual rending would have been worth it. Washington had never been opposed to his solitude, Lafayette excluded, but Hamilton had eased himself into it so gracefully and so effortlessly that his voice became a natural part of Washington’s life.

They would talk politics and eat dinner, and Hamilton would go on about whatever cause was bothering him, and Lafayette would bring them up to date on estate affairs, and the three of them would discuss what actions were next in their current struggle to try and establish some council to run the country, and of course manage the military. Hamilton fit into these conversations as if he had been in them for years. It was impressive, and wonderful, and Washington had a peculiar sense in his stomach when Hamilton would get really into some tirade - his favorite topics being monetary policy and brainstorming new governments.

A few days later, Washington was not joined in the library. He frowned at the space where Hamilton usually sat, as if it would provide some answer; had he upset the man without noticing? Had Hamilton merely now considered their routine beneath him? Had there been something else that had taken up his time? But the manuscript, and history, was more important than them, so he worked these thoughts into an uncomfortable ball, not entirely unlike tar, and set it into the bottom of his stomach, where he could ignore it with most of his mind. The manuscript reviewing, though, was significantly less interesting without Hamilton’s input. He had not expected that their companionship would last forever. Still, Hamilton had managed himself into the conversation, and when he was gone he left a significant void.

Washington acknowledged, begrudgingly, that he had come to desire the man’s company. He knew that it was dangerous to desire the attentions of someone so tempestuous, even in such a harmless sort of way, but at the same time he could not deny that the absence of his husband’s rash opinions, pointed comments, and well-told war stories made him feel incomplete.

Lafayette called him for dinner, and there was no place-setting for Hamilton. Washington glanced at the empty space, then at his servant.

“Have I upset him in some manner, that you know?” He asked.

“Lord Hamilton is ill,” Lafayette said, and sat to eat.

“Ill? Has he fallen off another horse?”

“Feverish, not stupid, this time,” Lafayette added, as if Washington was not looking very alarmed at this whole situation. Hamilton was smart, but very slight, and it was a well-known fact that men of slight built were more vulnerable to such illnesses than someone more stout, such as Washington. He cleared throat and looked at his food, not feeling very hungry. He glanced over his shoulder, down his husband’s corridor, and frowned.

“I have ordered him bedrest and given him some broth.” His servant was saying, as he reluctantly turned back to his meal, which all of a sudden did not look very appetizing. “He did wish to join you, but one man’s illness can become the illness of many if he is permitted his usual wanderings, and I threatened to alert a physician if he did not settle himself back into his bed. Though it seems unlikely he has done so without my eyes; he is probably writing and sweating and looking terrible and not considering his health at all.” At this, Lafayette frowned and glared at his wine glass as if it said something wrong. “Although, I do not currently think there is any considerable long-term concern for him.”

“Indeed,” Washington replied, and turned back to his dinner, which he forced himself to eat, and did not at all taste. There was an unsettled sort of silence as they ate, because Lafayette would try to start a conversation and Washington would not reply, his thoughts whirling together.

“Tell me your concerns about Lord Hamilton, sir,” Lafayette said, finally, after his fourth question about movements of the army was answered with a grunt. “And I shall provide for you some advice.”

Washington forced himself not to pick at his food, because it was unseemly, but the action wholly matched how unsettled he felt, the previous lump in his stomach having expanded quite successfully across chest. “Do you think that he would be distraught if I were to... go to him? He is slight, and intense, and somehow I imagine a fever could take him quite terribly, if he did not have someone to manage him. He is, as you say, probably not even in bed.”

His servant considered this for what seemed like a very long time. “You can only do so if he has come to you first, I think.”

This was a very wise thing to say, and Washington nodded, thinking of Hamilton’s reciprocity rule. What he needed was an excuse to see Hamilton, something to make up for. The whole situation was absurd, and yet Washington knew quite well that he had no choice but to fall into it, He closed his eyes and thought, working to create this reason, and quite easily it came to him: Hamilton had dragged him from his study and his burdens and into the greenhouse.

Lafayette laughed when he was told this, and nodded in approval. Washington stood, but his servant stared at him.

“Eat your dinner first, sir, for if you become ill as well, I shall have to manage you both, and I am only a mere mortal.”

So he did, as quickly as he was able, and then carefully measured his steps down Hamilton’s hallway to avoid looking too rushed, or feeling too panicked. At least the man’s library was empty, still with books piled here and there, some opened. Hamilton’s wing was set up in the same manner as his, with a study and the bedroom up the steps, and he forced himself to be calm. No response on the knock on the study door, which was a sort of relief. He looked at the closed bedroom door, and adjusted his cuffs, and took a breath.

A knock.

There was the sound of flurried movement, and then: “I am in bed, Lafayette.”

“I am not Lafayette, sir,” Washington said, and closed his eyes, and prayed.

There was a beat.

“Come in,” Hamilton asked, from the other side of the door. Washington was no doctor, but his husband’s voice was not weak or hoarse; he thought that maybe Lafayette was being overprotective, over-proactive, or perhaps both. He sounded, essentially, like a man assigned to bedrest against his will.

Washington took another breath, and wished he had brandy, and opened the door.

“I am forced to admit, to what I am sure will be your great displeasure,” Hamilton said, from his bed, where he was dressed only in his undershirt, only half-on, “that I am nowhere near as close to death as Lafayette might have impressed up on you.”

Washington had already opened his mouth to begin to say something, but he shut it, and frowned.

“That would be an admirable position,” Hamilton continued, in a dry sort of voice, as a very sharp and very unpleasant feeling was percolating inside Washington, of which he could not identify entirely but was wholly unsatisfied with. “You would be free of me, and a widower - perfect for your circumstance. Not only, of course, has the man managed his country so heroically, but he has suffered the loss of his husband, and so young, and no one should request that he marry again, at least, not in the immediate future, and --”

“I would be terribly distraught if you were to die, sir,” he interrupted, his voice sharp, for he could not completely restrain the offense that he felt, which must have shown clearly on his face. “And even as marginally ill as you are is distressing to me.”

Hamilton looked at him suspiciously.

“And furthermore, that you would suggest you are more valuable to me dead than alive…” He trailed off. There were many different thoughts in his head, all of which seemed quite terrible at the moment, dark and unsettled, weighted like burdens. That Hamilton had thought that Washington would have liked him dead, that he would have come to check, as if some gloating victor, as if he was some heartless monster, as if---

He took a strangled kind of breath. Perhaps he should have been offended that he could be thought of as so callous, but he was not. He ached, instead.

Hamilton’s face softened.

“Do you truly think that I would rejoice?” Washington asked, in a peculiar sort of voice.

They had spoken about politics for hours, for days, and eaten dinner together, and his husband thought --

“I…..” Hamilton said, with an uncharacteristic hesitancy, his own expression unreadable. “No. I did not think that. I -- am better at politics than I am at humor. My apologies.”

Stung, Washington thought. That was the sensation, that first stab, painful and sharp, and then follow-up unpleasantness of swelling, and itching, and the raw redness of one’s flesh. He looked around the room - many books, and much writing - and found a chair, and sat in it more heavily than he had intended. His chest felt tight, and the rich dinner shifted unpleasantly in his stomach. Hamilton looked away from him, his shoulders slumped and his head hanging between them.

He looked very vulnerable with his neck bare, and not even the fastenings of his shirt to hide his hunch. Unlike Washington, who possessed a bulk that he tailored his clothes to display in a way that was not too intimidating, Hamilton was lean, almost nothing but flesh and bones. The fevered flush in the hollow of his throat did not provide any improvement.

Washington took the sting in his chest and set it mentally aside, because the thing with stings was that there was nothing to be done with them. They would go away in time, and meanwhile they would present themselves as terribly irritating and distracting. A decent soldier had to force themself not to think about it, and he considered himself just that.

He took a breath.

“You should have some broth,” he said, as businesslike as he could manage. He was not sure how well he accomplished the task, because Hamilton did not look at him, and instead maintained a proper focus on the blankets on his lap.

“I do not have an appetite,” Hamilton said, stubborn, “Perhaps I could be convinced with a proper dinner.”

“A proper dinner will serve to do nothing but make you nauseous,” Washington replied, “You must have broth, otherwise you will not be strong enough to improve yourself. And after you have your broth, you should try to sleep.”

“Ah,” Hamilton said, and a little energy came back into him. He sat up and smirked. “I have found another Lafayette.”

A familiar irritation suffused through Washington, and he offered his husband a very unimpressed look. “I suppose if it is unbearable to you that there are men who wish for you to not sit undressed in your bed and look sick, than we have all terribly mishandled you. How absurd, that your health concerns us.”

“I have always managed myself, and continue to so,” Hamilton sat up straighter, and he shrugged himself more properly into his shirt. “I have had fevers before, and still wrote and read with them, and survived quite well. If anyone understands managing oneself, I would think it would be you.”

Hamilton scoffed. Washington sighed. “If you will at least permit me ---” he began, and his husband nodded and let Washington draw the broad back of his hand across his forehead. The man's flesh burned hot and slick with sweat, and Washington frowned as he pulled his hand away. “You are certainly feverish, and when given the opportunity to recover fully should take advantage of it. And you should start, I think, by managing yourself some gentle dinner, like broth.”

“What would be the worst thing to lose, if I were to pass on?” Hamilton asked, completely ignoring his question, and instead looking up at him very curiously. “Your flowers would not be so beautiful, I suppose. And the manuscript would be wrong, and shameful. But even if you became accustomed to a husband, it would not be so difficult to replace me.”

Washington stared at him again, the concern of Hamilton’s fever still clear on his face, and made worse by some regrowing weed of horror in his stomach. “I have never heard a thing more untrue,” he said, “On the contrary, I have met few men who I would struggle to replace so grandly, if I even thought of such a thing, if my grief was not too enormous that I would seek the opposite.”

Hamilton scoffed. “You overstate me.”

“What do I overstate, sir?” Washington asked, frowning. “Your war-bravery, where you fought for your country, and rescued your commander on multiple occasions, or so I am told? Or your politics, which are well-founded and thoughtful and decent? Your intelligence, and your forever drive to improve it?”

Hamilton shifted in his bed and looked away. There was a disconcerting pause. Then, his husband made a terribly long-suffering sigh, as if he was being sentenced to hard labor. He gaze resentfully at the bowl. “I will have some broth, but you must also bring the manuscript.”

“Very well,” Washington said. He put his hand to the bowl; the broth was lukewarm at best. “And I shall also bring you a new bowl, I think.”

“That shall be adequate,” Hamilton said, as if he expected to be brought several soup courses, a steak, and some fine dessert. Washington took a breath and stood up, and took the bowl from the bedside table, and closed the bedroom door behind him. He walked down the steps and through the main foyer, and into the kitchen, where the cooks bowed to him.

“I shall expect to have some hot broth when I return shortly,” he said, and put the bowl down on a nearby table, “For Lord Hamilton’s illness.”

Then to the library, where Lafayette was, reading the manuscript and reviewing their various notes and additions and subtractions. He had his own pen and ink and a separate sheet of paper, where he was taking his own notes.

“Your husband was in a very hard campaign, and remembers it much too well for it to not haunt him,” he said, when Washington appeared. “It does not surprise me his passion for changes to the country, given his experiences.”

“Maybe later we shall discuss it in more detail, or…?”

“It was only an observation,” Lafayette said, and he turned the manuscript page, and wrote something down.

Washington cleared his throat, and held out a hand. “Hamilton has promised that he will drink some broth if I read the manuscript to him - we are the end, during the surrender process. I do not remember it being very thrilling, in comparison to the battles.” For he had been there, and remembered the hours of dreary arguing, and had been continually amazed that one could win a war and then be subjected to the hell of surrender terms. “With luck, it shall put him to sleep.”

“I seem to recall you saying it was dangerous to be ambitious, sir?”

He took the manuscript, and did not dignify the grin with a response. Instead, he went back to the kitchen, where a servant waited with a platter holding a steaming bowl of broth. He nodded, and him and the servant went back to Hamilton’s room. Another knock, and the platter set down, and Washington sat back in the chair. Hamilton studied the whole scene with wary eyes, and, seeing the manuscript, put the platter with the steaming bowl of broth on his lap.

Washington flipped to their marked page, and began to read about the process of surrender terms, and Hamilton blew on his spoonfuls of broth until they were cool enough for him to drink. Hamilton asked him questions about being at the surrender, and about what it had been like, and talked about what him and his friend-soldiers had done. Washington explained that it was, in fact, an excessively boring end to an excessively bloody war. Hamilton talked about the plains skirmishes that went on through post-surrender, and showed a vicious scar on his side where he had come much, much too close to being run through.

Much of the text, Washington thought, could have been removed. For one reason or another, the author had become very interested in surrender terms, and went on about them in excessively verbose language, perhaps challenging himself to make arguing over territory seem interesting. Hamilton finished his broth and set the bowl aside, and settled more comfortably into his bed to listen.

“Speak louder or come closer,” Hamilton rumbled to him, for he was now laying flat in his bed, with all of his blankets curled around him. Only his reddened, fevered face was visible within the off-white fabrics, and Washington clenched his toes in his shoes to redirect some of the energy which had surged hot in his chest.

“Apologies,” Washington said, and shuffled his chair closer, although such a thing was not really possible. He cleared his throat and resumed, louder.

“Too loud,” Hamilton said, sharper this time, and a hand snuck out from under his blankets and found Washington’s bicep, and pulled on him. Faced with this, Washington had no other choice but to seat himself on Hamilton’s bed. His weight sunk the mattress, and as a result Hamilton began to roll into his thigh. His husband grunted in complaint, and raised himself up on his elbows, studying Washington and the manuscript. Washington met his eyes and allowed the confusion to show on his face.

“Here,” Hamilton said, and he rearranged them all to his liking and without a consideration for anyone else’s thoughts. When he had finished, they were as follows: Washington sitting on the side of the bed, his feet still on the floor; Hamilton laying with his head on Washington’s thigh, the very distracting weight of him forcing Washington to pay more attention to the very boring surrender terms, and facing his waist, and breathing very hot breaths into Washington’s clothes, which melted through and into his skin. The platter which had previously been used to hold the hot bowl of broth had been placed on his other leg, and on that platter Hamilton had placed the manuscript, as if it was a make-shift workdesk. When his work was finished, Hamilton grunted approval of his situation, which vibrated through Washington’s pant leg.

“Resume,” Hamilton said, and Washington cleared his throat and resumed, forcing his eyes to only stay on the page, and his thoughts to only stay on the history. Hamilton asked a question here, and another there, and then yawned a mighty yawn - and then asked three more questions, as if to force himself awake. But then there was a very long quiet, and the breathing Washington could feel against his leg evened out, and he risked a glance down.

His husband was very much asleep, and looking very tender and vulnerable in the soft candlelight and undressed as he was. A strand of hair had fallen across his face, and Washington resisted only with effort to brush it away. Carefully, as to not disturb the man’s slumber, he reached and pulled the blanket more completely over the man’s shoulder, and then set his hand on top of it, feeling the warmth of the soft down and, he liked to believe, Hamilton below.

He closed the manuscript and placed it, and the platter which it had been on, on the bedside table. He peered into the semi-candled darkness of the room, considering the man asleep in his lap (for Washington was the sort of man who called a spade a spade), and his living quarters. The books, of course, were sprawled over every possible surface, and even a few on the floor. There was an impressive collection of writing material at the desk - papers and pens and inks, and even what Washington thought was sealing wax and a kit.

Several bits of clothes were hung messily over the back of another chair, including one of Hamilton’s very fine jackets, the embroidery of the bird of paradise which Washington could just barely make out.

He thought idly about the violet, and their crest. He supposed that it could be possible that he could be the violet and Hamilton be the bird of paradise for as long as they were wed - although, in the least, he should have a jacket or two tailored with the symbols combined, as was considered proper. He felt a surge of gratefulness that he had heard or read no rumors regarding Hamilton's or his clothes, besides the stunt with the servant's jacket. Given Hamilton's previous reaction to the violet, Washington thought it would be best to leave the topic by the wayside as much as he was able.

On the other side, while he liked the violet very much, and the violet general, it hardly seemed fair to Hamilton to maintain the symbol if Hamilton was not going to adopt it. And he was not opposed to their combined symbols, but Hamilton showed little love for the Schuylers, and had never said one word, for or against, the bird of paradise. Washington wondered if, like his secret name, he had a secret symbol - if the lost name of Hamilton had a crest that he maintained somewhere. If it was in the room, the darkness hid it.

He wondered what his sleeping husband would select, if he had been asked to select something new. He looked down again at the man, who looked so different than his waking self - soft where he always seemed so hard, exposed where he was usually defensive, still where he was usually animated, at peace when he always seemed at war with one thing or another.
Washington had a very tender feeling in his chest, just then, which he imagined was ill-formed and dangerous, and unwanted by more than just him.

Even as he thought of it, he knew the suggestion was too dangerous. Hamilton was not actively aggressive to him, yes, but the crest meant too much to put into the arms of a man who had thought Washington would have preferred him dead. If he allowed Hamilton to make the decision, and then did not use his selection, that would almost certainly be the end of the delicate trust built between them. And if Hamilton selected something with one of his too-familiar double meanings or too-sharp implications, then Washington would have to bear it, and display it, and have it be part of his reputation. He did not need to be associated with some death-flower or failure-rose or envy-poppy that Hamilton might discover and put forth.

He was thinking about this problem, and how he might solve it - if he should simply maintain the violet and let people whisper about Hamilton’s bird of paradise, or if they should simply merge, or he should suggest the topic -- when his husband shifted and groaned. Washington pulled back his arm from the man’s shoulder as if he had been scorched, but Hamilton merely scowled in his sleep, his body twisting. He mumbled something, and shook his head, like a horse unhappy with his bit.

Washington watched him, concerned. He was, of course, intimately familiar with unpleasant dreams, and Lafayette had told him once how he looked when he suffered: twitching and groaning, horror flitting like a ghost across his face. It was hard to imagine what it might look on him, but watching Hamilton the description made perfect sense. Hamilton kicked under his blankets and muttered nonsense into Washington’s leg, his expression flickering. Washington thought all at once to wake him, and also to slip away, for a man so lost in a dream would never have noticed.

He thought perhaps that it was sensible to leave, for Hamilton would not like that he had seen this private view. But it also seemed terribly cruel to leave a man to a nightmare which gripped him, and gripped him harder by the moment, based on the way Hamilton’s face became so angry and sharp. What terrible thing, he wondered, was Hamilton being retold?

Washington took a breath and folded his hand over Hamilton’s shoulder, and gave him one quick shake.

Hamilton’s eyes shot open, and his body seized in an attempt to go in many different directions at once. The result of this was the following: first, that Hamilton kicked so hard his foot hit the wall with a substantial thud; second, that one of Hamilton’s hands twisted into the sheet and the other dug, short nails and all, into Washington’s thigh; third, Hamilton’s upper half rose, putting him almost at eye level with Washington, and his eyes were terrible with past-fear, stunned and confused, his mind evidently in a different place than the rest of him.

This moment, as chaotic as it was, passed in a heartbeat. A sharp pain shot through Washington’s leg at Hamilton’s grip, which was stronger than he would have guessed, and he opened his mouth to offer some comfort only to realize he did not know exactly what to say. Hamilton came back to himself, cursed at what must have been the injury to his foot, and looked up at him, there was a moment where Washington thought he might be hit, or stabbed, or challenged, or something equally catastrophic.

Instead, the fight went out of his husband, and Hamilton dropped himself onto the bed behind Washington, shifting to lay on his side, facing towards the wall and away from him.

This moment passed in silence.

Washington, now freed, stood. He turned around, and closed his eyes, and felt the sense he had seen something he had not been meant to see. He reached desperately for some next step, for the right answer, for the sensible thing a husband might do. He had commanded a half-starved army to maintain control of their lands; he could manage one nightmared soldier. What had Hamilton done? Half-bounded into his study with some orchid, talking in his way --

Throwing open his study shade, and taking his arm.

He could not say, objectively, how came to make his next moves. Among the qualities he prided himself in were the ability to stay clear-headed in danger and make decisions for reasons that he could understand and trace later. It was a perfect trait for a military general for his decisions to make sense now and later and in six months; it was not this quality that appeared, in that moment.

He sat on the edge of Hamilton's bed and put a hand on that narrow shoulder and gave it a squeeze, and then let it rest there. He could not say what inspired his unrequested contact. The action has surged in him like a wave, and he was helpless against it.

“You are not alone,” his mouth said, indifferent to his thoughts, which seemed sluggish and confused in comparison to the decisive actions taken by his body. “Whatever it might may seem -- whoever may….” The tangle of his thoughts caught up with his mind, and ensnared it. “I will always make some attempt, for you.”

At least it could be said that his mouth had acted correctly, perhaps in league with some unconscious intuition at the bottom of his mind. For Hamilton sat up and reached for him, for his arm, and pulled it over himself like a blanket, forcing the rest of Washington with it. Again, Hamilton arranged him to his liking: him, under the covers up to his neck, a bundle of linens and awry hair -- and Washington pressed to the blankets against his back, his arm thrown over Hamilton’s side.

His husband clenched his arm like a lifeline, and said nothing, and pushed back against him and the blankets, until they were as close as they could manage.

“Do not think I shall ever cease to protect my soldiers,” Washington said, in his most quiet voice. Then, he concentrated on being still and unanxious, for he was well aware that he should not move here, even though his heart was pounding. He knew, as soldiers knew, how to sleep on command and rouse himself to fury when required. He drew upon that knowledge, as difficult as it seemed at the time, and forced his heartbeat to ease, and his thoughts not to wander. He waited until Hamilton was very even and calm, for he could feel him even though the heavy blankets, and then ordered himself into a soldier’s rest.

Chapter Text

When he awoke it was very dark, and he was startled for a moment, for things were terribly different. He sucked in a rasping breath, a thread of fear worming through him, before the evening came back, the core of the memory sharp but with it a tangle of thoughts. He was in Lord Hamilton’s bed, and the warmth in his arms was his husband, who had pulled him close without looking at him and clenched at his arm like a lifeline.

Hamilton seemed very much still asleep and very calm under his blanket, to the best that Washington could see. He suspected that it was just before sunrise, or maybe slightly after. Lafayette, he realized with another jolt, would be looking for him, to wake him up. He in no way desired that conversation.

The difficulty of resolving the issue was twofold: first, that Washington did not know whether Hamilton would have preferred him to stay or go; second, that no matter what Hamilton wanted consciously, the man had a very tight grip on his arm, and it tightened when tugged in a weak attempt to free himself. He was trapped as securely as if he had been shackled. The mental image of them being bolted together, at least, caused a little smile to draws across his lips.

He did not wish for his thoughts to be as chaotic as they currently were. Laying in Lord Hamilton’s bed and dressed fully in last night’s clothes was not the place for that. Even as much as his emotions clawed at their cages, and twisted and writhed in confusion, he set them firmly aside. He thought about the violet, and the bird of paradise, and some new change. He searched for some solution, and came up with nothing, and felt fragments of sun through the shades.

There was a sharp, familiar rap on the door. Hamilton grunted into consciousness.

“Lord Hamilton, report to me on your condition,” Lafayette’s voice said, from behind the door.

Hamilton went stiff for a moment, and then cleared his throat. “I am much improved,” he said, in a loud voice. “Draw me a bath, if you please.”

“Shall I gather your clothes, sir?” Lafayette’s voice asked.

“I shall gather them myself,” Hamilton said, and then he crawled out of the bed without looking at Washington and picked up the collection of clothes on the back of his chair. “I shall meet you in the washroom.”

“You are sorely mistaken if you think I am going to permit you to wander the grounds without checking your fever,” Lafayette said. “Are you hungry? Should I have breakfast made after?”

Washington sat up in his husband’s bed, and glanced at Hamilton’s back and the closed door. He could easily imagine Lafayette impatiently standing in the hallway, his arms crossed behind his back, eyes wandering.

“Yes, I am hungry, please make breakfast,” Hamilton said, and he walked closer to Washington, dropping his voice. “General, am I safe in presuming that you are disinterested in reviewing our present circumstance with your head servant? Because if so, if you stand nearer my desk, you will not be visible with the door open.”

“That is a safe presumption,” Washington said, and he crossed the room, as directed.

“Here I am, Lafayette,” Hamilton said, and he opened the door halfway, stepped outside, and closed the door.

There was a pause, and then:

“You see, your fever has broken, and you seem significantly better. I do not over-care for you, sir; I have merely become very good at managing the beginnings of an illness, so it does not become severe.” There was ruffling, “You have brought me no stockings. Would you prefer no stockings, or would you like to bring me some?”

Hamilton appeared again, and went to gather himself stockings. Lafayette continued.

“Have you seen General Washington? I hope you are not upset, with him or I, that I sent him to you last night. He cares very deeply for you, despite your greatest attempts otherwise. He noticed you were missing immediately, and became quite distraught when I alerted him to your condition. Perhaps you might track him down and alert him of your improvement.”

“I shall,” Hamilton said, and he found some stockings, and closed his bedroom door behind him again.

“Do you have the war history manuscript, or does the general?” Lafayette asked.

“I gave it to the general,” Hamilton said, and their conversation and footsteps trailed off, leaving Washington alone in the room.

Washington turned and studied the room he had been left in. There were no surprises from when he had viewed it in the dark: many books, and a desk covered in writing materials, and clothes in disarray. A little dust had settled over the bookshelves. It would not surprise him, he thought, if Hamilton was very specific on when servants could enter his bedroom, if ever. The urge to investigate the room grew in the back of his mind, but he knew better. Hamilton had trusted him, left him here, decided that he could be trusted - or at least, that him being here was a better option than dealing with Lafayette’s secret grin upon seeing them together, like this.

Washington strained his ears for the sound of Lafayette. When he heard nothing, he crossed the room again, took the manuscript, and hurried back to his own bedroom. It was a queer sort of relief to be surrounded by his things, arranged the way that they he liked them. He stripped off yesterday’s clothes and forced himself to ignore the residual warmth of his husband in his arms. He could forget, because he was a man with disciplined thoughts, the even sound of Hamilton’s breathing, how handsome and relaxed his face was in his sleep.

He dressed in his work clothes and went to the greenhouse. He forced himself to think only of plants, and not of men.

Chapter Text

There was a span of peculiar days between them. They finished the manuscript. Hamilton withdrew. They spoke, but Hamilton did not speak of himself; they talked about politics, but Hamilton did not go on any of his familiar tirades, which Washington found he missed; Hamilton ate dinner with him and Lafayette, but he did so without thinking, like he was buried in his own head. It was better than his complete absence, Washington told himself, which did not make him feel any better about it.

He was plagued by the memory of their intimacy. He could not untangle it. That evening, it had not seemed so monumental. They had an easy chemistry, the sort of thing that deceived a man to the importance of the events that might occur between them. Washington had not been expecting - what had had happened. He had not gone to the man’s bedroom expecting to fall asleep in his bed. He had not expected Hamilton’s head in his lap, Hamilton twitching to some unknown horror, Hamilton pulling him close, and resentfully so.

They had fit together well - naturally. Washington did not generally liked to be touched. But Hamilton had slid through his defenses without alerting a single scout or setting off a single alarm. Washington had been in his office, thinking his thoughts, and Hamilton appeared, without anyone having noticed. Hamilton had sauntered into his space, confident and easy, and rested his head on Washington’s leg, as if it was not unheard of for anyone to be so close to him.

Not only that, but it had seemed natural to him, and to his body. His leg accommodated Hamilton’s weight perfectly, and his body had felt an effortless sort of comfort pressed against Hamilton’s blankets and his back - so much so that he had slept a restful night.

And yet, of course, because his husband was the type of man that he was, there was no resolution to the event. Hamilton did not come to him for some imagined post-briefing, where Washington would explain about how he felt, and Hamilton would explain the events that had occurred, and why they had occurred the way that he had had them occur, and his thoughts on the proceedings, and what would the best upcoming strategy would be.

That was not Hamilton’s way. It was Hamilton’s way to string him along, to give him only the edges of some prime piece of meat or only allow him to smell cooking herbs.

He hoarded his confusion. There was some part of him that suggested he share it with Lafayette, or with Martha, or with Knox or Greene - but a much larger part of him, and his intuition, which told him otherwise. He did not, generally, like secrets; he had enough burdens without creating ones in excess, and ones about things that should not have mattered, or could have been resolved with teamwork or some conversation. But his mismatched, misshapen bundle of thoughts about his husband brought some tag along with it, that explained in clear terms that this struggle - and it was a struggle, as peculiar as it was in some way - was for him, and him alone.

He had suspicion that Lafayette knew he had been in Hamilton’s bedroom, because this was the sort of thing Lafayette found out with ease. He had passed servants in the hallways in both the evening and the morning, and Lafayette himself had suggested he review Hamilton’s condition. But if the servant knew, he deemed not to show. It was a great, if strange, comfort, that he could pretend the event was his and his alone to hold, and only he could create and then discard theories about the events that had occurred.

He did not need Lafayette’s half-grins and knowing looks and thoughtful suggestions to make the disarray of his feelings about his husband worse. He did not need Lafayette’s pointed, too-accurate comments. He was a grown man and a general, and perfectly acceptable of managing the situation by himself. It was only, well, that he had not yet managed it at all.

He spent the day in his study, working out the things he might say to Hamilton, about the event some days previous where Hamilton had fallen asleep on his leg, and pulled him close to sleep. He thought about how he might express the lump that grew in his chest when Hamilton went off on one of his tirades. He wrote himself a little speech about his thoughts and feelings. He would tell it to Hamilton after dinner, and Hamilton would likely yell at him about it.

Only he went to dinner, and Hamilton was not there.

“He is at a ball,” Lafayette said, “Held by Lady Schuyler-Van Rensselaer. I suggested that he bring you, but he was adamant that it would be improper, based on the invited guests. A matter of rank, I believe. You are much too impressive to show off to his friends, sir.” He grinned.

The little speech burned like dry tinder in Washington’s jacket pocket. He took a breath.

“I hope he is enjoying himself,” he said, “I will be in my study this evening, I think.”

Lafayette gave him a very peculiar look, but collected his plate without speaking. Washington went to his study and sat down in his chair, and took the little speech out of his pocket. He reviewed it once, and then put it in the lowest drawer of his desk. Then he concentrated on something else for the rest of the night, and put himself to bed at a decent hour.

This last event was helpful, as he was startled awake by shouting in the hallway. There was not usually - in fact, there had never been - shouting in his hallways in the middle of the night. He had been having a very lovely dream about being in the greenhouse with Hamilton, the sweat trickling in the most tantalizing manner down the length of his neck, and Hamilton bent at the waist working at some plant on the ground, and him in guilty idleness, watching. The dream was immediately dashed, forgotten as quickly as it been created, and Washington nearly fell out of his bed he was so startled. He hurried to light a candle, as if seeing his bedroom would clarify the matter.

“Can you imagine?” said the shouting voice. His husband. The words were slurred together, and the footsteps were heavy and unbalanced. Drunk. The ball, Washington thought.

“It’s abominable, this sort of treatment! Treasonous! Monstrous! How can a man presume these kinds of things?”

“Lord Hamilton, perhaps-- yes -- perfect -- ” Lafayette’s voice. The shouting trailed off.

Washington imagined his servant gently herding Hamilton back to his bedroom. Then--

“We are going the wrong way!” Hamilton shouted, and then his voice increased in volume and his footsteps thudded closer. “It is very important to alert a man when he is being slandered, for how else should he know who to defend himself against? Lafayette, why are you getting me lost in my estate?”

Washington frowned at this proclamation. Moments later, his very drunk husband opened his bedroom door without even knocking and staggered into his bedroom, followed by his very exasperated-looking servant.

“You!” Hamilton said, pointing a shaking finger at a still-bewildered Washington, who was squinting at him in the semi-darkness. “There you are! Lafayette intended to get me lost!”

“Or put you in your bed,” Lafayette muttered.

“He cannot. I have already memorized all the maps of the estate,” Hamilton boasted, and stepped further into Washington’s bedroom, still looking at him with wild, drunk eyes, which were visible even in the low light of the candle.

Washington thought he ought to prepare himself to be yelled at. He watched Hamilton veritably pour himself into his desk chair, glance as dismissively as he could at his work, and then look to him.

“Can you believe---” Hamilton began, with all the makings of one of his familiar rants, and emphasized by his visible drunkenness “--the things that are said about you? Can you imagine what sort of man would go so far to slander your good name? And then expect me to participate! As if I am some kind of ….spy!” Here was an accusatory glance at Lafayette, who rolled his eyes. “As if I have some sort of secret, terrible information about you that would suggest your monstrosity! As if you have shown me some secret ambition that you have to ruin the country or the army to misery, when in fact quite the opposite! As if you have not tried every possible thought to create the best country and army you could manage, but you are thwarted by these cowards and pigs like Henry Laurens!”

“Lord Hamilton,” Washington managed, barely, for he was not accustomed to being awoken in the dead of night by very drunk men stomping into his bedroom, “You are very drunk, and you should go to bed.”

“Bed!” Hamilton proclaimed, as if he had never heard of anything so monstrous. “How can a man sleep when his husband is slandered! His general! His name dragged through the mud in the most odious and inconsiderate of manners!”

Washington looked up at Lafayette, who was holding his own candle, and looking very tired himself. “I tried to manage him to his bedroom, sir, but he was very focused on alerting you as soon as he was able.”

“I thank you that I have been made aware of these events, sir,” Washington said to Hamilton, who was looking at him very wildly, which made a strange contrast to his bespoke, if slightly ruffled, jacket. “We shall address the matter in the morning. Please allow Lafayette to escort you to you room, so we may all return to sleep.” This sentence was punctuated by a very large yawn.

“I almost dueled that rat Conway!” Hamilton snarled, pacing in the bedroom. “He dared suggest you withheld supplies! And then implied you wished to be a king! As if you had married me so I will could be some secret brilliant advisor! Have you ever heard such nonsense!?”

“Quite abominable,” Washington said, without really listening. Lafayette yawned in the doorway, and Washington looked at him. “Go to sleep, Lafayette. I believe I can manage my husband.”

Lafayette looked as if he was about to argue, but Washington frowned at him.

“As you wish, sir,” he said, and closed the door when he exited.

It was just the two of them now, in the semi-dark bedroom. Hamilton seemed larger than the space, in all his drunken fury. He paced, each step all at once precarious and solid, muttering loudly, the words indistinguishably merging together and impossible to separate. Washington took a breath, and then he stood up, and gathered his desk chair, and placed in front of his bed.

He sat back on his bed. Hamilton stopped his pacing and looked at him, and the bed, and the chair.

“Sit?” he asked. Hamilton stared at the chair, as if he was waiting for it to offend him.

Washington drew his shoulders back and sat up straight. He folded his arms behind his back and cleared his throat.

“Sit, soldier,” he said, in his general’s voice.

Hamilton sat without thinking. His energy repurposed itself into a furiously tapping right foot.

“Report.”

“Men slandering your name, sir. Misrepresenting you. Misunderstanding your deeds.” The words were still slurred, but they were intent now. Honed, like the blade of an infantryman. “I know you would not approve of a duel, but I set him in his place.” Here, his husband bared his teeth. “I indicated why your failures appeared as failures, and tore his conspiracies like wet parchment, and shred him like tender meat.”

Washington was not sure which part of this report he was finding more difficult to process: the unexpected defense, or the bare viciousness of it. He put them both aside. Now was for orders, and reflection later.

He knew that the thread between them was tenuous. It would never work to order Hamilton to go to his bedroom.

He banished the fear, for commanders had no fear, and especially none while deploying soldiers. Hamilton waited, coiled, for his next order.

“Bed,” he said, and he stood, gesturing.

Obediently, Hamilton kicked off his shoes in a completely habit-formed way, then dumped himself into Washington’s bed, fully dressed. Washington looked at him, and the bed, and their tiny lit space, and thought hard about what to do next. There were, of course, many other beds in the estate, and even some rooms actively tended to for visitors.

“Are you to join me, sir?” Hamilton asked, looking at him. Washington wondered what he saw, though his liquor haze.

“Yes,” Washington said, for there was really no other answer. He settled himself behind Hamilton again, feeling the warmth of the man through his full dress. He realized, distantly, that the circumstances had reversed themselves since the last time this had happened, and wondered what it meant.

He lifted his head and blew out the candle. Hamilton muttered something, indistinguishable.

“Much to do tomorrow,” He muttered into Hamilton’s ear, in the most commanding voice he could manage. It was an effort to sound such, between the softness of his bed and the warmth of this body - this man that he desired, despite how much he should not - and the comforting darkness.

“Always, sir,” Hamilton said.

Chapter Text

He awoke before dawn, as he was accustomed to, and Hamilton was gone. Lafayette appeared.

“Breakfast is ready, sir,” Lafayette said, and dressed him in his work-clothes, “I hope it was no great effort to manage your husband last night. I tried as much as I was able to corral him into his bedroom, but he was quite insistent on reporting to you your slander.”

“I am quite confident you tried to the best of your ability; he is not a man easily dissuaded, and more so drunk, I imagine.” There was a beat. “Do you think that his circumstance occurred?”

Lafayette frowned. “Drunks are not known for their believable lies.”

“Perhaps not lies, but no believable truths, either.”

“True.” A pause. “I can ask for more details, if you would like them? I suspect he is not going to be leaving his bedroom for a good while, after keeping such hours.”

Washington shook his head. “No. I shall review it.”

“As you like, sir.”

They walked down to breakfast. Washington did not need much imagination to think of what it looked like for Hamilton to go off on a man for some slight, real or imagined.

Hamilton. Defending him.

Maybe he had been wrong, to think Hamilton was not on his side, in some larger sense than their small world. Maybe - the councilman in him was not ignorant of the advantage that a well-informed, political gentleman could provide to his side. Hamilton’s age was a particular benefit here - a link to the next group of councillors. They were already politically aligned, at least in private. Washington knew, however, that a man's private political opinions did not always match his public expressions.

But if Hamilton had defended him with his ferocity, to his comrades, and without him there--

“Sir.”

Lafayette’s voice shook him from his thoughts.

“Are you finished?”

Washington looked down at his half-eaten breakfast, and took a few more bites, “I am,” he said, and stood. “I might like to speak to Lord Hamilton later. You suspect he will be in his room all day?”

“He has no scheduled events that I am alerted to, sir,” Lafayette replied.

He nodded. “Excellent. I shall be in the greenhouse, then, if I am needed, though of course I would prefer only urgent disruptions.”

“Of course, sir,” Lafayette said, and smiled. Washington went up to his study first, and gathered some of his books, and a pen and some ink, and then went down to the greenhouse to mark down some notes about the flowers Hamilton had coaxed into blooming for him. Perhaps he had underestimated Hamilton’s stance as an ally to him. Perhaps his husband had thawed to him more than he had originally thought.

He drew the stems and the blooms and noted how they had been arranged so that they might grow better.

It was only that, as he had known previously, Hamilton would never say such a thing outright. Hamilton could never permit another person to know that he felt even the smallest sliver of kindness for Washington, least of all Washington himself. But his actions spoke volumes without any accompanying explanations: one did not pull a person’s arm around themself without expecting comfort from it, and one did not vigorously and loudly defend a man they did not at least respect, and even piss-drunk, Hamilton had obeyed him as a superior officer. Washington knew quite thoroughly all these events had happened; it was only that Hamilton did not acknowledge them, as if he could pretend that they meant nothing. They meant something. Things meant things.

“Things meant things,” he said to himself, and laughed a little laugh, because his thoughts sounded mad out loud.

Hamilton would never say anything about it, if he could manage. Washington felt, somewhere in the pit of his stomach, that he had to say something. He knew Hamilton would become upset, because Hamilton became upset if Washington pointed out that the sky was blue and Hamilton was trying to pretend otherwise. Washington was already tangled up in enough webs regarding this thing that was the new them, and now Hamilton’s drunk escapades had shown up like reinforcements. New soldiers, mixing and merging in their battalions, swelling the ranks.

He decided to himself, as firm as he was able, that he would say something. Hamilton would not have to say anything, although Washington could imagine few things less believable than Hamilton being quiet on a subject. What would he say?

He finished his drawings, and tucked the book between his arm and his ribs, and walked along the aisles. He watered the plants and checked their stems and frowned at little bites in their leaves.

He would say….

He closed his eyes and saw his ranks, and ordered them to fall in.

He would say that he did not mind when they were close.

He felt an ease with his husband these days, the sort of ease he did not usually feel with other people.

He would say that if Hamilton had any war-horrors, or bad dreams, or unbecoming thoughts, and he thought he might feel better to express them, Washington would never laugh and never judge and never shame.

He would say that he was honored that Hamilton had defended him to his friend, that he was never required to do such a thing, that Hamilton should only defend him when he deserved to be defended, and he did not alway deserve so.

He would say that --

He touched a petal of one of the flowers. It felt like silk under his fingers.

He would say that he did not deserve things or explanations or kindness from Hamilton, but he would not reject them if they were freely given, for rejection was ungentlemanly, and more importantly without his consent he had grown into wanting these things very badly, in the pit of his stomach and the back of his mind and all along his spine.

He took a step back and looked at the display. He sighed, because he had not intended for things to be like this, and for his feelings to be in such disarray. He took a breath and gathered his confidence, and set the tangle of his mind to the side, and concentrated on his plants, and wondered at their complexity and beauty. He could not help but notice that somehow he seemed he knew vastly more about the greenery that surrounded him than himself.

He had always thought of himself as a man who understood his own desires, and wants, and likes and dislikes. Well, Hamilton had seen to that. Hamilton had very thoroughly reviewed all the parts that Washington thought good about himself, and mercilessly indicated their flaws. But Hamilton had also taken his arm and held him close after some night-terror, and defended him in the company of friends, and suggested some better version of him be preserved in history.

He gathered himself, and looked at his plants. He leafed through his plant journals, and read over his notes to give his thoughts something to focus on, lest they wander in muddled circles. There was still the upsetting rumblings of a future conflict in the back of his mind, and in his trouble with Hamilton, he had not really granted it the amount of thinking it deserved. He was fairly sure that any upcoming conflict might not come immediately, but of course, one could never truly know their enemy’s thoughts and motivations.

He exited the greenhouse. He stayed in his work-clothes as he entered the castle, put his books away in his study, then walked down to Hamilton’s corridor. He could not hear the sound of the man muttering to himself, which seemed to be the norm when he was in his library. He walked up the steps, and put his ear to Hamilton’s door, and heard his husband talking to himself about financial policy.

He took a breath and wished he had whiskey, and knocked.

“Come in,” Hamilton said, so Washington did, and closed the door behind him.

Most of Hamilton was hidden behind a chair, and his head was bent over his desk as he scrawled furiously with his pen.

Washington’s forces were prepared, and armed, and in neat lines, and he could do nothing but send them to battle.

“I was wondering if I might have your attention, for a moment,” he said.

Hamilton looked over the back of his chair at him, and frowned. “I was expecting Lafayette,” he said.

“I am sure he will be around shortly, if he is expected.”

Hamilton turned back to his desk, and picked up his pen again. Washington stared at the back of Hamilton’s chair, as if it would solve all his troubles.

There was another knock on the door.

“Come in,” Hamilton said again, and this time Lafayette entered, with platter of food and a small pot which Washington guessed to be coffee. Lafayette met his eyes, asking without words; he shrugged, because he could hardly explain his feelings for Hamilton to himself, and barely to Hamilton. A third, even a third who was so dear to him - seemed nigh impossible.

“Your breakfast,” Lafayette said, and put the platter on an empty spot on Hamilton’s desk, and poured him a cup from the pot, which was indeed coffee. “Is there anything else I can manage for you, sir? A cup for coffee for General Washington?”

“I do not expect him to stay long,” Hamilton said. Washington clenched his arms behind his back to absorb his tension, then relaxed it away.

Lafayette turned to exit and looked at Washington again, and shot him a perfectly Lafayette kind of look, as if they were sharing some secret but Washington did not know what the secret was. This left him and Hamilton alone again, and Hamilton now drinking coffee and eating biscuits, and still writing.

“Might we have a conversation?” Washington asked, again, carefully.

“Is dinner not the time for conversation?” Hamilton asked, distracted.

“I was hoping we could discuss now, rather than then.”

“Well, begin, then.”

“If possible, I might like to see the face of the man that I discuss with.”

The back of Hamilton’s head lifted, and Hamilton sighed. He turned his chair around and set it back down on the ground with a soft clunk. Hamilton had apparently decided not to get dressed yet, and instead wore only his undershirt and breeches. He reached over the arm of his chair for his coffee cup, and took a sip.

“Sit,” he said, and gestured to the other chair in the room, a thread of vague irritation still in his voice. “Begin.”

Washington very dearly wished that he had some coffee. He wished the most for brandy, and then port, and then whiskey, and then coffee. Anything else to put in his hands, as a way to express some of the tension that he felt, would have also been acceptable. But all he had were soldiers that were thoughts, and their feeble attempt at organization.

“How are you feeling?” he asked, his voice hesitant, “You seemed very drunk last night.”

At this, Hamilton’s face flashed through a number of expressions before it settled on what pretended to be dismissive apathy. But Washington knew better now, and knew plenty of people who did not reflect what they felt in their faces, including himself.

“Better, thank you,” Hamilton said, coolly, “Sleep has done me well and I imagine coffee will do me even better. It is exceptionally thoughtful for you to come all the way here to inquire upon my health.”

Washington settled his fear, and said, “I have not come only for that, sir.”

“In what other manner may I assist you?”

Washington wished desperately for a speechwriter, or an aide, at least, that he could reference, but it was only him, and his cobbled-together words, a pathetic army. But it was what he had, and it would have to work, and he would manage.

“I wish to provide you with some information about how we have managed ourselves this last little while,” he began, and Hamilton’s eyebrows went up, his expression unimpressed. “That it is my great pleasure to be there for you, when you suffer some war-horror or illness, and my greater honor, to be defended by you, when your friends strike at me in my absence. And that I wish to make clear that, if there is any way I may be of service, that I may gain your trust in a way that you do not have to be ill or drunk to reach out to me, I would hurry to it, if I knew what it was. For I---” Hamilton’s expression was sealed-off now, opaque and unreadable, and Washington faltered, and rallied. “-- I have come to very much enjoy your company, and your person, for it is obvious you are very brilliant, and very expressive, and I think very charming, in a particular way. And I know, perhaps, that I do not deserve your friendship, or your company, but without meaning to, I have come to desire it. If you wish to offer it, you --- you do not need an excuse.”

Hamilton’s eyes glinted in the sunlight. His husband had gone very still, at the end, and Washington bit down on the inside of his mouth, to resist the urge to squirm. It was not the worst speech he had ever given, especially without a man to assist him to write it, and over a topic he was wholly inexperienced in discussing.

He would wait for a response, or perhaps to be dismissed, before he could say more. Even though there was more, about how it was evident Hamilton was a very brave soldier, and worthy of Washington’s respect both personally and professionally, and that his passion for reading was magnificent, and his ability to acquire knowledge and then apply it was spectacular --

“I would not think you respected me so,” Hamilton said, finally, and his voice was angry just at the edge, deadly sharp and dangerous, and Washington thought of defenses and retorts. “Given that you manipulated me so when I was drunk.”

“Manipulated?” he echoed, but he knew what Hamilton meant.

“Talked me into your bed like a snake,” Hamilton replied, and his anger was more evident now, “You knew a drunk soldier would obey you, so you knew it would be easy to have me.”

“Sir,” Washington said, and he felt the anger at the accusation hot in his throat, and tough to resist. “You know that was not my intention. I have been honest with you about myself, and would hope you would be the same. I did what I did because I would be concerned that you would be lost on the grounds in the dark, or fall down the stairs and cause yourself some grand injury. And do not pretend you are some soldier-golem, for we both know you much better than that. If you did not desire to sleep in my bed, you could have fled with little effort.”

Hamilton stared at him, resentful. Washington cleared his throat, in an attempt to force his anger back down into his stomach.

“You need not express yourself to me, if you do not desire to be known,” he said, and he smoothed out the rough edges of his voice with effort, “I only wished to express myself to you, so you may know my thoughts on the matter. You have referred to us as a we, and I would be a we with you without a second thought. And for you to know that if you are ever troubled, or afraid, or merely anxious, or -- or unbecoming -- to express to you that I would make my best effort to settle you, if you were to ask.”

Hamilton drained the rest of his coffee and put the cup down on the desk behind him. He crossed his arms across his chest and sat very straight, so that he could look down his nose at Washington. Washington felt quite judged, as if he was a student who had just completed some exam.

“How is this we to be different than what you have always wanted?” Hamilton asked, in the voice of a man who demands the correct answer.

A peculiar relief flooded through Washington, for he knew this answer wholly, in the pit of his stomach, and the ridges of his spine, where his desire for Hamilton’s company sat.

“I would desire us to be something together. It would not be General Washington, and his husband; it would be us. Estate decisions would be made together, and always with the other man’s approval. I would hope that we would always have dinner together, and perhaps breakfast, perhaps you arising early on occasion, and I eating late. And then we could read together, or you to me, or I to you, and you could make your suggestions. I could teach you about every species I have in the greenhouse. I could build you your own greenhouse, or perhaps we could have a collective greenhouse or some specific matter of your liking. We would go riding. You could have suggestions on dinner, and the running of the estate, and the imports and exports, and…”

He faltered, because he was not sure what else there was, to his idyllic we.

“I…... had thought that I had not wanted a husband,” he said, and his voice did not sound quite right to his ears, but there was no retreat now, not in the heat of battle, “But I am learning that I was mistaken, and I have thought there are many ways that perhaps my husband and I would be improved, in this we.”

Hamilton’s expression did not change. His enemy was unflappable.

“Prove it,” he said, unbowed.

Washington thought of laying on his bed the evening before he would arrange the army and send men to battle. He thought of the fear that he had always made the wrong choice, the fear that the deaths of men would be futile, that these noble and honorable soldiers would be cast as traitors and scum in history. He thought of the fear of the wrong choice, and the undeniable pressure, that he alone had to make the decision, and whatever decision he made, he would have to live with it, and have it in his chest, and in his heart, and in his history.

“An effort we could make to create a more united front would be to take a new symbol,” Washington said, and he fought to keep some twist of anxiety from his face and his voice, even though it raced through his blood with every beat of his heart. “If we are the violet, we shall always be me, and you by my side. If we are the bird of paradise, we will be overshadowed by your father.” He took one last breath, and refocused his concentration and his energy, and gave the order, and accepted the responsibility, because that was the sort of man that he was. “You should select it.”

Hamilton’s face twisted, and his eyes, for once, did not mask his confusion. Washington felt some peculiar sense of accomplishment.

“I could ruin you,” Hamilton said.

“Perhaps, but you could always do so, and you never have. And you chose to defend me when you did not have to, when you were uninhibited,” Washington replied, and the sense of calm after the decision came over him. He had reviewed all the plans and facts and information and made a choice; he could not unmake it. He could only defend it, and hoped that it seemed to others a good choice, and resulted in something positive. “And you would also ruin yourself, in the process, as it is a crest for us, not me.”

“You do very well, as the Violet General.”

“Then I shall do just as well as the general of anything else. Citizens learned of me, and gave me new titles of which they always knew were me. They can learn another.”

Hamilton sat back into his chair and looked away, and Washington could see his thoughts, furious in his head. “You have not even made preselections?”

“No,” Washington said, “Limiting you does more harm than good. You are a man who is never satisfied. You will find the exact item that you want, and do not need my assistance, or a handicap.”

Hamilton chewed on his lip. He glanced around the room. “So I should feel free to select anything.”

“Well,” Washington said, and he made some attempt at keeping his voice light, as if this was not such a great decision, and only deserved humor, “Of course a man would not prefer a death-lily or cowardice-weed.”

Hamilton snorted. A weak chuckle forced his way up Washington’s throat, as if nausea did not twist in his stomach.

“Well, I have confidence I will make an excellent selection,” Hamilton said.

Washington took a breath, and then a second, and then a third. “Have I proved myself adequately?”

Hamilton stroked his chin, looking thoughtful. “Perhaps.”

Washington forced himself to accept it, as bitter as it tasted in the back of his throat. It tasted like a stalemate.

“Is there anything else?” Hamilton asked.

“That is all, sir,” Washington said.

“Is there a time I should provide a new crest?” Hamilton asked.

“You should pursue the matter with some haste, but do not settle for a symbol that is not the most fitting, and most representative, of Washington-Hamilton,” Washington said.

Hamilton nodded. There was a pause. Washington thought about leaving, but he had not been dismissed, and it was rude, to leave when one was not dismissed.

“Would you like some coffee?” Hamilton asked, “I was shocked when Lafayette told me that he makes it. How did he learn to make such incredible coffee?”

“He is a man of many exquisite talents, and, yes, please,” Washington said, because the thought of having something to hold was a very nice one. Hamilton poured some coffee into the cup, and passed it to him. He took a sip.

“I was thinking,” Hamilton said, and Washington resettled himself in the chair, because those three words indicated that he would be sitting here for a while. He played a little game with himself, trying to guess what Hamilton would say next. About, that was easy. And next?

Coinage, he guessed.

“About shipping taxes,” Hamilton said, and Washington wondered if he had been close enough to permit himself a victory. He sipped the coffee and listened to Hamilton talk about taxes, and imagined in his head reading battle reports, and looking at the numbers and the reported territories, and thinking that perhaps there had been some success on some fronts. Maybe, if he squinted, enough to convince the men it was a victory. Even if did not improve the effort substantially, it was good for morale, and there was no army without morale.

Chapter Text

That evening, Lafayette delivered to him a large pile of ragged-looking letters wrapped in a lavender ribbon. Many of them were marked with the thistle, the unofficial soldier’s flower, and were from veterans. Washington made it a point to respond to them, even if he could not usually oblige their requests. It was a perfectly interesting way to get his mind off the things which he had done, and made him feel inspired by the citizens that he had fought with and for.

He drank brandy as he did so, and lit a candle to work into the night, because there was a part of him that dreaded his rest. It was not only the war that seemed to plague him, these days, but his husband’s bright eyes, and the unending force of his convictions. It was even worse, now that he knew the warmth of the other man’s flesh, and had heard the rhythm of his breathing when asleep, and watched his face twitched in a dream.

His study door clicked open, and Lafayette stepped inside, and sat. Washington acknowledged him with a glance, then went back to writing his current letter, applauding some man’s valor. He wondered if any of the men in these letters knew Hamilton, before he had become Schuyler. Hamilton was the sort of man who might take the thistle as his symbol: the symbol of endurance, of bearing suffering, of appearing where one’s enemies did not want you to be.

“Sir,” Lafayette said. Washington looked up again from the letter he was composing. “Lord Hamilton wished for me to alert that he shall be away for several days, and not to be startled at his absence. “

Washington sat up straighter, and put his pen down. “I see,” he said, opaquely, “Thank you. That is very kind of him.”

Lafayette arranged himself in his usual seat. “I told him better arrangements could be made if he waited a day or two, but he was very insistent upon leaving today.”

His servant gave him a meaningful look. Washington sighed. “Ask what you want, Lafayette.”

“I have no questions,” Lafayette said, “I merely wonder if you have spoken to him, and what words could have such an effect, to make a man hurry.”

Washington picked up his pen again, and stared at the letter, trying to remember what he had been writing. He found the train of thought, and resumed in the silence that hung between them. He wrote in the letter that he sincerely hoped that the man’s daughter would never have to fight, for the writer of the letter had lost his wife to the war. He signed it with his name, and then dipped his pen in a small inwell of purple ink - more valuable and difficult to forge than any wax seal - and drew his symbol next to his signature. When he looked up, Lafayette was still there, his eyes distant.

“I have told Lord Hamilton to select our married crest,” he said

For several moments, Lafayette stared at him like he was mad.

“He will understand the value I have in him, and his ideas, and his thoughts and concepts,” he said, calmly, because projecting calm was almost as decent as feeling calm, “And there is no one who will strive to find the symbol that is the most accurate representation. If you are concerned he shall pick something ill-meaning, he must wear it as well.”

“Well,” Lafayette said, after he had gathered himself. “I suppose you can not reverse the thing, not with Lord Hamilton being the sort of man that he is.”

Washington frowned. Lafayette met his eyes, firm. “Quite a resounding endorsement.”

The servant’s expression - disapproving at the corners - did not change. “It is choice of great importance to give to a man who has done little more than defend you when drunk, sir. And especially one who has spent much more time against you than for you.” A beat. “Even if he holds you at night.”

“Your approval is not required for the decision,” Washington said, coolly, because it seemed inevitable that Lafayette knew everything about his goings-on.

“Of course not. I am but your humble servant.” Another pause, as Lafayette considered. “And Lord Hamilton’s too, I suppose, though as you know my loyalties are to you, and not the violet, or the house of Washington, or this land, or your estate.”

“Yes,” Washington replied, and the anger left him, because it was impossible to be mad at Lafayette. “I shall never cease to be grateful for it, no matter whatever men, or women, or wars, that happen to enter my life.”

“Enough, sir.” Lafayette looked away, but Washington saw the pull of the smile on the corner of his lip. He stood, and faced fully away, so that Washington could not see his face. “All the things I have done, I have done willingly, and I have never once regretted the actions I have taken in your service. And Lord Hamilton is hardly the most terrible obstacle we have ever faced.”

“He is not an obstacle,” Washington said, to the back of the man’s head. “He -- I believe, perhaps irrationally, that he cares, even if he is monstrous at expressing it.”

Lafayette turned back to face him, his arms folded neatly behind his back. His expression was dubious. “Because he has tended to your greenhouse, and defended you when he was drunk? And permitted you to lie with him? Permit me my disobedience, sir: I would most sincerely prefer him to be your friend and ally than your enemy. But these actions are not significant indicators, and there is no thread between them that suggests some long-term or deeply held loyalty, or that he will treat this choice with the significance it entails.”

Washington looked without seeing at the letter at his desk. He required only a little imagination to morph it into the war manuscript, and hear Hamilton’s voice in his ear. “There is-- no, it is not only that. Only that has occurred, yes. But there is something---” His halting voice was strange in his ears. “He may ruin the choice. But I suspect that he will make some magnificent selection, that will be more comfortable than even the violet has always been. I have a sense about it. Maybe I am blinded by my own attachments. But…”

“No intuition has ever been better than yours, sir,” Lafayette said, something gently inspiring in his voice. Washington felt a swell of appreciation for his man.

“When we discuss the war….” he began, again, trying to put the sense he felt into words. “He is decisive and agreeable. He told me, with his confidence, I should be deified. One could not select a coward-weed for a man they feel should receive such treatment. One does not select a terrible mark for man they had--” Clenched to them, too proud to ask and desperate for comfort. “--pulled, singlehandedly, back from the black mire of his own mind.”

Lafayette nodded in agreement. Then, he made a very low bow, which he remained in for a very long time. “It is not my place to doubt you, sir,” he said, to the floor. “I hope you may find it in yourself to forgive your disorderly servant.”

“You need not debase yourself for me, sir.” Washington walked around the desk, putting his hand on Lafayette’s shoulder and set him straight. “I wish for you to always express to me your discontent; I know you seek only to protect me, and from myself just as much as any other threat. Never think your opinion is not worth my consideration.” He paused, and held the man’s gaze. “I have taken a terrible risk. You are right to be skeptical and concerned, for the information I have acted on is not all words, but feelings. I understand what the consequences could be. But I have done what I think is best for me, and for my name, and for my family, which includes you.”

Lafayette put his hand over his heart, and bowed just his head. The smile twinkled in his eyes, when he straightened. “Direct me as you always have, and I shall be your spear.”

“You may be the spear that assures me we are well-stocked in brandy,” Washington replied, something of a smile on his mouth. “For we may need it for victory or defeat, as such things are.”

At that Lafayette laughed openly. “Allow me to assure you that as long as I possess any life at all, there will always be the best selection of brandy in the country to be found at this estate." He took a step back, perhaps settling his thoughts, and then noded a decisive nod. “You know it is only I care much too fondly for you, and think too greatly for the name Washington to see it face danger.”

“I know, and I shall never forget it,” Washington said, and sat back in his chair."

“Well,” Lafayette said, in a resolute voice, “There is no use in working ourselves into a disaster of thoughts about the thing, considering that decisive action has already been taken. We shall celebrate a victory, or mourn a defeat, and move forward.”

Washington swallowed, and his thoughts flicked back. “I should not, but -- Lord Hamilton--”

“--is going to visit the Ladies Schuyler-Shippen,” Lafayette answered, without missing a beat, “He did not seem distraught, at least no more than his usual agitation. Space to think, perhaps, away from the responsibilities placed upon him by his husband. Perhaps to discuss his tactics with his ally.” He grinned.

Washington put the next letter in the center of his desk. He knew that circumstance well. He looked down at the paper, and drew his finger over the scrawled thistle in the corner.

“I shall bring you some more brandy, sir,” Lafayette said, and turned.

“Thank you, my friend,” Washington said, and returned to his work.

Chapter Text

Washington was careful not to think of what he had given to his husband, and tried to pretend his absence was not so upsetting. Dinner seemed less filling without him, the flavors less explosive without Hamilton’s rant of the day. Lafayette did not draw attention to this, but Washington knew it was evident; instead, his servant only provided his usual updates and proper conversation. It was not that there were no things to talk about: the continued efforts to find more troops, the various disputes of the council, and all the local politics intertwined in these things. It was only that the topics were less interesting without Hamilton’s opinion on them.

It was a momentous relief when the man appeared for dinner several days later, and his temperament exactly as it has always been. There was nothing about him that he had made a decision, or had chosen Washington’s ruin, or had changed in any manner. Whatever he and his adopted sister had discussed, it was veiled to Washington, and he knew better than to ask. It was not likely he was supposed to know where Hamilton had even gone.

Even with his persistent mystery, Washington was relieved beyond any reasonable measure to have him back.

There was a settling of their affairs. They would eat meals together. Washington would also see his husband in the main library, pacing through the corridors and muttering. Sometimes he would be taking notes at a desk with some text in front of him. Sometimes, he would be curled up on a couch, deep in a book. Washington thought he might have liked to have a painting of it, although no canvas could express the intensity of Hamilton, even when he was still.

Washington never saw him in the greenhouse, though he also knew this did not necessarily mean he was never there. But there never appeared to be much movement of his plants or flowers; he had no idea if Hamilton was even considering anything he actually grew for their crest, although a number of his specimens were incredibly rare.

He did not know what to make of it. He had been the violet since the day he was born. It was difficult for him to imagine being something else. The more he thought about it - the more they spoke - Washington became more and more confident he had been correct in his decision to offer his husband this choice. It was the uncertainty, not the end result, that frightened him. He had been many things: son, brother, surveyor, soldier, general, The Great Unifier - but he had always been the violet. There had only been one time when he had almost given up the violet, but the marriage to Martha had fallen through, and he had remained as he was. He was as he had always been.

Several days later, he was working in the greenhouse, and doing disgusting work. He was preparing some very large planters in preparation for a plant he had purchased - a particularly exotic one that would require his expert attention. This plant required a very precise amount of sunlight and water, and also a fair bit of fertilizer for the place it would live when it arrived. As a result, Washington was not only sweaty and dirty, but also, smelling rather unpleasant.

He hardly minded any of these circumstances, really, especially given that he already ordered a bath to be prepared when he was done. He hummed something tuneless and thought about the effort of his plants, and the reward, and what his new purchase might look like when it flowered. It was a very pleasing thought he was distracting himself with, and thus he did not hear the greenhouse door open, and was very surprised by the voice.

“Good afternoon, General Washington,” the voice said.

He startled, dropping a handful of fertilizer all over his breeches and the floor.

It was a woman’s voice, and he could not think of a woman, even Martha, who would have the gall to disturb him in the greenhouse without him knowing. He grimaced to himself, and turned to face his unexpected guest.

The guest, as the voice had suggested, was a woman - a military woman, by the bearing, and also by her breeches. He caught sight of the bird of paradise on her waistcoat, which narrowed the options down considerably.

“Lady Schuyler-Church,” he said, coolly, making only the barest attempts to hide his irritation. “I regret to inform you that I am not currently receiving visitors. If you would like, however, I would be pleased to escort you to the main castle, where Lafayette can see to you until I am available.”

Lady Schuyler-Church - Angelica, he thought - bowed.

“How is your husband?” she asked, if he had not just made a request for her to kindly remove herself from his space.

“Shall I have Lafayette find him for you, in the main castle?” he asked in reply, wiping the fertilizer off his hands and folding them behind him. He stood, and pushed his shoulders back, and made himself broader. “I am not accepting visitors at this time, though I cannot say for my husband.”

“I would rather speak to you about him, if I am to be honest,” she said, and met his eyes, completely unintimidated by his display. “I would have hoped for some small conversation with the esteemed general himself before I am to visit my father tomorrow.”

Something in her expression shifted, hard. Washington heard it for what it was: a threat. There was nothing, after all, that Phillip loved more than his daughters. Washington thought of the chastising, as friendly as it might be, he would get from his friend from dismissing his daughter.

He sighed, and gestured to a stool, and she sat. “What might I inform you about regarding Lord Schuyler? As you know, he tends to keep to himself.”

“I was curious, I confess, if he was conducting himself decently,” she said, “Or if you thought there were places where his conduct could have been improved.”

At least, he thought, she did not look smug about the little victory. He looked past her, to where Lafayette stood at the greenhouse entrance, fire in his eyes. He dismissed the servant discreetly. The man frowned, but disappeared.

“He conducts himself very well,” Washington replied, and under the frustration of being bent to have this discussion bubbled confusion that the discussion was occurring at all. “He is a man of exceptional intellect and a gifted orator. I have come to very much enjoy our time together, and his company.”

Lady Schuyler pressed her lips together, and frowned. The confusion in Washington’s chest surged. He was being tested - challenged? - over Hamilton, and he did not know why.

“Do you enjoy his company frequently?” she asked, casually, and he saw through it.

He was being questioned. Interrogated, maybe, although that seemed a little too serious. He quickly reviewed the information he knew about this woman. Angelica Schuyler-Church. His husband’s eldest adopted sister. His military commander. Some part of him recalled her as being a socialite, although this was not the behavior one expected out of a woman who knew proper manners. Her husband’s family, the Churches, were a rich merchant family.

Hamilton’s voice was in the back of his mind.

She married John Church, when she could have married---

“We eat dinner together, and occasionally luncheon,” he answered, keeping his face immune to his thoughts as they raced. “We discuss political ideas and the state of government and the military.”

Lady Schuyler grinned, as if they were compatriots. “How have you managed to coerce him from his studies?”

Washington waited for a long, studying moment. Interrogation, he thought again, was not too serious a word, especially reconsidering Hamilton’s history with her. He had been in politics long enough to understand that one could not tread carefully enough at the intersection of politics and romance.

“Coerced,” he said, softly, “would not be the word I would select. I have never coerced him to do anything in our marriage. I sincerely wish I might never have the need to coerce anyone to do anything, ever again. I suspect he willingly leaves his studies, occasionally, because he appreciates my company. However, I would not be able to verify that, though if you were to speak to him, he might have the answer to the question. Perhaps he only pities the chefs and means to save them from cooking dinner twice.”

Lady Schuyler considered both these options, and seemed satisfied by neither.

“I have always known him to prefer dinner in the library,” she said.

“Of which he has had, and many times.” Washington frowned, and anger grew like a weed in his chest. He wondered what Hamilton had written, that Lady Schuyler had such a monstrous impression of him. “If I might ask, how have you acquired the impression that he is coerced? As I said, I believe he is in today. Likely he would be willing to provide much greater assurances than I would, and settle your doubts.”

“I find people have warped views of themselves, the way one is reversed in a mirror,” Lady Schuyler smiled at him. “So instead, it is best to review the same circumstances through a different pair of eyes.”

Finally, he sighed, and surrendered. It was not as if he could not argue with this woman, or order her exit, or have her removed by force. It was only that he did not need Phillip Schuyler giving him some trouble over it, however harmless the trouble might be. It was also that Lady Schuyler was Hamilton’s sister, and military commander, and some sort of romantic something. It was worth some irritation to at least make an attempt to be generous.

“Would you like to discuss more in the castle?” he asked.

“That would be excellent,” she said.

He offered her an arm, as sweaty and fertilizer-smelling as he was. She took it without complaint. They walked.

“I understand you served as Lord Schuyler’s commander on the plains?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” she said, “He was assigned under me for most of the war. Your husband is a top-caliber solder - brave, honorable, courageous. Although,” Here, she smiled, “He has a habit of talking back. It’s quite lucky he was assigned to me. Another commander might have had him flogged, or court-martialed.”

Like you, he heard, unsaid.

He swallowed back the anger at the accusation. “Very lucky, indeed.”

Lafayette met them, as charming as he always was, at the front entrance.

“Lafayette, please attend to Lady Schuyler-Church while I gather myself.”

Lady Schuyler frowned, suddenly. “General Washington, you are fine as you are. I prefer casual company.”

“Please, Lady Schuyler,” Lafayette said, “Come with me.”

“I shall not be long, my lady,” he said, and bowed a small bow. “Lafayette is capable of providing anything you may need, in the meantime.”

She looked at him, hard. He turned, and hurried to his bath.

Was this Hamilton’s doing? Some sort of test he had to pass, as part of the decision? Something he had to say? Was he supposed to self-flagellate to this woman, whom he was only barely acquainted with? Was there was some part of their routine he was supposed to mention? What would be the reward if he succeeded?

What would be the penalty if he failed?

He undressed and scrubbed himself in a hurry, waving off servants. The scented oils in the bath did not calm him, but they at least removed the harsh smell of the greenhouse. He towelled himself off, thinking as he was dressed.

It was not that he was unaccustomed to being interrogated, but this was a different sort of challenge. He was familiar with Lady Schuyler-Church only through formal events, and she had never seemed so aggressive, then. But Hamilton had known her closer, and Washington fought to remember their conversation about her.

A wild devil in battle, he had said.

Washington adjusted his cuffs and went downstairs. Lady Schuyler was drinking brandy in the tea room. Lafayette stood, attentive in the doorway.

“If I had known I would have been blessed with the honor of your company, I would not have been so underdressed,” he said, and sat across from her. Lafayette appeared at his side, with a glass of brandy for him.

Lady Schuyler smiled a politician's smile at him. “Lord Schuyler defended you quite vigorously at a ball at few evenings ago,” he said, and sipped her brandy. “You must be quite the husband to raise such an army.”

“So he told me,” Washington replied, his confusion masked.

“Has he?” she asked, and her cheery front flickered. Concern appeared in her eyes, then was hidden.

“I admit I do not possess your experience in being married, my lady,” Washington said, careful to not reveal his continued bafflement, “but it cannot be so uncommon for a man to tell his husband when he is discussed.”

Lady Schuyler chuckled, but it was forced. He had provided the wrong answer, somehow. He was not supposed to have known that Hamilton had defended him, which seemed absurd. Despite all the troubles, they were married. He would, of course, tell Hamilton if the man had been discussed, and he hardly found it odd that his husband would do the same for him.

“Might I change the subject to military manners, General?” Lady Schuyler asked, instead of following up on the subject. She wiped the frown from her face, adopting a more serious expression. “I had hoped for your insight on the changing climate.”

“Certainly,” he said, and folded one leg over another. He knew, without a doubt, that this was merely the second phase of his interrogation.

“I had hoped you might talk more about the future actions on the coast, and what deployments might look like?”

He pressed his lips together. Honesty was without a doubt the best option, and for two reasons. First, he had long considered himself a just and noble general, and it would not be just or noble to deceive a soldier, nominally under his command, when he did not have to. The second reason, and more importantly in this particular context, that if this was a test from Hamilton, then John Laurens would have to be mentioned. Washington had only just received the man’s first reports.

“Of course,” he said, and took a sip of brandy. “The reports are slow to come, but my understanding is that we did well to send reinforcements. The ocean is tumultuous, and the scouts are nervous.” He gathered himself, and said, “Do you know Lord John Laurens? From my understanding, he is a close friend of Lord Schuyler.”

“I do,” Lady Schuyler said, and nodded. Washington felt a thrill of victory in the back of his mind, that he had guessed correctly.

“The quality of his reports is marvelous,” he said, because it was the truth. “He is without a doubt an extremely capable soldier, and I have no doubt he will be an extraordinary officer in the future.”

Lafayette touched his shoulder. He looked up at the servant. “Will Lady Schuyler-Church be joining us for dinner?”

As much as he would have preferred otherwise, Washington said, “She is completely welcome, if she does not find herself otherwise occupied.”

“It would be my pleasure, General,” she said, and Lafayette disappeared. She continued, “About Lord Laurens - there seems to be some confusion among the gossip. Did you dispatch him personally?”

“Personally?” Washington echoed. “We were not previously acquainted, if that is the question you mean to ask. I knew by reputation that he was competent, well-educated, driven and loyal - the perfect suggestion for the appointment.”

Lady Schuyler nodded. She asked a few other strategic questions about the force, and the accommodations, and the commanding officers there, and their battle chances. Washington gave her the best answers that he had.

He asked about her war experience, and she talked about the plains.

In the middle of the story, Hamilton walked briskly through the room, and stopped mid-stride.

“Angelica,” he said, confused, although there was a smile on his lips that fought through his bafflement.

“Alexander!” She smiled at him, and then looked back at Washington. “The general and I were just discussing the plains.”

Hamilton looked at him with open suspicion. It was a very strange look for a man who had planned an interrogation. “Were you.”

“Would you like to join us, Lord Schuyler?” Washington asked, instead, and stood, gesturing to his chair.

Hamilton glanced between them. “General Washington, is it not too rude if I may speak with Angelica privately?”

“It is not too rude at all, sir,” Washington said, and he bowed to both of them, and hurried to his study, still wondering about what would obviously be the discussion of the results of his test.

He sat in his study chair and thought. It was not proper, to act as Lady Schuyler was acting, surprising him with her questions, as pointed as they were. It had seemed like the sort of thing Hamilton would do as a test, only Hamilton had not looked like he had set her upon him when he had appeared, on his way to the main library. Washington stared at the neat desk, and the thought dawned on him: if Lady Schuyler had somehow doomed his chances of a friendship with his husband -- if Hamilton suspected Washington had lured him into some kind of trap- --

He clenched his fists. There was too much at stake.

There was a knock, and he’d barely managed the beginnings of asking for identification - Lady Schuyler seemed the type to interrupt him in his private study - before Lafayette was closing the door behind him. An unfamiliar frown sat on his servant's face. Washington raised his eyebrows.

“What sort of noblewoman surprises the staff of an estate, and then cannot be left to enjoy tea without running off and disturbing a man?” Lafayette muttered, his anger audible in his voice. “Do you intend to inform Lord Schuyler of this rudeness by his eldest?”

“Phillip is blind and deaf to the faults of his daughters,” Washington said, and dismissed the thought with a wave. “As for my husband and Lady Schuyler, she was his commanding officer on the plains. They may have---” He paused, and took a sip of his brandy. “I suspect they may have felt very tenderly for one another, at some point.”

“They are both married,” Lafayette retorted. “What are her intentions with this interruption?”

“I thought it might be a test of Lord Hamilton's,” Washington said, “But he seemed very confused and suspicious when he saw her. If he thinks I have entrapped him, or turned his ally against him….. That could be disastrous.”

“I understand. Should I not be at dinner? For formality’s sake, but also to reduce your numbers. Or will that make him more suspicious?”

Washington sighed. That the answer seemed more important in light of the choice he had placed in his husband’s hands did not better display his options, or make clear what the answer should have been.

“I think,” he said, with evident uncertainty, “That you should only be a servant. Although, with Lady Schuyler-Shippen…”

“I ate,” Lafayette said.

Washington squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his fingers to his temples, feeling the beginnings of a headache grow in the base of his skull.

“I think, sir,” Lafayette said, softly, and stepped around the desk, to touch Washington’s shoulder. “I should not. I will attend only. If Lord Hamilton asks, we may defend ourselves with the truth - which is, of course, that is not proper for servants to dine with lords. Among your close compatriots, such rules may be bent, but for a woman of military rank and noble status such as Lady Schuyler-Church, etiquette should be maintained. And it shall be less intimidating, without me.”

Washington touched the hand on his shoulder and nodded. “Yes. Very well.”

Lafayette took a step back, and bowed. “Lord Hamilton is a very impressive judge of character; I do not think this shall lead you to fail, whatever sort of obstacle it is.”

Washington nodded again, but there was less enthusiasm in it. “Dinner is not too long from now. We shall see, then.”

He watched Lafayette close the door behind him, leaving him to his silence.

Chapter Text

Unfamiliar anxiety surged through him as he walked down the steps from his study to the main dining room. It was not that he had never eaten dinner with his enemy, or been in uncertain territory with another lord or lady, or dealt with stakes that seemed impossibly high. It was not that there had never been an event where he did not know what the outcome might be. It was no single thing that caused his heart to beat loud in his chest and the short hairs at the back of his neck to stand up. It was everything about the situation.

It was Lady Schuyler, and her alien aggressiveness, and Lord Hamilton’s confusion, and Lafayette's absence from the table. It was that he thought he had been tested, only the test proctor had been puzzled at the sight in progress. It was the thought, curdling in his stomach like milk, that every effort - every feeling - every word - would be for nothing.

Looming dark and viscous like tar in the front of his mind was that Hamilton would feel betrayed or flanked or just generally furious, and would rend him. Hamilton could flee. He could select some horrible crest, or perhaps throw the choice in Washington’s face. Hamilton would think of some new and terrible way to make his heart feel like charred wood.

He showed none of his. He made sure his dress was immaculate, and his face was even, and his eyes were firm. Decisive. The Great Unifier, he thought.

He sat in the chair Lafayette pulled out for him. He studied, intensity hidden, the two other occupants. To his left, Angelica Schuyler-Church, with a socialite smile and her own perfect dress. To his right, Alexander Schuyler-Washington, his husband, stone-faced and pristine. There was a distracted warmth to his face, as if he had intended to be calm and forgotten.

Lafayette served them, and it seemed cruel that Lady Schuyler was sitting in the servant’s usual seat - his staunchest ally replaced by this woman who at best demanded information for him, and at worse despised and mistrusted him completely.

“Have you ever met the Church family, General Washington?” Lady Schuyler asked, as she sipped her soup.

Washington thought for a moment. “Only at events,” he said, for he certainly knew of them - one of the wealthiest trade families that there was. “I admit to not having the pleasure of a close acquaintance.”

“John is a lovely husband,” she said, and Washington caught Hamilton’s subtle eyeroll, “But his work takes him all across the world, and he is not at my side as much as I might like. He has contacts in all our ally countries.”

“Your estate must be beautiful, with such a network,” Washington said.

“We are very lucky, to have what we have.”

“You and Lord Church have worked hard. You need not lower yourselves by subscribing your success to luck.”

“Thank you, General Washington,” she said, and smiled.

“What are you and John doing now?” Hamilton asked.

“John is negotiating a new contract with some overseas merchants. The trouble on the coast upsets them.”

“Already?” Washington interrupted, and for a moment his fears about his husband were momentarily forgotten in the light of more serious issues. “The reports I received were more serious than we thought, but not so serious as to disturb shipping…?”

“I think John will settle it,” Lady Schuyler said, with a confident smile in his direction, “The Churches are one of the most influential families. What they desire occurs. And if I am to get involved, all the more strength.”

“Influence can be quite useful,” Washington responded, making a note to look more closely at the coastal reports later. If merchants were hearing of trouble before he did, then there was a flaw somewhere he would be required to address.

Lafayette brought them their main course.

“I think Father would not wield his name so,” Hamilton said, looking at Lady Schuyler, and then bent his head to concentrate on cutting his beef.

“It need not be Father,” Lady Schuyler said, “I am the eldest, after all.”

“Angelica,” said Hamilton, something masked in his tone that Washington could not identify. Lady Schuyler either did not notice, or pretended not to - he couldn’t say. He could say, however, that he felt her gaze as he ate, and his intuition burned in the back of his mind.

“There is not only strength in Schuyler, and Church, but also in the combination of the two, which I possess. If things are not going as they ought, I imagine they could be resettled so that all parties were satisfied with their agreements.”

Hamilton frowned, and put down his fork. There was something here, Washington thought. He tilted his head, as if listening closer would hear the words between the words.

“I would hope that a comprehensive review of things would occur before any significant force, influence or otherwise, was brought to bear,” Hamilton said, carefully, his brow furrowed.

“Of course,” she replied, and smiled a patient smile, “But the suggestion of force can be almost as valuable as the force itself.”

She looked at Washington. It was not the sort of look associated with military talk. It was scrutinizing, and it was personal.

She thought she could threaten him.

He bit down on the inside of his mouth to resist the scowl, and kept his face perfectly level, and ate as if a strange noblewoman, the former love interest of his husband, had not barged into his estate and threatened him with the combined force of her political families.

Hamilton must have heard the threat too, because he stopped mid-cut of his beef, and stared at Angelica in open disbelief. Then, remembering himself, he resumed his task and swallowed back whatever original thing he was going to say. “Father may not bring force to bear on behalf of your husband, but that is because he has always attempted peace, when it was necessary. He is not cowardly or over-hesitant, and you stepping up in his place could be viewed as a very rash use of strength that should be wielded only in moderation, especially given the power of the merchants.”

Hamilton looked at Washington, his husband’s expression again unreadable. There was something he was unaccustomed to - something different - about the anger that stirred just underneath his surface.

Lady Schuyler considered Hamilton’s statement as she ate. Hamilton watched her, and Washington watched him.

“Sometimes decisive action must be taken,” she said, simply, “I'm sure General Washington would agree.”

They both looked at him. He knew Lafayette was standing at the entrance to the kitchen, but he could not look over, not like this. Even without the boost, he knew that he was expected to make a statement, and he gathered himself, masking it by taking a swallow of wine. “Decisive action is necessary in every victory,” he said, in his most polished voice. They were not talking about the war. They were not talking about merchants. They were talking about him. They were talking about him as if he was some terrible, looming battle, or some bloodsoaked enemy, or some monstrous opposition. So what did that make the victory, and what did that make the action? “But it should only be taken when a force knows as much as they are able, if time is not of the essence. Advisors must be consulted; information must be reviewed; there should be meetings among all the members of the group, to make sure that even if there is no consensus, everyone understands the events that are about to unfold, and what steps to take in the following hours or days.” He paused, and took another bite. “What your decisive action may look like, and when it should be taken, would depend on your conflict. In true war, for example, sometimes quick action must be taken, and battles will be conducted while there are still questions - but is such the case the same, with your merchants? Do you have time? Can you discuss this confusion with your merchants, and suppliers, and the Church family, and your father? If there is time to do these things, they should be known. Information powers action. You should make your best effort to be as informed as you are able, before you act.”

There was a short quiet, aside from silverware against plates.

“It’s evident how you had so much success in the war, sir, with such a reasonable and understanding view of the situation,” Hamilton said, although there was something cool to his voice. Even so, Washington’s chest went hot with success.

“What if one of the parties is deceptive?” Lady Schuyler asked, “Certainly, you have been in situations where the words of a man cannot always be trusted.”

“What reason does a merchant have to lie to you?” Washington replied, feeling more confident with Hamilton’s agreement, “What does the merchant gain when you bring even the threat of force to bear? Distrust is the enemy of good commerce. Unless you see a reason otherwise, at least in peacetime, we should always assume the best of our fellows, when we are permitted the luxury. Merchants need connections and acquaintances and networks and vendors.” A beat, as he considered. “I admit to being no merchant, but I imagine the last thing a merchant might like is to have a sword rattled at them.”

Lady Schuyler watched him for a moment, and then ate, and for a few moments there was quiet again, and Washington felt some peculiar kind of victory over an enemy he did not understand. Lafayette took their plates away, and served dessert: for each of them a small fruit tart with whipped cream, and a glass of sweet dessert wine.

“My concern,” Lady Schuyler said, first with a glance at Hamilton, and then back to Washington, “is there may very well be a reason for deception. That even though merchants may maintain beautiful ships stacked with cargo, and marvelous storefronts, and excellent staff, they may harbor something dark in their storerooms.”

“Angelica,” Hamilton said, and Washington heard the warning in his voice, and wondered desperately what it meant.

“Any decent merchant would allow you to investigate these storerooms,” Washington said, forcing himself not to reveal any offense he took at the implication, “Unless you suspect that they then hide trap doors or secret rooms? How could they confess their honesty to you?”

“The issue, General,” Lady Schuyler said, her voice calm as she swallowed a bite of the tart, “Is that much of the information is conflicting. And when one hears things about a merchant that are unpleasant, and yet the merchant plays at being charming, how can one expect the truth? How can one expect honesty when one has heard only brutality, and seen things one does not understand, that one struggles to explain without assuming coercion?”

“Angelica,” Hamilton said, again, and a little louder this time. Washington caught his gaze, for a moment. His husband’s eyes were wide and angry, and perhaps in attempt to restrain himself, he stuffed the tart in his mouth all at once. It fit, albeit awkwardly.

“What sort of investigation have you done of these things?” Washington asked, and it was only practice that kept his face straight as he absorbed these thinly-veiled accusations. “Or these reports? It sounds as if you have a very thorough investigation to do, of your merchant. Taking rash action could have catastrophic results.”

“It is only that my cargo is very precious---”

“Angelica!” Hamilton shouted, and he stood up, knocking his chair over. He slammed the palm of his hand into the table, rattling their plateware and tipping his wineglass, which fell with a clink and went rolling across the table, leaving a little river of sweet wine across the tablecloth. “Stop it! I am not cargo!”

Washington startled, and upset his own wine glass, but caught it before it fell.

“Alexander--” Angelica started, but Washington knew the vicious gleam in Hamilton’s eyes, and the particular set of his mouth.

“What are you doing to my husband?” Hamilton asked, and in his characteristic manner, gained energy and rage as he carried on. “You asked me how I was doing and I told you things are going quite well and for some reason you still attack him like he is beating me in the dark! Do you think I have lied to you? Where is my trapdoor or secret room? Or is this just you needing to reach into my life and demand I act a certain way no matter what I happen to say or the way the world is actually turning? I thought being married might have ended that, but I clearly was completely mistaken! Are there any other parts of my life you might like to control? Do you have any ceremonies or balls I should attend as your puppet? How would you like to plan my funeral?”

Washington forgot himself and gaped. Lady Schuyler stared at Hamilton, her composure broken for a moment, before she gathered herself back together.

“It is not like you, to defend a man you have previously slandered,” she said, calmly, and did not look at Washington. “And it is very like you to indicate that things are going well, when they are not.”

“You call me a liar, and you call him a liar too,” Hamilton said, his lip curling in an ugly snarl. “In what sort of manner would you wish for me to indicate things are well? Do you have some sort of magical spell you can place on me? Or would you like me to strip, so you can see that I have no wounds? Or might I have some servant tell you some secret gossip?”

Lady Schuyler crossed her arms across her chest. “It is not, perhaps, that you are a liar. Only you have a tendency to be tender with the truth, when it suits you. And how can I believe that things are going wonderfully, when you have previously expressed to me that things are only going disastrously?”

“I know it may shock you, but sometimes, the circumstances of a man’s life might change, and perhaps he might come to a different conclusion about the way his life is,” Hamilton said. “For example, yes, things were ill-fitting to my circumstances, but now they have much improved, and are going quite well. Or are you going to tell me to my face, in front of my husband, that I am spouting nonsense to you?”

“The husband that you have spoken about as a monster, and now defend?”

The fact that he was being spoken about as if he was not sitting right there momentarily overwhelmed the pang of guilt that struck him, but with Hamilton mid-storm, there was no place to mention either of these points.

“Yes, one thing a person sometimes does, when they are a real creature, and not at every moment establishing what is the best way to advance themself like some sort of status-golem, is grow an evolved opinion of a man,” Hamilton snapped.

“All you have done, Alexander,” Lady Schuyler continued, and her voice was still cool and angry as she stared at her brother, “is write me letters professing the horror of your situation. And then, suddenly, you cease writing of him at all. And then I hear John Laurens has been shipped off---”

“Bring John into this at your own peril,” Hamilton hissed between his teeth.

“Me?” Lady Schuyler echoed, “I am the one to bring John Laurens into it? When your husband has flung him far away?”

“General Washington got him that post because he wanted it!” Hamilton shouted, and he flung his arms out, and only narrowly avoided smacking Lafayette across the face, who was cleaning the spilled wine off the table, “Even after he made a fool of himself, my husband still gave him the only thing that I could not! Would you like to see the letter John wrote to me, after he was assigned? How much he felt he could become something, because of a favor the general had done for me, and for him? How thrilled he was for the opportunity his father would never let him have? And my husband suffered because he got my friend that post! But if I did not write it in a letter to you, it must be a lie!”

“Still,” Lady Schuyler said, and the anger rung clearer in her voice now, and Washington heard a bit of her composure fall away, “When was the last time you made such a change of heart for a person? Especially a one you vilified so thoroughly?”

“I am not allowed to think differently of a man once I know him more completely?” Hamilton retorted, “Or can I only do so when I am permitted by you?”

“I am merely always attempting to have the best for you, Alexander,” Lady Schuyler said, and Washington saw the rage on his husband’s face, already boiling, increase like someone had blown on it with a blacksmith’s bellows.

“The best for me!?” Hamilton roared, and he banged his fist on the table, rattling their silverware again. “It is merely upsetting to you to think that someone else might be important in my life without your explicit direction!”

“Alexander, we were never going to have anything,” Lady Schuyler said, and there was a crack in her personality now - something warm and human and concerned.

Hamilton ignored whatever it was, split flying from his lips as he raged. “How could it ever be? Being that I was merely a capable street orphan before your heroism and generosity lifted me out of the gutter and dressed me in your silks so you could drag me around on puppet’s strings! So you and Phillip Schuyler could complete your matched set! So your father could discuss how generous and heroic he was. And then, so you could marry me off to whoever you both well pleased and brag about your political connections! Because all that ever mattered to you was your name! And that I might have desires other than that, and might have been a real person, with real desires, before you dressed me in a decent jacket, is impossible for you to imagine!”

“You may cease to put words in my mouth, Alexander,” Lady Schuyler said, something like desperation threaded into her voice, “I cared about you. I knew what you were going back to after the war. I thought that a title could increase your standing---”

“You have never known anything about me,” Hamilton snapped, and Washington felt the viciousness of the insult, even if the blade if it was not directed at him. Lady Schuyler recoiled, like she’d been slapped. “Because you have never sought to. You have only sought to forge me into something. I have been your soldier, and then I was your rude little brother. And that I have not been forged to your liking when I am out of your range is distasteful to you. You might have thought that the general would have continued your work, but in fact he lets me read and write as much as I please.”

Finally, Lady Schuyler looked at Washington. Washington looked back at her, his face a mask against his thoughts, which sped too fast for him to read them.

Hamilton took a deep breath, gathering himself. “You have all the things as you would have liked. I have been married to one of the most powerful men in the country, and as a result that power is also mine. And this estate is also mine, and the servantry is also mine. Did you not expect for me to have these things, when you forced me to take them? Did you think they would be withheld from me? Did you marry me to a man you thought would keep me as a trophy?” Here Hamilton laughed, sharp and unpleasant. “I admit it must be most unfortunate for you to hear I have even discovered that he is quite the gentleman, and exquisite company, and very charming and quite generous. I have succeeded beyond any dreams you could have imagined. I did not even have to marry a dull, boring merchant to do so.”

Lady Schuyler scowled.

“So allow me to act as you might like a nobleman to act.” Hamilton drew himself up, and pulled his shoulders back, and narrowed his eyes. He gained some control over his voice, although the edge, as vicious as Washington knew it could be, was still there. “Your behavior in my house, Lady Schuyler, is completely unacceptable. You cannot come in here and interrogate the head of the household as if he is some schoolboy. General Washington is one of - if not the most - respected and intelligent men in this country. He demands your respect, and your manners, which I know you possess.”

“And,” he continued, every word sharp, “Being that you are on my estate, it is well within my power to have you removed from it. Perhaps you may be permitted to return if your apology is profuse enough.” A beat, and then Hamilton’s eyes found Lafayette, who had put himself back into a corner. “Lafayette, please see Lady Schuyler-Church to her carriage.”

Lafayette must have agreed, but Washington did not hear him. Instead, he watched Hamilton throw one final, venomous gaze at Lady Schuyler before clenching his fists together and hissing, as if he could release his anger like steam from a pressure valve. Washington thought for one terrible moment that Hamilton might fling himself bodily at the woman, so intense was the rage that hovered around him like a lightening storm. Instead, his husband turned, his movements uncoordinated with his anger, and veritably stomped off towards his room.

“If you would come with me, Lady Schuyler,” Lafayette said, tonelessly.

Hamilton’s footsteps shook Washington from his stunned shock. He looked up at Lady Schuyler, and then Lafayette, and their silence felt as if Hamilton had taken all the words that could be said with him from the room. He pushed himself unsteadily to his feet, managing the barest of polite nods before hurrying down the hallway, their unexpected and unpleasant guest already gone from the front of his mind.

Chapter Text

Washington knocked on Hamilton’s door. He could hear the man pacing in his bedroom.

“Who is it?” Hamilton asked. “If it is you, Angelica, I shall not be hesitant to have you thrown bodily from my estate.”

“General Washington,” Washington said.

“Come in,” Hamilton said, so Washington took a breath and opened the door and stepped inside. Hamilton had removed his jacket, waistcoat, and neckcloth, and thrown them all on his bed. He looked up at the sound of the door clicking shut, took Washington in, and sighed.

“You deserve an explanation,” Hamilton said, in a resigned voice.

“I deserve nothing,” Washington answered, gently.

Hamilton’s expression softened for a moment, and then his lips pressed into a firm line. “Sit,” he said, pointing to the study chair. Washington sat.

Hamilton resumed his pacing in silence while Washington wondered if he was going to be accused of sabotaging their relationship and excommunicated in some new manner. Some very small part of him, as naive as it was, offered that perhaps that might not the case.

“When the war was ending,” Hamilton began, which Washington took as a very good sign, for it hardly seemed like the beginning to a vicious tirade, “There was nothing for me to return to. I was an orphan. My father left my mother when I was young. My mother died shortly after. I was shipped up to live with a cousin, who took his own life not too long after we had found a regular schedule. I survived on side-work for a while. There was a storm, on the island where I used to live….” Hamilton trailed off, and Washington was no longer sure what to think. “I wrote this letter, a long time ago, about the storm. Merchants thought I would be a decent investment. They brought me here. I attended school, but I had none of the social understandings any of my colleagues had. Then, in the middle of my studies, we went to war.”

He took a deep breath, and stopped his pacing, and sat on the edge of his bed, crossing his arms across his chest. He stared at his breeches, in uncharacteristic silence. Washington thought about what to say, and then decided there was nothing correct to add.

“Angelica was my third commander,” Hamilton continued, after the pause, “I had never met anyone like her. She was amazing. Funny, and passionate, and aggressive, and unafraid, and smart. She was an incredible military leader. It hardly mattered to her that I was no one, that I had no status, no nothing. I knew how important she was. I saw how other people treated her. I wanted to be treated in the same manner. We were never lovers, but she was everything to me, through the war.” He shook his head, shaking off the memories. “So, when the war was over, I was returning to nothing. I knew our soldier’s pensions would be delayed. I was not even sure if the men who had funded me before the war would still be interested.”

“I see,” Washington said.

“Angelica knew. I kept it a secret, where I was from, the best I could - but she knew. Of course, we could never be married - she was already married to John Church, and she could never be married to a statusless orphan like me.” He closed his eyes. “She thought her family could support me, but even with funds, I would still be ignorant of how to act, and invisible to the individuals that I respected - men and women of politics.”

“So Phillip decided to adopt you,” Washington said, and Hamilton nodded.

“Angelica convinced him into it. She taught me all the rules. How to dress, how to act. When someone was a sir, or a lord, or a general, or anything else.” He grinned a nostalgic grin. “How to eat, what to say. What words meant what. For a while, it was extraordinary. I had never worn clothes so fine.” He dragged a hand over his sleeve, “Or had such reliable, high-quality food. Or had so many books. But the novelty wore off. I felt -- captured. Before the war, I had raised myself. Done what I wanted, outside of schoolwork and finding something to eat. So, you can imagine, between Angelica, who thought her name was the most important, and being held up as the pinnacle of a war hero’s kindness….”

Washington grimaced. “You had never been so constrained before. A military commander would have much different demands of you than a sister, especially given that the Schuylers were wealthy before the war, and were now more famous than ever. You would be expected at every moment to display social understandings that you had never known.”

“We fought all the time. Like that. About me eating dinner with the family, and reading too much, when I should have been riding, or acquiring some skill I had never had, or practicing my manners. And the worst of it was….” He laughed a little laugh, and drew his hand over his face, “That, of course, I would need to be married.” Washington frowned, but Hamilton hardly noticed as he continued. “So there was a stream of suitors. As far as being marriageable, I was… “

“A shut-in and adopted fourth child, who liked books too much,” Washington said, and Hamilton actually laughed at it.

“But one day Phillip came in and said that he had found someone who was willing to marry me. Better than his wildest dreams, or mine, as if he could understand my dreams. A person who he respected and admired, a man of strong moral character, with excellent status, and a very good library for me.”

It seemed like forever ago that they had stood on that dais, dressed in their most elaborate clothes, and Hamilton had glared at him with hate in his eyes, and scowled the whole time, and made quite an impression. He had had a much different understanding of his husband then. He had barely even thought of Hamilton of his husband.

He had acted shamefully, he thought, to do what he had done. They should not have even been here.

Hamilton must have noticed the guilt writing itself across his face.

“So, I was married,” Hamilton said, and made his way back to his desk chair, where he pulled his undershirt out of his breeches and let it hang across his lap. “And I may have written some unpleasant things regarding our arrangement, to my friends.”

“As you should have, given how your hand was forced,” Washington said, and Hamilton dismissed it with a wave.

“I imagine Angelica felt guilty that her attempts to improve my life had ended up with me in the care of a man, who, despite his reputation for being fair and just, was being reported as monstrous and tyrannical.”

“I was being monstrous and tyrannical,” Washington said, quickly, “You were well within your right to indicate your displeasure. It was only that was too blind to understand your complaints. I could not understand how a man could be so reticent. I was like Lady Schuyler. I did not understand your desires. I thought they could only be mine.”

“You have never been monstrous and tyrannical,” Hamilton retorted, and his voice was hard. “Self-absorbed, perhaps, and maybe ignorant, but…..” He paused, and looked away. “You have never been monstrous or tyrannical. You have never had me do anything I did not wish to do. You could have abused me in any manner that you desired, but you have done as you always said you would: left me to read and write as much as I like. Thank you.”

Washington caught his Hamilton’s gaze. “I….” he began, and very promptly forgotten the vast majority of the words he had ever learned.

“Anyway,” Hamilton said, snapping out of the moment and leaving Washington staring at him, baffled, “Her questions to me make sense now. She thought you had coerced me into protecting you at the ball. And thought you sent John away as a threat. And she thought that she could twist your arm into … being easy with me.”

“I thought you enlisted her to interrogate me,” Washington said.

Hamilton looked at him for a moment, and then he threw his head back and laughed, loud and bright, and Washington had never heard something so lovely. It was possible, his brain added, that he had also never seen something so lovely, with Hamilton’s mouth split wide in a smile, the visible length of his neck, the lack of tension in his shoulders. He felt, all at once, the urge to touch, to know more about all that exposed flesh, to reacquaint himself with the warmth of that body. He clenched his armrests and kept himself squarely in his chair, fighting the desire that crept under every inch of his skin. It would not be so difficult to cover the three or four steps, to draw just the tips of his fingers down the line of Hamilton’s jaw, or perhaps even the slight sight of his wrist where his sleeve was unbuttoned.

Hamilton regained his composure, his grin still wide across his mouth. Washington hoped he was not looking too foolish, although he was not sure there was anything he would have been able to do about it, given that control of his face seem to have disappeared on him.

“I thought you had enlisted her to interrogate me,” Hamilton said.

"I was worried that you might, and be upset.”

“It would not have been like you, to do such a thing, but men do change, after all,” Hamilton mused, still sitting in his chair. He drew a hand across his mouth, which Washington’s eyes tracked. “But it was only Angelica doing the sort of thing she likes to do: control other people. Which, if you are a regimental commander in an army where being a charismatic, decisive leader is a positive quality, can be useful. But if you are an older sister to a rebellious, adopted younger brother…” He trailed off, and flashed Washington a sort of knowing smirk.

“It is less than desirable,” Washington said. Hamilton nodded.

“Not that you might know what it is like to be commanded, like you are expected to obey,” his husband continued, still smirking a little at him, “Even between generals and politicians, your word holds water and argument. Your thoughts are never dismissed. Your position is always considered.”

t was not quite a blow, and certainly not by the standards Hamilton usually operated on by using words as weapons. It was a little sharp, yes, but Hamilton did not seemed to be attacking him, or at least - attacking him all the way, if such a thing could exist. A feint, maybe? Was he expected to lord over Hamilton the responsibility and pleasure of always being asked what to do? Or perhaps….

He saw the angle. Hamilton could not see it like he could. It was something like a surprise, but it was the best way for him to press forward. He frowned, and Hamilton cast him a look, trying to read him.

“Not so, sir,” he said, “I had an older brother as well, who was spectacular at discounting my words and dismissing my thoughts. He was very firm with me, for a very long time, until I was formed precisely as he liked.”

He knew it would be unexpected. Hamilton’s eyebrows furrowed; he sat back in the chair, reconsidering. “I was not aware,” he said.

“It hardly comes up in conversation, I find,” Washington replied, and he shifted in the chair, resting his ankle on his other knee. “I would not have expected you to know.”

“You do not usually cut the impression of the younger brother,” Hamilton said, with a humor in his voice.

“As my older brother would have liked.”

Hamilton chuckled at that. There was a moment, perhaps as Hamilton considered his options in light of this newly-gained information. “Will you tell me about him?” He asked.

“If you would like,” Washington said, even though it had been a long time since he had talked about his brother, and certainly in the detail that he suspected Hamilton might be satisfied with. It had not been on purpose; he would never have tried to forget his family, of course, or discard information that might have been relevant to any cause or individual, but there was value in retaining one’s history unless it was completely necessary. The deified general that Hamilton seemed to like so much, of course, could never have relied on anyone, or been dismissed the way Lawrence used to dismiss him, as an older brother did to a younger.

“I would like,” Hamilton said, and settled himself comfortably in his chair.

Washington thought about where to start. Technically, Lawrence was only his half-brother, but neither of them had ever really considered such a thing to matter. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine what the story might look like if Lawrence told it, or how the man might like it to be told. He began.

The name Washington, and the violet, had never been nothing, but before his heroism it had only been a middle-class sort of nobility, far below the dramatically elevated station which he possessed now. Lawrence, he explained, had always had much larger ambitions for them. Lawrence bought land and held office and was a soldier. Lawrence had always returned, from one venture or another, to indicate in some way that Washington could improve himself. There had been many things at first: his tendency to gamble, his desire for personal station, and Lawrence’s least favorite part of him: his temper.

“You seem very good at withholding your temper,” Hamilton said. “Lawrence must have been quite good at managing you about it.”

“He was persistent, if nothing else. I was a terrible student at the matter, though,” Washington said, and Hamilton cocked a questioning eyebrow at him. “Lawrence was always very upset that I would lose my temper at inopportune moments. Gentlemen withheld their tempers, he would say. And we were only middling gentlemen then, but when we were the type of gentlemen he desired us to be, it would not be acceptable.”

Hamilton looked as if he wanted say something, so Washington waited.

“And it was because of this man, you became who you are?”

“Yes.”

Hamilton thought about this for a moment. “I would have liked to meet him.”

“He would have liked you, I think,” Washington said.

It was a peculiar feeling, to recall someone who had been gone for so long. He tried to imagine Lawrence at his side now, commenting on his affairs. Lawrence had been much better at handling the social aspects of his career that Washington forever dreaded. He wondered what it might be like, to have Lawrence muttering disapprovingly in his ear about Lord Jefferson or Lady Schuyler. Lawrence and Lafayette would have gotten on quite well. Lawrence would have also quite liked Lord Hamilton, as well, though he could only imagine how his brother would have disapproved of the circumstances that brought him to have a husband.

Only then did Washington realize he was expected to say something else, and then realized there was nothing. Hamilton looked at him for a moment.

“Did he die honorably?”

Washington pressed his lips together, and Hamilton opened his mouth to rescind his question, but he held a hand up. “He became ill, before the first war,” he said. “The beginnings of this estate were his. He bequeathed it to me.” He thought about the years Lawrence had been sick, just a cough at first, and then his weakness, until caring for him had been Washington’s sole enterprise, and there had been a stream of advisors and businesspeople managing their various propositions.

Hamilton met his eyes. “If the subject troubles you…”

He offered the bare beginnings of a shrug. “His illness became more and more severe, until I was attending to him for the vast majority of my time. Myself and Lady Dandridge were engaged, but it was clear to me I could not provide for her as an adequate husband should be able to, not when I knew Lawrence must be my priority, as I had always been his.”

He could nearly see the wheels turning in his husband’s head before he realized the conclusion. “You ended your engagement to Lady Dandridge to care for your brother.”

Yes, sir,” he said, and Hamilton gaped at him.

“Let no man ever say you do not sacrifice for your causes,” Hamilton said, gently. Washington met his gaze, much softer than any way Hamilton had looked at him before. He opened his mouth to say more, and found no words. He still remembered what Martha had been like, when he had broken the news to her. She had known, like him, that it had been the only decision that he could come to. Lawrence had been terrible then, a shade of himself.

“And then you went to the first war,” Hamilton said, finally, talking out his thoughts. “And when you returned…”

“She had married Lord Custis.”

“A mistake, I think,” Hamilton replied, and something was forced in his voice. Washington frowned sharply at him. “Only that she did not know how eligible you were then, and how much in demand you would later be, and how impressive you would become, with all your land, and your titles. Instead she made a different choice.”

“I think you would be wise not to speak ill of Lady Danridge, even in jest,” he said, coolly. Hamilton held up his hands in surrender. “She knew there was a possibility I could never return, and to wait was not in her best interests for a multitude of reasons. She made the best choice for her. We maintain a very pleasant companionship, I think.”

Hamilton ran a hand over his face. He grinned a tired sort of grin, lost in his thoughts. “Phillip wondered why you ever looked further than her, long before I was considered for the matter. The moment the rumor began, that you were unmarried because you were defective, the answer had always been Lady Dandridge. He was baffled that you took so long, and that you considered me for even fractions of a moment."

“I have no doubt that Phillip’s opinion is the opinion of many, and likely continues to be, even now.” He settled in the chair again, and looked at his hands. It had not been so long since he had been unmarried, and he still recalled, decently enough, every conversation he had had with Martha about the matter.

There was a silence, as he thought about how he had ended up with this unique young man, and not the woman he had previously been engaged to. He knew, of course. He had not ended up anywhere. He had done exactly as he had wanted.

“My reasons are complicated,” he said, in the quiet.

Hamilton studied him. “If it disturbs you, we need need not discuss it.”

“It seems hardly fair for you to discuss your troubled beginnings and I keep secret why I have married you,” Washington replied, although a low sort of dread had begun to churn at the base of his stomach. He could see, as a general was capable of seeing, the way the conversation would go, and all the likely parries. But he was too far in to retreat, and there was nowhere to retreat to, at this point. He prepared himself for the explanation, and then the counter-attack which was sure to come. Perhaps, he thought, he would uncover some perfect strategy to neutralize it.

“You need not explain why you married me. I already know,” Hamilton said, with his familiar confidence. All at once his husband became very sharp, and sat up very straight, and Washington’s dread increased tenfold as he realized with a jolt that Hamilton had seen the point he was going to make, and long since counter-attacked him. He had simply only realized now that his forces were in ruins. “Because,” his husband continued, as if he was reading from a declaration, “I am the least bothersome husband you could find. I am not politically dangerous or threatening - not only am I an adopted fourth child, that is known for speaking too often and too frankly, and possess little standing of my own, but I am also a Schuyler, one of your closest allies. If you were to marry Lady Dandridge, you would be forced to be a husband yourself, and perhaps a father. You would have to leave your estate, of which you are very fond, and all the things that you like; your correspondence would have to be redirected to some new place; you would have new servants, that did not know your tastes. You would meet new families, and would have to learn their tastes, and if they were your allies, or your enemies. You would be a new person, with a new title, and a new rank, and new acquaintances. Marrying Lady Dandridge would be rearranging your whole life around someone else. You are independent, and firm. You could hardly imagine something worse than having to make such a change.” Hamilton leaned closer to him, and his eyes gleamed.

Like you did to me.

Washington all at once tried to look very firm and very guilty, or whichever one Hamilton would have preferred. He had gotten distracted enough with his own thoughts about himself that he had underestimated his husband. How long into their conversation had Hamilton been planning to place him into this corner? Something hot - not quite panic, but some close relative - grew in his throat.

He needed a response. Hamilton had never once responded decently to an apology, and such a thing would have been worthless in this situation anyway. Promoting himself, or his actions (What would introduce you more firmly to men of politics than the name Washington?) had always gone catastrophically. But what other response was there? To surrender? Hamilton could have hardly more perfectly judged the situation or explained it in plainer, more accusatory words.

He met Hamilton’s eyes. They both knew where the conversation stood. This would be the time, Washington thought with confidence, that Hamilton would rend him. Maybe, as Lafayette had said, he had read too far into the actions Hamilton had taken. Maybe he had made a mistake to suggest Hamilton select a crest. He was due to be shouted at.

“But there are positives to such a thing, I think,” Hamilton said, suddenly, and Washington could not entirely hold back the bafflement from his face. Hamilton was -- relenting? The man stood with his foot on his throat and his sword in his face, and then pulled back. “Such a change can bring new opportunities. Introduce one to new men and women of valor. Bring peculiar servants into one’s life. Marrying Lady Dandridge would not have been the most terrible thing for you, I think.”

A muscle twitched in Hamilton’s mouth - not quite a smile, but enough to no longer count the conversation as a complete loss. Enough for Washington to willingly deceive himself that Hamilton perhaps did not think it the worst event in his life, that they had been married. Enough for him to reverse all of his previous thoughts so quickly that he was surprised he was not nauseated. It was not-quite-a-smile for him, after all. Washington felt very grateful, at that moment, that he was sitting, and not holding anything.

“Yes,” he said, still staggered by the retreat, “Yes, I think I would have managed well enough, there, if I had gone.”

“Does Lady Dandridge have a decent library? Would you have built yourself a new greenhouse?” Hamilton asked.

“The library on par with Lord Schuyler’s, I believe. However, discussions never became serious enough that I had began to plot greenhouse strategies,” Washington said. Hamilton nodded.

"Would Lady Dandridge buy you books, if you asked?”

“I believe I would buy my own books.”

“Although,” Hamilton folded his arms across his chest, and looked contemplatively into his dark window, “I hope you take no offense, but she hardly seems the type to read one a manuscript when they are ill. Not that she is not as thoughtful or considerate as a husband or wife who would.”

“I think that she would,” Washington replied, because if he was being led to another trap, he could not see it. He had been in mountain trails less switchbacked than talking to his husband.

“Would Lady Dandridge suggest you wear a new crest?” Hamilton asked.

Washington thought on this for a moment. It was certainly a loaded question, but he was not sure on what level to answer it. “I think we would have remained different, I keeping my flower and she keeping hers. Being that both of us are well-known and considered, it would not be unusual for us to possess such a distance.”

Hamilton shifted in his seat, and met his eyes. He looked resolute. “Well, I would hope you would consider any feedback you had in the process a great honor, given the seriousness of the commitment it entails. Being that you are a man of excellent character, I imagine you would certainly make every effort to find a new crest that suggested nothing but honor and glory for the Washington-Dandridges.”

“I would, sir,” Washington replied, forcing his voice to be firm, even though what he would have liked to say was thank you, with gratitude more profuse than was polite. He would have liked to stand and close the gap between them, and hold Hamilton very closely, and promise every opportunity the man might have wanted.

“Do you think Lafayette will be upset if I ask him to pour me wine in my bedroom?” Hamilton asked.

“If he is, he shall keep it to himself,” Washington replied, more firmly now, because he could speak much more clearly on what his servant should be doing than on how he felt, which seemed very peculiar when he thought it.

“He does not always, though,” Hamilton said. Washington frowned, though Hamilton did not seem upset at the matter. “I suppose you shall not tell me where he is from.”

“He is from the war, as he has said,” Washington replied. Hamilton snorted.

“If neither of you will confess to me his mysterious origins, I shall go on a great quest to discover them myself. I think I have since proven that I am very determined, in such things.”

“You may review the matter with him, if you would like. I can find him, to bring you a glass of wine?”

Hamilton looked at him for a very long time. Washington took his husband in: the piercing eyes, the shape of his face, the line of his neck, his narrow shoulders. He felt all at once a number of conflicting opinions: the guilt that he had married a man who did not wish to marry him, and peculiar, conflicting joy that he had grown to know the man, and something that he could not deny was desire, confusing the other two as well. He was, after all, only a mortal man, who had been told, in a circuitous but nonetheless definite manner, that he had made a very good decision, and by a very handsome and mostly-undressed man whom he had grown quite fond of, regardless of the danger.

“I would very much like that,” Hamilton said, decisively. “Again, if you would accept my apologies on behalf of my sister, for her behavior…”

“No apology is required, sir, but I shall accept it anyway.”

“Excellent,” Hamilton said, and then arranged some papers on his desk, and picked up one to read it.

Washington stood up very straight. He folded his arms behind his back, and took in the back of the chair, and the back of Hamilton’s head. Then he left, and closed the door behind him, and went to seek out his servant.

Lafayette was in one of their many side-rooms, where he could often be found managing the estate. His servant looked very alarmed upon seeing him. “Sir,” he said, “I hope I am not too forward when I say that you have the look of a man who needs at least three fingers of brandy.”

“That is not too forward at all,” Washington said, for he could feel all the places in him where he had been powered by adrenaline alone, and by the thrill of - well, the thrill of this thing he and Hamilton did, this terrifying dance - begin to empty out. “I feel very much like a man who needs three fingers of brandy. And Lord Hamilton requires dessert wine.”

“Immediately, sir,” Lafayette said.

Washington went to his study, and put his elbows on his desk, and his face in his hand. Lafayette eventually arrived, with his glass of brandy, and holding a glass of wine for himself.

“Tell me, sir,” Lafayette said, and he did.

Chapter Text

Washington was quite confident that there was no one who was more aligned with his best interests than Lafayette as he took the man in, in the dim candlelight of his study. Even he would have put their fledgeling country before his personal desires; Lafayette would never have done such a thing.

He drank the vast majority of his brandy and was feeling somewhat drunk by the end of the story. Lafayette had barely sipped his wine, but he was, as always, an excellent listener.

“He indicated quite clearly that he knew you had acted cowardly, and forced him to suffer for your cowardice,” Lafayette said.

“You could say so less harshly, but yes,” Washington replied.

“And then said that there were things not so terrible, about it.”

“Yes, although none were myself.”

“And that selecting a crest was a great honor, and one he would take very seriously.”

“Yes, although he did say so suggesting I would be the one to make the decision.”

Lafayette watched the wine in his glass.

“Well?” Washington asked, feeling a familiar itch of liquored impatience slide up his spine. “You are never merely being silent, with that expression. You have thoughts, and I would like to hear them.”

“I am still thinking them, sir,” Lafayette retorted, unperturbed by his demand. “When I have finished thinking them, I shall tell them to you.”

There was a silence, wherein Lafayette stared at one of the few candles lighting the study in the dark of night. Washington realized that he had no idea what time it was, although he had the sense that it was late. He and Hamilton had passed the time very quickly in Hamilton’s room, and then he had repeated the events over again. He was hardly tired, even though he thought he should have been, which likely was a result of the drinking. At least the brandy had taken a fair bit of the tension from his stomach; his thoughts came easier. The talk had, in fact, been a rousing success: he had learned more about his husband, and traded only things about himself; Hamilton had told him it was not some tortuous hell to be married to him; Hamilton had said that a man should treat the decision Washington had given to him with utmost respect and effort. Hamilton had even seen his weakness and not pounced on it. And Hamilton had done it all in his undershirt, attempting to distract him by displaying the much-too-tempting hollow of his throat.

Washington did not usually consider the pleasures of his flesh, but he was not usually so pleasantly drunk, and he had never previously been married, especially not to a lean, intelligent man with a soldier’s musculature who preferred to not wear a neckcloth.

“A rousing success, I think,” Lafayette said, finally. Washington frowned at him.

“I suspect you have thought more thoughts than that,” he said, disapprovingly.

“Many, in my lifetime,” Lafayette admitted, “but I think there are fewer things to say about this than you suspect. Things are as you have said them. All the things you have said are excellent things to hear.”

Washington drew his finger around the rim of his brandy grass and thought about the time Hamilton had showed him a scar along the line of his ribs, where he had been stabbed. “Do you think he is handsome?” he asked.

Lafayette looked up from wine glass, startled. “Handsome? I suppose, though I confess to some inexperience with gentlemen. But he is intelligent, and not scarred or deformed, and while he may not be obviously muscular, he is certainly lean, with a well-designed face. I have seen much worse. It would not be terrible to have him on your arm at a ball.”

There was a beat. Lafayette continued to look at him. He kept his eyes on his glass, which was now drained.

“It is not incorrect to think Lord Hamilton is handsome, if by some chance you do think that,” Lafayette said, gently, “but I think it would be wise to restrain yourself from expressing such to him.”

Washington’s thoughts flickered back to husband. He could see him clearly in his mind’s eye: his casual posture, half-undressed, eyes distant as he spoke. “It is frustrating, that he insists on not wearing a neckcloth.”

Lafayette made an agreeing noise.

“It is only peculiar,” Washington continued, as he stared at the wood of his desk through his glass, “that I have married myself to a man with the goal of not changing myself at all, and I have found myself always wishing for his input, and his company, and wishing to know what he might like about a thing.”

There was a very long, frustrated silence.

“Out with it,” he said.

Lafayette quirked an eyebrow at him. “Out with what, sir?”

“Your thoughts. I can see them in a cloud in your head, and you are keeping them from me for no reason.” Washington sat up straighter in his chair, and gazed at his head servant, and thought of all the circumstances that had lead to the two of them being here, at this table. The brandy made it easier to consider the past and follow the strings of fate that had led him - both of them - to the present, and this peculiar moment. “I shall not be upset, if you have something disturbing to say.”

“It is not disturbing,” his servant said, and he put his mostly-empty glass down on Washington’s desk so he could fold his fingers together and look at them. “I am merely a very busy man, with very many thoughts. It seems unlikely my servant’s thoughts are all so useful to such a magnificient general.”

Washington cast him a sideways glance, and Lafayette offered a wry smile back. They shared a silent moment, laden with history. Then: “I may be drunk, but you cannot flatter me to distract me from the fact that you are hiding things from me. I shall be focused, in this moment. I am intent. Report.”

“Are you sure?” Lafayette asked, still smiling his knowing smile. “I am aware you do not wish to be bothered by minimal inconveniences that cannot be managed, or that can be handled without your input.”

“Yes, I am sure.”

Lafayette sat up much straighter in his chair. He folded an ankle over his knee and put his hands across his leg. Then, he took a breath, and Washington leaned in.

“I think, sir, that you are in love with him.”

Washington sat back in his chair. “I am not.”

“No?”

“It is not proper form to be in love with a man you have forced to marry you,” he said, because it was obvious. Rude was putting it lightly. Washington did not know that much, admittedly, about being in love, but it seemed like it required a great amount of sacrifice from both people. He had already asked far too much from Hamilton, and that was only for their easy camaraderie they currently shared. He liked Hamilton very much. There were many admirable qualities about him. But to love his husband would be a step too far.

Lafayette laughed. When the servant met Washington’s eyes, the humor had drawn away from his face, and his voice was thoughtful. “Despite your best attempts, I have never known you to be the best at managing proper form among your colleagues, sir,” he said, a little wry, “You aspired to be unmarried in a world where it is a noble’s great honor to be joined; you are a hero in a world filled with conniving villains; you are truthful in a world filled with deceit; you have a mysterious head servant who has appeared from nowhere and, now, a low-station husband half your age. What of these things suggests to you ‘proper form’?”

Washington rolled his eyes. As much as he knew the words were meant with no disrespect, Lafayette’s grasp of the truth was, as always, extremely uncomfortable.

“You may offer me as much effusive praise as you like. Say I am a god among men if you desire. I am not in love with him.”

Lafayette continued to look at him much too closely. “It is only out of obligation that you worry so much about how he thinks of you? And value his opinion so highly? And think thoughts about his bare neck? I have never once see you care for someone like you do Lord Hamilton, with the exception of perhaps Lady Dandridge, which is a terrible blow to your argument. If you feel about Lord Hamilton only camaraderie, tell me of a time you became distraught when General Schuyler or General Knox disdained some plan of yours, and then you were so upset you paced in your study for hours until you could find some way to improve your reputation.”

This was a task Washington could easily conquer to prove his position in the argument. He, Schuyler and Knox had had many arguments through the war years and continued, even as allies, to debate the proper to way to run a country. Knox, for example, was an artilleryman, and usually brought his own ideas to whatever battle they were going to fight.

But Knox telling him that he was wrong or ignorant about some specific situation had never made him felt the way Hamilton telling him he was wrong made him feel.

Phillip, of course, had more similar military strategies, but his complete life as an upper-class nobleman (whereas Washington had been middling gentry), had given him much different opinions on government, even if they shared many similarities. But he has never been so upset, when Phillip disagreed with him, or in some weak moment, was unkind.

“It is not fair, to request such a thing of a man who has drunk and been subjected to so much excitement in his household,” he said, finally. Lafayette, at least, respected him enough not to look smug in his victory.

“It is not a contest, sir,” Lafayette said, “It is not, and never has been, and likely never shall be. It is never my intention to prove you wrong, or upset you, or suggest you are not the most brilliant man I have ever met. But you have asked me what I thought, and I have told you. I may be wrong, as I have been many times before. Perhaps I am overprotective of you, as I know myself to be, and I wish for you to think it a weakness to protect against. And, if I may continue to discuss my thoughts, I think it not so terrible, that you love him, if perhaps you do. He does not seem a man who has had much comfort, in his life, and while I cannot speak unbiased, I know no one greater to play that role.”

Washington slumped in his chair and felt the defeat in his bones. He knew much about surrender and retreat, and the unforgettable sight of the ugly truth. He knew almost nothing about love. His own parents had been cool to one another, agreeable and kind but not affectionate.

“Have you ever been in love, Lafayette?” he asked.

“I was permitted to have a childhood crush or two, but in truth, I was betrothed, since I was old enough to understand what the word meant,” Lafayette replied. “And now, of course, I should not be distracted from my duties.”

“Of course, you know that if there was someone you desired…”

Lafayette grinned, and dismissed the topic with a wave of his hand. “But enough about me. I am not the one with a deep conflict in my heart. Should I discover the future Mrs. Lafayette, you shall be promptly alerted.”

“It merely seems deeply unfair to be in love with a man whom you have forced to marry you,” Washington said with a heavy sigh. “Have I not asked enough of him, that he must accommodate me in such a manner? Have you heard of a way to become out of love with a man?” Lafayette pushed himself out of his chair, paced around the office once, and then came over to Washington’s desk, leaning against it next to his chair. Washington looked up at him, disconsolate. “I cannot merely be satisfied that he tolerates me, and offers me his very many opinions, and blesses me with his company?”

“Being in love with a man cannot be so torturous that it deserves the misery you seem to be imbuing it with,” Lafayette replied, looking down at him. His servant picked up the empty brandy glass and studied it. “You are not forcing him to love you back, or bed you, or attend to you in some unreasonable manner. It is not as if this revelation has shackled him. Although, perhaps--”

“How can one suppress such a thing?” Washington asked, the frustration rising in his voice. He stood, and took broad steps across the room, staring at his hands. “There are moments when he is talking about - about anything - and I wonder what it might be like to be closer to him. I consider myself a man of great control, and even I struggle. Is this to be the rest of my life, that must resist myself?” He drew his hands over his face, and stopped in the middle of the little room, staring back at Lafayette, who had moved himself into Washington’s study chair. “Am I a fool?”

Lafayette looked at him from his chair. Washington thought he probably looked very foolish, pacing in the candlelight study, fretting about something so ridiculous.

“I would never call you a fool, even if you are acting a bit foolish,” Lafayette said, “I think you are not prepared. Men act foolish when they are set upon by surprise. Although it is hard to imagine a circumstance where you had been prepared - who would have imagined under the guise of a dour recluse was such a thoughtful and brilliant veteran?”

“Unhelpful,” Washington retorted.

Lafayette rolled his eyes. “What would you like me to say? There are men in town who will brew you a love potion for small fee, if you think Hamilton might become interested in you after consuming rosewater and chicken stock. But as much as I would like you to be resolved in your actions, you know very well I cannot convince him to care about you, and nor can I convince you to cease caring about him.”

“This is what I am expected to be?” Washington asked, because the thought of some indeterminable future of biting the inside of his mouth every time Hamilton shifted in some particular way was almost unbearable.

“What would you prefer to be?” Lafayette asked, his voice steady. “Is it preferable to you that you should be a man who forces his attentions on another, even another who seems the type that will tell you, quite clearly, his opinions on those attentions? I suppose it would be worse if he was not the type to tell you to cease. Although…. Then you would hardly not be interested, I think.”

“I would never force myself upon another. You may cease to impugn my honor.”

“Well, is there another option?”

Washington lapsed into silence as he thought about the question. He closed his eyes and pressed his fingers into his forehead and tried to arrange his brandied thoughts. His soldiers were disgruntled. They were ignored by their superior officers. They had worked hard, and fought and died for one another and their lands, and they deserved medals. They deserved new coats and extra whiskey. Instead they had been told to wait, again and again. As he desired Hamilton, they desired what they had worked for. They had been told their time would come, and they could not see it. They sulked between campfires and cleaned their equipment with sharp, frustrated gestures. He did not know, he thought, how long he could keep them settled. He studied them from his window and perfectly sympathized with their complaints.

“No,” he said, eyes still closed. He heard the soft sound of Lafayette laying down on the couch against the wall. The silence between them was not uncommon; they had shared many similar silences, after weighing some great decision. This one was not so comfortable; it was thick in Washington’s throat and reminded him of that moment right before one was proven wrong. He opened eyes and glanced towards the door, as if Hamilton was about to barge in and take him by surprise.

There was quiet. Lafayette slowly stood from the couch and collected their glasses from his desk.

“Is there anything I can assist you with, sir?” Lafayette asked, his gaze tender. Washington stood, slow. He felt weary and sore all over, and especially in his chest.

“No,” he said, shaking his head, “That will be all, I think. Perhaps a better answer will appear to me in the morning.”

“Have a good evening, and pleasant dreams,” Lafayette said, and he disappeared down the hallway. Washington stared at his desk, as neat as it always was, and wondered how his thoughts had ended up in such disarray. It was a new kind of storm that had swept into his life. A storm filled with political opinions and a dislike for neckcloths. He sighed, feeling resigned to his confusion. He took the candle with him to the bedroom, put on his nightshirt, and forced himself and all the grumbling soldiers in his mind to go to sleep.

Chapter Text

As he had expected but had hoped against, Washington did not wake up with some complete revelation on how to resolve the issue of his wayward feelings. He had not thought of some way to suddenly feel less involved. He had not come up with some manner to express this to Hamilton in a way he thought Hamilton might approve of. He ate breakfast and then he went to the greenhouse to do a complete investigation of the glass. It was one of the first winterization steps that he needed to take, because if glass needed replacement, it would be a time-consuming process. He could feel the beginnings of autumn creeping into the back of his neck and caught the first sight of the changing leaves on the trees about his grounds.

It was a laborious effort to investigate the entire structure, but he had seen others who had been lax in winterization, and he could scarcely imagine a more horrifying non-war sight than to come outside and have frozen, dead flowers everywhere.

He had arranged the cacti in the back of the greenhouse very carefully to investigate this section of the greenhouse without ending up full of spines. He had not been expecting, when he looked through one of the panes, to see his husband blinking at him.

“Hello,” he said, although it was not that likely Hamilton could hear him well, if at all, through the greenhouse wall. Hamilton gestured around, then walked off. Washington watched him for a moment, then studied his current work. The cacti, he thought, were hardly like to go anywhere, and at least it would help him remember where he was. He left a charcoal smear against the pane he had been studying to remind himself where to return to, then walked down the narrow aisle and opened the greenhouse door.

His husband was standing there with a serious sort of look on his face. He was wearing riding clothes that Washington had never seen before. They were new, without a crest, and were fit snugly to Hamilton’s body, as was the trend. Washington’s thoughts turned traitorously to how well they indicated the lean muscle of the man’s form, and in particular the round of his backside.

“Good afternoon, Lord Hamilton,” he said, although it may had still been morning; Lafayette did not always call him for luncheon, when he was busy. “How are you?”

“Well, thank you, general,” Hamilton replied. For a second, the man was distant, but he regained himself so quickly Washington thought he might have imagined it. “If you are not otherwise occupied, I might like that ride you owe me now.”

“Certainly,” Washington said, before he could stop himself. “I will change and be in the stables shortly.”

“Excellent,” Hamilton said, firmly, and walked off towards the stables.

Washington kept his eyes firmly averted from Hamilton’s retreat and then made his way back to the main castle. Lafayette was waiting in his room with his clothes laid out already.

“He asked me where you were, and if I thought you would agree to a ride. I thought that you might,” his servant said, by way of explanation. “At least, that he would like to have a ride with you.”

Washington dressed in silence, and took a breath. He steadied his ranks, who obeyed despite their grumbles. He went downstairs and off to the stable, to where Hamilton was already sitting on one of the horses, looking at him with an inscrutable expression.

He found Nelson, who had already been saddled, and easily climbed on.

"After you," he said, with a gesture to Hamilton, who clucked his tongue at his horse in response. Hamilton set the pace - a gentle canter, just enough that there was a little wind on the back of Washington's neck. Even at this speed, he could see where his husband could be improved as a rider; he fought against the movement of the horse, and clutched at his beast's sides much too tightly to shift with it. The real problem was that the slow pace was no effort for him, and permitted his mind to wander about their discussion last night, and Hamilton's well-fitted clothes, and all of his other terrible thoughts that occurred when there was nothing else to think about. He was not sure if it was supposed to be a lesson; the last thing he needed was Hamilton to snap at him about something.

Though, he realized with a peculiar jolt, it had been some time since that vicious temper had been turned upon him. In the passing time, Hamilton had showed him all kinds of other parts of him instead: protective, and sick, and drunk, and thoughtful, and distant, and agreeable. He thought about what it might mean, and had to stop to keep his head from spinning. He gave Nelson a push with his thighs and the horse sped up a fraction, until he was next to Hamilton, who stared ahead, his thoughts evidently turned just as much.

"The evenings are going to start becoming cool again," Washington said. There could be nothing more harmless than the weather, could there? "Have you brought cold-weather clothes, or should they be tailored for you? We do not lack blankets, firewood or other materials, but if you have a specific request, you should direct it to Lafayette so he may manage it as soon as he is able.”

Hamilton came back to himself and looked over at him, then glanced up at the sky. His pace slowed to meandering; Nelson went with him. Washington made a note to have his old, wonderful warhorse rewarded for being so understanding.

"No," Hamilton said, "I have brought winter clothes, although they are crested. Perhaps I shall go into town and have new ones made without it.” There was a beat, during which Washington cast about desperately for some other meaningless topic to discuss, but Hamilton resumed. "Is it difficult to winterize the greenhouse? The Schuylers are terrible at it."

"There is a significant effort involved," Washington said, and he thought back to the glass panes, and the door seals which would have to be reviewed, and all the other steps. "But I am accustomed to it. The most important detail is to make sure that your glass and the glass panes are sealed closely to the frame, as you saw me investigating earlier."

"Ah," Hamilton replied, and let the subject drop. He seemed very distant, for a man that had invited a person to share his company. Washington wished, as desperately as a man could wish, that he could see the man's thought. Would Hamilton be terrified or disgusted that he was loved? Could he possibly think of such an emotion as positive? Could he tolerate Washington's adoration? Would such a thing cause them to return to the terrible state they had once been in, where they could barely talk?

"Have you received any letters from Lord Laurens?" Washington asked, again, because anything would have been better than the churning of his thoughts, uneven like the sea.

"John?" Hamilton asked, "Oh, yes. He told me that the coast is fairly tolerable, and the food is not so bad, and that the patrols are interesting. He has met friends that he is rather interested in. He told me to give you his most overflowing gratitude, and to insist to you that he was your most loyal soldier."

Washington nodded. Hamilton looked at the horizon. Washington thought of the next topic that he might be able to bring up. There must have been something that would engage Hamilton more completely than these half-attentive answers. He was wonderful, when he was mid-diatribe.

"I," Hamilton began, his voice hesitant, "hope that I did not bore you, with my story last eve. Certainly it is not of that much interest to a man of your standing, to hear of the luck of street orphans."

Washington frowned deeply and shook his head. He felt the urge to touch Hamilton's knee, which was not at the most steady angle at the side of his horse, but resisted. "I thought it was an excellent story," he answered, "And more so because it is the truth, and with an ending I hope is not too terrible.”

Hamilton looked at him suspiciously, as if he thought Washington was mocking him. "Angelica always would say that she cared little where I came from, only that I was capable, and could move forward."

"My opinions of Lady Schuyler-Church are not currently worth discussing," Washington replied, with a grimace. He thought of the woman, ambushing him in the greenhouse or sitting, as if nothing was wrong, in his tea-room, and fought off the scowl. "But I believe one's beginnings are as important as any other part. Where you have come from makes you the sort of man that you are. You had nothing, and you have grown exponentially."

Hamilton looked at the pommel of his saddle and sighed, and Washington felt something dark roll off the man like a wave. He clenched his hands on his reins to keep them on his own horse.

"How do you manage that?" Hamilton asked, after a moment. A tiny little smile had appeared at the corner of his mouth. Washington savored it, as rare and precious as an exotic spice.

"Manage what?"

"You have a..." Hamilton looked away, and then back to him, "an accepting manner to you."

"Accepting?" Washington echoed, and furrowed his brow as he thought about the word.

"I usually do not feel very comfortable discussing my origins, for reasons that you can imagine," Hamilton said, and he seemed terribly hesitant. Washington thought he might like to say I am here, as if his company could persuade Hamilton to continue through whatever fear plagued him. He held his tongue, and Hamilton kept talking. "But I hardly mind it with you. I feel as if I could tell you any secret, and it would be guarded."

A tiny shiver, like a bit of twine, embroidered itself up Washington's back and tangled itself thoroughly in his stomach. He knew exactly what he felt, and in some way the words vibrated all through his skin, even if he found that all these ropes in his insides made it very difficult to talk. Hamilton watched him, close, and he fought.

"I would protect any secret you saw fit to entrust to me," Washington answered, and he knew it to be completely true. It was a decently warm day out in the sun, but there was an alien coolness in his bones. "I could think of little more valuable than that.”

Hamilton made a soft, half-hearted chuckle. He drew his horse to a halt with a shift of his weight. "I know," he said, "But it can be very dangerous, to give out one's secrets."

Nelson stopped. Washington thought, wildly, that it would not be that difficult to jump onto Hamilton's horse and embrace his husband, now that they were no longer moving.

"Certainly," he said, instead, and his voice sounded much more composed than he felt. The coolness in his bones did not lend itself to calm, as he might have hoped; instead, he felt something like barely-repressed panic. It was made worse by the way that Hamilton was looking at him, like he could - like there was trust. Trust. For him. "But that is why you are careful of where you trust your secrets. And to give a secret to another person - perhaps that person can make something greater of it. At the very least, much more can be done when a burden is shared.”

Hamilton offered another little half-laugh and looked away from him for just a moment. Then, his husband looked back at him, and a knowing little smile, like they had just solved a mystery between them, sat on his lips.

It was a beautiful thing. Hamilton was so very handsome, playful and strong upon the back of the well-groomed horse. In his fashionable clothes, and illuminated by the sun, it was an almost impossible thing to look away from. Washington dared to think, because he was too dull to think anything else - that perhaps Hamilton’s expression indicated that his husband might not be so upset with a casual touch.

"Like an orchid," Hamilton said.

A little breath escaped Washington, all at once the sight of Hamilton standing in his darkened, musty study holding his orchid bloomed in the front of his head.

"Yes," he said, and fought himself with every ounce of his will, and his soldiers raged for what they wanted, and his chest ached. He forced his hands to calm and his mind to settle. "Like orchids."

Hamilton looked away from him, to his horse's mane. The silence between them made Washington want to toss another one of his plants through a wall.

"I was surprised, to hear about your brother," he said. "I had always imagined you an independent oldest."

Washington offered a bare shrug as a response, which seemed painfully inadequate given their circumstances, and the lightning that he felt vibrating between them. "I am not so much different from the ill-tempered younger brother I previously was," he said, and tried to resettle everything in his head, as if he could discard the screaming urge that demanded he hold Hamilton tight and tell him all the things he thought. It was one of the least successful campaigns he had ever run. "I, too, do not usually find much use in disclosing my past. And especially now, given that it seems that I must always appear to have a full understanding of everything.”

"Perhaps if you had not been so wildly successful in managing the army, men would not think you such a brilliant man," Hamilton replied, his voice dry. "But, if..." He trailed off, and looked away, and then took a breath, evidently gathering his confidence. He looked back at Washington, and met his eyes. His gaze was - while it was firm, solid with confidence, it was also more than that. Washington did not know how to explain how Hamilton looked at him at that very moment; he was not sure he had ever been looked at in this manner. Hamilton's voice did not shake when he spoke, and he said every word firm like a declaration. "You need not appear so with me. A man can not always pretend to be something so impossible, lest he break under the pressure of his masquerade. If you are not afraid, I shall very tenderly hold your secret. I shall never mock or abuse your ignorance. I shall cherish every question, for I know what they mean is trust.”

It was only the long-practiced second nature of being in the saddle that kept Washington from falling off of his horse. It was not the sort of proclamation you made to a person you merely tolerated. It was not the sort of proclamation you made to a person whom you felt amicably toward, or whom you thought of as a decent acquaintance. It was a terribly intimate thing to say to another man, and Washington felt it like the wave of force after a cannonshot.

"Will you?" he responded, in a voice that had gone very dry, "I would very much like that, if it does not seem like an imposition to you, to bear such a burden. I would bear yours without a second thought."

"I have many," Hamilton said, and looked away from him. Washington could imagine the horror in the man’s eyes, and knew the terror of battle already, and wondered what it might have been like to be a street orphan, or choking under rules that you did not understand. "But if you will keep them safe, perhaps, I will share them.”

"Nothing shall be more protected," Washington said, very softly, only then realized that he has drifted close enough so that his boot brushed the flank of Hamilton’s horse. He studied the space, and then looked again at Hamilton, who did not seem intimidated by the closeness. "Have I shown you enough of me, to know the care I will take? I will build you your own greenhouse for your secrets and your burdens and they shall grow into the most magnificent trees. They will have thousand-ring trunks and canopies that darken the ground below them. Nothing shall be more impressive.”

There was a very long pause. Hamilton did not look away from him. He was inspected. Then:

“I have seen your greenhouse, sir, and I have strong confidence in your abilities,” Hamilton said.

I love you, Washington thought, but he had lost all his couriers and horses and aides to send such a thing. There was no one who knew the code, who could be trusted with a message of such importance.

“If you have confidence in me, I shall need none other,” he said instead, and knew that he meant it.

Hamilton offered him a smile that was completely his. “Resolved, then,” he said, as if this was only an order of business, and not forging some new bond that still seemed like newly-forged iron, red-hot. “First, then: are the rumors true that you are the most impressive rider in the country, or do they only say that because you are the most impressive man in the country?”

Washington managed a desperate little laugh, and tugged Nelson a step away from Hamilton, as close as they could be while still safe. It took him a moment to process the question, and he took a deep breath, as if that could stop his heart from pounding in his chest.

“I am not likely the best, but I possess some skill,” he said.

“Show me,” Hamilton said. Washington frowned, slightly confused, as he watched Hamilton pull his horse away from Nelson. He could see ways that the man’s posture could be improved to be a better rider, but he was hardly sure that was what Hamilton meant.

And was proven that he was right, because Hamilton kicked his heels against his horse and took off in a flurry of pounding hooves and a wild whoop of laughter. Nelson snorted in disapproval and glanced back to Washington, but the old warhorse galloped as he was commanded.

Chapter Text

Washington made a concerted effort to ignore that Hamilton did not come to breakfast the next day. Hamilton was late riser, and it was not uncommon for him to miss breakfast or take breakfast in his study or the library. It meant nothing; there could be no way that Hamilton could mean to go back on his words after their conversation yesterday. It had not only been the promises they had made, which Lafayette agreed were very serious indeed, but the events following them. Hamilton had forced Washington to chase him halfway around the grounds at a speed that Washington thought more than once would result in Hamilton being flung bodily from his horse and breaking his arm again.

“What a marvelous ride. Thank you,” Hamilton had said, and grinned at him, and wobbled from the stables, into the main castle, and disappeared into his washroom.

At dinner they had talked about struggle for troops, and politics, and things that were not secrets, and then Hamilton had retired to his study. He had not appeared for breakfast, and now Washington was here, trying to concentrate on this letter from Knox about some fight with Jefferson while his mind instead tried to make something out of nothing. He read the letter four times and forced himself to focus on the words, which were clear and frank, as was Knox’s style - but even so, they did not seem to process properly in his mind. He could not pull his thoughts from the sight of Hamilton’s mouth, folding delicately around the words - and the content of the words - and what he had said --

The contents of the letter were gone from his mind. He looked down at the paper and sighed, and resigned himself to a fifth reading. Perhaps he would have a better chance of understanding if he began to compose his reply. Yes, it was perfectly fine if they were to meet in his estate and having conversations about strategies, and moving forward, and plans, and the future. It was also perfectly fine for it to be opened to Sullivan and, and Phillip, too, if he wanted. Such things did not need to be too delicately phrased. In the process of thinking up the words, he looked up, and Lord Hamilton was standing there. Washington had not heard a knock.

More particularly, he was dressed spectacularly. His hair was in a perfect queue, rather than his regular style of merely pulling it out of his face. Despite the late summer heat, he was wearing a beautiful jacket, with a flawlessly tied knot in his neckcloth. His breeches were fantastically white, and the buckles of shoes, recently shined, glinted in the study’s fair share of sunlight.

“Hello, sir,” Washington said, cautiously, for these circumstances were deeply unusual - that Hamilton was perfectly polished, and had not knocked, and was looking at him so firmly - and all the more so after they had discussed--

“Come with me,” Hamilton said, his voice unwavering. His expression was inscrutable.

“Of course,” Washington said, and he put the half-finished letter down.

Silently, Hamilton lead him down the steps, into the main foyer, and then out of the castle. They walked through the estate grounds - away from the greenhouse, Washington noted with a dread he worked hard to suppress - until they were standing in the middle of…. nowhere, really. He took stock of their present surroundings in the silence: they stood in an empty plot of land, not quite anything. They had gone off the path that leaded to the visitor’s cottages and walked through some untended land. He could see the woods, not too far, and in the further distance the various other parts of his estate. But they were off any path, and some distance away from anything significant. The only notable things in this unsown field were a few scrubby bunches of wildflowers, holding on desperately against the cooling evenings, and some other miscellaneous indicators of disuse: other wild weeds both brightly colored and not, animal burrows, a couple of tiny bones, and dirt.

“General Washington,” Hamilton said, pulling him from his investigation. Despite the location’s lack of anything notable, this was clearly the place that his husband had intended them to be - he had taken them off the path and had glanced at the ground and the various natural landmarks to orient himself.

“Hello, sir,” Washington repeated. There was nothing to be gained by expressing any of his confusion; the last thing he needed or wanted was to infect Hamilton with the anxiety that he kept well-hidden. It was only that he was not sure if there was a part for him to play that he had been expected to perform, and had failed to discern. Was there some step he was supposed to take, to indicate to Hamilton that it was safe to explain their present location?

Hamilton took an evidently steadying breath. A slight bead of sweat shone on his forehead.

“During our conversation yesterday,” Hamilton began. “You promised to --” there was a heavy pause, as he visibly struggled, “--to grow secrets into trees. You do not rescind? You will not?”

Washington met his eyes and saw that the veil had been lifted. His husband's emotions twisted visibly in his gaze. He was extraordinarily handsome, even though there was so much doubt and fear surging in him. Washington wanted. He wanted in more ways than he had words for. He wanted to promise, in every language that existed, that there would no reason for fear, or doubt, or terror, or unhappiness.

“I do not,” he said, firm, “I will not; I shall not.”

Hamilton turned away from him. Washington took a step closer, and touched the back of Hamilton’s hand. He felt the power of the silence, but he was not overwhelmed with it. He was prepared for it, like a charge. He went with it, like a wave.

Hamilton twisted his wrist and squeezed his hand with enough force that it ached. His husband did not look at him; he kept his eyes towards the horizon, blue and beautiful and distant, occasionally disturbed by the estate’s features. Washington tried to send some strength through their clasped hands.

“Were you with Lawrence, when he passed?” Hamilton asked.

That had not been the question Washington had expected, but Hamilton did not see his surprised face.

“Yes,” he said, after moment, “We were in the main castle. It was different than it is now, but it was here.”

“Did you know, that it was the end?”

“Yes,” Washington said. He had fought hard to ensure that the Lawrence he pulled to mind first was not the man he had attended to at the end. But prodded, he could remember it with terrible clarity: a pale, sick thing, all skin and bones and a ragged, bloody cough - veins blue under translucent flesh, eyes unopened, sweat forever casting a terrible sheen to his flesh. Lawrence’s hand, barely alive, weak and puny, was a horrific thing to hold. Washington had wet his lips with a cold towel, and cleaned up after him. He had seen with perfect understanding the moment that his spirit had slipped from his body. He had felt in in the air, felt it in the barest touch Lawrence could press on him, when it went from weak to nothing.

“My mother and I,” Hamilton said to the horizon, “We had a little house on the island - three rooms and a kitchen. Nothing grand, but it was home. We had some dishware. I had 26 books. She would always insist they were mine, not ours.”

Hamilton squeezed his hand harder, and took a breath that swelled in his chest.

“There was a fever. We both got it. It was terrible. My mother tried so hard to tend to me, even though she suffered. I was delirious. I could not control myself. She mopped up my fevered sweat, rocked me in her chair, pressed a wet towel to my lips to try and get me to drink. I remember. It was a long time ago, and I was hardly sensible, but I remember.”

(“George!” Phillip Schuyler had said to him, a few days after the war had ended and the terms had been written, “I have adopted a son. One of Angelica’s military boys. He was going back to nothing, an orphan or somesuch, and you know how Angelica can be, when she wants something. A little old, for a new child, but what is war if not for exciting changes, eh?”)

“I think I lingered on the edge of death for days. She held me. The doctors thought I was a lost cause. She refused to leave me to die. I knew, somehow, that she was there.”

(The boy - well, a man but slight for a man - had hard eyes and a proud set to his mouth, when Washington met him for the first time. The boy had an unease which he made great effort to disguise. He seemed alien in his new jacket, and out of place at the Schuyler table, set with its elaborate china. His eyes flicked from one utensil to the next. He looked at Washington and frowned, then, as if remembering a rule, smoothed the anger from his face.

“Hello, sir,” Washington said.

“Hello, General Washington,” the boy said, like he had practiced.)

“Her condition became worse, but she held me. It was if we shared a pool of strength, and she gave her ration to me. I remembered being sick, and being in her lap, on the rocking chair, and she looked like death itself. I was trapped there, in her arms. I had to stay. But…”

(“I have an idea, George,” Phillip said, much, much later, “About your marriage problems. What you want is nothing, correct? A man who will not disturb you? The idea of having a husband, but one that shall not appear, generally.”

“Yes,” Washington replied.

“What about Alexander?”)

“I knew when she passed. I could feel her, around me. She had been---” Hamilton squeezed his hand again, and his voice faltered, so Washington squeezed his hand back. “She had been sick, yes, but alive, and protecting me, in a way. And then, there was a moment…..where…..” He swallowed. “There had been something there, and then there was nothing.”

(“Hello, Lord Schuyler,” he said, after the vows.

“Don’t call me that, General Washington,” the boy replied, and his voice was soft and furious. “Hamilton. My name is Hamilton.”)

Hamilton finally looked at him. His eyes shone with unshed tears, but his mouth was determined. A familiar, hard light came into his face, and the thin line of his lips twisted, the end of it curling into the beginnings of a smirk that did not disguise the faint tremble that ran through him. “Make that into a tree.”

Washington looked at him for what seemed to be a very long time. Washington reached into his pocket for his handkerchief, but realized immediately after that the cloth was still sitting on his desk, when he had used it to mop up some spilled bit of ink. His hand came up without him thinking, slow, as if Hamilton was a skittish horse, and he drew his thumb across the delicate flesh under Hamilton’s eye to wipe away any possible beginnings of his body’s betrayal.

“I would,” he said, hesitantly at first, but more confidently as he realized he knew the answer, “if i had come across it when it was a seed. But it seems when I am directed to it, I have instead come upon the magnificent oak which has come from it without my assistance. Despite storms and wildfires, a marvelous thing has been grown, with a thick canopy, and green leaves, and a proud, straight trunk. A more noble tree could not be found.” He let his hand trail down Hamilton's face and rest on his shoulder. His husband watched him and grinned, his humor a poor disguise for the anxiety that glimmered in his eyes.

“Here is a man who shirks his duty,” Hamilton said, though it was completely without venom. Teasing.

“It seems a waste to try and repeat a thing so masterfully done the first time,” he replied.

Hamilton forced a chuckle, sliding himself away from the touch. He took a few idle steps forward, his eyes turned back towards the sun, squinting a little against the brightness. Washington resisted the urge to follow, as much as it clung to him. He let his eyes trace the man’s form, though, let himself watch Hamilton’s figure, as still as it was. He took the man in.

He was beautiful, in the mid-afternoon sun.

“How can you make such an assessment?” Hamilton asked the horizon. “That I should be admired? That I have become something?”

It was then that Washington stepped closer, although he resisted the now-persistent urge to touch. “How could you be anything else? You have endured despite your struggles, and succeeded where others failed. You have entered and exited a war and returned with only glory. You have this.” He gestured, with a broad sweep of his hand, to the estate.

“I have never wanted this,” Hamilton replied, his voice fierce, “And these things are hardly mine. The servants listen to me, sure. I could have things built. But I have not earned it. I have only acquired it by virtue of being your husband. Which, you may recall, I have never desired to be.”

He took a breath. Hamilton was, as he tended to be, right. But how else could he explain the incredible core that he had seen, when the man in which that fire burned doubted himself?

“Well,” he said, after a moment of gathering his confidence and beating back the fear that this moment would lead to nothing, “You will merely have to trust me, then, when I say you are worthy of admiration.”

Hamilton looked at him, as if to judge whether his word was worth something.

“Would Lawrence be proud of you?” He asked.

“I think so,” Washington replied. “He would be thrilled to see what I have achieved, thanks to his tutelage. He would know, as I do, that many of my accomplishments would not have been possible without his guidance. I would have never been able to serve my country in all the ways I have without him.”

Hamilton made a little acknowledging noise. Then, peculiarly, he crouched to the ground into a little growth of brightly colored weeds. He plucked one from the ground, studied it for a moment, and then walked over to Washington and presented it.

It was an ugly sort of thing, oddly shaped - double-bulbous, the first bulb brilliant violet, the second green, and the thing all-around dangerous with spines.

Washington took it, careful not to stab himself.

“The thistle,” he said, softly.

“Endurance, and suffering, and being where your enemies do not want you to be. Defense. Nobility.” Hamilton paused. “The soldier’s flower.”

Washington studied the weed in his hand. There was something about it it that he found himself attached to. Was he not prickly himself, and well-defended? Did he not appear, as the thistle did, in places his enemies desired him to leave? Had he not always endured?

He glanced up from the thing. Hamilton stared at him.

“I shall alert Lafayette immediately,” he said. “The servants will need new livery, and the silverware will have to be re-enameled, and there are some miscellaneous art pieces which should be redrawn. And I shall need much tailored, as well--”

“You have no complaints?” Hamilton interrupted, his voice confused.

“Complaints?” Washington repeated, puzzled, “You have made an excellent selection. I asked you to pick, and you have.” He held the thistle in front of Hamilton’s jacket, considering how it might look when sewn into the cloth. It was easier to concentrate on the logistics of it than the force of emotion welling up in his chest. There would be some political pushback, because he had enemies, and they found any excuse possible to be unhappy with his actions. They might sideways call him a weed, or suggest he was weak for bowing to his husband's whims, as if it was terrible.

Hamilton’s hand wrapped around his. His skin was warm. He stood close enough that Washington could smell the soap and cologne on him. It was different from his - exotic, sharp. Sandalwood? He looked down at his husband, and Hamilton’s eyes were focused on where their hands were joined between them. Hamilton squeezed his fingers and looked up at him.

“I do not, and shall not, and will not, sir,” he repeated, gently. Hamilton looked up at his eyes, and then dropped his gaze again.

“Men do not usually enjoy my company,” Hamilton said, to the ground, “I am called unruly.”

“I enjoy your company very much,” Washington said, to the top of his head, “More than I enjoy the company of most men.”

Hamilton took a little step closer, as much as he could. His hair smelled like familiar shampoo. He shifted, and he pushed his hand and the thistle against Washington’s chest. There was a harsh, sharp pain of the spines of the thing, but it was easy to settle it in the back of his mind, with his husband so close. The front of his mind was filled with the smell of sandalwood, and the sight of his husband looking at him like he might --

He might --

“Excellent,” Hamilton said, weakly.

“I should hope so, given how common it shall soon be,” he replied, as if his heart did not threaten to jump from his chest and leap, completely exposed, into Hamilton’s hand.

“You are not injured, sir?” Hamilton said, and gestured to the thistle against his chest.

“Is it not the task of the thistle to suffer?” he retorted. Hamilton offered a little chuckle and shifted his hand, so he could drop the thistle into Washington's shirt pocket. His hands, seemingly puzzled, found Washington’s waist. There was something monstrously, wonderfully intimate about it, and it was more spectacular than he had imagined. His own hands, left to their own devices, found Hamilton’s shoulders, which felt as narrow as they always appeared.

They stood in silence, for a second.

Hamilton took a breath and surged into him and pressed their lips together. Hamilton half threw himself into Washington's embrace, too close and too hot and too much and too passionate. Hamilton had always been too everything for him, too human, too filled with life, and opinions, and fire. Washington was not accustomed to bending; he had always been firm, with this family, with the war. But something about Hamilton was different - improved. He wanted to bend. He had never wanted to bend like he did with this man, had never had such satisfaction from the results. He wanted to bend and he did, his hand finding Hamilton’s warm cheek.

Hamilton’s mouth was as warm and soft as it had always seemed, pressed against him. His lips were sweet and wonderful and Washington thought perhaps that it might be best to suspend time for the rest of eternity, that they could be trapped here, like this.

It was not to be. Hamilton broke away from him and out of his arms, taking long steps away from him. Washington was stunned for a beat, before he hurried after.

“I am too forward,” Hamilton murmured to the ground, his arms now wrapped around himself, “Forgive me.”

“You are not too forward, sir,” Washington said, breathless.

“I am unruly and of low station,” Hamilton said, and his voice grew in ferocity, “Bookish and uncouth. Rude.”

“You are none of those things, and furthermore, you cannot convince me you are those things by telling them to the ground, or to me, or to anyone.” Washington swallowed his fear and reached forward, taking a gentle hold on Hamilton’s shoulder. “You are decisive and firm. Breathlessly intelligent. Fearless and handsome.”

Hamilton broke from his grasp and paced, staring at the ground. Washington folded his hands behind his back and watched, trying to figure out the next thing to say, or to do.

“Why do you matter to me, sir?” Hamilton said, and he met his gaze, angry, “Why, when you have wronged me?”

Washington flinched. He felt the strike hot across his heart. “I have wronged you,” he admitted, “I know. If I could, I would undo the thing.” They both knew it could not be done.

“It would not be so terrible if I was even more unmarriageable than I had ever been,” Hamilton continued, and there was something wild about him, his body hardly able to contain all of his energy. “I have never tried to be married or intended to be married; in fact, I was hoping I would avoid the thing entirely, and become some sort of tradesman. I am very capable with a printing press, and have a very good head for numbers and politics. I could do anything to sustain myself, if such a thing was required.”

Washington watched him. He knew the retort to the argument: You would never maintain a business with the public knowing I had found you unworthy. It was a terrible thing to think, and seemed even more cruel to say. Hamilton must have known it, despite his anger.

“It must be because of your great efforts to redeem yourself,” Hamilton continued, “What sort of person makes such an effort to appease a husband he desired only as a social symbol? A husband who refuses him at every turn? A husband who tries to become as rude as he can be? And yet you persisted. Why are you…..” A frustrated beat. “I have a talent for understanding people. But I cannot understand you. And furthermore, I cannot understand why it is so difficult. You can be so predictable, in hindsight. And yet, I am constantly astonished.”

Washington took the thistle out of his pocket and studied it for a few moments. He knew he was expected to respond, as if he had a rebuttal. As if he could explain why Hamilton felt this way, when he could barely understand his own feelings, and why they had led him in the way that he did.

He offered the thistle back. Hamilton snatched it from his fingers and stared at it, as if the thorns would give him some answer.

“I have only attempted to be the best man that I can be,” he said, and persisted despite Hamilton’s derisive snort, “But I had hardly realized at the time how badly I had missed the true mark of a gentleman, and now I seek only to climb back up that mountain. I had not even noticed I had fallen to its base until you indicated it to me.”

“A man should carry his own lantern and map,” Hamilton muttered, “They should not need to look over another man’s shoulder.”

“So they should,” Washington replied, “But apprentice cartographers require masters to learn from. And it is, of course, every apprentice’s dream to win a compliment from their teacher.”

Hamilton looked up from where he was staring at the thistle. He narrowed his eyes as he picked through the words. “What you want is a compliment? From me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why?” Hamilton smirked at him, but it was wry, and not so vicious. “You could have anything you want, and instead you have developed affections for a man who wishes he could dislike you.”

Washington bowed his head in agreement. Hamilton laughed, bitterly.

“Would you erase this desire, if you could?” His husband asked.

“No,” he replied, so quick that he surprised himself, “I would never. I understand I am hardly worthy of what I desire. I know that if you never wanted to speak to me again, you would be well within your rights to do so. My heart would ache, but the punishment is fair. But I would not wish to give up the way that I feel when I am able to view you working out a solution to some government policy you find particularly upsetting. I do not want to forget the warmth in my chest when I make you laugh. If I was able, I would try to always make you laugh, even though I think I am hardly very funny. Even if I was never permitted to do so again, I would not wish to forget the memory. I prefer the memory of joy and the presence of suffering to ignorance.”

“And there, you have been astonishing and predictable, again.”

“If it is astonishing and predictable that I wish to make you happy, then so be it.”

The barest bones of a smile pulled at the corner of Hamilton’s mouth. Washington reached, and Hamilton did not flinch, so he continued, taking his husband’s hand in his. His skin was warm in the sun, the callouses rough and unfamiliar. Washington hoped, desperately, to be able to learn them.

“You would accept if I were to never talk to you again?” Hamilton asked, looking at where their hands were joined.

“I would. I would suggest you build a little cottage, or a small keep, if you did not mind to wait, so you would never have to see me, if you did not desire to do so.”

Hamilton looked at their hands in silence. Hamilton’s hand was small in comparison to his, with narrow, elegant fingers that fit well between his own broad ones. Hamilton looked at him intently, as if to scan for some visible defect. Then, perhaps finding none (or at least any defects small enough to pass inspection), he set the thistle on the ground and pressed himself into Washington’s chest. God, he was warm, and firm, and Washington could hardly imagine the terrible future in which he would move away. He wrapped his other hand around Hamilton - holding, and not squeezing him close, although he desired desperately to do such a thing.

“Your heart is racing,” Hamilton said, to his chest, “But you seem so calm.”

“Yes,” he agreed.

“Why?”

“I am terrified of your rejection, that I know I deserve,” he answered. He drew his hand up and tucked a stray hair behind Hamilton’s ear where it had come loose from his styled hair. He touched the ridge of Hamilton’s ear and let his fingers trail gently over his queue, and then settled it against the top of his back again.

“You do deserve it,” Hamilton agreed, but he allowed himself to be touched. “But….for reasons I cannot explain, I do not wish to reject you. So, despite my better judgement, I shall not.” He took a half step back, and his open hand trailed up Washington’s arm and along the line of his neckcloth before it settled over his jaw, the elegant thumb across his cheekbone. Hamilton met his eyes, watched his own hand against his face.

It was enough.

He bent slightly, so Hamilton only had to stand a little taller than he really was to kiss him. His lips were warm and chaste and unbearable, accented with a touch of familiar anger. He allowed himself to be kissed, once or twice, before it seemed acceptable for him to kiss back. He thought that despite such a response, he might have entered some spectacular dream, where the thing he had wanted so terribly had been given to him, and in this slow, deliberate manner.

When they separated, Washington’s breath seemed loud in his ears, and was complimented by twenty-one gun salutes in his mind, and ragged cheers of ragged men who had finally been rewarded for all they had done.

Hamilton looked even more marvelous when well-kissed, if such a thing was even possible. He smirked a little at Washington, and clucked his tongue in soft disapproval. “I said you should not pretend to be unafraid for me.”

At this, Washington managed a surprised laugh. “I shall promise not to be unafraid about war and death,” he said, after a considering moment, “But I cannot say the same when the cause of my fears stands so close to me.”

“Perhaps if you lavish me with praise, you will find me less terrifying,” Hamilton teased as slid out of his grasp. Washington felt the echo of his touch, and followed close behind as Hamilton picked back up the thistle and began to walk in the direction of the main castle.

“Have I not already called you brilliant and handsome and decisive?” He asked.

Hamilton made a satisfied noise, and slowed his steps, so they walked close together. Washington held back, and then remembered he was supposed to be unafraid, and touched Hamilton’s shoulder, just to remind himself such a thing was acceptable. It was such a strange, incredible kind of joy to have - to touch, to feel.

“I shall look even better in my thistle jacket. I think. And you, too,” Hamilton said, idly, even though Washington knew him much too brilliant to think such a thing could be said as a side note. He cast his eyes down to the peculiar weed in Hamilton’s hand and tried to imagine it sewn into his jacket, in the place where he had been the violet for as long as he had been anything. He could be a good thistle, he thought. It was the sort of choice that only a man like Hamilton, having risen from the ashes of some terrible beginning, would select. Only he would see something so bulbous and thorny and unusual and think of it as something to be proud of. It was hardly that there wasn’t something to be proud of - only that Washington would have never seen it without his eyes being directed there. He would have thought of the thing as only a weed, perhaps affectionately as the soldier’s flower, persistent and enduring and suffering. But Hamilton, as he had a habit of doing, resettled his focus. He was all of those things. They both were, and soldiers to boot.

“I suppose you do not know if is a process, to make such a change,” Hamilton said, looking at the thistle in his hand.

“Lafayette will know.”

“Oh, will he?”

Washington turned his head and took in his husband's sly little smile. He folded his hands behind his back. “You may have noticed that he is well-equipped with answers.”

“I have,” Hamilton agreed, and let the subject drop. “What do you think Phillip will say?”

Bringing up the man reminded Washington very suddenly of the half-finished letter he had left on his desk. Suddenly it seemed better, to have his allies over soon, to have their opinions. If nothing else, they would prepare him for less approving parties.

“What?” Hamilton asked, obviously catching the memory flitting across his face.

“Phillip is coming over soon, I think, so I suspect we will not need to wonder. Him and the others are worried about there being another war. The reports we’ve received from our various outposts are, as you know, somewhat disturbing. This combined with some reluctance from some of the other lords to contribute troops to our national army is….” He paused. As much he wanted to believe it was nothing - that these rumbles were just gossip and any insouciance from men he disliked was insignificant - that was not the sense that he left. “....troublesome. We - myself, Phillip, Greene, Knox, Sullivan - would do best to present a unified front, to clarify our shared goals and what they represent for our nation, so that we may defend them strongly to those who oppose us.”

Hamilton stilled, and looked very intently at him for a moment. “You think there will be another war.”

Washington nodded. He folded his hands behind his back and resumed his slow stride back to the main castle.

Hamilton frowned, pacing in little circles so that he could match Washington’s pace. He fidgeted as he spoke. “Even though we’ve had some recovery -- if our only contributions to another war effort are what you and your allies have left -- how could we compete? After all that has been managed, even though -- it hasn’t been so long -- what do they think--” He hissed a frustrated breath through his teeth, staring down at the thistle that he held in his hand. “We may be expected to represent soldiers more than we ever have, sir. We must show those cowards that soldiers are required. We cannot be intimidated, nor by our idiot council members or our enemies.”

Hamilton went off in this vein for a while as they walked back. Washington tried to be comforted by his characteristic fury, but the words struck too true for him to ignore the substance for the display. Somehow, the thought of talking to his allies about it cemented his idle fears.

“Well,” Hamilton said, in front of the main castle, “We shall merely have to convince them.”

“I suppose that we shall,” Washington replied, grimly, because the idea of Lord Adams, holding the attitudes that he did, agreeing to anything his husband said, seemed quite absurd.

“We shall know more about that after we discuss with the other generals,” Hamilton continued. The words caught in Washington’s mind for a second.

Of course. Hamilton would wish to be part of the meeting, actual title be damned. It was a quintessentially Hamilton thing for him to want to be a part of. There was no doubt that his husband would have some brilliant insights to bring to their discussion, especially on the military side. But his allies were old fashioned. There was cause for concern.

“Yes,” Washington said, quickly. Hamilton narrowed his eyes, a flash of his old anger there. There was no way he could deny Hamilton’s entrance to their discussion, not now, not without eroding this fragile built bridge between them, that shuddered with a breath of wind. “I suspect it shall be soon; we should discuss before the winter turns too cold.”

Hamilton nodded a sharp little nod. “We should find Lafayette, then.”

“He usually does not make himself hard to find.”

They did not even need to ring for the head servant, for he was sitting in the main dining table with ledgers spread in front of him, touching the bridge of his nose in the middle of some difficult thought. There was a beat, and then Lafayette noticed them and smiled, sitting straighter in his chair.

“Sirs,” he greeted, casting his eyes between them. His gaze, when it met Washington’s, was gently curious.

“Lafayette,” Hamilton said, and then placed the thistle on the table next to the books, “I hope you are not too busy with accounting. I am afraid that there is very much to be done, and as soon as possible.”

Lafayette took the thistle between his fingers and studied it for a moment. A slow, comprehending smile spread over his face as he studied it, and then Washington, and then Hamilton.

“Well,” he said, evidently pleased, “We shall not even have to change the accents.”

Chapter Text

Hamilton came to breakfast the next morning with his current project, a tome on political philosophy that Washington was not sure he had ever seen before. He had intended to read every book in both his libraries, but it seemed that reality was interested in intervening as much as possible, with politics, or this meandering thing called romance. It was also possible, he considered, Hamilton had bought the book on his own - certainly, the man had access to both of their accounts. But Hamilton did not make his impressive effort to eat and read at the same time. Instead, he left the book there, like a question, while he devoured his hashed potatoes and eggs. Without benefit of decent manners, Hamilton veritably inhaled the food, almost without tasting it, it seemed. Washington studied his husband and knew what he was supposed to do.

"What are you reading?" he asked.

Hamilton looked up at him and took several slower bites, perhaps in a half-attempt to recover proper etiquette. "Political philosophy," he answered, at least once had had chewed and swallowed his proper bit of potato, "And the nature of the political council. I think it may be helpful, if we are to convince those who disagree with us, that we are quite right."

This sentence took Washington by evident surprise, and Hamilton narrowed his eyes, as if to dare Washington to contradict him.

Of course, Washington thought, Hamilton would forever wish to be involved in his political dealings. He had considered Hamilton, at some length, as a political creature, merely not in this manner. In his head, Hamilton had existed as an independent thing, a force for him to bring to his side, and a potential Them. Them in this context seemed different. There was something slightly unsettling about it, but he was not quite sure what it meant, just yet. It was worth contemplating, if nothing else. He set the slight complaint aside from the moment, because he could hardly deny their alliance, not after they had stood in a field and kissed, and confessed to each other to promise to be exposed.

"What does it say about convincing men who disagree with us?" he asked, and he drank a gulp of coffee, hot and wonderful in his stomach.

"It says that we should find a river, and dump them as a collective into it. With weights, if such a thing is it all possible."

Hamilton delivered this response in such an even tone that there was a brief moment Washington believed him.

"Only a river?" He replied, looking contemplatively down at his half-eaten breakfast. He took another bite. "Not the sea?"

Hamilton smirked at him, and it was brilliant. A servant - Lafayette must have been too occupied with the change of crest to join them - poured them both more coffee.

"Philosophy dictates that the sea is too both too endless and too still," Hamilton said, as he put cream in his coffee and took a sip, "We shall wish for them to, at some point, reappear, so we may pretend that we mourn their passing. We may even feel resolved, now that they have reappeared, to provide some comfort to their loved ones. However, now that we are sure that they are quite passed, we know that it is clearly what they desire to pass all the measures they completely objected to."

Washington could no longer resist the snort of laughter, and Hamilton laughed along with him. His husband scooped up the rest of his breakfast into his mouth and stood, gathering back his book under his arm. "In truth," he admitted, although he still grinned, "There does not seem to be much of solid things to do, as is the nature of philosophers. I wonder how many servants the average philosopher had, that they can sit and think about things, and then come to no real results, and no real action." Then, he reached over with his fork and stabbed a prime piece of potato hash from Washington's plate, and stuck it quickly into his own mouth.

"The kitchen will make you more, if you are still hungry," Washington replied, and he thought that he should have been angry, but was not. Hamilton leaned against the table edge next to where he sat, and he looked up at his husband, a slight frown creasing the corners of his mouth.

"It tastes better to come from your plate," Hamilton retorted, and he bent slightly to press a kiss to Washington's forehead, which completely dispelled any anger that Washington might have felt growing in the pit of his stomach. Then he patted Washington's shoulder, turned on his heel, and disappeared down the hallway. Washington watched him for a moment and shook his head, for he was having a terrible feeling that he was going to spend much time being fleeced for food, wine, and attention, and placated with being kissed.

He considered the trade for a moment, and decided it to be more than fair. Then, he finished the few sad remaining breakfast remnants, picked up the journal on the chair next to him, and went to the greenhouse to continue the winterization project.

It was as he had left it, the day previous, for he had not gotten much done after Hamilton had held him so close, and told him about his crest decision, and admitted his begrudging feelings. Instead, Washington had spent most of the time sitting in his study chair and trying to imagine this future, where he was the thistle, and they spoke, and sometimes kissed, and -- some part of him, so devious and selfish as barely be worth acknowledging -- be intimate. He could hardly consider such a thing, really. He did, at least, manage to finish the letter to Knox and have it sent, and similar invitations to the others. And a letter to Martha, about these events, and asking her opinion on the matters.

He drew his fingers along the frames of the glass panes and indicated in his journal where things could be better sealed, and checked his various other protections against the unceasing winter. He also looked at the whole thing and tried to figure out the best place to grow a small bed of thistles, out of principle. The sun rose into the sky and baked the greenhouse in life-giving heat that George felt in the sweat that trickled down his spine. He watered what required watering and checked everything that required checking. He frowned at some space where a particular pane, worn with old dust, was not as well-sealed as he would have liked.

He startled when he heard the door click open and shut, and glanced over his shoulder to see his husband, without any reading material, walking down the aisle over to him.

"Hello, sir," he said, turning from his work. "I was wondering if there was a specific place that you would prefer the thistles? They will do very well anywhere, I think."

This seemed to take Hamilton by surprise, and there was a moment where he processed the information. Then, he shook his head. "Thistles should grow wild, and not contained or tended."

Washington frowned. "Does it not seem....odd, that a man known for growing flowers does not grow the flower that represents him?" He gestured to the violets that grew in pots and boxes spread across the greenhouse. Hamilton glanced around at the various plants, his eyes catching on the ones Washington pointed to. He did not look angry, or at least, not yet. But there was definitely something frustrated in his gaze, and he chewed his lip, perhaps deciding the best way to explain himself.

"What good is the soldier cooped in a keep, no matter the qualities of his superior officer?" he retorted, finally, "Soldiers should be on the field, or at least, in a war tent. They should never be babied, as if their needs are what matters."

Washington made a thoughtful noise as he looked around the greenhouse. There was sense to Hamilton's words, but it was not the sense of a nobleman. Much like the thistle itself, it was the sort of sense that only Hamilton would have first thought of, and second expressed.

"We could plant some outside?" he asked, "Are soldiers not assigned locations of importance, by their officers? This would not be a position for a soldier to be idle, or sit vain upon his haunches, but there is glory to it, and honor."

Hamilton met his eyes and stared at him for a long moment, as if to attempt, maybe, to read his thoughts. "Perhaps," he said.

Washington felt a warm rush of satisfaction. He glanced over his shoulder at the unruly pane of glass, and the one next to it, which looked equally as old and required the same inspection.

"That is not what I came to find you for," Hamilton said, and Washington nodded, closing his journal and folding his arms behind his back, waiting to be addressed. "I would only like to be an observer. I find I have previously rather enjoyed watching you work."

At this announcement, Washington had two thoughts, neither of which was fit for public consumption: first, that Hamilton was likely to be an abysmal silent observer, given his feelings about his own opinions, and second, that he had never been visited by anyone simply to observe his goings-on.

But he could hardly, of course, say no, and it did not seem Hamilton was inclined to wait for approval. Instead, his husband went and found himself a stool, and sat down a few steps away from where Washington was investigating the greenhouse structure. Washington turned back towards the glass and opened his journal again, although it was quite difficult with the invisible press of Hamilton's gaze on the back of his head. He pushed the feeling out of his mind and drew his fingers over the next pane of glass and wrote something down.

It was hardly ten minutes later when Hamilton spoke up again. "How many panes have to be loose in order to ruin the greenhouse?"

Washington looked over his shoulder, frowning, "I hope that I never find out."

"Fair," Hamilton replied.

"How long does it usually take, to check every pane?"

"It depends on how much time I spend per day checking them."

"Are there different ways in which the glass can not be suitable to protect it during the winter?"

Washington sighed, and looked back to the pane of glass that he was currently investigating, and then back over his shoulder at his very curious husband, who was leaning forward, obviously interested in his answers. With his open, curious expression, he hardly looked the acid-tongued fury that Washington knew he could be. The angles of his face were softened.

"You are hardly a decent silent watcher," he noted, wiping his hands from the dust and dirt of the glass with his handkerchief. Hamilton opened his mouth to respond, but he withdrew, and instead looked down at his breeches.

"I am not hardly a decent silent anything," he said, instead of whatever he had originally thought.

"So it seems," Washington said, and he turned fully around to study the man, who seemed to be making an effort to be a little smaller on his stool. Washington took a single breath of courage and touched his knee, and Hamilton looked at the hand before covering it with his own. Emboldened, Washington touched Hamilton's cheek, and tilted his mouth up for a kiss. Hamilton went with him, and there was a wonderful moment of warmth, something casual and natural and surging between them. This thing, their -- feelings. Hamilton's lips, warm against his, and the feel of the man's palm against the back of his hand, and Hamilton's hand curled around the back of his neck.

"But fear not," he said, when they had separated an inch, and he could see how huge and dark and beautiful Hamilton's eyes were, "Your opinions are very intelligent, and I enjoy hearing them."

"Even when they distract you from your greenhouse?" Hamilton teased, and let his hand slide from the back of Washington's neck.

"The greenhouse will not grow legs and hurry into the winter," Washington replied, and he stepped away, lest he take any further steps that his troops might desire, for they had drunk the sweet wine of victory and were growing greedy and hungry for the blood of their enemies. To distract his men, he turned back to the glass wall, and, panes inspected and noted, began to move all his plants to cover up this spot, and reveal the next spot.

He reached for a plant and felt a warm hand, and not the hard ceramic of the pot he had intended to touch.

"You could likely resolve this task in half the time, if you were assisted," Hamilton said, suddenly next to him. "And I seem to be better at assisting, than I am silently observing."

Washington looked at their hands for a moment, and then pulled his away to move another pot. "I could show you what to look for in a pane of glass, to investigate if it needs to be repaired in some manner, if that might interest you."

"You would trust me with such a thing?" Hamilton asked, with not all the wonder hidden from his voice, "I would hardly like to be responsible if something terrible were to happen."

Washington picked up his journal from the ground and flipped the pages. "It is precisely because you would not like to be responsible for such a thing, that I think you shall not be." There was a beat. "And permit me to say, after you have made such a decision with the thistle, I do not hesitate to trust you."

Hamilton shrugged and put down the plant he was holding. He considered for a moment, and then wiped the dirt off his hands and tucked a stray hair behind his ear. "It is important to have a decent crest, so that the populace understands what kind of man you are. But it is not...." He gestured to aisles of green leaves and bloomed flowers, "...this. This is something important. You have made something new, here. Your crest is merely embroidered thread on your jacket. If you would make me choose between ruining your jacket and ruining your greenhouse, I would set fire to your whole wardrobe without a second thought."

"I sincerely hope you will not," Washington said, because it was better than looking over-affectionate. He knew that he, in all honesty, cared too much about his greenhouse and his plants, where there were other things he could care about more: reading, perhaps, or the political manipulations that should have been natural to a man of his station. It was a peculiar, wonderful sort of touching see his husband display the same kind of affection, even if it was in his strange way. He set the thought to the side and cleared his throat. "If you would like to learn more about how to investigate greenhouse glass, I shall show you,” he said, finally, and walked a few steps down, indicating a particular glass pane. Hamilton followed.

Washington consulted his notes, and pointed to where the seal was not complete between the frame and the glass. Hamilton listened to his explanation with an intent expression, and asked all the right questions.

Chapter Text

At breakfast, Hamilton did not bring a book, but instead launched immediately into an explanation of a military strategy he had devised with Lady Schuyler-Church but they had never managed to put into practice due to a lack of funds. It was a very good strategy, but complicated, and as a result Washington had finished his breakfast by the time his husband finished his rant. But Hamilton hardly seemed to mind eating his food cold, and Washington offered some possible suggestions, all of which Hamilton rejected, albeit with well-reasoned rebuttals.

When they were finished, he retired to his study, to organize his paperwork for the meeting with the other generals. There were the reports from the coast, as well as a few other outposts, none as staffed as Washington would have liked. There was correspondence with a few other men of importance, and of course, the discussions they had had amongst themselves, because few men, including himself, could recall exactly what they had written weeks ago.

In the middle of this process, there was a knock on the door. A grunt from him, and the door opened.

“Post, sir,” Lafayette said. Washington looked up at his servant, who looked significantly more travel-worn than usual, with the road dust clinging to his boots. He took a step forward and set the pile of letters of his desk. “I would prefer to stay, of course, but it seems that there is much involved in changing one’s crest. I spoke to the tailor - he hoped you would come to town about your coat, and said that Lord Hamilton had already appeared. Did you know Mr. Mulligan already knew Lord Hamilton? He called him Hamilton to me, and then sought to apologize, but I explained, and he thought it very much like the man to have you call him Hamilton. He thought the thistle was a peculiar, but excellent, choice. As do I, I think. But Adams and his ilk will very much enjoy calling you a warmonger and common soldier.” There was a beat. “Do you think silversmiths are sour by nature, or they have merely been in a poor mood with all the chaos?”

At this, Washington looked up from his letters and frowned. “Troublesome rumors and distraught merchants hardly qualifies as ‘chaos.’”

Lafayette frowned too, and then he turned to close the door to the study. There was no way such a thing could come before good news, and a low, sinking feeling began to grow in Washington’s chest as his servant collected himself.

“There was a raid at the coast fort. A duplicitous, dishonorable action, if you ask me. Men killed for nothing. Our enemies slaughtering our soldiers and then slipping into the night like worms.” There was another pause, and Lafayette restrained the beginnings of anger that threatened his calm demeanor. “Nothing terrible in the wider scale of events, but certainly enough to wake every messenger and send them all running for their horses. People in town are anxious. They asked what your response was to be.”

Washington stared. He could not have heard the words that Lafayette said.

Their enemies would not do such a thing, with winter coming, and all their nations only recently barely recovered. It hardly mattered at all if there were rumors unsettling the merchants. But to think of their soldiers - his soldiers, soldiers he was responsible for - being slaughtered in the night, and then their enemies disappearing back into the ocean mist--

“They raided the fort?” he repeated. Lafayette nodded. Washington sat back in his chair and covered his mouth with his hand. He stopped thinking about Hamilton’s strategy, which he had idly sort of been reviewing in his head, and the stack of letters which had arrived for him, and the coming meeting he was to have with his allies. Even slight entertainment he got, in a peculiar way, from seeing Lafayette look a little travelworn (even in their most ragged war days, he seems to be able to repel dirt and make blood seem fashionable) disappeared.

Lafayette watched him carefully, and shifted his shoulders. For a moment, he looked more like a general than a servant. “Is there anything else?”

No doubt the reports of this would be included in his post. His post, and the posts of all his friends, and the posts of all his enemies.

“I am marginally confident the attack is a feint, sir,” Lafayette said, after he had apparently waited too long for an answer. “The style of attack, the disgusting underhandedness of it…. They wish us to reveal our hand. They try to bait us into another war.”

“We cannot display the pathetic hand that we currently possess,” Washington murmured, “For now we must hold back. We must have peace. There must --- we should make all our efforts to manage a diplomatic solution. But if we are to end up in another war, if this is a true assault……” He trailed off. Lafayette was well aware of their situation. What was supposed to be done, if men like Adams wanted both to go to war while and deny a general a decent force? Or -- what could Adams, Laurens and Jefferson do, in this situation? Could such an attack convince them that it was acceptable, nay, required to possess a fighting force, on the occasion of just such an event?

Lafayette made a soft noise of agreement, oblivious to his thoughts. “I shall report to the town that you wish for parley and peace, if they ask. And you shall mark this in your orders?”

Washington nodded. His mind worked. His men, celebrating in their taverns, heard the army bells ringing.

“That will be all, then,” he said, and forced himself to shuffle through the military reports.

“I shall try to make myself available for discussion, if you would like,” Lafayette said. They met eyes, and Washington had a powerful flashback to the war, of them sitting around a table, strewn with plans and strategies and ragged gear.

“Your duties come first,” Washington said, and dispelled the image. Lafayette nodded and bowed, and closed the door behind him.

The moment the man had disappeared, Washington hurried through the stack. Veterans’ letters, marked with violet ribbon. Requests from strangers for one thing or another. Notes from his allies regarding their circumstances. A few pamphlets, which Lafayette thought might be of interest to him. And in the middle, looking a little ragged and torn around the edges, a report from the fort. He forced himself to be deliberate. He opened it slowly, unfolding the paper inside and studying the report.

They had been raided. Not ferociously, but enough to terrify men who had never suffered such a thing, and give the entire fort a heaping dose of pre-war terror. Supplies had been destroyed. Six men dead. Some injured. A request for additional assistance, or some kind of answer on what should happen next. Whoever had dictated the letter thought that the attack was a harbinger of things to come, though nothing soon - just something for Washington and the rest of the nation to chatter about in a panic until next spring, when proper military maneuvers happened, by land or by sea.

Some other notes. Meaningless details about troops and the ocean. Unimportant rambling about morale. He put the letter down carefully, to avoid throwing it across the room.

“People have not yet contented themselves enough with murdering each other?” he murmured to the pile, and picked up the next letter, and the next, and the next, in the stack Lafayette had delivered him. He read them without paying attention.

He was startled from the business by his door flying open, rattling the wall loud enough that his maps shook in their frames.

“Can you believe this baseless cowardice?” Hamilton said, abandoning greetings and going straight to anger. “That these devils would appear in the dark, skulking like snakes, and murder our soldiers, and then disappear? Our enemies have not listened, when we beat them mercilessly the first time. They would like another beating? They would like to again be slaughtered? Was it not terrible enough, to have to drag their dead home the first time?” These dramatic questions were emphasized with pointing, and in the pointing hand his husband held a grubby-looking letter, a bit bloodstained at the edge. After he was done with this introduction, he tossed the said letter onto Washington's desk, then crossed his arms behind his back and took a breath indicating another torrent was to shortly begin.

“The thing is abominable,” he said, “You would think that they understand what a surrender is. But they do not! They require us to appear again and dismember them. They need again for you to separate their heads from their bodies.”

Washington picked up the letter Hamilton had nearly thrown at him and scanned through the report - a censored summary of the same attack. He noted, sighing, that the signature said yrs, affectionately, John Laurens. Then, imagining with dread the rage of the elder Lord Laurens, he selected the report delivered to him - also likely written by the younger - and passed it to Hamilton, who snatched it out of his hands and scanned it furiously. There was a moment of thick, anticipatory silence.

“Let them come,” Hamilton snarled, all viciousness. Washington masked his surprise at it. “Bring them to us and we shall crush them again, as they require. If they have not learned, we shall teach them again. If one beating was not sufficient, perhaps two will be.”

Hamilton looked up at him, his expression evidently waiting for support. Washington held his tongue for a very long moment, carefully considering the words in his head. He had a very strong suspicion that he was expected to say some very specific things in response to this, and he was completely sure those were not the things that he really thought.

“If I could no longer send people to die, I might prefer that,” he said, slowly. Hamilton frowned at him, as expected, and then put his report back on his desk.

“Those people are going to win themselves glory and honor. They could do much worse than being assigned to battle by you.”

At least it seemed that his deliberateness in answering had slowed Hamilton’s ferocity. He could remember a time when he had had very similar thoughts on war, and the military, and battles, and viciousness. It seemed like a long time ago now. But it was peculiar line to straddle, especially in this circumstance where blood had been spilled, even with the unfavorable political climate. To think that, not too long in the near future, he would be sitting around a war table again, and Hamilton would be a soldier, and in the terrible danger that he evidently craved. Not just from being shot, of course, but all soldier’s vicious enemies - disease and lice and gangrene and hunger and the unforgivable winter.

He sank back into the chair and ran his hand over his face as he looked at his neatly-arranged desk, and behind it his husband and the energy that vibrated off him like heat off dirt in a summer day.

“I think that we should try our best to avoid another major conflict,” he said, and then he sat up again in the chair and organized his papers, for something to do with his hands.

“Are you afraid you will lose me?” Hamilton asked, and he scowled.

“I am,” Washington replied, and Hamilton opened his mouth to retort, “But you know, and do not deny that you know, that I would not be stopped by that and that alone from commanding the army again, if it was necessary for the security of our country. But you also know that these are not good conditions for a war for us. You know there will be a struggle for bodies, and arms, and food. Even if we enter a conflict and leave it victoriously, we have no way of understanding how that will influence the council or the people. What peacetime looks like now could be nothing like what peacetime could look like after more of our citizens have been slaughtered.”

“We are not casting ourselves into an abattoir,” Hamilton replied, “It is not as if some abyss has opened and we must throw ourselves into it to smooth out the land. War is glorious, and without it you would be half the man that you are. It seems unfair to deny others the opportunity to accomplish what you have.”

Washington narrowed his eyes and felt the slow burn of the frustration in his chest. Then, deliberately, he stood, folded his arms behind his back, and walked over to the wall where he had hung the arrangement of the various medals that had been given to him at the end of the second war. He could feel Hamilton’s eyes on him as he removed the display from the wall and set it on his desk, over his letters.

“Do these look like men and women to you?” He asked, letting a quiet edge of anger into his voice, “Families? Young people, with promising futures? Children who played hero with wooden swords in their gardens? Mothers and fathers with their hearts full of kindness and caring? Or do these look like little bits of metal and iron that were given to me, because it was my responsibility to give those people weapons and explain to them that they fought over some imaginary thing called ‘sovereignty’, and then listen to their death moans and the sound of their misery, which was my fault?”

“The misery of the solder was not, never was, and never will be your fault,” Hamilton said, but Washington shook his head.

“If I am required to, I will do those things again, and in an instant,” he continued, and then he picked up the frame and set it back on the wall. “But in the interest of honesty, I would very much prefer there to not be another war, and I will make the greatest effort that I can to head one off. And I suppose that will mean that those who could benefit in station from the war shall not, when I did. But their families will also not be ripped from them, or their hands or fingers or feet removed, and they will not suffer from some soldier’s disease, or gangrene, or starvation. They will never have to kill another human.”

Hamilton lifted his chin and watched him down his nose. Washington had a very powerful vision of his husband, presently well-fed, clean and well-dressed, in year 3 of some nebulous conflict, changed into a man thin and starved and angry, bitter and inappropriately equipped.

“So?” His husband said, finally, “What is the next step, then? You do not want to go to war, and yet you think the war will come to you.”

“We should suggest that they parley. In the meantime, we shall make another call for troops from the other lords, and see what we are able to respond with. Even if it is a feint, we risk a great deal without a response of some kind. Our enemies should not know of our weakness.”

Hamilton nodded, apparently appeased. Washington held his gaze for a few moments, as if such a thing could impress the ragged feelings that he had regarding the situation. He was not a man who shirked his duty. He did what had to be done. But things that had to be done were frequently terrible, and they made his chest ache. Then, Hamilton placed his hand on his desk, palm open. For a second, Washington was not sure what to do with it, and then he placed his hand in it.

His husband squeezed his hand. “I shall prefer not to have you sulking around your grounds,” he said, mildly, “So, I will do whatever I am required to do to prevent such a thing. It is hardly good sense to not be watering your flowers.”

Washington stared at their linked hands, and then up at the other man, who watched him cautiously.

“There is something,” he said.

“What?”

“I….” He started, and Hamilton squeezed his hand again, as if such a thing could move his husband’s eternal confidence into his own body, “I am not opposed to your attending my meeting with the other generals. In fact, I have always, and continued to be, impressed by your military knowledge, and you bring a perspective none of us have.”

Hamilton narrowed his eyes, but he did not release his grip. Washington took a breath.

“I am only concerned my allies will think of you only as Phillip’s son. That they may think your ideas too radical, and your presentation undiplomatic. I know why you are the way that you are, and I admit great affection for it. But how we may be with each other here cannot be how we present ourselves there, even if the circle has only been widened by a fraction.” He looked down at their linked hands, where Hamilton’s thumb, inkstained, rested upon his fingers. “I think it….may be wise to coach your opinions, although I know you are not usually in the habit of doing so. I do not wish to suppress you with this request; if anything, I feel that perhaps if you approach the manner more distantly, your thoughts will be more completely considered.”

It was a terribly risky thing to say, knowing his husband. But he could hardly imagine Greene or Phillip Schuyler considering one of Hamilton’s occasionally over-thorough explanations for his strategies, as radical as they usually were, anything more than a rant by an overgrown child. Phillip, especially, would likely be long-accustomed to Hamilton’s ideas, and find them easy to mute in his head.

The process of integrating Hamilton, an outsider in an extraordinary number of ways, would be a challenge. He was hardly sure that it might be successful at all. But he could not deny the man’s brilliance and his eye for military matters or government. It was certainly worth an effort, if nothing else. The benefits, if he was successful, could be enormous.

“It is only that your allies do not like to consider the situation in ways other than they understand,” Hamilton said. But then he looked at their hands again, and put his other hand on top of Washington’s, “And I can say with complete confidence Phillip will seek to dismiss me. His allies will pretend I am an insensible child. If I am to be more calm, and persist through these attacks, I will need a defense. I will make an effort, if I can feel assured that I will be judged only on my military merits, and for none other.”

They met eyes across the desk. The deal seemed fair. He, at least, had won the terms that he had desired. And to give terms back - what was more Lord Hamilton than that?

“If you are attacked or dismissed for reasons other than your strategy, I shall defend you,” Washington said, resolutely, and squeezed his hand.

“Do you think this will stop you from pouting like a child?” Hamilton teased, the moment gone. He slid their hand apart, and then he picked up John Laurens’ letter to him from Washington’s desk, and tucked it into his pocket. “Or are you doomed to your misery no matter my behavior, and the response to it?”

Washington sat back at the desk and thought about the question much more than it seemed Hamilton intended for him to. The truth was, ‘the sulk,’ as Hamilton liked to call it, was mysterious to him, despite its intimate place in his life. It appeared without warning, unlike the weather, and it relinquished its intractable hold on his mind without rhyme or reason. The teasing smile slid away from Hamilton’s mouth as the silence stretched.

He forced the corner of his mouth to quirk up, as if he could forget two previous wars, and this very real threat of a third, and all the pointless, miserable politicking and death that would be sure to accompany it.

“One would think that a miracle such as you acting diplomatically would resolve even the most mysterious of illnesses,” he said, as mildly as he could. Hamilton frowned for a second, and then chuckled.

“There is no reason to be pleasing men who have not earned the right to be pleased,” His husband retorted, and sat himself into the chair in front of the desk. “Read to me more of the reports. We shall formulate a strategy. If I am to be judged only by my military merits, I must be well-prepared for my enemies.”

“They are my - and more importantly, your - allies, sir,” Washington replied, but he nonetheless resettled himself in his chair, and gathered his papers.

Chapter Text

He startled awake in the dark and suppressed the sharp rise of bile in his stomach. It felt like acid in the back of his throat, and he swallowed back, staring into what must have been the very, very early morning.

He had had a dream, a tangled, bloody thing about some future, imaginary war, or perhaps both wars he had already been in and suffered through, as he was required. The dreams were not wholly irregular, of course, but this one had seemed worse than usual. He had been in many places at once, made sensible by unknowable dream mechanics. He had been in some ragged war tent, and on the front lines, and in a naval battle. They had been losing on all fronts, frustrated and bloody and dying, filled with the low, agonized moans of men whose strength had been sapped from them.

His husband had been there, and he had died.

He was sure of it, in only the way a man could be sure of his own dreams. Hamilton had been made a husk by a fever; he had been bayoneted and shot; he had bled out on some medical table; he had starved.

What had Hamilton called him? Predictable, and yet astonishing. A low brick of dread grew in his stomach, next to the bile. Somehow, some part of him knew this series of events could become horribly, terribly normalized.

But it had only been a dream. They were not at war, at least not yet. They were in his manor, and he was in his bed, and Hamilton was asleep in his room, only a short walk away. Hamilton obviously had not woken up, dressed himself in military gear, given himself the look of a starved soldier, and somehow died six times between now and when they had eaten dinner. It was only that, as dreams tended to be, that Hamilton in his dream had seemed so real - even in the war-misery, the smirk had remained in his eyes and his courage and heroism on full display. Hamilton had charged forward, unceasing and unfearing, and been punished.

Washington knew, as one knew about dreams, that he had made the order. He knew that he had arranged the battalions in the order that they had charged, and as a result Hamilton’s death could be attributed to him, in the way that so many deaths of people could be.

Only the thing had not happened. It had only been his mind, content to consider all the ways things could be terrible. It was only his thoughts, that sometimes tangled themselves in balls of sharp wire, when they were unsettled. It had been a fictional thing. Not real. There had been none of the horrible smell of rotting flesh and blood and misery and vomit. He had not had to listen to Hamilton scream as his leg had been amputated. His husband was perfectly well. He was perfectly well, aside from a racing heart and the sweat that soaked his sheets.

He could look, just to be sure.

How ridiculous, he thought to himself. Hamilton would think the thing absurd. I may be impressive, but not even I can be killed in six ways at once, Hamilton would chide him.

He lit the candle next to his bed and drew his hands over his face. His skin felt like he had been through one of Hamilton’s August races, and then it had caked into him as if he had worked all day in the sun. He rubbed his chest, as if somehow that would resettle his heart into its designated area. He glanced around his bedroom as his eyes adjusted to the candle. Everything was exactly as he had left it. He was not in some borrowed room, or tent, or fort. He dressed himself simply in the candlelight, then picked up the candle holder, and went for a walk.

The manor was cool and dark and silent. Whatever servants had tasks to accomplish during the night had long since completed them, and the chefs were not yet up for breakfast. Several pieces of art, violet-themed, had been removed from the walls to be replaced with the new crest. He thought of the weed, prickly and peculiar, in his hand, and what it might look like on his jacket.

He would send a carriage to have Mulligan come to him to work on the new clothes. He could hardly imagine the questions that might be asked if he were to appear in town, with such an act of war having taken place.

His feet, traitorous as they were, lead him to Hamilton’s bedroom. He stared at the door, as if it might have an answer. He was being foolish about the thing, for sure. He could hardly be much of an impressive general if he would allow himself to be ruled by insignificant, impossible dreams of some future that had not yet been decided.

And yet.

And yet he had promised Hamilton, that he would not pretend to be unafraid.

He knew with the certainty of experience that he could hardly imagine something more dreadful than another war. Soldiers would find honor and glory, yes. Soldiers would become heroes, and they would win things they had never dreamed of, and they would create bonds with other soldiers that could never be broken. They would learn more about themselves than they ever had. They would be tested in ways that people did not expect themselves to be tested.

They would die, and suffer agonies they had never imagined.

He did not disguise or hide that he had benefited from his generalship. He had hardly been nobody before the first or second war, yes, but the victory in the second war had granted upon him land, and titles, and power, and funds. And yet somehow the war had left him with all sorts of other 'gifts': bad dreams, and guilt, and men who sought to destroy him for doing his duties, and the sense that he could have made a thousand better decisions. To a man like Hamilton, who had come from nothing and saw a war as another step in his continual advancement, those things must have been acceptable toll-prices to pay. But he had thought about it, and he was never sure.

The door swung quietly open when he pushed. He took in the man's room in the candlelight: books, and clothes strewn across the room, and at the far wall, a head of hair in the swaths of blankets and pillow.

He was being foolish, to be relieved. And yet, he felt it immensely. Hamilton appeared, by his little candle, to even be sleeping soundly, for he was still and silent. Still, he took a step or two into the room holding the light high to better investigate the man buried in his sheets.

Something slipped under his foot, and he stumbled, reaching out wildly in the darkness. His hand found the bookshelf, so he managed to avoid falling or dropping his candle, but --

"You are a better general than a spy," Hamilton said, where he was now sitting up in his bed and watching Washington make a fool of himself. "Unless you have some more valuable explanation for investigating a man's room in the dead of night."

He stood up and glanced down at what he had accidentally disturbed. A book, of course, lying open on the floor. He cleared his throat and stood up straighter, trying to maintain his dignity.

"I dreamed that you were dead," he said.

Washington could hardly track Hamilton's face with only the light of his stubby candle, but there was a significant pause, and something changed in the air. Then Hamilton snorted a little laugh, and lit the lamp next to his bed, illuminating him more clearly.

"And you have come to check, to make sure that this horrible fate has not been realized. And you were clumsy and stepped on my book and disturbed me."

"Yes."

Hamilton settled himself with the palms of his hands behind him. "How did I die? Was it at least glorious?"

Washington grimaced. He glanced around the room for a moment, and then sat in Hamilton's desk chair, placing his candle next to the various strewn essays. "You died in many ways," he said, "You starved. You were run through, and shot. You got some infection and could not overcome it."

Hamilton must have saw the way his shoulders slumped and how he spoke to his lap. There was another pause.

"Sit with me," Hamilton said.

Washington watched as Hamilton shifted over in his bed to free up some space, and with slow steps he walked over to bed and sat on the side of it. He put down candle next to Hamilton's and pinched it out with his fingers.

"I look very alive to you, correct?" Hamilton asked, a teasing little grin on his mouth, "I have not been the recipient of some gifted bayonet or bullet."

Washington sighed. It was hard to be angry, when he felt so worn. He shook his head, though he did not know what he was denying, and looked off into the messy bedroom.

"As if something so silly as a war could kill me," Hamilton said, from behind him. The bed shifted, and he felt Hamilton's forehead against his back. "You are being very foolish, like usual."

"I am a very foolish person," he admitted.

"Are you going to stay up all night pacing and considering the various impossible horrors of the world?" Hamilton asked his back.

"I might," he said, because he was not a very good sleeper when he felt ragged around the edges. His thoughts jumped too easily from one thing to another. He had forgotten more terrible things then most people were ever told, in his lifetime.

"Lay with me instead. Certainly, you cannot be thinking I am dead when I am right here. I shall be capable of defending you from your bad dreams, being a soldier, and you being my most esteemed general."

He could not have heard the words correctly, even though they had been very clear to him. "I beg your pardon?"

Hamilton twisted around him and blew the other candle out, dropping them into darkness. Then hands reached around him and tugged him gently into the bed.

"You are not deaf," Hamilton said.

"Wait," he said, and put his hand on the warm hand on his leg.

"What, so you may continue your sulk?" his husband muttered, although the tug on his body ceased.

"I only wish to undress, sir."

"Oh," Hamilton said, and he stretched out the sound in his mouth, salacious. "Is this part of your plan to seduce me? You appear at my door in the dark, distraught by your nightmares? You can only find comfort in some young man's arms?" Hamilton must have felt him go stiff, because the man cut himself off midword, and instead offered in a much less teasing voice: "Or men just prefer to be undressed when they sleep."

Hamilton withdrew from him and settled onto the other side of his bed, taking his awkward silence with him. Washington looked over and saw the outline of his shoulder. Words clogged themselves in his throat. He shut his mouth and resumed undressing, then slid into the bed, pulling the covers around him. Hamilton had, at some point, acquired many more pillows then Washington had on his bed, so it was not hard to find a place to rest his head.

"There, I am here," he said, to Hamilton's back.

"Good," Hamilton said, although much less emphatically this time. "Now, go to bed."

But how could he? How could he be expected to go to sleep when Hamilton had made such a suggestion, albeit in jest? How could he possibly expect his thoughts to be calm when half of him was still consumed in war-darkness, and the other half had now been given this?

He did not remember falling asleep, but he snapped awake from a terrible dream with no form.

Usually his dreams, even when they were dark, took physical form - there were men, and land, and things with shape. This time, all he remembered was the feeling. He could remember misery, but that had not been the main thing, and it was not the main thing that remained, in the beginnings of the pale sunrise of another day. He knew what remained, and he felt it powerfully in the base of his stomach and along the line of his spine and in his head.

He wanted. The thing was desire. Lust burned along his bones and in his groin, and worse because he knew immediately that he was in Hamilton’s bed, and further worse that if he wanted, he could lean out and touch the man, and feel his flesh through the thin nightshirt. His husband was so close, and so bare, and perhaps Washington would be chastised for his inexperience, but it would be better to learn. He knew what it was like, now, to kiss those lips, and feel those elegant hands, and his undisciplined mind wondered what they might feel like along his bare skin.

He was too close.

He slid out of the bed, using the beginnings of the day’s light to guide him. He found his clothes, and he left, and all without waking up his husband.

Chapter Text

He wished that he felt some relief upon seeing his allies and their thoughtless small-talk, drinking his liquor and chuckling to each other, but his mind was too clogged of all his troubles.

They sat in a loose semicircle around a round table of medium length, each with their pile of papers and a few stray books to compare military tactics and history. He had a powerful, surprisingly positive flashback to the war - they had managed once, hadn't they? They had commanded men to victory, and they had celebrated success.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen," he said, his own stack of papers under his arm. He sat down at the nominal head of table, between Phillip Schuyler and Henry Knox. The other two - John Sullivan and Nathaniel Greene - looked up at him as well, and there was a collection of nodded greetings.

"Lafayette is not going to join us?" Greene asked, glancing down the table at the last chair which had been set for the occasion.

"Lafayette is occupied with his duties. As you might guess, they have suddenly become quite numerous."

Greene quirked a dark eyebrow at this proclamation, and studied the room with a slow turn of his head. "Duties," he repeated, with a gentle derision, "In your private manor. When such important events happen, and more surely loom."

Washington met Greene’s gaze with a hard stare, and could feel three more sets of eyes on him. "He is my steward, sir," he said, as if the man was unaware, "It is his responsibility to make arrangements so I may properly display my new crest."

Greene tilted his head."Of course," he said, withdrawing. The man shuffled his papers and took a drink of his brandy, as if to soften the tension. It had little effect.

"This must have been of Alexander's doing," Phillip said, scratching some invisible itch on his forehead. "It's quite a statement, for you to go with this. To soldiers, to the men who hate you, to the world. As if to say: here I am, the most heralded man in the country, practically godlike, and I am but a common soldier, and I suffer. This is a perfectly Alexander sort of act: here I am, taken in by a rich, famous man, and my life is so very terrible, that I must drag him in such a manner."

"I am not dragged, Phillip," Washington said, sharper than he intended. He knew, of course, that Hamilton's relationship with his father was not pristine. But Hamilton was also not inclined to be completely honest in the descriptions of those he disliked, either. "We all begin as common soldiers. In many ways, I, and the rest of us, are nothing without infantry. Who carries out our orders and takes our messages? We gain glory, and they die. We sit here and we want for nothing, and they been murdered in the dark."

The change of subject worked, because Knox growled, causing all of them to turn to him. "Murdered is right! Practically assassinated. Can you believe those blood-loving cowards? To sneak in under the night and flee with our blood on their bayonets? Are they so dishonorable that they need only wait until they can stand on their own two feet to try to tackle us again? Was one beating not enough?"

"It was a feint," Sullivan said, and sighed. "They test us. They want to see how we respond. If we do nothing, do we appear above it? Or do they think we are too weak? And if we do respond--"

"We are simply not capable of responding," Phillip cut in, to nods from the other men. He found some particular letter that he wanted, scanning through the text. "They might not know, but we do. What we have left of the army is hardly capable of managing a conflict. We could skirmish, if we wanted. But that would be the beginning, and not the end."

"Indeed," Washington agreed, and the dread resumed churning in his stomach, "But Adams and his ilk still want us to respond."

"I would not be upset to see the lot of them drown in an ocean," Sullivan hissed, "They know nothing of what war is and what it means to a soldier or a country. They march their own lands headfirst into their doom. They think armies can battle decently on empty stomachs and with no guns. Can you imagine what it might be like, if this becomes a serious conflict, and we still cannot rally them for troops or funds?"

There was an intense silence. Washington could, in fact, very clearly imagine it. He knew what it was like to see men starve, and have fingers and toes removed due to the cold, and to have wounds go unbandaged.

"We are capable of overcoming them," said Hamilton, appearing in the doorway. His allies looked up at his husband, and then they all looked at each other, as if hoping another man would say something.

"Hello, Lord Schuyler," Phillip said.

"I was hoping it would not be an imposition if my husband were to be part of our discussion," Washington said. His allies exchanged another round of glances.

"It would be a pleasure," Knox said, and he gestured to what would normally be Lafayette's seat. Hamilton sat down, and took out his own pile of books and papers. "What would you recommend, Lord Schuyler?"

"The way to solve the issue, gentlemen, is by convincing the people that a lack of response is the best response," Hamilton said, sitting up very straight in his chair. If nothing else, he exuded his usual confidence about war matters, and that gave Washington some comfort. "For example, General Knox. Imagine that you are walking down the street, minding your own business, when you are challenged to a duel by a disreputable youth you have never met with no crest and lacking three fingers on both hands. Would you accept his request?"

Knox looked baffled at this question for a moment, but he recovered. "Well, it would be very unfair if I were to accept a duel with a man who could not capably hold a gun. He would not even be able to shoot me. And of course, if he has no name, and no cause, I might deny him on grounds that it would be dishonorable to lower myself to such a position."

"Exactly," Hamilton replied, and nodded as to resolve of the issue. "That is the force we are dealing with. We need only convince the country it would be below us to respond."

"Hmm," Greene said, sitting next to Phillip.

Washington kept his confusion carefully hidden. Hamilton had seemed so war-bent, when they had previously talked about. Hamilton had seemed ready to grab his sabre at that instant and rush out. And here he was, advocating peace---

--- advocating peace --

-- for him?

No, that could not be it. Hamilton advocated peace because peace was the correct decision.

Phillip cast a suspicious eyebrow at Hamilton, and Hamilton stared at him. Washington held his breath. He had imagined this moment several times already, and in his thoughts the moment always seemed to go disastrously.

"Are you going to write every pamphlet to convince the populace, Lord Schuyler?" Phillip asked, as he took a drink.

"Well, I would write many," Hamilton replied, and Washington breathed only a little, "But others would be written by others. And statements from good men like General Washington and General Knox would further suggest that this attack is below us to respond. Is it terrible that men have been killed so dishonorably? Of course it is. And it is further terrible, of course, that our old enemies strike us a blow like this with no warning. But we must pity them for acting so wrongly. We must not be as indecent and vicious. We are a country of peace."

It seemed impossible, that Hamilton had not struck back. Impossible, that this was working. That Hamilton could successfully manage himself with his allies, and for there to be only understated tension, that perhaps they could smooth away. Hamilton had promised, after all. Had Washington merely not given him enough credit? Could the brash soldier grow into a wise, considerate advisor? Perhaps he would never be a general, but for him to be in these conversations would be meaning enough. It seemed almost too pleasant, too wonderful a result. He had dreamed so many horrors of this encounter and somehow it was succeeding.

"You really think that you can convince people that the correct choice of action is to not fight back, after their brothers and sisters were murdered in the dark," Sullivan said, his voice dubious.

Hamilton nodded, as completely self-assured as he usually was. He looked at Sullivan and smirked. "I see no reason why not. If you can convince people that the Battle of Sullivan's Hill was anything less than a complete blunder, then I see no reason to that they cannot be lead to the correct opinion on any matter. In this case, we must make them think they do not fight because we are above it, and not that we are incapable."

Knox's eyebrows went up, and Washington heard the sounds of crumbling masonry and felt the coolness of being in the shadow of cannonballed tower.

Sullivan stared at Hamilton. He had gone very rigid. "I beg your pardon," he said, coldly.

"You should apologize, Alexander," Phillip said, with a frown.

"What should I apologize for, General Schuyler?" Hamilton asked, and his voice now contained the knife-edge of anger that Washington recognized as extremely dangerous. His thoughts began to race, furiously. There needed to be a way to disarm the situation. His husband could not usually be stopped, once he began. He had to stop Hamilton before he began.

"Regardless," he interrupted, raising his voice over Hamilton's, and forcing himself to ignore the way the two men stared at each other. Washington wondered if this had some echo of some past dealing. It must have. "If our best solution is the press, it is the solution we should move to mobilize and as soon as we are able. Adams and his group also have their newspapers. They will cry for revenge and honor, and those are tough calls to dismiss once they are made. We must begin before them."

"I think so," Sullivan agreed, glancing from him and then to Hamilton and Phillip, clearly sensing the tension as well, "I have men I can have discuss the matter with, pamphleteers and such. And I believe that your daughter's wife has some print connections, Phillip?"

Phillip's lip curled. He did not break eye contact with Hamilton, who seemed close to outright baring his teeth in this absurd display of dominance.

"Eliza's wife will know them," he said, very coolly. "Eliza and Alexander are quite close. Perhaps you might like to talk to her and see what she thinks, Alexander? There is no one who likes your writing more, if I recall correctly. Certainly, she will talk to her Peggy and have her discuss with the newspaper folk that are familiar with the Shippens?"

Alexander hissed a breath through his teeth. Not disarmed, then.

Washington met eyes with Knox and Greene, and impressed to them the urgency of decompressing the situation as best he could. Greene cleared his throat, and he stood up, rearranging his papers noisily. "Lord Schuyler," he said, turned to look at Hamilton, "I know you were a veteran, but I confess to an old man's memory about your exploits. Would you tell us more about your experiences, and how you came to know Lady Schuyler-Church? Phillip, you must have told this story while we were too drunk to be listening.”

"I served with Lady Schuyler on the plains for most of my tenure," Hamilton said, but he did not launch into the story as completely as Washington knew liked to, even though his audience at least made an effort to appear completely captive. He was beginning to despair, that the inevitable end of this evening would just be moaning soldiers dressing their wounds. He had thought that --

He had been blinded by his own feelings, maybe. He was not blind to the fact that Hamilton was peculiar, stubborn and argumentative. He liked it, in a strange way, that Hamilton was those things. Perhaps he had thought too optimistically, that this man he had unusual affections for could fold into the orderly etiquette of his military society.

"Did you?" Knox followed up, and he took a sip of his brandy, "I knew a lot of good men and women in that campaign. That you you have managed to return to us in such excellent shape speaks to your determination and endurance. Truly a man that we would all be honored to keep close to us. If it is not too much for me to ask, might I know more about the strategies that you managed on the front? I imagine that the information would do well for us distant generals, so that we might be able to present more informed orders, and such."

"Indeed," Washington agreed, and he made a note that Knox was going to be sent home with a full bottle of brandy.

There was a very long, uncomfortable silence, as Hamilton did not answer the question. He was still staring at Phillip Schuyler, who was watching him out of the corner of his eye. Washington looked at Knox again, and encouraged him with a little nod, to continue.

"If that distinterests, sir, do not be bothered," Knox continued, still watching Washington. "However, if it would not be rude, would you tell me more about your new crest? George might be imaginative in his own way, but this brilliance seems like the sort of thing that would come from a man like you."

Finally, to Washington's great relief, Hamilton's eyes moved away from his adopted father. They swung, like a pendulum on a clock, to Knox.

The relief was a mirage.

"A man like me?" He repeated, softly, and stood, something about him deadly like a plague. "Brilliance from a man like me? I have been a thistle since before I was a Schuyler, sir. If anything, there is a comfort to return to a crest I feel respected by."

"Respected by?" Phillip growled, and Washington opened his mouth to apologize on Hamilton's behalf, but Phillip cut him off with narrowed, furious eyes. "What about the bird of paradise has done you so wrong?"

"The bird of paradise might have been content in it's cage," Hamilton said, "But the thistle is enduring and ferocious, as soldiers are. It can thrive anywhere and overcome great obstacles. I do need to be tended."

"Oh yes, what a mighty scavenger you have always been," Phillip replied, finally he stood, spreading his hands flat on his pile of letters, which had been forgotten. "First, I took you in when you might have had nothing and you responded by acting like a sour brat at every occasion. Then, you had the gall to suggest this bizarre thing to General Washington, and for reasons I cannot possibly comprehend, he has allowed you to mar his good name with your insanity--"

"Phillip," Washington snarled, before he could stop himself. He had not meant to be suddenly, so quickly angry. It had snuck up on him, like some predator cat. He was being irrational, and yet.

At least his growl had stopped both men and forced them to look at him. "First, I might prefer if you would not speak for me on my personal matters. My good name is not marred. Our crest is not bizarre. We have endured, and suffered, and we live where our enemies dislike us. The thistle is a marvelously acceptable thing, and I am honored to wear it, and to have it be suggested that it present the name of Washington-Schuyler."

He ignored the smug noise Hamilton made in his throat.

"Second," he said, and then he turned to Hamilton, who looked triumphant, "You will apologize to General Sullivan for pointlessly mocking him, and then you will apologize to General Schuyler for being rude. How you act in our private company is, and always must be, different from how you act around others, even if those others are to be our closest allies.”

The triumph disappeared under a wave of disbelief. "Apologize?" Hamilton echoed, "I have said nothing wrong, and I have done nothing wrong."

Washington felt the frustration grow and expand in his chest. Hamilton was acting exactly as he might expect Hamilton to act. All the things he said were perfectly Hamilton things to say. They made sense, in some way, to him. But they were not directed at him, or given with kindness. They were barbs, and worse, Phillip Schuyler was evidently well tired of having such things directed at him.

“You have been disrespectful when it was not necessary,” he said, and he forced his anger into something cool and directed. Hamilton would be angry that he was not on his side. But there was no reason for him to be on his husband’s side, not with what he said. His anger was legitimate. He could not allow his feelings to interfere with his duties.

He doubted Hamilton would make the same judgements about the situation.

“I have not misspoken, and I shall not apologize,” Hamilton said, and he lifted his chin in his familiar, growing defiance. Washington had learned everything about that gaze. Hamilton was not only angry at Phillip, but now him as well. He had expected Washington to take his side, and he had not.

“Well,” Phillip said, settling into his chair, his face calm again, “I apologize for demeaning the thistle. I was ill-tempered and spoke in error. Of course, it is in many ways a symbol to both of you, and I have complete confidence you will wear it with all the station, class, and nobility I have always known….both of you to possess.”

Phillips stared at Hamilton meaningfully. Hamilton glanced at him, and then Washington, and then back to him, and his expression was like a thundercloud.

Phillip cast Washington a meaningful glance, as if to say I told you so, and also This was a waste of all of our time.

“Lord Schuyler,” Washington said, as calm as he knew he had to be, even though he thought it would be will within reasonable limits to pick up his husband up and shake him until he vomited. “I might have you for a private moment?”

Hamilton looked up from where he was casually shuffling his papers, as if to reject him. But he sighed, and nodded. “Certainly,” he said.

“I shall hope you will all accept my apologies, sirs.”

His allies all nodded, and glanced at each other.

Washington took six brisk steps down the hallway. He heard Hamilton behind him. When they had made their way a little away from the room, he stopped. He studied his men, in their various levels of chaos. He forced them into semi-decent rows in an attempt to manage all of his wild thoughts, spiraling in all directions. They had to be organized, even without the pressure of company.

Had he not expected this? He had. He had known that it could go terrible, to have Hamilton in the meeting. Hamilton was brilliant, creative, experienced, ingenious- but he had no diplomacy. He did not compromise.

Had he been foolish, to think that Hamilton would compromise?

“You say you will support me, and you do not?” Hamilton hissed behind him, forcing him from the problem in abstract to the problem in practice. “Do you lie to me?”

Washington took a slow breath through his mouth, and released it, along with the urge to shake Hamilton until he understood he was being absurd.

“I will support you when you are treated unfairly,” he said, forcing himself into calm, “If you were to be condescended to, or to be thought of as ignorant, naive, or young. None of those things have happened. What has happened is, for reasons I cannot discern, you have pointlessly assaulted one man’s ego and another’s symbol.” He took another breath, and glanced past his husband to the room where he was no doubt being gossiped about.

“As for Sullivan -- the comparison was perfectly apt,” Hamilton retorted, “And I speak with complete honesty about the bird of paradise.”

He thought of maybe a new approach. He reached out a hand, but Hamilton yanked his away.

“I cannot be comforted with your touch as if I am a dog,” his husband snarled, “You cannot wear me on your waist like a sabre.”

“Listen!” he gritted out, and felt the anger stir hotter, even as he thought to express it. “What is not required is the truth. No one, including myself, considers the truth. There is none of it in war, and less of it in the press. What is needed is diplomacy. Compromise. Appeasement. I know you have never appeased another damn human in your life. And I suppose that has done well for you. Never appease anyone, if it pleases you. But if that is your always and future behavior, do not expect me to condone it on every event. And do not expect me to support you in a military meeting. And do not expect me to allow you to represent me.”

The words had the intended effect. Hamilton sucked in a sharp gasp, and his eyes went harder than ever.

“You dare,” he said, soft and venomous. “You claim to care about me and you threaten me like this.”

“That I care for you more deeply than I can express is completely irrelevant to the matter,” he responded. He knew the tightrope he stood on, and could see the abyss below it. But he knew, as he always did, that he could never allow personal feelings to interfere with his duty. “Abandon me if you like. Withdraw from me your secrets. But I must, as I always must, put my duty first. And if that entails your dislike that I keep you out of situations that you disrupt, so be it.”

“Situations I disrupt,” Hamilton repeated, astonished. “Disrupted because I have made some nonsense comment about a propaganda victory?””

Washington took a slow step back. He forced the anger through the blacksmith's forge. He saw it come out the other side as steel resolve. He took the blade in his hand and steadied himself. His men saw and studied the battlefield. “That you think you have made only a nonsense comment indicates to me well enough you do not understand what is needed in this meeting. You may be brilliant and creative and interesting, but you are not made for this.” He straightened his jacket. “I would never banish you to or from some specific part of the manor. But I will not represent you, unless you permit me to teach you, or take steps yourself, to learn the importance of each word that you speak to an enemy or an ally.”

Hamilton did not relent. “So you wish me to sit there and smile politely as my ideas are stolen. Do you and your allies enjoy it? I have been stolen from before.”

“We are one entity, sir,” Washington retorted, “Your ideas cannot be stolen, because they belong to everyone. I hardly know what strategies I came up with, anymore. And you know as well as anyone that they are all attested to me. And men do not spit at me like you are right now, for it. They understand how the process is.”

“The process is you steal and you gain,” Hamilton snarled. “This is what the Great Unifier is? A theft of the brilliance of lesser soldiers, and your face and your mild tongue? Are you only merely a cloak stuffed with the hard work of others?”

“You have no idea what you are talking about,” Washington hissed, and he clenched his fists to resist the urge to grab Hamilton, “The Great Unifier is nothing. The Great Unifier is just a pretend construct for soldiers so they feel they are adequately lead. The Great Unifier is a collection of all the brilliance we can accumulate. Yes, it is my face. But do you sincerely believe I have thought of every idea I have spoken of? Do you sincerely believe that I am some military genius from beyond?" He struggled to keep the resolve in hardened form, and not let it melt back into anger, but he could also feel the liquid iron dripping through his fingers. “Not too long ago you thought it best to deify the Great Unifier. You thought it was best that he, that it - was brilliant and intelligent and unshakeable and immutable. And now you are upset, because you cannot comprehend that this mask is only a facade created for the very purpose you know it should be used for! And now you ---” A frustrated noise escaped him in lieu of words. “I do not understand you. I do not deny that I care for you tenderly. But I cannot excuse this behavior, on this scale, in this situation. I do not mind if you harangue me. I rather like your teasing. But we are not ourselves, when we talk war. We can think of nothing else but what is the best way to accomplish our goals. This is is that way. If you cannot act this way, you cannot be part of it. And you may be as furious as you like about it. Cast me out. I will suffer for my duty. I always have.”

His heart raced in his chest. It seemed to him that Hamilton could see all the pieces, but was furious to learn that they fit together. Something like desperation clung at the bottom of his stomach. Perhaps Washington had set his expectations too high, to think that a common soldier, even one that was brilliant as Hamilton was, could understand the complications of generalship. He shook his head and took another step back, crossing his arms behind his back and digging his fingers into his sleeves, as if the pain would ease him down from his anger.

“What a noble martyr you are,” Hamilton growled. Washington spread his arms out and shrugged.

“If you will excuse me, sir,” he said, “You may debase my character at some later juncture; for now, unfortunately, I must assist in an effort to stop my country from destroying itself.”

He did not wait for Hamilton agree. He could have hardly cared if the man followed him.

Chapter Text

They had all very evidently been gossiping about him, because it went suspiciously quiet when he reappeared.

“Did you send him to his room?” Phillip teased.

“Enough,” he snapped. Phillip rolled his eyes.

“So, I presume we are all invited to the ball,” Sullivan said.

“The ball!” Greene brightened considerably at the thought. “Sully’s right. I can hardly recall the last time you had a ball. And now with Lafayette now more settled, and everyone else ready, it will be quite an event! I mean, the celebration might be interesting - although Lord Schuyler, if I heard correctly, did pretend to mind you with Charles Lee?”

They all looked at him, very expectantly. “In truth,” he said, very slowly, “I was hoping if there was to be an event, it would be with limited attendance.”

Looks of bafflement, like a yawn, spread from one man to another. For a moment, it was quiet, like none of his allies could not properly decide what exactly to say.

Knox took a very long drink of brandy, and folded his arms across his broad chest. He cleared his throat, very loudly, and leaned forward a little, although his paunch stopped him from moving too far. “Are you ashamed of this choice that you have accepted, George?”

“No,” Washington said, because he was quite sure of it.

“And you do care very much about Lord Schuyler, who made the decision, for reasons none of us, including yourself, understand. ”

“Yes.”

“Are you are only not interested in having a ball because you are an incorrigible recluse?”

Washington almost snorted a laugh at that. He looked down into his wine glass and ran a hand over his face. “I am an incorrigible recluse,” he agreed, “And yes, that factors into my desire on the matter. But….” How to explain, that both he and Hamilton preferred only each other? That there was a different person that he was - and a different person that Hamilton was - when it was only them? Even his allies, it seemed, were not excluded from that, though perhaps it would be different if Phillip Schuyler was not present. He was fairly sure he would not mind dancing with Hamilton for several hours, drinking and eating and gossiping. But it was not the dancing or the food which upset him regarding an event of the magnitude his change merited, according to the rules of gentlemen's conduct.

“But?” Knox prompted.

“Both Lord Schuyler and I have obligations to appear specific ways in public, and especially at the scale of the event that I suspect you are proposing. And neither of us prefer that appearance. But that is only part of my reluctance.” He looked down at his papers, trying to imagine the words in the right order. “Certainly, we have all known the thistle. If we did not know it, then we knew of it, and what it entailed. And Lord Schuyler did wear it, for a time. But the thistle that we share is… different. The thistle that he - that we - have chosen is for our own private sufferings, as much as our public ones.”

“George,” Phillip said, sighing, “I must confess that when I suggested you marry Alexander, this is not what I had in mind.”

“I can assure you, Phillip, it was not my intention either,” Washington replied, a smile just on the corner of his lip, “But there are always more things to be learned about oneself, and about the company that we keep.”

“Expected or unexpected affections aside,” Greene injected, and Washington turned to him. “You have already played this game once and lost. You know better than anyone that you can say whatever you like to whoever you like about why you do what you do. And we know, of course, that you prefer to not do things other people might be interested in. But we all also know, and you as well, that your explanations will be seen as excuses. If you do not have this ball, you will be assumed to be ashamed of the thistle. Forced into it, by your husband half your age, the son of your political ally. Or seen as a manipulation tactic, to twist the hearts of veterans. Maybe assumed to be a warmonger.”

“This conversation does seem eerily similar to the ones we had about you not being married,” Phillip admitted, “I will not offer any suggestions this time.”

Sullivan huffed a laugh.

“Now that we have decided you have to have a ball, whether you like it or not, perhaps this time you will come around to it with more haste,” Knox continued, “You should begin to make arrangements immediately. If you wait until the winter is over, you may be thought of as dragging your feet.”

“What if,” Greene said, leaning forward with a conspiratorial grin, “You announce at the council meeting that this big event is to be had at your manor, but you neglect to indicate why. Perhaps deliver invitations as members depart.”

Washington thought on this for a moment. “Everyone would have to arrive. Why might a recluse like myself be holding a ball? Certainly, I will have important news. One would not want to be told second-hand of it.”

It was the sort of plan Hamilton might like, even if it brought more people to his grounds, and not less, as he preferred.

“And of course when everyone arrives, they shall noticed the changed decor,” Sullivan continued, “But while they might call you a warmonger to your face, they must at least pay lip service to the thistle, and what it represents, and your courage as a soldier. They cannot merely put down the whole army, or what remains of it. If rumor gets out of that, they will never convince the people to side with them.”

Phillip grinned. “Devious. No matter what they may think in council rooms, or to each other, or to us, they know they they should never come out actively against the thistle, especially in such a crowd.” There was a beat. “I suppose Alexander will like to invite his friends, too.”

“Well, he is part of the celebration, as much as you may dislike it,” Greene added, dryly.

“With the political attendance, and Lord Schuyler’s compatriots, this may become quite an event. But enough about managing George’s life because he would have preferred to be born in a time and a place where a general can be left alone to his devices.” There was a collection of chuckles. “First, I think we should attend to what we can do for peace, and then secondly the press, and how best to mobilize them for our aims, both for peace and for army-building, if such is necessary, and then, and only then, shall we reward ourselves by torturing George with the guestlist to his own event. At least you shall permit Lafayette to help with that, I hope?”

Washington groaned. “Yes,” he said, and looked down at his papers, finding the report from the coast. He cleared his throat and put his pouting husband out of his mind.

When they had arranged something that vaguely resembled a strategy, with contingencies and back-up plans and some beginnings of speeches and ways, both in and out of the council chamber.

They were called to dinner. Hamilton did not join them, but Lafayette did. The servant was immediately brought up to speed on their affairs.

“A ball?” he asked, surprised, after he had already deemed their strategies for peace and the press satisfactory. “Balls are generally not His Excellency’s chosen evening plan.”

“Well, as you know, His Excellency sometimes finds himself forced to become involved in things he dislikes,” Knox teased, as he ate, “Between this crest change and now a ball of this size, if not only the various councilors must be added, but also Lord Schuyler’s friends - your work does not end, steward.”

“I would not give up my duties for another life, general,” Lafayette responded, “My difficulties are a blessing. And that I undertake them in the name of General Washington continues to honor me more than anything else.” He took a sip of wine. “So, you have already arranged a guestlist? I suppose I will just send a carriage for Mr. Mulligan as soon as he is available. And we will need more chefs, and food. And new decorative tablecloths….”

“Well,” Knox added, after Lafayette trailed off, “I suppose we have made our best guesses.”

Lafayette looked at him for a long time, his brow furrowed. There was a pause. The servant took a breath, and then he took a few more bites of his food. “General,” he said, patiently, “I am having a very bad suspicion, that I hope is not correct, but I strongly suspect that it is - that you have all decided to have a ball in honor of the symbol Lord Schuyler has selected, but you have not yet told him, because he pouted off before the thing was discussed.”

“That is correct,” Knox said.

Lafayette sighed heavily. “I will tell him.”

“No,” Washington said, suddenly, interrupting the cloud of silence that he had pulled around him. “I will tell him. He is my husband, and the crest is mine as well, and the decision to make a change. He will be angry at me, but I suppose I am accustomed to it, by now.”

“And we were having a nice dinner,” Phillip muttered.

Washington turned to his friend and frowned. “I understand your relationship with him is tumultuous. But I would patiently request that you treat him as my husband, and not your stubborn son, while you are in his property.”

“George,” Phillip replied, and he sat back in his chair, meeting Washington’s eyes with visible irritation. “If you care for him, magnificent. Certainly we all know that you could do with someone who keeps your company, other than Lafayette. But I have never known him to return another person’s affections without also suggesting they always and eternally bend to his will. His care is only in return for your usefulness.”

“Your opinions on my company are always appreciated, and I know you only say what you can imagine will do me the best,” Washington replied, cool, because there was a ringing note of truth in those words. How could he explain what else Hamilton provided? That Hamilton had been there, in some way that it seemed no other person had ever been? That Hamilton had told him it was acceptable to be afraid? That they had kissed in a field, and--

“What can you expect from a man who selects us as his best company?” Sullivan added, to a round of chuckles. “Enough on Lord Schuyler. Talk about your daughters instead, Phillip.”

It was well known that Phillip Schuyler needed very little excuse to do just that, and could do so for quite some time. Washington paid half attention, and the other pointed down the hall and up the steps to Hamilton’s study, where he was sure the man was seething.

Chapter Text

When his companions were finally either set comfortably into their carriages or into the rooms in which they were staying in, Washington poured himself another glass of brandy and stared moodily into it.

He did not understand himself. He was exceptionally capable in terms of war. He could manage, with some ease, a council room filled with men who may have been demon fish. He could kill a man without blinking. But the skill, if it was that, to try to make any assumptions or guesses about what his husband was going to do still completely evaded him. Did it exist at all? Was it only his existence, now, to be constantly plagued by questions such as these? Was that his fate? To be persistently surprised, when a man he knew was imperfect displayed it?

He glanced up to the slight sound of cloth rustling. Lafayette had sat himself in the chair across from him. His servant held no glass, wine or otherwise - in fact, he remained uncharacteristically worn around the edges. Even so, the man still managed something thoughtful in his gaze. That Lafayette's advice was frequently valuable did not change the creeping irritation that Washington felt at the thought of seeming ignorant in front of the other man.

"You do not have time to be sitting there doing nothing, I think," he said, coolly.

"I manage my own schedule quite well, sir," Lafayette replied, unruffled.

There was a moment. Washington felt the questions push at the inside of his thoughts. His men stood, with glaring eyes, outside his tent. He signed at them. It felt like a defeat, to bend under those questioning eyes. And yet.

"Was I wrong, to think Lord Hamilton could successfully be a part of a war council?"

"I think such a thing will take time, is all," Lafayette answered, after he had thoroughly considered the question, “After all, there are many ways to upset a group of war veterans, and especially where one of which is your adopted father, who you are not so affectionate with or for."

Washington sighed a very long sigh, and took a sip of his brandy. "This situation is hopeless," he murmured, and slumped, fingers going limp around his glass, "And will become more hopeless, once Adams rallies his newspaper-folk and sends us all off to die."

"With such a cheerful view of the future, how could you not be thrilled for it?"

He grunted in low irritation, and did not dignify the question with a response. Instead, he released his hold on the glass entirely, and stared at his hands, as if the worn scars and old, familiar veins would provide answers for his question.

"I would, if it pleased you, sir, tell Lord Hamilton about the ball," Lafayette said, with a tenderness to it, "I see no reason you should have to do so yourself. If anything, it is merely another part of my duties."

"No." He stood, and he handed the mostly-undrunk glass back to his servant. "I shall do it. Return to your tasks. Expedite what you can, for the ball.”

Lafayette watched him a few more moments. "Yes, sir," he said, and departed with the glass. Washington watched his back, and then the empty hallway that he had walked through. Then, gathering his confidence and resolve, he went in the opposite direction, up the steps and knocked on Hamilton's study door.

"Come in," Hamilton said, through the door.

He opened the door, and shut it behind him. Hamilton's nose was in a book, but when he glanced over his shoulder and saw Washington, he placed a bookmark in it and folded it shut.

"You know," Hamilton said, and turned his chair around, "You were right, about the Great Unifier."

Washington stared. His soldiers offered their own baffled glances at each other. Had they - and him - had been granted some gift they could not comprehend?

Hamilton either ignored his dumbfounded look or saw it as the opportunity to continue. "And you were right about the truth, too. How could the truth be best used in war, when war is so miserable? Could you imagine, if you were forced to tell prospective soldiers about how terrible the thing truly is? 'You may become a great hero! But you will have to starve and be attacked by insects and your friends will die in great numbers all around you. But as a benefit, you will become completely inured to the smells of rot and shit.'" He laughed a little, at that. “Think of the truth of Sullivan’s Hill. ‘'Our idiot soldiers tripped over their own feet and fell on their bayonets. It was only due to the middle management of the battle that it was not a complete disaster. Why did General Sullivan send those dunces to battle? What an idiot.'” At this, Hamilton stood so quickly he nearly tipped over his chair, and made a dramatic gesture, throwing his arms out. “But no! Instead, we have many heroic sergeants and colonels. An impressive rally! The blooding of recruits!"

“That battle was a turning point,” Washington said, because it seemed he was expected to have input.

“And it was a disaster!” Hamilton turned from him and ran a hand through his hair. Then, he turned back and studied him, intent visible even through the wild passion of his eyes. "And to think you - cactus-loving, sulking you - has convinced the whole world you are built of immutable marble. That you are stone! An unshakeable leader. You even fooled me.”

"I beg your pardon, sir," Washington said, but there was no anger in his voice. He was only being very tenderly chastised. He thought briefly maybe he was ill, that he did not mind being called cactus-loving as an insult. He realized, additionally, that he did not know how to celebrate being told he was right.

Hamilton settled into an intense silence, "Although," he added, after a moment, finding his chair and sitting back down in it, "I still think the bird of paradise is the symbol of cowards."

"It seems likely you have shared this opinion with Phillip Schuyler repeatedly."

"Only as many times as it is required to make him understand that I am right," Hamilton replied, a conspiratorial smile on his lips. Washington shook his head, and sat down in the other chair in the study, steadying himself. Hamilton watched him, folding one leg over his other one and leaning forward a bit. Waiting.

The ball would be different. The meeting had not gone well, but perhaps Hamilton would have learned some other lesson for it. Perhaps Hamilton would see that, in fact, one could not be senselessly spouting insults and snarling at other men. Perhaps something had been learned, even if Washington had not seen it.

He did not know, how to explain how it would be different at the ball as opposed to with his friends. He was forced to invite Adams and Jefferson and Henry Laurens and the lot of them. If they were to see him vulnerable - if they were to see Hamilton and all his wild anger - he knew what such things would look like, in the newspapers. The stain of marrying a reclusive, adopted bookworm could be overcome by his station, and his nobility, and his position. But it would be worse, if Hamilton acted his sour-faced self. It would be worse, if Hamilton could be baited into making a fool out of them. It would not be difficult for any of them - Jefferson, especially, who did very much enjoy baiting his enemies - to get Hamilton into one of his rages. And for him to go off on one of his torrents, no matter how true one might be --

"What is it?" Hamilton asked, interrupting his dark train of thought, which perhaps showed on his face, "Is General Sullivan still upset with me?"

"General Sullivan is unhappy with you," Washington replied, "But he understands what you mean, and who you are, and how things stand between him and I, at present."

"You have not said anything,” Hamilton said, and a little frown crept at the corner of his mouth.

Washington resettled himself and shook his head, as if to break up the clouds that formed in his mind. “Yes. You represent me. We wear the same crest. We have the same name. And he understands how a man must act, in these circumstances, and even more so if the circumstances will become chaotic."

Hamilton glared at him, his fist balled, as if to throw a punch. Then, all at once, the anger left him. Washington prayed that perhaps it was because the man understood. Surely, he must. Surely, Hamilton was brilliant enough.

"Despite my affections," Hamilton finally said, grudgingly, "I do not wish to represent you. I do not wish to represent anyone. I wish to represent myself."

The worst was he knew the answer to this question. He knew it, and he knew Hamilton was not going to like it. He took the study in as he considered. "You cannot represent yourself, and you know it," he began, cautiously, "You can represent me, or you can represent Phillip Schuyler, or you can hide in the dark and be nothing. Maybe one day, you will only represent yourself. Maybe there will be a war, and you will be heroic, and your actions will be a part of yourself. Or perhaps you will grow in some other way. But that time is not now. That is not how things presently stand."

Hamilton made a frustrated groan that Washington hoped indicated his acknowledgement. "You cannot enjoy it, that the actions of so many are ascribed to you. I know you. You do not want to represent me, and you do not want me to represent you.

"I would prefer to only be responsible for myself," he agreed, "But that is not how things presently stand."

"The most powerful and respected figure in the country, and he despises it."

Washington tilted his head in a wry little nod. Hamilton chuckled. "I will apologize to General Sullivan," he said, "I was rude and inconsiderate of his reputation. I would not wish for the thistle to be demeaned, or thought disrespectful."

"Thank you."

Hamilton shrugged and shifted in his chair. He picked it up and turned it back to facing the desk. Washington watched his back for a little while, and thought the best way to arrange himself for a charge. He could not deny the feeling which crept along his spine and his men, to abandon the reason he had really come up here. His men would have preferred to take their riches and flee, or be drunk in their cabins. But he was a soldier, and he had a duty to perform.

He stood from the chair slowly and made his way over to where Hamilton had returned to his book. He touched the man's shoulder, and Hamilton looked up at him.

"Is there something else?"

"There is," he said, slowly. Hamilton frowned, and took his hand. The slightly-inkstained fingers were warm around his.

"Well," Hamilton said, and he pushed his chair out and stood, perhaps taking in his hesitation for something more, "I am here to take it. Unleash yourself." Then he leaned in and kissed him, chaste. Being that Washington was only human, and persistently hounded by his own thoughts of such a thing, he could do little other than take another kiss for himself, and a second, and a third.

“You know," Hamilton said, and he drew his hand up Washington’s bicep, leaving small lines of heat where his fingers traced, just barely, up his sleeve, “If you do not wish to discuss whatever it is that troubles you, I am very capable at distraction.”

Washington stared. He took a sharp breath. Hamilton did not stop looking at him like that, smug.

"Wait," he said.

Hamilton frowned at him and took a big step away. Washington continued to stare, and finally managed a pitiful effort at gathering the shards of his composure. "We are going to have a ball," he managed, in a strained voice, which seemed to match the complete disarray of his thoughts, running in all different directions, as if they were obscured by thick fog or pouring rain or boot-sucking mud. No messages could be sent, in weather like this.

"A ball," Hamilton replied, in his own very peculiar tone, "A ball? You hate balls."

"I prefer more personal company," Washington replied automatically, and he turned and sat back down in the study's other chair, some distance away, to try and gather himself. He had not expected this. He needed --

He did not know what he needed, to more appropriately handle the situation. It was not that he did not want. He wanted. Only it seemed different, in practice, with Hamilton smirking at him. It was not right. He did not know what it might be, or what it might mean, to be right. But he had a sense, and the sense had always treated him well.

"Why are we going to have a ball?" Hamilton asked. He had stood, and leaned against the desk, so he did not have to turn his whole body in the chair.

"If we do not have a ball," Washington forced his voice to smooth out, and the pretense also allowed him to believe the lie himself, that there had not been a stinging, tense moment between them, "Then there will be many rumors about why we have become the thistle, and none of them pleasant. We must display ourselves as a charming and satisfied family, and one that had taken this peculiar symbol for the noble reasons that are the truth."

Hamilton sunk back into his chair and thought this over. Washington waited for a long moment, and then continued, “I will be forced to invite my enemies to the ball.”

For a few moments, his husband chewed on the edge of his thumb as he thought about this. They met eyes. “You will want me to play the dutiful husband,” he said.

The resigned look on his husband’s face made Washington want to disagree more than anything. It would be utterly delightful, really, to see Hamilton’s weapons drawn against Adams or Jefferson. Surely it was personal with Henry Laurens, over John. He could only imagine how aghast they might all look, stunned and surprised and taken aback, at this complete violation of the unwritten rules of gentlemanly conduct between them. And to watch them all respond, and to Hamilton’s attack to increase exponentially --

He discarded the daydream. He knew what such a thing would do to the work he needed to do. He understood, more than anything, the delicacy of politics.

“Yes,” he said, equally as resigned, “That is what I am going to ask of you, even though neither of us prefer it. I hope you to be the dutiful husband, and I to be the stone general, because that is how things are.”

Hamilton chewed his lip as he thought. The man stood up, and paced across the room, and for a moment Washington thought Hamilton was going to touch him, though he did not. When he had completed a few contemplative laps of the little space, he looked back over his shoulder at Washington, and then turned completely to face him, leaning against his desk.“You are not required to do this. You could no longer suffer these fools and play this game, if you desired. You could retire from public life, if you wanted. No one would hold it against you. Everyone knows how much you have done for your country. You willingly choose to put yourself through this. And you ask me to, as well.”

Washington slumped. He felt very tired, the leaden truth of the words filling his bones like iron. Hamilton was correct, of course. He had done so much, and come so far, and worked and fought and argued to this point. The fantasy of withdrawing was wonderfully tempting. Imagine, if every day could be merely personal correspondence with Martha and even Knox and company, and tending the greenhouse, and gently arguing with Hamilton.

And yet.

“Out of all the people, sir,” Washington said, softly, “It seems you would suffer most, if I were to do so. You have a great benefit from me remaining active. Until you become a man who can acquire the ear of another, I serve you a very important and irreplaceable purpose.”

Hamilton shrugged this off. “I only require an invitation. Certainly, you could provide one when retired. I have complete confidence that I can persist to teach the various lawmakers that I am far more capable than any of them, with or without you. You should not have to make yourself suffer on my behalf.”

Washington tilted his head, because although Hamilton had not said it, he heard it nonetheless. “It upsets you, when I suffer.”

“Only in that your mood is contagious,” Hamilton rebuffed, which was not quite an answer, and nonetheless burned some of the cool misery in his stomach and lit a soft, warm fire there instead. “Plus, I know with complete confidence you would enjoy watching me tell your enemies the various ways that they should be shot out of a cannon, and if they unlikely to fit, i have some ideas on a larger cannon I could suggest to General Knox.”

“It is not important that I would enjoy watching you eviscerate Lord Adams, or anyone else,” he said, and he drew upon a little of the warmth as he continued, “And you know that, about me, I think. I do not enjoy being this thing, but it is my work. I must be the keystone. I will be it until my work is done, and it is not. I will know, when it is. Until then, I must serve my country, and do my duty, to the best of my abilities, even when I suffer in doing so. I will take hold of another army, if i must. I will even suffer a ball with men who think I am less than a maggot.”

Hamilton pushed off his desk and walked over to the chair where Washington sat. Ordinarily, Washington was the taller of the two, but Hamilton had the advantage of standing at present. His husband took him in, as if he was trying to investigate his thoughts. He wondered what Hamilton thought of his ranks, in whatever stage they might be in at any given time. If Hamilton thought his soldiers to be decent despite their deficiencies.

“You have nothing more to gain,” Hamilton said, looking down his nose at him. It should have been more uncomfortable than it was. “You have been given this estate, and it has been expanded tenfold. You are the most respected man in the country. What drives you to encompass yourself so completely in your misery?"

At this, a creeping little smile crept into the side of Washington’s mouth. It was a very Hamilton thing to say. “I have told you before, and I suppose I will continue to tell you, that it has been a long time, since I have done something for a reward. I have been given these things. I do not turn down the fruits of my labors. But I did not go to the second war for an estate, or for rank, or for any kind of personal gain. And I do not suffer the opinions of men who try to destroy the country that I love for mere rewards. I do so because I believe in duty, and that these are the steps I must take to be the best citizen of my country that I can manage, and the best man I can be. If all I gained from any of this was more land, or additional titles - I would have been done very long ago.”

Hamilton shook his head, and resumed his slow circle around the study, his hand crossed behind his back. Washington could see him trying to tease the answer out of the words. He was very beautiful, Washington thought, while he was deep in thought. It was something about his furrowed brow, and his pacing steps, and his pursed lips.

Finally, he spoke, from behind the chair. “It is very important to you, to be the best citizen you can manage to be.”

“Yes.”

His husband came around the chair and stood next to it, staring into the distance. He set his shoulders. “I will try my best, to be your dutiful husband.”

Washington stood, slowly. He felt his age in his back. His men reviewed their orders, and picked up their weapons, and armed them, and marched.

He took Hamilton’s hand in his own. His husband let him have the touch, and met his eyes. “I cannot express the importance of this ball,” he said, slowly, “You do not have to be a kitten, if you prefer against it. You can have a strong spine, or be the brilliant and confident man of which I have great affection for. But you must manage your temper.” A frown flickered across Hamilton’s face, as he thought it might. But he persevered, as he needed to, and as he always had. “Terrible things will be said about me. I will be called a coward, and a warmonger, and a pathetic farmer, and more. But I am above these things. I must be above these things. I can never allow anything to appear to affect me. I may have retribution, in some circumstances. But that I appear unshakeable and immutable is of utmost importance. And the other generals are part of me, in that respect. And now, you are also me. Just like General Knox or General Schuyler contributes to the Great Unifier, so must you.”

Hamilton frowned at him, and stared at their linked hands. Washington kissed his knuckles, and then opened his hands, so that Hamilton could separate them, if he wanted. Instead, Hamilton looked at his hands in Washington's palm, and kept them there. It was undoubtedly a very good sign. Then, his husband looked at him, all familiar intensity, although without the cool anger. “You truly believe that the way to make political progress is to pretend to be something other than what you are?”

“Yes, and I have two wars and a substantial estate to support that claim.”

His husband snorted a chuckle. “I suppose that you do,” he said, and he reversed their grip, so he could reciprocate the gesture. His lips were warm against Washington's cracked knuckles.“I will do my best, if only you promise to listen afterwards to all the things I held back.”

Washington drew his hand up Hamilton’s sleeve. He felt the folds of the wrapped neckcloth, and the exposed skin of his neck. He traced the man’s jawline, with only the pads of his fingers.

He was granted a slow, lingering kiss.

“I promise. You should tell Lafayette who you would like to invite,” he said, and took a step back even though he thought, and then discarded the thought, that perhaps Hamilton had flinched forwards. “Do you expect to be at breakfast tomorrow? General Knox and General Greene will be attending.”

“I will attend. I will talk to Lafayette, too, about the invitations.” There was a peculiar beat, as if Hamilton had something else to say, and withheld it. “Good night, sir.”

“Good night,” Washington said, and left, pretending it was not very hard to do so at all.

Chapter Text

Outside his inn room window, the street was busy in the rapidly-dimming sunlight. The lamps had already been lit despite the relative earliness of the evening - a consequence, of course, of the upcoming winter. It was becoming cool enough in the evenings to require a fire in the grate, and one had been set for him before his arrival.

Washington watched the goings-on outside with disinterest. His mind was still very thoroughly set on the argument he had had with Hamilton the previous day, about this very meeting. It was completely characteristic of Hamilton to want to come to the council meeting, especially one of great importance. Washington, of course, could see no circumstance in which Hamilton arriving would improve his own ability to do his duty. The worst case scenario, that Hamilton engaged in some chaotic behavior that men voted against Washington only because they were shocked of his husband’s behavior, certainly existed. Furthermore, Washington could see no best case scenario in which his enemies would be so impressed by Hamilton’s plans (as brilliant as they often were), that things would be any easier than they would be if the young man was not here at all.

Hamilton had been vicious with him, and called him tyrant, and suggested he was a controlling thief. Washington was becoming more used to the words. They stung less, now. He knew then, as he had always known, that if he would have to give up Hamilton to best serve the country, he would. So Hamilton had thrown some words he had said in his face and sulked off when he did not budge.

It was worse, because they had flowed like meeting rivers the previous few days, about the ball. They had talked about decorations and the guestlist and their clothes and the parts of the manor that would be in use. They had talked about particular dances and specific musicians and what goals that they might like to achieve in discussion. They talked about the men and women who would appear, and the different ways in which they both liked to, and were required to, act with them. The tailor, who Hamilton looked very cheered to see, fit them for new clothes, and Lafayette as well.

Washington enjoyed a good logistical struggle, and how to plan something out of nothing, especially if the stakes did not involve death. Hamilton made himself excellent company. He would appear promptly at breakfast with some new idea for the chandeliers, or flower designs, or dinner.

That they settled into a perfect rhythm pleased Washington almost as much as it unsettled him. It was not that he had never had fine teammates, or did not usually work well in a group, or anything of that matter. It was only that Hamilton seemed to understand him without trying. Hamilton knew what he meant, when he struggled to find the perfect word, or when he could not precisely explain what he wanted for some particular thing. The more they spoke, the more Hamilton would become relaxed, pacing around the room and waving his hands as he displayed the unending well of ideas that was his mind. And Washington even found that it was easier to explain what he wanted, and how he wanted it, and how he thought things should be done.

There was a connection between them, and all at once Washington felt a warm rush of relief, that he could be suitable to his husband in this manner, that they accommodated each other so easily, without thinking - and something uneasy, maybe guilt.

When they had put away ball planning and Washington had focused instead on planning for this meeting, that connection evaporated. Hamilton became his vicious self, angry and unbending, a zealot of his own ideas. It was not that Phillip Schuyler had been wrong, when he had essentially accused Hamilton of being manipulative and selfish. It was only that it seemed so easy, so flowing and kind and connected, when they agreed. Perhaps it was worth it.

He shook himself back to the moment. A couple was arguing in the street under his window - while he could hardly pick up the words, both women enunciated every sentence with flailing arms and jabbing, accusatory fingers. He grunted at the knock at his door, heard footsteps, and heard the door shut behind his guest.

"I half-expected to see your husband hiding under your bed," Knox said, by way of greeting. He sat himself in the desk chair, which creaked, "I imagine he was not pleased that you came alone."

"He called me a tyrant, and told me I was a thief for taking his ideas, and told me I did not wish for him to succeed," Washington replied, without looking away from the window.

Knox made an acknowledging noise. "That seems like him. I knew him before he was a Schuyler, you know. He had another name."

"Hamilton," Washington said, and then only a beat later realized his mistake.

"You know it?"

Finally, he turned from the window and took in his friend. Knox had abandoned his jacket and opened a few of the buttons of his waistcoat, which had a dark pattern on it, perhaps in an effort to slim him. His friend was giving him a very suspicious look, and wore a smug little smile under his mustache. Washington considered the denials, and sighed.

"He prefers it," he admitted, "And when we are not with company, I usually use it."

Knox grinned at him, teasingly. "And to think, the most powerful man in the country, brought to heel by a mysterious adopted upstart."

Washington growled at him, and he held up his hands in a mock surrender.

"He served under me, before I assigned him to Lady Schuyler," he continued, once Washington's glare had eased, "I knew that he would be most effectively managed by someone who only cared about tradition inasmuch as it benefited them. I even thought about writing to you about him, that he would be an effective member of your staff, what with his tendency to create full-fledged plans in his head and go on about them until he convinces you that his option is the only sensible one."

"What made up your mind to assign to Lady Schuyler, rather than be on my staff?"

Knox grinned, presumably at the memory. "I wondered, in his presence, what kind of person might like to sit at the right hand of our most esteemed and noble general. Being that he is the sort of man to always express his opinions on all topics, he made it quite clear that being an aide - well, a secretary, I believe he called it - was a position completely lacking in dignity or honor, and not the sort of thing he would ever be caught doing. I believe he said he would rather be shot in a ditch than be trapped in a tent writing missives while other people were out making heroes of themselves in battle. It seemed more of Lady Schuyler approach to things, rather than a General Washington approach to things."

Washington could not withhold the chuckle. "So it does."

"I did not expect to hear that Lady Schuyler had taken such a liking to him she convinced Phillip to adopt him. I suppose that no matter how you might bend to the boy, you will never bend the way that Phillip bends to his daughters." At this, Knox laughed, just a little, but after a moment continued. "Obviously, no Schuyler could be married to a mysterious orphan, but I confess that him and the middle Lady Schuyler would have made a very charming couple. Phillip did say that they were friends."

"Perhaps you should restrain yourself from that opinion in company of Lady Shippen."

"I think I shall."

Washington shook his head and paced in a slow circle around the little room, and then he turned back to the window, where the arguing couple had disappeared. There was a lingering, uncomfortable silence. Knox cleared his throat, a pitiful attempt to resolve some of the tension.

Finally, Washington sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at his friend. “What else? Did Phillip send you to check to see if my sense has finally abandoned me?”

Knox snorted back his laugh. "I admit, I would have never imagined that Phillip would become more insensible about his children. But of course, he had to acquire one which swings him to the complete opposite side of the spectrum about it. If you solicited my opinion, I would only say that I have never known you to be reasonable with your companions - you have us, after all, and we are the hardly excellent company - and Lafayette, and Lady Dandrige - so I suppose adding a bookish know-it-all to your list is not so strange, after all."

Washington frowned. "First, if possible, if you could at least pretend that I am not an alien, I would appreciate that. Secondly, I wish that there was some way I could express the difference in Alexander that you see as opposed to what I see. Imagine if you were to express to some veteran that I am, as you know, an incorrigible recluse who prefers my greenhouse to making speeches or designing campaigns."

"George," Knox started again, and this time he fixed Washington with a more kindly look, "I think that if being with him makes you happy, then you should continue. If the thought of waking up in the morning and seeing him at breakfast lightens your heart even a fraction, I think it is a perfectly magnificent thing, and you should continue to do whatever it is you happen to be doing with him, or for him, or relating to him. Everyone else can go to the devil about it, and you should conduct yourself to how you feel the most comfort. After all, Phillip is, without question, the most unfair judge that you could find of Lord Schuyler - or Hamilton, as he likes. And perhaps yes, with good reason. But the heart wants what it wants. And to think you did this thing, when perhaps you should not have, and then it resolved itself nicely? It is all a very lovely story, in my opinion. Though I confess - who would notcome around to you?"

He found himself surprisingly touched by the statement. "Thank you, Henry," he said, after a moment, "I know the whole thing is... baffling. To me, as much as anyone else. But, yes. To see him in the greenhouse, or at my table, or with some book I have bought him, or...."

At this, a wide smile stretched itself across Knox's round face, and a little bit of the stress left his shoulders.

Washington could see the whole thing very clearly: Hamilton sitting in his library, curled peculiarly on a couch rather than using a desk, pouring over some thick tome on politics. It usually took a few moments for Hamilton to notice him, when he was reading. Then Hamilton would look up and start about his topic, and go on without pause, if Washington did not hold up a hand to try and add some thought of his own.

"Ah," Knox teased, and he stood from the chair and cleared his throat, "If you are going to make that sort of face when you think of him, then I do sincerely believe that whatever the negatives are, the benefits outweigh them."

"So you think I am not merely just being manipulated?"

"It occurs to me that both could exist. You could love him, and he can love you, and he can still seek to manipulate you, for whatever his goals may be. If doing so has benefitted him beforehand, why would he stop?"

Washington offered only a helpless shrug in response. He turned back to the window, and caught sight of an elaborate carriage that drove past the inn. While it was too dark to make out the crest, he had a feeling that the occupant of it was probably worrying about more significant things, and likely thought him to be doing so as well. He resisted the urge to chew his lip, and instead only drew his fingers together. The fidget neither resolved his confusion about Hamilton or made him feel less uneasy about the council meeting, even as prepared as they were. "I feel I perhaps shirk my duty, that we are so close to something so important, and this is what we discuss."

"I can talk about how much I might like to wring Madison's neck, if you would prefer," Knox replied.

Washington shook his head, and Knox laughed. "I think it might be best for us to all rejoin, and take final preparations, and play the roles that we are assigned to." He took a deep breath and concentrated on assembling his thoughts in an orderly manner, for this was certain to be a very, very important battle. "Enough time has already been wasted. I will resolve the matter of Lord Schuyler's temper afterwards. He knows, and I have told him, that he will not be affiliated with me at these events if he is unable to curb his tongue, no matter the qualities of his opinions."

"As usual, a marvelous idea, General." Knox watched him as he stood, and brushed some invisible speck of dust off his vest, and pulled his jacket on, adjusting the cuffs. He realized, distantly, that this would likely be the last time he would wear the violet in a situation like this. He picked up the pile of invitations, wrapped in a lavender cloth, and folded it under his arm. Knox looked at them. "I admit, I think it will be spectacular to watch them gossip about why you will be throwing a ball. You should depart in haste, and we shall crowd behind you."

Washington brushed past the other general, but Knox hesitated.

"Is there a further way I can assist, Henry?" he asked, and concern knit itself across his brow, "You know I would take any step I could, to help, if you needed."

Knox looked at him for a few very long moments. “I think you are - and will continue to be - a marvelous husband. And I imagine Lord Schuyler will very promptly think the same, if he does not already. You do have a tendency to display your best qualities at the times they are needed, after all. I see no reason why this should be any different.” Knox strolled over to the door and opened it. “You are a very good person, George,” he said, “After you, General.”

Washington had not expected the compliment and found himself to be taken aback by it. It was a thoughtful, considerate and very kind thing to say to another man, especially one who did not always distinguish himself like he did. But Knox was not the sort of man to lie, or even stretch the truth, unless it was required in the much larger scale.

“Thank you, General,” Washington said, feeling a warm feeling grow in his stomach,”Let us find our compatriots, and discuss more pressing manners.”

“Yes, Your Excellency,” Knox said.

Chapter Text

Washington took in the council room, empty except for the wide circle of chairs. The windows were shut from the beginnings of pre-winter cold. He took a breath of the fire-warmed air and felt his papers under his arm. He and his allies had arrived first - he heard Sullivan and Phillip talking in low voices behind them, and the soft sound of letters being ruffled. They had been out talking to newspaperfolk for some time about the events in question, and what should be prepared, and who was to write what, depending on the circumstances. Washington had also been told that there were a few pamphleteers they had oped to find, but had retained their anonymity, and did not appear from the shadows. It was bad omen, he thought. This was a situation of utmost importance, and that there were individuals who valued their secrecy over it left a bitter taste in his mouth.

He sat in his chair and scanned through the plans. He knew this role well. He could be the best politician he was required to be. Phillip sat on one side of him, and Knox on the other, and Greene and Sullivan on their borders.

Washington adjusted his jacket and studied the violet button at his cuff. He had stopped by Mulligan’s shop and seen the collection of thistle clothing the man was sewing, as fast as he could. Mulligan had pointed out his jackets - two of them - and Hamilton’s, and Lafayette’s, and showed him livery designs. He thought, and said so, that it was very evident there was no finer tailor in the land. He wondered what to do, with his old jackets, that had been with him for so long. Then, shaking his mind from the subject, he thought of the ball invitations that sat under his chair, in their bundle. Perhaps his enemies would be distracted by them.

Enough, he thought to himself. He could not think about the ball. He could not think about Hamilton. Here, and now, he could only think of the country, and the future, and peace. He closed his eyes, steadying himself with deep breaths. His men were rested and prepared and they held their weapons with the confidence of experience. They watched the sun rise with the knowledge that there would be a battle on this day, and there would be heroism and glory and death.

He opened his eyes, slowly, and studied again the chairs that would soon be his enemies. Then, resolved to the future that stood before him, and the challenges that awaited him and his men, he stood, and pulled his shoulders back, and watched the door.

Men and women entered, and bowed their heads to him, and averted their eyes out of respect. Good, he thought. Let them think of him as impenetrable stone; let them only consider his heroic victories, and the surrenders he had forced upon his enemies; let them consider his vast holdings, and great riches; let them stand in awe of the status he had accumulated. There was no one like him. He was the ultimate hero, and iron politician.

He felt the mask on his face, in all it’s peculiar, terrible weight. He pressed it to him, closer, until there was no seam between it and his flesh.

He hushed the crowd with look, when the last person had sat. Even his enemies sat back in their chairs and settled into silence as he cleared his throat. He had no aches, or regrets, or misery.

"I think," he said, in a firm voice, that suggested none of his fear or concern, "that there are obviously things that require discussing, and some sort of next steps, even if those steps may be nothing. But I think the actions in question should be settled last, so whatever debates we have on those steps do not overwhelm the other parts and challenges of being responsible rulers. There are still property debts, and issues with tax collection, and such. We cannot pretend these items have gone away; they must always be addressed."

At this the councilors glanced at each other, perhaps hoping another one of them would oppose his suggestion. Displeased eyes flickered up at him, although no words were said. Good, he thought to himself, and glanced once more around the room, to see if there was anyone who felt capable of opposing him. But no one spoke, and for that he was grateful. It would be better to discuss having no war response then rather than now. What would be ideal would be to have flared tempered mellowed out, and perhaps the councilors bored by domestic policy, lulled to peace by the tedium of running a country.

"We cannot be swept up in some blood frenzy without considering what is the right step, and the right answer, and what is best for our country," he said, to plant the seed, "A general does not rule this country, and war should never be the first item on our agenda, or our first step to take to solve a problem when one is presented to us. Now, let us discuss the many other things that exist, and that we must resolve. Come forward, if you have a question, or concern, so that we may debate it - other than the one we are certainly sure to have very soon."

It was an endless list of tedium that they argued over. The price of grain, and costs of labor; the persistent border debates between lords, and even less than lords; how cows should be fed, or chickens should be attended to, or horses shod; what responsibility each man or woman had for any particular border wall between them; who was able to marry whose son or daughter, and what would be entailed; complaints about the town and townspeople; and so on, and so forth, until the effect worked, and even Washington himself was so bored with the meeting he was ready to agree to almost anything.

"Enough," said Henry Laurens, finally, booming over the discussion they were having about some particular blacksmith and the quality of horseshoes, and that there should be some sort of horseshoe regulator, because someone had gotten terrible shoes for their horse --

"Do you have something to add about the horseshoe regulation magistrate?" Knox asked, effortlessly switching from his dismissal of the whole event.

"Men have died in the dark, General," Laurens said, with all but the smallest edges of anger in his voice. He sat as tall as he was able given that he was not all that impressive, no matter how much he tried. "And yet we sit here discussing horseshoes and dowries, as if this is a day in which nothing else important has happened."

This seemed to derail the conversation about horseshoes, of which a number of councilors had already tuned out of. Eyes snapped back into focus as the discussion changed, and the councilors drew closer to their allies, and glanced at each other.

"When can we expect to deploy you, General Washington?" A man called Madison asked, folding his hands and projecting a perfect calm. Madison was a smaller man, and a friend of Jefferson's, and Washington knew very much his capability to be persuasive. Madison was the sort of man Laurens thought he was. It was an excellent beginning to the discussion: declarative, firm. A call to action. A clear stance on the situation, that would force him to look as if he did not wish to be deployed.

"I think it would be unwise to deploy so early, sir," Washington said, and for all the impressiveness of it, he had anticipated such an attack, "I have assembled no supply lines or logistics, and while we may have a fair number of generals, we will require new men and women at all levels: colonels and sergeants, and of course, infantry, armed and equipped." Then he paused, and let the thought of the effort stew for a moment, and continued, "I will be frank: I think it is unwise to respond."

That was the only sort of response they could have. If they attempted to skirt around the issue, it could be seen as a slimy sort of cowardice. What they needed was the same sort of firmness. They needed to be decisive: to show that you could be decisive without acting, as much as with it.

"Unwise?" Adams asked, looking at at Washington. He had been staring at the lavender bundle under Washington's chair. Let him wonder, Washington thought. "You do not strike me as a man who thinks military actions are unwise."

"When one is already in a war, and many of the questions that war brings have already been answered, how to decide whether action should or should not be taken is very different than when one is at peace."

"We are not at peace," Madison said, tranquilly, and his eyes glimmered as he held Washington's gaze, "If you consider peace to be when our soldiers are slaughtered in secret and their murderers flee, then I might wonder less why our war stretched so long with you at it's head."

The barb did not sting, because he was made of marble. "We have already defeated these cretins once. This is an attempt to provoke us into something that they have designed for their advantage. If we respond with any significance before we are completely prepared, we are stepping into an ambush."

"General Washington," Laurens said, his own face far from tranquil, "You are proposing that they killed our soldiers, and we should do nothing."

"Imagine, if you will, Lord Laurens," Washington said, turning to face Laurens completely, "That you are walking down the street, when a disreputable youth of no station - dirty, with no jacket, and no shoes - challenges you to a duel. Would you respond to that request?"

Lord Laurens looked momentarily confused by this question, but then answered. "Such a thing would be beneath me."

"So you see my position, and how reasonable it is."

Lord Laurens blinked at him, once and then twice, and scowled.

"Men have not died in duels with orphans, General," Madison said.

"It is an army, Lord Madison," Washington replied, focusing intent into his voice, "One cannot think of an army in terms of only single casualties."

"Sir," Lord Jefferson said, standing, "This is the issue with you, General. You never see soldiers as our brothers and sisters and parents. You see them as tools."

A furious streak of rage twisted through the marble of his thoughts. It slid between the mask and his face, and caused daylight to sneak in.

"It astounds me, actually," Jefferson continued, running a hand over his chin, "The way you view our citizens and farmers as mere taxpayers. As if a man's worth to you is only worth the payment he makes into the coffers of this government."

Washington bit down, hard, on the inside of his mouth. He knew when he was being baited, and especially by this particularly odious man.

"And here we are, ready to equip ourselves for war, and you reject it?"

"No decent person should ever want to go to war," Phillip said, filling the silence. His friend leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms across his chest, unimpressed. "And that goes double, in fact, for men who know the horrors of it. That the general seeks to avoid it, if it can be avoided, is a positive thing. All that will happen in such an event is that more men will die. Rattling our weapons will not reverse the past."

"Perhaps it discards the value of a soldier's life more, to use his death as an excuse for your ambitions?" Knox asked, his voice meandering. "It seems disrespectful, to use the dead as the carrot for a war-horse."

Jefferson narrowed his eyes. Washington found the thread of his composure, and pulled it tighter, using it to maintain himself. He found the seam, where light slid between the mask and him, and sealed it shut. "Do you think, genuinely, such a thing will not be escalated? That we will not very promptly have a total and terrible war on our hands again? I seem to recall you being strongly against the previous one."

“I was not against it,” Jefferson began, but Madison stood, and held up a calm hand.

“This is not a war, General Washington,” Madison said, and despite his size, he managed to impress a great presence on the room. “And it seems ill-fated to plan for some mysterious tomorrow, when our national honor has been slandered today. You have made such a thing from nothing, sir. You have stirred this intensity among the people. You have fanned this flame, until it can be recognized, and acknowledged, not just by us, but by other countries, even across the sea. “ There was a pause, in which Madison met his gaze, wholly unafraid. “I admit to a great confusion, General. You have continually fought for the growth of this spirit. But, presented with the obvious option to display ourselves as whole, and powerful, you ignore this obvious gash opened in our flank.”

There was a low murmur from the councilors who were not aligned, or loosely aligned. Washington felt the shift in the room, and heard the murmurs. The questions settled on the back of his neck.

“A national identity is not some child to be defended from the tiniest threats, or some sapling that needs to be shielded from a little wind,” Washington responded, through the murmured doubts that stuck to his skin like humidity. “It is not some tender, delicate thing. If anything, that we ignore such a nothing attack - that we understand just how insignificant these mongrels are, and how low they sit beneath us - is how we show we are confident, and proud, and together. We cannot be intimidated or baited into action.”

It was a good riposte. He heard some soft agreement around him.

“What you are suggesting, sir, is to protect your national identity--” The words were said with a sneer by Adams, “is to pretend our sons and daughters have not been murdered.”

“He said no such thing,” Sullivan growled, “And you know it.

“He said for us not to respond,” Adams retorted, “And how is that different?”

Sullivan stood, and took a step next to Washington. They met eyes for a second. That they were aligned was no secret. “They are gnats, Lord Adams. They can be sufficiently ignored with no great harm. If you were beset upon by gnats, and your response was to burn down your house, I suspect you would be subjected to a fair bit of ridicule.”

Adams shook his head at the few little chuckles in his room. “They are not gnats, general. They are hornets. One hornet will give you a nasty sting, and is a terrible omen of some nearby nest. If possible, the whole thing should be tracked down and destroyed.”

Sullivan scoffed. “If you are going to take such significant offense at every small thing said to you, I suppose every person shall be a soldier. How else will be defend against the smallest of slights?”

At this, Washington resisted the urge to smile that swelled within him. They had discussed the point in great detail, and tried to establish the best way to approach it.

“Every person a soldier?” Adams repeated. His lip curled. “Are the great generals not capable as things stand?”

“We could create a plan, if one was necessary, of which it seems not to be,” Washington said, and he caught Sullivan’s eye as the other man sat down. Of course they could create a plan and execute successfully. Of course the last war had not been horrible, or too close, or tense, or mismanaged by their enemies. “But plans need soldiers, and soldiers need weapons, and usually these things are acquired by trading them for currency, or other favors. We have asked for these things in the past and never received them. A part of being a great general, after all, is we seek only to serve; we would not wish to create a plan that would add undo requests from lords such as yourself.”

Adams studied him, to see if he was being insulted. Washington met his eyes.

“These things are not exclusive, sir,” Adams replied.

“No, I suppose not,” Washington said, mildly, “If you wanted, you could create an army with no guns and undisciplined farmers, with lacking supply lines and inexperienced soldiers, and they could be running headlong into a trap, set for us by an enemy who is prepared to slaughter us.” He kept his gaze fixed on Adams, eyes burning, even though his voice was stone-calm. “And I could hardly bear to bring the dishonor of such a defeat upon the other lords and ladies of this fair land, of which it is my pleasure to serve.”

Adams did not respond, and Washington savored the vicious silence.

“General, you can always be counted on to consider the optics of the situation,” Madison injected, his face equally calm and the words equally vicious, “And you, Lord Adams, for understanding the constraints in which we all exists in. We can pretend that these enemies are gnats, or that some great effort is required to respond to them, when in fact all that is needed is a gesture to indicate our distaste - but none of this changes that our soldiers were murdered. How can we make their deaths meaningful? How can we express to their families that we have not ignored their loved ones?”

Washington felt and suppressed the bitter laugh. Rage made his chest get hot and tense. It had been yesterday that these same men had accused of doing too much to try and make a meaningful difference, for trying to win, for trying to make deaths meaningful and loved ones understand, and now --

And now, they twisted it against him, as if to say he wanted too much or too little --

He forced his breath to be even, where he suppressed the shudder. “I will assure them personally that these deaths are not ignored, if they would like. But no grieving mother or weeping father would want a half-effort or additional murder in remembrance of their child. And revenge wrought without thinking only brings more grief.”

“You seem well-informed about losing a child, General,” Jefferson noted, dryly, “I suppose a general must always seem informed of things they know nothing of.”

There was a soft hiss among the room. Washington felt the brunt of the impact, like a weapon crashing against his bones.

“Excuse you,” Phillip said, to his side, “If we should speak of men being uninformed, would you like to tell His Excellency of your military action?”

Jefferson shot Phillip a haughty look. “I have never seen a loss, sir, and I have had many insights in the many losses which I have viewed.”

Insights,” Knox barked, and this time he did laugh.

“Enough,” Washington boomed, loud enough that Jefferson took a step back without meaning to, “This is not the time for petty infighting, Lord Jefferson.” Jefferson opened his mouth to defend himself, but Washington carried on before he could get in a word, “We must know and understand all the factors. We are being baited. We do not know the preparedness of our enemy. This is a trap, to lure us, blinded with revenge, into a conflict we do not understand.”

He paused for one dramatic moment. “Now, being that we are, first and always, the will of the people, and doubly so when we command the might of the army, no matter what it may be - we must make a decision, and a wise one, that we think our people would support. Presuming there are no more arguments to disclose, we should spend no more time arguing when we could come to a conclusion. I propose a vote. Shall we rally our military forces, or should we, confident and proud nation that we are, ignore the flies at our neck? A yay for killing, and a nay for peace.”

Adams, Jefferson and Madison looked all at each other, perhaps deciding which of them to should rebut this admittedly-biased wording. Madison tilted his head, saying nothing. Washington stared at them, and felt the weight of his allies, and friends, and his own confidence.

“We can,” Jefferson said, after a moment, “How would you prefer?”

Washington bowed his head. “As you think wise, Lord Jefferson.” He would not relish the victory so small, even if something in his chest wanted to do.

“We should vote publicly, then, “ Jefferson said, “Would you like to start?”

“I serve at your pleasure,” Washington said, and now gave Jefferson a slight tilt of his head. He could feel Jefferson’s distaste on him, like oil, and ignored it. “Nay,” he said, and felt the echoes of his vote bounce through the other councilors, and the choice went from councilor to councilor. Washington remembered every voice, though he made no indication. He notched the votes in his head and reviewed the tally.

He did not, though he most sincerely wished to, let out a monstrous sigh of relief of nays over yays. The win was narrow, like a thread, but it was all that mattered. A win was a win, and at least for now, Adams could not toss them headlong into another cycle of carnage. A narrow win meant that it might be difficult to secure another, but he could not confident on such a thing now. He could only play this game one day at a time, as he always had.

“Is there anything else we should discuss?” Knox asked the room.

His enemies bent their heads together and spoke quietly. People murmured to each other, filling the space with a dull conversation. Washington drew his gaze, heavy like a curtain, across the room.

“We can adjourn,” Madison said.

“Adjourned,” Washington agreed, and the room broke free from the spell that it hovered under. He met the gazes of his closest allies, and then he picked up the lavender bundle under his chair and unwrapped it. He could feel many eyes all at once staring and pretending not to stare. Then, looking at Lafayette’s elegant handwriting on the top invitation, he began to hand them out, moving quickly as to avoid creating a space where conversation would be polite. Instead, he left behind a trail of hissing whispers, like footsteps in mud. He handed the last one, with a flicker of a challenge in his eye, to Adams. Then, he turned and bowed, with a brief goodbye, departed.

He could still see the invitation in the front of his mind.

You are cordially invited to celebrate a momentous occasion at Mount Vernon, the estate of General George Washington & Lord Alexander Schuyler.

Underneath were instructions, and a date, and address. Then, on the footer of each invitation, a splash of green and purple, and a very noticeable absence of the violet.

Chapter Text

He was only required to have a brief discussion with the public - for it seemed providence smiled upon him, that only a few people had gathered outside the inn they had repurposed as a council hall. He was only required to share a few promises of protection, and a few platitudes, before he was permitted to get into his carriage, close the shades, and rest himself on the unholstered bench. He knocked once on the wall behind him, and the carriage began to rumble forward.

He put his head in his hand and sighed the sigh that he had been holding back.

Barely, he thought, with more dread than one should have when leaving with a victory. The fact that he and the other generals had only barely managed to avoid orders telling them to charge, headfirst, into the most obvious trap he had ever seen - it would difficult to explain, exactly, the various levels that the situation upset him on. Even if they had done most of the meeting sitting, and had hardly gotten much exercise, and the meeting had not even been so long - he felt exhausted. He was weary, at the core of his being. What he wanted, more than anything at this juncture, was his bed, and Lafayette’s smug expression, and his greenhouse, and the calm comforts of his solitary existence.

Only…

Only Lord Hamilton would surely wish to express all the ways that the thing would have been improved by his presence. Lord Hamilton would break upon him like a wave, with all the opinions and demands he usually had. Hamilton would insist on his attention, and talk about all the ways that he was right, and Washington was wrong, and Washington would be expected to contribute, maybe even agree. Just the thought made Washington want to lock himself in his greenhouse. It was not that he did not have very tender affections for his husband, or that he thought the man was not filled with brilliant ideas - so many, in fact, that it seemed impossible for him to manage them in an orderly manner. It was only that he felt so very tired. What he needed was a good few days of calm routine. He might like to see Nelson. He would have a drink with Lafayette. He would continue to work on the greenhouse. And then, when he felt less weight, he could see Hamilton, and listen to him talk for hours.

He could not even sleep. He would have to write down all the things that had happened. He knew he should have been doing so now, but he could concentrate only on the bumps in the road and the creeping exhaustion that felt like lead shot holding down his eyelids.

Barely, he thought.

The worst part of this barely was that Washington knew, with the dread of experience, that it would be twice, or three, or maybe four times as hard, to stay this course. Or, he thought, perhaps it was even worse knowing that, if another such attack happened, the correct action would be a response. The correct action would be some challenge to strike back, to show their strength, to show that they were not cowed or afraid. He would, in an instant, take up the sword again, to defend his country, if it was required. But such a thing would then include the further wrestle about troops and guns with the less-understanding lords, and of course, war’s other close friends: disease, hunger, infection, and the rest of full list of common war miseries.

No enemy would make such an attack without planning a second attack. If he was luring another country into a trap, he would do something similar twice, or maybe three times. He only hoped that the enemy would wait until the spring, to attack again. No country would strike during the winter, would they? Would that be a worse offense, to attack in the cold dark? Would that demand a more vicious response?

The questions made his head spin. He felt the beginnings of an ache thud at his temples. He shook his head and stared morosely at the closed carriage curtain, and opened it for a moment to peek outside. They would be on the road for a while longer. He should have been writing, but he could not even fathom the idea of picking up the pen and scribbling down any thoughts about the matter. What he wanted was to lay in his bed, despite the hour, and close his eyes and wake up in a new world, where their vicious enemies were satisfied in defeat. A world where he could address his personal problems, such as the nature of how to express himself to Hamilton.

It seemed likely, he thought, that his husband was still angry that Washington had not brought him to the meeting. Hamilton would have a veritable mansion’s worth opinions that he had accumulated over the past couple of days, but now he would layer them with insults, like some terrible pastry. First, a layer discussing what a catastrophe he was, and how terrible his ideas were, and how he was a vicious tyrant, and obsessed with control; then, Hamilton puffing his own ego, and his persistent inability to acknowledge any wrongdoing, and a whole story of genius; then, more about how Washington was a monster, and so on, and so forth.

He tried to clear his mind of all these persistent doubts and questions, but they lingered over him like a thundercloud. His head ached; he was thirsty; he thought perhaps he should have gotten a drink before departing, only it would have been hard to express just how much he wanted to be back in his own estate, surrounded by his servants. Even now, that he had been home for a little while, he had not forgotten what it had been like to move from war camp to war camp and not see his own land for years. It had set something inside of his chest, which told him to never spend too much time away, lest he be unable to return. And if there was another war looming - if their enemy struck again, or twice more - a response would be required, and that could mean any number of things, all of which involved him leaving his grounds.

He knew, of course, that he could not sleep curled up in the carriage, despite his desire for solitude. It was only that the thought of entering some inn and having to answer questions from people who did not understand his life seemed a terrible reward for his nominal victory. He would give the answers he needed to give. They would think of him as immortal, as they needed to think. He would pretend to be, as he needed to pretend.

The coachman hitched the horses to the post and opened the door for him. Washington took a breath and banished his doubts, setting his shoulders as he exited the carriage. He turned heads as he walked through the tavern. Conversations stopped, and new ones began in hushed tones. The innkeeper, who had seen him on several of these trips, gave him a decent room at the end of the hall, to which he retired to immediately. He wrote down everything about the council meeting in his journal, and added to it his morose thoughts about the future, and all the dreadful possibilities that he saw forming like stormclouds on the horizon.

He fixed himself a cheerful fire in the grate to fight off the autumn chill, and slept a troubled, unrefreshing sleep. He was, however, quite grateful that his coachman knew his habit of waking early, and had managed him some breakfast even though it was still dark outside. They were very promptly back on the road. The weather was decent, and Washington tried to feel cheered up by going home, and the bright sunlight, by the fact they would not go to war. Instead, he felt exhausted, even though he had done nothing and exerted no significant effort.

He hoped, very sincerely, that Hamilton would allow him to shut himself in his study. He watched the landscape from the carriage window and thought about nothing, and perhaps took a quick rest, which surprised him when he awoke, for he was not usually the sort of man who slept during the day.

A bit of cheer forced itself through his glumness when he caught the sight of his estate as it came into view. It was his home. It was his walls and his grass, and his rolling fields, and his little wood, and his space. A bit of tension left his shoulders as they crossed through the border wall and into his estate proper. He could see the servants looking up from their duties and noticing his reappearance.

The commingled exhaustion brought on by the council and relief of being home overrode the small bit of irritation he felt at Lafayette not being there to greet him. Without his servant to assist him, he shrugged out of his jacket and set it on the dinner table. Lafayette would find it and whisk it away to the coatroom, he knew. Lafayette would apologize for not being there, but then ask, with a hint of a demand in his eye, how the meeting had gone. He had the urge, and decided to act on it, even, to go pour himself a small glass of brandy, just to give blur the edges of his dull thoughts. He knew where the most-likely closest decanter was - the tea room, near the kitchen. He folded his arms behind his back and meandered slowly in that direction.

The decanter was in the tea room, as he knew it to be.

It was accompanied by not only his husband, but also his sister-in-law, the middle Lady Schuyler. Eliza, Hamilton called her. The part of him that was not tightly attached to appearances considered, for more than a moment, simply turning on his heel and leaving. The much larger part of his snuffed this consideration right out.

Hamilton brightened upon seeing him, and then in the next moment became intent, and studied him. There was a peculiar silence. Lady Schuyler stood up and bowed a polite, respectable bow, which he returned.

“Lafayette said you were not going to be home until after dinner,” Hamilton said, without a greeting, “I imagine he shall be exceptionally distraught he did not greet you.”

This opening, at least, was not an insult or a demand. Washington glanced over his shoulder, as if to expect the servant to appear at just the moment he was mentioned, as his custom. At least that was easier than trying to entangle what Hamilton meant with the meaningful way he was presently looking at Washington.“I imagine he is very busy,” he said, as if there no questions, and it made sense that Hamilton was not immediately on top of him. “A pleasure, Lady Schuyler.”

“General Washington,” she said, and smiled, “Welcome home. I hope the travel was not too grueling. Although I suppose that you have arrived before you were expected suggests it went well.”

“We started the ride earlier this morning than we originally planned,” Washington said. Hamilton was still watching him very closely, even though he was speaking to Lady Schuyler.

“Would you like some brandy?” Hamilton asked, and offered his own glass.

“I would, thank you,” he said, masking his gratefulness for the thing. Hamilton pushed himself up out of his chair and took the two extra steps over to him. His fingers were warm where they made contact with Washington's own, and his husband did not immediately relinquish the glass, creating a lingering moment of contact between them. The warmth of it overrode, but did not entirely dissipate, Washington’s confusion that Hamilton was not only apparently not angry at him, but furthermore was not even being demanding about the council meeting.

Then, Hamilton looked at him and pressed a brandy-sweet kiss to the side of his mouth. “Well,” he said, and finally allowed Washington to take the glass, sliding away, “I shall not keep you, if you have ridden all day and started early. You will certainly be very tired, and might prefer to rest, rather than entertain company.”

Only the exceptional amount of practice Washington had had in not actually displaying his emotions stopped his jaw from dropping at such a proclamation. Without thinking, he took a sip of the liquor and nodded. “Thank you again, sir,” he said, and nodded, “I suppose we can discuss the council tomorrow, then.”

“We need not disturb a perfectly fine evening talking about scum-sucking councilors and the ways they sought to thwart your quest for peace and justice, only to fail,” Hamilton replied, “And you look quite worn. More rest will do you well.”

“Do I?” Washington asked, and made some effort to not be alarmed.

“Oh, not to most people,” Hamilton replied, his voice casual, as if it was not very important Washington not look worn, and furthermore as if there was no significance to seeing past the mask. He sat back in his chair, either not knowing or pretending not to know the power of the words that he said. “But I am very good at seeing you, and I know your exhaustion, and so I shall write you a prescription to either sit thoughtfully in your greenhouse, or perhaps relax in your study.”

“I suppose I cannot deny such a thing, when presented in such a manner,” he said, and took a second sip of the brandy, which helped him find his tongue. “That is what I shall do. Thank you for your prescription.”

Hamilton shot him a little grin. Washington felt his heart lift, despite everything. Something in his chest fought against his weary exhaustion.

“Have a very good day, General Washington,” Lady Schuyler said, and smiled warmly at him. He bowed to her again, more completely this time. Then, having been properly excused, he turned and walked back through his corridors and up to his study. He had intended to write a little more, about the meeting, but Hamilton’s complete agreeableness, and a few more swallows of brandy, was making it more difficult to concentrate on the politics he despised. He knew that it was ungentlemanly to take naps in the middle of the day, and yet it called to him, louder and louder, a way to escape the politics and his tangled confusion about his husband. He discarded his neckcloth and his waistcoat and laid in his bed and felt all his aches.

Only a moment to rest, he thought. The work would keep, and his mind would be more sensible if he closed his eyes for a few minutes. And perhaps Hamilton's behavior would make sense. At present, the only explanation he could think of was that Hamilton had seen how tired he was, and had simply sent him to bed because he wished to improve Washington’s condition, and such a thing could not be accomplished by interrogating him about politics. This seemed far too positive an interpretation. There must have been a different way to view the events in question, as fleeting as they had been.

He awoke in the middle of the night with his clothes folded and tray with dinner on it on his desk. He had had a dream where Hamilton given him brandy-flavored kisses, and then turned and defended him from Lord Jefferson, in some insensible, dream-logic sort of way..

Chapter Text

Martha withheld, when they met at his gates. Her eyes twinkled with some knowledge that she might dispense to him, but she restrained, understanding his mood without asking. They instead made casual conversation about nothing, ignoring the council and his husband, and instead discussing other things. She apologized that she had not appeared on a previous planned visit, owing her son's illness, and felt it most unfortunate that she had only the pleasure of his letters, even as anguished as they sometimes were. It was wonderful, in some way, to allow another person to talk: Martha caught him up on her life, and all her own social and political goings-on. She had been a woman of importance before they had ever met, although their social circles did not overlap much.

They made their way to the manor where Lafayette served him whiskey and her bourbon. Martha was telling an entertaining little story about a failed courtship she had observed, and it was relaxing to be involved in gossip that neither he nor any particular enemy of his was not the focus.

Lafayette came around again with a plate of appetizers as she finished up the story. Martha barely glanced at him as she set the morsel on her plate, but she double-taked in a way that Washington both expected and dreaded.

“Lafayette,” she said, “What is that marvelous thing you happen to be wearing?”

Lafayette rested the platter under his arm and smiled. He bowed low, and then straightened. “Do you like this humble servant’s new jacket, Lady Dandridge?”

Martha stood from her chair and took a step closer to Lafayette, and then walked in a slow circle to examine the new coat he worse. It had been designed with a stylized thistle across his breast pocket, and a larger one sewn into the back. It was truly magnificent piece of livery.

“In fact,” she said, evidently pleased, “I very much do. Mr. Mulligan’s work, I presume, George?”

“As always,” George replied.

“On errands, of course, I shall still be the violet, per General Washington’s wishes, until the ball, when our new symbol is unveiled,” Lafayette continued. He glanced at the cuff of the jacket, which had been perfectly sized for his wrist, “But given that the jacket was just finished yesterday, I thought I would wear it in the manor, to become accustomed to it.”

“That General Washington is quite a schemer,” Martha said, catching Washington’s eye and grinning.

“Oh, I would hardly say so,” Lafayette replied, though his smile matched hers, “He merely manages his reputation with very tender care, as all great men are required to do.”

“Thank you,” Lafayette,” Washington said, and nodded a dismissal. Lafayette bowed, and disappeared down the hallway.

“What a charming thing your husband has selected,” Martha said, still looking down the corridor where Lafayette had gone. She sat back in her chair and took another sip of her drink.

“I have come to be very attached to it, I find,” he replied. It seemed odd to call himself attached to something he had not yet worn. And yet, the coats he had seen in Mulligan’s workshop had been breathtakingly beautiful. They were complimentary - designed for him and his husband - and finely-made, elegant and magnificent without being ostentatious. He looked forward to wearing his, and could only imagine how handsome his husband would be, when they matched.

At this Martha smiled more broadly and turned back to face him. “So then it seems your struggle with your husband had been resolved, if your letters have a hint of truth. I knew you could convince him to come around to you.”

“I confess--” he began, but then he glanced over the back of the chair, and then into the hallway, as if he was being snooped on. “I purchased a new map of the low mountainlands that is hanging in my study. Might you like to see it?”

Martha frowned at him for a moment, before she understood. “George,” she said, in a stern voice, “If you cannot speak to me of the man you have married without a concern he may hear you, I will not hear it either.”

He sighed, and for a few moments thought about resuming their discussion of nothing. It seemed easy to imagine Hamilton appearing mid-conversation, looking suspicious and offended, even without any required context. And yet he could feel the stories of the man alive on his tongue, and how they wanted to burst free from him. “The struggle is only different now,” he answered, finally, “Much like the various other struggles that I seem to be embroiled with.”

Martha cocked an eyebrow at him, and leaned back in her chair, perfectly comfortable with the silence. Usually, Washington relished it, and enjoyed only hearing the sounds of his thoughts, and the casual air of men attending to whatever side-needs they might have had: repairing their guns and talking about their wives, gossiping about nothing. But Martha - and the discussion of Hamilton which seemed to linger like a fog - pressed the issue. The silence was different, heady like strong liquor.

"So I suppose he does not despise me," he said, eventually, "And such a thing should be applauded for my own work, I suppose. Although I feel I have done nothing. I am still the man who forced his hand."

"Any progress is better than none," Martha said.

"He goes through great lengths to disguise his feelings," he continued, trying to work out his thoughts in his head, and rearrange his various senses in a manner that made sense when pressed into words. "Even when I suspect there are affections, they can never be stated. He must be roundabout. I do not understand."

"Who else do I know who often acts in ways he does not feel?"

Washington shook his head, sharp. "No. You do not understand. The ways that I act, there is a purpose for. I act a politician because I understand that that is what I am required to do, for the better of the country. I act the general because I know the soldiers must have a strong leader, and that by infallibility is crucial to morale. And I act the lonesome recluse to create the thought that I am not to be disturbed. All of these things have reasons, of which I can clearly state."

"I suppose," Martha said, in a thoughtful kind of manner, "And you do not suppose his actions have meanings, in the ways that yours do?"

"What meanings could they have?" He asked, opening his hands in a helpless sort of gesture. "What could it mean, that all you do is impress that you are right, and some other man wrong, and when he disagrees with you, tyrannical and vicious and manipulative and stupid. But when he agrees with you, he deserves to be deified, valued. And that when we do agree, and teamwork is required, I.... " Here he faltered, thinking of discussing the ball, and their plans and strategies, and Hamilton's witty little smile as they discussed this delicate sort of diplomacy. He shook his head and refocused. "I do not understand. I have never met a man who I can interact with in such a way. When we agree, it seems that there could never be an obstacle to our success. Had we both always had the same goals, we could accomplish anything. And yet when we disagree, I have hardly met anyone with who is able to attack me with unforgiving, unceasing abuse."

Martha stared into her bourbon glass. Then, glancing around the room (perhaps to make sure they were not being snooped on, he thought), she took a slow sip and tasted the liquor for a very long moment. He was very jealous, all of a sudden, of her thoughts. How orderly and sensible they must have been, and how reasonable a woman she always seemed. While he lay in a bear-trap tangle of his own confusion, she saw clearly both the forest and the trees.

"I am not going to call a man I have hardly spoken to irrational and insensible," she said, very slowly, "But if such a strategy has always worked for him, why would he seek to change it? Especially if he resents that he feels affectionate towards you, like you said in your letter."

Washington groaned a frustrated groan. He drew a hand over his face. "Because it is rude and even cruel to be manipulative and vicious to people you care about? I am not vicious to you; the Schuyler sisters are not vicious to each other; even Lady Smith is not vicious to Lord Adams, even if he may deserve it occasionally, I imagine."

"Lady Adams," Martha said, a hint of admonishment in her mild tone, "As you know she prefers to be called, can be how with her husband however she likes, and I see no reason for it to be relevant at all to you. Their relationship is very interesting, and so is yours. If anything, perhaps she might have some advice for you for dealing with a husband she thinks is quite unruly."

At this, Washington could not resist a snort. Lord Adams' wife, who did prefer her married name to her family name, as unusual as it was, was not a woman who thought very highly of him.

"I still think, my dear, that you have brought this all upon yourself. You only reference Lord and Lady Adams to make yourself feel more comforted about your mess."

"I apologize to Lord and Lady Adams," Washington replied, placatingly. Martha narrowed her eyes at him.

"No matter how much you might act like a child," Martha continued, a little cooler now, "I will still attempt to resolve your issue for you, because I am your friend. For example, you are clearly being unkind to me at present, and I am well aware that you care for me."

Washington sat up straighter in his chair and pulled his shoulders back. He pointed an accusing finger at her. "I am not calling you - or Lord or Lady Adams, as it is - a coward, a thief, a tyrant, or manipulative, or controlling. And all of these things have been slung at me."

"So?" Martha shot back, shrugging him off, "Then resume your ignorance of him. If you do not like to be insulted, I presume you do not have to speak to him at length. Walk away when he seeks to engage you."

This advice, because it was excellent, sucked the anger out of him. Certainly the manor was large enough that, if he made an effort, he would never have to deal with Hamilton again. But Hamilton had told him to go to bed, and Hamilton had given him the idea for comparing their enemies to an unrequired duel, and Hamilton had brought his orchids to life...

He slumped back into the chair and took a long drink. The liquor was smooth on his tongue, a sharp contrast to his useless anger and frustrated confusion. Martha softened, and she leaned forward in her chair, her eyes a little warmer as she studied him. He imagined that he looked quite pathetic, at this present time. His men glanced at each other, unsure of their tasks, confused about their weapons. It was the sort of thing that happened, with militia. His thoughts about Hamilton's affections were untrained and confused, and they had spread their chaos to the rest of his mind.

"My guess would be that sounds very unpleasant, to ignore him," Martha said.

"It is very strange," he murmured, and he gathered himself back up in the chair, to at least not look like the defeated old man that he felt like, "There are some times when I feel as if we are two halves born of one body. That the way he thinks is so clear and sensible, that his ideas are so bright, and his energy is so contagious. Sometimes I feel I have earned this incredible joy that I do not deserve." A beat, where he looked at his lap. "And there are other times where it is clear that he would take the most pleasure in rending me so terribly that the most intelligent coroner could not identify my remains."

Martha looked to say something, but he stood, folding his hand behind his back as he continued. "And yet he said to Lady Schuyler-Church that I was a perfectly decent husband. And he kissed me. And even after the council meeting, he said that I looked ill, and that I should sleep. I could not imagine that he would not harass me until he knew the results of the meeting, and especially in front of Lady Schuyler-Shippen, who he would certainly attempt to show he is in control to. But he did not. Instead he kissed me and said I looked very tired, but only to him, because he knew my exhaustion. How can you say such a thing, to a man you disdain? And even at breakfast, he did not pry. He asked only tenderly, if it was a topic worth discussing. And he has --" The words stopped up in his throat, the thought flooding back. Hamilton's teasing smile, and the way his hand traced Washington's shirtsleeve, and the spark in his eye.

"He has...?" Martha prompted, behind him, for he now faced the wall in his pace.

"He has..." He held up his hands, as if he could snatch the words from the air and present them. "Twice. He has twice. At first, when I awoke from a fever dream about the war, and him dying, and I --- I went to his room, because I am irrational--"

"I check on my children, when I have dreams they are ill."

"I stepped on a book. Awoke him. He thought I was a fool, but he..... he invited me to his bed."

Martha made a surprised noise. He turned and saw the facial expression to match the sound. "You declined to add that in your letter."

He shook his head. "He settled himself in my arms, as if might be less upset at the dream, with him there. He said...'Do you intend to seduce me? Is a young man's arms the only place you can find comfort?'"

Martha stared at him. "Did he mean to proposition you?"

"I think he must."

"George," She said, quickly, standing and coming over to him. She took his hands, which hung weakly at his sides, "George, if he has propositioned you, surely this is a clear indication of his interest. No matter what words he may use, or invective he may throw - I can not imagine in a hundred years a man who has refused gifts and seems as stubborn as a mule and would say such a thing, if he did not feel affection for you, even if along with the anger."

He looked at their hands. Martha was a small woman, and he tall man, and there was a charming if peculiar mismatch to their size. She was never overwhelmed by him, though. Instead, she made him seem ungainly, like his body was too big for his spirit, or a jacket fit for a man heavier.

"That cannot be," he said. He could not look her in the eye. In fact, he pulled away from her gentle hold, dumping himself inelegantly into his chair. He put his hands in his lap and looked at them.

"Why can it not be?" Martha asked, and she came over to him, and stood in front of his chair with her arms crossed and a challenging expression on her face. “What demand are you going to put on him? First, you desire him to be interested in you, and somehow you have created that solution, and now you are baffled by it? From your explanations, he does not seem to engage in things half-way. To desire you as a husband would certainly mean to desire you as a man.”

He looked up at her, and then dropped his gaze back to his hands. The slouch in his back began to cause a little pain in his shoulders, which he ignored, in favor of trying to make himself smaller. “Because --” he stared, and then looked over his shoulder again, and then his senses and his men all rose up in protest, because he could just see Hamilton barging into this conversation.

Sir, you are not so impressive, to me, his husband might say. Perhaps I prefer a man less distraught.

“I am not going to talk about this, in the middle of the manor, where we could be overheard by anyone,” He said, more forcefully, regaining some of the strength in his spine. “I invite you to my study, so we may discuss my maps.”

With that, he stood and picked up his glass, brushing past her.

“George,” she said, placatingly.

“Martha,” he replied. She picked up her glass. They walked through the hallways and up the stairs, to his study, and he dropped himself like a weight into his study chair. She closed the door and watched him with tender eyes.

“I do not wish to upset you,” she said, with a hint of an apology, that he did not bother with a response for. Then, after studying what must have been the wholly pathetic sight of him staring at his half-empty brandy glass and feeling sorry for himself, she continued, “Why is it, you rebel against that he might desire you?”

Washington thought about this question for a long time. The answer did not seem clear to him, and made worse that he was not accustomed to not having reasonable answers for his feelings. He knew why, of course, that he despised Adams, and Madison, and their lot. And likewise he knew why he admired Martha, and respected Knox. His own frustrations - that Hamilton was manipulative and resentful - were valid. Even his affections - that Hamilton was brilliant, and sensible, and a fine strategist and a magnificent politician - were sensible. But his flesh? What could cause a man like Hamilton to genuinely desire him, especially physically?

"It merely seems that there can be no way that such a thing could be genuine.”

Martha considered this for a very long moment. She meandered slowly over to the couch against the wall, where Lafayette liked to sit, arranged her skirts, leaning on her elbow upon the armrest. “You said twice. What was the other time?”

“I wrote to you about it. After I had spoken with the other generals and brought him along. He had good ideas, but he and Phillip Schuyler are not agreeable to each other. And for no reason, he insulted Sullivan’s honor. I tried to explain about how generals must seem in war, but he called me a thieving despot and stomped off.”

“It was then, that he tried to proposition you?”

He shook his head and leaned back in the chair, his eyes turning idly to a map on the wall. “We came up with the ball in the meeting, but i later had to tell Lord Hamilton, because he had left prior to that discussion. I was expecting him to be angry, but he announced I was right, to my great surprise. We spoke about…..” He closed his eyes. “About something. He was upset that I seemed distraught. He touched my arm and said he could distract me.”

Martha gave him another very meaningful look. “It seems to me, from these two events, if they are close to your telling, that he desires you. Physically, at least, and perhaps in other manners.”

He shook his head, in a sharp denial. She sighed. “First, you pout because he does not like you. Now, he wishes to bed you, and you continue to pout. Is there even a way he can be a husband you will be satisfied with? Not that it matters much: he has always, and will continue to, do whatever he likes. It seems from this explanation, and your letters, that he does desire you, to me. If you dislike it, you may deny him.”

“I have.”

“So you dislike it.”

At this he opened his mouth to agree, but no words came out.

Martha stared at him, her eyebrows raising up into her forehead. He slunk back into the chair, as if the space could protect him. Then, deliberately, she stood up, and paced in a very slow circle around the office, letting her thick, disapproving silence coat him like bearskin. Once he was feeling very low indeed, she turned and walked over to his desk, and loomed over him, folding her hands across her chest. “You deny him even though you desire him,” she said, accusingly.

“It is not so simple,” he said.

“Is it?” She echoed.

“It is never so simple, with Lord Hamilton,” He continued, and he straightened his spine, gaining a little strength with the conviction. “Even if such is the case, then certainly he will want to only approach the matter on his own terms - he would be furious if I were to suggest. And what if he uses the thing against me, in one of his rages? Says I am improper. And what if I am mistaken, and he thinks I seek to take advantage of him?”

She stared through him. He felt very much like an unfamous young soldier who was trying to court a very wealthy and intelligent young lady, and hardly had much to impress her with.

“So what, if he says you are improper? He already has come up with all these other things that you are not, that he likes to call you,” she retorted. She ruminated on this for another moment, and then looked sharply at him, eyes refilled with her conclusion. He pointed a slim finger at him, and then jabbed it sharply into his breastbone. “I know your problem. You are ashamed.”

The word hung in the air. His men looked at each other, unsettled by some terrible omen they may have felt. He pressed his palms into his eyes and sighed, brushing her hand away. Even with his vision interrupted, he could hear the sound of Martha’s shoes moving away from the desk, and perhaps back to the couch.

“Should I not be?” He asked the darkness behind his eyelids, “Have I not stolen a young man from his home? And now, I would like him in my bed?”

“Not if he wants to be in your bed,” Martha’s voice said, from somewhere outside his closed eyes. “If anything, if he wants to be in your bed, then the thing you should do is have him in your bed.”

“Even if his desire was genuine, which it certainly may not be - and even if my desire was acceptable, of which it is most certainly not - then how do you suppose action should be taken?”

She laughed a dry laugh. “The same way actions generally are taken. Your husband says he could distract you, and touches you with intent, and then you agree, and perhaps touch him back, and then you find a bed and start undressing. Somehow I imagine it might be like war: of course there are many people who think you arrive with your jacket pressed and your horse fed, and some sort of dramatic weather event, but you know better.”

The room fell into silence. Washington thought about the hours before a battle, where his camp was disastrous. He thought about the soldiers that many thought were heroes, when in fact they were merely blacksmiths and farmers who had been given matching coats. He thought about battle, and how the books on the events made everything seem so noble and heroic. There was none of the grime and horror. There were no maggots and death-moans. Certainly there was no doubt or soldiers pissing themselves in fear. And he - well, his appearance in the manuscripts written the war was deified nonsense.

“Has he been terrible to you, recently, when you have expressed your feelings?” Martha asked, her voice tender, “Certainly if he propositioned you after your war meeting, he must have not felt too terrible about you.”

Well,” he began, and he resettled in his chair, trying to think of their discussions. “No, I suppose he did not mind me, then.”

“The worst he can do to you,” she continued, her voice meandering, “If you make your intentions known, is to deny them.”

“I suppose so,” he replied.

"Even if he thinks you are improper, and even if he takes these complaints to the public - of which it seems he has not done, at least in reference to his various other insults - I feel that your image, and your friends in the press, will be ready to refute it. You are a great general, after all. He is a misfit adopted son."

The reality of it stung instead of comforted. No matter what Hamilton did, the people and the press would never see him in the right, if he and Washington disagreed. The power that this pressed into Washington's hands discomfited him more than ever.

He thought again of Hamilton in the tea room, studying him, the afternoon he had returned from the council meeting. Hamilton’s eyes had been dark and intent. He had pressed the glass into Washington’s hand and let it linger. Hamilton was the sort of man who did nothing without knowing; he must have aimed for the touch to be so long and so warm, had intended their fingers to slide together.

He refocused. He knew that his ally was truth, in a way it never was. In this way, more than anything, was Hamilton different from the other conflicts in his life. With the council, truth was the least important. What he required with them was the right words phrased in the correct manner, no matter what event they summarized. The action did not matter so much as the lens that the action was viewed in. But with Hamilton, he could not hide behind clever manipulations. Hamilton would prefer him to say what he wanted, as forwardly as could be polite.

Because the council could never really rebuke him. Oh, Adams could call his plans foolish, or Jefferson could make him seem ill-informed, or Madison could present him as a man who did not understand the events in question. But they would be bound by civility, and all these unspoken rules of gentlemanship that they all followed. The most offense they could give him was to deny his ideas.

Hamilton, however, could rend him as viciously as he desired. He did not hold back, with words. If Hamilton thought his desire unworthy, or unearned, or even merely unrequited, Washington though with some certainty that he would say so.

“I hope you are not digging yourself into a dark hole in your silence,” came Martha’s voice, from outside the settling mess of his thoughts, “Perhaps coming to a reasonable conclusion?”

“The thing about Hamilton,” Washington started, very slowly, as he attempted to wrestle his soldiers into something like order, so they could be put through through drills, and marched off to battle, “Is that he is not afraid to tell me when he thinks I am being foolish or unkind. So perhaps if we are only clear to each other, on what we feel and what we desire - then I will know what he thinks of it.”

“That seems encouraging,” she said, and brightened.

"So," he said, and stood, "The ideal solution is wait for a time he may be agreeable, and present myself then, for whatever I may be."

Martha stood as well, and took his hands as he came over to her. "A plan befitting a brilliant general," she agreed, and stood on her toes to give him a pleased kiss on the cheek.

"My only concern will be that he will not be upfront with me," he continued, sitting down next to her on the couch, one hand still held in hers, his eyes distracted, "He tends not to be."

"But you have learned more about what he means, even when he does not say it." She reached over and took his other hand again, forcing him to sit facing her.

he looked at their hands. "I have, I think," he said, cautiously, "But he likes me to wonder."

"Well, you do make very charming faces when you are puzzling something out. I can hardly blame him."

He frowned, and she laughed at him, giving his hands a squeeze before letting him go. "Enough about this. You will tell him, and he will secretly delight, and you will both know each other more fondly. I am very excited to come to your thistle ball, by the way. Have you not celebrated anything since the end of the war? No, wait, there was one after. About formalizing the council. Your favorites were all invited, I presume."

Freed from her grasp, he made a disgusted noise and stood up. "If I could never see most of them again, it would be enough."

"Inviting everyone is brilliant, though. No one will think you ashamed of your husband or your crest. Not when you, a known recluse, bring so many nobles into your home." She smiled, a little wry, and folded her hands into her lap. Her eyes followed him as he paced. "I am counting the days. If you need, I shall help you tend to your husband."

He grimaced. Worse than imagining Adams and his lot here was the still-terrible possibility of all the ways Hamilton could interact with them. Hamilton had told him that he would behave, and yet, it was too easy to imagine Jefferson baiting him. Jefferson was the type to rile Hamilton up and then watch him roar. Hamilton might even enjoy the hissing gossip behind him, which would make the whole situation worse.

"I will impress again the importance of not replying how he might like to,” he said, turning to the door, as if he expected Hamilton to knock.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Martha look at the door as well. “You are worrying too much, George.”

“I have done very well with the amount of worrying I do,” he replied, unable to shake the foreboding, which clung to him like fog.

“You have done very well because of your talent in handling events, just as this one,” she replied.

Washington looked at the door for another moment, and then went back to sit on the couch next to Martha. She took his hand in hers and squeezed it. As much as he knew and understood the attempt at comfort, he felt it was separated from him by a very wide, very deep chasm.

He slumped. He could feel the dread like an insect.

“I hope so,” he said.

Chapter Text

It was not that he had intended to avoid asking Hamilton about their intimacy. It was not that he was afraid, per se, or that he looked the other way when the opportunity arose, to suggest such a thing. It was only that there did not seem to be the perfect moment to do so. Even widening his view of the moment was not helpful. Martha had made it sound so simple, and had brought up the wide variety of places and precluding actions which lead her and her late husband to their closeness, but when Washington found himself in those places with Hamilton - he could say nothing. He was paralyzed by the thought, by the salacious dreams he had, or by the glorious, wonderful possibility. Worse was the fear of being a terrible partner that gnawed at him, which had appeared shortly after he had committed to himself to trying to be a partner at all.

Does he not already think you pretend to be much grander than you are? Martha had teased. So this would be the same.

He felt like a child.

But Hamilton did not offer, either. They ate breakfast and dinner together, and went on rides, and together winterized the greenhouse, and talked about politics, and the council, and the future, and the looming war which Washington thought was more and more certain. And Hamilton still had all his ideas and rants and dreams, but no longer touched him so familiarly. Hamilton would come close to him, mid-speech, and then step away. Even when Hamilton kissed him, it was quick and polite. It was as if his husband felt that he wished to move forward, and denied him even the smallest of openings. To make matters worse, he often took himself back to his study after dinner, and provided no space in which for Washington to suggest some other option.

The doubts ate at him: that Hamilton had changed his mind, or perhaps decided he was no longer interesting or worthy, or that he was now a dull partner. He hardly even shouted, unless Washington disagreed with him - and even when he did shout, there was a sort of restraint to it, that Washington had only recently began to notice.

It was all very terrible and confusing, and nothing like war. In war things made sense, and causes had effects, and causes could be explained as effects to prior causes, in an even order that he, as a general, understood very well. Hamilton was none of that. Hamilton's causes did not seem to be effects from other causes; furthermore his effects came from nowhere, and did not at all match previous actions or efforts. Their companionship was easy and friendly, but distant. He longed, in a way he wrote in his journals at length about. The longing he felt reminded him of being away from Mount Vernon for too long - something heavy that ached deep in his chest. But he did not love his grounds, the way he loved Hamilton. Or perhaps he did.

This situation would have been unpleasant without any further problems. But of course, further complicating his life was the half-disarray which had taken over the manor in preparation for both the ball and to change over in decorations. The new livery arrived for the rest of the servants, and modifications to some of the other art, and newly enameled silverware. There had been some kind of mixup with the tea saucers, which Lafayette had told to him without him listening, which resulted in him having many thistle teacups and violet saucers, and only a promise at all that such a change would be fixed in time for the ball. Last was the arrival of food for many, many times more than the regular population of the manor, and with it hired cooks and hands, which Washington caught Lafayette training and then yelling at, when they failed to live up to his reasonable (given the importance of the ball and also the wagers they were paid) but very high standards. All day and night the kitchens were active, and walls scrubbed, and windows cleaned, and silver polished, and new flowers cut, and on, and on.

The last time Washington had held a ball had been years ago, with the formal creation of the council. He mused that the present activity at Mount Vernon likely matched matched all the activity that had occurred over the past year, if not two.

One day, he woke up.

Ball day.

He took a very deep breath, and stared up at the ceiling in the morning darkness. He thought about Hamilton, and Adams, and everyone else who would appear in an attempt to destroy him. He sat up, slowly, and stared at the blankets across his lap.

A knock.

"Come in," he said.

Lafayette appeared. He was dressed impeccably, his hair pulled neatly back, his own thistle jacket gleaming white, understated violet, and verdant green. The breeches and the stockings were certainly new. Furthermore, Washington had seen his servant every day, and knew the sort of make-up he must had presently been wearing to disguise the bags under his eyes. The jacket hid the burn on his arm from a kitchen spill a few days back.

"Good morning, sir," Lafayette said, "Your bath is ready."

"Good," Washington repeated, with a little grimace, and Lafayette grinned at him.

"Good," The servant affirmed, "A very good day indeed, to grind one's enemies into dust. To show them the complete glory and majesty of the thistle, and the name of Washington-Schuyler."

He chuckled a little at that. "I suppose," he answered, and then stepped out of the bed, stone floor cold against his bare feet. He let Lafayette lead him to his washroom, and bath him, and apply his cologne, and dress his hair.

"Have you awoken Lord Hamilton yet?" he asked, as Lafayette studied his shoes for any microscopic scuffs.

"No, sir," Lafayette replied, as he put Washington into his undershirt, keeping an eye out for any irregularities in the fabric, even though Washington was sure the fabric had already been scrutinized a hundred times before. "He prefers a later awakening time. He also does much better at being dressed after breakfast and coffee."

"Fair," Washington said. "What time are guests supposed to be arriving?"

"After luncheon," Lafayette said, "Lady Dandridge said she might arrive slightly before, however. I also received word from General Schuyler, who said he would try to arrive as early as he could manage his wife out of bed. And Lord Knox wrote he would like to have a drink with you before he had to see those - I believe the words were 'those rat-poison scoundrels.'"

Washington nodded in agreement. Lafayette buttoned his waistcoat.

"The jacket after breakfast, I think," he said, "It should be ready and served at your leisure. I shall gather Lord Hamilton."

"Thank you, Lafayette," Washington said, and left the washroom and made his way to the breakfast table. A few minutes later, Hamilton appeared, in loose pants and his sleepshirt.

"Good morning, sir," Hamilton said to him, and grinned, "It is going to be quite a day, I think."

"It shall certainly be," Washington replied, and concentrated on his breakfast.

"I think after I am dressed we should discuss our tactics specifically," Hamilton continued, around his mouthful of sausage, "I believe that we should know and understand as best as possible the specific ways we should address our various enemies, and in what ways they intend to thwart us, and how we can riposte them." He jabbed an imaginary enemy with his fork. "For example, if Lord Jefferson seeks to offend us, we must be careful to include his cowardice, and complete lack of a military record. For Lord Laurens - Henry, of course, and if only John could be here - we should make sure that we talk about how heroic John is being, of course. He survived and informed us all of a very vicious attack. He certainly has the makings of a flawless soldier and should be permitted to continue to grow, and such."

"You should eat your breakfast, so you can be washed and dressed," Washington interjected, when Hamilton paused for a breath, "Then after, we can discuss such things."

Hamilton looked at him for a moment, as if to argue, but then instead grinned another charming, bemused grin, "I suppose that I shall," he said, and ungracefully began to shovel his breakfast into his mouth, lubricating it with a large quantity of coffee.

"I do agree," Washington said, more delicately working at his eggs, "That it is a good idea, to discuss what points we wish to make, before everyone arrives."

"We will do a great number on our enemies today," Hamilton said, holding his hand to his mouth to avoid a bit of his masticated breakfast from falling out. Washington winced, and made a note to review his manners. "They will not be able to debate the elegance, grace, charm, and majesty of the thistle. They shall understand our beauty in a way they have never yet comprehended. They shall look at you, and look at us, and wonder what luck has allowed them to stand even in our vicinity."

It was such a Hamilton sort of thing to say that Washington could only shake his head and drink his coffee.

"Well!" Hamilton said, and he stood, finishing off his coffee and picking up his last piece of toast with his fingers before popping it into his mouth, "I think I am ready to be anointed now."

"Anointed," Lafayette repeated, doubtfully, appearing at his shoulder like magic.

"Anointed," He repeated, and smirked at the servant, daring him to retort. "No mere creature can be the husband of General George Washington. Such a man must be clothed in the finest of silks and dabbed with the most elegant and complex of colognes."

Lafayette shook his head. Washington's eyebrows lifted into his forehead.

With a bright burst of laughter, Hamilton turned, letting Lafayette herd him upstairs into his washroom.

He watched the two of them disappear off, unable to restrain the smile from creeping at the corner of his mouth. There would be some time, he suspected. Lafayette could pretend as much as he wanted that he would not be picky about Hamilton's dress, but Washington knew him better. Of course, Hamilton had exaggerated, as he was wont to do, but the point was correct: it was of utmost importance that Hamilton be the best husband a man could possibly have. He would have to viciously yet politely respond to any jibes about either of them; he would have to pretend that he had been taught from the day he was born the manners suited to a man of his station; he would have to pretend to ignore insults.

Washington folded his arms behind his back and meandered into the main library. The place veritably sparked: every piece of art had been touched up, including the chairs, and the whole place had been dusted so intently that not a speck of anything was made visible by the light shining through from the big windows. The curtains had been taken down from their rods and beaten and then rehung. He sat at what was nominally his desk and rested his head in his hand, elbow on the armrest. A betraying part of him was angry, that he had not managed to make the correct overtures to Hamilton, about their intimacy. It would be a point of gossip. They would have to decide on some joint statement. He did not want anyone at the ball to think him inadequate or defective, and furthermore Hamilton would have been expected to care for him in this matter.

He forced himself to suppress the dread. Hamilton had promised to be a dutiful husband, and so far seemed like he was going to be, and there was nothing he could do otherwise. He could plead and beg all he liked, and perhaps Hamilton would like that, and perhaps he would not. Perhaps he would be rebellious out of spite. The uncertainty ate unsettled his breakfast in his stomach.

He shelved these thoughts and strolled from the library and up into his study. He and Lafayette had discussed which parts of the manor would be available for perusal and in which hallways servants would be placed to gently suggested guests go elsewhere. The discussion of the manor of Mount Vernon would be roaring in the papers tomorrow. He had invited some of their allied pamphleteers, to discuss the elegant wall-hangings, graceful architecture and noble majesty of the place, and hoped that those writings would be enough to turn the conversation in that direction. But nobles were capricious and unpredictable: for all he knew, the discussion could center about something that had become out-of-style yesterday.

He looked over his notes for the various men and women who he expected to attack him. He took out a fresh sheet of paper to solidify his ideas, and the facts that he needed, and the way he intended to present those facts, when he was required to do so. He thought of the ways they would attack him. Hamilton, of course. The council vote. His tendency for reclusiveness. Noting these did not make him feel less uneasy, because the fact was, they would know Lord Hamilton was his weakness. They would go after him viciously, and call him ignoble, and a clear indication of Washington's own failings.

This was a different kind of powerlessness than having his hands tied by a stingy council who pretended he did not need food or guns for an army. There was a personal edge to it, and it stung, hot like a burn in his chest.

There was a knock. He grunted.

"Ah, in the depths of his misery, I see," Hamilton said, closing the door behind him.

Washington looked up and found his breath escaped him.

The clothes, of course, were all new. The buckles of his shoes shined until they gleamed, and the bleached-white stockings, almost too bright to look at, and tanned breeches that emphasized the power of his legs without any additional stuffing required in the calf or the thigh. The jacket, of course, the design of it made to lengthen his stomach and tailored to show his lean, wiry strength. There was just a touch of wealth to it as well, with the buttons in his cuffs violet in the sunlight, each bordered with green. Of course, there was no speaking ill of Mr. Mulligan's work, which had the embroidered thistle bright and beautiful against the white cloth. His hair, which was usually in some state of wildness, was queued with exceptional neatness and without a single strand out of place. But it was not the hair, despite the unusualness of it, that surprised him. And it was not the clothes that shocked Washington into silence, for Hamilton had an obvious taste for finery and at least a rudimentary understanding of design, and even when he refused to wear a waistcoast wore fine undershirts.

It was that somehow, Lafayette's powders had smoothed away the bags under Hamilton's eyes and the few irregularities on his skin. Something on his eyelids emphasized the green irises, which now studied him with confusion. Dark lines around his eyes made his eyes stand out magnificently from his face. A tint firmed the line of his jaw, making him seen significantly stronger, while a bit of red on his cheeks somehow managed to subdue his overwhelming energy. Washington stared; his rational mind was having difficulty processing the man who stood before him. He was, as a benefit of his position, familiar with men and women who proclaimed themselves to be the most beautiful in the country, and even the world. But none of them, and certainly none of their painted-doll faces and overdramatic designs, held even the faintest candle to the man that stood before him. His husband, a tiny little part of his mind told him. This was his husband, and without a doubt the extraordinary creature he had been lucky enough to see.

Hamilton turned his head away from where Washington was very rudely staring at him. The little smirk at the corner of his mouth disappeared, and the red color of his cheeks darkened.

Stop staring, he told himself, quite sharply, although he was finding it an exceptional challenge to try and pull himself away from the extraordinary thing placed before him, even despite the obvious discomfort.

"I hope I might pass your inspection," Hamilton said, to his couch. His lips held a touch of unfamiliar color.

"Without question," Washington replied, in a very soft voice.

"I saw Lafayette holding your jacket," Hamilton said, and finally he lifted his head again to look at Washington, and now his eyes were sufficiently opaque, "It looks marvelous, and you should wear it, now that you are unlikely to spill your breakfast on it."

"I should," Washington repeated, and then gave himself a firm mental shake, "You look wonderful."

"Between Mulligan and Lafayette, they could beautify a troll," Hamilton replied, casual. The tension still hung, but now Hamilton moved through it as if he pretended it no longer existed, and came over to lean on the desk next to where Washington sat. Even up close, it was impossible to deny his husband's allure: bright, beautiful eyes, pale skin, dark hair, the strength of his shoulders, even despite their narrowness.

"Both very talented men," Washington agreed, and he looked up at Hamilton from where he sat, "Though I suspect they have gone far beyond anything I have seen, from either of them."

Hamilton rolled his eyes. "My ego has been sufficiently massaged."

Washington frowned for a moment, and then cleared his throat, gathering up the shards of his composure. It would do very badly to play the blathering idiot, struck dead by his his husband's beauty, at the ball. It was only that he had been distracted by the very many terrible things that loomed, that he had not even considered that this additional obstacle - as ridiculous as it seemed - to arise.

"If your fawning is completed," Hamilton continued, "I was expecting a briefing of some kind. Certainly, we cannot be over-prepared for these scoundrels."

"No, I suppose we cannot," Washington replied, taking another deep breath and setting his bafflement at the sight aside, in favor of the importance of considering politics and the subtle diplomacy at such an event like this. His men had been distracted by the divinity of a lovely sunrise, and the way the sun lit the ground gold, and highlighted the green leaves of the trees and the bursting flowers of plants. They were yelled back to work by their superior officers. It was only a matter of where to start. There were many ways to prepare for a battle, and they all needed to be done, although there was not necessarily a required order.

First: Guns would need to be cleaned, and dried, and made sure they were in working order. "It seems likely that the vote will come up repeatedly in discussion. When I am elsewhere, you will be asked for your opinion. It is important to be supportive of me, but do not dismiss the soldiers who died. Perhaps, if possible, to make it seem that it would not be good to their memory, if we were to fight, or something of the matter."

"Of course I shall support you, regarding the council, in any circumstance. It should be made clear, as is the truth, that you are doing the best for the country, and for the soldiers who died, and their families, and the war. Should the tendency to give us the most pathetic army possible appear at all in my debates?" Hamilton asked.

"It should be the last thing to be discussed, if the argument stretches. First, your desire against war, and how terrible it is; second, the fact that not taking action respects the memories of the slain soldiers; third, supporting me, for even if you do not understand my reasons, you know how wise I am; fourth, the smallness of the army; fifth, the inexperience of anyone who might enlist."

In the middle of Washington's list, Hamilton turned, reached over Washington's desk for his pen, and found a sheet of paper. He began to scrawl down his note. Without a chair, he bent at the waist to do so, and the fashionable breeches cut close to his bottom. Washington gave his soldiers another shout, to distract them from their feelings.

"Of course, you cannot bring these notes with you.".

Hamilton snorted at him. "Of course not. I am not telling a speech at the ball. Well, not this one, at least. Writing merely helps me remember."

Washington nodded, and resettled his men. Second: maps would need to be reviewed, and strategies for individual companies, and contingencies when those strategies inevitably fell apart.

"I imagine that if discussing the council does not get you to turn on me, other things about me will be discussed---"

"Turn on you?" Hamilton repeated, looking up his notes, "They are sorely mistaken, if they think they can split me from your side. I have never met a more noble man."

Washington took a breath, forcing his concentration only forward. "Many nobles, I imagine, will think that you are only looking for an opportunity to speak ill of me. You will recall that a fair number of them have only seen you at our wedding, when you did not appear pleased, and some later at Greene's ball, when you danced very poorly with me. They will think you are the best place to find new gossip about me, especially given that you have not attended other events I am invited to."

Hamilton looked sharply down at his notes again. Washington could see his mind working, although he could hardly fathom what thoughts were being formed, considered, reformed, and then acknowledged or discarded.

"Yes, I see," Hamilton replied, his again voice cool and controlled, "Well, I am glad I have mislead them all so terribly, so that I can explain to them that they are grievously mistaken. When they ask for unfriendly gossip, I will look quite confused. For what sort of things do they look for? What sort of things should I tell them, to convince them of your magnificence? As I must, of course."

Washington had never attempted to plan a battle, with weapons or without, where it seemed like hands reached out from the mud or the irrational recesses of his mind to try and distract him.

He sat back in the chair and thought. "You might discuss my hobby of reading. Riding, too, is would be well-received. Although I think it is perfectly acceptable to suggest I am usually hidden up in my study doing mysterious things - I am a great mystery, and the benefits for remaining so are numerous. But you would also have to fold this into how I am a generous, thoughtful husband, and that, perhaps if you are feeling especially loose-tongued, you could add you want for nothing."

Hamilton nodded along with this, and pushed himself off the desk to pace across the study as he mused. "Of course," he said, studying the shined buckles of his shoes as he spoke, "Naturally the Great Unifier can be nothing but the best husband and Lord of his grounds. Affectionate, but firm. Kind, but assured. Caring, but not obsessed. Obliging, but not submissive." He looked up at the door to the study, and then over his shoulder, smirking. "You know," he started again, and folded his arms behind his back, his eyes tracking the maps and medals Washington had hung on his walls, "I wonder what this person would actually be like, if they existed. Somehow they seem terribly boring, to be so perfect and so flawless. Do you think, if you were to wake up tomorrow and be two people, and one was the Great Unifier and one was the real man who sits in front of me fretting, they would actually like each other?"

"They are not interested in my being a person, sir," Washington replied, softly, for he had had this conversation before, and repeatedly in the mirror with himself. "What they are interested in is a creature they can aspire to, or demonize. They do not want a real man to lead the army or the government or be their nemesis. Real men are quite difficult to hate, once you know them. I wonder how I would feel about Lord Adams, if I could see him be tender with his wife. Or even Lord Jefferson, pouring over his beloved books. And they me, I think, if one of them were to see me covered in dirt in the greenhouse."

Hamilton's lip curled and something unpleasant in his eyes gleamed. "Oh, I know how they would feel. They would be shocked and disappointed. They were promised a stone general with no heart. They had fought for and against a magnificent noble, a heroic general, someone brave and overwhelming and powerful and magnificent." And then something in his expression softened, and he came over to the desk, looking down his nose at Washington sitting in his chair. "But when they arrived, they found just a mortal man - a creature with fears and loves, and held tightly by all the things that had occurred to him, and because of him. Although I confess, they would not be sensible enough to grow towards him, like a flower. They would wither in the heat of his charm."

Washington thought his breath must have been very loud, in the silence. Hamilton winked at him, rogueish.

"Anyway," Hamilton continued, breaking the moment and continuing to travel the worn circle of the study floor, "I understand the sort of man I will present you as."

Washington nodded, again fighting against his muddy boots and the confusion of being the center of Hamilton's attentions, as confusing and wild as they were. He reached over for the piece of paper that Hamilton had been scrawling on and offered it to him, and Hamilton took it - and with it the pen, and a book to write on the side of on the couch.

The battle, he told himself.

Third, he said: Other preparations. Re-sewing buttons and mending boots, where they could be mended. Checking uniform caps and patching holes in breeches. Checking the storm-glass for the weather, and the best advanced scouting of the battleground that could be managed.

"I think," Washington began again, and Hamilton glanced back at him, perhaps because of a slip of insecurity in his tone, "That you will be asked a fair number of questions regarding our...." He grappled for the word.

"Our..?" Hamilton prompted, his pen poised over the paper.

"One of the reasons....." He took a breath and gathered himself. "A common rumor about me being unmarried was that I could not perform."

There were a few moments where Hamilton obviously did not understand what Washington intended to say, but luckily comprehension came into his husband's eyes as the pause stretched. His lips folded around the Oh, though he never said it.

"Obviously, we have not," Washington began, before his confidence deserted him entirely, "And I know that you do not prefer to avoid the truth, when you can manage it. But if possible, if you could perhaps avoid the question, because I ..." The words tangled in his throat, and he fought against it.

Hamilton did not grant him the reprieve of looking away. Instead his well-lined eyes pinned him into his chair. "You want me to deny discussing it because it was too impressive," he said, flatly, "Even though you have denied me."

"Yes," Washington replied, and sunk back into the chair. He tore his gaze away, feeling the shame crawl at the back of his neck. "I know that you prefer the truth. But the importance of this image ---"

His husband very suddenly, like an unexpected stormcloud, become dangerously unreadable. "It is not so much a lie," Hamilton said, his voice firm, almost harsh, "I am certain that you are likely excellent. I have merely not experienced it."

At this Washington at him so quick that he was dizzy. Hamilton was studying the study door.

"Thank you," Washington said. He felt the familiar sensation of wanting to do a thousand things at once: he wanted to explain to Hamilton that intimacy was foreign to him, and that he did desire it, only it seemed terrible, to make a suggestion such as that to a man you had forced, and also that Hamilton looked beautiful, even with his voice strangled and hard.

"Is there anything else?" Hamilton said, to the door.

Oh yes, there were other things. He wish to discuss about Lady Schuyler-Church, and also a few other small political things, and Hamilton's temper, of which it was of utmost importance for him to maintain, and about Phillip, and about John Laurens, and how he should interact with Lord Laurens.

It was only that Hamilton’s back was terribly unwelcoming, all of a sudden. He seemed like a stone wall, unforgiving and cold. His stillness was jagged like ice. His men, their guns shined, and uniforms mended, and minds filled with plans, aware of the weather and having scouted the terrain, all stopped, and looked uneasily at each other, feeling the prickle of a bad omen on the backs of all their collective necks. Even despite their preparation, they muttered amongst themselves.

“That is all,” he said, because it seemed terrible enough already, to ask a man to sing your praises, when you had done him wrong, and even so he accepted you. And then you fed him this, like soured milk.

“Good,” Hamilton said, cooly. He went to close the door, only it was caught mid-shut as Lafayette slipped in, eyes glancing over his indecipherable husband and then turning, inquisitive, to Washington.

“I have your jacket, sir,” Lafayette said, and offered the lovely thing to him, in all its exquisite tailoring. Washington’s men trudged, even unsettled by their intuitions, into battle.

Chapter Text

"Lord Adams," Washington said, and bowed his head in an appropriate gesture of respect for a manor lord's greeting to a visitor of relatively equal station, "And Lady Adams. It is my most exquisite pleasure to welcome you back to Mount Vernon. This is my husband, Alexander. General Schuyler's son, if you'll recall."

"It is an indescribable pleasure to once again lay eyes on your wonderful estate, General Washington," Lady Adams said, and bowed at the waist, along with her husband. She turned to Hamilton, who was watching her with an uncharacteristically pleasant gaze, "And it is an absolute pleasure to finally meet you, Lord Schuyler." She offered the back of her hand, and Hamilton took it, pressing a tender kiss there.

"The pleasure is mine, Lady Adams," Hamilton replied, and let her hand drop slowly, folding his own hands behind his back. "My husband's explanations of your beauty were terribly incomplete."

Lady Adams chuckled, and her eyes flicked to Washington, sharp. What else have you told about me to this little man?, he imagined she would have liked to say.

Washington quirked an eyebrow and looked at Hamilton out of the corner of his eye, one edge of his mouth lifting a fraction. Just a slight break in the aloof mask, reserved only for his husband, that other nobles would think was shown to them by accident.

Hamilton laughed a bright little laugh at his gesture, his green eyes twinkling. "I will keep your secrets from now on, my dear," he said to Washington, leaning in while still letting his words carry.

Lord Adams' face flickered in quickly-hidden distaste at the play. Washington relished the moment.

"And Lord Adams," Hamilton said, turning back to the couple, "I have heard much about your wisdom and consideration for our fair lands."

Lord Adams watched Washington for moment, before turning to Hamilton, "Indeed? Has your husband been as incomplete in discussion of my beauty, as well?"

Hamilton laughed again, the wide smile across his lips nothing like the devilish little thing he usually showed in private, "I would love to know if he was understated with your genius, sir," he said, "Perhaps you would discuss your ideas with me later?"

"It would be my pleasure," Lord Adams said, his own theatre a little more obvious, "If it does not offend you, General, I think I might have a glass of wine."

"Please do," Washington said, and gestured to the main hall of Mount Vernon, which no guest would recognize had they seen it yesterday or would see tomorrow.

The main table, which usually only sat Washington, Hamilton and Lafayette, was set with chairs all down its length, and brilliant white tablecloths, embroidered with thistles at the edge. Moreso, other tables had been brought in from a storage room, providing ample seating to the guests and the ability to form up into groups that Washington could note for the future. Every chandelier had been lit and hung with a handful of candles, making the room comfortably bright; the silverware and plateware sparkled in the twinkling light. The centerpieces were set with a variety of flowers, each focused on a bright purple thistle, each of them the result of the minor dramatics that had occurred when Lafayette had been told no thistles were in the greenhouses and there had been a panic to collect the last few that were hardy enough to survive the cold evenings. Luckily, enough had been found, and they were beautiful, green, and sharp, in their vases. Between the tables were servants in embroidered livery, hoisting their trays of food and drink, and empty platters to take away anything that looked used. Washington caught sight of Lafayette, in his own jacket which marked him as head servant, whispering harsh words to another one of the servants on some manner of his behavior, before taking some request from a councilor with a bow and disappearing into the kitchen.

Hamilton took his hand, shaking him from his thoughts, and pulled him over to an empty table. The event had thoroughly started but men and women still very much arriving. Martha had arrived first and had some secret conversation with Hamilton, the extra time allowed by Hamilton telling Lafayette that Washington was busy - Lafayette, Washington thought, was likely still smarting from the half-truth. It was unlikely, though, that he would have a private moment to discuss with her what had been said. Knox had been next, followed by Phillip, and then the rest of the generals. They had all spoken about what was likely to be said and how everyone should act.

Hamilton still looked extraordinary in his outfit, although Washington knew the pleasant, daydreaming expression his husband presently wore was a well-created mask, just like his. His husband seemed to have intuited that a pointlessly vapid charade was unnecessary, and had settled on a witty little persona that always looked at Washington make sure his joke was approved. Washington, of course, allowed everyone else to think that the pleased crack in his mask he showed to Hamilton was supposed to be a secret.

The husband is charming, and clearly knows how lucky he is to be matched to the Great Unifier, they would say, upon watching them interact, and General Washington has so much going on in his head, but he seems to have made a space in his mind to tend to his husband.

And so they maintained this process over and over again: Welcome to Mount Vernon, and here is my husband, and Hamilton would make a witty, harmless quip, and glance at him to make sure he approved, and he always would. Washington wondered what the situation looked like, though he certainly imagined him: him aloof - the sort of creature that nobles liked to have rule but was hardly much of a real human at all - but lowering himself a single step, so that they thought him a statue with only the faintest pulse of a heartbeat, that was reserved very specially for the witty, matching boy at his side. And Hamilton, ultimately harmless, sharing the silly, harmless stories he might have heard around a fire or in a shop, and looking at him with affectionate, warm eyes.

No one asked about the thistle in those introductions, because obviously there would be a speech about it, which Hamilton had written and rewritten and discarded and written and rewritten and discarded, and written again, until he declared it the best speech he had ever written, ignoring Washington's puzzled look at this implication he had written many speeches. They did more introductions than Washington could have ever remembered doing. He had never seen Hamilton so averagely charming, like the sort of person you chatted up waiting in the butcher line or another fellow waiting to pick up an order at the tailor's. He seemed less unique, hiding the fire elsewhere; Washington ignored the pang of displeasure shot-through with some smug feeling about being the only one who knew the wonderful completeness of the man at his side.

Finally, it was late enough for them to mingle separately. Immediately following their separation, a horde of nobles descended on Hamilton as if he was some particularly delicious meal. Washington pretended that there was nothing terrifying about watching Hamilton talk with Lady Adams and Lord Madison. He made half-hearted smalltalk with Knox, who also made an active effort to pretend they were really chatting although Washington could not keep his eyes kept drifting. Hamilton did not appear to be upsetting the noblewomen, though. They laughed at his jokes, and he at theirs.

"I have had more charming conversations with trees," Knox said, playfully, after he pulled his attention back to his friend and realized he had failed to answer yet another question, "But I suppose it is worth it, to pretend while you fret over your husband."

"Do I appear to fret?" Washington asked, lowering his voice.

"Only to me," Knox replied, and patted him on the shoulder. He took several appetizers from the plate as it was passed around, "And perhaps Lady Dandridge and such. I saw her talking to who I believe is the youngest Schuyler."

Washington nodded. The room was a bit busy for him to casually seek Martha out, but there was no one he had more confidence in to present just the front that would improve his own standing.

"Fear not, George," Knox added, "Your husband will be spectacular. I know it."

"I wish I could be as confident, Henry."

Knox opened his mouth to say something else, but there was a touch at his side - his wife. "If you'll excuse me."

Washington nodded to both of them and allowed himself to drift through the room.

"General Washington," a woman said.

He turned. It was Lady Payne - Lord Madison's wife, and one of the most skilled and interesting conversationalists usually at their events. There had been some discussion, when they had first made the council, about acquiring a seat for Lady Adams as well as Lord Adams, and if both Adamses got a seat, there would be also a discussion for both Lord Madison and Lady Payne. The idea had eventually been discarded, though, given it seemed extensively unlikely they would ever vote differently from one another.

"Lady Payne," he said, and bowed, "You look lovely."

"You as well, General," she replied, smiling a perfectly delicate smile: like she listened, and cared, and thought that you had something interesting to say. "Your husband seems quite lovely. Will you ever bring him to any social events outside of your estate?"

It sounded a lot more innocent than he knew the woman intended it. Lady Payne was good at presenting a question as something unimportant.

"He may choose to go if he desires, if he is not ill or otherwise occupied," he answered, "I am his husband, not his master."

Lady Payne watched him carefully for a moment. He knew they must have looked pleasant and kind together, making casual conversation, catching up what the other had done. He also knew better, and he felt completely sure that she did as well. The truth was, Washington would have dearly liked to be Lady Payne's actual friend. She was was evidently brilliant, enjoyable to talk to, and well-informed on all matters. It was only that she and her husband thought he was, put gently, a power-mad general who desired to be an emperor.

It was laughable, and made him feel very confident on the various facades that he had constructed.

He wondered if she had something similar under her mask.

"I simply cannot imagine why a man would deny the opportunity to go to the sort of celebrations you are always being invited to," she replied, chuckling at the thought.

How ridiculous, Washington thought dryly, that a man might turn down an opportunity to be in a place where every move he made was scrutinized, and every word considered, and he was surrounded by sharks and monsters who sought nothing more than a crack in his iron shell.

"Every person has the tastes that they have," Washington said, with a little shrug at the end to punctuate how important he felt Hamilton's presence at his affairs was. Hamilton played kind but unstrategic; this pale mockery of his husband would see no reason to choreograph everything that he did and said. "I certainly would never think of forcing him to attend an event he did not wish to attend. If at some point he prefers to attend, of course I shall welcome his company."

Lady Payne made a thoughtful little agreeing noise at that. A decent riposte, perhaps. Her eyes went from his face to the stylized thistle embroidered at his breast pocket before flicking back up to his gaze. "I hope you will accept my apologies, if I still think of you of the Violet General."

"You may think of me however you want, my lady," Washington said, pretending not to be offended, though he knew that words were fully intended to put down the crest he wore now as opposed to his previous one, "I can hardly be in your mind, changing your thoughts to suit the changes in the times."

Be behind the times, if you like. See if I am bothered by your datedness.

She chuckled, knowing his retort for the jab it was. "Lord Madison spoke to me at length about your council vote, a little while ago. I admit, it was hardly the stance I felt you might take."

Because you think I am an ambitious warlord, Washington thought, to himself. To her, he frowned slightly, letting only a thread of displeasure snake through him. "Is that so?" he asked instead, as if he was surprised by this, "Both yourself and Lord Madison know the thing I desire above all else is a longstanding and easy peace. Nothing would bring me more joy than to move into the twilight of my life never needing to change my ceremonial sword for a real one ever again."

She made another thoughtful noise, "Perhaps," she said, "But have you not always said the best way to keep peace is to rattle the very sword you wish to retire?"

"No, my lady," he replied, "There is no rattling involved, I am glad to say. It is only matter of gently suggesting that aggressive actions are ill-advised, as kind as you are able. For example, of course, you light candles at dusk, to fight off the night before it appears, do you not? You do not stand around in the dark, your servants feeling around desperately for their candlesticks." He gestured up to the elaborate candelabras on the walls, and the hanging chandeliers, one of which had a servant at present setting new candles into it, so the whole room shimmered.

Lady Payne shook her head. "I suppose that you do," she agreed, "Well, I suppose I should find my husband; I imagine he is getting into trouble."

"We husbands are quite terrible at staying out of it, I confess," Washington said, and she laughed, walking off.

He managed to stay out of a conversation long enough to get to Hamilton, who was talking to Angelica Schuyler-Church and her husband. She smiled at him, more warmly than ever, and the husband - John, if Washington recalled correctly - bowed.

"My dear," he said, touching Hamilton's hip, "I think we should find our seats, and address our guests."

"Of course," Hamilton said, his voice still fake-charming, "I barely have a moment to myself, before someone else requires my attention."

"You are a very new and interesting man, to them," he said.

Hamilton laughed, and shot him a more familiar smirk, the gleam in his eyes having just a bit of a edge to it. "Yes, I suppose I am a charming zoo creature, am I not?"

Washington chuckled, and all at one gave his husband's arm a warning sort of squeeze. Hamilton bumped against him in response.

"Go to your seat. I will have Lafayette direct everyone else."

"Yes, sir," Hamilton replied, and left his side.

Lafayette was presently holding a platter with a decanter of brandy, when Washington found him in the crowd.

"Have the crowd be seated," he said to the servant, who nodded. Then, he turned and found his own seat, and watched the many guests begin to break off and find their tables, all looking at each other, and then him and Hamilton, standing at the head of the table in the front of the room. There was the rumbling noise of many conversations, and they began to slowly fade, until there was quiet.

Hamilton looked at him, and he looked at Hamilton. He remembered the pain of the thistle crushed between their hands, and the warmth of his husband's mouth. And so he took a sip of the glass had magically been filled at his table setting, and then opened his mouth to speak.

"Compatriots," he said, projecting his voice so that it reached into every corner of the room, and touched every man and woman so that they all felt he might be speaking particularly to them, "It is an incredible honor and an absolute joy to see each one of you here with me and my husband on this charming evening. We know that it is not always convenient to make such a trip, especially so late in the season, and please know that we are beyond grateful that each one of you could arrive here today."

Ridiculous, of course, he thought. There was no one in the country, or even perhaps the world, who would turn down an invitation to his home, and especially one which did not have a specific explanation for why that invitation had been sent.

"It is difficult to express how overjoyed we are to announce the thistle as the crest of Washington-Schuyler," he continued, and pretended that there was no murmur in the crowd, the curiosity made tangible about something so odd. "For what is more like myself and Lord Schuyler, that we have persevered despite many attempts from our enemies to do otherwise?"

Hamilton looked up at him with eyes that shone, and he could see how such a thing might thrill a crowd. Despite it, he preferred those eyes dark and distracted, the mile-a-minute thoughts practically visible, "Such a thing is not so far from the violet that my husband is known for in all his heroism, courage and glory, and yet that he tempers with the humility that we have so much respect for," Hamilton continued, his words paced and thoughtful, so much unlike the way he might rant about a bank or a military pension, "And yet we give thanks, and acknowledgement, and respect, to those around us that contribute to the country that we have worked so hard to create. Be that a common soldier, or the farmworker, or the shopkeeper - these men and women are just as worthy, in some way, to receive the acknowledgment and understanding of all the things they have done to push our heroic country forward together.”

“And so as the thistle we hope to not only celebrate ourselves, for our ability to outlast, and to grow bright and beautiful despite our hardships, but also to celebrate you, who have all done so much to make our lands as great as they are. And also all people, of all worktypes and walks of life, that we may all grow strong as a nation together. Thank you.”

They had planned a kiss here, but Hamilton held him for what seemed like a long time, warm lips and pure affection that Washington thought could not be real. Someone hooted, and they separated, and then the nobles clapped as they sat.

“Please,” Hamilton said, as servants began to appear with platters and platters of food, “Enjoy yourselves, dear friends.”

Chapter Text

After the speech there was dancing, drinking, and more talking. Mostly dancing, of course, interspersed with the other two. He knew that if you were not one of Washington's enemies, there was little more important than saying you had danced with General Washington or his husband, and he could already see the pretend line snaking across the room. No one would be obvious about it, but it was as clear as day to him.

So it went. First with his husband, of course, Hamilton practicing one final time on him, as Washington murmured nothing into his ear, so that they may play the part of the gentle flirt of the dance. Then Hamilton had disappeared into another woman's arms, in the first - lead - position, this time. He danced as well, with all of those he was expected to dance with. Martha, of course, and Knox, and Phillip, and Phillip's wife, and the youngest of the Schuyler women, and then Lady Schuyler-Shippen's wife. There were also his enemies, of course - with Lord Laurens, a clumsy dancer who tried to gall him to anger and failed, and Lord Madison, who had a cool and terrible way of saying vicious things. Others.

He could not watch Hamilton, of course. He had to pray to no one that Hamilton would remember the discussion they had had about dancing: that he should dance the first position with the less important member of any couple, or any single noble, and the second - following - position with the more powerful. If there was some debate, or the information was unknown, he should allow the other to choose. If the other wished to choose something different, Hamilton would have to agree, graciously. Phillip had already trained Hamilton well on knowing names and titles, at least.

They had practiced dancing in the ballroom with Lafayette tapping out a beat with his foot. Hamilton was a decent dancer, after all. He had always danced second, as the adopted fourth child. Like anything, he caught on to dancing first well enough. Those moments had been the closest Washington had come to asking Hamilton about intimacy. He felt confident that Martha would be unhappy if she knew that he had not accomplished it, even with Hamilton close and laughing in his arms, mocking something Lord Adams had written that Washington had read that previous evening. It was nothing like going to war, he had thought to himself, then. Going to war did not include your husband's twinkling eyes and bright voice. Going into battle did not include a warm hand at your waist and some terrifying possibility that he could not name. But lost battles - and Washington had lost plenty - were not the same of being unable to satisfy the man that you cared too much for. Washington could lose battles and come out learning. He was not sure he could handle the possibility of failing to be a decent lover.

He caught sight of Hamilton in second position with Lady Schuyler-Church. They were in the middle of a conversation that he could not hear over the din. He was at present dancing with Lord Jefferson's daughter, who was a lovely woman who had the unfortunate displeasure of being much too close to Lord Jefferson for him to ever learn much about her, or display anything interesting about him.

When he was done dancing with the woman, he sat himself at his chair and took a sip of the glass of whiskey that had been set there, to refresh himself. The demand for his attention had been reduced, both because a fair number of the individuals had gotten too drunk to consider politics, and also because many men and women had separated into whatever groups they usually preferred. From here it was easier to watch Hamilton, who was at present talking to Lord Van Rensselaer. He took a breath and tried to put together his thoughts, and concentrate on the things people had said to him, and what all of those meant, and how they fit together. Who had danced with whom? How did the groups accumulate? What had been different from the last ball he attended? How did people seem to act with one another? Whose wife or husband did not attend?

"General Washington," said Lord Adams, appearing from the corner of his vision, "What an extraordinary event."

"Thank you, sir," Washington replied, taking another drink of his whiskey. He waited for more.

"I was wondering if I could invite you a dance. I would be honored for you to be my first."

Washington's men woke with a collective start in some hazy predawn of his thoughts and reached for their clothes and their guns.

"The honor would be mine, of course," he said, and he took Adams' hand, and they walked more towards the center of the ballroom. He felt the eyes. It was a very particular and favorable arrangement for him, for everyone to see him dancing lead and Adams following; there was no way Adams would do such a thing without a reason, and a significant one at that.

The musicians started a new song. Washington lead, easy and well-paced.

"Your husband is very good at pretending to be likable," Adams said, and in the dance they had a peculiar, isolating sort of privacy, close enough that the place was much too loud to hear the words spoken between them, "Abigail thinks he must be very cunning indeed."

"What a charming thing to say, about a man's husband," Washington replied.

"What does he think, about your peace vote? He is a veteran, I heard."

Washington quirked an eyebrow at Adams, though there was no budge in his polite smile.

"He supports me, of course, as good husbands support each other," Washington said. Adams chuckled at that. Washington did not let his unease show. Adams certainly would not have allowed to see the whole room to see Washington lead him simply for the opportunity to take jabs at Lady Adams, and Lord Adams was at least three-quarters of the politician he was.

"Have you spoken to his brother lately?"

Washington allowed the tiniest frowns to curl at the corners of his mouth. For a second there was anger - his brother was dead - but then he remembered: he now had many more brothers. "I seem to have grown a few more. Would it trouble you to elaborate on which one?"

"Lord Church-Schuyler," Lord Adams said.

In fact, he had done that just this evening. Lord Church was an excellent merchant but, as Hamilton had noted, not the most stunning conversationalist. Despite his wealth (and with it power), he gave the impression of a clerk, and not a powerful merchant. What had they spoken about? He had been excited about a swell in orders of raw materials. Lady Schuyler-Church had pretended to look very interested in some inconsequential detail of the process. Despite the lengthy list of downsides of being married to Hamilton, at least no conversation with him was boring.

"I have," he answered, "Business seemed to be well. Do you have a message you would like me to pass to him?"

"I only wondered if he had informed you of the growing ship fleets."

This was an interesting statement. Washington ruffled through the various things people had told him, as if they were war reports. There. An uptick in purchases of wood and sailcloth. He remembered.

"Ship fleets?" He responded, as his men scrubbed themselves and looked to their commanders for orders. He knew now that he was going to some kind of battle, even though he did not know precisely what it was, "There was some discussion of a growth in raw materials ordering, although I do not at present recall ships being in the conversation."

"Did he say the buyers?" Lord Adams asked. His eyes were bright and knowing. He held something just out of Washington's grasp and evidently relished it. "No, I suppose he would not wish to upset you at such a glorious event. I suppose he would have not even brought the receipts. Although, not only his company would have had them. Perhaps his company did not have any."

Washington tilted his head. He did not let his eyes narrow, of course; he could never look upset or angry at such a public event. But he heard the marching feet coming closer to his camp, and he was prepared to defend.

"Mostly wood and sailcloth, a man wrote to me," Lord Adams continued, his voice pretend-casual, "And from foreign powers, too. Have you seen the ports? So much new shipbuilding is occurring, even in the winter, and from men who yell in enemy languages. I suppose we should hope that this only a way to build up their merchant fleets."

His men saw the alternative, and he hissed in a breath between his teeth, forcing himself calm. He could only concentrate only on his feet and Adams' voice.

"I see no reason why we should assume there is anything to worry about," he said, his voice equally as casual, and just as pretend, "And there is no language that is our enemy, sir. We are at peace; we have allies, and treaties. And certainly these ships present a boon to our merchants and our ports?" He waited a moment. "If I might, what about this shipbuilding concerns you?"

"I suppose I am not concerned, per se," Adams replied, in a meandering sort of way. Washington very much felt as if Adams might like to grab his neckcloth and pull him around as if he was a dog, "After all, you said we are at peace, correct? And a general would know a blockade, when he saw one. At least his brothers would?"

They saw the same terrible possibility: If there was an enemy building a blockade in their ports, the result could be disastrous. If nothing else, the very merchants that benefitted from the shipbuilding would be choked off, their wares sitting in storerooms and slowly molding. This did not even begin to consider the military problems: if they were trapped in their own harbors, how easy would be for an enemy to deposit troops into their port cities? With the blockade protecting them, their enemies could trade freely, and with much less effort begin a tide of soldiers into their houses.

It was devious and terrible, to think that an enemy could be taking advantage of them in such a way. To be building something under their own collective noses, because they had not acted, because they had thought things were peaceful --

"You are thinking too negatively, sir," Washington chided him, instead of discussing the various horrors that could occur if Adams was right, "There is no reason to suspect anything terrible. Ships are being built. Our merchants will benefit; our sailors will benefit; our port cities will grow. I see no reason to consider another nation taking such a duplicitous and underhanded step."

Adams made a thoughtful noise. "I suppose. Though I have received letters that make me suggest it is worth considering. But I am a mere councilman. I suppose a general might know better."

"These letters," Washington began, "I suppose you might show them to me, in case there is another meaning that can be interpreted?"

"I shall send them to you. I did not want to interrupt this joyous event with such dreadful documents," Adams said, clearly with no intention to send them.

"I shall await them," Washington said, knowing he would never see them, or even if they existed at all.

"I only wished to bring such a thing to your attention, General," Lord Adams continued, "I know that you will make the right decision about the matter. You, of course, can see an act of war for what it may really be, or perhaps it is nothing at all."

"You honor me, Lord Adams," Washington replied, when in fact what he would have liked to do was lift the man up by his neckcloth until his face turned purple from a firm shaking. "As you know, the thing I strive for the most is the growth of our fair nation."

"As you said. I have very thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Would you please host another ball like this one?" Adams asked, well-knowing the rarity of an event like this one. He smiled a thin, unpleasant little smile as the song came to an end, and bowed.

"Of course," Washington replied, and bowed back, knowing there was little he would have preferred less.

He sat back down at this table, when Adams walked away. Knox was at his side immediately, looked at his face once, and frowned. "What is it?"

"Are you staying until tomorrow, General?" Washington asked, his eyes hard with the importance of the question.

"Why, I am," Knox replied, although he shook his head a fraction, "Would you prefer to confirm my arrangements with your steward, or shall I?"

"I shall. And I presume the other generals are staying as well?"

"I shall confirm with them," Knox replied, and took off looking for the rest of their group.

Even with the end of the event beginning to creep in, it was much too dangerous to discuss the matter now. They could be overheard, or argue, or not know precisely the right answer. Better that they discuss in a tea-room after breakfast, in privacy, where even Lafayette and Hamilton could contribute. Lord Church would have been helpful to have, for his first-hand understanding of this process. But Lady Schuyler - she might be. She seemed to know about shipping, and had a military demeanor, and understood the right thing to say.

He stood and went in pursuit of her. She was speaking to Lord Hamilton, whose cheeks were pink with liquor. Hamilton turned from the conversation with a bright smile that flashed away for a second before reappearing, this time completely false.

"My dear!" Lord Hamilton said, and tilted his head. Is something the matter?, his eyes said

"Lady Schuyler," he said, to her. She bowed her head, "Are you leaving in the morning?"

Lady Schuyler had caught the second-long frown on Hamilton's face. "Yes, I am," she answered, after a beat, "I shall speak with your steward to confirm it?"

"I shall manage it," he said, "It is always a pleasure to have you in my estate."

"And a pleasure to be here," Lady Schuyler replied, as she knew to.

He turned, looking for Lafayette. The man could be anywhere - helping guests who were beginning to leave, or setting up the visitor's cottages, or cleaning up food, or distributing it to servants' houses. He could obviously not go to a number of these places. Thankfully, Lafayette was easily found leading a drunk guest away from a closed-off hallway. His man looked at him for a second, and then gestured for another servant to take the drunk noblewoman off his hands.

"Yes, sir?" He asked, shielding Washington from the rest of the hallway with his body, to give them a modicum of pretend privacy, "Is there something I can further assist with?"

"I merely wished to confirm the overnight accommodations of the generals, and Lady Schuyler-Church in the estate," he said, keeping hard eye contact. Lafayette eye's flickered - Is something the matter? - before he bowed.

"Of course, sir. I know exactly where they are staying."

"Excellent. Please remind them," he said, and watched Lafayette bow and take off down the hallway, likely to make the very arrangements they all pretended were already made.

He would need the generals to talk about what could be happening at present in their harbors. Lady Schuyler could provide an informed opinion on the merchants. Perhaps he was overreacting to nothing, that foreign ships were being built in their harbors. Perhaps it was only simply more merchant ships, and of course if the raw materials were here, it would be easier to build the ships here. Building the ships here would even pay their own workers, grow the towns --- if these were merchant ships, there were an endless number of benefits to their appearance.

But if this was a duplicitous strategy to literally build a wall in their harbor and then seal them in like a brick wall, and he did not stop it, or at least suggest to stop it --

-- Merchants did not usually like to be told to stop selling wood and sailcloth to eager buyers. They would not enjoy his orders, if he were to make them. He needed to be popular, and to say such a thing would certainly not be. He could not tell them to stop without being very sure that such a thing was the correct step.

He let none of this show on his face as he sipped his whiskey at his seat. Some of the guests had left, but there were also still a fair number of them. He wished, very dearly, for the evening to be over as soon as possible.

Instead a woman asked him to dance, and he agreed, because he needed to. He listened to her conversation, and agreed to whatever if she said. His men looked at clouds and wondered if they were an ill omen.

Chapter Text

It was no longer difficult for him to keep one side of his mind on the issue of ships and the other side of it - and his face - on social graces. He'd become an expert on such a thing, during the war. He could not allow himself to become panicked or chaotic, especially at an event where he was in view of so many people. He could even less allow Adams the victory of seeing such a thing.

He wondered the planning the man had made, to drop this information on him. It was late enough that people were beginning to leave, yes, most drunk and many tired and not paying attention. Their memories would be unclear. What did Adams hope for him to do, right now? Certainly, he knew better than to think Washington would display a significant reaction. Adams did not know, perhaps, the great amount and great intensity of the bad news he had constantly received during the war.

What rankled more, now that he had had a moment to think on it, was the terrible selfishness of it. What Adams wanted was not to protect the country, or keep the port safe, or make sure the city was not blockaded. If these were his goals, he would have brought his mysterious letters, and been less snake-like about providing the details. He might have brought it to all to the complete group of generals. No, what Adams wanted was for him lay in a bed awake, wracked with guilt and indecision, and then make the wrong choice, suffer some humiliating defeat, and begin some slow descent into obscurity. Washington's chest twisted with anger. It was a conniving, manipulative, self-interested thing to do, to put your petty grudge against the protection of the country.

He was also at present dancing with Lady Shippen, who spoke about the renovations that she had been doing to the manor where she and Lady Schuyler lived. She seemed not to mind the conversation that he offered, and smiled at him, and offered a little bow, when the dance ended.

Quite suddenly, Hamilton was there, taking his arm and leading, even though he danced second. "What did Lord Adams say to you?" he asked, voice soft and cheery smile maintained. He was good at this, Washington thought.

"Such topics are ill-placed at a celebration," he responded, keeping his voice calm, "Perhaps we shall discuss more at breakfast."

A frown flickered across his husband's face for a second. There was tense moment, where Washington thought he might argue, and then it dissipated. Instead Hamilton sighed, and pressed close, hiding his face in Washington's jacket as they moved. "Of course, my dear," he said, the frustration evident even in his muffled voice. There were several more seconds of silence between them, where Washington had no success in his attempts to enjoy the slow dance.

Finally Hamilton stood straight again, and sighed, as if he had worked his way through the end of some thought and come back empty. Finally, he pressed close, and put his mouth to Washington's ear. His voice was low and furious and restrained - shackled - Washington thought.

"I despise this," he said.

"I know," Washington responded, and he pulled away just a bit so he could take his husband in. Hamilton's mask was not impenetrable. There was all the familiar anger at the corner of his mouth, and this close, the intensity shone through his makeup. Washington took a breath and more properly took the lead in the dance. Hamilton was a talented dancer, when he tried. His hands were warm where they touched, and his grasp was comfortable. If his husband was still upset about their earlier conversation, it had dissipated, or perhaps was subsumed by his general irritation at the dance.

"Dance with me again, sir?" Hamilton asked, after they were done, "I know I hoard you. But I surely cannot be blamed?"

Washington glanced around. No one urgently seemed to require him, and so he could think of very little better to do than dance with his husband. By now there was a steady trickle of departing company that he and Hamilton both wished well when their dance was completed. They danced together, for a while. Hamilton relaxed into him. It was enough, he thought. He was accustomed to others only pretending to hold him in esteem.

They paused for coffee, because at least Washington would have to be awake for the entire event, no matter how long it lasted. They were joined by Phillip and General Greene, and they made pleasant conversation about the weather, and their plans for the winter. They looked up as a collective, when Lord Jefferson approached. He bowed.

"I have not yet had the pleasure of dancing with Lord Schuyler," he said, and he offered his arm, "I was told he is an excellent lead, and though it would be quite foolish of me to miss out on an opportunity to experience such a charm."

"You flatter me, sir," Hamilton said, and he took the hand and stood, "It would be a great honor."

Washington pretended not to watch them move towards the emptying dancefloor. He had worked quite hard on convincing himself that this very act would not occur, and if it did, Hamilton would not act in error through it.

"Your husband is quite the charmer," Phillip said, dryly. Greene chuckled.

"Of course he is," Washington replied, "It is more than others do not know of his charm, rather than he does not possess it."

Phillip cast him a dry look, and then let his eyes flick back to where Hamilton and Jefferson were dancing. "Hmm," he said, quite pointedly, and tilted his head.

Washington looked without looking. The two men danced close to where the generals sat. While he could not hear what they said, he had become very good at reading Lord Hamilton's posture: his back too-straight, head tilted at a particular angle. He caught a glimpse of Hamilton's face: his husband did not smile, and the the tense way that his lips were pressed together did not bode well. Washington had the nauseating, horrifying thought that he would not have been surprised if Hamilton slugged Jefferson mid-dance, for whatever he was saying while he smirked. He would have been even less surprised if Hamilton exploded with insults, even ones that were completely true.

None of these results occurred. In fact, they bowed after the dance, and Jefferson walked off one way, and Hamilton stood very still for a moment. Then, he turned and came back to where Washington was still sitting with Schuyler and Greene. Everything about him was on edge: teeth gritted, the soft hiss of him controlling his breathing.

"I think," Hamilton said, with evidently-artificial congeniality, "that all this dancing is too much for me. I shall retire."

At this Washington stood, quicker than he intended. "I should go with you, so you are settled."

"I do not--" Hamilton's voice began to raise, and his hands clenched for a moment, before he cut himself off, took a breath, and resumed with an air of forced pleasantness. "That is very thoughtful of you, my dear, but I would not wish to take you away from your most esteemed company. I can put myself to rest just fine, I assure you." He kissed Washington on the cheek, and hurried off.

Washington looked at the hallway for a few very long moments before he stood. Phillip stood next to him, frowning.

"I think," his friend said, thoughtfully, "It would not be a good idea to follow, at present."

Washington made a frustrated noise of acknowledgement, and sat back down.

"I shall speak to Lord Jefferson," Greene said, and he stood up and meandered across the emptying room.

“Maybe we should dance,” Phillip said. He nodded, because staring down the hallway - wondering what his husband was doing, and why he was visibly upset, and thinking about all the ways a perfect evening could be ruined, and what he could do to improve the situation - was not appropriate behavior. This sort of thing was the rest of the evening: dancing, talking to remaining guests, and trying to stop his thoughts from meandering to Hamilton’s study.

Chapter Text

Finally, the last person was seen to their bed, or carriage, or visitor's cottage. It was just him and the servants tidying up the room, cleaning spilled food and picking up plates. He could see the candles in the kitchen from here - doubtless that the many servants there would still have hours of work in front of them. But he, at least, was finished.

Well, at least with this. Perhaps reward was not the right word for checking up on his husband, who had departed steaming with rage some time earlier. He had no idea what to expect. Perhaps Hamilton would be asleep. Or perhaps he could suggest intimacy, although he was concerned Hamilton might see the timing in a poor light. He had to know what he was facing, before he knew how to respond to it.

When he knocked on the study door there was no response. A second knock, and again no response, so he pressed down on the handle and opened it a fraction. A candle glowed, highlighting in the aura a bowed back of a man who had fallen asleep at his desk. Washington shook his head and felt, pushing up through the exhaustion of the day, something fond in his stomach. He cleared his throat loudly, and Hamilton startled awake.

His husband looked over his shoulder at him, still sleep-worn and beautiful. Washington bowed his head.

"Thank you, sir," Hamilton said, and then he reached for the inkwell and his pen, and looked down at his desk, presumably at the paper he was writing.

"Your bed is not far, and you will be expected at breakfast," Washington said, as gentle as he could.

"I will be there," Hamilton said, without looking at him, "But first I must finish this. It must go out tomorrow morning."

At the intensity with which Hamilton spoke these words, Washington frowned and came into the room, closing the door behind him. He took a few steps closer, making them loud enough that Hamilton could tell him to back away, if he wanted. "Surely, it can wait?"

"It cannot. I have already wasted enough time," Hamilton replied, harder this time, and he paused only for a moment to think while he dipped his pen in the inkwell.

"Might I inquire about it is so urgent?"

"It is only that Tom Jefferson is the most disgusting, worm-like carrion maggot of a human to ever grace our fair country," Hamilton said, and now there was a snarl in his voice, "And he dared bring to me an unpleasant rumor about my mother. So I think it is only fair that I bring his unpleasantness to light as well. It is no secret, that his servants are mistreated.” He looked over his shoulder back at Washington, his anger bringing a furious, frenzied light into his eyes, despite the bags under them. "Can you imagine what life must be like for such a monster? That you promise your dying wife to never remarry, and instead you commit heinous act as if that preserves your purity?"

Washington hissed in a breath between his teeth as he watched his husband turn back to his paper and continue his scrawl. He folded his hands behind his back and fought off his own exhaustion, because he knew that any demon he faced in the ball would be half as powerful as the one he was about to rile.

"You know, sir," he said, very slowly, restraining himself from expressing the dread he felt along every inch of his flesh, "That you cannot have such a thing published. And especially not soon after this event."

Hamilton stopped writing very suddenly. He put his pen down, and stood up, leaning against the desk drawers. Despite the casualness of his posture, his whole body was alight, and his face was hard enough that even the sleepworn makeup did not conceal the anger that lurked close to the surface.

"General," he said, very slowly, like a rumbling stormcloud, "I have kept to my promise all day. I allowed Lafayette to paint me like I was a doll. I pretended to be your charming, harmless husband for the whole country, as far as it will be reported. Even worse, I said nothing of significance or cruelty to anyone who spoke ill of either of us. I pretended that I heard none of the exceptionally unkind things that were said when it was thought I was not listening. I even pretended to not take offense to the pretend-cruel things that were said to me, to my face. My obligation to you is fulfilled. My publishing is not included in it."

Washington sighed a very long sigh. He felt a shift within himself, though perhaps shift was not the word. It was the sense a person had when their expectations were not met, but they knew all along the expectations had been unreasonable. He had been foolish, to think he could keep something for himself, and not give it in the name of the country. He had been naive to dream that he could have a decent husband, split from his duties.

"Sir," he said, keeping his voice firm. It was only that he was so very tired. It was late, and he felt very cold, "If what you want is to be considered a thoughtful politician, and a person whose opinion is considered in a council room, then you can never write these kinds of publications, even about your enemy. If what you want is to be thought of as a wise statesman who is looking to improve our nation with your ideas, then acting civilly in the face of these odds is not something you will be required to do out of obligation to me. You will have to do for no other reason than to be considered worthy of inclusion.”

Hamilton scoffed loudly at that, and rolled his eyes so intently his whole head moved. "All of this civility is nonsense. It is an attempt by those less honorable to take weapons from the hands of the more honorable. What could they say about you, if they could say anything? The worse they could say is that you spend too much time tending your plants. But you cannot say that they mistreat their servants. You cannot say that they have stolen from the people. You cannot say they are self-centered thieves.” A beat. “Absurd. I shall create a new system, where only a good person can rule the country. A new system where a person’s genius and flaws are both brought to light, and the public may decide these things as they are."

Washington took a longer breath. He knew, of course, what he had to do. The path was laid clear to him, well-marked and set with cobblestones. It was only that he could not think of a time that he had been forced to do something so terrible. He routinely did things he did not wish to do, and maybe only with practice they had been tolerable. But this was new. This was a fresh kind of thing, he knew he had to subject himself to.

And yet he did.

He remembered the way Hamilton looked, when he was mid-rant, eyes sparkling and brilliant. He remembered the way Hamilton helped him in the greenhouse, providing information he had never known before. He remembered Hamilton prodding the air with his fork at dinner as he went on about some endlessly complicated new system to fix their problems.

He would give these things up up, because it was his duty to give things up for the war. For a moment, the urge to resist swelled in his stomach. Let Hamilton publish his screed on Jefferson. Let the public and the council say whatever they wanted about him and his husband and their crest and their family.

He could not do such a thing. He knew the world, and what was required. He knew how things had to be. He knew how things must appear, for his work to continue.

He sealed a small part of Hamilton inside of him, and then he let the rest go.

"I will not let this be published," he said, meeting Hamilton's eyes, cool and reserved, feeling the weight of the mask on his face. "I will have the journalists that support me refuse to publish it. They will obey me. And of course, no friend of Jefferson or Adams will do such a thing. You will find no way to make more copies of your piece."

Hamilton stared at him. Hamilton's mouth hung open for a moment, as he processed the words for the threat and demand that they were. Then, it snapped shut, and he stood very straight, going as rigid as death. For a second, rage flickered across his face, and then it hardened and condensed into his eyes.

"You dare," Hamilton said, very softly, like a dagger.

Washington nodded.

"You mean to tell me," Hamilton began again, and something in his voice was horrible, like a poison cloud, "That I have spent all day and all evening pretending to be your doll, and I have allowed nobles to speak ill of me, and to call my mother - the woman who gave me all of her strength, so much that she died with me in her arms - a whore - to my face, and to tell me I am nothing -- and you reward me by covering my mouth with your hand until I suffocate."

"There is nothing more important to me than my duty," Washington said. The words felt tinny and distant, like his war memories. It felt like the familiar starvation and misery, and somehow it embraced him like an old friend, and he embraced it back. "You know that about me. For the good of my country, and preserve the face that I know is required, I will do this. This thing that you write - even if you use a pen-name, the identity of it will be obvious. Not only will it then be known that you are some ignoble pamphleteer spouting off whatever news you can find for popularity, but even if your pamphlet was acceptable, and pamphleteering was decent - Jefferson will know it was you, and because of that it will be traced to me. The council will wonder why I have allowed you to be so publicly rude. They will be convinced I can no longer lead the army to be sensible, if I cannot manage my seemingly even-tempered husband."

He stood still. He knew that in this shape, in this one moment, he would be as unbreakable as iron.

He wondered if he had ever taken a position so terrible, and had merely forced himself to forget it, because of the way it felt. He had given things up before - given up Martha, given up his home for all those years, given and given and given. Did all of those things, at those times, feel like ripping his own heart out and throwing it to the ground, to be stomped by the war?

Hamilton's stillness was not brittle. Hamilton’s stillness was cooled and hardened and tempered, and then polished and sharpened until it looked appropriate in a king’s sheath. The blade of his rage was understated and yet Washington knew it was sharp enough to cut through bone without trying. It reminded him of the council. It reminded him of Madison, sharp-pointed and furious. It was not like a cannonball or a bullet, destructive without purpose or reason.

His soldiers knew this kind of rage, and his officers saw the many fronts of which their battle was fought. They studied their maps uneasily and realized, all at once, that it would not be easy to defend so many fronts all at once.

They considered retreat.

"Those ignoble pamphleteers," Hamilton said, so calm that Washington was riveted, "Are the reason that your name is heroic in every mouth in this country. Those ignoble pamphleteers have been jailed and beaten to sing your praises. Those ignoble pamphleteers made you."

Washington opened his mouth to respond, but Hamilton chuckled the most terrible chuckle.

"But how can I be surprised, that you slander the backs that you stand upon? How can I be surprised anymore, to watch you put down the very creatures that have made you into something invulnerable and immovable? How can I be surprised that you so disdain the very creatures that took this sulking, reclusive liar of a man and deified him?" Hamilton folded his arms across his chest and laughed another unpleasant laugh. "It should hardly shock me. Here is a man who would not let me invite my friends, because they were not noble enough - because unlike your enemies that lie and cheat each other, my friends enjoy getting drunk and speaking ill out of comedy. Here is a man who cannot manage himself to interact with any real humans, and so he has abandoned every decent conversation to instead stare at his plants all day, because they cannot reject him."

The more attacks he took, the more reasonable retreat sounded. There was no shame in such a thing. Ground could be covered again in the future, or his battles could be fought elsewhere. He knew his priorities.

"You may bear the thing however you like," he said, with no emotion at all. He was, after all, the stone general.

"Do you know what you are?" Hamilton began, and despite the soft quiet of his tone, Washington was not ignorant to the vein of rage, like a streak of gold in ore. "I thought that you were a tyrant, as you know. But I have been in error, all this time. I have thought you something different than you are. But I know." He took a breath, and then he held Washington's gaze as a man held a raw egg to shatter in demonstration. "You are a parasite. There is nothing inside you but your lies and the strength of others. You take this shell that you were cursed - ha! Cursed! Cursed to be strong and powerful and inherently trustworthy - and you find the next person who you can leech their intelligence, and their charm, and their brilliance from. And then you take every mote of them into you, until you have grown strong and more impressive, and they wither. You did it to Lady Dandridge, and Phillip Schuyler, and Henry Knox. You stole everything from them, until they could do nothing but live in your shadow, knowing that stepping out would be deadly because of how you weakened them. And now you seek to do the same to me." Hamilton grit his teeth together as he spoke, until every word was a hiss, "You slither over to me like a vine, and you wrap it around my body, and you take everything I have to offer."

Hamilton pushed off from the desk that he leaned on, and as he spoke he slunk closer to Washington, the air crackling around him. "But I know your secret, that not even Lady Dandridge or General Knox knows." Here he smiled, utterly unpleasant. "And that is that you have lied to everyone, for so long, and so completely, and you have fooled so many men and women - that there is nothing left of whoever you were. You have lied so much to everyone else so much that you can do nothing but lie to yourself. You are nothing but the Great Unifier, and the Great Unifier is a ghost of a person. A ghoul, if you will. A hungering, slobbering thing that can only find the next source of genius for its meal." He now stood in front of Washington, and looked up at him, all sneer and sharp jaw and burning eyes.

His words were unabashedly cruel. But, some voice in his head interrupted, was there not a mote of truth to it?

"I thought that I cared for this man," Hamilton continued, as he resumed the pace, folding his arms behind his back, "I thought that there was something in there, under all the lies, that I could care for - that I could love, even. I thought there might a tender seed that could grow strong if I nurtured it, that would accept kindness from some reject mongrel like myself. And so I set myself to the task of unravelling those terrible vines. But you see, now I know the truth. The vines are not the obstruction to the seed. There is no seed. There is nothing. In the center of this plant, if you will, lies air. Whatever birthed this thing has long died. If there ever was a heart, it has long since dried out and been borne away by the wind."

Hamilton took a step back, and displayed his flat palm in front of him, and blew across it. He watched some imaginary dust motes float across the dimly-lit study.

“So you see,” he said, folding his hand back into a soft fist and letting it fall to his side. “That is the reason that you cannot permit me to write something that expresses passion or anger. You have none of these things left. You are a shell, and you feel nothing, and the concept that these things could be felt and associated with you in any way is horrifying and foreign.The idea that someone else could feel something is abhorrent to the nothingness that you hide under your armor.”

He was more accustomed to these sorts of attacks, even if this was a strange and new place for them to come from. His character, after all, was subject to great scrutiny. It was easy to distance himself from them. Enemies that attacked him like this would have to be re-strategized to battle again. He would take a step back, and learn how to attack, and how to defend. That he had ever considered being vulnerable in the face of a person so surgical, and so terrible, seemed absurd. But he was long practiced in hiding himself, as Hamilton said. He could do nothing else, perhaps. He drew strength from the mask’s eternal, persistent calm. "Are you done?"

Hamilton looked at him in surprise, and then a cruel smile slid across his lips. "Yes, I suppose that I am."

"If I may say something, then?"

"Please, by all means," Hamilton said, and gestured, "Amuse me with your attempts at kindness."

The whole speech had been unkind and precise in a way he was unfamiliar with, from Hamilton. He was accustomed to Hamilton shouting at him, like an artillery barrage, and not the sigh of men with bayonets charging and rending his flesh, so personal and so close that he could see the light in his enemy's eyes. But he knew he could not let such a thing bother him. It had to be unimportant, that his flesh lay in chunks around him, that holes had been punctured and blood flowed unimpeded. There was too much to do and terrible things at stake, if he were to break. It was simply not an option, no matter his enemy or his wounds. He was needed too much. He could not be defeated by his husband and his fetish for identity. He could not be murdered.

"Whatever you may think of me is fine," he said, slowly, and he let his eyes sweep across the room. "You may call me whatever you so desire. You are not the first, and you will not be the last. And so if all you think of me is a parasite and a shell of a man, you may do as you like. I have done much to suggest to many, many people that I am not truly human, in many ways." A pause. He let his eyes linger on the half-completed work on Hamilton's desk, before bringing his gaze back to his husband. "But you know, and I will tell you again, that the display I present, and the lies that I tell, and the man that I pretend to be, is of utmost importance, because it serves a grand purpose, and it is purpose I have dedicated my life to serving. And if you give me up because I value that shell as much as I must, then so be it. And if I must hide some secret inner nothing with vines so that the country thinks I am fit to lead, so be it."

"You are the most pathetic martyr I have ever known," Hamilton said, but he reached for his paper and dropped it into the glowing coals of the unattended fire in his grate. "There, my dear. Consider my obligation fulfilled."

"Thank you," Washington said. He bowed his head. "Have a good rest, sir."

He turned, and he closed the door behind him as he exited. He pressed the mask close to him, and felt the cold comfort of it. He could hold it close, if it was the only thing that understood his efforts.

Chapter Text

His bedroom looked as it always did. He thought about ringing for Lafayette and discarded the thought entirely; surely, his steward was already managing twenty tasks at once, and he could undress himself. He closed the door with a click, and lit the tallow candles around his room. An ill-attended fire also burned in the grate, and although he had the thought the feed it, he found that his feet could not manage the few extra steps. Nor, did he think, would his hands manage the small, neat woodpile.

Instead he put himself in front of the mirror and took himself in. He looked the same as he always did, only a day older. Weary eyes, he thought. The wrinkles on his forehead had not yet abated. Broad shoulders that made him seem strong. The powerful chest, which he garbed in clothes that made his strength seemed noble instead of brutish.

His hands went to his neckcloth and stopped, for a brief second. Then, thinking the laugh without expressing it to the rest of the empty room, he unwrapped the cloth and began to undress.

He stared at the jacket that he had dropped into the chair. In the flickering candlelight, he could only barely make out the thistle.

Martha had been right. Romance, in some ways, was like a war. He attacked, and was counter-attacked.

Had he not tried to take this ground several times over? What was to gain, if he persisted? What was to lose? Each time it seemed worse. His soldiers dug graves for their comrades and found the half-rotted bodies of the casualties of the battle last week. They glared with silent resentment at the command tents.

It was not ungentlemanly to retreat. They was no shame in it, in the long term, after all. And maybe when he was not attacked on so many fronts, he could reassess the situation and assign more soldiers. He pulled his battalions back. The real enemy was too close for half his mind to be occupied with distractions, and the situation too delicate to place a cannon like Hamilton into it.

"Sir."

He looked over his shoulder.

"You should have knocked," he said.

Lafayette bowed. "I did, sir. I thought you had fallen asleep and left your candles burning." There was a beat, and then he studied the scene with a little light visible in his eyes. "I was unaware that you were admiring yourself."

Washington laughed again. It sounded brittle to him - and to Lafayette - by his frown.

"Why is Lady Schuyler-Church staying for breakfast?" Lafayette asked, folding his hands behind his back, and steadily holding his gaze, "As I recall, she is your least favorite of the Schuyler children."

He sighed, and again thought of sailcloth and merchants and some terrible, blockaded future. "Lord Adams is working on my downfall."

"The sun also rose today, Your Excellency," His servant replied, and he brought over a nightshirt, which he pulled over one arm then the other, and buttoned it in the front. "But, if I may say so, such things usually do not concern you overmuch."

"No, this is unusual case of his general lack of character," Washington replied, and he let Lafayette herd him to his bed, and watched the servant as he found the desk chair and sat down in it, his furrowed brow visible in the flickering candlelight. He outlined the issue in brief, covering both problems: first, the suspicious purchasing and buying, and secondly the underhanded and conniving way in which Adams had shared the information with him, effectively eliminating his own responsibility while still leaving open the opportunity for him to sweep in and take any credit.

"What a rat," Lafayette hissed, when the story was finished, "I should have poisoned his soup. He cares not a bit what actually happens to the port. What is valuable to him is it's destruction, so he may use it to cast aspersions on you."

"Precisely."

Lafayette made a soft noise of frustration. "I understand. Well, I have alerted the kitchen to the larger breakfast numbers. For the remainder of the others staying over, biscuits and jam in their cottages, I presume?"

"And coffee or tea. I believe you have their preference somewhere."

"Yes, sir. Is there anything I can do for you, at this present hour?" He blew out the candles on the desk, and lit his own in it's holder.

"There is one last thing," Washington said, despite his reluctance, "It is possible Lord Hamilton will not come to breakfast. Do not set a place for him. If he appears, be pleased, given that he usually is a late sleeper."

The candle emphasized the surprise on Lafayette's face. "I see," he said, and looked away, and them back to him. He knew that face very well by now, and he could read it with ease, even in the flickering light: I know something is wrong, and I wish you would tell me.

No, nothing is wrong, he thought without saying, I merely held on to the ridiculous hope that I would be able to have a capable, magnificent husband while at the same time bearing the weight of the country on my back. I was foolish, of course. There is nothing for me but my duty. As it always has been, and always as it shall be.

Instead, he nodded and rolled over as Lafayette slowly closed the door. He had an exhausted, dreamless sleep about nothing, but he woke up feeling somewhat rested.

His indecision and tentative choice had hardened like clay into resolve. There was a kernel of truth to what Hamilton had said: yes, it was true that many of the things he had accomplished had been due to a persona. And that had been - and continued to be - necessary. If he had to pretend to be another man for the rest of his life and in front of all but a small handful, then that was what he would do. Yes, there was something unpleasant about it, but he knew his duty. If Hamilton did not wish to participate in it, in whatever scale that he so desired, Washington would not require him to do so.

He was merely not the marrying type, it seemed. Twinkling eyes and laughter could not turn a man who was incapable into a man who could manage. If the Great Unifier could never be married, or never have a decent husband simply because he was incapable of feeling, then he simply never would. Had Hamilton not said that he was a very good martyr?

Lafayette dressed him and held whatever he wished to say back. He sat with the generals, all of which were anxious to know why Washington had suggested they stay in the main manor and have breakfast with him the next day. Lady Schuyler-Church was there as well, masking her eagerness to know more. He knew that he would have acted differently, if she was not there. But she had to be. She could be trusted, he thought, not to leak the story before the optimal time presented itself. Her knowledge and connections would be invaluable in their struggle.

He sketched out the issue to them, and they understood. Lady Schuyler-Church volunteered to do the research she could surreptitiously do on her husband's arm. She shook her head when asked if her husband would be concerned, or ask questions, or spread rumors that could lead to the reveal of this information in a way that might be unfortunate.

"I assure you," she said, with a pleasant little smile, "That Lord Church has no head for military or strategy matters. His mind is very much all taken up with his fascination with balancing ledgers."

Washington did not miss the way Phillip glanced off to the side at that. He recalled, without meaning to, the unkind way Hamilton had spoken about about Lord Church. She seemed to manage herself very well by only pretending closeness to her husband, and he would do the same. He wondered what a relationship of Lady Schuyler and Lord Hamilton would look like. They were well-suited for each other.

Hamilton did not come to breakfast. It was better that way, Washington decided. He had never tried and failed at something quite like this, but it was clear to him that while Hamilton might be a fascinating strategist, they were never going to manage anything more intense than their planning sessions. Not when such a thing would require Hamilton to pretend kindness to his enemies, which he despised so much that he had gone past his burning anger into cool, focused rage. Not when his thought for revenge could never happen, for the sake of Washington's persona.

If Hamilton looked past his mask and disliked what he saw, then so be it. Hamilton would not have to see it. He did not have to display it, especially because doing so made him anxious. He was accustomed, of course, to playing the role.

Lady Schuyler promised him letters. She would would come up with reports on the shipbuilding and merchants, and her own detailed strategic ideas. Washington thanked her, and saw them all off to their respective carriages and houses. When they were all finally gone, he sat heavily in his chair at the main hall table, feeling the silence embrace him. It was a great relief to be alone again.

Lafayette told him that Hamilton had left, and declined to indicate his destination, and Washington saw none of him for the next four days. It was perfectly suitable, because he spent the greater part of that time in the library. His chest felt odd, as if his shirt had been poorly constructed, too tight in the front, banded like a barrel. He could not, at first, put his finger on the oddly familiar feeling, but then he knew:it was the same sensation as coming home from the first war, popular enough that he might be worth something, and seeing Daniel Custis at Martha's side.

He had clenched his jaw tight, in that moment, when he had been much younger. Martha had introduced him to Daniel. He and Martha must have talked about it, sometime after that - that of course Martha could not wait for him, because how likely was it for him to die? And of course it was rational, in this situation where one could not deny an offered hand in marriage, unless they were the greatest general of the age and the country. Washington had nodded, his whole body feeling alien. He had gone back to Mount Vernon and spent much too much time in the politics that had seemed an easy escape.

He was better at it now. He took the place in his chest where Hamilton raged, and he secreted it away, and buried it with the importance of other things. He was a man who managed his time and understood his priorities, and tending to his husband was not even remotely as important as trying to defuse what could have been a blockade.

The feeling did not go away, but he could ignore it, if he pretended hard enough. He instead set his mind entirely to the task of scouring his library for his missing volume of How To Tell When Those Ships In Your Port Are A Blockade When They Are Barely Started, which he had perhaps left on a dusty shelf or in a back corner somewhere. In lieu of that, he did have many essays on trade and trade strategy, and a few on shipbuilding and related construction, and those would have to do, until Lady Schuyler's letters appeared with as much detail as she could manage. He interspersed this period of intense research with checks to the greenhouse, to make sure that it was holding against the onset of winter.

Although, he added bitterly to himself, it seemed not even the ice of winter was held sacred against people who wanted to murder each other.

He was at present copying a specific page in one of his shipbuilding books regarding the difference from trade ships and warships, which would be very useful for comparison with Lady Schuyler's letters. This particular passage was discussing how to bear the weight of cannons, and the ways ships would be constructed so that the weight did not unbalance the vessel. He was much too far into the work to consider the footsteps into the library until a throat was very loudly cleared, and a chair was dropped with a solid thud in front of his desk, and a man sat in it.

Washington looked up, ready to grunt at Lafayette to no longer bother him about luncheon, but it was in fact Hamilton, who held a pile of pamphlets against him with his forearm. Hamilton no longer seemed angry at him, which Washington felt a twist of thankfulness followed by regret, for it was much easier to push the man away when he was angry.

"I have been in town looking at the reports of the ball," Hamilton said, without a greeting. He settled the substantial pile on Washington's desk, over his book about shipbuilding. Some of the pamphlets had notes on them. "I know that Lafayette gets a good number of pamphlets to the manor, that I am sure he reports to you about, but I knew that there were certainly more reports than the few delivered here."

Washington set the pamphlets neatly to the side, and resettled his book and his neat little notes, and began to copy again. Hamilton narrowed his eyes, and then he put the pile of pamphlets back over the book, and then when Washington reached, Hamilton put his hand on top of the pamphlets, pressing them in their place.

Washington sighed. Stubborn, as always. There was a strange thankfulness, that his husband was being rude. If Hamilton had been apologetic, the words might with more of a struggle. What a ridiculous thought, that Hamilton could be apologetic.

"Lafayette might be interested in your pamphlet reports. As you know, he manages such a thing."

There was a strange kind of silence, and then Hamilton shook his head. "I am not interested in Lafayette's opinion. I will discuss identities with him soon enough. I was instead hoping we could manage a discussion of the pieces about the ball. I have already made notes about a fair number of them, and which pamphleteers I know or believe are aligned with what politicians, and what approaches we might take to both the pamphleteers and the politicians. Also there is some discussion about Mount Vernon itself, most of which I think is nonsense. Can you imagine, how sour one must be to make up an event to compare our ball to? But there are some interesting notes that I think might be the beginnings of potential shifts in cultural beliefs."

Hamilton stopped here, and looked at him, expectant.

"Lafayette is a better man to discuss with, if you think the decorations of the manor should be changed. He will know if such things are capable in the winter, or what steps he thinks you should take," Washington said, and again he picked up the pamphlets, and set them to the side. Then, he dipped his pen back in his ink and found his place back in his book.

There were several more long seconds of quiet, and then Washington watched out of the corner of his eye as Hamilton picked the first pamphlet from the pile and opened it.

"This one is by that rat Callender," Hamilton continued, as if just recently he had not torn Washington to shreds and left him a pile of ashes, "Or I should say, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, I think, will go to his grave never speaking clearly about anyone or anything he despises. But see here --" And here he thrust the pamphlet over the page Washington was trying to read, one finger hovering over some sentence, "--He has the gall to suggest improper breeding, as subtle as he would like. And his complaints are about a lack of wine variety. As if anyone besides him cares about such a thing."

At this Washington sighed a very long sigh, and he put the pen down again. He took the pamphlet from Hamilton's fingers and pointedly pretended to ignore the way Hamilton's expression jumped. Then, he folded the paper closed and placed back on top of Hamilton's pile. He studied the man's expression for two more moments, drawing an idle finger down the page which he had been studying, and spoke. "I am not interested in discussing these pamphlets with you, sir," he said, his voice perfectly even, "Unfortunately, other matters currently require my attention. If this is important to you, I again suggest you find Lafayette, for it seems more likely he is well-educated on what is being said about me, and can likely provide the feedback and opinions you are looking for."

Hamilton stared at him for a moment, as if had spoken another language. Then, as if realizing he was being inexcusably rude, he gathered himself back up and frowned.

"This is of utmost importance," Hamilton said, and Washington caught the badly-hidden frustrated edge of the man's voice, "We shall need to know in what ways we can improve our public display. While you, of course, are an expert on these matters, I think there can be some refinements to us as a collective. For example, it should be important that it is indicated you care about me, although perhaps against your desires, as if I have wormed myself into your heart."

At this Washington could not resist a dry snort of laughter; Hamilton frowned at him again, clearly not expecting that result.

"Sir," Washington said, “You despise the public display, so we shall not have it. It is not perfect, but it is hardly catastrophic, if I am thought to be married to a disinterested young man. Ill perhaps, or too busy, I suppose. Either way, I think we shall not be attending events together in the future, and of course I do not prefer to hold them here."

Hamilton shook his head, in some odd sort of disbelief. For a few moments, he seemed unable to come up with the correct words. It struck Washington as unusual, that for every eloquent argument the man had ever made, this was the thing that rendered him speechless.

"I do not understand," Hamilton said, very slowly, as if he thought Washington might have misspoken, "Our display was very successful, in fact. I think that continuing the act will lead to improvements in both our stations. Several other noble families thought it would be lovely to have both of us at their various events, and some invited only me as well. Perhaps we could create a new part of your image, one with myself included. 'The general is a recluse, but his husband is always well informed,' or something like such."

There was certainly something on the edge of his voice that was unfamiliar.

"Lord Hamilton," Washington said, resolved, "You are, of course, free to attend any events that you so desire. I would prefer that you act in a reasonable manner where-ever you go, as you represent me, although I see no reason to compound the facade. Such a thing obviously displeases you, and it should not be required for you to be my side or spend so much time pretending to be a man you are not."

Again he was stared at, as if he was being unclear. Again, Hamilton watched him with puzzled eyes, as if he had forgotten all the events that had previously happened. Again, Hamilton’s brow furrowed, and he chewed his lower lip, trying to comprehend Washington like he spoke another language.

“It was not so terrible,” His husband said, finally, without looking at him.

It was difficult to describe, what he felt at that moment. There was a part of him that wanted to laugh at the whole situation: not so terrible, when Hamilton had hissed into his ear with his complete suppressed fury how much he had hated it. Not so terrible, when only luck and unsatisfied curiosity had stopped unkind some screed about Jefferson’s mistreatment of servants from being published directly from General Washington’s husband. Not so terrible, when Hamilton had surgically cut into him, as if he was to be stripped and salted for jerky.

He had doubted, at first, that extreme measures would be necessary. He felt more firm about them now. It was strange, to feel so confident in taking such a terrible action. It reminded him very much of war indeed: the sense of sending soldiers to their deaths was almost comforting in it’s terrible familiarity. “If your reactions from the ball are only when not so terrible things occur, then I feel twice as confident that we should no longer present such a close image. Certainly, worse things will be said about us, and no pamphlets can never be written in response.”

Hamilton flicked a dismissive hand. “I was merely in ill-temper from being exhausted. I suspect no such thing shall occur again.”

“You suspect?” Finally, he closed the book, checking the dryness of his ink and using the notes to keep his place. “I appreciate your foresight on this matter, but the risk is too great to take. I think it best of you remain the pamphleteer you prefer to be, and I shall be the general, and we shall be separate, in most things.”

“No,” Hamilton said, in a strained tone of voice, as if the word had escaped him despite some attempt to restrain it. He stood up, so quick it seemed jerky, the chair being pushed back by the motion. He made a pitiful attempt to mask his previous desperation - that was what it was, desperation - with forced calm. “I think it would improve you if we were to present ourselves together.”

Washington had hoped, secretly, that Hamilton’s argument would come around to this. He knew the game, and the strategy, and the board on which they played, and the battlefield. For a second he let the silence hang, because he knew Hamilton would wonder what he was going to say next, so he could rebut it.

“It shall not be necessary,” he said, adopting a perfectly mild tone for maximum effect, “I know that you do not wish to improve this parasite ghoul, so you should not need to.”

At this Hamilton went rigid where he stood, as if stunned that Washington remembered how coldly he had been spoken to. Perhaps the man was not accustomed to his insults being used as the reason he was put at a distance. There was a hovering moment where Washington thought Hamilton might apologize.

As if anything he had ever done in the time they had known each other suggested he had the ability to be contrite.

“As I said,” he continued, and opened his book again, taking out the notes he was making, “Unfortunately, my duty at present is to be the general and leader. As you have already indicated, this entails a grand number of falsehoods, which you despise, and do not wish to be a part of. So I shall not require you to be, and I see no reason to further discuss my reputation with you, as part of that process. What you prefer, I know, is to be the fiery voice of the truth, which is utterly incompatible with my throne of lies. I apologize that I have tried to sway you from your noble course, and will cease, now.”

Hamilton took a step back. “You do not need to apologize,” he said, quickly, “It is only a misunderstanding.”

“Yes,” Washington said, placidly, an eyebrow raising and drawing skepticism across his face, “A misunderstanding, when you called me devoid of humanity. Certainly it was only a miscommunication that I heard you called me a slobbering thing.”

“Well,” Hamilton retorted, haltingly, “I may have spoken in haste, with those words.”

“Then it is excellent that only I have been the one for you to attack so viciously, in haste,” Washington folded his fingers across the the table, “And shows me even more that the risk. For, of course, there is little danger if I misinterpret such things like being called a sulking liar and a parasite vine with no heart. If you say something to another noble, they may think that you would sooner go to your death than ever wish to be in their sight ever again.”

“But I am right here,” Hamilton said, his voice rising as his poorly-constructed defenses to his temper began to crumble. As if appearing again could take back the very cruel things he had said. As if appearing again would suggest in some way that Hamilton would not lose his temper and do something catastrophic. As if Hamilton being able to look upon him meant that Hamilton could control himself around Jefferson or Adams.

“And every moment that you are, I feel i may be vulnerable to another attack that I might misinterpret to think you feel I am the most despicable man in the country, and I do not wish to upset you with my presence, as vile as you might think it is.”

“I do not think your presence is vile!"

“Perhaps when I am not so busy, we may learn a way you may more express that to me. But now is not that time, for I have much work to do.”

Hamilton took another step back, and there was the audible sound of his teeth clicking together as his mouth snapped shut. He vibrated in that moment, as if he could not come immediately to the required solution to the problem. Then, glaring ferociously, he shot forward and grabbed the pamphlets off Washington’s desk. “Fine,” he snarled, pulling his papers back under his arm, “Study your books. Tyrant.”

“I shall, indeed,” Washington replied, and watched Hamilton stomp from the room. It did not feel much like a victory. His men buried their dead.

Chapter Text

“When you are available, sir, I think it prudent to discuss a work order that just arrived,” Lafayette said, at the entranceway to his study. There was a particular element to his voice that gave Washington pause in his letter to Knox thanking him for his artillery explanations. If you needed to heft a large ball of iron into someone else’s property, there was no one you desired more to discuss the matter with than Henry Knox.

“Certainly,” he said, and gestured Lafayette forward. The servant closed the door with the hand not carrying the substantial pile of papers under his arm. He sat himself quickly in the chair across from Washington’s desk and put all but the front page on the desk surface, then looked meaningfully up at him.

Washington picked up the second page and started at the top.

Dear General Washington, the Thistle General, the Great Unifier, His Excellency, etc --

It was a most exquisite pleasure to again make your acquaintance at your noble and charming estate and learn about your magnificent and enduring thistle. Of course, I am already blessed to be friendly with your husband, my most esteemed brother, but there is never a time where I am not inordinately pleased to spend time with him, and to do so dancing in your marvelous ballroom is an opportunity I shall always treasure.

I again apologize that I could not indulge your request regarding more information and details for the acquisition of a merchant cutter and the materials associated with such an item. There has been, as I am sure you are aware, a grand amount of activity in our ports and in the trading houses at present. It seemed an unimaginable impropriety to discuss the success of others without discussing yours first, which, of course, would have taken us days, given your military successes and growth of the country associated with your leadership and policy.

Included within this packet are the details and specifications one might require if one was interested in having such a ship built on their behalf or in part with their credit. Of course His Excellency would have little interest in a military vessel, being that he is the staunchest ally of peace, but I have provided information regarding the difference and understandings about the differences in structure, to indulge any potential curiosity.

Washington checked the bottom pages. Here they were, lists of materials, and comparisons of where they would be different for merchant ships and military vessels, clear as day and in his hand.

He turned back to the letter proper.

You would, of course, in your most utmost generosity, indulge a lady of her rambles of all the things she has seen when her husband conducts business. You see, I possess a terrible habit of having a wandering mind, and a keen eye, and so of course all the activity in the port was worth noting and learning more about. You see there were many ships in progress, and I was told it is actually quite unusual for ships to be built in the winter, but the mysterious owner, per the man I spoke to (a charming gentleman by the name of Cortright), said they had been paid handsomely to work in the cold, and even more than what would have been required to fit the dockhands with jackets and gloves, and so everyone had agreed to work in the lamplight and bitter wind! What sort of sums, do you think, could possess a man to build a ship in the winter? The more ridiculous thing is, there was a mystery to their rich patron! As if some silly novel had jumped off the page and fallen right into our fair city.

I have included some sketches, although I know such a thing is not worth of the time of His Excellency, but in the process of writing I imagined it quite vividly and thought you might wish to see a dream.

He clenched the letter a little tighter. A clever woman indeed, he thought, to hide all the information in plain sight, had her writings been intercepted.

The letter continued much in this manner. In it was included the number of ships, and their locations, and what they looked like, and the mentioned sketches, and some rumors regarding the mysterious benefactor, and subtle details about the whole process.

You would think, the letter said, at the end, that one was building an army in the port! Ridiculous indeed, I know. John admits, occasionally, that I am much too prone to flights of fancy. Well, I know that I have likely taken up far too much of your valuable time and effort, and I hope most sincerely that this letter does not waste your day. There is always much action to be taken, I suspect, if you are a great general such as yourself.

Please do give my regards to your husband, and invite myself and John (and Eliza and Peggy, and Peggy and Stephen, if I can speak on their behalves) back to your most wonderful manor as soon as you are able.

Most sincerely & affectionately, your obedient servant, charming sister & most humble officer,

Lady Angelica Schuyler-Church

That the letter was cleverly written, and contained a good number of complex details, made Washington feel all the more confident (and terrible) about the situation that they had now found themselves in. He slowly let it fall back onto the desk, on top of the shipping orders for the imaginary ship he was interested in building, and sighed a very long sigh, letting himself fall back into his chair and draw his hand across shaven cheeks. He let the moment stretch, and then finally he looked up at Lafayette, who was still sitting there, watching him.

"Have you read this?" he asked.

"Not the letter, sir, but the orders I did, as well as my included instructions." Here, Lafayette handed him the first page, written much more brusquely and mostly discussing the bustle of the ports and the fact that some of their orders would be delayed.

"Lady Schuyler is a good officer," he said. He gathered himself and put aside the brick of misery in his chest. "What are your thoughts, from what you have read? Speak honestly."

At the order, something of Lafayette changed in an imperceptible manner. He seemed to take up more space in the room, despite that he had not moved. He did not melt so much into the background. Washington had experienced this sort of shift, but he could never deny that it was disconcerting, for a man to go from one thing to another.

"At least from the orders I was given," Lafayette said, and he removed some invisible fuzz from his jacket, "It seems without question that our enemy attempts to blockade us in. The possibility seems outlandish on so many levels, not to mention a horrific violation of any honor or code that could be found in a battle, but -- there are so many suspicious things here, that we should not ignore them. However, the thing about this result is that we already knew what we were looking for, so it appeared with ease for us. Lady Schuyler's report is clearly written in way that suggests she was looking for specific items and found them. If we are looking for monsters in shadows, then we shall certainly make them out of any shadows we see."

Washington nodded an agreement. "Is there any way to be objective, in this matter?"

Lafayette stood from the chair and folded his arms behind his back. He looked regal, Washington thought. Lafayette often stood just this way and never looked quite the way he did now, if they were only gossiping about another nobleman or woman or discussing the wine storage. "What we would need is an eye that knew what to see, but was not looking for it. A shipbuilder or boat merchant or ship captain, that would look at the beginnings of a boat and say 'Perhaps I have gone mad, but why are they building a frigate in the snow?' And among the knowing parties, we seem to lack such a person."

Another nod. "I suppose we could have a conversation with such a person. Between myself and the other generals and Lady Schuyler, we certainly would know someone like that, be they an officer or otherwise."

Lafayette shook his head. "I fear, however, that the issue is not whether we are jumping at shadows or not." He frowned, and looked up towards Washington's medals, and then back to him. His gaze held a weight that was distantly familiar. "I think, and I believe you agree, that we should move forward presuming the ships intend to be our enemy's frigates, and furthermore their goal with this plan is to blockade us into our own port, which will be the basis of their next invasion. Despite your heroism and glory, there are many people in this country, and in that city, who do not respect you as they properly should. Even if you yourself were to appear, in full ceremonial dress, and demand they halt production -- would they? And if they do, what backlash do we risk, either through trade loss with your estate, or your reputation?"

Washington hissed a breath through his teeth. Now that the piece had been pointed out to him, he saw it clearly. "And," he said, following up as Lafayette watched him, "Even if those merchants stop, how do we guarantee other merchants do not resume their work? Or perhaps the foremen and women stop, but the dockworkers rebuild or continue the ships elsewhere, if promised higher pay. And of course such a move will be unpopular - no city wants to believe they are being bricked in - and Adams and his ilk will be able to make moves against me."

"And even if you were to bring the husk of the army to bear, you will be expected to be fighting something. The people will want a war, once they have seen soldiers.”

"Would the city even understand why the army has appeared? Would they believe me if I explained the situation?"

Lafayette sat back in his chair and wordlessly shrugged.

Washington put his elbows on his desk and rested his face in his hands. The backs of his eyelids did not provide an answer. He allowed himself a single frustrated groan through his fingers and then forced himself to think. "So what we need, then," he said, with a deliberation that masked the utter impossibility of it, "Is convince our enemies to stop building ships, in some way, or convince the whole city that the ships are monstrous, while keeping my reputation so that the others cannot use this opportunity to break down the whole government.”

His servant whistled a low, impressed whistle. "A man once told me it is important to always give oneself difficult challenges, so that one may grow.”

"That was man was me," Washington replied, and he found he did not have the energy to be angry, "And I would have preferred the challenges difficult, and not seemingly impossible."

"That man was very wise, and always found his way out of such challenges, despite how impossible they seemed at the time."

"Well," Washington said, and he sighed, and then gathered himself up and had his soldiers dust off their weapons, "We shall start somewhere, as those who do the impossible must. Let us review our options at present again, so that we know what we face. If you would?"

Lafayette cleared his throat, and swept over to Washington's desk, pulling the chair along with him. He pulled over a piece of paper and Washington's pen, and Washington found himself feeling a sharp pang of nostalgia. This seemed too familiar to him, when he had taken efforts to forget it. It would not have surprised him if Knox or Phillip came through the door.

"First," he began, forcing his thoughts straight, "We can burn the ships down, which will seem and look terrible. We will do damage that, even refunded, will leave a significant mark on all levels of workers and citizens. We have just voted for peace, not long ago, and held a lavish event celebrating ourselves. We cannot be seen misusing the property of others.”

Lafayette nodded, his pen working at the paper furiously.

"Second," he continued, and now he stood, feeling a familiar, desperate strength infuse into his limbs, "We could shut the shipbuilding down, either with reputation or by force. Both have the issue of unpopularity, which we shall address shortly. Bringing the army in has the obvious consequences: the army is not strong, and so if the merchants or dockworkers are particularly upset, they could rise against us. And if we do not tell the soldiers, they will wonder why they are being asked to raise their hand against their fellow citizens. And to threaten the merchants with my reputation or the threat of a change of business will create a long-term resentment, and a desire to support my political enemies."

"The key, then, would be to craft a solution that did not upset the merchants. Could we reimburse them for the business under the obligation they build no more ships?"

Washington glanced back at the work order information for his imaginary ship. "I could not afford to buy out a whole fleet," he said, " And even so, they are investments, as well. And the labor may be upset that their work has gone to waste.”

Lafayette made a noise of acknowledgement and crossed something out. “Do you propose the solution should not be with the shipbuilders or the merchants?”

“Precisely," He paused a beat, trying to imagine what the port looked like right now, "Even if we convince the shipbuilders to cease, and they do not dislike us in some terrible way, we have attacked the symptom, and not the problem. We do not want our enemies to select an even further port, or one where we cannot put a source to review the issue. The solution that solves the problem is to suggest to our enemies that this is an unwise decision, and to continue is to risk great consequences.”

Lafayette chewed his lip, his brow deeply furrowed with thought. He groaned in frustration, wringing his hands. "Does it mean they think we would beat them in a face-to-face conflict, that they must act with such terrible trickery?" He asked, more to the wall than Washington. Their process was familiar, only then they had been in bitter war camps, and the environment had been as bleak as the circumstances that laid before them. He stood up, folded his arms behind his back, and began to pace. "How can we change the circumstance that will make them realize that any battle they wish to bring -- and it should be none -- they must do so in a less horrible manner?"

"As we have already beaten them once, it makes complete sense that they are afraid to face us in honorable combat. Although the specifics of the war are quite different what exist today, and especially if they grow these ships enough for them to be weapons. Of course, they will know of our petty conflicts and squabbles about control, and politics, and the army. They do not even wish to confront our little army which they must know would struggle to oppose them. The other thing, of course, that they would know, was that our allies---"

He stopped. Lafayette stopped too, mid-pace, and looked at him in disbelief. His friend already knew what he was going to say, and Washington knew that he was not going to like it.

"If I am not mistaken, our allies still have an emissary in the city?"

Lafayette watched him for a very long moment, waiting for him to say the question was of no significance, or explain himself, or provide some alternate solution. When he did not provide it, his servant cleared his throat, and made his face the plain mask of the steward that he was. "I have been told that they do, but I have never been there.”

"No, of course not," Washington said. He took a breath to try and settle his rattling thoughts and calm his soldiers, that stared at their orders in surprise. His seeds of a plan took root and sprouted, and for a while he was quiet, sitting back down and looking without seeing at the open letter his desk. It was something. It was not ideal, but there could be steps taken, and maybe they would work. The steps could be quick, and would cost too much, and perhaps would even be effective. "Our friendship with them is of the loosest sort, yes. 'Allies' may even be a bit strong, for how our nations feel about one another. And, yes, they are unsettled and somewhat chaotic." He waited another beat, and then finally he looked up at Lafayette, who had not looked away from him. "But an alliance of some sort might convince our enemies we are too formidable for them, and even more that it is unwise sneak up on us. Perhaps if we puff our feathers, we can dissuade them from it.”

Lafayette’s face remained perfectly blank, but Washington had known the man a long time, and he saw the myriad of tangled emotions that flickered there. "It is certainly a possibility," he said, after what seemed like a very long wait, “But it is not a people I would rush to ally myself with, or promise to run to the aid of, given the tumultuousness of their leadership.”

“I would welcome other suggestions, if you have them, that can be handled as quickly and inexpensively, and do not require the army or a threat to the builders,” he said, as gently as he could manage.

“We have time to consider other options,” Lafayette said, and the calm of his voice did not entirely disguise the thin vein of distress that was in his voice. Not to Washington, who knew him better than anyone.

“But how long do we consider other options, and what do we lose, as we do so?”

“You have no evidence that such a thing will have even the slightest effect on that blockade or those ships.”

Washington sighed. He ran his hand over his head and stared at Lady Schuyler’s neat script, as if the letters would rearrange themselves into the answer. Then, settling himself back into his armor (because he could not alienate that, or at least he had not yet found the way), he spoke. “You know that is not a good reason not to use a plan, when one appears. If anything, forging an alliance with them could be more frightening - and useful - if they are chaotic.”

Lafayette said nothing, but Washington saw the tightening in his jaw. He could not allow his friend to distract him from his duty. His thoughts solidified in the silence, coalescing into a fully-formed battalion of an idea. “Such an arrangement could have the benefits of appearing strong, without actually requiring the funds or orders to assemble." A beat. "We could pretend it is only to strengthen trade, just as much as they cloak their frigates as merchant ships. We avoid the risk of angering the shipbuilders, because our enemy is the one who changes their plan. We do not risk our enemy building ships in a different port, because such an alliance would cover the whole country. We attack the cause of the illness, not the symptom of it.”

He watched as Lafayette folded his hands behind his back and stared very far out the window. “There are other options that you are bound to discover, with your genius,” he said, turning to finally look at Washington. Washington felt a sharp pain in his chest, which he ignored.

It was no different than with Hamilton. He could not place a person before the effort.

"Allow me to repeat that I would welcome another suggestion, if you had one," he said, gently.

"I assure you, sir, I will do my best to consider what other options there are," Lafayette said, and this time his voice was more toneless than ever. He seemed to shrink. “I cannot convince you, then, to not speak to the emissary?”

“No,” Washington said, “Unless you present to me an alternative with all the benefits this potentially presents, you can not.”

“Very well, then, sir.” Lafayette straightened his cuffs. His voice became plain, and he seemed to melt back into the wall he stood in front of. “Would you prefer an invitation to be sent out, or are you going to visit her?"

"Draft a letter indicating my arrival at her office. Do not send it just yet - I will speak to the other generals first. But have something prepared, if you could. It is better for me to go to her," Washington said, "Although I am aware that she does not like me much. It will have to do.”

"Yes, sir," Lafayette said, without meeting his eyes.

Chapter Text

His concerns about Lafayette were forcefully set aside the next morning, because Hamilton was at breakfast, making pleasant conversation with the servant in question. Of course, Washington thought to himself. It could never be easy, with his husband. He could never be permitted to forget that Hamilton was a brilliant, eloquent speaker, who was well-educated about current events and a charming man to have at one’s dining table. He could not, of course, have time to forget that Hamilton was able to convince other people to part with a bit of themselves.

How could he, when he hoarded a bit of Hamilton, as foolish as it was?

"Good morning, General Washington," Hamilton said, turning to face him. He was dressed, his neckcloth tied neatly around his throat. He did not even have a book, because why would Hamilton ever display all the things about him that irritated Washington, when Washington worked on forgetting everything about him that was not irritating? "I was just talking to Lafayette about my visit to town, previously. Angelica sent me a very interesting letter about her adventure at the shipyards with John. I was thinking of going in again very shortly, to see all this noted activity."

Hamilton said and did nothing so calm without a plan and a tactical strategy. He gave away his information about himself on purpose, and Washington let his mouth speak as he worked through it. " Yes," his mouth said, as his thoughts studied what he had been given, "It is quite unusual." He restrained the sigh. At least he would not have to pretend to be ignorant about the port situation in front of his husband.

He had not told Hamilton about the ships. They had fought before he could. Hamilton said to him: I know about this thing, even though you did not share it with me.

But he was not seemingly angry about it. He did not say: You refused to tell me, you parasite. Instead he said: just wanted to inform you: I know about the ships.

Lafayette set down his breakfast in front of him, and then sat, resuming eating. Washington did not feel that hungry, all of sudden. But he could hardly excuse himself back to his room with a full plate. It was wasteful, and twice as much in the winter.

"Indeed," Hamilton said, "Well, I suppose it is an improvement, that all this merchant activity has exploded. I hope there is nothing nefarious afoot."

I just wanted to inform you: I know that there could be something nefarious afoot.

"I hope so as well," he answered, keeping his tone plain and even. Of course, Hamilton could not be sour to him now. Hamilton could not stay sour, because then it would be too easy to separate them. But Washington knew now that the politeness, and the charm, and the ease of everything that they did together, was only to lull him into complacency. Once he was relaxed, he would show his stomach and Hamilton would feast on his entrails.

"What do you intend to do today?" Hamilton asked, his voice curious and harmless, "I was hoping we could discuss the greenhouse. I was inside yesterday, and I admit I was fascinated and awed by the heating system. The heat must be pumped from another building on the grounds, correct? Is this a process that you followed, or did you invent it yourself? General Schuyler never had such success in his own winterization strategies. Most things lived, but not so comfortably, and of course he did not have half the variety that you do."

I am permitting you to talk to me now. Tell me how smart you are, so that you are lulled into thinking me a man who it is safe to have affections for.

Washington cleared his throat. "I can refer you to the books I use, if you like." He concentrated on his breakfast, collecting a bit of potato and egg on his fork.

"It seems evident to me you have done more than reference books," Hamilton said, because he was excellent at rending Washington like raw meat, also ignoring every sign his conversation was unwanted. "For example, it must be stressful for the glass to be warm on the inside and cold on the outside, but there is not a single crack in a single pane of glass. Such flawless work requires not only a theoretical background, but also much testing, and the notes that are involved in those tests, to improve."

"I can provide you my notes," he said, perhaps a little more curt than was polite, and then he turned to Lafayette, who was eating quietly at his other arm, "Lafayette, has anything arrived from any of the Schuylers today? I am also looking for something from Knox, about the artillery potential of what is being built."

"Post has not yet arrived, sir," Lafayette said, between gulps of coffee, "However, there are a few situations I would like to discuss with you regarding the nature of our winter supplies."

Washington caught the flicker of the frown in the corner of Hamilton's mouth, and he silently thanked his friend for offering him the change in conversation. If Hamilton was going to pretend to be polite company, he would no longer be able to interrupt. He gestured Lafayette to continue, and Lafayette talked about the baked bread and stored grain; the various livestock which had been shepherded into their pens, barns and coops; the spices and supplies which had been set in their sacks and refilled in the manor and measured to last until it was more tolerable weather, and various potential upgrades that he intended to brainstorm on, so improvements could be made as soon as the winter was over.

Washington expected Hamilton to have something to say on every topic. Surely, Hamilton would think he knew the best way to store grain during the winter, or the correct amount of some specific spice a manor might need, or the best winter wine that could be paired with duck. But instead his husband only nodded along, adding in an occasional 'that sounds excellent' or 'a perfectly reasonable suggestion' when it was relevant.

It was disconcertingly pleasant, and worse because he knew it. It was not that he was unfamiliar with knowing traps, or walking into them, or even both. It was that all of his current experiences with painful with deja vu. He knew all the things that occurred, and how obvious and charming they were. He knew he and Hamilton had intense, magnificent chemistry, different but no less intense than what he had with Lafayette, or with Martha. He knew what sort of team they could be, and the wide variety of successes that they could perhaps accomplish, if they set themselves to it as a unified front. And Hamilton asking him about the greenhouse, and agreeing to his architecture and design strategies, and nodding along when he requested more of this or less of that -- it was all painfully, horribly reasonable and believable.

But he knew the trap, and the danger, and the result. He had done something like this twice now. First before the thistle, where he had tried to ply Hamilton with gifts, and then after, when they had seemed so connected. But the inevitable result was the same: Hamilton was too focused on his opinions, and the truth, and he had a wild temper that he did not properly maintain.

What would happen would be that he would say the wrong thing - or Jefferson would say the wrong thing - or Phillip Schuyler would say the wrong thing - or a newspaper would publish something unforgiving and cruel - and then Hamilton would unleash the secret hurricane that he held with himself. If Washington was lucky, Hamilton's rage would only be directed at him, to which he would then feel raw like a well-beaten rug. If Washington was unlucky, Hamilton would make some public spectacle of himself. He would publish something with the full fury of his storm. He would show everyone who mattered that he was ill-tempered, and unable to hold his tongue, and uncontrolled by his husband, and possibly taken to publishing.

It was a circumstance Washington knew that could never come to pass. If Hamilton was going to be unruly, they would have to be independent. Then the rumor would be Washington's husband is quite the street cat, is he not? General Washington is simply too busy to maintain him too much, rather than How is it General Washington cares and tends to his husband, and they appear so smitten together, and so complete, but the husband is also foul-mouthed, unsecretive, and abysmally rude?

He concentrated on his coffee and Lafayette's voice in his ear. Lafayette was talking about some other ball that had occurred in someone else's manor. A servant had told one of his servants, who had told Lafayette, that all they all did was compare it to his own, and talk about how much better it was to be at Mount Vernon - but then temper their statements that no one could expect, of course, to throw a ball the quality of General Washington's. Ordinarily, this might have improved his mood, only Hamilton found it necessary to inject his own smug confidence.

"General Washington is the best company, so it seems reasonable he would have the best ball," Hamilton was saying, in between bites, rather than with his mouth full and giving them a full view of his half-masticated potatoes, "As well as the best taste in liquor, and the best dinner selections." A beat. He grinned at Lafayette. "And the best servants, of course."

"I do not require flattery, sir," Lafayette said, but he grinned back at Hamilton nonetheless.

Washington finished his plate and set his fork down. Both men, who were at present in a discussion about window hangings, looked at him.

"I trust that when a decision is made on what sort of window hangings are preferred, I can confer final approval and we can create work orders," he said, with his best air of firmness. Hamilton frowned, but he of course knew better than to be persuaded by such a thing, for it was only a disguise for the monster that lurked under the pleasant demeanor, "Otherwise, I shall be in my study for most of the day. I only wish to be disturbed if the situation is urgent."

"Yes, sir," Lafayette said, and collected his plate and silverware, "Would you like to be alerted if post arrives from Lady Schuyler or General Knox?"

"Yes, that is the exception," he said, and turned quickly, so Hamilton could not vocalize the protest that was very obviously forming in his mind. The fire in his study grate had been lit, and the room was a decent temperature when he let himself collapse into the chair. So this was it, then. Perhaps it would only be temporary. He could pretend to brush off Hamilton for the next little while, until Hamilton became frustrated and bored with the game of trying to engage him. Hamilton was the sort of man who moved onto another topic, when his current one become boring. All he needed to do was convince Hamilton that he not only saw the trap and would not spring. In the meantime he would bare the persistent ache in his chest where he considered the potential of the team they could make. A more tempting bait could not have been created.

It was a strange kind of feeling to have. He rubbed his breastbone and opened one of the thick, dense books he had set himself to read. His thoughts, traitorous as they were, suggested it could do with one of Hamilton's lengthy explanations. His husband had an exquisite talent for unpacking each complex topic, breaking it down and down, and then up and up, until it seemed easy to process. But that was only another tasty morsel of bait for him to fall victim to, after all. Hamilton could unpack a volume with ease, yes, and then they would create some solution, and have a victory, and then Hamilton would hear someone say the wrong thing and eviscerate them as easily as he did the text.

No, he told himself. He could unpack this himself. He had done perfectly well without Hamilton for his career, and he would not require him now. He took a piece of paper and a pen and wrote down the topics, and the other questions he had, and what he thought the solutions were.

Hamilton would know the solutions, said his brain, because it was undisciplined.

He could think of the solutions himself. He had not previously needed Hamilton, and he would not need him now.

If only Hamilton could be unruly now, this process of distance would be easier. If only Hamilton could be angry at him, and throw words like gunshot, and be as cruel and vicious as he was capable of being. What he needed was another furious bout of rage to convince him that there was no reasonable way they could be together. Perhaps Hamilton would appear in his study and be furious that Washington was not taking him on a tour of the greenhouse. Hamilton would slam the door open and not even ask for permission to enter. Hamilton would say Sir, you did not show me the greenhouse, because you are a conniving rat, or something equally as vicious.

It was only that it was very difficult to maintain his course. The path seemed so welcoming and thoughtful, well-trodden and dry.

He knew it lead to some chasm. He knew and he would force himself, again and again, to imagine the chasm at the end. What good did well-packed dirt do when at the end you found yourself bruised and bleeding from the bad fall? No good at all.

He wrote to the other generals with his ideas. There were several days, that seemed the same: he would eat breakfast with Hamilton and hold himself back from asking for more details, because he know being drawn into a conversation with Hamilton was like a spider and a fly. He even begged ill, one day, and had his breakfast brought to his bedroom, to avoid the persistent siren call. It did not go away, as he might have liked. He still felt that barrel-tightening in his chest, when Hamilton looked at him expectantly, and then with disappointment when he did not get the response he wanted.

He would have liked to talk it over with Lafayette, but his servant instead only stood in the corner of the room, waiting for orders. And so he had nothing to do, other than read dense texts on international diplomacy and wonder what Hamilton was doing.

The generals approved, and after another excruciating breakfast, he sat down to write to the emissary. Framing the request in the right light was of the utmost importance. Showing up in town in the middle of the winter to request an alliance with an unstable country had an unavoidable line of desperation to it, and his goal was to blur that line as much as possible. Yes, of course, if it had been truly nothing he could wait until spring to travel, but it was just much nicer to make sure these things were settled now, so that perhaps they could instead do diplomatic things in the spring, rather than the boring process of writing documents. He wondered what the emissary thought of these developments in the shipyards. She was brilliant, and had a particular talent for cutting through the various finishes politicians could put on such events. He wondered how she felt, so far from her country.

Her dislike of him was due to the disappearance of one of the royal family during the war, and the subsequent political shuffling that she had been forced to navigate because of it. What was more notable was that she did not make what he would consider reasonable effort to hide it, perhaps owing to her relative immunity to any real punishment that could occur. She did not, for example, attend events at his manor, out of principle. There was something refreshing about her honest dislike, though. At least it was one less person that he had to make a public effort to please.

He grabbed himself a new piece of paper and began to write. She could not turn him down, of course, as much as she might have liked, and certainly she would relish the thought of making him wait an hour or two to see her. But if he was to write that he was going to see her, he knew he would at least be granted the pleasure of being looked at like he was dirt.

He had gotten used to it, with Hamilton, at least.

He shook off the thought and considered the paper. How would he form the argument that he wanted to see her about this? Obviously, such a letter would be read by everyone in her office: any pure honesty about the blockade was out. It was known she disliked him, even if she did not actively use that energy to object to his rule - framing it as a social call would be too suspicious. Perhaps just a review of their political situation, and a discussion of whatever her and her king's plans were, for the upcoming spring, so they could accommodate.

Yes, that flowed best. He only wished his nation to be a better friend to her's. He came because it would be better if they discussed now, and then in the spring they could build, or travel more lengthy distances, or host more lavish ceremonies celebrating their friendship. He was careful to avoid any actual promises, and she would know it, but such a thing could not be helped.

He asked her what she thought about the shipyards, busy even in winter. She would think such a thing was odd, although he had no idea what conclusions she would draw from that. Would she think they were merely more industrious now, further from the war? Perhaps he could try to frame it as wanting to grow their alliance so that his people could be industrious in the winter for both of them.

Too much, perhaps. He crossed it out, and started over.

She would know the official posistion of her nation, if there was one.

Dear Most Esteemed Emissary du Noalles... he started, again.

Something here about how he did not want any troops or supplies, or anything else that could inconvenience her. He merely want to see if they could remain the good friends they always had been, and perhaps now it could be in writing, and they could have a small, wintery parade about it, that wound through the main street and past the docks and all the houses of the merchantmen and merchantwomen.

He tried to make it the best letter he had ever written, just overdone enough to adequately represent a man of his stature and heroism. But he also needed to be subdued, because this was designed to appear as an unimportant visit, as to not call too much attention to it. And then he needed to be persuasive, but not too fawning - he could neither seem too much of a kiss-ass, and additionally she would know it and dislike him more. It was a matter of language intricacy. He was better at speeches, and looking impressive, and creating battleplans.

Hamilton --

He withheld the urge to snap at his own thoughts. It did not matter, that Hamilton was an incredible pen, or he always seemed to know just the right words to express what he wanted to express, with just the right tone to it. Hamilton was too dangerous to have involved in artistry this delicate. He was just as likely to call the emissary an ugly horned toad as he was to express that he had never seen a more beautiful flower. Washington had himself, as it had been, and as it would aways be.

She could reject his idea, of course of course. And then what would he do? Could he somehow convince the merchants and the dockworkers to stop building? Could he use the pamphleteers to make it seem as if this foreign winter shipbuilding was immoral or otherwise an unwise idea?

He felt his stomach roll over at the thought of burning down half the harbor. He hardly knew what the army might even look like, then. Sure it would be him and the other generals, and they could likely convince some men to join them on charisma alone, but they carried the same muskets townspeople kept in their homes. Could there be a battle?

He pushed the sickening thought away and signed his name on the letter, with a splash of violet ink. He folded the thing neatly and sealed it inside the envelope, eyes hovering over the address of the embassy, which he had not been to in while. How did it seem that he ended up turning to a list of his enemies, to rescue him from these situations? Hamilton's assistance at the ball had been decent, but that well was dry, with snakes at the bottom. And now he had this, this blockade looming like a thundercloud in his thoughts, and he fled to another woman who disliked him and then even showed it, if not to others than at least to him.

He ran his hand over his face and relaxed into the chair. How could it be, that this had occurred? Things had been going so well at the beginning of the year, all things considered. Sure, there had been small difficulties, but those seemed like specks in comparison to this. Now, the looming threat of another war in his home, and this man that he was required to keep at arm's length in his manor ---

He stood, as if he could leave the weight of his burdens in the chair. The latter problem he had solved as best as could be solved, and now it was only a matter of keeping to the solution. The former problem presented a much greater threat, and he paced around the room, trying to consider additional or alternative solutions. He called Lafayette to take the letter, and pretended not to see his hesitancy.

Chapter Text

"I must confess to some confusion, General Washington," Emissary du Noalles said, through her thick accent and with such bored disdain that she could be nothing but genuine, "You know that we are not the best of friends, and you are known to disdain alliances, and you are not reputed to be interested in leaving your manor, especially in the middle of the winter. So, you will forgive me when I suggest that the casualness of your letter seems a bit inappropriate to our situation at present.” She smiled an unpleasant smile at him. “Quite frankly, I will not even begin to consider even the slightest whisper of an improvement of our diplomatic connection until you provide for me a reason that more closely matches what I detect to be a hint of desperation around you.”

She set her elbow on the table, and put her chin in her hand, as if to listen to a child’s story. Washington suppressed the furious rush of irritation that bled through him, keeping himself calm in the chair in front of the desk: two days in a carriage in a light snowfall, dealing with thoughts that followed him like hunting dogs, would not be excellent for the mood of any person. On top of that, the emissary had had him wait for an hour in her foyer, because she could.

"Desperation seems a bit serious," he answered, once he was sure no hint of his frustration would leak through, "What I seek is to be prepared, so no desperation is required. If we have these discussions now, we will not need to have them in the spring, and we can then move towards any actions we might like to take together."

"You have never been interested in taking actions with His Majesty or myself before, and it seems curious you are now, given your vote for peace and the attack on your fort on the coast," the emissary quirked an unimpressed eyebrow at him. "Has something changed? Do you want this to be a precursor to war-actions?"

"On the contrary," he responded, and thought it might be quite nice, in fact, if this was a precursor to war actions, rather than a response to it, "I would think that something done better in peace than in war is to speak to one's allies and learn more clearly what kind of friendship can be made."

Emissary du Noalles drew her hand over her face. She looked at him with completely unhidden disapproval. "General, I know that it is your most favorite thing to convince other people to do as you like through your charm and charisma. And it is true, that you possess both these things, in great amounts. And, yes, you are a very good politician, and a man who cares very much for the people that he rules over." Here there was a pause, where Washington felt the dread persist, and double, like a loaf of bread rising. "But you have in no way convinced me that this is a good choice for my country, of which I represent. Sure, at present you do not request troops or ships. At present, all you ask is our hand, and maybe a wintery parade, something to cheer the city up when the evenings are so long. At present, you want this to be a mere extension of the friendship that was created in the Second War. But in a year, what will you ask for next? Once your hand has pried the door open, I can do nothing but expect the rest of you."

Washington sat more firmly up in the chair. He had gone back and forth, trying to establish the best way to discuss the blockade. He had little confidence that it would remain a whispered thing if he was honest; the emissary would not see the reason to keep the matter close to her chest, being that certainly it was not her neck that was on the line of some catastrophe or panic occurred from the more widespread knowledge of it. So that lead to thinking about how to express the port issue without actually calling it the blockade that it was. Curious activity, perhaps. There was also the struggle to not connect it to his visit at present, though there was certainly the possibility she already expected it: two unusual events, one right after another, had a strong possibility of being linked.

"There is nothing to suggest that I will take other steps, emissary," he said, as gently as he could.

The emissary lifted both her well-shaped eyebrows at him and leaned back in her chair, the perfect picture of skepticism. "I must beg to differ, General," she said, and then leaned forward. One gloved hand folded into a fist except for her index finger, which she used to jab his open letter on her desk, "I seem to remember your cause slithering into the hearts of our royalty without you even being involved. So, if step one is for you to appear in my office pleading for His Majesty to call you his friend, I can only wonder what will be the next thing to occur. Shall I disappear next?”

Washington took a breath and very calmly folded his fingers in his lap. It would be unhelpful to be rude. No diplomacy could be made by reaching over the well-hewn desk and shaking the emissary by the neck.

"The ways in which the war was different than this are more numerous than could even be said in one winter," he replied, and his voice was perfectly even. His men were well-trained; even if they sulked and hissed and complained, they could still make neat rows and attack in the trained unison.

“But I do seem to be able to name one important similarity: they both contain yourself, which is curious, would you not agree?"

"Emissary," he said, carefully marshalling his anger, "If you believe this is not in the best interests of your people and His Majesty, than of course I humbly submit to your judgement on the matter. But I cannot help but think your decision comes only from your heart. And I--”

“Do you think a woman should not act with the knowledge of what a general has done to her betrothed?” the emissary interjected, standing sharply, the thin veneer of politeness cracking clear down the middle, “Why should I ever think you can adhere to your promises if you cannot manage something so important?”

“Emissary,” Washington looked up at the woman, who was now glaring at him rather viciously, and held his hands out in a gesture of helplessness in an attempt to calm her down, “I am requesting none of your people. No soldiers, no civilians, no merchants, no artisans, no farmers, no princes or princesses. Not a single person will be required to take any ordered action from me, this year or the next. A parade would be ideal, but I said earlier, it is not required. You know I would never make any sort of request like that without approval from His Majesty himself, and my requests then all required and got approval from His Majesty.”

The emissary sat slowly down in her chair, rearranging her skirts with quick, sharp gestures. She did not speak for a while, and a little glimmer of hope began to glow in his chest. Maybe this could work, or at least could be tried, to see if it would work. He suppressed his anxiety for her answer, which seemed to require a lot of thought.

“General Washington,” she said, in a more polite and reserved manner, “May we speak frankly about the state of my people? I trust you are informed, on such matters.”

He concealed his surprise at the request. “I know a little,” he started, cautiously, “And would hold close to my breast what you thought I should, if I was told more.”

“His Majesty is more mad than he ever was, and older too,” Emissary du Noalles said, and she looked out into the distance, perhaps imagining the current state of her land, “And while he certainly tries to do his best for his subjects, myself included, the fact is he can hardly tell a piano from a harp. And in his keenly-felt absence, his children bicker and murder each other to be our next king or queen when his madness finally consumes him. And this confusion is reflected in the populace, who hold to different banners, and tear each other apart over it. And, perhaps you in fact have never known this, but the reason I am here at all is so I am placed away from this chaos by a particular princess who suspects I know she would drag the whole country to ruin, and that I would do anything to stop her.”

“I understand that the situation in your land is somewhat tumultuous,” he began, gaining confidence as he saw the opening, “And perhaps an alliance like this would bring some peace and calm to it. The royal family could reach out as a collective to their friend - our council - across the sea. We would ask for nothing and could provide the steady shoulder of a friend to lean on. Perhaps even your people could think of it as having to hold themselves to a higher standard and cease their quarrel with each other. This presents a valid opportunity to begin to heal. It is a low commitment. A small step, that could help you take bigger steps to peace.”

“That is a very lovely vision, General Washington,” she said, “And one it would give me great pleasure to embrace.”

His heart lifted.

“But I can assure you with my complete confidence that is not what would happen.”

And sunk.

“Why not?” He asked, with as much casualness as he could force.

For the first time, the emissary sighed very heavily, and reached for his letter, folding it neatly and setting it into a drawer in the desk. She seemed to let go of some of her resentment, or perhaps it was merely overridden by whatever other weights she bore. For another moment she was very still, eyes still settled on the closed drawer. Then, evidently building herself back up, she pushed her shoulders back and sat straight, looking him resolutely in the eye. She looked more like a politician now, which rose Washington’s spirit just a little; certainly he could bargain with a fellow person who cared intently for her country, because he knew exactly how that felt.

“The truth is, General, that I think having a formal alliance with your nation - one even more binding than the one you present - is not a bad idea at all, even despite my disdain for your personally and your habit of disappearing princes. But, unfortunately, such a position is also embraced by two royal progeny that I cannot endorse. And I will be thought of doing so, if I take such a side.”

He understood, and his heart sunk further.

“Do I understand you clearly?” He asked, forcing the bitter disappointment down into his chest, where it sat like a brick, “That an alliance in and of itself is not a position you are against, but the part of a platform that contains other things you cannot support.”

“You understand me very clearly, sir.” She shrugged, not knowing how terrible a blow she laid against him. If it had only been her personal disdain that stopped her from an alliance, that would have been something he could have been address. Even if it had been an individual political choice, he had plenty of possible solutions and alternatives prepared. But to be swept up in some demagogue's platform and discarded as part of avoiding a greater evil - that was a situation he had not foreseen, and was not at present sure how to address.

He looked away from her and let his eyes linger on a painting of the foreign king upon the wall. To be denied for personal or political reasons was one thing. To be told his issue was simply a side-effect of something else was different, and so much worse, and a more bitter swallow than he had imagined.

Emissary du Noalles allowed him his silence for a few moments, and then spoke, her voice calm. “If you are exceptionally passionate at pursuing this sort of alliance, informal or otherwise, I could recommend you the decent royal family that perhaps you could convince to move to your cause. I could associate with them. But until then, I can offer you no assistance.”

Getting a letter there would take weeks. They would discuss it for days, weeks maybe. There would be a delay to send it back. There was no harm in doing it, but the time…. Maybe it could effective, but it would not be effective for months. By the time the information arrived, cannons might already be mounted on the ships. One of the great advantages of this idea had been the immediacy of which it might occur. But this…

“Yes,” he said, because he of course could not deny the request, even if his idea was useless now. “I would very much appreciate their names.”

“While I imagine you are somewhat informed of my homeland’s extensive and exciting goings-on,” she snorted a laugh, “I will provide you an outline of the decent royalty you may contact.” She reached into a desk and found a pen and paper and began to write. Washington folded his hands in his lap and suppressed his misery, no matter how terrible it was. Lafayette, at least, would be pleased. But what was next, for him and the country? Would he, in fact, have to burn down half the port? Threaten the merchants? He would have to think more. Talk to the other generals. Think of something. Be there, when his country needed him.

He did, after all, have two days in a cold carriage to think it over.

The emissary blew on her paper and folded it, then pushed it across the desk. Washington set it in the inner pocket of his jacket. Then she cleared her throat and smirked at him. “I shall suppose we shall resume our political dishonesty now, then? How was your ball regarding your crest? I am sorry I could not attend. Unfortunately, I had another engagement at the time.”

They both knew she had not attended because of her grudge. The irony was not lost on him.

“It was fantastic,” he answered, “I wish you could have attended, Emissary.”

“Well, I am sure I will be blessed to see your grounds, if there is ever an alliance to be made,” she said, “Now, I would be most honored if you would join me and my staff for dinner? You are quite an impressive guest to host. Even in these cold times, quite a feast has been acquired. And tomorrow, I presume you will leave at first light?”

He had originally planned to leave immediately after the meeting had concluded, but what was he returning to? Hamilton pretending that he could be a capable man, and Lafayette pretending he was nothing. He would return home and sit in his study and try to imagine a way to resolve the issue without destroying his reputation, a city, or both.

If nothing else, the emissary had a full understanding of the way they were two-faced to one another. The food, as well, would likely be marvelous.

He suppressed the sigh, and along with it the icy block of misery in his stomach. He was not at all hungry. He was tired all through his limbs.

“It would be my absolute pleasure, Emissary,” he said, and stood, folding his hands behind his back, so she could not see that he clenched frustrated crescents in his palms.

Chapter Text

Lafayette did not greet him at the entrance to the estate. No. Why would he? Lafayette despised his plan, and likely was now in the process of despising him more. He did not think that Lafayette could be his enemy, not after all the things they had persisted through together; even so, he felt the absence so keenly that it pressed through the dull sense of nothing that currently pervaded his mind.

Two days sitting in a carriage in chill weather and he had thought of no less horrible solution to his problem, and as a result his mood had sunk lower and lower, until everything about his existence felt very black indeed. There was a very loud, wormy voice in the back of his mind. It asked him bleak questions: What was the reason to persist in these matters? What was the reason to continue, at present, with the fight against Hamilton’s seduction and Lafayette’s cold shoulder and his country’s slow downfall into destruction? Even if he managed to stop the blockade, there would be another attempt. There would be Adams, working against him at every turn. There would be Jefferson and Madison seeking to undermine him, to plan their country, to design something different than what he did.

Let them, the wormy voice said, louder.

Let them have it all, the greedy shipbuilders and the confused port and the sour emissary and Hamilton. Let them have the country and everything he had worked for. Let them do as they like. He went to the well of his energy to do the things they required of him and found only damp stones. He could feel the cracks in his foundation, and hear the rumbling of crumbling stone in the back of his mind, and see his men dying in their battlefields, alone, unmourned, and in agony. He spoke to no servants and looked at no one as he walked through the grounds and into the manor. He saw nothing, only a bleak fog of exhaustion and failure that seemed to eat the ground behind him and only grudgingly provide him space for his next step. It had curled into his mind the moment the emissary had told him that his plan could not be implemented because of the political associations in her land, and the more he came up empty with an alternative, the heavier it became. The fog was thick now, pressing into his throat and feeling like slick, terrible fingers on his skin. All he wanted was to sleep. He would lay in his bed and close his eyes and someone else could resume his efforts.

No Lafayette, even in the entrance to the manor. Why would the man appear? When Washington had done nothing but subjugate him and, in a new exciting adventure, alienate him and go against his wishes. He did not deserve the man, servant or not. Perhaps he had left for good for the next chapter in his life, rather than be bound in this boring drudgery of stewardry. Washington forced himself to admit that he was a terrible friend, even before this: a man who talked nothing but work, and spent his remaining time in the company of plants, because they could never hear him speak, or talk to him.

The steps to his room were an eternity, and each a greater struggle than the last. He briefly considered simply laying in a guest bedroom and sleeping there, or putting himself in one of his sitting room chairs and closing his eyes. But he had taken a few steps, and so he would take more.Until the last, and his bedroom door loomed upon him, the last obstacle to whatever meaningless plan came next in his life. His hand found the doorknob and turned.

He did not at first see the man in his bed. He stared at the rug and the stone floor below it instead, for some time, leaning against the door because he could not hurt it, like he could hurt (or fail, his mind reminded him) another person. How he learned that another man was in his room was a set of bare feet, pale and one scarred on the top, appeared in his field of vision. These feet were attached to a pair of lean, well-shaped calves, that were also bare. Then arms came close to him, reaching around him and peeled off his jacket.

It hung stuck between his shoulders and the door.

Finally, he gathered whatever vestiges of strength he had remaining, and he looked up, taking in the pale body, completely nude and dotted with the sort of scars infantry gathered.

“You could do to be managed,” Hamilton said, casting a skeptical eye across the catastrophe that Washington knew himself to be. Then, instead of pointing out whatever terrible flaw he decided on first, Hamilton pressed Washington back into the door with his body, slid his hand around his neck, and straightened tall to kiss him.

No, the officer in his head said, as Hamilton’s warm tongue slid into his unresisting mouth. You know the result of this. You know what happens is you must take some action, or your husband sees something that offends him, and he tears you to pieces over it. What happens is you begin to think you can be vulnerable, and he sees your fleshy underside, and leaves your intestines on the floor.

Officers were, of course, always to be respected and obeyed. Such was how the chain of command worked, and how armies functioned properly, and how things were accomplished.

But what was the point? His soldiers were starving and hungry and dying and in disarray. They had nothing left, had seen their fields burned and read about their partners and children dying at home, and lived in their ragged tents, lousy and diseased. They lost on every front. They had no supplies and no morale. They looked with unhidden resentment at their leadership and mutinied.

He kissed back, and felt Hamilton startle and press close to him, until he could feel the lean strength within him. Hamilton’s fingers went to his neckcloth as they kissed, sloppy and desperate, him digging his fingers into Hamilton’s bare hips and wondering if somehow at the end Hamilton could be so cruel that the words would write him out of existence. Next Hamilton’s fingers at his waistcoat buttons, and the shifts of his hips which allowed Washington to feel him out without looking. His own blood tried to get hot and found nothing. How could it, when his supplies had been exhausted, and his men starved in the cold, with rags for shoes and jackets?

Hamilton stopped kissing him and wrestled his waistcoat off, letting the jacket fall the floor along with it. Hamilton looked at him, his green eyes bright and open. The knives were sheathed, but Washington knew that that only meant they could be brought out at some future time. Hamilton did not release his gaze for a while, cruel master that he was. Hamilton looked at him until, Washington imagined, he had a full understanding just how pathetic he truly was, so he could use it in a later attack. “Concentrate on only this,” Hamilton said, and ground their bodies together so that Washington could feel the line of his affection through his breeches.

He did not speak. He had no words, and no scribes or aides to write them, and no couriers to deliver them, and only the rotting remains of horse carcasses that might have born them. It was all just as well; Hamilton was best at throwing his words in his face.

“Managed,” Hamilton said, correcting himself, “Is the least of what you need.” Then, he took Washington’s hands and lead him without protest back to his bed, and pushed his unresisting body gently down on it. “But no worries. You will find me exquisitely capable.” Here he grinned, although there was something forced about it, because it was sensible that he would be awful partner. He was not completely alien to the unfolding events, but it had been some time since they had occurred; certainly he did not posses experience like Hamilton seemed to, based on his confidence. Hamilton divested him of his undershirt with more quick snaps of his fingers on buttons. Washington thought he should care that Hamilton was pulling off his shoes with intent, and leaving them in disarray at the side of his bed, and then his husband’s fingers were working on the buttons of his breeches - only he could not bring himself to do so. Let Hamilton have him in this way and mock him for it. Let Hamilton use him as an object for pleasure. Let Hamilton strip him down to reveal the broken fragments of whatever humanity and flesh he had left, and then let him tear them into scrap for hunting dogs.

“You are not opposed, I hope,” Hamilton said, after a moment of looking at his fully nude body. There was a trace of anxiety there, as if he worried he had overstepped. Laughable.

An answer was required, though. He forced himself to think of one, and then made his throat work to form it, and his mouth to shape the words, and his breath to give the words a sound. “No,” he said, “I am not opposed.”

“You are sulking with a naked man sitting on your bare stomach,” Hamilton said.

“I suppose that I am,” he said.

“It is a very impressive bare stomach,” Hamilton added, leaning forward and running his fingers over Washington’s breastbone.

“Thank you,” he said.

“I have wanted you for a long time, you know,” Hamilton said, letting his fingers wander over Washington’s shoulders, down his biceps, and tickle over his sides and his ribs, “Even before we were married.”

“I see,” he said.

“Have you ever wanted me?”

Say no, the officer said. The answer to this question is no. You have never wanted him; you have never thought of him at night, in hand; you have never had dreams; you have never wondered what he was doing when you were working; you have never wished they lived in a different universe where you did not have to sacrifice.

“Yes,” he said, because his soldiers had mutinied, and free from the shackles of discipline or command they could be honest with themselves.

“You make a charming partner, for one who desires me.” Hamilton smirked, and for just a moment Washington's terrible fog abated before closing back in around him.

“I am merely tired,” he said, which felt as appropriate as saying war was merely unpleasant.

“You work too hard, too much,” Hamilton said, Washington shrugged, as much as he could when lying down. “I will tend to you, if you are not opposed.”

“I am not opposed,” he said, again, and some very small part of him complained that he would say such a thing. He knew that he was walking into a trap. He could construct the trap elegantly in his head: Hamilton could mock his performance. He could suggest, in the half-truth way that pamphlets did, that he was inadequate or incapable. He could come out with honesty and say that Washington was a bad husband. Would Lafayette even stop such a thing, now that he had been alienated?

He had known and read reports of people who had surrendered, not to their enemy but to the silent nemeses of soldiers: lack of morale, misery, doubt, and the reminders of their own actions. These people fought without caring about their lives, or their enemy, or their country. They were little more than their weapons, and did only what they were ordered to do, and sometimes not even that. He could never understand what it would be like, to be such a thing - to have no power guiding you forward. He did now.

“To be not opposed is not enough,” Hamilton said, “You should want.”

Their gazes matched. A little frown had worked itself across Hamilton’s mouth, and some of the light had left his eyes.

“I want,” he said.

Hamilton frowned harder at him and crossed his arms over his bare chest. Washington’s eyes idly began to count the dots of scars on his flesh. “You want because I want.”

Washington shrugged. He was sure that he had wanted, at some point. How could he have summoned the energy to do something as passionate and energetic and wonderful as want? He could he have felt? There was only the eternity of grey that was his exhaustion.

“I can make you want, if you are not opposed,” Hamilton said, fiercely. The grey brightened for a moment, then dimmed.

“You may,” Washington said, more to the stone ceiling, where he could see the echo of the firelight flicker. He felt Hamilton moving over him, sliding down his body, hands on his bare skin. Hamilton had a way of touching him that was unfamiliar and peculiar, with only the tips of fingers in a way that raised gooseflesh and caused an unrequested shiver to course through him. Hamilton pressed his mouth to his flesh, and his lips were wet and warm. Washington felt what must have been his tongue, too. It teased him, promised without delivering in some impossible way. If he had ever felt the peculiar rush of heat like this, distant but powerful, he did not remember it. His other events had been quite a while ago, but he was certain they had not been like this, with a suckling mouth and fingers that explored him as if he was a puzzle or contained a secret door.

Hamilton's weight left him, and he felt his husband shift his legs to create a space for him between them. The tiniest curiosity fit itself between clouds, and he opened his eyes and lifted himself up on his elbows. His husband was sitting between his legs, his knees folded under him. Hamilton’s eyes roamed his bare skin, taking him in like the first look-over of a particularly complex puzzle. Finally, not paying attention to whether he was noticed, Hamilton bent his head and began to again tease his flesh with his mouth, although this time it was his thigh, and the skin there was sensitive. A buzz fought at the end of the fog, tried to worm it’s way into his mind. Tender bites and sharp teeth added some variety to the assault.

The fog had an enemy, one with green eyes that sought to know him more intently than anyone had in some time. Hamilton’s mouth was hot, eager and thorough, and despite his exhaustion and the lingering sense of failure and misery, he felt it. Distantly, perhaps, as if he had walked in on another person’s intimacy, but it was there. He could feel the point of Hamilton’s tongue along his skin, tracking his hipbone and the plane of his stomach. Fingers slid across his pelvis and made him shiver, not quite but almost against his will. There was a trickle of heat in his spine, like the dripping of a well that was not completely sealed, and it arrived at his camp like a courier, strangely dressed and speaking another language. What was this thing that had appeared, alien and peculiar? His soldiers did not understand it, although he did not precisely turn it away. It spoke a strange language that his messengers did not understand. It had unfamiliar customs. It stood alone, but it existed, and it acted without feedback or criticism from any other part of his thoughts.

It was the part of him that raised himself up on his elbows to watch Hamilton’s efforts. Hamilton’s hands had spread his legs wide, and at present had buried his face in the bend between his thigh and his groin. While the man’s head blocked most of the sight, he could feel his tongue and the warm slide of his mouth in that space, could track the progress closer to his length, which rested, flaccid, against his stomach. There was heat, yes, but it was incomprehensible and distant, and at present the weight of his troubles suppressed the visible signs of it’s showing. He waited for Hamilton to notice and indicate his disapproval, as he certainly would. It was suitable; he was, after all, a terrible husband. Why would he be capable of even showing his desire, even this close?

Perhaps it was for the best. Hamilton’s seductions could be much more easily ignored when he was angry. Then perhaps he would be able to tell him this was unacceptable, and he did not want it, and he had never wanted it. Perhaps if Hamilton was angry, Washington could lie to him about desire. Perhaps if Hamilton scorned him, he would leave, and Washington and his fog could be together in their isolation.

Hamilton did notice, and he saw it happen - saw the man’s head move closer to his groin, perhaps to take him into his mouth, and caught the flash of surprise at his present situation. Hamilton looked up at him, briefly confused, then returned to focus on his work. Instead of his mouth, this time, Hamilton took him in hand, and Washington felt the surge of the alien heat crash against his fog like a battalion that seeked to bring down a barricade. His elbows gave way, and he found himself looking up at the ceiling again, feeling as if all communication had been cut off between his dying infantry, his baffled and furious officers who had been disobeyed, and this foreign force that had usurped command.

“I hope you are not feeling nervous, about performing,” Hamilton said, as he stroked him with unfamiliar care, “There is no need to be such a thing with me.”

At this a whole host of protests rose in his throat before he realized the effort that would required to voice any of them. Instead he opted for the half-effort of a dismissive noise: something between a laugh and a sigh. When had Hamilton ever critiqued his performance, other than ever?

“But I am not dissuaded by such a thing, if you are. I have dealt with it before. It is not uncommon among soldiers, you know.” He did not stop his rhythmic touch as he spoke, and there was something maddening about it. He was besieged. “In fact, I am not surprised, given your sulk, and your many problems. But such a thing does not worry me, to be frank. I have surpassed such obstacles before, even without the most useful assistance of brandy.”

He could not think of something like drinking, right now. Not when his head swam between the hopelessness of the future and feel of Hamilton’s touch, and in particular his thumb, which had a particular way of rubbing against his tender skin that caused a shiver to run up his spine. It was made more puzzling by Hamilton’s uncharacteristic patience. He did not seem to mind, at all, that Washington did not rise to his touch. Patience was required in spades for a siegemaster, and his army watched with a dull dread as they saw the enemy settling down in the distance. They looked at each other and their disapproving officers blamed them for getting into this terrible situation, and they played brave when they told each other they would outlast.

As in all things, Hamilton broke him down, and slipped through his barriers, and made space for himself where there should have been none. It was his best talent, to make Washington care about him when he should not have. That had been the reason for all of this, had it not? He picked this man for his distance and solitude and independence, and then Hamilton had made himself seem too likeable - brilliant and passionate and intense in a way that drew Washington to him. His persistence, determination and sheer stubbornness would have been impossible to imagine in a person until he had forcibly brought that person into his life and been subsequently punished at every moment, and in every way: first to be shouted at and told he was heartless and monstrous, and then so much worse to be burdened with the desire to care, to want this man’s company, and desire against his will his approval.

“See?” Hamilton said, and Washington knew, could feel his body react despite himself. He did not need to look, and yet he did anyway, pulling himself up on his elbows and noticing that he had indeed stiffened under Hamilton’s care, because Hamilton was excellent and writhing through his walls, sneaking through his patrols, or avoiding the watchful eyes of his guards. “The issue is solved and will remain so, if you pay less attention to your dreadful thoughts and more attention to me.”

“How could I?” Washington asked, because he had not yet found a way to not consider his country, and more importantly Hamilton and his so-called dreadful thoughts interacted in a incredible number of ways.

“Have I not already said?” Hamilton asked, and twisted his thumb across the head of Washington’s length in a way that made him hiss between his teeth. “I will be there for you instead. I will hold you, and keep your secrets, and allow you a place to take your mask down.”

No, he thought. No, you say you will, but then I do so and you attack me with the secrets I give you. You keep them only to use them to find my weaknesses. You hold me so you may hurt me.

When he did not respond, Hamilton let his hand fall away from him. “You…” he started, “You are sure that you desire this? That you do not only say so because we are here.”

“No,” Washington answered, “I do desire this.” His camp was rife with spies and disinformation, and enough rumors had been spread that he was not sure what to believe. He had desired. He was nothing, now. All he had to go on was last year’s information and wonder if it still applied outside the fog.

“Usually, one desires less quietly,” Hamilton said, but he took Washington in his hand again, and Washington could not entirely stop the groan from escaping him. Washington laid back on the bed and shrugged, as if that could express the current haze and disarray of his person. “But if you insist.”

He did not insist, but Hamilton continued anyway. He infiltrated the fog and spread pamphlets around his camp, and his soldiers thought that this could be a benefit. His body reacted, and his heartbeat quickened, and he heard his breath speed up between his lips. He closed his eyes and let his soldiers do as they like. Perhaps they would desert; certainly, some did, and instead only thought about Hamilton’s actions, the feel of his once-rough hand along his length, down his groin, and against his stones. There was a pause in this attack, but Washington had been in enough battles to know that this was a calm that predicted a greater assault.

He was correct. The hand settled at the base of his length, which apparently had sufficiently rebelled from his disinterest to Hamilton’s satisfaction. But in its place instead were set Hamilton’s lips, warm and wet from his tongue, and then worse the flicker of his tongue, soft but eager. He was not completely surprised by the action but gasped anyway at it; for the knowledge that such a thing could occur was vastly different than it at present happening to him. It was the sort of onslaught that he could never be prepared for, really. He bit his lip and suppressed the groan that grew in his throat. The thing sent him further into disarray, scattering any remaining sensible thoughts he may have had. His camps were in full revolt, and all possessed different ideas and strategies of what that might look like. His officers threw down their sabres and retreated to their lodging, staring with undisguised resent at the burning tents and drunkards cursing at each other. How could his senses be so disorganized? And yet how could they have not, under an attack with so many different elements, of such complexity and creativity. Under an attack like Hamilton’s, all he could do was count down the days and hope that he would not fall, and yet all the while knowing that defeat was inevitable. This must have been defeat, with the cavern of Hamilton’s mouth around him like this, slick and wet and hot like a working summer day, overpowering his body and mind. Hamilton overtook him in every way that was possible: like a summer storm, like the tide of the ocean, like an overwhelming attack. It was relentless. He could not recover. Whatever retreat he had managed, Hamilton had caught up to him- followed him through the countryside and come down on his army with the cruel precision of a well-executed attack.

He heard moans from his mouth, and felt his blood race through his body. He could feel his hips flex and lift; Hamilton’s hand at his hipbone kept him down. There was the slick noise of Hamilton’s activities between his legs, slurps and swallows, and air inhaled and exalted sharply through his nose. He felt - his hands must have rebelled as well, for in his fingers were dark strands of hair, some slick with sweat. Hamilton did not seem to mind the grip; in fact, on some particular ministration with his tongue, Washington’s hand pulled, and Hamilton gasped as much as he was able, and then repeated the thing.

It was not that he never managed himself, or had never been managed. It was only that he had never been managed like this, in such a state, with his mind a tangle of incomprehensible chaos. If there were reasonable soldiers, and he thought it likely there were, they hardly reached him. Certainly no one who had managed him had ever acted in such a manner, so completely assured in their actions, throwing their mouth at the problem in the way that Hamilton did. Throwing his mouth at the problem seemed to be the only way that Hamilton knew how to solve his issues, no matter how disastrous such a result could be. There was only one result, as disastrous as could be thought possible, to an assault like this, that had scattered his senses in different directions and made him feel so distant from the body that disobeyed his commands and deserted him to instead serve the mouth that pleased it. But how could he be surprised? Certainly Hamilton had forced him to relinquish his heart, and then his thoughts, and this seemed like a completely reasonable last thing to. Hamilton was the sort of man who did not stop until his conquest was complete, and he must have had his eyes on the capitol even now.

He retreated, and Washington gasped at the shock of cold air. His mouth tried to form a protest only to find it impossible to express words and instead managed only a surprised noise, embarrassing in its incoherency. His eyes flew open and he lifted himself on his elbows when he felt Hamilton’s weight back on his stomach; his husband was looking at him, fiercely determined in the way that he was. He looked like he held back some important statement, and perhaps if Washington had felt like more than the storm debris that you pulled corpses out of, he might have asked. But he could not now. That he had sat up at all seemed a miracle, and that he could see - that his eyes and his mind and his senses all combined to provide the sight of his husband sitting on his stomach, sweat-slick, face red, mouth puffy and swollen from his previous ministrations - all at once was a shocking miracle and a catastrophe. Washington had never seen something like this, that struck him in the way that watching a storm did - magnificent and terrifying and destructive, like some harbinger of the upcoming apocalypse. Was it not already upon him? Was he not already in the center of some cataclysm?

“You still do not oppose?” Hamilton asked, his voice hoarse. Washington knew why and could not bring himself to fully process the thought. To do so would be to admit some defeat, as if the burning of his tents and the deaths of his soldiers did not already admit it. He had not surrendered until he had admitted he surrendered.

He licked his lips. He was required to provide some sort of response. A courier in his chaos. Could he even respond? Had any of his messengers not deserted or been killed? He opened his mouth and nothing came out, and Hamilton stared harder at him, some secret hidden behind his face. It would have been more effective to handle a drunkard a puzzle box.

“I do not,” he managed, with exquisite effort.

“Stay there, then,” Hamilton said, and slid off his bed and went over to his desk, where he had put a tin Washington had not noticed until just now. He guessed what was about to happen as he watched Hamilton bring the tin over to his bed and sit back between his legs. He applied the ingredients of the tin - some sort of salve, clear and pleasant-smelling - to his length. Then, focusing intently on the tin as he closed it, Hamilton resettled himself back onto Washington’s stomach and let the tin fall to the ground with a noise that would have been disruptive had Washington’s mind not been disassembled into it’s individual parts, none of which currently had similar goals, plans, strategies, or were even communicating any of these things to one another. Instead he could only concentrate on how intently Hamilton concentrated on him, and the action that seemed to be in his immediate future. He had been here before, but it had been a long time, and the person he had been than was different than the person he was now; furthermore, that person could have likely formed a coherent thought, whereas this present version of himself was mostly concerned with studying the present wreckage of his own life.

“We do not have to, if you would prefer to cease,” Hamilton said, breathless with his own efforts, “You are aware? That I would leave, if you preferred.”

Yes, his officers said, You know that this is a weakness, and that he will use this to destroy you.

Leave? His mutineers asked, baffled and drunk. You know you desire this. Does it not comfort you? Does the bonfire of your barracks not warm you to the bone? Does the ruin of the camp not seem beautiful, in some manner? Do you want to be cold and miserable and alone, as you think you should be? You could have this. You should have this.

“You should not leave,” his mouth said, for his officers were barricaded in their office and could not communicate with the rest of him. He was weak. He wanted to be warm. He wanted to pretend that he had not alienated Hamilton, and used him as an object, and overstepped his boundaries, and tried to make the man be a person he was not. And if Hamilton wished to engage in this, let him. He could no longer endure; he could not resist.

Anything even remotely resembling a thought was promptly left smoldering wreckage by what could not sufficiently described in any military term that existed at present. When Hamilton lifted himself onto his knees, Washington’s length in one hand, and then settled them together, wincing slightly as his body fought and then accepted the intrusion, there was no more thoughts to be had, or soldiers to confer with, or plans to brainstorm, strategize or execute. There was not even smoldering wreckage to review, when Hamilton slid back and took him in. It was as if his army had never been there, erased more thoroughly than was possible. If shells could be dropped from the sky, or cannons could be hurled faster than the eye could track, or muskets could be fired from miles away -- perhaps that would be adequate. And even not even that, for it would require words to describe it, and words required humans to say them, and he was nothing.

“I suspected you would be impressive,” Hamilton said, between his pants of air. He choked out a strangled laugh, rocking his body in a way that made Washington’s back arch and his thighs flex. It seemed as if everything would never stop increasing, this unbearable pressure and heat, this vice that made his heart seem as if it would beat out of his chest. He did not admit that his body craved more, hungered for the wild, boiling clench of Hamilton’s body. He could not. He would be struck invisible from the country before he surrendered. His mutiny did not oppose. His soldiers, moaning in sick tents and crying as they lay mutilated in their defeat, were the ones that begged for more. He and his officers huddled behind their barricades and could get no word out that it could not be permitted. His poor officers were helpless to act in the face of the cataclysm that happened. They were the only ones who had standards and plans and strategies, who knew what needed to be done, who knew that he needed a strong core and distance from those who could destroy him. They alone campaigned against this, against destruction, against connection and vulnerability.

Hamilton settled against him completely. Washington opened his eyes and could not ignore how bright his eyes were, and the wild smile that seems to run amok across his face, and the way he panted every breath as he concentrated on conquering the challenge he had set himself up for.

“Ah, when you are not sulking, we shall do marvelous things,” Hamilton said, as if it was possible for him to recover from the charred forest that was his senses, or that there would be some other possibility for this to end, being the men that they were. “But for now, I will accommodate you, because I am thoughtful.”

Hamilton inhaled a great amount of air and closed his eyes, and then focused only on his task, which in practice was only rocking his hips back, but felt like some sort of mutually assured destruction, like the sky had turned to fire and reigned molten debris on him, tent-sized bits of burning wood and char, cannonballs the size of horses, massive on such a scale he could hardly comprehend the sensation of it.

The mutineers called it pleasure, and they at present ran amok and fed him information, and so it was marvelous, the heat and pressure and slide of it, the way Hamilton clenched around that lit his blood like molten metal and twisted some invisible spring in his stomach, winding him like a clock. Of course, his husband was not quiet about his work, and he gasped and moaned as worked, and once Washington was foolish enough to open his eyes and look, and on his lap Hamilton was flexed and sweaty and chewing his lip, and he arched his back, his mouth hanging open as he made an inarticulate sound, his hair hanging around his face. Hamilton worked him with the same determination that he always maintained in pursuing his goals. That was what he was: a goal, or a notch, as they said, in Hamilton’s bedpost. An accomplishment. I fucked General Washington.

He gave himself over to the pulsing heat and strength and intensity of the man above him. His fingers went to Hamilton’s hips without his request, and Hamilton gasped and pushed himself harder. His body moved in response, and they writhed together, quicker and hotter, the flames of his thoughts burning deep into the night, reaching through everything in his camp. Codebooks were burned in their secret cabinets; archived letters left as nothing but ash; back-up weaponry and clothes merely charred lumps. There would be nothing left, soon. A tracker could pass by this camp and wonder what terrible wildfire had consumed it. He shifted and Hamilton cried out and pushed harder back with his hips, and Washington listened to the sound of skin on skin, slick with sweat and salve, and the slap of it where they made contact. It could hardly be long now, he thought, before he broke at the seams like a dam.

He opened his eyes and took in the sight once again; Hamilton spread above him, one hand fisted in the sheets next to him, pushing back against him, gasping with the exertion and intensity of it. He must have been able to feel Washington’s closeness, or perhaps understand in some other way, because his own speed increased. Sweat dripped from him onto Washington’s stomach. His hair fell around his face from where it had slipped from his queue. His face was tightly squeezed in what Washington thought must have been exhaustion and sensation. Hamilton pushed back once and then twice more, and then Washington gave in, shuddering and arrhythmic, everything in his body and soul coming undone all at once. His soldiers wept, for they did not know how else to feel. It was not like any other end. It was better than any victory, more intense than any celebration. It was as if he had reached out and touched some cosmic force he did not understand, and his whole body pulsed with the overpowering effort of his end.

For a moment there was nothing. There were no soldier or officers or bonfires. There was no camp, or fog, or pain. For a brief, blissful second, his thoughts were completely and utterly empty. It was not that they were suppressed; it was that they did not exist. Only distantly did he even notice that Hamilton had dumped himself on his back on the bed, and was furiously chasing his own end. He made a cut-off noise and went rigid, gasping as it hit him, and then he laid there. Washington watched him without thinking and listened his panting breaths, the only sound in the room. Then Hamilton looked at him and shot him a bright little smirk out of the corner of his mouth.

A beautiful thing, he thought, and began to think.

What are you doing? his thoughts said, a furious disapproval from an officer. A mutineer was confused at such rage. But the mutineer was exhausted, and the officer had been waiting, and the latter had no chance in the absence of chaos and fire and Hamilton’s assistance. Order was restored, and the camp rebuilt, and then his thoughts turned outward and coalesced into deep disgust.

You let him get to you, his thoughts said. He will use this against you, at some convenient time. You crumbled when you can never crumble. You broke when you can never break. You were vulnerable when you can never be. You allowed this fiery pamphleteer of a man to have himself on you. This will not do. You cannot do. What have you done?

What had he done?

His heart began to race in his throat. What have you done? his thoughts asked, demanded. What have you done? What have you done? What have you done?

He sat up sharply and ignored the sparks of pain in his hips and his thighs. He stared at his hands in horror and tried to comprehend the step to resolve his blunder. What had he done? What he had he done? What had he done?

In the face of such an all-encompassing failure to manage oneself or one’s battalion, or to protect oneself from enemies that swarmed on all sides, a soldier had only one defense.

Retreat.

Chapter Text

Washington had been involved in disorganized, chaotic retreat but he had never felt such a way himself. Even in the first war, where had spent most of the time making grievous errors and trying to be anywhere but where he was presently, he could think rationally about it. He was calm under fire, in the face of destruction and when the future was dark. He never threw down his gun and fled, pissing himself in fear. He did not break rank, or run in some random direction, or lose himself in some overwhelmingly insensible fashion.

But he had read about it, and later in the first war soldiers would tell him about it, and once Lee had explained a terrified effort of his own in the first war, and how it had felt inside his head. Washington had remembered being disgusted at the story - that a career soldier like Lee would have willingly parted with such information and secondly that he had completely lost all of his nerve and resolution and conducted himself so terribly.

It was only now that he understood what that was, or what it had felt like, or what it could be. He felt nothing - not the aching of his hips or the soreness of his thighs or the exhaustion of sitting in a carriage followed intense physical activity. The world’s details disappeared, as if he was looking down at a map of his manor that lacked the various actual items. He did not see his desk or his bed; he knew these only as obstacles, and the door his goal. Retreat.

Be properly dressed, his officers snarled, unfurling their whips. His undershirt came into focus on the ground. Breeches. There. Waistcoat. Jacket. Shoes. Neckcloth.

A touch at his arm and a faded-out voice behind him. He was too close to the enemy and too close to the battle if he could be touched. Faster, his brain said, all-encompassing and so complete that it could not be argued. You are going to die if you stay here! He could not ignore it. There was nothing else. He was driven by a voice so deep and so loud, reverberating through his blood and every bone in his body.

He saw no one and nothing as he moved. He did not hear footsteps behind him or raised voices. There was nothing around him but the path further away from the failure. The peculiar-map world, with only a path like one drawn on paper with ink, demanded he move forward, demanded he see nothing, demanded he hear nothing, demanded he not think. Thinking would only double-back on his terror. He needed to focus on nothing and no one, and reduce himself to some base element because all his higher functions had broken down.

A light! an officer snarled. A lantern, candle lit, appeared in the world, and he took it.

A horse! an officer snarled. He felt no cold as he exited the manor, noticed none of the snow or wind. Maps had no weather. The yelling, even as tinny and distant has it was, fell away. The stables appeared on the map, and he went to them. Here was Nelson, who stared at him in as much surprise a horse could manage, and perhaps felt his fear, for he was anxious to be saddled. The saddle appeared on his map. He could not see Nelson’s concern, only felt that he wanted to run. He gathered up his lantern and swung himself into the saddle out of terror-instinct and ran, lit by his flickering candle and instinct.

The cold road stretched on. He felt nothing. He was not even connected to Nelson and the beat of his hooves into the ground. He moved as if he was a map-piece, to be picked up and set another place. Map-pieces had no eyes and no senses and no directions. He wondered where he would be put down. Would this attack move him into the city? Did he have allies to meet up with, to march together? Was he part of reinforcements, to press an attack? Was he the tip of the attack, and designated to suffer casualties?

Officers looked down at him like he was nothing. They argued for hours about what he should do, where he should go, how his effectiveness could be most useful. They made a grudging agreement. Some compromised. They set his map-piece down in it’s designated result, and then they broke for dinner.

At that time, the world became real again. He imagined an army piece might be as sufficiently confused.

He was on the road. Nelson was exhausted under him, his great breath coming in white pants in the dark winter. Here at least there was the occasional road-light, though the vast majority of them were not lit. His lantern oil was well used. He was sore, and hungry, and extremely cold, for he had neglected a warm winter jacket and instead in his instinct selected his regular jacket. Everything hurt, and he was struck with the peculiar sense to lay down on the side of the road for a few hours, to recover his strength. He resisted such a thing, for what would it be like, for some travellers to come upon the great General Washington sleeping in a snow drift?

He had never been so terrifyingly confused regarding his surroundings. It was at least a cared-for path that he was presently on, and covered in only a little snow, so he could still see the sides of the path if he held his lantern out. He felt every part of him complain quite loudly as he slid off Nelson’s back and took his reins in his hand where the lantern was not. There was a signpost a little while off, and he made his way that way.

He knew where he was now, and where his officers had sought to guide him. They were wise.

The sound of hooves behind him caught his ear. It could be Hamilton. He could not face the man, not now, not after this humiliating retreat and all that came before it. He could only go forward, and deal with the results of the action he was ordered to take. Such was the life of a soldier.

With a sigh, he returned himself to the saddle. Nelson cast a disapproving eye back at him.

“You have the terrible misfortune of being held in my high esteem, and now time has come to be disappointed in my actions,” Washington said dryly to his horse, and snapped the reins. Nelson picked up speed, as resentfully as a horse could manage. He still had at least an hour, if not two, of this kind of dangerous riding, and the cold was terrible. There was nothing to be done but carry on in his suffering and consider how catastrophic all things had gone, and where he had started down this path of complete destruction. Had it been as a result of his marriage, or would these things have all occurred without it? Certainly, his enemies would not have stopped building their port-blockade. But Adams could not have hissed in his ear. Jefferson would not have enraged Hamilton. He would not have assigned John Laurens, upsetting his father. He would still be the violet.

He forced himself to think about nothing. He needed to concentrate on moving as quickly as he could, as safely as he could; only an idiot, or a man guided by some deep-set humiliating fear reflex, would be riding alone this late in this winter. He had no recollection of the travel. One moment he had been laying in his bed, and the next he was here. He had dressed, messily but completely. He had saddled his horse and acquired a lantern and fled, guided only by some invisible hand in combination with inset soldier’s habits.

He was shivering and exhausting by the time he arrived at his destination. The estate entrance gates were lit and open, because they were in a time of peace, allegedly. He knew the grounds well enough that his lantern was enough to guide him to the stables, where he unsaddled Nelson and found a space for him, giving him a quick brush and something to eat, and a very profuse apology. Then, with a resigned sigh, he picked back up his lantern and walked towards the manor, and with all the remaining strength he had lifted a hand and knocked as hard as he was capable. He could see the servants’ cottages, if there was to be no answer on this door; that being said, there was little he wanted more than to speak to the head of the estate.

The door opened. He was surprised, admittedly, given his present record of things happening to him. A servant looked at him with utter bafflement, although that was not unexpected.

“My name is General George Washington,” he said to the woman, “I understand the circumstances are unusual, but I would like to speak to Lady Dandridge immediately. Permit to promise that any punishments that might occur, I shall shelter you or any other servant from.”

“Lady Dandridge is sleeping, general,” the servant said, but she opened the door enough to let him in, and shut the door behind him. While no fires were lit in the main hall, he was at least out of the chill wind, and the stone kept in some of the warmth of the few candles that were lit to allow the servants to see in their night tasks.

“Yes, I imagine that she is,” He replied, and he set his lantern down and straightened his waistcoat, which he only noticed now was awry, with buttons undone. He only now wondered what he looked like, and he was certain it was not impressive. “If you could wake her for me, I would be most completely in your debt. Again, I will protect you from any punishment.”

The servant looked at him for a very long time, her thinking evident on her face. Then she nodded. “Please have a seat in the foyer,” she said, and gestured to the next room, where several very soft waiting chairs were, that Washington was familiar with. He sat, and watched her hurry off, trying to shake off some of the chill that had set into him. He straightened his jacket. His instincts may have known to dress, but it was the least impressive dressing he had ever done.

He did not wait for long.

“George!” Martha said, aghast, as she rounded the corner in her sleepshirt and slippers. She rushed up to him, putting the candle she had been holding down on the chair next to him and taking his face in her hands. “You feel like ice!” And she turned. “A blanket, and a hot cup of tea, for the general, in the seating room. Have the lamps lit and a fire set there.”

“Yes, my lady,” The woman said, hurrying off.

“Hello, Martha,” he said.

“What are you doing here?” Martha asked, and in the flickering candlelight she emanated confusion, with good reason, “Have you ridden from Mount Vernon? In the middle of the night? Without even a jacket? Did Lafayette approve of this? Where is Lord Hamilton? Have you completely lost your wits? Are you mad?”

These were all very reasonable questions, but they somehow sapped the strength from him. He sagged in the chair, and Martha took a step back, staring at him.

“Are you alright?” she asked, and now that the shock had abated, everything about her seemed concerned, “No. I suppose you are not, if you have rode here in the dark with no jacket from your home a good ride away. Not only are you going to become very ill, but you must have some reason to flee in such terror.” She stepped forward again, and wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing his face into her warm sleepshirt no matter how cold his flesh must have been. Then she kissed the top of his head and let him go, and took his hands. He stood at the gentle tug.

“I cannot remember the last time I was alright,” he answered. His officers disapproved of his honesty, but he could not help himself.

“Oh, dear,” Martha said, and sighed for a very long time at his present state of complete disarray, “Come.”

He allowed himself to be pulled into the tea room, which was now well-lit and in the process of being warmed, and sat in the chair. Martha took the blanket on the end-table and spread it over him, and then picked up the cup of steaming tea and placed it in his hands. Then, apparently uncomfortable with how far away her designated chair was, she pulled over a footstool and sat directly in front of him.

“I would like to express my very humble and complete apologies,” he said, once he had taken a sip of the tea and nearly scalded himself, “It was terrible of me, to deny you and instead take care of Lawrence. I could have done both, if I wanted. But I was selfish and scared, and being with him was all-consuming, and I did not know the person I was going to be when I was done. And even more apologies, for if I had married you this time around, things would be sensible. I would be a terrible father, I suppose, but at least it could be managed.”

She again took the hand that he did not use to hold his tea, and squeezed his fingers very hard, and drew her thumb over his knuckles. “I may have been angry with you then, but I was wrong to be so, and I am not now. And you made the choice you thought was right, this time. It was a choice only you could make. Did I suspect that your choice might fail, in some way? Yes, and I told you. But you are the only one who can do such things, and you learn from your mistakes. And I think, by the way, that being with Lord Hamilton has taught you a lot, and made you into a much better person than you ever were.”

“Better?” He echoed, and shook his head, “No, I am no better a person than I was at the beginning of the year, and I was not very impressive before that. I still have two primary skills, that being disappointing to those who trust me, and pretending to be something I am not, until I can no longer establish what I truly am, if I ever was anything. As for Lord Hamilton, he is a monster.”

“A monster?” Martha repeated, eyebrows raising into her nightcap, “That was not the impression I had of him.”

“He seems to be ill-informed,” Washington replied, more steadily. The more tea he drank, and the more the fire popped behind him, the more he felt like a battalion again. “For what he thinks of as ‘care’ stretches only until we disagree. He pretends to care for the purpose of making me vulnerable, and then he uses my vulnerabilities against me when I do not support him entirely. It is as I said previously: he is exquisite company, until you disagree with him, and then he is as appealing or appeasing as an infection.”

She frowned. “I think you may have mistaken him,” she said.

“Mistaken him?” He echoed. She nodded, and the hard seed of his frustrations with himself and all the parts of his present situation sprouted quite well, growing tall and dark through him. He could not withhold his bitterness, not now. “I suppose perhaps I have. It is so very easy to mistake a man who says he cares, and then tears you down more thoroughly than any enemy. How could I have been so confused at a man who promises to hold my secrets and then fires them at me like cannonballs?”

Martha looked at him for what seemed like a very long time, holding his gaze and pressing her lips together. She squeezed his hand again and then looked down at his fingers, evidently wrestling with some secret conflict. Finally, she spoke with the calm of having thought out her words. “I want to support you, as much as I can, all the time. But Hamilton is a man of intense passions: he can both hold your secrets very tightly, and also use them in such a manner.”

It was not the expected answer, and he again met her eyes, trying to understand such a response. For a few moments he did not speak. “You cannot be suggesting that what Hamilton says falls under a lover’s quarrel,” he began, slowly, hoping to be corrected, “It is one thing to be upset with another person, and even cast barbs at them. But the things he says - that I am a parasite, or a half-life, or some husk - is not that. Those are the things you tell your enemies at the tip of your rage, and not your lovers.”

When she did not respond again, he gave a little pull on his hand, and she let it go, looking at her own lap and then at him. He finished the tea in the teacup and folded his hands in his lap, and then she reached over and reorganized the blanket on top of him, so it completely covered his front, hands now included.

“I wonder,” she began again, very softly, “If he does these things to his friends?”

“If so,” he replied, acidly, “It does not surprise me he has so few.”

“He was quite the gentleman at the ball,” Martha said, instead of a response, though the concern in her eyes remained, “I recall your letters being very concerned about it. It seemed that worry was for naught. I of course would not ask, but I could not help but hope you two would celebrate.”

He barked out a surprised laugh, to both of them. Martha frowned at how bitter it must have seemed. To him it was like sandpaper, and to her it must have been worse.

“We cannot be intimate. We can barely be friends. He conducted himself well. But then afterwards I found him writing an unpublishable screed about Jefferson and his servants. If it was known such a thing had come from my name, it would tarnish my reputation forever. And Adams had just told me something terrible, that I would need my reputation to resolve. When I explained this to him, he told me I was not even capable of shining the shoes of the devil, and more.” He stood from the chair, letting the blanket fall away and picking the teacup without noticing. He shook his head. “No, Martha, it is impossible. We have tried. I have tried. But I understand what is best for my name, and what I must do. I cannot avoid it.”

Martha looked up at him. He turned and faced the fireplace. His body still ached, and only now did it occur to him that he might have stunk too, of Hamilton’s sweat and teeth and seed. He heard her footsteps, and then she appeared at his side, taking the mug from him and setting it on the mantle. Then she came back to him, and took his hands. “First,” she said, “Jefferson can be starved into a husk, as far as I am concerned about him. But I know how you feel, about your reputation.” She intertwined their fingers, his dwarfing hers. She stared at their hands for a long time.

What could have possibly persuaded him to reject this woman, twice? Lawrence made sense. But how stupid was he, that he had said no again?

“It is not only my reputation,” he said, “You know that. It is the country.”

“You are not the country, George,” she said, and so pleadingly that his chest ached, “You are allowed to have other things. You are allowed to love your husband, if he permits you to love him, and he does. Every waking moment of yours does not have to be decided on your reputation. Is that not why you are a recluse at all? So you may be the man you wish to be? So you may tend to your flowers, and take the joys you can find? And if so, then why do you deny yourself Hamilton? It is obvious to me - and him - that you care for him very deeply. You should not wait to be with him.”

“Anyone else, I suspect such would be acceptable,” he said, and he slid his hands away from hers, folding them behind his back, “but Hamilton is not like anyone else. He can only be loved with one’s whole self. Even if I were to love him with all but a fraction of my heart, he would know, and think I am disingenuous. He is the opposite of me. My career is of falsehoods, and I am too good at them now to stop; he can only be honest, and present his whole self in every occasion, and gain power from his truth.”

“Your career is not of falsehoods,” she argued, “You have lied to no one, and you are not some cat pretending to be a lion. Soldiers need strength, and you provide that to them. It does not make you dishonest.”

“How is it not dishonesty, when I am a third of a man I pretend to be?” He turned to face away from her, towards the fire.

She stood between him and the fire now, making him go cold, and forcing him to meet his eyes. “You cannot pretend to be a different man than yourself. You have different facets, and you present them when they are required. That is the nature of being person. It is not lying.”

“Would my soldiers respect me if they saw me losing my head in your tea room in the middle of the night?”

She rolled her eyes, visible even in the fire’s shadow. “George, you being a general sometimes and a husband other times and a man concerned about your life sometimes is not a lie. That would be like saying I am lying when I am not a socialite to my children, or that I am lying when I do not rub the dirty noses of the other lords, because that is what the mother in me would do.” She took his hands again. “You are many different people. Everyone is many different people. Lord Adams is different to Lady Adams than he is to you. General Schuyler is different to his daughters than he is to his creditors. General Knox is different to his bookstore patrons than he is to his artillery compatriots. The war is not all of you, and the country is not all of you, and your generalship is not all of you. There is the Great Unifier, and the General Washington, but there is also George.” She pressed close to him, apparently not minding the moderate disarray of his dress, “And I am extremely honored to know George. And I imagine Lord Hamilton would be honored as well. Perhaps he would even allow you to meet Alexander.”

“You do not understand,” he said, but he held her close anyway.

“So help me,” she said, into his chest, “Let me help you. I cannot bear to see you so unhappy. I do not think I am over-worrying about you, if you have arrived here in the middle of the night, nearly frozen to death.”

“No,” he agreed, trying to keep his voice light, “I imagine so much night riding is very concerning indeed.”

She waited for a long moment, squeezed him, and then let him go very reluctantly. “Will you at least tell me what has troubled you so terribly that you have come all the way out here?”

He sighed against her, and the walked slowly back to the chair, and sat in it. The cup of tea was steaming and had been refilled again, and he took it in his hands. She sat on the footstool in front of him watched him.

“There is a military matter at present, that I am concerned could be disastrous if not resolved. Unfortunately, the nature of this matter means that secrecy is important, but that secrecy cuts off many avenues of solutions. I thought I had identified a solution, but it failed. So I was already feeling very low indeed when I arrived back home. When I went up to my room, Hamilton was nude on my bed.”

Martha gasped.

“I suppose it is not much of a seduction, but I have already said that we cannot be together, for all these reasons. But I was so tired, and in such poor spirits, that I allowed myself to have it, even though I should not have. I lost my head a bit. And then when I reclaimed it, I felt so ashamed of myself that I…...I ran.”

“He did not… take you, did he?” She asked, very slowly.

“No, I gave myself. He did not err, other than perhaps being in my bedroom when I was not.”

“Well, I suppose that at least is a relief. But this is very far to run, George,” she said, but then she shook her head, perhaps dismissing that concern, “When I suggested you be intimate with him, I did not know I might be required to include ‘and do not flee on an hours-long ride after.’”

He did not answer. Instead, he looked out the window, and saw the sun beginning to appear past the horizon. “I cannot have him, though. He is too hot-tempered, and too adoring of the truth in its complete form, to be the husband of General Washington. So to surrender in such a complete way, and to have something so magnificent that I knew I could not have, and to know what I could never further get…..it was maddening, I suppose.”

When he looked away from the window, he saw she was watching him, the worry still evident in her furrowed brow. She had folded her hands in her lap, and then she dropped her gaze to look at them in silence. He was usually an ally of the quiet, and knew that it discomfited some people, and it was not difficult to goad them with it. But not now, when it was his enemy.

“I am very sorry for disturbing you at such an inconvenient time,” he said, too quick, and stood, “I will depart.”

“You will do no such thing,” Martha snapped, and stood with the same speed. “What you are going to do is go to bed. And then when you wake up, both of us are going to your manor, and we are going to sit down with Lord Hamilton and have an actual discussion. Although that you have failed to do so is as much his fault as it is yours. He seems to have forgotten he promised me he would treat you with the care that he says he has for you.”

At this, he actually did scowl, because that sounded too much like she thought he was not a grown adult who could manage his own affairs. “Martha,” he said, trying to keep the irritation out of his voice, “That is very generous of you, but not required. I am aware of what must be done.”

She scowled right back at him, unafraid. “You are going to go mad, George. You cannot deny yourself, over and over, without losing your wits. And then you are going to disappoint your soldiers, and me, and Lafayette, and anyone else. And you are completely blind to that. You are not perfect. You cannot know all the answers. It is not a weakness. You simply need help. There is nothing to be ashamed of about it.”

“I do not need help,” he growled.

“There is no shame in it!” She said, and she crossed her arms across her chest, “After Daniel died, I needed help. And now I am stronger because of it.”

“Well, Lord Hamilton has not died--”

“George, you are---”

A servant stood at the doorway. There were other footsteps.

“Yes?” Martha asked.

“I apologize for the disruption,” the man said, “Only there is---”

No further explanation was necessary, because at that moment Lafayette swept into the tea room, still in his hat, gloves, jacket, and scarves, and maneuvered past Martha to squeeze him extremely tightly. It was like being crushed to death by a winter spirit.

“Hello,” he managed, in as much of a voice that he could manage.

Lafayette released him quite reluctantly and took a step back. The flickering firelight caused his chin to quiver. “You have given me a very terrible fright, sir,” he said, and pressed his lips together. “Imagine my terror when I am told you have ridden out with no jacket on in the middle of the night and no one knows where you are going.”

“I did not mean to upset you,” he answered, which was very much the truth, “I was not thinking clearly, and I am ashamed to admit I did not think at first to tell you of my destination.” He neglected, intentionally, to add that he fairly sure that he had not known his destination, consciously at least, “But as you can see, I am quite whole. Lady Dandridge is taking fine care of me.”

“Oh!” Lafayette said, and then he turned to Martha. He bowed very low to her. “I have been exceptionally rude, and I do not have enough breath in my lungs to apologize as deeply as I should.”

“Think nothing of it, Lafayette,” Martha said, and smiled at him. She looked into the doorway, to where a servant stood, “Please take Lafayette’s hat and gloves, and get him a cup of tea.”

“Yes, my lady,” the servant said, and stepped forward, taking the outerwear that Lafayette handed to her. Once she was sufficiently weighed down, she disappeared.

“Do you think Lord Hamilton will also come?” Washington asked his servant.

All at once Lafayette’s whole demeanor changed, and a furious gleam became visible in his eye “If he does, I think he will find himself with a very broken nose and the proper shouting that he seems in dire need of.”

“Lafayette,” he chastised, “Lord Hamilton is as much of your master as I am, and you will not speak of him so unkindly.”

“No one is my master in the way that you are, General,” Lafayette replied, equally as sharp, “And especially not someone as selfish, unthinking, reckless, and quite frankly completely unmanageable as he. Do you know what occurred, hours ago? Imagine my surprise when I am writing down winter orders only for Lord Hamilton to appear, naked as the day he was born, and announcing in a panic that you have taken off without expressing your destination and ignoring his shouts as if you could not hear them.”

Washington did not recall Hamilton having shouted at him.

“To which I said ‘Why are you naked?’ and he said he had seduced you, and you had laid together, and after the obvious result you had taken off in a panicked fit.” The servant hissed through his teeth, one of the many signs of his sudden fit of rage. “I have never met someone who understood the consequences of their actions less. He thought that this would --- fix you! As if something about you is incorrect, that you do not wish the affections of someone so troublesome! If the result were not worse than the problem, I would banish him from every acre of your grounds. Anyway, I have told him to remain on the grounds until I return with you, and if I am not back in a week, he is to come here first, and then to General Schuyler’s.”

“Certainly he has brought new life to Mount Vernon,” Martha said, dryly, watching both of them.

Lafayette took the cup of tea he was offered and sipped it. “Much like a wildfire brings new life to a forest,” he growled. Then, remembering himself, he sighed, and turned back to Washington. “I know I speak ill of my betters. But I cannot help but be aghast by his behavior, and more importantly the great harm he has brought to you, sir.”

“I am not so harmed,” Washington said, and he guided Lafayette to the chair he had previously sat in, and picked up his ignored blanket and covered his servant with it. There was a pause, and he sighed. “I have better news for you: Emissary du Noalles was not interested in my suggestion. You remain safe.”

To Washington’s surprise, Lafayette shook his head. “I was in err to be so resentful. I know that your duty must always come first, and I must stay behind you. I hope you continue to know that I seek to always be your most loyal soldier and servant. You should always count me on your side, with the full devotion of my heart.” He put the cup of tea down on an end-table, and then moved from the chair to take a knee in front of Washington. “There is not enough air in the country for my apologies. I only wish to re-devote myself to your service. I will not falter again, when presented with your orders. I said then, and say now, that I shall always be your shield and sword.”

Washington stared down at the top of his servant’s head. He did remember all those years ago, when Lafayette had come into his service. It had been like this, with the man kneeling as if he did for a king. He had sworn complete devotion then, as if he had not been completely devoted in the war. He had promised then, to be Washington’s sword and shield.

Washington had touched his shoulder and accepted the promise then, even if he was not completely sure it was the right thing to do. Years later, he had never stopped being grateful for the man that knelt in front of him: for his unending loyalty, advice, honesty, brilliance, and flawless running of his estate.

“You do not need to prostrate yourself to me, my friend,” he said, and offered a hand, “Do not worry. I am sure to disappoint you soon, even if I have been held up in my action to do so now.”

Lafayette took the hand and stood. “I will never be disappointed in you, Your Excellency,” he said. “And where threats to you loom, I shall always strike them down. Be they awry husbands or vicious war enemies or untrue gossip - I am your zealot.”

He had not been expecting such a speech, and was unexpectedly brightened by it. It was reinforcements, after being trapped alone. He took a breath, trying to gather his own thoughts. They could conquer Hamilton as an obstacle together. They had gotten through one war, and they would identify the solution to the blockade issue and Hamilton together. “Thank you. I apologize as well, for a suggestion that could do such harm to you.”

“If I am not interrupting,” Martha said, from where she said. They both looked at her. “I think the best solution to the issue is for us to all go to your manor together. We can have a discussion with Lord Hamilton about how to express that you care about someone, and you can bring your problems to the forefront, so they may be discussed.”

“I am feeling much better, with Lafayette’s arrival,” Washington said, and cast an affectionate eye to the other man, who nodded back to him. “I think it should be no problem for us to return alone.”

“You are both doing very well, because you are not at presented with Lord Hamilton,” Martha said, a wry smile on her mouth, “And so I shall be with you, in that much worse event.”

“We would not wish to entangle you worse in our personal trouble than you already are, Lady Dandridge,” Lafayette said, “And it will not be a pleasant ride home. Do not feel as if you are obligated to come with us.”

“I am not entangled, Lafayette,” Martha said, and her smile was kind but firm, “You cannot shake me, not after this display I have seen. You may both pretend that you are now perfectly all right, but it is nothing but a clever ruse, and I am long since dissuaded by the clever ruses of men.” She stood up, and took them both in. “But at least you both look less distraught than you did upon your arrival. I feel more safe having both of you be put to bed here. Tomorrow we shall all wake up at whatever time that might be, and tomorrow morning we shall depart for Mount Vernon. And if either of you are not here when I wake up, you will both be in significant trouble.”

He looked at Lafayette, who was waiting for a cue.

“Very well then,” he said to Martha, and bowed his head.

Her smile brightened. She walked over to them, and gave them both a kiss on the cheek. “Lafayette,” she said, turning to face him, “It is difficult to express how grateful I am that I have you to look after George. Without you, I am a bit concerned he would tie himself into knots that could never be fixed.”

“It is a duty I take very seriously, and feel very honored to possess, and always perform to my greatest of my abilities,” he answered, with a perfectly straight face. Washington felt something almost-extinguished in his stomach flicker to life.

“As for you,” she said, and turned to him. She took his hands again, and looked at him for a very long moment, not finishing the sentence. Even so, he felt her complex concern, understood only in conjunction with the many long years they had known each other, and the different people they had both been through all of those years. Instead of finishing the sentence, she squeezed his hands for a very long time.

He understood, and allowed the smile to creep up at the corner of his lip. It did not feel forced, to him.

“I will have bedrooms made for both of you,” she said, and turned to find servants.

He watched her hurry off, and then he turned to study Lafayette, who was waiting for his order, being the steady anchor that could get him through these tumultuous times.

Chapter Text

He was startled for a moment, when he woke up with the sun high in the sky and his bed unfamiliar.

Oh, yes.

He was at Martha’s estate, for he had fled here in some panic-fit, and Lafayette had followed him, and apologized for his behavior about the emissary. They all ate some strange in-between meal, and Martha carried the conversation about nothing, and pointed out a variety of new additions to her manor. It felt like a day escaped from time, where they seemed immune to the struggles that existed in their lives. Washington would have previously thought it impossible to get the blockade and the looming thread of Hamilton out of his head, but it was peculiarly the farthest thing from his mind as Martha told him about some new rug she had ordered. His soldiers were at a ball, he thought. They danced and forgot their lives outside of the hall. They ate richly and talked about chess and philosophy. He did so as well, and beat Lafayette twice, although he was fairly sure he had been allowed to win the second time. Despite that they had been awake only what seemed like half a day, it did not seem so terrible to go back to sleep.

In the morning again they ate, and then they hitched the horses to the carriage and packed themselves a lunch and travelled. It was cold, but it did not snow, and they found a jacket for Washington to wear in storage, which had belonged to Lord Custis - Daniel, Martha’s late husband. It was small, but manageable.

The ride was as pleasant as it could have been. Martha whittled as Washington filled her in on the goings-on of his various friends and allies, and what all their letters said. Lafayette, of course, was always filled to the brim with servant’s gossip, which he shared at length and in the precise detail of a man accustomed to listening and then repeating a good story. They did not even stop for lunch, and made good time on the hard-packed ground. They did stop for dinner, though, and it was then that his distance to reality came closer. For of course he was recognized at the tavern, and he played the hero, and felt disingenuous about it. He would have liked to tell the farmers that were in awe of him that it was a much more important task to plow the fields than to bicker with politicians. He would have liked to request their advice and farming strategies, for those who survived the winter always had tactics to do so. But he could not, and Lafayette and Martha both noted his unease as they climbed back into the carriage, and tried to distract him again with nothing chatter. This time, he was not persuaded, and he felt that perhaps the quiet of their space was very gloomy now, owing to his mood. He was, after all, very good at making spaces so somber.

He was cheered only slightly by the bright smile from the gate guard at the entrance to his estate. His appearance caused a frenzy of action and servants running to the manner; Washington had no doubt at least one had strict orders to alert his husband to his arrival. The thought of seeing Hamilton again caused the familiar weight in his stomach. It will not be so bad, he told himself, although his soldiers rolled their eyes at it. He knew better, and he knew Hamilton, and he knew that one could be shouted at quite an impressive number of times before the amount of harm it caused was reduced in any way. It was not so difficult to cast his mind back to the time he had thrown one of his plants through a pane of greenhouse glass, that Hamilton had frustrated so.

Lafayette must have noticed his growing unease, for the servant sped up his pace a little, and walked in front of him, a literal shield. He took steadying breath through his nose and concentrated on the back of Lafayette’s head to steady himself. He had no idea what Hamilton would have, this time, but he expected the attack extremely promptly.

He was right. Lafayette opened the door to the manor, and they stepped inside, and sitting in his designated seat at the table in the main hall, well within his range of vision, was his husband, staring at them. Washington thought, irrationally so perhaps, of turning and walking right back outside. There were many places he could stay, after all; the vast majority of the country would be thrilled to host him. But of course he knew such a thing was impossible. He would be forced to pass through this test, and his soldiers readied their weapons, brought again under the command of their officers.

The closer they got, the more evident it was to Washington that Hamilton was doing his very best to restrain himself. There was a sort of suppressed frenzy about him. He vibrated the air around him and did not seem completely still.

“Good evening, Lord Hamilton,” Martha said, first, and bowed appropriately.

“Good evening, Lady Dandridge,” Hamilton replied, in a voice filled with evident restraint. As if he did not trust himself, he stood very slowly, and bowed, “And Lafayette, and General Washington.”

“Lord Hamilton,” Martha continued, as if she did not notice that Hamilton had pressed his lips together extremely tightly to hold back whatever vitriol he strongly wished to spew, “I understand that this is a tumultuous time in your household, but I think it best for all parties to have themselves a decent rest before any talk of troubles and their solutions.”

Hamilton took a step back, and looked between the three of them. The familiar bags under his eyes had deepened. Washington wondered the last time his husband had slept.

“That is extremely thoughtful and most wise, Lady Dandridge,” Hamilton replied, and it reminded Washington of the way children parroted what their parents told them to say to him. Then, perhaps unable to completely hide the vast ocean of energy he withheld, Hamilton bowed very sharply to all three of them, and took off at an impressive walking pace. Washington only now noticed the paper that he clenched between his fingers.

Lafayette’s eyes, furious, followed Hamilton all the way down the corridor. “Lady, would it impossible for you to stay at all times, and herd Lord Hamilton like such? I have never seen him so easily agree to anyone, at any time.”

Martha turned to Lafayette and frowned at him. “Find me a servant to make up a room for me,” she said, instead of whatever chastisement she thought, “And then go to sleep. And the same for you, George.”

Washington nodded, and headed to his bedroom, wishing that Lafayette was at his side. He had no confidence he would not be ambushed by Hamilton, for one reason or another. Furthermore, he was not very tired, given the amount he had slept in the middle of the day yesterday, and only sitting in a carriage all day today. He was used to a fair bit of hard work and exercise, and with no greenhouse to tend or Nelson to ride (his horse still glared at him for the fear-induced ri