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Something They Can Never Take Away

Chapter Text

Alexander had tried so hard to stay quiet for the entirety of the ride, but as he and his social worker, Ms. Ramos, entered the neighborhood where his newest foster family lived, he couldn’t help himself.

“Holy shit! These houses are huge. Scratch that, these aren’t houses, they’re mansions! They’re fit for royalty. I can’t believe regular people live here.” He rambled so quickly that his caseworker could barely make it out.

“Language, Alexander,” she sighed. Alex didn’t glance at her, he couldn’t tear his gaze away from the houses, but if he had, he’d have seen the tired smile she sent his way. She couldn’t help but like him, even if he did have a habit of talking nonstop.

“Right, shit, oh, I mean, shoot, sorry,” he shook his head, eyes still glued to the neighborhood.

Most of the houses looked cold and intimidating, with their huge white pillars, wrought-iron gates, and brick driveways. Alexander had a hard time believing that anyone who lived in one of those houses would want to take in a foster kid, especially one like himself.

He caught a glimpse of himself in the side mirror of the car. He’d pulled his black hair back into a little ponytail, but it was all bumpy on the top since he hadn’t bothered to brush it beforehand. His tan complexion looked a little sallow and his eyes looked as drained as he felt. Then there were the dark circles under his eyes–– he could never seem to get rid of them. Of course his habit of staying up late wasn’t doing much in the way of ridding of those circles, but he couldn’t help how lost he got in his studies and writing.

The car began to slow down. Alex’s heart fluttered with anxiety. Here I go again, he thought. This would be his third foster home since… well, he didn’t like to think about that. His other two hadn’t been awful, but they hadn’t been ideal, either. Those couples hadn’t been prepared for, as they put it, “a kid like him.”

Ms. Ramos pulled the car up to one of the houses that lacked both a gate and a brick driveway. This would have made Alex feel better if the house itself wasn’t so impressive. It may have lacked the bricks, but the driveway, which was circular with a patch of perfectly manicured green grass in the middle, still reeked of money.
And the house. Holy SHIT, Alex thought, careful not to express those exact words aloud. It was three stories tall, with the top few windows much smaller than the rest, and was white with a brilliant red roof. There was a chimney on either side and a strange little tower in the middle.

“Here we are, Alexander,” Ms. Ramos said, stopping the car at the door.

“Are you sure? I mean… these people really want a kid like me?” He hadn’t meant to say that last part aloud, but his mouth was often too directly connected to his mind for his own good.

“I don’t know what you mean, Alexander.” She gave him a tight smile and motioned for him to gather his bag and get out of the car.

Right, time to greet my new foster parents. He took a shaky breath. He thought this would get easier every time, but it was only getting harder. All of this starting over was tiring him out. He vowed to himself that he would make this placement work out. He would keep his mouth shut, head down, and do his work.

Alexander and Ms. Ramos approached the brown wooden door, but before Ms. Ramos could even lift her hand to knock, a smiling man opened the door. He wasn’t dressed the way Alex had expected someone living in such a fancy house to dress. He had a knit hat pulled over his head, he wore a worn flannel shirt, and his light blue jeans that looked as if they’d gotten some good use over the years. His light brown skin seemed to glow, especially because of his smile.

“Well hello there, Ms. Ramos! And you must be Alexander? Come on in, please!” He stepped aside, still holding the door open.

Ms. Ramos motioned for Alex to go first. He crossed the threshold quickly, keeping his head down. He was afraid to see what kind of wealth the inside of the house would reveal. He was afraid this man would get one good look at him, see right through him, and be done with him before Ms. Ramos even left.

“My name is George Washington,” the man said once he’d shut the door. “And I do apologize for my attire. It’s one of my rare days off from work so I was doing some yard work out back.”

He does his own yard work? Alex risked a glance at the man again. Maybe he really was as humble as he appeared. Still, it could all be an act. He wasn’t buying into it that quickly. Alex went back to looking at his shoes when the man began to speak again.

“Martha got held up at the office, but she’s on her way over. And you’ll get to meet our Gilbert when he gets home from school.” There was a pause and, for once, Alex wasn’t sure what to say. “We’re happy to have you with us, Alexander. How about I show you to your room?”

“How’s that sound, Alex?” Ms. Ramos spoke as if Alex was a little kid she was trying to coax into doing something awful, like get a shot at the doctor’s. “I’m going to head out, let you get settled in,” she continued in her high-pitched, careful voice. “I’ll be back in a few days to check in and you have my number if you need anything before then.”

Alexander could feel her staring at him, waiting for a response from the kid she’d known to be, even in their brief acquaintanceship, a chatterbox. When one didn’t come she sighed and continued to take her leave.

“I’m sure he’s just tired,” she said, presumably, to George. “You have my number?”

“I sure do. Alexander is good hands with us. You don’t need to worry.”

Alex could practically hear the smile in the man’s voice. Part of him really didn’t want Ms. Ramos to leave. He didn’t know her well, but he knew she was safe. He knew what to expect when he was with her.

Alex was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn’t hear Ms. Ramos actually take her leave. He jerked to attention when he felt a large hand clasp down on his shoulder. He jumped and looked up at George with wild eyes.

“Woah, sorry, didn’t mean to startle you, Alexander. Alex? Alexander? Al? What do you go by?” George kept on smiling at him as he waited for a response.

“Alex is fine,” he mumbled, once again looking at his feet. He was standing on a rug with an incredibly intricate red and gold pattern. It probably cost more money than his mother had made doing months of work–– which had consisted of whatever odd jobs she could find.

“Great; Alex it is. Follow me and I’ll show you to your room.”
Alex had to look up now, and when he did, he was shocked at what he saw. The hallway walls were painted a light yellow and only a few sketches of flowers hung in simple wooden frames.

George turned from the staircase and noticed Alex looking at the drawings. “Those are Martha’s. She likes to sketch the flowers in our garden in her spare time.” He gestured Alex over to the staircase. “I’ll give you a tour later. For now let’s get you settled into your room.”

Normally, Alex would expect to share a room with at least one other foster kid. But he was the only foster kid there. The other boy, Gilbert, was their son, according to Ms. Ramos. He doubted in a house this big they’d force their son to share a room with him. At the thought of the other boy his throat began to tighten. What if Gilbert resented his parents taking in Alex? What if he absolutely hated him?

Alex nearly bumped into George, who had stopped at the second door to the right of the staircase. “This is it,” George said, pushing open the thick wooden door.
Alex stepped in after George, taking in the painted blue walls. They reminded him of the sky over his home island of Nevis. There were two windows with a white frames and sills, as well as a closed-off fireplace with a white mantle.

“It’s an old house,” George explained. He must have seen the confusion on Alex’s face when he looked at the fireplace. Alex didn’t want to tell him this was the first fireplace he’d ever seen.

“I’ll let you unpack, then we’ll go on a tour of the house.” George once again smiled at Alex and backed out of the room, as if Alex were an animal he didn’t want to startle.

Once the man was gone, Alex nearly collapsed onto the green sheets of the bed. He didn’t have much to unpack. Just a few articles of clothes, his notebooks, pens, and pictures of his mother. He felt embarrassed. In the other homes, all of the other kids had been just like him–– they had barely anything to their name. In the Washington household, he was the odd one out. He was just a poor foster kid. They probably pitied him now, but they’d come to despise him later. He just knew it. That’s what had happened at the other homes. So what would prevent it from happening here?

***

He hadn’t meant to, but Alex had drifted into a fitful sleep. When he woke up he nearly jumped off the bed, forgetting where he was for a moment. As he rubbed his eyes, he heard a new voice in the house, seemingly coming from downstairs.

“He’s here?” the voice exclaimed in what sounded like a French accent. “Can I meet him, s'il vous plaît?”

“You can see if he’s awake, but don’t disturb him if he isn’t,” a woman’s voice instructed.

Light footsteps rapidly ascended the stairs and a large brown eye peered into his room. “You’re awake! Hourra!” The boy barged right in, a grin eating his face. He had dark brown skin and brown curly hair pulled into a fluffy ponytail. “My name is Lafayette,” the boy said, placing a hand on his chest. “And you must be Alexander! It’s so nice to have you here.”

Alex could only stare at the ball of energy in front of him. Come on, where are all those fancy words of yours? a voice that belonged to someone he’d rather forget taunted him from the dark corners of his memory.

“I don’t know what George has told you, but I’m Lafayette, as I said, or Gilbert,” he rolled his eyes, “as George and Martha like to call me.”

Alex puzzled over that statement for a moment. What was off about it? Just as Lafayette continued on, Alex realized how strange it was that the boy was calling his parents by their first names. Was he doing that for Alex’s benefit?

“They have always loved that name for me, for it is one of my many names, but we don’t need to concern ourselves with the naming of French aristocrats now, do we?” He beamed at Alex.

Everyone here sure likes smiling, Alex thought. He stared at Lafayette, a look of confusion on his face. George hadn’t seemed to be French, but maybe Martha was? Though if that was her he’d heard speaking to Lafayette moments ago she sure didn’t have a French accent…

“Oh, George did not tell you?” Lafayette slapped his hand to his forehead with a gasp. “How silly of me! I’m their adoptive son. My father, you see, he died before I was born, and ma mère went off with her boyfriend when I was ten.” Lafayette shrugged. “The Washingtons were old friends of my father, and my legal guardians. I have been living with them ever since. I hear you are an immigrant, too?” Lafayette looked at him expectantly and Alexander didn’t want to let the boy down.

He didn’t like to talk about his past much, but he figured a few words couldn’t hurt. Besides, he was lucky that Lafayette seemed to like him. That’ll change when you open that mouth of yours, the voice reminded him. He gulped and began to speak rapidly. “I-grew-up-on-Nevis-in-the-Caribbean––”

“Woah, woah, mon ami! Please, slow down. We have time.” Lafayette sat on the edge of the bed.

“Right. Well, I grew up in the Caribbean, but my mom and I moved here a year ago after a hurricane destroyed most of the island.” That was as much as he was willing to offer. He wished he hadn’t mentioned his mother.

“How terrible!” Lafayette exclaimed. “I bet you miss your home?”

“Some days, yes.” What Alex left out was the squalor he’d grown up in. That he did not miss. But he missed the ocean. He missed the waves’ calming laps at night. Now oceans were ruined for him, though. The hurricane had destroyed that, too. And his mom. He shut his eyes. She was a causality of the hurricane, too, even if she didn’t die that day. Even if she died months later. Don’t forget your role in it, the voice said.

“Mon ami, are you okay?” Lafayette’s voice sounded distant.

Alex was back on the island, walking through rumble, searching for any remains he could take into the new life he and his mother were about to embark on. A hand touched his. He jerked back.

“Pardon! I was worried for a moment there. You seemed to have disappeared?” Lafayette’s smile was gone, a furrowed brow and pursed lips replacing it.

Great, idiot. You messed up your one shot at making a friend.

“I’m sorry,” Alex said. “I’m sorry.” Guess you aren’t so great with those words after all.

“Nothing to apologize for!” Lafayette seemed cheery again, but Alexander couldn’t trust that. People could hide a lot with a smile. “Dinner will be ready soon. I will let you rest until then?”

Alex gave a quick nod and Lafayette bounded out of the room with a smile still on his face. Alex sank back onto the bed. He hoped he could be different here. He hoped Lafayette wouldn’t see how rotten he actually was. It’d be nice to have Lafayette on his side.

***

Alexander met Martha Washington for the first time a few moments before dinner. She was nothing but nice to him, echoing what George and Lafayette had said about being happy to have him with them. She fussed over him and refused to let him fill his own plate with food, heaping on much more than Alex could eat.

Lafayette filled George, Martha, and Alex in on his day at school. He spoke so much that Alex was surprised Lafayette managed to finish dinner before anyone else at the table. Lafayette reminded Alexander of himself a bit, in the way he could ramble on nonstop. Maybe he could be like that here, too. He studied George and Martha’s expressions as Lafayette animatedly told them all a story about something that had happened in chem lab. George looked bemused and Martha encouraged Lafayette to keep going with little “mhm”s “yeah”s and “really?”s.

Maybe I can be like this with them, too. For a moment, Alex was hopeful that things could almost be like they had been with his mother. You can never replace her. You don’t deserve to. Besides, Lafayette is clearly better than you. You’re just a pest. The voice was haunting him more. He didn’t like to think of the man it was attached to.

After dinner, Lafayette gave Alex a quick tour of the house–– it lasted no more than fifteen minutes–– but he managed to fit in at least one story about every room, mostly related to casualties, either to furniture or himself, from his various young antics.

“They clearly had not been prepared for such an energetic young boy!” Lafayette laughed. “But now they’re prepared for anything. So do your worst, Alexander!” He poked Alex in the side of his stomach and laughed again.

Alex knew Lafayette was only joking around with him, but he worried none the less. They know how much trouble you are. He felt his face getting hot and his throat constricting. He suddenly felt disconnected from everything happening around him, even from himself. He and Lafayette neared the stairs and Alex sprinted up them and into his room, slamming the door behind him in his panic. Now Lafayette will hate you… Even the voice felt further away. Without thinking, he made a dash for the closet, which was entirely empty, shut the door behind him, and curled up on the floor, his eyes shut tight.

He vaguely registered a banging coming from somewhere, but everything felt so distant. He couldn’t bring himself to focus on any of it. He heard a door open and footsteps coming closer to him, but he couldn’t bring himself to speak, to tell the footsteps to go away, leave him alone. He felt the door open but he didn’t open his eyes.

“Alex?” It was Lafayette. “Wh-what happened, mon ami?” Lafayette was waiting for a response. Alex knew that, but he couldn’t even begin to formulate one, let alone get the words out of his mouth. This is how it should be, the voice reminded him.

He suddenly felt something warm brush against him then wrap around him. He realized Lafayette had sat down on the floor next to him and put his arms around him. “It is okay, mon ami. When I first come here I was very frightened, very sad. I missed ma mère and my homeland. I did not know George or Martha. I felt alone at first, but they welcomed me. I will do the same for you, as I know they will.” He stroked Alex’s black hair. “It is okay, Alexander,” he repeated.

“Gilbert? Alex? What’s going on?”

Alex registered George’s voice somewhere in the distance. All he could really focus on were Lafayette’s arms around him. He felt more secure than he had since… he pushed the thought aside.

“We are in the closet,” Lafayette said with a slight laugh.

“What happened?” George asked. Alex could feel his presence.

“I don’t know,” Lafayette said.

“Alex? Can you hear me?” George asked.

Alex curled up more. He wanted George to go away. Lafayette could stay. He hadn’t known him long, but if this boy was willing to comfort him like this, he must be genuinely nice. Or it’s all an act… Alex flinched.

“Gilbert, let me talk to him,” George said.

Lafayette’s arms left Alex and he immediately felt exposed. George took Lafayette’s place.

“Alex, we’re going to take some deep breaths, okay? I’ll count, you breath in when I tell you to and then breath out when I say so, okay?”

Alex gave him a small nod, still not uncurling or opening his eyes. George counted to five for the inhale, then to five again for the exhale. They did this until Alex lost count. Slowly he felt himself relaxing. He uncurled a bit, and soon enough he blinked his eyes open.

George was not smiling when Alex looked at him. A dark look had passed over his face. He's probably realizing how messed up I am. He’s going to call Ms. Ramos in the morning to come get me. And I even kept my mouth shut. I was doing so well.

“You feeling better, Alex?” George asked.

“Yes, sir,” Alex said, looking back down at the ground.

“Please, call me George.”

“Okay. Um, sorry, George.”

“What? What are you sorry about?” George sounded genuinely perplexed. “You did nothing wrong.” He sounded as if he were going to say something else, possibly ask a question, but instead he sighed. “You must be exhausted. You want to try to get some sleep?”

Alex was so relieved that George hadn’t asked any questions, though he was sure they were to come. Alex nodded his head and took George’s hand to help him to his feet.

“Martha and I are across the hall if you need us,” he said. He looked the boy over for a moment before giving him half a smile. “Goodnight, Alex.” He shut the door.
You’re already erasing that smile from his face. Imagine all the damage to come.

Chapter Text

Alexander barely slept the night before his first day at school. He’d been with the Washingtons for two and a half days and in that time he’d lived in more luxury than in his entire life. Martha took him clothes shopping in town, ignoring his insistence that his few articles of clothing were enough. Lafayette showed Alex some of his favorite places around town, including a park with a small wave pool in it. Alex tried to ignore the lapping of the waves, but he couldn’t ignore the horrible memories they brought back. Not wanting Lafayette to notice his distress, he kept a straight face as best he could. Thanks to his efforts and Lafayette’s excited rambling, his panic went unnoticed, though he was exhausted by the time they got home even though it was only three in the afternoon.

Now he was about to embark on the second worst part of being a foster kid–– school. Second only to meeting the new family, school was a host of unknowns. He had a difficult choice to make; he could either put an effort into making friends or freeze everyone out. He’d learned the pain of leaving behind a good friend the hard way, after his first foster home fell through.

A knock on the door interrupted his train of thought. “Oh Alexander! Are you awake and ready for your first day at Arlington High?” Lafayette was much too excited for six in the morning.

“Uh, yeah?” Alex’s voice lacked the same enthusiasm, but Lafayette didn’t seem to mind.

“Oui oui, mon ami! Now come on, let us get ready! What are you wearing?”

Alex groaned and pulled the sheets over his face. “I don’t knooooow,” he mumbled.

“Oh, Alexander! Let me help you?” Alex didn’t need to see Lafayette’s face to know he was pleading with those large brown puppy-dog eyes of his.

“Okay,” Alex said meekly because he didn’t really care what he wore and because he wanted to make Lafayette happy.

Lafayette burst into the room and went over to Alex’s closet. The hangers screeched against the metal rod as he shift through Alex’s newly bought clothes. “Hmm, no, no, oh, wait, oui!” He threw what felt like a sweater onto Alexander, who was still huddled under the bed. “This will make your eyes pop,” Lafayette said.

When Alex made no move to emerge from his cocoon and examine Lafayette’s choice, Lafayette tsked and pull the covers off of Alex. “Come on, Alexander! You need to get ready. I want to get there early so you can meet my friends.”

“Fine,” Alex said, rubbing his eyes. He picked up the sweater Lafayette had tossed on him. It was the hazelnut-colored one Martha had chosen. He hadn’t realized it at the time, but it did match his eyes very well. “Thanks, Lafayette.” He tried not to blush. He was amazed the boy could pick out the perfect sweater for him even though he barely knew him.

“It was my pleasure! I’ll leave you to it,” he replied as he bounced out the door.

Not wanting to hold Lafayette up, Alex hastened to get ready for the day, which wasn’t difficult. He’d used his nervous energy to pack his backpack around three in the morning, so all he had to do was get dressed and fix his hair. Even though he’d barely slept, Alex felt so much nervous energy swirling around inside him. Normally, he expelled it by talking or writing. In a situation like this, it’d be talking.

“I can’t believe I start school in the US today! I can’t believe we’re actually here, ma. I wonder what it’ll be like. I wonder what clubs they’ll have. I was looking on the school website at the library over the weekend and they have something called ‘debate team’ and I’m not sure what that is, exactly, but it sounds like something I’d love and probably be pretty stellar at.” Alex rambled excitedly to his mother, who was watching him with tired eyes from the other side of the table. “

We have gained something more valuable than everything we lost, Alexander,” she said.

“What’s that?” Alex shoved a piece of toast into his mouth as he awaited his mother’s response. 

"You have a shot at such a good life now. I know you’ll make me proud.”

“One day we’ll have our own house, ma. I’ll become a lawyer and you can spend all day in the garden. I bet they have some cool plants up here, even if it is cold sometimes.”

His mom chuckled. “I know you’ll make me proud,” she repeated, softer this time. “I just know it.”

Alex wished he could zipper his mouth shut. Words were ready to burst from his lips. He had to keep his teeth gritted to prevent them from tumbling out.

He and Lafayette rode the bus to school, another new thing for Alex. On Nevis, he’d been able to walk to school every day.

“When we get to school you will meet my friends! Hercules Mulligan, who looks tough but is as ferocious as a teddy bear, and John Laurens, who looks like a teddy bear but can hold his own.”

Alex nodded, urging Lafayette to continue. He hoped these boys would be as accepting of him as Lafayette had been so far. Just as he was about to say something, Lafayette’s phone buzzed. He glanced down at it, his eyebrows rising higher than Alex thought eyebrows could. “Oh, it seems as if you’ll be meeting an old friend of ours, as well,” Lafayette said. He looked up at Alexander. “Eliza Schuyler is back.”

“Back? Where’d she go?” Alex couldn’t help himself. Besides, talking was okay if it wasn’t him rambling on and on, right? He didn’t hear the angry voice in his mind, so he assumed he was correct.

“She and her sisters all attended a boarding school in Massachusetts. Her older sister, Angelica, graduated and is at Princeton now. Her younger sister, Peggy, is still there. But Eliza…” Lafayette seemed puzzled. He made a clucking noise with his tongue. “Very strange, mon ami.” A dark look passed over his features for a moment, but when he felt Alex’s eyes on him, he brightened again. “But we will figure it out! Eliza and her sisters usually hangout with us in the summer, at the pool or park. Now she will be an all-year friend!” Lafayette seemed to be able to make anything positive.

Before Alex had time to process what Lafayette had told him, the bus lurched to a stop at Arlington High. Lafayette practically jumped out of his seat. He grabbed Alex by the forearm and dragged him off the bus before any of the other, more reluctant students had even left their seats. Alex let himself be dragged down the stairs, to the sidewalk, and up the walkway toward the main entrance. Most students were making their way into the building, but he noticed two who were waiting off to the right side of the door.

The first boy had a large build, dark skin, and wore a blue band tied around his forehead. The other boy had tan skin, almost like Alexander’s, curly brown hair pulled into a pony tail, and as they got closer, Alex noticed the smattering of freckles on his face. Alex felt his throat closing up, but not in the usual-bad-panicky way, but in a new kind of way. A way he hadn’t felt in a while.

“There they are!” The larger boy exclaimed. “Lafayette, what’s up, my main man?” Lafayette let go of Alex’s arm finally and practically jumped on the other boy. He seemed prepared for it, though, judging by the smirk on his face.

“Mon ami! You must meet Alexander.” Lafayette turned back to Alex, beaming. “Alex, this is Hercules Mulligan,” he motioned to the large boy. “And this is John Laurens.” The smaller boy stepped out from behind Hercules and Lafayette.

“Hey,” he said with a small wave.

“Hi,” Alex said.

“Damn, you’re even smaller than Laurens!” Hercules exclaimed, rustling Alex’s hair. “Welcome to the group, Alex. And Laurens,” he said, turning to the other boy, “you’ve been ousted from your position as the official shrimp of our group.”

“Hey, fine by me,” Laurens laughed. “I’ve been dealing with that shit for too long.”

“Mon ami,” Lafayette said to Hercules. “Where is Eliza?”

Hercules shrugged. “I dunno. Me and Laurens saw her go in and we said hey. She looked different, man. Almost frail. Didn’t even stop to talk to us.”

“That is not our Eliza,” Lafayette said with a furrowed brow. A bell rang from inside the building.

“We’ll have plenty of time to find her,” Laurens said. “For now, let’s make sure Alex knows where his locker and classes are.” Laurens smiled at Alex and Alex could feel his face turning bright red. He tried to hide his blush with a cough, but if the other boy noticed, it only seemed to make him smile more. “Come on,” he motioned to Alex, linking his arm through his. “Let me tell you all about Arlington High.”

Chapter Text

John Laurens’ arm was linked through Alex’s for the entire walk to Alex’s new locker. It was probably a 45 second walk at the most, but it felt like a lifetime to Alex. Be cool, don’t mess this up! The last thing you need is for him to think you’re a freak before the school day even begins.

When they got to Alexander’s locker, Laurens slipped his arm from the crook of Alex’s elbow. “You have a lock?”

Alex nodded his head and moved to take off his backpack, bowing his head to hide the blush that was once again blooming. God, keep it under control, Alex.

“Woah, I can grab it for you.” Laurens put his hand on Alex’s forearm to stop him.

Alex felt electrified. All he could do was give Laurens a wide-eyed stare and bob his head up and down. Laurens’ face lit up in an easy smile. Alexander wanted to study his face forever, to commit the constellations of his freckles to memory… Shit, Alex. Cut it out.

Laurens unzipped Alex’s backpack and rummaged around. “Aha!” he exclaimed as he pulled the lock from the bottom of the bag. He handed it to Alex, that infectious smile still on his face.

Alex could feel his own cheeks responding as his lips slowly raised into a cautious smile. “Th-thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” Laurens said with a wave of his hand. Laurens waited while Alex unloaded his belongings into his locker and clipped the lock on. “So, where to now?”

“Uh…” Alex looked at Laurens, entirely lost. He could feel his throat start to constrict. Not here. Not now.

“I mean what’s your first class?”

Oh. “Um…” Alex unfolded the schedule he’d been fidgeting with in his pants pocket. “American History, room 106.”

“Aw man, I’m in chem lab first period.” Laurens made a gagging motion. Alex couldn’t help but laugh, his hand flying to his face as if to hide it, even though at the sound if his laugh Laurens’ eyes lit up. “But I’m just a hall over from you. I’ll walk you there,” Laurens said. He didn’t wait for Alexander to respond. He simply motioned him down the hall with him.

When they got to the classroom door, Laurens turned to Alex, placing his hands on Alex’s shoulders. “Good luck in your first class at Arlington High, Alex. You got this,” he said, as if pumping Alex up before a big championship game.

When he said Alex’s name it made something in his stomach flutter. He wanted to hear him say it again and again.

“I’ll pick you up from class, okay?” That easy smile was back on his face.

This time Alex’s lips did not respond in kind. As Laurens’ hands fell from Alex’s shoulders, all he could feel was dread. It filled every cell in his body.

Laurens smiled again, taking the boy’s silence as agreement. “See ya soon, Alex,” he waved and jogged down the hall.

Alex watched him leave. He took a few shaky breaths and then turned to the door of room 106. Whatever you do, don’t screw this up, he told himself. Ha, all you do is fuck things up, a different voice said. Alex squinted his eyes shut and put his hand to his forehead, trying to dispel the voice.

“Hey, are you okay?” Alex opened his eyes to find a girl with light brown eyes and long, shiny black hair looking at him, head tilted in concern.

“Oh, yes, sorry,” Alex quickly muttered.

“No need to apologize.” She shifted the books she was holding awkwardly. “You, um, going in?”

“Yes, right, sorry,” Alex said.

This time the girl let out a small laugh. “I guess the ‘sorry’ thing is a theme for you. Well, come on. Mr. Eacker doesn’t like it when we’re late.” She opened the door, waiting for him to follow.

He followed her inside and scanned the room, frantically searching for a seat near the exit. He always needed to be near an exit. Well, not always. Just since… No. Not here. Not now. Focus on school. Focus on… he realized the girl had never told him her name.

She must have noticed the fear in his eyes because she smiled at him again. “Come on, there are some seats open here.”

Thankfully, the seats were in the middle of the second row. Not as close to the door as Alex liked, but better than near the window.

“I’m Eliza, by the way,” she said as she took her seat.

“Oh, Eliza Schuyler?” Alex said before he could stop himself. You idiot! a voice screamed at him. He winced, but Eliza didn’t seem to notice.

“Is my dad really that well known?” She looked kind of disappointed, maybe even embarrassed by that thought.

“Oh, no! I have no idea who your dad is. Um, my, uh, friends,” he wasn’t sure they were friends, really, but he didn’t know what else to call them right now, “mentioned that you were, um, back?” He looked down at this hands. “They were glad. That you’re back, I mean.”

When Alex dared to look up, Eliza was smiling at him again. “Ah, you’re friends with Lafayette’s gang?”

Alex nodded, relieved. Hopefully she doesn’t think I’m some creepy stalker.

“You never told me your name,” she pointed out.

“Oh, I’m Alexander Hamilton.” He stammered for a moment. You never used to do that. What happened to those fancy words, smart ass? “I go by Alex, though.”

“Cool. Nice to meet you, Alex.” She smiled at him again, but Alex noticed something was off about her smile now. It may have been on her lips, but it was no where near reaching her eyes.

Before Alex had time to think anymore about Eliza, her dad, or her sad eyes, a man dressed in a suit that looked a bit too formal for a high school teacher entered the room, setting his black suitcase down on the huge desk at the front of the classroom.

“Hello, students.” There was a lilt in his voice that Alex didn’t like already. It was as if he knew he was better than everyone else. It reminded Alex of someone he didn’t like to think about.

“Hello, Mr. Eacker,” the class droned back.

“We have two new students with us today,” he said with a sigh, as if the new students were a nuisance. “Everyone please welcome Mr. Alexander Hamilton and Ms. Elizabeth Schuyler to our class.” He motioned to where the two kids were sitting, everyone else in the room suddenly staring at them. “Mr. Hamilton, introduce yourself to the class?”

“Um, my name is A-alex––” He was interrupted by an exasperated Mr. Eacker.

“Come to the front of the room, please, Mr. Hamilton.” 

Alex scrambled out of his chair and walked the short distance to the front of the room. He felt unsteady on his feet. He could feel his whole body begin to shake already. “I-I’m Alex. I’m new here.”

A kid with puffy curls of dark brown hair dressed in a velvety purple cardigan snickered in the back of the classroom. Alex looked down at his feet and the sneakers he’d wore for years, even back on Nevis. Nevis, right.

“I’m from Nevis. I moved here with my mom.” He shut his eyes. Why’d I mention my mom? Now they might ask questions. His whole body was vibrating. He had no idea what to say next. What happened to that abrasive smart ass we knew and loved? the voice sneered at him.

“All right, thank you, Mr. Hamilton.” Mr. Eacker sounded annoyed, but Alex hardly cared. He was grateful to sit back down in his seat before he collapsed. He was still shaking as Eliza got up and went to the front of the room to introduce herself.

“Hi, everyone. I’m Eliza. I went to the Sarah Willard’s Boarding School for Girls, which is out of state, since ninth grade, so it’s nice to be at school in my own town.” She smiled and gave a slight nod. The class let out a sad trickle of applause, but it was more than Alex had gotten.

“You both will need to catch up on everything you’ve missed. I suspect you may be behind,” Mr. Eacker said, his tone both serious and demeaning. Eliza raised her hand. “Ms. Schuyler?”

“I was in AP US History at my old school, Mr. Eacker. We had reached the section about restoration after the Civil War.”

“Ah,” he said, a frown appearing on his face. “We are just approaching the Civil War. You can help out your classmates, I suppose.” He looked at Alexander. “Where were you in history class your old school, young man?”

“Um, uh…” Think, Alex. Think! “Around the same place as you, sir?”

Mr. Eacker smirked. “You can definitely help out Mr. Hamilton, Ms. Schuyler.” 

Alex felt his face turning red in shame. He had always been such a good student. Now Mr. Eacker clearly thought he was a slacker. He’d have to work hard to prove himself in this class.

 

 

When class ended, Eliza was out the door before anyone else. She smiled at Alexander as she walked past him, but that was all.

Alex lagged behind, not wanting to get in the way of any of the other kids. Just as he finished zipping up his backpack, two kids stopped in front of his desk.

“Um, uh, um,” one of them mocked him by imitating him from earlier. It was the kid in the purple cardigan who had snickered while Alex was introducing himself to the class. He and the other boy, who had dark skin and sounded congested, laughed. “You sure have a way with words, now don’t ya?” They laughed again.

Alex felt anger stirring within him. Suddenly, he was in another school, the first school he’d attended in the states.

 

A boy with blonde, curly hair was taunting him for being an immigrant, for the way he pronounced certain words. He was suggesting he couldn’t even read English, even though Alex knew he spoke it better than that kid or any of his cronies. Every time he tried to defend himself with words, the boy and his friends talked over Alex, mocking him, mimicking him, until Alex had had enough. He was suspended for a week for the two punches he landed on the boy, one on the side of his face, the other in his gut. He would have kept going had a teacher passing by not intervened. The boy wasn’t even disciplined for what he’d done to Alex.

Telling his mother what had happened was the worst part of it all. She said she understood, but he could tell she was disappointed he had resorted to violence. If only that had been the last time…

 

“Alex?” Laurens’ voice broke through the memory.

Alex looked up, the two boys staring at him quizzically, possibly trying to figure out why he’d gone so silent, why he wasn’t defending himself in any way. Little did they know that if Laurens had not just walked into the classroom, they would have been leaving with a few bruises.

“Oh, I see you’ve met Jefferson and Madison.” Laurens crossed his arms and glared at the boys. Alex’s heart fluttered a bit seeing how defensive Laurens was being, seemingly on Alex’s behalf.

“Actually, he hadn’t. Your boy was too busy traveling through la la land. But I’m Thomas Jefferson,” the boy in the cardigan said. “And this is James Madison.” He looked from Alex to Laurens, then back to Alex. “It didn’t take long for you to find your fellow freaks, now did it?” he said in his southern accent.

Madison laughed and then started to cough. Jefferson rolled his eyes. “Let’s go,” he said, motioning Madison out of the room.

Even though their backs were turned to Alex and Laurens, Laurens glared at them until they had left the room. When he turned back to Alex, a smile was once again on his face. “Well, you survived your first class!”

“Barely,” Alex muttered.

“Oh, it’ll get better. Now come on, let’s get you to your next one.” He pulled Alex from his seat, once again linking his arm through Alex’s like he had earlier that morning.

Maybe it will get better… Alex thought, that pesky blush once again returning to his face. This time, he didn’t mind so much.

 

Chapter Text

The rest of the morning passed in an overwhelming blur. Alex had to introduce himself in every class, and, instead of getting better at it, he only got worse. Jefferson was in chemistry with him, this time without his wingman, and Alexander was without Laurens–– whose class was on the other side of the school––to stop him from beating up Jefferson.

To avoid what Alex knew would escalate into physical violence if Jefferson harassed him again, he raced out of the classroom and down the hall as soon as the teacher dismissed the students. There was just one problem: he left so quickly that he had no idea where he was going or where he was supposed to be.

He only realized his mistake when he reached an isolated part of the school. It was a dead-end hallway with a door to what, from the humming coming from inside, sounded like a boiler room, and another door that Alex opened to find mops, buckets, safety cones, and sponges inside–– the janitor’s closet.

Alex stepped inside, the smell of cleaning chemicals overtaking him. He coughed a few times, but shut the door, deciding to ignore the fumes and just collect himself for a moment. He reached up and found a string to turn on the bare bulb that hung above his head.

He pulled out his schedule and studied it. He was supposed to be at lunch with Lafayette, who had drawn a star next to that slot in his schedule to remind Alex to find him. Shit. Now he’ll hate me for standing him up, Alex thought. Nonsense, the other voice chimed in. He has other friends. Better friends who are too good for you, anyway. Alex was too exhausted from his morning to fight the voice off–– he had a difficult time warding it off even when he wasn’t tired, anyway.

Alex sat with his back against the door, knees drawn up to his chest. He buried his head in his knees, closing his eyes and willing this new life to go away. This wasn’t the first time he’d tried this. He always hoped to open his eyes and be back on Nevis, his mother still alive, the hurricane still nothing more than a few rain clouds on a distant radar. It never worked that way, though.

Alex didn’t know how long he was there. He was too lost in memories of Nevis and his mother. He was suddenly brought back to the outside world when he heard a familiar voice.

“I am telling you, mon ami, there is only one other place Alexander could be!”

“The boiler room? The kid would be toast by now!”

“No, no. Hold on…” There were footsteps coming closer and closer, but Alex didn’t react quickly enough.

The door opened and Alex tumbled backwards. The only thing that saved him from whacking his head against the tile floor was a warm hand that had slipped between him and the ground just in time. When Alex looked up at who that hand was connected to, his mouth fell open in a tiny o and a blush crept over his face.

“You okay?” Laurens asked.

“Oh, mon ami! What is it with you and closets?” Lafayette lamented. He knelt down next to Alex, gently pulling him into a sitting position. “Why did you not find us in the cafeteria?” Lafayette sounded hurt.

You sure fucked that up. Not surprising… Alex clamped his eyes shut.

“Alex?” It was Laurens again.

“Yo, you okay, bro?” Now Alex could feel Hercules kneeling down by him, too. It was all too much.

“Ah, would you mind giving me and Alexander un moment seul?”

“‘Course,” Laurens said softly.

“Yeah bro, no prob,” Hercules said. “See you after school, usual spot.”

Alex heard their footsteps retreating.

“Now, mon ami. Do you want to tell me what has happened?” Lafayette shifted Alex away from the entrance to the closet and leaned him against the adjacent wall. He shut the door before joining Alex on the floor.

Alex shivered, the coolness of the tiles seeping through the seat of his pants. Lafayette must have noticed because his face scrunched up in either concern or disgust. Alex wasn’t sure which. Alex pulled his knees back up underneath his chin and wrapped his arms around them to try and stop his shivering, but soon his teeth began to chatter. He always got so cold and shaky when he was anxious.

“S-sorry,” Alex finally managed.

“Mon ami! There is nothing to apologize for. I am concerned about you. Was someone mean to you this morning?”

Alex thought of Jefferson and Madison, but he decided they didn’t count. Laurens had been there for him, anyway. He shook his head no.

“Are you ill?”

Alex once again shook his head. He’s going to get tired of your antics, just like everyone else. You’ll be back in a shitty home before you know it. Alex shut his eyes, this time he also letting out a small yelp, as if the voice had physically hurt him.

Lafayette’s hand was suddenly on his arm, shaking him a bit. “Alex? You are scaring me?” He sounded hesitant.

Alex could hear the fear in the other boy’s voice. He vaguely felt guilt for putting it there, but as always, his feelings and connection to the world began to fade away as the panic took him over.

“Alex?” Lafayette’s voice was getting further and further away. He felt himself being shaken with more force now. “This is what happened last night, no? George breathed with you, I believe? Please do not fault me, but I did listen from outside the door. I was so worried, mon ami!”

Alex wanted to tell Lafayette he could never fault him. He wanted to tell him that he deserved a better friend than Alex.

“Okay, mon ami. We are going to breathe!” Lafayette began to take a deep breath. “Oh, am I supposed to count? I do not know how this works…”

Breathe, Alex. Breathe. A different voice suddenly came to him. It was his mother, waking him up after another hurricane-induced nightmare. Take a few deep breaths. You’re okay. It was just a dream, she’d say, stroking his dark hair.

Suddenly, Alex could control his breathing again. He could open his eyes. When he did, he was startled to see Lafayette’s brown eyes so close to his.

“Oh, mon ami! I was about to get the nurse. Please forgive me, I had no idea what to do,” he said as if Alex might actually fault him for that.

“No, I’m sor––”

“No, no! You need to stop with the ‘sorry,’ mon ami. Whatever is happening is not your fault.” He studied Alex for a moment. “We will talk to George and Martha.” He wasn’t asking. It was a command.

Against his will, tears began to form in Alex’s eyes.

“Oh! I upset you!” Lafayette exclaimed, reaching out to Alex. “Why do you not want them to know?”

They will send me away, Lafayette. How do you not see that? He wanted to scream in the other boy’s face.

Instead he lifted a sleeve to his eyes and quickly wiped away the tears. “I’m just exhausted.”

He could tell Lafayette didn’t fully believe him, but he accepted the answer.

“Do you want to call them and go home?”

“No!” Alex said too quickly.

Lafayette raised a brow at him.

“I want to finish my first day,” Alex said. Really, he was afraid of talking to them. He was hoping that Lafayette would forget by some miracle and that he wouldn’t be found next time something like this happened.

Lafayette stood and offered Alex a hand. Alex took it, the other boy pulling him up and steadying him. Alex was still shaking a bit.

“Just cold.” Alex tried to brush it off.

“Come on, mon ami. Let me walk you to your next class.” He threw his arm over Alex’s shoulders. Alex knew it was to make sure he didn’t stumble from his shaking. They walked off toward the main hall again, Alex wondering just how he would survive the rest of the day.

 

***

 

By dismissal time Alex was so tired that he felt he could fall asleep standing up. The only thing keeping him awake was the all-consuming hunger he felt after missing lunch and having an anxiety attack.

He found his locker on the first try–– a miracle considering its newness and his exhaustion–– and was switching out books when he felt a light tap on his shoulder. He jumped and turned to see who it was.

“Ah, sorry,” Laurens said, nervously scratching the back of his neck. “I just wanted to check in with you, though. We–– me, Lafayette, and Hercules, I mean–– always meet up after school and I offered to come get you.”

He offered? Or does Lafayette not want anything to do with me anymore and Laurens is just trying to lessen the blow?

“So do you wanna join us?” Laurens seemed nervous, as if Alex might reject his offer. Alex already knew that he would do anything to spend more time around Laurens. He probably doesn’t even like you. He’s just being nice. You’re being selfish. You should say no.

“Yeah, of course,” Alex said, forcing a smile on his face. This was one of the first times he’d ignored the voice, or at least didn’t let it make a decision for him. It felt good and scary at the same time.

“Great! Let’s go,” Laurens said, his easy smile returning to his face.

He seems genuinely happy I’m going with him… Alex thought.

Could just be a great actor, the voice replied. But Alex followed Laurens anyway.

Alex must have been walking too slowly because Laurens turned around and grabbed him by the arm, looping his arm through Alex’s. Alex was too tired to feel embarrassed about the inevitable blush that overtook his face. Just then, his stomach gurgled too loudly for him to cover up, though he tried, throwing his free arm over his sunken-in waist.

Laurens furrowed his brow. “You’re hungry.” He had the same tone Lafayette had had earlier in the hallway, when he told Alex they were talking to the Washingtons tonight.

Alex hung his head in reply. Laurens stopped, moving in front of Alex. He placed a finger under his chin and gently lifted Alex’s head up until their eyes met.

“Hey, I know I don’t know you too well yet, but what’s going on?”

Alex was so lost in Laurens’ eyes–– those small green specks in a sea of brown were mesmerizing. Before he could reply, a voice boomed from the far end of the mostly-empty hallway.

“Yo, bros! What’s the hold up?” Hercules shouted.

“Hey, change of plans, let’s grab a bite to eat. Our new Official Shrimp is hungry,” Laurens yelled back, swiftly throwing his arm over Alex’s shoulder, that easy smile falling into place on his face.

“Cool by me.” Hercules waved them down the hall toward him.

“We’ll talk later,” Laurens whispered before the two boys headed outside to meet Hercules and Lafayette.

“Oui oui! What an excellent idea, mon ami! Let us take him to… Adams & Adams Burgers!”

“Ugh, Lafayette, for a French dude you have the worst taste in food,” Hercules moaned. “But I’m in.” He patted his stomach.

“Let’s go!” Laurens exclaimed.

The boys headed away from the school campus, but just as they were about to reach the edge of it, Alex noticed a figure sitting under a tree. He squinted… the figure looked familiar. Eliza. He veered away from Laurens, who had once again linked his arm through Alex’s.

“Woah, what’s up?” Laurens asked, stumbling to keep up with Alex’s change in direction.

“Hey, dudes, that’s Eliza!” Hercules said after seeing where Alex was headed. “Liza!” He called, waving his hands high in the air.

Lafayette and Hercules took off in a sprint toward her, Laurens and Alexander trailing slightly behind, still bound together.

“Ma amie!” Lafayette panted once he reached Eliza. “I have been looking for you all day.”

Eliza looked up at the boys, studying their faces. A hint of a smile landed on her lips when she looked at Alexander. “Hey, Gilbert,” she said, turning back to Lafayette.

“Oh, you are cruel!” Lafayette exclaimed.

Eliza let out a small laugh. “Ha, had to say it for Peggy’s sake.”

“You wanna grab a bite to eat with us? We’re headed to that Adams burger joint,” Hercules offered.

Eliza smiled up at the boys again. A book was open on her lap. It looked like she was reading poetry. “Nah, I’m not hungry, but thanks for the offer.”

Alex noticed the same lack of happiness in her eyes as before. He wanted to say something, but he had no idea what he could possibly say that wouldn’t sound insane. Better to keep my mouth shut, anyway. He didn’t have to hear the voice to know it would agree with him.

“Don’t be a stranger, Liza,” Laurens said.

She chuckled.

“Hey, I’m serious! I know chilling with four guys after going to an all-girls school might be a bit of an intense reversal, but we’ve always got room for you.”

“Thanks, John. I appreciate it. I will see you guys soon, okay? Besides, Alex and I have history first period together. So see you tomorrow, guys.”

They reluctantly said goodbye and headed toward town again. There was no chattering this time. They didn’t need to say anything to each other–– they could all sense that something was not right with Eliza.

 

***

 

The diner wasn’t too busy at three o’clock in the afternoon, aside from a few other groups of high schoolers. Hercules and Lafayette were scarfing down burgers, while Laurens and Alexander shared an order of fries. Laurens and Lafayette had tried to convince Alex to get something else, but he insisted all he wanted was the fries. Laurens agreed to share with him only after he promised to order the biggest size. Sharing them with Laurens was a huge bonus. He was hoping that when there were only a few fries left their hands would accidentally brush… God, Alex. Stop it. He doesn’t like you like that. Who would? It would be selfish of you. You know how awful you really are. Alex winced. It was his own internal voice this time, but that didn’t make it any less painful. Thankfully, the other boys were too interested in their meals to notice.

Alex took a floppy fry, his favorite kind, and swirled it in some ketchup. “So you really don’t like ketchup?” he asked Laurens, who was eating his fries plain.

“Ketchup is fine, but I wanna appreciate the fry. Fries are so damn good on their own.” He popped another into his mouth and moaned, making the table erupt in laughter.

“Ketchup brings out the flavor, mon ami!” Before he started to eat his burger, Lafayette had removed the top bun and drenched the patty with ketchup. He even had a little puddle of it on his plate to dip the burger in.

“Your French ancestors would be sooo disappointed,” Hercules laughed. “And man, ya’ll need to appreciate mustard more!”

“Ick,” Lafayette said.

“Yeah, I second that,” Laurens agreed.

“Well, Shrimp, it’s down to you.” Hercules arched his eyebrows at Alex.

“Sorry, Hercules… mustard is pretty gross,” he said with a nervous laugh.

“Ugh, ya’ll are whacked!” They all laughed again.

 

Alex didn’t want the afternoon to end, but of course it did. Laurens had to get home before his mom, who wouldn’t be pleased to find out he’d been goofing off all afternoon.

“She’s so hellbent on me being an honors roll student.” He rolled his eyes. “It’s like damn, mom, I’m in two APs and three honors courses… what more can I do?”

So that’s why he isn’t in any of my classes, Alex thought. Alex had the brains and grades for APs and honors courses, but between all the school switches, he kept ending up in regularly-paced classes.

The boys were walking Laurens, who lived a few blocks from the Washingtons, home. “And she wants me to stop taking art class next year. She says it’s interfering with my studies.” He shook his head. “It’s the one thing that keeps me sane, though, you know? That and Rebel.”

“Rebel is his pet turtle,” Hercules interjected before Alex had the chance to ask.

“You gotta meet Rebel sometime, man!” Laurens exclaimed. “He’s the greatest. The other day he––” Laurens stopped his story abruptly, his face falling. “Shit. My mom is home already. She’s early! Damn, I’m in trouble,” he groaned. He turned to his friends. “See you guys tomorrow,” he said to Hercules and Lafayette. “And Alex, hold up, man. Give me your phone.”

“Um, I…” Alex’s face turned red.

“Alexander does not have a phone yet, but we will be correcting that!” Lafayette jumped in. “I will give him both of your numbers, oui?”

“Sounds good.” Laurens’ face was illuminated by a smile for a moment. It left his face as soon as he turned to face his house, though. “Well, see you guys tomorrow.” He saluted them and stiffly walked toward his house.

Alex wondered just what would happen to him for being out. Surely his mother couldn’t be that upset with him. It wasn’t even five o’clock yet.

Alex thought of his own mother, who had always been fine with him running around Nevis however he pleased so long as he came back without any grievous injuries. She hadn’t been around to monitor him much, anyway, always having to work.

Alex and Lafayette parted ways with Hercules, who lived a few blocks in the opposite direction, and continued home. What Lafayette had said earlier about talking to the Washingtons was circling in Alex’s mind again. He could feel his throat getting tighter, his hands breaking out in a cold sweat. This is the problem. You can’t let Lafayette notice. Maybe he’s forgotten.

Lafayette was happily singing something, seemingly in French, under his breath, nearly skipping down the sidewalk. Alexander wished he could have just some of his enthusiasm. Don’t taint this kid. He’s too good for you. He doesn’t deserve a wreck like you in his life, the voice told him. Alex didn’t try to fight it off. He knew the voice was right.

As they walked up the driveway to the huge house, Lafayette stopped singing. “Do you want to talk to George and Martha alone or would you like me with you, mon ami?”

Shit. He didn’t forget, Alex thought.

“I, uh… can we just not tell them yet?” He hated how small he sounded.

“Oh, mon ami,” Lafayette turned to him and took both of Alex’s hands in his own. “You are suffering. They will help. They would want to! I cannot let you suffer. We need to tell George and Martha.”

“What do you need to tell me?” George emerged from the side of the house, dressed in a flannel, old jeans, and a straw sun hat, dirt on his hands and face.

Both Lafayette and Alexander stared at him, mouths agape.

George looked back and forth between them, a puzzled look on his face. “Gilbert, what’s going on? Are you okay?” He looked at Alexander. Something changed in his eyes when he looked at the boy’s face. “Alexander? What is it, my boy?” He took a step toward the boys, but Alex yanked his hands from Lafayette’s and took off down he driveway again then down the sidewalk.

He had no idea where he was headed. He just knew he had to get out of there. He vaguely thought of going to Laurens’ house, but Laurens was in trouble with his mom, and wasn’t Alex to blame for that? They’d only gone out to eat because of him…

He pushed the thought from his head and kept running. He had more immediate problems to deal with at the moment. George and Martha could not know. They wouldn’t want him anymore. Running ain’t gonna make that better, kid, the voice reminded him. Now you’ve ruined everything. At least they don’t know how screwed up you really are.

Alex veered into a small park and ran behind a bench, next to some bushes. He curled up, hiding his face. It was all too much. He couldn’t stand it anymore. He couldn’t keep hurting people. Mama… mama! his own screams from a year prior echoed in his head. It’s all your fault, all of it, the voice said. Alex threw his hands over his ears.

His breathing became more ragged and he had no hope of controlling it. He waited to hear his mother’s calming voice like he had in the hallway with Lafayette, but she never came. She’s abandoned you… she hates you for what you did… The world started to feel further and further away. He knew if he couldn’t get a few deep breaths in he would pass out. He tried to even his breathing, but to no avail.

His last thought before the world went black was that George and Lafayette couldn’t find him. They seemed like good people. They were better off without him.

Alex toppled over into the dirt, his arms’ tight grip on his legs loosening, his mind drifting through a deep black nothingness.

Chapter Text

John Laurens felt like a soldier marching to a battle where he knew the enemy had outmanned and out-planed him. His mother wasn’t supposed to be home yet. She worked all day at the food pantry she ran–– not out of the goodness of her heart, but to further her husband’s political career–– and usually had a hair or nail appointment to go to afterward to make sure she looked as glamorous as ever for one of the many political functions she regularly attended. Laurens wasn’t even sure she actually worked while she was at the pantry. He knew she was never on the floor actually serving people unless cameras were involved, and he wasn’t sure she actually did her office job, whatever it was, either.

No matter what she did or didn’t do at work, Laurens couldn’t change that fact that she had arrived home before him on a school night. He sighed as he put his key in the door and turned the knob. No matter what happens, you’ll be okay, he tried to reassure himself.

He stepped into the large hallway. The ceiling was high and the floors a cool marble. Laurens hated it. His room was the only one in the entire mansion that actually felt cozy. His parents claimed that the intimidating marble floors, high ceilings, and bleak, mod furniture were all very impressive to his father’s politician friends. Laurens felt it reflected what was, or wasn’t, in their hearts.

“John?” His mother called from the kitchen. She never made dinner–– that was the cook’s job–– but she always liked to keep up the facade, which was why the cook always had to be gone by dinnertime, usually leaving the meals on their individual plates under silver domes to keep them warm. “John?” Her voice was sharper this time. There was a lot of clanking coming from the kitchen.

Laurens walked toward the kitchen and stopped in the doorway, folding his arms, already on the defensive even with his mother’s back turned to him. She was rummaging through the cabinet in search of a wine glass. After pulling one out, she filled it with a dark red wine.

“Hello, Mom,” Laurens said.

She turned to him, taking a sip of her wine before speaking. “You weren’t home. Where were you?”

My day was great, how was yours? Laurens thought. “I was out with friends. We were just grabbing a bite to eat after school. A new kid came and we wanted to make him feel welcomed.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “A new kid, huh? Where’s he from? What do his parents do?”

“Well, he’s actually a foster kid, so I’m not sure where he’s from, but I think Lafayette said an island in the Caribbean. He’s staying with the Washingtons.”

His mother’s eyes widened, anger filling them. “Those damn Washingtons! Taking in little brats just so George can get ahead in his career.” She took a gulp of wine then turned to replenish the glass even though there was still wine in it. “And they probably did it for the tax write-off, too.”

“Uh, that seems a little much. Maybe they just like kids?” Laurens knew standing up for the Washingtons was a mistake, but he couldn’t help it.

“The motives don’t matter, John. When will you learn that? It’s the effect the action will have that matters.” She shook her head and took another swig of wine. “Your father won’t be happy about this.”

“But they aren’t even competing for the same position!” Laurens exclaimed. His father was a congressman and Washington was a state senator.

“Right now, but they could some day,” his mother said. “Anyway. I don’t want you late just because you’re running around with your little gang. You have studies. You have a future.”

“Okay, sorry. I won’t be late again.”

She glared at him, trying to gauge the sincerity of his apology. She took another sip of wine. “Okay. Now go to your room and work until dinner is ready.”

Laurens nodded and silently thanked whoever it was that invented wine.

 

***

 

Laurens didn’t like his house, but he loved his room. Two years ago, the summer before he started high school, he had painted the walls a calm, meadow green, put up light yellow curtains, and welcomed Rebel the turtle into his life.

Rebel’s habitat was Laurens’ favorite part of his room. Rebel was an aquatic turtle––a red eared slider–– so he had a large tank with a platform he could climb up and stretch out on to bask in the “sun,” or the light, yellow during the day and blue at night, that rested on a wire grate above the platform. Laurens loved to look at the soft glow of the artificial moonlight from across the room when he was tucked into bed at night. Often times, it was the most relaxing part of his day.

Laurens tapped the glass of the tank to get Rebel’s attention. Rebel swam up from the rock he had been resting on and placed his nose against the glass that separated him from Laurens’ finger. Laurens smiled and turned away, taking a seat at his desk, next to Rebel’s tank. He sighed as he pulled numerous textbooks from his backpack. Rebel swam over and watched Laurens crack open his chemistry book.

Laurens tried to focus–– he really needed to, seeing as he had a test the following day–– but all he could think about was the way his mother reacted to the way the Washingtons had taken in Alexander. Sometimes he didn’t even recognize his mother anymore. She’d grown so bitter and cruel. Both she and his father had become so calculating, so cut-off from their emotions. All they ever did was push Laurens and his sister, Mary Eleanor, to achieve.

His life hadn’t always been like this, though he didn’t like to remember what it had once been like. He didn’t like to remember the time before his parents’ lives centered around political pursuits. He didn’t like to remember when their children were the center of their lives, back when their family was whole.

John squinted his eyes shut, pushing the memory aside. In the act of doing so, a new memory arose. Alexander, squinting his beautiful brown eyes shut earlier that day. Laurens wondered what Alex was trying to forget. He wished he could text the boy, but he settled for texting Lafayette instead. 

Laurens: Hey... any chance you got Alex that phone yet?
Laurens: I know it's been like an hour since we parted ways, but still. I had a question for him.
Laurens: Laf?
Laurens: Baguette?
Laurens: You there??
Lafayette: Something has happened
Lafayette: will txt later mon ami
Laurens: happend to who? you??
Laurens: Laf??

Laurens couldn’t stop checking his phone. If Lafayette was texting him, he was going to assume whatever had happened, Lafayette was okay. That meant… John stood and began to pace around his room, Rebel trying to follow by swimming around in his tank.

He’d known something had so obviously not been right with Alexander. He didn’t know the boy well yet, but he knew the way he felt when he was around him. It was as if a part of him that had been dead for so long, so long he’d forgotten about it, had come to life.

Laurens checked his phone again. Still nothing. He sat down at his desk again, this time pushing his chemistry books aside. There was only one thing that would calm him down right now. He pulled his sketch book out from the bottom drawer of his desk, where he kept it hidden under study guides for pervious tests that he was saving for finals.

He flipped to a blank page and began to draw. Normally, he sketched Rebel, but today, a certain boy’s features found their way from the tip of his pencil to the white of the page. He was so lost in his sketch that he didn’t hear his sister tell him dinner was ready. He didn’t hear when his mother stormed up the stairs, angry that Laurens was keeping the family waiting. He didn’t hear her until she was already swinging his door open with such force that it banged into the wall.

By the time he looked up, she was standing over him. “You’re keeping us waiting with your doodles?” She grabbed the sketch book from him before he could stop her.

“Mom, please, no! I’m sorry! I didn’t know dinner was ready. Please, just give it back to me.”

She looked at him and for a moment, Laurens swore he could see the old her staring back. But when he heard the sharp ripping of paper, he knew it had just been his imagination.

“You do not disrespect your family by keeping us waiting, John.” She held the torn sketch, the one he had just been working on, in her hands. The rest of the sketch book had fallen to the floor.

Laurens wanted to scoop it up, but he was afraid to move. “It… it was an accident. It won’t happen again.”

She nodded. “Now get down there.” She turned on her heel, stiffly exiting Laurens’ room, but not before dropping the pieces of the sketch.

Lauens watched, helpless, as Alexander’s torn face fluttered to the floor.

 

 

Chapter Text

Lafayette wanted to kick himself for not running after Alexander faster. He’d stood in stunned silence with George for a good five seconds before taking off after the smaller boy, only to lose sight of him within the first twenty seconds of the chase. Alex was faster than Lafayette had expected him to be, especially after the exhausting day he’d had with so little to eat.

George wasn’t far behind Lafayette. He must have realized they didn’t have much of a chance of catching up with Alex on foot because he stopped running almost as quickly as he had started. “Quick, let’s get in the car.” George waved Lafayette back toward the house. The two scrambled into George’s Subaru. “Any idea where he may have gone?” George was still panting a bit from their unexpected sprint.

“No, no idea at all,” Lafayette lamented. “He does not even know the area, George!” Lafayette began to worry even more. Not only was Alexander clearly freaked out, he was most likely lost, too.

“It’ll be okay, Gilbert,” George said in the calm tone that made him such a well-respected man and politician. “We’ll find him. I promise.” There wasn’t even a hint of uncertainty in George’s voice.

Lafayette had always admired that about George–– he only said things he believed to be true and was firm in them. When George said something would happen, it would happen. Lafayette took a deep breath and put all of his faith in George, just like he had when he’d first arrived at the Washington’s manor some years ago…

 

Bonjur, Gilbert!” A man with brown skin bent down and held his hand out to Lafayette, then ten years old and freshly arrived on American soil. “Je m’apple George Washington.” The man’s face was alight with large brown eyes and a huge grin.   

Lafayette crossed his arms, refusing to take George’s hand. “I can speak English,” he said with a thick accent, annoyed that his new guardian thought he was only able to speak his native language of French. “I study since I am small,” he said.

“Ah yes, I know, Gilbert. Maybe you can help me brush up on my French, though? It has been a long time since I spoke French.” George kept his hand extended to Lafayette as if his snub was not bothering him in the least.

“How long has it been?” Lafayette furrowed his brow.

“Oh, at least a decade.”

“Decade?” Lafayette was embarrassed that a word he didn’t know had come up in their very first conversation.

“Ten years,” George said, still smiling, hand still thrust toward Lafayette. “So, will you help me?”

Lafayette couldn’t help it. George seemed so genuine. Lafayette returned George’s smile and placed his small hand in George’s. “Oui. il est un accord.”

“Magnifique!” George exclaimed. He placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Let me show you to your room. Martha and I are so happy to have you here, Gilbert. We are going to make sure you not only love your time in the States, but that you feel at home with us,” he said as he guided the boy up the stairs to his new room. “That’s a promise.”

 

George had, without a doubt, kept that promise. Lafayette knew he would do everything in his power to keep the promise he had just made. It was Alexander who was the unknown. The kid was clearly used to doing whatever it took to survive. If he felt threatened at the Washington’s Lafayette had no doubt Alex could easily disappear. Lafayette grimaced, remembering how he’d pushed Alexander to confide in George and Martha so quickly.

“Oh George,” the boy said. “This is all my fault!” He shook his head, trying to stop tears from welling up in his eyes, but to no avail.

“What do you mean, Gilbert?” George kept his eyes on the road, but his voice was full of concern and confusion.

“I was pushing Alexander to tell you something difficult because I am worried about mon nouvel ami. I am afraid that is what caused him to run. If I had not pushed him so hard he would still be here!” Lafayette quickly raised his shirt sleeve to wipe away the few tears that were rolling down his brown cheeks.

“Oh, Gilbert, this isn’t your fault. I didn’t realize the extent of Alexander’s struggles. I should have taken more time to make sure he was doing okay in his new environment before sending him off to school so quickly. I was rash and overwhelmed him.” George’s brow was furrowed as he scanned the suburban sprawl they were slowly driving through. “He can’t have gotten too far…”

Just then, they came upon a small park. It was the park George and Martha had taken Lafayette to countless times in his early days with them. They’d played on the jungle gym and zoomed down the slides together. George had often held contests with Lafayette on the swings to see who could swing higher. Lafayette always won. They’d picnics on the lawn–– something they still did every summer–– and enjoyed many ice cream cones while sitting on the wooden benches behind the slides. Lafayette was looking at the benches fondly when he noticed something strange.

“George? George?” He said, slightly panicked. “George, stop! I-I think I see Alexander!” He pointed toward the benches.

George hit the brakes so quickly that, even at the slow speed he’d been driving at, they both jerked forward, their seat belts locking them in place with a jolt. George unbuckled and jumped out of the car before Lafayette could even react to being jerked forward so quickly. He snapped back to reality and raced after George.

It’d been his feet Lafayette had noticed. Why would Alexander be lying behind a bench, though? Lafayette ran up to George, who was already kneeling down next to Alex.

Alexander’s eyes were closed, and not in the way he had been shutting them so tightly earlier at school. It was as if he was asleep. Lafayette could tell by the way the boy’s body had lost all its tension that he was unconscious.

“Alexander!” George yelled.

Lafayette saw the boy’s hands suddenly clench into fists, his legs twitch, and finally his large brown eyes open, his gaze frantically darting around.

“Son, it’s okay,” George said, gently placing a hand on Alex’s shoulder.

“Mon ami!” Lafayette exclaimed.

Alex scrambled into a sitting position, George reached for him, but Alex pulled away, tumbling backward.

“Alex, I just don’t want you to get up too quickly,” George said in an even tone.

Alex stared at George for a moment, as if he was trying to decide if he could believe him. Lafayette willed the smaller boy to put his faith in George. Slowly, Alex relaxed a bit and stayed, sitting a foot or so away from George and Lafayette.

“Mon ami, je suis tellement désolé!” Lafayette said. “I did not mean to scare you so much earlier. I was only worried.” He hoped Alex could tell how sincere he was.

“Alex, let’s head back home. You must be exhausted.” George extended his hand toward the boy.

Alex looked at George’s hand and then at Lafayette. Lafayette once again remembered when George had first extended his hand to him all those years ago. George had been so patient, so kind. Lafayette gave Alexander a small smile and nodded his head once.

Alex took a deep breath and placed his shaking hand in George’s.

Chapter Text

Alexander was grateful to Lafayette for chattering on the short car ride home. Lafayette reminded Alex a bit of himself, especially before his mother died, though he still knew that his former self could out-talk Lafayette any day. Yeah, but you can’t let that version surface, the dark voice warned. Alex knew it was right.

When they pulled into the circular driveway of the Washington’s home, Alex noticed Martha’s car was there, as well. He felt his throat getting tighter. Dealing with George was already bad enough. Now he’d have to answer to both his foster parents at the same time. He involuntarily gripped the edge his seat.

Lafayette, who was sitting in the back of the car with him, must have noticed. “Mon ami,” he whispered. “All is well?”

Alex couldn’t answer, so he tried to flash Lafayette a small smile so the other boy would worry less. Lafayette glared at Alex for a moment, and Alex thought he’d finally done it. He’d finally annoyed Lafayette so much that he was done with him.

“I was not born yesterday, Alexander. I was born over sixteen years ago, actually,” he said with a smirk. Lafayette reached out and placed his hand on Alex’s. Alex transferred his grip on the seat to Lafayette’s warm hand.

George put the car in park and, with a sigh, unbuckled his seatbelt. “Okay, boys. Here we are.”

Alex remained frozen in his seat. Lafayette looked back and forth from Alex to George, who had turned to face the boys. Alex was so sure George was furious with him. How he’d behaved toward Alex at the park was all just an elaborate act to get him to come back to the house.

“Um, George, puis-je avoir un mot avec vous?”

George nodded. Lafayette squeezed Alex’s hand once before letting go and getting out of the car with George. They both shut their doors, leaving Alex, who was still buckled in, in relative silence for a moment.

Alex sighed, then dropped his head into his hands. He had no idea how he was going to make this better; how he could downplay what had happened. You shouldn’t have run, idiot. You should’ve made something up. You really did lose those fancy words of yours, didn’t you? the voice snickered. Alex sighed again.

He tried to listen to what Lafayette and George were saying, but they were talking so low that their words sounded like a continuous monotone mumble. Finally, Alex’s door opened. Before he could register what was happening, Lafayette reached in and unbuckled him.

“Come on, mon ami. We are going inside. You will talk with George, but it will all be okay. Je promets.” He gently pulled the smaller boy from the car and looped an arm around his shoulder, guiding Alex into the house as if he were injured.

Alex was too tired to wriggle out of Lafayette’s grasp or to protest talking with George. What was the point of tricking them, anyway? If they were going to send him away, he might as well let it happen before he gets really attached to anyone. Though he felt unbelievably sad at the thought of losing Lafayette already. And that boy, John Laurens… No. You’d only hurt him. Ruin him, the voice reminded him. It’s not right, anyway.

Lafayette led Alex into the house then into the living room. He left for a moment, returning with a juice box, which he handed to Alex. “Drink this,” he commanded. Alex obliged. Lafayette sat down next to him on the couch. “Mon ami, I am going to leave, but I will only be two rooms over, in the kitchen, d’accord?”

“Okay,” Alex said weakly.

Lafayette grinned at him and then gently ruffled Alex’s hair, which had mostly fallen out of his ponytail. “Hmm, we will fix your hair when you are done speaking with George,” he said in his French accent.

Alex couldn’t help but smile.

Lafayette left and Alex was alone for a moment. His mind was racing. What would he say to George? How could he explain all of this in a way that wouldn’t make George and Martha want to return him to the agency at the crack of dawn the following day?

He couldn’t help but think back to the first time he’d had an anxiety attack. It had been an awful, awful day…

 

It was the day of his mother’s funeral. Alexander was barely over his own illness, but he knew they had to move quickly. It wasn’t anything fancy. There was no way he could afford that. He had only been able to get his mother the simplest casket and smallest grave stone. There was no church service, either–– only a blessing of the casket before the burial, held in front of the open grave at the cemetery. Alex stood with a minister and his newly assigned social worker, Ms. Ramos. She had kindly brought a few roses for Alex to place on his mother’s casket.

After the minister said his bit–– which Alex couldn’t remember even the second after it ended–– he was prompted to place the flowers on the shiny wood of the casket. He held out a shaking hand, dropping on one flower, then a second. Me and you, he thought to his mother. If only we were actually together. In either realm. Why did you leave me behind? Why did I let you die? That was when his throat began to tighten. He felt like he was choking. He wanted to claw at his throat, his chest. He needed air. He needed it so badly.

Alexander? Ms. Ramos said. Are you okay? She tentatively placed her hand on the boy’s shoulder.

Alex was grabbing at his throat. I-I can’t–– he tried to say, but his panic was swallowing his words.

Let’s sit down, Kiddo, the minister said, moving toward Alex and guiding him to the cold, damp grass.

Alex buried his head in his knees and began to sob. He was alone. He was entirely alone. His mother had left him. He had left her. He felt someone gently rubbing his back and heard someone else telling him to breathe. But he didn’t want to. He wished he could just stop. How much simpler everything would be.

But he had survived. He knew this was he price he had to pay for living while his mother had died. He deserved it. He deserved it and so much more.

 

“Son?” George said. The man was kneeling in front of Alexander.

Alex briefly met George’s eyes and then shifted his gaze away. He could feel color rising in his cheeks. He did not want this to be happening.

“I know this isn’t easy to talk about, but I think we should have a little chat, okay?” He placed a hand on Alex’s shoulder, causing Alex to look up at him again. “You’re safe here. You can’t say anything that’s going to scare me. I promise.”

Alex wanted to believe him, but how could he? He didn’t really know the man. Lafayette seemed to trust George, and even though Alex didn’t know Lafayette too well yet, he liked him… He was too tired to lie, anyway. He was much too tired. Alex sighed.

George stood and took at seat in the arm chair across from the couch. He sat there in an easy silence, as if he had all day, even though Alex knew he must have so much work to do, but, instead of getting started on it, he was stuck here with this messed up foster kid, who he was going to want to return in a moment, anyway.

“Sometimes it feels like I can’t breathe,” Alex said, his voice just above a whisper. He was afraid he’d have to repeat himself, but when he looked up, George was nodding.

“Can you elaborate a bit for me, son?” How did George manage to sound so calm?

Alex’s palms were itchy with sweat. He began to nervously scratch at them. “Well, it usually happens when something bad is happening, or…” Alex let his voice trail off. Shit! he thought. He hadn’t meant to say “or.” He didn’t want to tell George about the voice because then he’d have to explain where it came from.

“Or?” George prompted him.

This is what happens when you open that mouth of yours, the voice mocked him.

“Or when…” Alex’s hands started to fidget uncontrollably. He felt his throat closing up. He was beginning to feel disconnected from everything around him.

Suddenly George’s hands were on his shoulders and George was telling Alexander to breathe. He was saying it was all going to be okay, that Alex didn’t have to handle this on his own and that he was proud of Alex for telling him.

P-proud? That one word broke through his panic and began circulating in his mind. How can he be proud of me when I’m like this? Alex shut his eyes. He didn’t exactly believe George, but this family was all he had. If what George said was true, then he wasn’t going to send Alex back to the agency just yet. And while Alex was certain this would not be their last conversation of this sort, he was safe for now, and that was enough to make him calm down and get his breathing back under control.

When he opened his eyes, George was staring at him, a concerned expression on his face. He’s probably wondering how he can nicely get rid of you, the voice said. But then George offered Alex a small smile.

“There you go, son.” He squeezed Alex’s shoulder. “Good job. I’m proud of you. We’re gonna get this all sorted out.”

Chapter Text

It was nearing 8 pm when Laurens’ phone finally chimed. He prayed it was a text from Lafayette and not just Hercules sending him random memes again.

Baguette: I am fine, mon ami. Sorry I worried you!

Baguette: It was Alexander

Laurens’ stomach was churning. What about Alexander? he wanted to scream at the screen.

Baguette: He had another moment, like earlier today

Baguette: He is okay, tho

Baguette: I know you were actually worried about him ;) 

Laurens’ freckled face flushed bright red even though Lafayette wasn’t actually there to say it to his face. Was he that obvious already?

Laurens: Thanks for letting me know, Laf.

Laurens: Of course I was worried. You’re both my friends.

You just met Alex this morning and you’re already calling him friend?

Baguette: Friends…

Baguette: Right…

Laurens: I just met him this morning, Laf.

Baguette: Oh mon ami… you don’t know how obvious you are, do you? Do not worry, I will not tell Alexander.

Baguette: And to answer your question from earlier this afternoon, no, he didn’t get a phone yet

Baguette: but he will tomorrow

Baguette: He won’t be in school, tho.

Laurens’ heart fell. He hadn’t wanted to admit to himself just how much he’d been looking forward to seeing Alexander again, but now that he knew he wouldn’t be seeing him the following morning, school felt useless. If he didn’t have his parents breathing down his neck about all his AP and honors courses, he would just skip.

Laurens: Oh, okay.

Baguette: But maybe…

Laurens stared at the screen waiting for another text. Nothing came. He rolled his eyes. Classic Lafayette.

Laurens: Laf! Come on, don’t be mean >:(

Baguette: ;) maybe you could come over tomorrow after school?

Laurens: Really?

Baguette: Yes, mon ami! I think it would do you both some good.

Laurens decided to ignore what Lafayette was intending in that last text. He just wanted to see Alexander. 

Laurens: I’m in.

 Now school was just a huge hurtle he had to jump in order to get to Alex. Knowing he’d see Alex the following day gave him the surge of energy he needed to get through his homework. After working for two hours, Laurens knew he’d reached his limit for the night.

He got up from his desk to get ready for bed when he caught sight of the torn and crumpled sketch he’d made of Alexander earlier. He smoothed the pieces out and studied Alex’s face. He went back to his desk and took a roll of tape out of one of the drawers.

Laurens spent the next half hour carefully taping the picture back together. When he was done, he placed it under a book in his desk drawer, hoping to flatten it out a bit more. It was nowhere near as good as it was before, but it was whole, and that was all he could ask for.

 

***

 

Even though he knew Alex wouldn’t be there, Laurens’ heart still sank a little when he saw Lafayette walking up the sidewalk toward the entrance of the school without Alexander.

“Laf!” Hercules called out.

Lafayette raised a hand in response. When he got closer, Laurens noticed how tired his friend looked.

“Mon ami,” Laurens said in an awful French accent. “What is, how you say, wrong?” Laurens and Hercules laughed.

Lafayette rolled his eyes, but Laurens could tell he was amused. “Laurens, sometimes you can barely speak one language, especially around a certain––”

“Okay, alright, we get it, Laf, I’m stupid!” Laurens cut Lafayette off. Laurens looked down at the ground, trying to hide how red his face was turning.

“Where is Laurens’ new love interest?” Hercules asked.

“GUYS!” Laurens shouted.

Lafayette tugged on Laurens’ curly ponytail. “Alexander is at home. He was up most of the night,” Lafayette said. “I know because I was there.” Lafayette yawned.

“Is he okay?” Laurens asked.

“Oui. Probably tired,” Lafayette said with a chuckle. “It was just nightmares.”

Laurens had a feeling Lafayette was downplaying things quite a bit, but he let it slide for the time being.

“Mes amis, we should go get our books, oui?” Lafayette said, beckoning the other two boys into the school.

Just as they were about to enter the building, Hercules stopped them.

“Wait, guys, it’s Eliza!” Hercules frantically waved both his arms over his head while jumping up and down. “ELIZAAAAA!” he hollered.

Eliza actually cracked a smile as she neared the boys. “Wow, that was some greeting,” she said. “Hey, Hercules.” She turned to Lafayette and Laurens. “And hi, Laf. Hi, John.” She furrowed her brow. “Where’s Alexander?”

“He’s at home. He’s sick,” Lafayette said a bit too quickly.

Eliza’s eyebrow shot up, but she didn’t press further. “Well, I’ll tell him what assignments and lessons he has to make up for our history class.”

“That would be magnifique, ma amie!” Lafayette said with a grin. “I will text you his number when he gets a phone.”

Eliza nodded. “Well, I should get ready for class. See you guys later,” she gave them a small wave and walked into the building.

She seemed a bit better than yesterday, but still nowhere near her cheery self.

“Come on, lover boy Laurens,” Hercules teased. “Ya love sick heart still hasta learn!” he clapped a hand on Laurens’ back, making the smaller boy stumble forward a bit. Hercules laughed. “Sorry, man!”

Laurens tugged at the bandana Hercules always wore around his head. “Oops, sorry, man!” he said with a smirk.

“Mes amis! Please, let us make it through the day without any injuries?” Lafayette groaned.

“No promises,” Hercules said, throwing an arm around John’s neck, trapping him so he could mess up his hair.

Lafayette sighed. “It is going to be a long day.”

Laurens, thinking of all the hours between him and Alexander, couldn’t help but agree. He wondered what was really going on with the other boy. Whatever it was, he hoped that by that afternoon he’d have some of the answers.

Chapter Text

Alexander was sitting in the passenger seat of the car as Martha Washington drove. They had just finished up at the doctor’s office. George had made a series of early morning calls to insure that Alex would get in that day, much to Alexander’s dismay. He much rather would have slipped through the cracks. Now he held a name and phone number in his hands. He didn’t even want to look at it. He didn’t want to call. He didn’t want to go.

The car came to a stop at a red light and Martha turned to Alexander, sighing sadly when she saw the look on his face. “Oh, Alex, it’s going to be okay, sweetie. You don’t know how many people see psychologists. It’s much more common than you probably think.” Martha tried to reassure him.

Against his will, tears began to well up in his eyes. Damn, kid, you sure are losing it, the familiar voice said with a laugh. Alex shut his eyes and tilted his head back, willing the tears to go away. It’d been a long day and he’d barely gotten any sleep the night before. Not that he’d planned on sleeping, anyway. He’d known that after the day he’d had, he’d only have nightmares…

 

He decided to work on some research for a paper he’d been assigned in English class all night and had just sat down at his desk when Lafayette knocked on his door.

“Mon ami,” the French boy called from the hallway.

“Come in,” Alex called.

Lafayette opened the door. He was about to say something, but stopped and frowned at Alexander. “Mon ami, aren’t you tired?”

Alex’s face started to burn. “Um, kind of?” He looked down at the book open in front of him, praying Lafayette would just give up and leave.

Lafayette walked over to Alex. “Mon ami, stop this. You must go to bed.” Lafayette shut the book, causing Alex to look up at him. The other boy had a stern but concerned look on his face.

“I’m fine,” Alex whispered.

“No, mon ami. This,” he gestured to Alex, who did, admittedly, look disheveled, “is not fine. We are going to bed.”

“We?” Alex said, startled.

“Oui. Get in your pajamas. I’ll wait outside the door.” Lafayette left before Alex could disagree, so the boy reluctantly did as he was told.

  He opened the door a moment later to find Lafayette leaning against the wall, a pillow under his arm. “Bonjour, mon ami,” he said with a grin. “Tonight, you will get some sleep.”

Lafayette wasn’t exactly right about that, though. After about a half hour of sleep, Alex woke Lafayette up with his thrashing and whimpering. Lafayette shook the other boy awake, and after that, Alex, who refused to talk about his dream, also refused to go back to sleep. Lafayette tried telling Alex stories and singing French lullabies, but nothing worked. Lafayette drifted off to sleep, Alexander curled up against his chest, refusing to let his eyes shut…

 

Alexander opened his eyes to find Martha was pulling the car into the Washington’s circular driveway. She was silent, her lips pursed, eyes glazed over as if she were thinking hard about something. When she parked the car, she turned to him with a smile on her face, but Alex could tell it was forced.

“Okay, Alex, here we are,” she said. “Home.” She unbuckled her seat belt, and Alex did the same.

“Sweetie,” she said once they had made it into the house. “Can I have that little slip of paper?” She gestured to the paper Alex had folded into as tiny a square as possible. The one with the name and number.

Ha, they’re gonna find out all of your dirty secrets, the voice reminded him. Then they’ll be done with you. You’ll be alone. Except for me, of course… Alex glanced at the ground as he handed it to her.

“Thanks, sweetie,” she said with a smile. “Can I get you lunch?”

“No, thanks, Mrs. Washington. I’m not very hungry.”

“Alexander, you barely touched breakfast,” she said, worry evident in her voice.

“I’m just not very hungry right now, is all,” he said quietly. He could tell she wanted to keep pushing, but thankfully she let him be.

“Okay, but I am going to check on you soon,” she warned him.

“Okay,” he whispered. With that, he disappeared up the stairs and climbed into his bed. He was so tired. So very, very tired. What could closing his eyes for one moment hurt, really? Maybe his dreams wouldn’t be so bad now. Or maybe he was so tired he wouldn’t even dream at all…

 

Alexander is standing in his new foster mother’s garden. She’s been nothing but kind to him so far, offering him homemade cookies and lemonade after Ms. Ramos left. His new foster mother, Ms. Clarke, has brown hair that comes to her shoulders, blue eyes, and pale skin. She likes to bake, garden, and listen to classical music. She has a nice, tidy room prepared for Alexander. The sheets on the bed are yellow with blue polka dots on them. She tells him they used to be her son’s. The way she says it, the look in her eyes, tells Alex that something tragic happened to her son, but she doesn’t elaborate. After showing him around the small house, she tells him to go out to the garden and enjoy the sun while she prepares dinner. He walks amongst roses and bumble bees, the sun warming his tan skin. For the first time since his mother died, he feels calm.

Then James comes home. Her boyfriend of five years. James in nothing like Ms. Clarke. He has greasy brown hair and there’s something unsettling in his eyes. He’s nice to Alexander that first night, but it doesn’t last. No. No calm ever lasts. There’s always the storm.

Alexander is in the garden. He is in the sun. Then there’s a shadow, a long, cold shadow. There’s a hand yanking his hair. There are the words. The words, the words, the words…

 

“Mon ami? Mon ami? Alexander!” Lafayette was shaking Alex’s shoulder.

Alex’s eyes flew open. Lafayette and Martha were hovering over him, concern and worry written all over their faces. Martha put a hand on Lafayette’s shoulder and whispered something to him. Lafayette nodded and made to leave the room, throwing Alex a concerned glance before shutting the door.

Martha cautiously sat on the edge of Alex’s bed. “Alex, sweetie, are you okay?”

“Y-yeah, why?” Alex stammered, glancing down at the quilt that was covering him.

“You were shouting in your sleep.” Martha’s voice was calm, but Alexander knew it was only a cover.

“Oh, sorry, Mrs. Washington,” he mumbled.

“Oh, Alexander, no, no, I’m not upset with you. It sounded like something bad was happening to you, and––” she stopped herself. “Well, I guess I wanted to see if you’d like to talk about it?”

“No, thank you,” Alex responded, still refusing to look up at Martha.

“Well, George and I are always here if you change your mind.” She stood and leaned over Alexander, placing a gentle kiss on the crown of his head. “I called, Alex.” She knelt down next to the bed, waiting for the boy to make eye contact with her. “You have an appointment Thursday at four.”

“This Thursday? As in the day after tomorrow?” Alex was shocked.

“Yes,” Martha said. Alexander could tell there was something she was holding back, but he wasn’t about to push her for it. “But we’ll talk more later,” she said, a smile returning to her face. “Should I tell Lafayette to come back in? He brought John with him.”

“Uh, yeah,” Alex stammered. John? As in John Laurens? Oh my god, did he hear me shouting? How can I ever look at him again? How can he want to be my friend after that? He barely knows me and now I’ve ruined any chance I had with him.

Alex didn’t have much time to compose himself before Lafayette burst into his room, followed by a timid John Laurens. Both Alexander and Laurens blushed when they set eyes on each other.

“Mon ami! I have been worried about you all day!” Lafayette exclaimed, practically throwing himself onto Alex’s bed. “And you gave us quite a fright when we came home. John heard you from down the hall, in my room.”

Alexander’s face flamed bright red. “Oh, o-oh, I’m s-sorry,” he stammered. He wanted to bury his face in his pillow, fall asleep, then wake up and realize this was all some kind of dream; a new kind of nightmare.

“Hey, not need to apologize,” Laurens said. He gave Alexander one of his signature easy smiles and walked over toward the other two boys. “Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah,” Alex said.

“Then that’s what matters,” Laurens said. He gestured to the bed, as if he were asking to sit down. Alex nodded his head vigorously, maybe a little too much so, because Lafayette snickered.

“So, mes amis, we should do something fun,” Lafayette suggested.

“Fun? I have to make up all my work,” Alex protested.

“Alexander! You are going to have fun with us.” Lafayette stated, glaring at the smaller boy. “How about we bake?”

Alexander was about to protest again, insisting that he had some readings he really needed to get to, but then his stomach growled, causing the other two boys to burst into a fit on laughter.

“We have a ‘yes’ from Alexander’s stomach!” Lafayette exclaimed. “And you, my dear Laurens?”

“Sure, it’ll be fun,” he said with a shrug.

“Magnifique! Let us go downstairs!”

Once the three boys were in the kitchen, it became clear that Lafayette was actually going to be doing the baking. Lafayette had quickly steered Alex to one of the kitchen chairs and sat him down, but not before draping a blanket over the small boy’s shoulders. Laurens helped with a few measurements at first, but then Lafayette got too frustrated with him and shoed him away, as well.

Laurens joined Alexander at the table. They watched Lafayette pour, measure, and mix various ingredients, all while humming different French pop tunes under his breath and performing a few dances moves.

“He’s too much,” John said with a laugh, jabbing his thumb in Laf’s direction.

Alex nodded his head and giggled.

“I missed you at school today,” Laurens said, his voice soft, his eyes sad. “Are you really doing okay?”

“Um,” Alex tried to think of a lie, but all he could hear in his head was Laurens missed me! Laurens missed me! Laurens missed me!

“Hey,” Laurens said, sliding his hands toward Alex across the table. He turned them up, motioning for Alex to put his there.

Alex blushed as his fingers made contact with Laurens’. If Laurens noticed, he didn’t say anything.

“I want you to be honest with me, Alexander. I’m not sure what your life was like before, but I can tell you’re going through some stuff, and I’ve been through some stuff, too, so don’t think you can scare me, okay?”

What has Laurens been through? Alex wondered. He nodded his head in agreement as the question circulated through his mind.

“So, how are you doing, Alex?” Laurens asked, a tiny smile on his face.

“Not so great,” Alex whispered, looking down at the table, a blush once again consuming his face. Then he caught sight of their interlocked hands and began to blush even more.

“Do you wanna talk about any of it?” John asked. Just as he finished asking, the front door to the house opened. Alex quickly pulled his hands away from Laurens’ and hid them under his blanket.

George walked down the hallway, a briefcase in hand, exhaustion written all over his features. “Hello, there, boys,” he said. “Mmm, Gilbert, whatever you are baking smells delicious.”

“Merci, George!” Lafayette said with a grin. There was some flour stuck to his nose and a few of his curls.

George smiled fondly at the boy and opened his arms for a hug. After he’d embraced Lafayette and cleaned the flour off of his face and head, he turned to Alex and Laurens.

“John, always a pleasure to see you here,” George said.

“It’s great to be here, sir,” Laurens replied, that classic easy smile gracing his face.

“Alexander, my boy,” George said. The look he gave Alex was different from the looks he’d given Lafayette and Laurens. His eyes seemed to grow sadder as he looked at the small boy. This made Alex shrink into himself a bit more.

Instead of saying anything, George knelt down in front of Alex, setting his briefcase on the floor. He opened his arms, as he had to Lafayette. When Alex just stared at him, he said “come here, son.”

Alex hesitated for a moment, but then he reached out to hug George, who held on longer than Alex had expected, as if he was afraid the boy would disappear when he let go. Once he did let go, he opened up his briefcase.

“I’ve got something for you, Alex,” George said with a smile. He held out a plastic shopping bag.

Alex tentatively took it and opened it, his jaw dropping when he saw what was inside. He pulled out a brand new iPhone, still sealed in its box. “Oh-oh my god,” the boy exclaimed. “For me?” he looked up at George in disbelief.

“It’s all yours, son,” the man said, grinning at the evident delight in Alexander’s eyes.

“Thank you so much!” Alex said. Before he could think himself out of it, he threw his arms around George’s shoulders.

The man was quick to hug him back. “I think your friends will be happy to set it up for you,” he said.

Laurens nodded his head in agreement. Once George left the room, Laurens descended upon Alex while Lafayette finished up baking. He helped program in all their cell numbers, showed Alex some cool apps, and taught him how to find the emojis he wanted.

Alex stared more at Laurens’ face than the screen throughout the whole lesson, though. A small smile crossed his face. For the first time all day, he actually felt happy.

 

***

 

After dinner–– which consisted of some Chinese food Martha ordered and made sure Alexander ate–– Lafayette and Laurens finally admitted they should do some homework. Alexander was about to join them when George placed a hand on his shoulder.

“Son, can Martha and I speak with you for a moment? It’s just about these next few days.” He motioned for Alex to follow them back into the kitchen.

They’re going to send you back. They’re just worried you’ll take it really hard so they bought you the phone to soften the blow. Who would want such a smart-ass like your worthless self around, anyway? You thought you had a shot here? You had the audacity to think for one moment that you might belong here, with these kind and amazing people? You think––

Someone was shaking him and trying to tell him something. The person’s voice was gentle, but far away. Alex had his hands over his ears and his eyes were shut so tightly little tears were forming.

“Alex, sweetie?” Martha said, standing in front of Alex, gently shaking his shoulders.

“Son?” George echoed.

Alex slowly blinked open his eyes.

“You’re okay, Alex, you’re okay,” Martha said soothingly, rubbing the boy’s arm.

“I didn’t mean to frighten you, son,” George said, guilt evident in his eyes.

Alex wanted to tell him it wasn’t his fault at all. It wasn’t George’s fault he was so broken. But Alex couldn’t think straight. The voice had been cut off, but was still echoing in his head. Then there were Martha and George, who were being so kind to him, trying to talk to him. It was all too confusing. He wanted to curl up and never see the light of day again.

Martha guided Alex to a chair and pulled out the one next to him for herself. George sat across the table from them.

“Son, you can’t go back to school just yet,” George said firmly. By the look in his eyes he expected Alex to react negatively to this news. He may not have known the boy for very long yet, but he knew this was a kid who couldn’t be kept from school without a fight.

“Why? Did they not accept my paperwork yet?” Alex asked, finally finding his voice again.

“No, you’re all registered, sweetie, it’s just…” Martha looked down at her hands for a moment. “Alex, you need to gain a little more strength, okay? We’re very worried about you.” When she looked up at the boy, she had tears in her eyes.

Alex wanted the floor to open up and swallow him whole. He hated that he’d come into their lives with his issues, causing these amazing people so much worry and stress over a kid they barely knew.

“I’m fine,” Alex said quickly. “I really am. I can go. You don’t need to worry. I’m sorry if I scared you, but I’m okay.”

“Alexander,” George began. “We know that’s not true. You’re underweight, for starters, and you can barely sleep.”

Alex shot George a confused look.

“Gilbert told us about last night. He was worried, Alexander. And then there was this afternoon…”

Alex’s face glowed red with shame.

Martha rubbed small circles on Alex’s back. “It’s okay, Alex, you’ve been through so much. We just want to give you a few days of rest, okay? This isn’t a punishment or anything of that sort. It’s for your health, so you can go back to school in tiptop shape.” Her voice was a bit too cheery. Alex knew something was up. But what could he do? He was outnumbered.

“Okay,” he whispered.

“It’s just for the rest of this week, son,” George reassured him once more. “Then you’ll be feeling better and back at it. Just you wait.”

But Alex had never been good at waiting. That’s one of the things that had gotten him in so much trouble. The Washingtons didn’t know that, though. And he planned to keep it that way.

Chapter Text

As Alexander ascended the stairs, Laurens poked his head out of Lafayette’s room. “Hey, Alex!” he waved before meeting the boy in the hall. “Can I hang with you? Laf is playing his obnoxious pop music and refuses to turn it down.”

Alex heard the familiar beat of Lafayette’s current favorite song. He hugged the blanket closer to himself and nodded his head. John Laurens wants to spend time with me? He took a deep breath and tried his best to play it cool, but after the conversation he’d just had with the Washingtons, that wasn’t an easy feat. “Of course. Come on.”

John followed Alex into his room. Alex shut the door then sat on his bed. He was exhausted. There was no denying it. But part of him was electrified by having Laurens so near him.

Laurens was holding a book he needed to read for English class. “Can I sit, too?” He gestured to the bed.

“Of course,” Alex said, moving over even though he didn’t have to.

“So will you be back in school tomorrow?” Laurens asked as he flipped through the pages of his book. He seemed to be just over halfway done with it.

“Um, no,” Alex whispered.

“Oh, that’s too bad.” Laurens sounded disappointed.

He’s just acting, the voice said. But Alex wondered why Laurens would elect to spend time with him if he didn’t want to be his friend. Lafayette begged him to, the voice quickly refuted. Alex just sank further into himself. He was too tired to keep disputing it.

“You still not feeling well?” Laurens asked. He’d placed the book facedown on his lap, opened to whatever page he must have left off on.

“I feel fine,” Alex lied. “It’s Mr. and Mrs. Washington. They want me to take the rest of the week off for some reason.” Alex didn’t mean to sound so harsh, but he was upset. He felt as if he’d been completely disregarded; like he was just a puppet in the Washingtons’ play.

“Did they give a reason?” John cocked his head, concern evident on his face.

Alexander flopped backward so his head was lying on his pillow. “Well, yeah.” Alex said with a sigh.

“What did they say?” John flopped down next to Alex as if it was no big deal, but Alex’s heart began to race like crazy, and this time not just from anxiety. John Laurens is lying next to me right now, he kept thinking.

“Uh, um…” and now his heart was racing from anxiety. He couldn’t think of a lie fast enough, so with a sigh, he decided to tell the truth.

Well, it was nice having friends for a bit, wasn’t it? Got a taste of the good life, didn’t ya now, kid? And now it’s over. It never should have begun in the first place…

John was shaking Alex’s shoulders. “Hey, where’d you go?” His face was hovering over Alex’s. A few tendrils of Laurens’ curly brown hair had fallen lose from his ponytail and were hanging down, tickling Alex’s cheeks.

“Sorry, just tired,” Alex said as casually as possible.

Laurens stared at the boy a moment longer before settling down next to him again with a sigh.

“Anyway, um, they said…” Alex took a deep breath. “They said I need to gain more strength before I can go. I need to sleep more, and I guess eat more.”

Laurens turned so he was looking at Alex. Alex steadfastly avoided John’s gaze.

“You know, that’s actually a pretty good reason,” Laurens finally said. “It sounds like they just want to give you a chance to adjust.”

“Bullshit!” Alex exclaimed. “They don’t know me! I need to be in school. I need to keep working. I can’t just sit around and do nothing or––” Alex stopped himself, his face flaring red as he realized how bold he was being. He hadn’t acted like this in so long, since his mom was still alive, in fact.

“Or what?” Laurens prompted.

“Or I’ll go crazy,” Alex said with a sigh.

“Hey, any time you feel like you might be going crazy, just text me, okay?” Laurens smiled at Alexander. “I’m already crazy, so I’ll be able to tell you if you’re joining me or not,” he said with a wink and a laugh.

Alex stared at him in confusion and disbelief for a moment. He wanted to believe the other boy’s offer to help was genuine, but he was afraid to. But there was something in John’s eyes that just seemed to be begging Alex to say yes, so he nodded his head and smiled back at Laurens.

That made Laurens' smile grow even wider. “Besides, you’ve got Laf to keep you company in the afternoon and evening, and if you’re not sick on me, I can always pop in.” Laurens tried to sound casual as he said this, but Alex could tell by the way Laurens avoided eye contact that he was nervous.

“I’d really like that,” Alex heard himself whisper. He hugged the blanket closer to himself and shivered.

Laurens scrunched his face up at the boy, then, to Alex’s surprise, put the inside of his wrist to Alex’s forehead. “Hmm, you aren’t warm. But you’re cold?”

“Oh, no, I’m fine,” Alex said, still shivering.

Laurens smiled at the boy. “Well, I gotta finish reading this darn book for tomorrow, so what if you just scoot over toward me a bit and I can warm you up––” Alex gave him a look that made John add “not that you’re cold! But I can make you even warmer while I read.”

Even if he wasn’t cold, there was no way Alexander was going to turn down Laurens. Even though the voice was screaming at him, that he didn’t deserve it, he didn’t deserve someone as good as Laurens, he still moved closer to Laurens, who then repositioned the smaller boy so his head was tucked between Laurens' shoulder and head, one of Laurens’ arms looped under him, holding him close, the other arm holding the book up.

As electrified as Alexander felt, he also felt cozy, and finally warm, and a little tired…

He almost immediately drifted off to sleep, and, this time, there was only one other person in his dreams: a brown-haired, freckled boy with an easy smile.

 

***

 

Alexander woke up to a dark room and whispers. He was in someone’s arms. Who was it? He didn’t want to shift to see because he wanted to first make out what the people around him were talking about. He picked out Martha and George’s voices easily. Were they talking to Laf? There was no French accent. Then he remembered. He’d fallen asleep on Laurens. But why was Laurens still here when it was so dark out? 

“It’s nearly nine now, John,” George whispered. “Let me drive you home.”

“I can walk, sir,” John whispered back.

“No, no, John. Let George take you,” Martha insisted.

“Is Alex gonna be okay?” Was that fear in his voice?

“Yes. Don’t you worry,” Martha reassured the freckled boy.

“Let me talk to you in the car, son,” George added.

Laurens began to move, so Alex quickly shut his eyes again and pretended he was still asleep. Laurens was so gentle as he slid his arm out from under Alex, then tucked the quilt around the smaller boy. Just when Alex thought John was about to walk away, he felt lips brush against his forehead.

“Night, Alex. Please feel better soon,” Laurens whispered before walking out of the room. It sounded as if George and Martha followed the other boy out, shutting the door behind them.

Alexander wanted to cry. He hated that he was making the Washingtons, Laurens, and Lafayette all worry about him. Why couldn’t they leave him largely on his own to make his way through life, struggles and all, like his previous foster parents had? Why did they pretend to care so much? Why hadn’t they given up the act yet?

Maybe it’s not an act, Alex dared to think.

Yeah, right, and the earth is flat, the voice snickered.

Alex drew his hands over his ears and began to take in ragged breaths. It was always so much worse at night. There were fewer distractions. Nobody was around. It was just him and the voice and he was too tired to fight it. Just when he felt it would begin to consume him, a different voice broke through the still darkness of his room.

“Alexander? Are you awake?”

Alex froze. Martha was still in the room?

“It’s okay, sweetie, it’s just Martha.” He felt his bed dip down as she sat next to him. “Can you sit up for me?”

Alex slowly did as he was asked, keeping his eyes shut. God, he was so embarrassed.

I bet they sure regret taking you in, the voice said.

“Stop!” Alexander exclaimed. He gasped when he realized he’d said it out loud.

“I’m not doing anything, Alex,” Martha said, the concern in her voice evident.

Ha, she thinks you’re crazy now. I bet as soon as she leaves she’ll call CPS…

“I’m not crazy,” Alex whispered.

“Shhh, I know, I know,” Martha said, pulling the small boy toward her and rubbing little circles on his back. “You’ve been through so much, Alex. You’ve been through so, so much. I know this might be hard for you, but there’s something I need you to try to understand.”

“Wh-what?” Alex stammered, fear coursing through his veins as his brain flicked through all the possibilities of what she might say: you actually are crazy; we’re not sure we’re equip to handle someone like you; you’re permanently damaged by what’ve you gone through and we want someone untainted; you just need to snap out of it; stop being so dramatic; it’s all in your head…

“I need you to know you’re safe here,” Martha said, her voice calm, strong, and even. “We–– George, Lafayette, and I–– all really care about you. I want you to feel like you can come to us with your problems, okay?”

Alex was silent for a moment. Did he dream that up? No. Martha was right here, sitting next to him, still rubbing tiny, calming circles into his back. This was not a dream.

She’s lying, the voice said.

But why? Alex snapped back. Why would she lie? The voice started to supply a reason, but for the second time that evening, Alexander refused to listen. Instead, he listened to Martha.

“Okay, sweetie? We’re here for you.”

“Okay,” he whispered. “Th-thank you.”

Martha pulled him close and kept rubbing small circles on his back while softly humming to him. For the second time that day, Alexander fell asleep in peace.

Chapter Text

When Alexander woke up the next morning, something was wrong. He sat up in bed, trying to figure out what wasn’t right. Then he realized it was too quiet. It was much too quiet. Why hadn’t Lafayette burst into his room to get him up for school? Why didn’t he hear the French boy’s pop music from down the hall?

Alex grabbed his new phone to check the time. It was 9:36 in the morning. He felt his throat constrict. He was really missing school. The Washingtons hadn’t been bluffing.

He sunk back down in his bed and pulled the covers over his head. This was his worst nightmare–– being alone with his thoughts. Why couldn’t they just let him go to school? Then, an idea crossed his mind. He could go to school. It wasn’t far. He could walk and make it in time for third period if he got out the door within the next few minutes.

He jumped out of his bed and ran over the the closet, pulling on some jeans and a sweater. He swung his backpack over his shoulder. He would just have to convince Laf not to say a word about this to the Washingtons. He could probably get the boy to agree to that, or he at least hoped he could.

With that, Alexander bounded down the stairs and rushed toward the door.

“Alex?” a voice called from the kitchen.

Alex froze in his tracks. Didn’t Martha have work today? Why was she home? He heard footsteps coming toward him.

“Alexander,” Martha said, her voice sad. “What are you doing?”

He couldn’t turn and face her. He just couldn’t. He was disobeying her and George. He would certainly be in trouble now.

You always manage to fuck up everything, don’t ya? the voice said. You stupid, rash kid. You think you’re so much smarter than everyone else. No wonder everyone hates you.

“Alexander?” Martha said again. She moved so she was in front of the boy. She must have seen the look of horror on his face because she kindly smiled at him. “Come with me, sweetie,” she said, gently taking him by the arm and guiding him to the kitchen, where she sat him down in a chair after taking off his backpack for him.

She put the kettle on and pulled some bread out of the fridge. “I had a feeling you’d try to do something like that, so I decided to work from home today.”

Alex shrunk into himself. “I-I’m so-sorry,” he stammered.

Martha clucked her tongue at the boy as she went about putting two pieces of bread in the toaster. “Well, you shouldn’t have tried to run off like that, but I suppose trying to sneak out of the house to go to school is the best reason to be sneaking out,” she said with a chuckle. “But Alex…”

She paused as she pulled the toasted bread out of the slots of the toaster and slathered them with butter and jam. She set the toast and a cup of orange juice in front of Alexander, who just stared down at them as if he’d never seen toast or juice before.

“I need you to understand that this is for your health,” she continued.

“Okay,” he said weakly.

“No, Alex, do you understand?” She stared at Alexander until he met her gaze.

“No,” he whispered. “I don’t. I’m not sick.”

Martha held up a finger and went to retrieve the kettle, which had begun to wail on the stove. She poured the boiling water over a tea bag and took the mug over to the table with her. She sat down across from Alexander, the steam from the tea fogging up her glasses for a moment.

“You’re not sick in the way we tend to think of illness, no,” she said. “But you aren’t well, either, Alex, sweetie.” She twirled the tea bag by its string for a moment before continuing. “I don’t know exactly what you’ve been through, but I have the basics,” she said, her voice soft. “And I know you never received any counseling after the death of your mother,” she added.

“I don’t need counseling,” Alex said a bit too quickly.

Martha glanced up at the boy, his dark curls still loose in his rush to get out of the house and to school, dark circles under his eyes.

“There’s nothing wrong with talking to someone,” she said.

“I don’t need to,” Alexander repeated.

Martha was silent for a moment and sat there, just looking into her cup of tea. Finally, her eyes met Alexander’s. “Alex, it’s not okay for you to be suffering the way you are right now. You don’t have to suffer. You deserve to be able to sleep, eat, be happy, worry less…” Her voice trailed off. “You do need to see someone,” she said firmly. “And it’s not a punishment. It’s like going to a doctor when you’re sick.”

“But I’m not!” Alex was getting tired of this. The more they talked about this the worse the feeling in his throat got, but he didn’t want it to show.

Martha sighed, but she smiled at him, her eyes sadder than they’d been before. “You’re still going tomorrow, Alex.” She was firm, but not in a mean way–– something Alex wasn’t familiar with.

Martha took a sip of her tea. “Have some toast?” She gestured toward Alex’s plate.

The feeling in his throat made him feel like if he tried to eat, the food would get stuck there, choking him. But if he couldn’t do this wasn’t he just proving Martha right?

Alex picked up one of the pieces of the toast. He stared at it for a moment before slowly raising it to his mouth and taking a minuscule bite. He chewed it for much longer than he needed to then quickly followed it with a big gulp of orange juice to insure it wouldn’t lodge in his throat.

“Are you okay, sweetie?” Martha stared at Alexander, the concern in her eyes evident.

Alex looked up at the woman, remembering her words to him last night. She’d asked him to trust her. To tell her when something was wrong. But could he really? What if the more he revealed about himself the more she and George would secretly regret taking in Alexander?

“Alex, please, talk to me.” There was a pleading look in her eyes.

“I feel like I’m choking,” the boy finally whispered.

“Do you feel like that often?” Martha didn’t seem shocked, and that shocked Alex.

“Uh, um, yeah, I guess.” He shrugged, trying to downplay it.

“That has to be really uncomfortable,” Martha said with a sympathetic look.

Alexander shrugged again, a blush rising to his tan face. “Yeah, um, I guess it is.”

“It’s gonna get better, Alex,” Martha said. She sounded so sure. Alexander had no idea how she could be so certain. She hadn’t even known him long. “Tell the therapist tomorrow, okay?”

Alex sighed. “Okay.” He was too tired to keep fighting. He would go, but he didn’t need to. He was fine. He was coping. He could play along for now, though. It was the least he could do for the Washingtons. Soon they’d see–– he was perfectly okay.

 

***

 

Martha did some work from home into the early afternoon and then told Alexander she was running out to the store. She smirked as she added “I expect to find you here when I get back.”

Alex’s face turned red, but Martha only laughed before heading out the door. When Martha returned a half hour later, she had only one thing with her. She greeted Alex in the kitchen, where he was working on a school assignment, with a small potted plant.

“This is for you, Alexander,” she said with a smile. “I’m really proud of how you opened up to me this morning, and I wanted to show you how much I appreciate your trust.” She set the plant down in front of him. “It’s a little palm tree,” she said. “Something tropical to remind you of home.”

Alex’s eyes filled with tears. It was the nicest thing anyone aside from his own mother had ever done for him. “Th-thank you,” he said, throwing his arms around Martha’s shoulders.

She hugged the boy close to her. “You’re so welcome,” she said. When she pulled back she placed a kiss on Alex’s forehead. “Why don’t you bring it upstairs? It likes the sun,” she said with a smile.

Alex nodded and carried his new friend up to his room. He’d just finished settling the plant in and learning everything he could from a quick google search about the care of small palm trees when he heard voices booming from downstairs followed by the stomping of feet on the staircase.

There was a knock on his door. “Mon ami! It is me! And Laurens and Hercules!”

“Come in!” Alex called out. He was seated in his rolling chair next to his plant when the door burst open.

“Woah, man, what’s that?” Hercules pointed to the small plant.

“A palm tree from Martha.” Alex couldn’t hide the grin that spread over his face.

Hercules stared intensely at the plant for a moment before he sprang to life again. “His name should be Alexander Palmilton! It’s perfect, man!”

The group of boys burst out belly-laughing.

“Do-does the pot have a name?” Laurens asked once he’d stopped laughing.

Alex picked it up and examined it. It was a brown pot that looked like it was braided, but was actually entirely solid. He noticed a small sticker on the bottom, where the price had once been. “It says ‘CHARLEIGH POT, 8”’ so I guess the pot’s name is Charleigh?”

“Alexander Palmilton and Charleigh…” Laf said. “Oui, mon ami! Oui!”

The boys began to laugh again. Alex looked at the plant, then at his new friends. For the first time in so long, he felt surrounded by love. He never wanted the feeling to end.

Chapter Text

John Laurens had fallen asleep with Alexander curled up on him, his hand still in the smaller boy’s hair, which he’d been playing with while reading his book. His book. Shit, he thought. Looks like I’ll be Sparknoting this one tonight.

Just then, Alex’s bedroom door cracked open. George poked his head in, then entered the room, followed by Martha.

“It’s nearly nine now, John,” George whispered. He approached the two boys, a look of worry washing over him as his eyes fell on Alex’s face.

Laurens looked down at the sleeping boy. Alexander looked so tired. Much more tired than any teenager should ever look. Even in his sleep the boy looked worried.

George broke the silence once again. “Let me drive you home.”

“I can walk, sir,” John quickly whispered back, a blush rising to his freckled face. He knew George wasn’t like his father, but still. The thought of being alone with a man in a car, especially at night…

“No, no, John. Let George take you,” Martha insisted.

Laurens was about to refuse again when he saw the worry on Martha’s face. He knew it wasn’t all because of him–– he was guessing that the majority of it was because of the boy who was curled up against him–– but he knew he wasn’t helping. He reluctantly nodded his head yes.

He then plucked up the bravery to ask the question that’d been plaguing him all night. “Is Alex gonna be okay?”

“Yes. Don’t you worry,” Martha said a bit to forcibly and quickly, as if she herself were trying to believe it.

“Let me talk to you in the car, son,” George added, gesturing for Laurens to follow him out the door.

He’s not like your father, Laurens repeated over and over to himself in his mind. He is not. He is different. He is good.

Laurens gently slid his arm out from under Alex and then tucked the quilt around the smaller boy. In a split-second decision, he leaned over and gently kissed Alexander’s forehead.

“Night, Alex,” he whispered to the sleeping boy. “Please feel better soon.” Laurens stared at Alexander for just a few seconds longer before scooping his backpack up off the floor and turning toward the door, following George out.

Martha waved goodnight to Laurens, but stayed behind in Alex’s room. It was just Laurens and George now.

They were silent as they left the house and got in the car. Laurens set his backpack on his lap once he was buckled in the passenger seat, holding it tightly against his chest as if it could protect him.

George flicked on his headlights, turned on the Subaru, and pulled out of the driveway. Once they were on the road, he began to speak.

“I’m sure Alexander told you he won’t be in school for a few days,” George said.

“Yes, sir,” Laurens responded, trying to hide the fear in his voice. He is not your father. He is not your father.

“Please, call me George,” the other man said, offering Laurens a small smile.

Dad would never smile at one of my friends like that, Laurens thought to himself.

“But as I was saying, Alexander isn’t going to be in school for a few days,” George continued. “Martha and I are concerned about his health and his mental wellbeing.”

“Can I do anything to help, sir–– I mean, um, George?” Laurens stammered, feeling so embarrassed he wished he could bury his face in his backpack and disappear.

“Just spending time with him is the biggest help in the world, John. I want to thank you for that. I can tell he likes you a lot already.”

“Really?” Laurens was stunned. How could George tell?

“The boy doesn’t like to open up, if you haven’t noticed.”

Laurens chuckled. He was really warming up to George.

“But he told you about our conversation with him right away. He trusts you. He likes to spend time around you. And who wouldn’t? You’re a kind and intelligent young man, John.”

Laurens felt his face burn red. “T-thank you, sir, I mean George,” he stammered.

George pulled into the boy’s driveway and put the car in park. “You have a key to get in?”

“Oh, yes,” Laurens said. He looked up at his house. All the windows were dark. It wasn’t like he’d expected his father to wait up, but still… He couldn’t ignore the hurt the ripped through him. He vaguely wondered if George noticed. By the man’s creased brow, he supposed he did.

“Okay then, John. I hope we’ll be seeing you tomorrow?”

“I’m sure you will,” Laurens said with a cautious smile.

George’s face lit up. “Wonderful! See you soon, my boy.”

“See you tomorrow,” Laurens said as he hopped out of the car. He slammed the door shut and waved to George.

As he walked up to the door of his house, he realized George hadn’t backed out of the driveway yet. He glanced back at the man, who had his eyes on Laurens. George gave him another bright smile. Laurens offered the man a small smile as he put his key in the door and twisted the knob open.

He turned back and waved one last time to George, who waved again before backing his car down the driveway.

Laurens’ house may have been dark and cold when he arrived home, but his heart was warm. No adult had ever shown him so much kindness before. He smiled to himself. He really liked George after all.

Chapter Text

Alexander sat next to Martha in the waiting room. Martha was flipping through a magazine she’d brought with her as if this were any other day, but Alexander noticed the subtle and quick glances directed his way.

He was much too anxious to try and read a magazine, so instead he looked around the room. There were photos of smiling children of all races on the walls, a shelf full of picture books and well-worn toys, and a white machine right by the only other door aside from the one Martha and Alexander had come through, letting out a loud whooshing noise.

Just as Alexander was attempting to figure out what the contraption was, the large wooden door across from where he and Martha were seated finally opened. “Alexander Hamilton?” the woman who emerged said.

The woman was a few inches taller than Alexander and had tight, puffy curls in every shade of brown. Her skin was a deep brown, making the light yellow dress she wore even brighter looking.

Martha smiled and stood up, holding her hand out to the woman. “That’s us. Alexander is my foster son. I’m Martha Washington. We spoke on the phone,” she said.

“Yes! It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Washington.” The woman shook Martha’s hand, a large smile on her face. “And you must be Alexander?” She turned to the wide-eyed boy and held out her hand. “I’m Dr. Harper. It’s great to meet you.”

Alexander took her hand and gave it a small, timid shake. Remember when you knew how to shake someone’s hand? the voice said. Ha! She probably thinks you’re weak already.

Alexander simply kept staring at her, a slight grimace on his face. She was still smiling widely at him.

She looked up at Martha for a moment. “Well, Alexander and I will go get started. We’ll be out in about forty-five minutes, just so you know, in case you want to run some errands while we’re chatting.”

“I’ll be staying right here,” Martha said, nodding slightly to Alexander. For some reason, that calmed his racing heart just a bit.

“Okay,” Dr. Harper said with another smile. “Come on in, Alexander.” She opened the door for him.

He scrambled inside, taking in the sunny room. There was a blue couch with some matching pillows on it in front of one set of windows, a desk to the left of the couch, facing out the window in front of it, and an arm chair with a notebook resting on it.

“Take a seat anywhere on the couch,” Dr. Harper said once the door clicked shut.

Alexander sat in the middle, barely taking up half of the cushion, his entire body tensed, as if he was ready to bolt at a second’s notice.

Dr. Harper scooped the notebook off of her chair and casually took her seat, crossing her legs and propping the open notebook up against her knee, a pen in hand. “Hi there, Alexander. How are you doing today?”

“Good,” Alex said, the response automatic.

She simply smiled at him. She really liked to smile, it seemed. That doesn’t mean anything, the voice told him. She just wants to trick you into spilling everything to her so she can tell the Washingtons and then they’ll send you back, just like you deserve…

“So, Alexander… is it Alexander? Or do you go by something else?”

“Um, Alex is fine,” the boy said, his foot anxiously tapping against the carpeted floor.

“Okay then, Alex. I just want to go over a few things with you. First of all, did you notice that strange whirring noise in the waiting room?”

“Um, yes. It was coming from that white circular device,” Alex said.

“Exactly. That makes it impossible for anyone in the waiting room to hear what you and I are saying. So I want you to feel like you can say anything in here, okay?”

Alex nodded his head. It’s a trick… the voice warned.

“And I also want you to know that, unless I think you’re a threat to yourself or others, whatever you say to me stays between you and I. I won’t tell your foster parents or social worker. It’s just between you and me.”

“O-okay,” Alex stammered.

“So, how about you tell me a bit about yourself, Alex.” She looked at him expectantly.

“Like what?” Alex asked.

“Let’s start with your home life. I understand this is a very recent foster placement. How are the Washingtons?”

“They’re great,” Alex said, grateful they were starting off by talking about his foster parents and not himself. “They’ve been very kind to me. And I really like their adopted son, Lafayette. Well, they call him Gilbert, but he goes by Lafayette with the rest of us.”

Dr. Harper quickly scribbled something down in her notebook. “Who is ‘us?’” she asked.

“Oh, Laf’s group of friends he’s introduced me to. John Laurens, Hercules Mulligan, and Eliza Schuyler.”

“And you get along well with them?”

“So far, yes. But I haven’t gotten to see much of them.”

She looked up at Alexander. “Why is that?”

“Um,” Alex began to fidget a bit. Great job, kid, opening your big mouth like that. “Well, the Washingtons told me I need to take the rest of this week off from school to get adjusted.” Why are you leaving out the rest? the voice taunted. Why leave out that it’s because you’re a screwed up, no good–– Alexander winced.

“Are you okay, Alex?” Dr. Harper asked. “Can you tell me what you’re thinking right now?”

“Um,” Alex stammered and looked down at his hands, which were fidgeting wildly in his lap. She’ll tell the Washingtons, they’ll send you away, you’ll never see Laf or Laurens or Eliza or Hercules again, but they’ll all be relieved, anyway…

“Remember, this is a safe space, Alex. And there’s no rush. Just speak when you’re ready.”

“I’m scared,” Alexander whispered before he or the voice could stop him.

“What are you scared of?” Dr. Harper prompted.

“I’m scared they’re going to send me away,” he said in one quick rush, his tan face turning red, tears forming in his eyes. He didn’t feel as bad as he thought he would after saying it, though. He actually felt… relieved. 

“Why do you think they would send you away?” Dr. Harper furrowed her brow at Alex.

“Because,” Alex said, gesturing to the room.

“Because you’re in therapy?”

“Because they think I’m messed up,” Alex said, as if it should have been obvious. He sighed and slumped down, finally resting his back against the couch cushion.

“Did they tell you they think you’re messed up?”

Alex stared at Dr. Harper in confusion. “No,” he said.

“Then why do you think that?”

“Because it’s true!” Alexander exclaimed.

Dr. Harper set down her notebook on her lap and shifted in her chair a bit before looking back up at Alexander. “Alex, coming to therapy doesn’t mean you’re ‘messed up.’ From what Martha told me on the phone, it sounds as if you’ve been through a lot in your short life, and especially in this past year. It’s only natural to need some help dealing with and understanding all of that.”

Alexander just shook his head. He didn’t know how to explain just how messed up he was without mentioning the things he heard in his head, and he was afraid to do that. He liked Dr. Harper so far, but he wasn’t ready to tell her that much just yet.

“You’ve projected how you feel about yourself onto the Washingtons,” she continued. “Do you follow me?”

“I think so,” Alex said. “So I’m imagining it?”

“In a sense. You don’t see how they really feel about you because you’re already convinced that they see you as you see yourself.”

Alex bit his lip. How could they see him any other way than for what he really was? For what the voice told him he was?

“Do you like to write?” Dr. Harper asked, jarring Alex from his thoughts.

“Yes, I love to,” he said, a tinge of excitement entering his eyes.

Dr. Harper’s face lit up. “Perfect. I want you to keep a journal this week. Write down how the Washingtons act toward you and how you think they’re feeling about you in those moments. I think we may notice some differences between their actions and your thoughts,” she said.

“Okay.” Alex nodded his head. Observing, thinking, and writing. He could do that.

“Alright, Alex, that’s our time for this week. It was great to meet you.” Dr. Harper stood up and put her notebook on her desk. “I’ll see you next week?”

Alexander nodded his head.

When Dr. Harper smiled at him, he smiled back.

 

***

 

Alexander was exhausted after his appointment. As soon as they got back to the Washington’s he climbed the stairs up to his room, promising Martha he’d eat lunch just a little bit later.

He crawled onto his bed, telling himself he’d shut his eyes for just a few moments before trying out the writing exercise Dr. Harper had assigned to him. He shut his eyes and his mind was so thoroughly exhausted from talking with Dr. Harper that soon he was asleep, drifting through a dreamless, but calming, black void.

He awoke some hours later to the sound of someone shuffling around and murmuring outside his bedroom door. As he became more awake, he could make out what they were saying to each other.

“I don’t wanna bother him, Laf!”

Laurens? Alexander thought.

“Mon ami, Martha literally asked us to bother him. She said he needs to eat dinner because he missed lunch.”

“But he needs to sleep!”

“Mon ami, it has been five hours! These are Martha’s orders. I’m going in if you don’t!”

“Laf, no!”

But clearly Lafayette won, seeing as the door to Alexander’s room was flung open a second later. Alex quickly shut his eyes and pretended he was still sleeping, not wanting the other boys to know he’d been eavesdropping.

“Alexaaaaander!” Lafayette singsonged. “Rise and shine, mon ami!”

“Alex?” It was John. Alex opened his eyes to find the freckled boy kneeling by him. “Hey, sleepy head. Martha wants you up for dinner.”

“You hear that, Alexander?” Lafayette said while twirling around Alex’s room to music only he could hear.

“He heard, Laf,” Laurens said, glaring at the dancing boy. “How about you go dance in your room while Alex here wakes up?”

Lafayette came to a graceful stop and waggled an eyebrow. “Mmm, mon ami, okay,” he said to John with a wink.

John glared even harder at the French boy, his face glowing a bright red. “Go, Laf!”

Laf left the room giggling, shutting the door on his way out.

“Sorry,” Laurens said.

“I like Laf, it’s okay,” Alex said.

“Oh, should I tell him to come back, then?” Laurens looked panicked all of a sudden.

“No! No, it’s fine. He’s a little too energetic for me when I first wake up,” Alex said with a small smile. He sat up in his bed and made room for Laurens, who sat down next to him.

Alexander reached behind his head and pulled out his ponytail, frowning at his messy hair.

“I can fix it for you,” Laurens quickly offered.

“Okay,” Alexander said, a slight blush rising to his face. He grabbed the hairbrush off his nightstand and handed it to Laurens.

Laurens moved so he was sitting behind Alexander, wrapping his legs around the other boy’s torso. He began to gently brush the smaller boy’s hair.

Alex let his eyes droop shut at the calming motion of the brush running through his dark curls. Soon he felt Laurens separating his hair into three sections and weaving them one over the other into a braid. When Laurens had tied off the braid, he gently pulled Alexander backward toward him and hugged him close.

“I missed you at school today,” he whispered.

Alexander’s heart was beating wildly at Laurens’ touch. He’d never had a friend like Laurens, who wasn’t afraid to show affection.

“How was your day?” Laurens asked, the tickle of his breath on Alex’s neck sending chills down his back.

“It was okay. I wish I was at school, though.”

“Soon,” Laurens said.

“Boys! Dinner is ready!” Martha called from downstairs.

Within two second Laf had burst into Alex’s room again. “Come on, mes amis!” he exclaimed before dashing off down the stairs.

The two other boys couldn’t help but laugh. Alex was about to get up when he felt Laurens quickly kiss the back of his head before jumping off the bed himself.

“Okay, let’s go!” the freckled boy said as if nothing had just happened. He held out his hand to Alexander.

Alex took it and let Laurens pull him to his feet.

Chapter Text

Dinner at the Washington’s was one of Laurens’ favorite things. It was nothing like dinner at his house. At his house, dinner was prepared by a cook he rarely ever saw–– his father liked the servants to stay out of the family’s way–– and usually it was just him and his sister at the dinner table, eating as quickly as they could so they could scamper off to their respective rooms.

At the Washington’s, dinner was lively. Lafayette always burst out into song at least once, and George was always cracking awful jokes and Martha would roll her eyes at him, though Laurens could tell she really loved it. The only one who was quieter than Laurens was Alexander.

He seemed especially withdrawn that night and was mostly pushing his food around on the plate, eyes glazed over as if he were somewhere far away. Laurens wanted to take the smaller boy’s face in his hands and stare into his eyes until Alexander was staring back, fully there. He wanted to know every thought that crossed Alex’s mind. He wanted to see him brimming with life.

“Alex, sweetie, do you not like spaghetti?” Martha asked, her brow creased in worry.

“Oh, no, I mean, yes, I do like it,” Alex stammered. “I’m just not…” He stopped himself and sighed.

Martha bit her lip and nodded her head, exchanging a quick glance with George that only Laurens seemed to pick up on, since Laf was staring at Alex in concern, and Alex was staring at his plate, his tan face quickly turning red.

Lafayette started a new conversation, but Laurens could tell it was forced. Once everyone except Alexander had cleared their plates, George gently asked Lafayette to clear the table and Alexander to stay for a moment.

Laurens got up and helped Laf, placing the dishes in the sink before retreating upstairs so George and Martha could talk to Alexander with some privacy.

The two boys hovered near the rails at the top of the stairs, both straining to catch any tidbit of the conversation going on in the kitchen, but all they could hear was murmuring. After a few moments, there was the sound of the chairs scrapping against the floor, sending Laurens and Lafayette flying back to Laf’s room and onto his bed, trying to look as natural as possible for Alex’s sake.

Alex was so silent they didn’t hear him ascend the stairs, he simply appeared in the doorway, his face twitching ever so slightly, as if he were trying to keep a poker face.

“Mon ami,” Laf said softly, getting up off his bed. Laurens followed, both boys approaching Alexander slowly as if he could be easily startled.

“I just want to go back to my room,” Alex whispered.

“Do you want Laurens to go with you?” Lafayette offered, shoving Laurens forward toward Alexander by his shoulders, nearly making the freckled boy trip in the process.

A slight blush rose to Alex’s face. “Um, yeah, sure” he said even more quietly. He turned and headed toward his room.

Laurens turned and gave Laf a bug-eyed look. Lafayette simply shooed him forward with his hand, raising a brow at the other boy. Laurens scurried off, finding Alexander was already sitting on his bed by the time he got there.

Laurens shut the door and stood in front of Alexander. “Can I join you?”

“Sure,” Alex said, making room for Laurens next to him.

“You wanna talk about it?” Laurens asked once he was comfortably situated next to Alexander.

Alexander was silent for a moment. “Not really.” He paused for a moment. “Sorry,” he added, ducking his head into his drawn-up knees, as if he were ashamed.

“You don’t have to apologize,” Laurens said quickly. “We can just chill.” He smiled at Alex, but the other boy wasn’t looking his way.

“Can you tell me about your day?” Alex asked. He finally looked over at Laurens. “I would really like to hear about it.” He offered the other boy a small smile.

Laurens grinned at him. “I would love to!”

Alex wordlessly curled up so his head and the upper half of his body were lying in Laurens’ lap. Laurens mindlessly played with the other boy’s hair as he started his story. “So Laf will never tell you this himself, but he got creamed in tennis during gym class today…”

 

•••

 

“I’d appreciate it if you could, at the very least, stay awake for my class, Mr. Laurens?” Mr. King, Laurens’ English teacher said sarcastically after slamming his fist on Laurens’ desk, startling the exhausted boy awake.

Laurens had had another late night. He’d stayed at the Washington’s with Alex until George took him home around nine, then he’d been up until two doing all of the homework he’d neglected while at the Washington’s. One of those assignments had been for King’s class, but the man didn’t even collect the papers, telling the students it had been more for their own good than anything he needed to grade them on. Laurens wanted to shove the paper down Mr. King’s throat and then ask him whose good it was really for.

His anger at King kept him awake for the rest of the class. After that, he was off to lunch with Lafayette and Hercules. He was making a pitstop at his locker when he noticed something unusual out of the corner of his eye.

He turned to see Eliza standing near the end of the hallway, back against the wall, head down. He gently shut his locker before jogging over to her.

“Eliza?” he said as he approached her. “Are you okay?”

When she looked up at him, there were tears in her eyes. “I’m fine,” she said softly.

Laurens scoffed. “I beg to differ,” he whispered, even though not many other people were around. “What’s going on, Eliza?”

Eliza looked around for a moment, as if she were afraid someone would overhear. Just when Laurens thought she wasn’t going to tell him anything, she spoke. “I have to go to this… thing… tonight. And I’m not happy about it. I don’t want to go.”

“Then don’t go?” Laurens said, not understanding.

Eliza shook her head. “I have to. My parents are making me.”

“What is it?” Laurens asked, thinking it was a political fundraiser, since Philip Schuyler was also a senator, like Laurens’ father.

Eliza simply shook her head again. “It doesn’t matter. Thanks for talking with me, John.” She looked up at him and smiled.

“You don’t have to thank me,” Laurens said. “This is what friends do.”

“Oh, speaking of friends, Angelica is coming home from college for the weekend. She’ll want to see you guys.”

Laurens noticed Eliza’s phrasing. She’ll want to see you guys instead of the usual we should all hangout. But knowing Angelica, she would drag Eliza to whatever it was the group had planned. So Laurens nodded enthusiastically in agreement.

“That’d be great,” he said.

“Cool. Well, I better go. So, um, see ya,” Eliza said before awkwardly shuffling away.

“Hey, Eliza,” Laurens called before she got too far down the hall.

She turned and looked at him and he noticed for the first time how absolutely exhausted she looked. The usual brightness in her eyes was entirely gone.

“Um, good luck, tonight, I mean,” he stammered.

“Thanks,” she said with a small wave before disappearing around the corner.

“Mon ami!” a voice boomed from the opposite end of the hallway. Laurens turned to see Lafayette and Hercules headed toward him, Laf’s arms open wide. “We have been looking for you, mon ami,” the French boy said, engulfing Laurens in a hug as soon as he approached him.

“Sorry, I was talking to Eliza. Angelica is coming home this weekend,” he said excitedly, hoping the boys wouldn’t ask for any more details about his chat with Eliza. She hadn’t asked him to, but Laurens had a feeling that she wanted to keep what she’d told him a secret.

“Wonderful, mon ami! We must see our Angelica!” Lafayette exclaimed. “Oh, and since you missed lunch,” Lafayette glared at Laurens, who simply rolled his eyes in response, “I wanted to find you to let you know that we are having a movie night at my place this evening, mon ami!”

“Yeah, pizza, popcorn, chips and salsa…” Hercules licked his lips. “Oh, and I’m coming over after school to help Laf bake some of his famous gingersnap cookies!” Hercules exclaimed, rubbing a hand over his stomach.

“Oui oui! So walk home with us, mon ami? We will be starting movie night later than usual tonight because Alexander has something he must go to, but we can have a sleepover, if it’s fine with your father?”

Laurens laughed. “He’s not even home. It’s fine. My sister usually goes to sleepovers on Fridays, too, anyway.”

“Excellent!” Lafayette exclaimed. Just then, the hall filled with students. It was time to go to class. “See you at the end of the day, mon ami,” Lafayette said.

It was only once Lafayette and Hercules had walked away that Laurens realized something odd–– both Eliza and Alexander had somewhere to be that night. It’s probably just a coincidence, Laurens tried to reason. But he felt it was something more than that. Just what, he did not yet know, but he intended to find out.  

Chapter Text

“Mon ami!” Lafayette singsonged as he, Laurens, and Hercules walked through the door of the Washington’s. “We’re home!”

Alexander was in his room, working on the assignment from his therapist. Assignments were what he missed the most about school because they kept his mind busy, and since George and Martha weren’t letting him go to school or do any of them just yet, he was throwing himself into his therapy homework, instead.

He’d recorded three interactions with his foster family so far.

 

Action: Martha sighing after I ate half of my breakfast.

My thoughts: She’s disappointed in me and is getting fed up.

 

Action: George constantly calling me son when he and Martha talk with me.

My thoughts: He’s trying to discipline me and thinks I’m being rude, ungrateful, or disrespectful.

 

Action: Laf hiding my school books from me.

My thoughts: He thinks I’m an untrustworthy child who he must babysit and is already tiring of.

 

“Mon ami!” Laf was outside his door now. “I have our friends here, mon ami, and we would like to see you!”

Alexander shoved his journal under one of the pillows on his bed. “Come in,” he called weakly.

The door swung open and, before he could even react, Lafayette sprung onto the bed and engulfed Alexander in a hug. “Happy weekend, mon ami!” he said into Alex’s dark curly hair, which the smaller boy hadn’t bothered to brush that day.

Laf pulled away and beckoned Laurens and Herc, who were awkwardly standing in the doorway, into the room. Laf grabbed Herc’s hand and violently swung their entangled hands back and forth.

“We,” the French boy said, gesturing between him and Herc, “are making cookies for movie night!”

“And I’m just…” Laurens shrugged and all four of the boys laughed. “Can I hang with you?” he asked Alexander after the laughter had quieted down.

A slight blush rose to Alex’s face as he nodded yes.

“Time to go make ginger snaps!” Hercules declared, pulling Laf out of the room.

After the door shut behind the two other boys, Alex moved over so Laurens could join him on his bed. Laurens sat down next to him, and Alexander swore he could feel the tension between them. All he wanted was to lean into John, but he didn’t know if he could do that just yet. Don’t get too attached to him, the voice reminded Alex. He’ll leave as soon as he sees right through you. He’ll leave as soon as he sees what a mess you are. He’ll hightail it out of here faster than you can count to ten…

“Alexander?” Laurens gently tapped Alex’s knee, bringing the boy back. Laurens was staring at him, a puzzled look on his freckled face. “What just happened?”

Alex wanted to say so many things. He wanted to tell Laurens to go, run away while he could. He wanted to tell him to stay, to never leave him. He wanted to bury his face in the other boy’s shoulder and cry. He wanted Laurens’ lips on his, brushing against him softly then harder and harder, again and again and again.

That’s so fucked up, the voice said. A familiar laugh sounded off in his head. Alexander couldn’t help but picture the man it belonged to. His entire body tensed as the man’s face filled his mind.

He suddenly felt a warm hand cover his cool one. “Whatever it is, you can tell me,” John said, his voice gentle.

Don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t  don’t–– “STOP!” Alexander screamed, his hands over his ears. He curled forward, his face in his lap, eyes shut tight, tears leaking out, body rocking back and forth.

He knew John was saying something to him, but he couldn’t tell what. He couldn’t hear over this shrieking sound that just wouldn’t go away. There was the sound of a door opening and soon more voices filled the room. There were arms wrapping around him, hands gently pulling his hands away from his ears, adjusting his body until he was completely surrounded by the other person’s embrace.

The shrieking sound stopped and his throat was raw. He sobbed as he realized he’d been the one screaming.

“Shhh, Alex, sweetie, it’s okay.” Martha. It was Martha holding him.

Alexander began to cry even harder. How could she hold and comfort him after he made such a scene?

She continued shushing him and gently rocked the two of them back and forth, rubbing tiny circles on his back with her thumb. With his eyes shut, Alex almost felt like it was his own mother holding him in the aftermath of a particularly frightening thunderstorm. He almost felt small again. Almost.

Once his breathing had evened out, Martha gently pulled back a little bit so she could see his face. Alexander averted his eyes, his face burning red with shame.

“Sweetie, Alex, you’re okay,” Martha said, wiping a stray tear from Alex’s cheek.

“S-sorry,” he stammered, his face turning even redder.

“There’s no need to apologize, sweetie.” Martha sounded sad. Alex felt horrible for making her so sad.

You ruin everything, the voice said. Every. damn. thing. Alexander winced.

“Talk to me, Alexander,” Martha pleaded. “Did John do something?”

Laurens. God, how could he forget? John had been sitting with him when it all started. He quickly glanced around the room, but it was empty save for him and Martha.

“John?” His friend’s name came out more as a frantic question than a statement.

“He’s downstairs helping the others bake,” Martha said smoothly. “Did something happen with him?”

“It wasn’t him,” Alex said, his voice cracking. “It was me.” His eyes began to fill with tears again. “It was all me.”

Martha pulled his closer to her again so his cheek was resting on her shoulder. She soothingly ran a hand through his hair. “Can you tell me what happened, sweetie?”

How did he explain the voice? If he explained the voice, he’d need to explain the person behind it. That was not a door he wanted to open. Yeah, open that door and they’ll get rid of you asap.

“Alexander?” Martha gently prompted.

But he needed to say something. “I remembered something else, from… before.” That was all he could say. After a beat of silence, Martha seemed to understand that that was all he was going to say.

“Thank you for telling me that, sweetie.” She pulled away from him and took his face in her hands. “I know that was hard, Alex. Thank you for trusting me.” She kissed his forehead. “Do you want me to stay? Do you want John? Or Gilbert? Or do you want to be alone?”

Alexander felt guilty. Why should Martha have to mother him so much? She barely knew him and all he’d been for her so far was a burden. But she was looking at him expectedly.

“John,” he said softly.

Martha smiled and nodded her head. “Of course, sweetie.” She ruffled his hair once before going downstairs. A few moments later, Laurens was standing in the doorway.

This time, he walked right in and climbed onto the bed next to Alex. He wrapped his arms around the smaller boy. “I’m so sorry,” Laurens said. “I’m so sorry, Alex, I didn’t mean to––”

Alex couldn’t stand it any longer. “None of that was your fault,” he said, pulling out of Laurens’ grip. He needed the other boy to look into his eyes. To know he was telling the truth. Alex spoke with a strength he hadn’t felt in a while. “It was memories. It wasn’t you.”

“Not me,” Laurens repeated.

“Not you,” Alex said, a small smile on his face.

A grin lit up Laurens’ freckled face. He pulled Alex close to him again. “Thank god,” he whispered.

Before Alexander could react, Laurens was off of him and searching the room. He bent over and picked something up, excitedly jumping onto the bed again. He wiggled a hairbrush in front of Alex’s face.

Alexander giggled and turned around, allowing Laurens to wrap his legs around the smaller boy’s torso and gently comb out his curls. Alex shut his eyes and hummed as Laurens began to gently move strands of his hair around, maneuvering them into some formation, but what that formation was, exactly, Alexander had no idea.

“Done!” the freckled boy declared a moment later. He picked up Alex’s hand and ran it over his creation. “A French braid,” he said. “I do them for my sister. I thought Laf would get a kick out of it, too.” He paused for a moment before quickly adding, “plus it’s adorable on you.”

Just then there was a knock on the door. “Alex?” It was Martha again. “We have to go.” She opened the door and smiled at the two boys. “Very nice, John,” she said, nodding toward Alex’s hair.

“Thank you, Mrs. Washington, I mean, um, Martha,” Laurens stammered.

She laughed, smiling fondly at Laurens. “I need to steal Alex from you for a bit, I’m afraid, John, but he’ll be back for pizza and movie night.”

Laurens nodded and hopped off the bed. Alexander slowly followed. He took a deep breath before walking over to Martha, who was holding out a coat to the smaller boy. It wasn’t that cold of a day, but Alex wasn’t used to such low temperatures just yet.

Laurens followed Alex and Martha downstairs.

“See you soon,” Alex said softly, offering Laurens a small wave.

John waved back. “I’ll make sure they don’t eat all the pizza!”

Alex smiled, then turned and followed Martha out the door.

Martha tried to keep up a light conversation during the car ride, but Alex could barely listen to her long enough to keep even the shortest conversation going.  She seemed to understand, never acting hurt or pushing him when he didn’t answer a question or offer any sign he was listening.

After about ten minutes, they pulled up in front of a small, square building, the lights on inside, other teens making their way toward the entrance.

“Well, here we are!” Martha said cheerily.

Alex took a deep breath. “Okay,” he said.

“I can go in with you,” Martha offered.

“No, thank you,” Alex said quickly. It would be much harder for him to watch her walk out the door and leave him behind than it would be for him to be the one to walk away.

“I’ll be back in an hour, sweetie,” Martha said gently.

Alex nodded and got out of the car. He offered Martha the weakest of smiles before letting the car door shut. He slowly walked toward the building, straining to pull open the too-heavy door. He walked down a hallway and then he was in a larger room with a bunch of chairs arranged in a circle, a sad array of snack foods and drinks on a table in the corner.

“Alexander?” a familiar voice said. He looked up to find Eliza standing in front of him, a paper cup filled with water in her hand. He noticed her hand was shaking.

“Eliza?” He was surprised, but relieved. He had someone he knew. He felt much less alone. Judging by the way Eliza sighed, he was guessing she felt the same way.

“Okay, everyone, take a seat,” a woman said from the other end of the room.

Eliza grabbed Alex’s hand and quickly tugged him over to two empty seats, so they could be sure they were sitting next to each other.

Everyone turned their attention to the woman who had called them into the circle. She stood in front of her chair and smiled at all of them. “Welcome to the Teen’s Mental Wellness Support Group, everyone. My name is Dr. Rosenfield.”

Alexander took a deep breath and glanced at Eliza, who looked especially pale. She didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to be there. Yet there they were, sitting in metal folding chairs in a too-brightly lit room on a Friday night.

Dr. Rosenfield took her seat. “Now let’s get started!”

Chapter Text

John Lauerns sat at the kitchen table, eyes slightly glazed over as he watched Lafayette and Hercules flirt while they were waiting for the gingersnaps to finish baking.

“Mon amour,” Lafayette said, voice low and gravely, which sounded weird to Laurens. Herc seemed into it, though, seeing as he grabbed Laf by the front of his shirt and pulled him close.

“My love,” he replied in his husky voice.

Laurens swore Laf would have swooned then and there had Herc not been holding him up. The freckled boy rolled his eyes.

“So are we making pizza or ordering?” Laurens asked in an attempt to distract the two boys from launching into a make-out session.

“Ordering,” a deeper voice said from the hallway. Laf and Herc jumped about a mile apart from each other. George chuckled. “I already ordered, in fact. Should be here in ten minutes.”

Laurens looked up at the clock. Nearly an hour had passed since Alexander had left. That meant he’d be home soon. Laurens’ heart began to race.

No, no, no. You can’t do this. You cannot have a crush on him. You know your father would tear him apart if he ever found out. You can’t subject him to that.

Laurens sighed. Even though he logically knew it was a bad idea, he couldn’t help it. He liked Alexander. And sometimes he swore the other boy might just like him back.

Wishful thinking.

George had left the kitchen, so Laf and Herc resumed their flirting. Laurens groaned and let his head drop into his arms, shutting his eyes for just a little bit…

Laurens woke up to the smell of pizza and something tickling his ear. He sprang up to find Laf hovering over him, giggling like a two-year-old. He’d been tickling Laurens with a strand of his springy hair.

“There you are!” Lafayette said with a laugh. “The pizza is here.”

“And you two are done flirting?” Laurens retorted.

“Never,” Hercules said, wrapping his arms around Laf from behind. Lafayette leaned into the embrace, humming.

“Ugh,” Laurens groaned. “Why’d you even wake me up?”

“Because food?” Herc said as if it was obvious.

Lafayette smirked. “And because Alexander is home.”

Laurens nearly jumped out of his seat. Lafayette laughed, pointing at John. Laurens just glared at his friends, his freckled cheeks turning a bright red.

“It’s not funny,” he said indignantly.

“Oh, mon ami, but it is. You have it so bad!” Laf said between fits of laughter.

Just as Laurens was about to go off on Laf, Alexander silently rounded the corner, looking even more tired than before, which Laurens hadn’t thought was possible. All of his petty anger at his friends melted away as soon as he saw the smaller boy.

He vaguely registered that Laf was holding a hand over his own mouth to stop his laughter, probably because Laurens looked lovesick. He didn’t care. Alexander was there.

“Hey,” he tried to say as casually as possible.

“Hey,” Alex said back with a small smile.

Laurens’ heart fluttered. Keep it together, John. God. Keep it together. He is just a person. Just your friend. Just the cutest boy to ever walk the earth…

“Pizza?” Laurens said, jabbing a finger in the direction of the cardboard box.

Lafayette snorted.

“Sure,” Alex said, the smile on his face growing wider. “Thanks.”

“Y-yeah,” Laurens stammered. He jumped into action. “Sit down! I’ll get yours! Um, how many slices? Two? Three?”

“One is fine,” Alex said meekly.

“Laurens, how kind of you to serve us!” Lafayette exclaimed, grabbing Herc’s hand and pulling him over to the table, where the both sat down across from Alexander.

Laurens glowered at Laf, who was grinning proudly.

“So considerate!” Hercules said, a giggle escaping after the words.

“Yup. That’s me,” Laurens said as he slammed two slices onto a plate for Laf, then did the same for Herc. “Oh so considerate.” He glared at the two boys, who could barely contain their laughter, as he slid the plates to them.

He picked up the paper plate with Alex’s single slice and his own plate with two slices, and civilly placed them on the table, even handing Alex a napkin. He looked at their other two friends. “I don’t bother giving them napkins, since Laf never makes a crumb and Herc is such a mess he needs a shower afterward.”

Hercules looked up, his face already covered in sauce after only a few bites. He shrugged. “Can’t deny that when it’s written all over my face,” he said with a grin before diving into his food again.

For about ten minutes there was only content munching. Laurens noticed that it took Alex the same amount of time to eat one slice as it did the rest of them to eat two, and Herc to eat three, even. He filed that away for later, though. He wanted to make tonight fun for Alexander.

After they’d cleaned up, and Lafayette had taken a little too long cleaning off Herc’s face with a damp paper towel while cooing at him, they headed into the living room to watch a movie.

“Whose turn is it?” Herc asked as he set down the freshly baked gingersnaps on the coffee table.

“Laurens went last time,” Lafayette said. “Which means the cycle starts over.” He turned to Alexander, his eyes brimming with excitement. “Let’s let our newest mon ami choose!”

“Choose what?” Alex asked somewhat nervously.

“The movie we watch,” Laf clarified.

“Um…” He shrugged his shoulders. “I haven’t seen many movies.”

“It can be a favorite one from your childhood,” Herc suggested. “Like a Disney one? One of the Toy Story movies?”

“I’ve never seen Toy Story,” Alex said. It looked like he was about to collapse in on himself. Laurens wanted to pull him close, but he couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

“WHAAAAAT?” Herc exclaimed. “Okay, I’m coopting your pick and we’re watching Toy Story!” he declared.

He loaded the DVD into the player and flicked off the lights before settling back down next to Laf, who nuzzled into his boyfriend right away. 

Laurens wished he could pull Alexander, whose knee kept bumping into his, close, but he was afraid of starling the other boy.

As the movie went on, he began to notice Alex’s eyes fluttering, as if he couldn’t stay awake. Laurens didn’t know what, exactly, overcame him, but he found himself reaching for Alexander and guiding his head to his chest.

Alex didn’t fight him one bit. It was as if he’d expected it. As if he’d been waiting.

Laurens gently ran a hand through Alex’s hair, which had slightly unraveled from the French braid. Soon he felt the smaller boy’s even breaths.

Laurens shut his own eyes and smiled. This was the happiest he’d felt in a long, long time.

Chapter Text

“Okay, everyone, take a seat.” A woman with bouncy brown curls and dark brown skin said from the other side of the room.

Eliza’s breath hitched. She didn’t want to be alone there. She could barely stand to be there. She couldn’t be alone.

Without much forethought, she snatched Alexander’s hand and pulled him over to two open seats, breathing a sigh of relief once they were safely seated next to each other. She leaned back against the hard metal of the chair, letting the coolness and pressure ground her, keep her in the present moment.

“Welcome to the Teen’s Mental Wellness Support Group, everyone. My name is Dr. Rosenfield.” The lady beamed at all of the slouched over teens gathered around her. Eliza wondered how she could remain so upbeat when it was clear nobody wanted to be there.

Dr. Rosenfield took her seat and lightly clapped her hands together. “Now let’s get started!” she exclaimed. “I see we have some newcomers, so I’ll just explain how the group works before we jump on into it.” She was still smiling. How was she still smiling?

“We start off with an exercise first, just to get us all into group mode, and then we chat with each other.” She said it as if it was completely normal and casual. As if they were friends grabbing coffee together. Eliza hated how fake it felt.

“Today’s exercise is to think of a time you were truly grateful for something. You have five minutes, then we’ll go around the circle and share.”

Eliza swallowed hard. She had a feeling sharing wasn’t optional.

She was distracted from coming up with an answer by Alex fidgeting in his seat. She discreetly poked him in the side of the leg. His head snapped up in her direction.

“You okay?” she whispered.

He just shrugged his shoulders and looked down again, his foot tapping against the ground at a speed that made Eliza tired just from watching.

“Okay, everyone! Time to share,” Dr. Rosenfield said, as cheery as ever.

Now Eliza was the one feeling anxious. She hadn’t thought of anything.

Dr. Rosenfield started with a girl sitting three seats down from Eliza, so Eliza tried to block out what she was saying and come up with her own answer.

All too soon it was Eliza’s turn.

“And you,” Dr. Rosenfield said, gesturing to Eliza. “Can you tell us your name first?”

“Eliza Schuyler,” she said, her voice even softer than usual.

“Nice to meet you, Eliza. When was a time you felt grateful?”

Everything she’d thought of had flown had of her brain. She stammered for a moment before the words spilled out of her. “When my sister Peggy brought tea to my dorm room at boarding school when I wasn’t feeling well,” she said quickly.

“She sounds like a nice sister,” Dr. Rosenfield said.

Eliza simply nodded her head and looked down. She was done. She needed this to be over.

Dr. Rosenfield got the hint. “Okay, and we have another new face. What’s your name?”

“Alexander Hamilton,” Alex said with more confidence than Eliza had expected. Alex rushed forward with his response before Dr. Rosenfield could speak again. “A time I was grateful was when my mom got me a laptop for my birthday one year, so I could write faster.” His voice was clipped, his eyes averted.

“Your mom sounds like a lovely woman,” Dr. Rosenfield said gently.

“She was,” Alex said, just the faintest trace of bitterness in his tone.

Eliza glanced up at Dr. Rosenfield and saw a look of sadness wash over her for a moment before she simply nodded her head and moved on to the next person.

Eliza breathed a sigh of relief. She was safe for now.

She tried her hardest to pay attention to what the other kids were saying, but her mind kept cycling back to what had landed her there. It kept cycling back to everything that had led up to it. Then it all too suddenly stopped cycling and landed on one day in particular–– the Tuesday of her third week of classes. The first time it’d happened.

Eliza didn’t want to remember it, but the more she tried to ignore it, the more persistent it was. She eventually gave up. When the memories struck her like this, there was no stopping them.

 

Eliza was glued to her bed, the covers sticky around her nearly bare shoulders, the only thing covering them the straps of the pink tank top she wore as pajamas. Pink because it reminded her of Angelica. Angelica. Angelica , her big sister who was not at school that year because she’d graduated. Angelica, who was off having fun at college. Angelica, who was gone.

Maria walked into the room, humming something cheery under her breath. “Liza!” she singsonged. “Liza’s still in bed,” she sang, her voice skillfully climbing up and down multiple octaves with no trouble.

When Eliza didn’t reply, Maria stopped singing and sat on the edge of the other girl’s bed. “Hey, Liza, you okay?”

Eliza, whose face was hidden by her cover, opened her mouth to respond, but nothing came out. It felt like a thick tar had trapped at her words in the back of her throat.

Maria gently tugged the cover off of her roommate’s face, her eyes widening as she took her in. “Eliza?” she said, her voice shaky. Maria’s voice was never shaky.

That’s when tears began to pool up in Eliza’s eyes.

“Oh, Liza, what happened?” Maria said, reaching down and scooping up the other girl, cooing to her. “It’s gonna be okay, Liza. It’ll all be okay,” she said soothingly as she rocked the other girl gently in her arms.

Eliza wanted to believe her. She wanted so badly to believe her. But how could everything be okay when she didn’t even know what was wrong in the first place?

 

Back in group, Dr. Rosenfield was instructing the teens again.

“Okay, great job, everyone! So now we’re going to practice using those feeling words we discussed last week. Does everyone who was here have that handout?”

The sound of paper rustling filled the room for a moment. Dr. Rosenfield got up and handed a paper to Eliza and Alexander. “Just glance it over,” she whispered to them. “I’ll give you two extra time by starting at the other end of the room.”

Eliza and Alex glanced at each other and Alex rolled his eyes. For the first time that day, a genuine smile found its way onto Eliza’s face and she actually had to stifle a laugh. If she had to be there, at least she had Alexander by her side.

Eliza scanned the list, trying not to roll her eyes at words like “woeful,” “inflamed,” and “keen.” She tried to image herself seriously describing how she was feeling at that exact moment as keen.

Eliza figured she wasn’t alone in thinking some of the words were ridiculous because nearly every other kid had used a more traditional word like “sad,” “anxious,” or “upset” so far.

Then it was Alexander’s turn.

“Alex, how’re you feeling today?” Dr. Rosenfield asked.

“I’m feeling inquisitive,” Alex said, totally serious. “And rather touched.”

Dr. Rosenfield raised her eyebrows at him. “Very nice use of the list, Alexander,” she said.

When Dr. Rosenfield looked down to jot something on her notepad, Alex jabbed Eliza in the ribs with his elbow. When she looked up he winked at her. Eliza’s face broke out into another smile, shocked at how witty Alex could be.

“Eliza,” Dr. Rosenfield said, bringing the girl back to the present. “How’re you feeling?”

“Inspired,” Eliza said, deciding to join Alex in his subtle mockery of the list.

Dr. Rosenfield smiled and nodded before moving on to the next girl. Eliza had to work so hard to stop herself from giggling.

The rest of the group was devoted to members sharing details of their past week and asking for help with any issues they were having. Eliza and Alexander remained silent for that part, but Eliza noticed the life that had filled Alex’s eyes only minutes before slowly fading until he just looked exhausted.

When group was over, both of them skipped the sad spread of snacks and made a beeline for the door.

“Eliza!” A girl called once they were outside. She didn’t need to see her to know who it was.

“Angelica!” Eliza shouted, running over to her sister who was standing next to her car. She leapt into her sister’s arms and buried her face in her shoulder, so happy to be reunited.

“Who is this?” Angelica asked, and it was only then that Eliza remembered Angelica and Alexander didn’t know each other.

Alex was standing awkwardly to the side of the two girls, kicking a pebble with the toe of his shoe.

“This is Alexander,” Eliza said. “My friend from school.”

Angelica grinned at her. She let go of her sister and held her hand out to Alex. “Hey, Alexander, I’m Angelica. Eliza’s sister.”

Alex shook Angelica’s hand. “Nice to meet you,” he said.

Just then a car pulled up behind Angelica’s. Eliza recognized Martha Washington right away. She waved to the woman, who eagerly waved back.

“See you later, Alexander,” Eliza said as Alex made his way to the car.

“See you soon,” Alex said, a small smile on his face. He nodded politely at Angelica before disappearing into the car.

“He seems sweet,” Angelica said once Martha had driven away. “What’s he doing with Martha, though?”

“The Washingtons are his foster parents,” Eliza said.

Angelica’s mouth formed into a little o as she nodded her head. She looped an arm around Eliza’s shoulder.

“Well, you have plenty of time to fill me in on everything because I am home for the weekend!”

Eliza giggled as Angelica turned her toward the car. “I’m so glad you’re home,” she whispered.

Angelica opened the passenger side door for Eliza and grinned at her. “I am, too.”

Eliza settled into the seat. As Angelica buckled up and started the car, Eliza’s mind wandered to the list of feeling words that was folded up in her pants pocket. If she had to pick a word from it right now, she knew exactly which one she would choose: content.

Chapter Text

“...and he said WE were flirting…” Alexander awoke to Lafayette and Hercules’ snickering about something. What, exactly, he wasn’t so sure.

At first he wasn’t even sure of where he was. He didn’t know why there was someone so warm and soft and sweet smelling under him; someone so familiar…

“Shut up,” the person underneath him mumbled. John. Alex’s heart fluttered at just the thought of the other boy’s name.

Disgusting. How someone as depraved as you is still alive while innocent children die boogles me. It shouldn’t be this way.

“Ow!” Lafayette’s exclamation of pain brought Alexander out of his head for a moment.

From where his head was, he could see that Laurens was playfully digging his heel into Laf’s thigh, making the French boy squeal and squirm until he finally jumped off the couch.

“Fine, mon ami! Fine.” Laf, hands on his hips, glared at Laurens for a moment before casting a glance Alex’s way. “Ahhh! Mon ami!”

Alex loved how even though Laf called all of the “mon ami,” his tone was different for each of them so there was never any doubt who he was addressing.

Everyone turned toward Alexander. Laurens’ freckled face lit up in a bright grin as their eyes met. Something about this caused Laf to snicker, Herc giggling after a moment, too. Just as Alex was about to work up the courage to ask what the heck was going on, George appeared in the doorway.

“Boys,” he said, nodding toward the kids. “Time for bed.”

Lafayette whined and pouted, but George only chuckled in response.

“Bedtime, Gilbert,” he said lovingly.

“Fine,” Laf conceded, pout still on his face.

Once George left the room, Laf and Herc grabbed at the cookies on the coffee table, and Laurens grabbed the other snacks, grinning at Alex, who was empty-handed.

“Don’t worry,” Laurens said. “I’ll share.”

Alex had no idea what they were doing, but he followed as Lafayette, Hercules, and Laurens made a run for the stairs, dashing into Laf’s bedroom once they were up there. Laurens kicked the door shut behind Alexander.

The other three boys leapt onto Laf’s bed, giggling. Alex stood back by the door in confusion.

Laf waved him over. “George always does that,” he said, then shoved a cookie into his mouth. This didn’t deter him from talking, though. “Always makes a big deal about us going to bed because, really,” he covered his mouth with his hand to prevent crumbs from flying everywhere as a small laugh overcame him. “It’s really because he and Martha want to watch some crumby late night show.”

Laf and Herc burst out into full-on laughter, and Laurens did at first, too, but upon seeing Alex’s lost expression, paused.

This is just like downstairs. They’re all laughing over something you don’t understand. Something you’ll never understand. Something you’ll never understand because you aren’t one of them and you never will be. The voice blended between his own and the other man who still haunted him.

“Alex?” Laurens said, concern overtaking his face.

See how happy they are? They don’t need you. You’ll only bring them down.

Alex shook his head, hoping to expel the voice. It didn’t work. Just then, he remembered. His therapist’s assignment. His notebook.

“Notebook,” he mumbled before desperately grabbing at Laf’s doorknob and fleeing his room, running to his own, slamming the door behind him in his rush. He leapt onto his bed and frantically threw his pillows onto the floor, revealing the notebook.

He grabbed a pen off of his nightstand and began to write, both his hands and script shaky.

Action: My friends (???) tell me to come hangout with them

My thoughts: They don’t need me. They’re fine without me. I’ll only upset them, whether now or eventually it doesn’t matter. I will upset them.

He paused for a moment, glancing over what he wrote. He felt a bit calmer after getting it down, but not calm enough to leave his room just yet.

He rearranged his pillows and placed the notebook in his nightstand drawer this time. Without much thought, he drew a blanket up over his head, cutting himself off from the world. He felt so warm and safe like that. He shut his eyes, reveling in the comforting softness of the blanket; in the comfort of being surrounded.

Surrounded.

Suddenly he was surrounded by something cool and strong. By something that made all the hairs on his body stand up. Something that cut off his oxygen. Something that crushed him, tugged him into its icy depths.

He flailed and kicked at the blanket he had wrapped around himself, panting once he was finally free, desperately sucking in all the air he could. He could still feel the coolness. It was now pooling around his ankles. It wasn’t much, but rather just enough to remind him that there was yet another memory, another nightmare, waiting to resurface so it could drag him under, snuff his fire out in its dark, uproarious waves…

There was a series of knocks on his door. Mon ami! Alexander! Alex? Laf, Herc, and John all called out to him in turn. He wanted to respond but there was water stuck in his throat, filling his lungs…

The door opened a crack at first, but then it swung all the way open as Laf toppled over onto Laurens, knocking the smaller boy to the ground. Herc stood off to the side laughing at them.

See, they’re having fun without you. You should’ve just been shoved in another shitty home. You don’t deserve them. You don’t deserve this.

Laf jumped up off of Laurens and helped the smaller boy back to his feet before bounding over to Alexander.

“Mon ami!” Laf exclaimed as he leapt onto Alex’s bed. “You must be tired, no?” he got close to Alex’s face and winked, out of sight of the others. “How about we go to bed? Normally poor Laurens is the, how you say, third wheel, to Herc and I, but don’t worry, we always offer him the spot in-between us!”

Hercules threw an arm over Laurens’ shoulders and pulled him close, messing up his hair with his other hand. “Yeah, he’s like our son,” Herc said with a laugh.

Laurens just glared up at Herc, his arms crossed. “I’m not your son,” he said indignantly.

“But my bed is too small for four, so maybe he could sleep here tonight?” Laf waggled his eyebrows at Alex.

Alex knew his face had to be burning red, but he slowly nodded his head up and down anyway. Laf grinned, then, in a flash, leaned forward and kissed Alexander’s forehead.

“Goodnight, mes amis,” Laf said once he’d returned to Herc and intertwined their hands. “We will see you in the morning for a delicious breakfast!” With that, he tugged Herc out of the room.

Laurens stared at Alex for a moment, something unreadable in the freckled boy’s eyes, before scratching the back of his neck and stammering. “I’ll, um, go change into my pjs,” he said quickly. With that, he was out of Alex’s room.

Alex found himself grabbing his notebook out of the drawer.

Action: Says he’s going to go get into his pajamas then races out of my room

My thoughts: He doesn’t want to be here with me. He’s going to go tell Laf exactly that because he’s too kind to say it to my face. He hates that he’s been put in this position. He hates that he has to spend so much time with me.

Alex changed into his pajamas while Laurens was gone, then he crawled under the covers. The more time that passed, the more certain he was that Laurens was not coming back.

He was only your “friend” out of pity. He’s so tired of you, and who can blame him? the voice snickered.  

Alex placed his hands over his ears. Laurens wasn’t coming back, so it didn’t matter how strange he acted. Alex could look as messed up as he actually was.

He didn’t hear the door open, or see the light turn off, since his head was buried face-first in his pillow.

He was only aware of John Laurens once the other boy sank down next to him, a gentle hand coming to rest on his back, right between his sharp shoulder blades.

“Alex? What’s wrong? What happened?”

Alex’s throat constricted, his anxiety choking him. “No-nothing, sor-sorry,” he managed.

“It doesn’t look like nothing,” Laurens said cautiously. “Should I go get Martha?”

“No!” Alex exclaimed. “Stay?”

So selfish and mean, making the poor boy stay. Let him go have fun. Let me have you all to myself…

Alex began to cry, his walls finally breaking down out of utter exhaustion from the long and trying day he’d had. To his surprise, Laurens didn’t run away. He simply laid down next to the other boy and gently removed Alexander’s hands from his ears, just as Martha had done earlier, and pulled him close, rubbing small circles into his back as sobs overtook him.

“I still hear him,” Alex wailed, only vaguely aware Laurens wouldn’t know who he was talking about. “I hear him all the time. And, and sometimes,” he hiccuped, shuddering before he managed to speak again. “Sometimes I can’t tell the difference,” he confessed. “I can’t tell the difference between me and him.”

Chapter Text

Alexander knew Laurens was asking him questions, but he didn’t know what those questions were. He couldn’t focus. He couldn’t hear. He couldn’t. He really just couldn’t .

“John,” he heard himself say, his tongue thick. “Not now.” The words were short, but they were so difficult to get out.

He felt Laurens sigh against his neck, the warm puff of air helping to snap him back into the present moment.

“Sorry,” he slurred, his eyes suddenly fluttering shut at an alarming rate. He hadn’t felt this tired or this safe in a long time.

Are you really safe, though? Do you know this John Laurens as well as you seem to think you do? He’s here out of pity. He’s here to use you, to expose all of your horrible secrets and show everyone what a fake you really are.

“Hey, there’s no need to apologize.” Laurens’ smooth and gentle voice cut through the voice’s cruel words. “You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to. Just know I’ll be here if you ever do want to talk, okay?”

Laurens wrapped an arm around Alexander, pulling the smaller boy close. He pressed a kiss against his neck. “Oh, shit,” Laurens murmured. “I’m so sorry, Alex, oh shit, I just…”

Alexander wasn’t sure what overtook him. He wasn’t sure what caused him to turn around. But he did. And he looked into John Laurens’ beautiful eyes. And their lips touched.

Everything in that moment both stood still and sped up to an impossible rate. He couldn’t believe it was actually happening. He never wanted it to stop.

But he was tired. He was so tired. So instead of continuing the kiss when they broke away from each other, he hid his face between John’s neck and collarbone, nuzzling into the warm space.

Laurens hummed contently, then started to giggle. Soon his giggles turned into real, full-on laughter, and Alexander began to worry. Had it all been a joke?

Of course it was all a joke. Who the HELL would want to kiss you? Nobody. And especially not John Laurens.

Before Alex could react to Laurens’ unexpected laughter, Laurens calmed down, and managed to speak. “I’ve just…” He giggled again. “It’s just because I’ve wanted to do that for so long. And I finally got to.”

“So you’re… happy?” Alex said, his words slightly muffled by Laurens’ warm skin.

“Beyond happy,” Laurens said, one last giggle escaping him as he settled further into the bed, kissing the crown of Alexander’s head.

For the first time in a long time, Alex felt completely safe, surrounded by a comforting warmth, not just physically, but emotionally.

He wasn’t sure what emotion he was feeling at the moment, but he prayed it was something that could never be taken away.

Chapter Text

“Do you need anything, Mom?” Eliza awoke to Angelica standing in their bedroom doorway, yelling down the hall to their mother, who was presumably still in bed after being told by her doctor that bedrest would be best for her and the twins.

Eliza rubbed her eyes and took in her sister’s image. She was already dressed and ready for the day and it was only… nine in the morning? On a Saturday? Eliza groaned and rolled back over.

“Oh no, sleepy head! You’re getting up and we’re getting coffee!” Angelica exclaimed upon realizing her sister was awake.

It was strange to have someone in the room with her again. The room used to be filled with life when she, Angelica, and Peggy were all home from school for the summer, or back before high school, when they’d attended a local school, like their two younger siblings, Rensselaer and Cornelia, currently did.

But ever since coming home, Eliza had been alone in the suddenly too-large room. It only reminded her even more of her failure. It only made her feel emptier inside.

But at the moment Angelica was there and shaking her by the shoulders. “Up up! Up and at ‘em, sis! There’s a new coffee place I heard about that I’m just dying to try,” Angelica said dramatically.

Eliza couldn’t help but laugh. “Okay,” she said. “Okay.” She sat up. “I’m up.” She stuck her tongue out at Angelica, who simply grabbed her sister’s arm and pulled her forward.

“I’m not falling for that trick! Get up !” Angelica said with a laugh.

“Um, excuse me, but you’re the one who always pulls that trick,” Eliza said as she stretched and actually got out of bed. She yawned. “You sure we have to be up this early? On the weekend?” She pouted, batting her lashes at her sister.

Angelica rolled her eyes. “The earlier you get up the better the coffee tastes.”

“I don’t think there’s any scientific research to back up that statement,” Eliza said with another yawn.

“It’s how I get out of bed for my eight a.m. class,” Angelica said.

“You used to have to be in class by 8:30 just a year ago.” Eliza shot her sister a confused look.

“Trust me. It’s different. You’ll see,” she said with a grin.

“Yeah…” Eliza said with a sigh. At that moment she couldn’t see far past the next hour, but she didn’t want to tell Angelica that. She’d only worry her, and today she just wanted to have fun with her sister.

“Well, you get dressed and then we’ll head out,” Angelica said with a little clap of her hands. She was smiling too much for such an early hour on a weekend, but Eliza secretly loved it.

She hoped that soon she’d be smiling that much, at any hour of the day.

 

***

Soon they were seated at a hip new place downtown with two steaming cups in front of them. Eliza hadn’t even been aware that there was a new coffee shop, but then again, she never paid much attention to that kind of thing. Leave it to Angelica to know about this place the second it opened its doors even though she was the one who was away at college.

It wasn’t the kind of place Eliza would go, with its primary colors and too-modern vibe, but she’d never been one for coffee in the first place. She’d only started drinking it at breakfast with Angelica during those early mornings at school. She’d stopped drinking it this year. Maybe that had been the problem all along.

She took a sip from her cup, let it slither down her throat. She waited a moment. Nope, she still felt the same way.

“Sooooo,” Angelica said reaching across the table and taking Eliza’s hands in hers, bouncing them up and down excitedly. “Tell me all about your life! How’s school? Who was that cute boy last night?”

Eliza forced a smile onto her face as she met Angelica’s eyes. She wasn’t sure how much of the truth she should tell her sister. She’d never kept secrets from her before, but she didn’t want to worry Angelica or make her feel guilty for going away for school. Angelica should be having fun at college. She’d worked so hard to get into Princeton. Eliza didn’t feel right ruining that for her.

Eliza widened her smile and hoped it reached her eyes.

“It’s all great!” she said as happily as she could. “Coming back here for school was just what I needed. I think I was just too homesick.”

Angelica squeezed her sister’s hands before letting go to grab her coffee mug. She took a long sip before continuing. “Boarding school isn’t for everyone! Plus I know Dad is happy to have you back.”

Eliza shot Angelica a confused look. “What do you mean?”

“I mean he missed you, silly. He hated sending us to boarding school, but Mom insisted and you know how he is with mom.” Angelica cocked an eyebrow.

Eliza couldn’t help the real smile that overtook her face as she and Angelica said at the same time, “Mom always gets what she wants!” and then burst into a fit of giggles.

Angelica wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. She looked at her sister for a moment, her face turning serious again.

“Eliza?” She waited for her sister to meet her eyes. “Please tell me if you’re not okay.”

“I’m fine, Ang,” Eliza said with a little laugh and wave of her hand. “I was just homesick.”

Angelica stared at Eliza for a moment, as if she were trying to gauge the sincerity of her answer. She finally smiled back at her. “I’m so glad, ‘Liza. You deserve happiness more than anyone I know.”

She lifted her cup of coffee in the air and motioned for Eliza to do the same. “To Eliza!”

Eliza lifted her cup. “To Angelica!”

They didn’t even pause before continuing, together, in place of their younger sister, “And Peggy! The Schuyler sisters!”

As their mugs clinked, Eliza watched Angelica smile and laugh. In that moment, she was happy.

 

***

 

“Ang! Ang, can you come here for a second?” Philip Schuyler called Angelica downstairs into his study, where he, Eliza, and the two youngest Schuyler children, Rensselaer and Cornelia, were.

Eliza sat on the chair next to her father’s oakwood desk because it was her favorite out of the various ones in his office. It had a dark wooden frame that matched the desk, and the seat was upholstered with a patterned light blue cloth.

Cornelia was sitting where Peggy typically loved to curl up with a good book, in the yellow armchair kept in the far corner of the office. Rensselaer was standing on his tiptoes, trying to grab an old book off their father’s bookshelf.

“Rensselaer,” their father warned. The boy flopped onto the floor dramatically. “Come here, you scoundrel!” Philip exclaimed, scooping the boy up and tickling him. His high-pitched laughter quickly filled the small space. Eliza couldn’t help but smile.

Angelica burst into the room, a trail of music following her even though it was playing through her headphones. “What’s up?” Angelica said as she bounced around the corner, pulling out her earbuds.

“Come in here and shut the door,” their father said quietly.

Angelica shot him a strange look, but did as he’d asked. She leaned against the door once she’d shut it, arms crossed.

“Kids, your mother had another doctor’s appointment yesterday morning,” he started off.

“The baby doctor?” Cornelia asked. The way she batted her large doe eyes never failed to make Eliza melt into a puddle, ready to do the five-year-old’s every bidding.

“Yes, exactly, Cornelia,” Philip said. The little girl’s face burst into a smile at her father’s praise.

“Did he use his x-ray vision to see the baby?” Rensselaer asked excitedly.

Philip laughed. “It’s not really x-ray vision, Ren.”

“Aw man,” the eight-year-old said, banging his fists on the wooden floorboards.

“Ren,” Angelica warned. He shot her an annoyed look, but behaved after that. Their younger siblings rarely defied Angelica, or Eliza, for that matter. But Peggy? Sometimes she was just as bad as them.

“Anyway, he is pleased with her limited activity, and said that both her and the twins seem to be in good health, but he did have one more order for her to follow.” He looked at his youngest two children first, then Angelica, his eyes finally resting on Eliza. Something akin to sorrow passed through his eyes. He spoke again before Eliza had much time to worry.

“We need to keep as much stress away from her as possible,” he said with a sigh.

“What do you mean?” Angelica asked, her eyes narrowed in confusion.

“I mean that for the next month, until those babies come, she needs to have as little excitement as possible.”

The guilt slammed into Eliza. She was the stress. She was the excitement. She was the problem.

“...so Eliza?” She was jolted back to the present by her father saying her name. “I’ll need you to help out more with the kids.”

“Do you need me to take time off from school, Papa?” Angelica asked.

Eliza’s heart sank. Her sister was so selfless, so genuine. Why couldn’t she have been like her and stayed at school like she was supposed to?

“No, no, Angie, but thank you so much for the offer.” He smiled at her, his eyes misted over just a little. “So Rensselaer, Cornelia?”

The two smaller children perked up, giving their father their full attention.

“I need you two to be on your best behavior, okay? No more little arguments over licking the peanut butter spoon.”

“But she always gets to!” Rensselaer whined.

“Ren,” their father warned, pinning the boy with a stern look.

“Fine,” he mumbled. “I can’t wait for the babies to get here already,” he said with a pout.

“I’m going to dress them up like little dollies!” Cornelia exclaimed. “Can I go practice on my baby dollies, Papa?”

“Sure,” he said with an indulgent smile. “Angie, can you go, uh, teach her proper, uh, baby-dressing techniques?”

“I wanna learn too!” Rensselaer exclaimed.

“That’s great, yes! Ang?” He looked a little desperate.

Angelica got the hint and quickly shepherded the two kids out of the study. Eliza got up to follow her siblings, but Philip stopped her.

“Eliza? Can I actually talk to you for a moment?”

She froze, her hand mid-air, still reaching for the brass doorknob. “Sure,” she said softly, turning to face her father again.

“Have a seat, sweetie,” he said, his voice gentle. He patted her favorite blue chair.  “Eliza, sweetie,” he began again. “I didn’t want you to think that you were the stress. I couldn’t say this in front of Ren and Lia, but they are quite the handful for your poor mother to manage, especially when she’s already so worried…”

Here it comes, Eliza thought. The part where it’s all your fault.

“...about the twins and her own health. I hate to ask this of you, but could you possibly look after them after school and help them get ready for school? I, of course, will take over as soon as I get home from work, and you won’t need to worry about meals, just make sure they don’t kill each other––” Eliza could tell he would keep rambling if she didn’t stop him.

“Papa, Papa, of course,” she said, reaching her hand out toward him. He gratefully took it, giving it a tight squeeze.

“Oh, ‘Liza,” he said, his head drooping a bit. “I am so glad you’re home.” When he looked up at her, there were tears in his eyes. “But I am so sorry for the circumstances, and now for thrusting all of this responsibility on you.”   

“Papa, it’s okay. I’m fine now, really,” she lied.

“Did that group help?” He’d known she hadn’t wanted to go, but what he didn’t know was that she’d still gone because she would do anything he asked of her.

“Oh, yes,” she said, trying to sound as genuine as possible; trying to channel her inner Angelica.

“And that therapist? Is she good?” He looked so anxious, so anxious to do right by her. She couldn’t let him feel he’d done otherwise.

“She’s excellent,” Eliza said with a firm nod and tight-lipped smile.

Her father’s face lit up in a grin. “Oh, my sweet Eliza,” he said, opening his arms to her. She happily filled them and he lovingly ran a hand down her straight black hair. “I love you so much, my dear girl. I’m so happy you’re home. Having my three girls away was rough on your old man,” he said with a sad chuckle.

“I’m happy to be home,” she said, which wasn’t a total lie.

“Okay, sweet pea. I’m gonna go rescue Angie from Ren and Lia. Now she mentioned a little outing tonight?” He elbowed Eliza.

She furrowed her brow at him. This was the first that she was hearing of such a thing.

“Ah, shoot. It was a surprise, wasn’t it? Well, leave it to your pops to spill the beans. Can you act surprised? I would love to be spared a famous Angelica lecture.”

Eliza couldn’t help but laugh. “Maybe you need to learn your lesson,” she said jokingly.

“What a cruel lesson that would be,” he chuckled.

“You were the one who said you missed us,” she said with a smirk.

“Using my own words against me, wow! Maybe my sweet Eliza would make a good lawyer after all,” he grinned.

“No way,” she laughed. “Never ever!”

“You’re too gentle for that life, anyway,” he said, suddenly serious. “And the world needs more gentle people, you hear me?”

Eliza nodded her head, confused by the sudden switch in tone.

“Good, sweet pea. All right, let’s go! And remember, act surprised.” He winked and looped an arm over her shoulders, pulling her into his side, leaving a gentle kiss on the crown of her head.

“We’ll see about that,” she said. They both laughed as they left the study, though the echoes of what her father had just told her was still resounding in her mind.

The world needs more gentle people.

Part of her wondered how true that was, or if he was just trying to make her feel better because she wasn’t as assertive as Angelica or as cunning as Peggy.

The other part of her hoped that it was true; that there was a place for her in the world, after all.

 

***

 

“It’ll be fun !” Angelica said, her back turned to Eliza as she sifted through her closet, searching for the perfect outfit.

“And when were you going to tell me about this fun, exactly?” Eliza was still angry that Angelica had planned on taking her to the Washington’s without telling her where they were going.

“When we pulled up in front of their house?” Angelica said as sheepishly as someone with her overwhelming amount of confidence could.

“Not. Cool.” Eliza said, arms crossed, a frown on her face.

Angelica turned around and tossed some clothes at Eliza. “Try these on,” she directed. She turned back to the closet. “You’ll have fun, I promise. Come on. It’s Laf and Herc and Laurens. And that cute kid from your group.” She turned around and waggled her eyebrow at Eliza, who promptly threw an article of clothing at her.

“Alex and I are just friends!” Eliza exclaimed. She didn’t want to tell Angelica that she didn’t feel much for anyone at all lately. She didn’t want to sound like a monster.

“Sure you are,” Angelica teased.

Eliza glared at her sister then turned around the change. She knew she didn’t have much of a choice in the matter, anyway. Angelica would all but force her, and if she did convince her to let her stay home, her dad would worry about why she was staying home. He most definitely did not need more worries at the moment.

The ride to the Washington’s was filled with Angelica’s hip hop music and Eliza’s silence. When they pulled into the large circular driveway, Angelica parked the car and turned it off before turning to Eliza. She took her sister’s hands in her own.

“One hour. That’s all I ask of you, ‘Liza.” She batted her eyes at her. Angelica had the same doe eyes as Cornelia. It wasn’t fair. How could she ever say no to her?

“Fine,” Eliza whispered. She looked out the window, toward the large house.

“But if you’re having fun, then by all means, we’ll stay.” Angelica gave her hands a squeeze then released them. “And we have our code, remember?”

The code. How could Eliza had forgotten about the code? Maybe because she’d been away from her sisters for longer than ever before, so she’d had nobody to use the code with. The code was simple. When they’d been away at school together and had wanted to escape a situation on the downlow, the code was I forgot to finish my economics paper!

None of them were ever in economics, but neither were any of their friends, so they never thought it was odd. If anything, they thought the girls could be a little forgetful about their economics assignments.

When they were home and out and need to get away, the code was Dad texted and asked us to pick up cough syrup asap.

They’d only ever used that code once, when Peggy had gotten awful cramps during movie night at the Washington’s and she hadn’t known the boys well enough to feel comfortable telling them yet.

Eliza felt like in exactly one hour, Dad might be in need of some cough syrup.

The girls got out of the car. Angelica skipped up the steps and raised her fist to knock, but there was no need. Lafayette flung the door opened and jumped on Angelica before she could get so much as a hello out.

“Mon amie!” Lafayette screeched. He’d wrapped his legs around Angelica’s waist, clinging to her like a koala bear. “J'étais si triste quand tu étais parti, mais maintenant tu es ici et je suis si heureux!” he babbled in French.

Angelica chuckled, but her arms were wrapped tightly around Laf, her head buried between his chin and shoulder. Eliza knew that no matter how tough Angelica acted sometimes, she missed her friends more than she let on.

“Um, do I get a hug or what?” Herc stood in the doorway, arms open wide, a pout on his face.

“Hey, what about me!” Laurens exclaimed, pushing past Herc.

Laf finally let go of Angelica, who was laughing so hard she could barely breathe.

“There’s enough of me to go around!” She said once she’d stopped laughing. She opened her arms wide and both boys tried to fill the space at once. Laf hugged her again from behind. “Ahh!” she shrieked from the middle of all her friends.

Eliza spotted Alexander hovering awkwardly in the doorway. She climbed up the steps toward him and leaned against the frame.

“They like hugs,” she said.

Alex laughed nervously and scratched the back of his neck. “I guess so.”

“So what’re we even doing tonight?” Eliza asked.

Alex shrugged his shoulders. “Beats me. Laf just said we were having a get together.”

“Speak of le diable et le diable apparaîtront,” Laf said with a laugh as he twirled through the doorway, the others following behind him. “And to answer your question, mes amis, we are playing a little game,” he said with a smirk.

“And what would that be?” Angelica asked, coming up behind Laf, resting an elbow on his shoulder.

“Truth or dare!”

Chapter Text

“Truth or dare,” Laf said with a mischievous grin.

“Truth or dare?” Alex squeaked, fiddling his thumbs nervously.

Eliza couldn’t help but giggle. “Oh my god, of course , Laf. You just wanna know what Angie has been up to since she left for college!”

Laf stuttered, his cheeks flushing a deep red. “No-no, mon amie!” he exclaimed, growing more and more flustered.

Angelica leaned in closer to him, a smirk on her face. “Is someone a lil jealous?” she said with a wink.

“Hey!” Herc came up and grabbed Laf around the stomach from behind. Laf nuzzled his head against Herc’s shoulder.

“Oh please, we all know Laf has always had a crush on Angie,” Eliza said with a wave of her hand.

“Well, duh,” Herc agreed. “But we don’t have to talk about it in front of his boyfriend.” He stuck his tongue out at Angelica.

She held her hands up. “Hey, I’ve got my eyes on someone else, so, ya know.” She grinned.

Eliza felt her heart drop out of her body. Why hadn’t Angelica told her she had a crush? They’d always used to talk about that back when they were in boarding school together. Had she told Peggy and not her because of what’d happened?

She was close to using their code when she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. Alexander, looking at John, blushing. She smiled at the two boys, the sight sparking something within her that she hadn’t felt in a while. She wasn’t so sure what, exactly, it was, but if she had that silly sheet from group, maybe she could put a name to it.

For the time being, she simply followed the two boys down the hall and up the stairs to Laf’s room.

Lafayette’s room was almost as familiar to her as her own. She spent a lot of time in it over the summers, when she, her sisters, Laf, John, and Herc all holed up there, with the lemonade, iced tea, and chips Martha always gave them, before and after their summer adventures.

It was almost strange to be there during the school year. She wasn’t used to seeing Laf’s backpack on his desk chair or various notes scattered atop his desk. Laf’s room was summertime fun, not school year stress. Then again, she wasn’t supposed to be there. She was supposed to be at the Hadley School for Girls with Peggy and Maria.

“Everyone make a circle!” Angelica’s instructions snapped her back to the present.

Eliza made sure that she was right at her sister’s side when they were taking their seats on the circular braided rug on Laf’s floor. Unsurprisingly, Laf sat on Angelica’s other side, Herc next to him, John next to Herc, and Alex between Herc and Eliza.

Eliza flashed Alexander a small smile. He tried to smile back, but it looked more like a grimace. She felt his pain.

“Okay, mes amis! Here are the rules. You can pick truth or you can pick dare. You cannot change your mind once you have chosen. I will ask first, and whoever I ask will ask whoever they choose after they’ve said or done their truth or dare.” He flashed them all a smile. “And, contrary to what you’re all thinking, my dear John Laurens is the person I’m asking first.” He focused in on the freckled boy and winked. “So, Laurens, mon ami. Truth or dare?”

“Give me your worst dare,” he said with a grin.

“I knew you’d pick that,” Herc muttered before turning to Laf. “Laf, babe,” he placed a hand on his boyfriend’s arm. “Remember, nothing dangerous.” He raised his brow at Laf.

Eliza shuddered, remember one game of truth or dare they played outside last summer, late at night. They dared John to swim in the river. He’d not only swam, but he nearly drowned because he was convinced he could swim all the way to the other side and back. Thank god Angie and Herc were lifeguards.

Laf nodded at Herc, then turned back to Laurens. “Okay, mon ami. I dare you to lick the floor.”

“Ew,” Eliza giggled.

“You boys are nasty!” Angelica exclaimed.

Laurens rolled his eyes. “That’s all you got?” He smirked. “I’ll do better.” With that, he bent over and licked the rug.

“My god,” Herc muttered, covering his eyes with his palm.

Laurens sat back up and shrugged, a defiant look on his face. “So my turn, right?”

“Oui, mon ami, you monster,” Laf said, his face scrunched up in disgust as Laurens pulled a piece of hair off of his tongue.

Laurens only laughed. “Okay, then Angelica, truth or dare?”

Angelica cackled. “I’ll play along here.” She turned to Laf and winked. “Truth, my dear Laurens.”

“Okay, I’m asking for a friend,” he said in a mock serious voice. “Tell us about your crush.”

Angelica laughed, her dark cheeks growing only slightly rosier. “Well, if you insist,” she said with a wave of her hand. “My crush is in my year at college, in two of my classes, and may even be in my major, but I don’t know yet.”

“What’s their gender?” Laurens pushed.

“Only one question per round!” Angelica protested. Everyone burst out in laughter.

Eliza loved the way her laughter felt when she was with her friends. It felt so pure and real. Not at all like it’d been feeling anywhere else, lately.

“Okay, so, I choose my dear little sister,” Angelica said, leaning over and pulling Eliza into a side hug. Eliza’s heart began to race. But she trusted Angie. She had her back. She’s always had her back.

“Okay, um, truth,” Eliza said quickly, staring down at her crossed legs.

“Who here has the nicest butt?” Angelica asked, tone entirely serious.

There was a solid second of silence before everyone, even Alexander, who’d appeared far too anxious before, was doubled over in laughter. They laughed and laughed until their stomachs hurt. Eliza sat back up, wiping away the tears that had formed in the corners of her eyes. When was the last time she’d laughed like that? When was the last time her tears had been for a good reason?

“Um,” she said, a few more giggles escaping her. “I gotta go with…” She stroked her chin, pretending to deliberate. “Hercules Mulligan!” she shouted, throwing her arms up in the air. This was the most alive she’d felt in so long.

Everyone was laughing again as Herc jumped to his feet and turned so his back was to the group. He wiggled his butt around, shoving it in Laf’s face. Laf gently kissed a cheek, causing everyone to laugh even harder.

Laurens was on his back, legs flailing in the air as he laughed.

“The turtle tipped over,” Angelica said through her fits of laughter, pointing at John.

A few moments later, everyone was seated properly again, seemingly permanent smiles on their faces.

“Who do you pick, ‘Liza?” Angelica prompted.

“Right, I pick winner of the Best Butt Award, Hercules Mulligan,” she said with a giggle.

Herc’s face broke out in an even larger grin.

“So, Herc,” Eliza said. “Truth or dare?”

“Truth me up, Eliza!” he exclaimed.

Eliza stammered for a moment, suddenly second-guessing the question she’d already planned out in her head. These are your friends, she reminded herself. They’ll love you no matter what.

She took a deep breath. “Okay, so, um, what is the strangest thing you’ve done for Laf since you started dating?”

Eliza held her breath. Here is the moment they all realize how strange you really are. Instead, Herc’s jolly laughter filled the room and Laf groaned, but there was still a smile on his face.

“He’s one weird dude, so it’s hard to pick one, but the weirdest thing I’ve done for him was go the the grocery store at two in the morning for paper plates.”

“What the fuck, Laf?” Angelica chuckled, lightly punching Laf in the arm.

“It was a crisis!” he said.

“Sure,” Laurens said with a dry laugh.

“It was because he was using them for some art project,” Herc said with a fond smile. He leaned over and kissed Laf on the cheek.

“Alrighty, now that we’ve thoroughly embarrassed Laf, I choose Alex next.” Herc said. “So, Alex, truth or dare?”

“Um… truth?” he said uncertainly.

“Okay, so who here would you most like to kiss?” Herc asked with a wink.

Alex’s face lit up in a relieved grin. He turned to Laurens and kissed him before the other boy had time to understand what was happening.

Clearly I’ve missed something, Eliza thought. She couldn’t help the smile that overtook her face. They were perfect for each other, and so cute together, too.

Once they pulled apart, Laurens, his freckled face now bright red, whispered something to Alexander.

“Oh, right! Laf, truth or dare?” He smiled at his foster brother.

“Dare!” Lafayette exclaimed.

Alex smirked. “I dare you to let me do your hair.”

“But you cannot even do your own hair!” Lafayette lamented. “But alas, I have chosen my fate and now I must succumb to it.” He pretended to swoon. “Do what you must, mon ami!”

Alex employed the help of the group, all of them dividing up Laf’s puffy curls and making a bunch of little pig tails that stuck up all over his head in adorable tuffs by the time they were done.

Herc had his phone out and was taking a bunch of pictures. “Babe, you are so damn cute,” he said.

The group stayed in Laf’s room a little longer, chatting and fooling around. At one point they skyped Peggy, who was up late working on a paper due Monday so she could finish a project due Tuesday so she could study for a test she had on Wednesday.

“Bet you don’t miss that,” Laurens said to Eliza once they’d ended the call with Peggy, playfully jabbing her in the ribs.

“Y-yeah,” Eliza said, trying to sound convincing.

Thankfully, Laf distracted John from taking any notice of Eliza’s forced response. “All right, mes amis! Movie night! Second night in a row! Angie, out guest of honor, will you please choose?”

Angelica bowed and pretended to tip a top hat in Laf’s direction. “It would be my absolute honor, my dear Frenchman.”

With that, the group took off down the stairs, some of them breaking off to grab snacks and drinks, others to claim seats on the couch or floor or various chairs in the Washington’s living room.

Eliza felt as if she were floating behind them all. She felt there enough to feel everything as it happened around her, but not there enough to actually take part in it.

Bet you don’t miss that . Laurens’ words echoed in her head.

And she didn’t, not really. But she missed who that had made her. She missed who she had been before. She missed being okay.

***

Eliza awoke the next morning to Angelica shuffling around their shared room. Her sister was, once again, already dressed and ready for the day. And she was… packing her suitcase?

Eliza’s heart fell. Right . Angelica had to go back to campus, which was not short trip, for classes the next day. Angelica probably had friends she wanted to have dinner with, homework she needed to complete, a roommate to gossip with late into the night, much like she once had with her two sisters.

Angelica had a life and world outside of Eliza. A life and world that would be no worse off if Eliza wasn’t in it.

What was that thought? Eliza wondered. She ignored it. She was just tired, and sad that Angie was leaving so soon. She was fine. She had to be.



Breakfast that morning was hectic. Their mother had decided to join them at the table, though she was under strict orders from Philip not to lift a finger for anything except eating.

“I’m grown, Phil,” she said gently, one hand resting on her enlarged stomach. “I know my limits.”

“You know me,” Philip said as he placed a plate stacked with pancakes in front of her. “I worry.” He kissed the crown of her head.

She laughed. “You better not have gotten syrup in my hair,” she teased.

“Daddy, where’s the good syrup?” Cornelia whined. She was glaring at the little glass leaf of pure maple syrup as if it was actually satan.

“You mean your sugary mess that some people call syrup?” Angelica teased, ruffling their younger sister’s curly brown hair as she passed by. She opened the fridge and pulled it out, setting it down in front of Cornelia.

“Sugar syrup!” Rensselaer exclaimed, reaching for the bottle as soon as Cornelia had finished drowning her pancakes.

Angelica rolled her eyes. “Mom, Dad, please tell me that I had better taste as a child?”

“I’m afraid not,” their mother said with a soft laugh.

“Kids love that syrupy mess, Ang,” their dad said with a chuckle. “You sure did, and so did Peggy, but our Eliza,” he smiled at her, “she always loved the good stuff. She was sweet enough without that,” he pointed to the bottle that Rensselaer was still emptying onto his dish.

“That’s enough, Ren,” Catherine Schuyler scolded.

Rensselaer pouted as he set the plastic bottle back down.

“So, my baby girl is headed back so soon?” Philip said as he sat down next to his wife.

“Dad.” Angelica rolled her eyes. “I’ll be back, soon you’ll see, and then you’ll just wish I’d leave!” She laughed.

They probably wish I would leave, Eliza thought. She shook her head. Where were these thoughts coming from?

“Never,” their father protested. “I’m never happier than when I have all of my children right here with me.” He patted the kitchen table.

Eliza tried to ignore the empty seat next to her, where Peggy would be if she were there. Peggy is happy and well-adjusted and doesn’t miss me at all. Eliza sighed. It was obviously going to be a long day.

They were barely halfway through breakfast when Cornelia threw a syrup-soaked piece of pancake at Rensselaer, landing it in his springy curls.

“Ugh,” Angelica sighed. “Cornelia, timeout.”

“You aren’t my mom!” the little girl said, gruffly crossing her arms.

“Well I am, and I agree with Angelica,” Catherine said.

Philip looked panicked. Exactly what he hadn’t wanted to happen was happening. Eliza felt helpless as she watched the commotion around her.

“Get it out, get it out, get it out!” Rensselaer whined.

Angelica had Cornelia’s hand firmly grasped in hers, but she glanced at Ren, sympathy washing over her face.

“Eliza, you take Cornelia to time-out in her room,” their father instructed. “And Angie, help me with Ren’s hair?”

Eliza sighed in relief. She and her mother were the only ones in her family with different hair. Theirs was black and sleek, while all of her siblings had either springy curls, like Cornelia and Ren, or more relaxed curls like Angie and Peggy. She’d never been good at dealing with her own hair, let alone any of her siblings’.

Eliza took Cornelia by her hand and led her up the stairs to the room she and Ren shared. She directed her to her bed, then sat down next to her. Cornelia was subdued now, looking down at the red socks on her tiny feet.

“Why’d you do that, Corny?” Eliza asked, using the nickname she and her sisters had given their youngest sibling when she was just an infant.

“I dunno,” she said with a shrug.

Eliza sighed. Who was she to judge her little sister for not understanding her own actions and feelings when, lately, Eliza hadn’t been able to understand her own?

“Okay,” she said softly. “It’s okay not to know, but it’s not okay to do something like what you did to Ren. That wasn’t nice, Corny.”

“I know. I’m sorry, ‘Liza.” She looked up at her older sister, tears filling her large brown eyes.

Eliza enveloped her in a hug, breathing in her scent–– the no-tears shampoo their mom always used on the kids and, unsurprisingly, maple syrup.

“Just apologize to Ren, okay?” She felt Cornelia nod. “And Corny?” She pulled away from her sister, reaching out to wipe a few tears from her face. “If you ever have feelings you don’t understand and you want to talk about them, come find me, okay?”

“Okay,” she sniffled. Eliza leaned forward and kissed Cornelia on the forehead, suddenly remembering all of the times Angelica had done that for her, from the time when it’d just been the two of them, all the way up til now.

Angelica had always been there for her.



That night, Eliza’s bedroom was just too empty. It felt so dead after Angelica’s energy had filled it up only that morning.

Eliza pulled the blankets tight around herself, trying to ignore the waves of loneliness and sadness that were crashing into her. She tried to withstand them, but she was no rock. She was sand. She was easily moved, easily hurt. And she couldn’t ignore how she was feeling, even if she didn’t understand it.

She imagined Angelica, chatting with her roommate over some late night coffee as they powered through all of the coursework they’d left til the last minute. She imagined Peggy, no doubt passed out on the stack of books on her desk, highlighter in her hand, pen marks on her face.

Then there was her. Eliza. In her bed. Crying over nothing, absolutely nothing. This time, when The Thought appeared, it didn’t scare her as much as before. It felt more natural. It felt right. It repeated over and over in her head, sending her into a fitful sleep.

Why am I even here?

Chapter Text

It was one am and Alexander still wasn’t asleep. And he had school, school , in the morning. The Washingtons were finally letting him go back, though he could tell that they weren’t entirely happy with the decision.

It’d been Alexander’s reassurance that he’d call them if he felt unwell and Lafayette reassurance that he would make sure he or Alex called them in Alex felt unwell that finally got them to give their hesitant yes. So school. In the morning. With Lafayette, Hercules, Eliza, and John Laurens .

Alex couldn’t help but smile when he thought about John. They’d held hands throughout the entire movie last night, and John had kissed him goodbye, right on the Washingtons’ front step, like in a movie. Alexander still couldn’t believe that this was his life.

You can’t believe it because you know you don’t deserve it. You know it, I know it, and soon everyone will know it.

Alex buried his face in his pillow. He was already having enough trouble sleeping without the voice intruding.

You forced that yes out of George and Martha. You know you’re really going against their wishes. You’re making them angry. This can’t end well.

“They’re different,” Alex whispered out loud, but even he could hear the uncertainty in his voice. He sighed, his body shuddering as the air left his lungs. It was clear that he wasn’t going to be able to sleep.

He got up and slipped out of his room, one of his blankets wrapped around his shoulders. He padded down the stairs as softly as possible, hoping he could avoid all the creaky floorboards. He managed to get to the kitchen without making a sound.

He went up to the cabinet to retrieve a cup, thinking some water might calm him. He nearly shrieked when he caught sight of a figure in the doorway of George’s office.

Alexander froze, eyes wide, the glass clenched tightly in his hand.

“Alexander?” Lafayette stepped out of the shadows. “Mon ami, what are you doing up? We have school tomorrow.”

Alex furrowed his brow at Laf. “Why are you up?” he asked, taking a step toward Laf.

Lafayette chuckled. “Promise not to tell George?” he stage-whispered.

Alex rolled his eyes. “Sure, whatever,” he mumbled, a yawn escaping his mouth. Knowing Lafayette, it was probably something incredibly silly or tear-jerkingly thoughtful.

“I was curious,” Laf said, his voice growing more serious. “Curious if I had any… uh, French relatives out there, you see? I love George and Martha,” he added quickly. “They’re my parents, but sometimes I miss home and people who know what home was like,” Laf said with a sigh.

“Why don’t you just ask George and Martha?” Alex asked, taking a seat at one of the stools at the kitchen table. He may not have known George and Martha for long, but they sure seemed like the kind of people who would help when asked.

“I cannot risk breaking their hearts,” Laf said, sighing as he took a seat next to Alex. “I am afraid they will think they are not enough, or that I am ungrateful.” Laf shook his head. “Maybe I am ungrateful.”

“Laf, no, I don’t think they would think that, and you most definitely aren’t ungrateful,” Alex said, reaching out and placing a hand on Laf’s arm.

Laf smiled at him, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Thank you, mon ami. I didn’t find anything anyway. Everyone is probably…” He took a deep breath. “Oh well! I have my American family. America has become more of a home to me, anyway.”

Alex smiled at Laf, but he wasn’t buying it. He wanted to help him, but he wasn’t sure how–– or at least he wasn’t sure how just yet.

“Bedtime, again, mon ami?” Laf said, standing up and pushing the stool in.

“Um,” Alex scratched the back of his neck, averting his eyes.

“Bedtime,” Laf said firmly. He gestured for Alexander to follow him.

After finally getting a cup of water, Alex followed Laf back up the stairs, pausing by his room when Laf continued on without looking back at the smaller boy.

“Mon ami,” he hissed, upon realizing Alex had stopped following him. He waved him forward.

Alex hugged the blanket more tightly around his shoulders and ran up to Laf, looking at him in confusion. Laf threw an arm over Alexander’s shoulder and pulled him into his room.

“Will this help?” Laf asked.

Alex sighed. “Yeah,” he whispered. He set the glass of water down and climbed into bed next to Laf, snuggling up to him. After doing the same thing with John so many times, it took him a moment to adjust to Laf and his lanky limbs and lavender scent, but soon his breathing was calmer, the thoughts were just slugs trailing their slime through him mind.

He’s… doing this… out… of… pity , the voice said. But it was so slow that Alexander was able to let it dissolve into the vacuum of his mind.

He drifted into a peaceful darkness, the steady rise and fall of Laf’s chest his lullaby.

***

“LAFAYETTE! ALEXANDER!” Hercules shouted from across the parking lot. He jumped up and down, frantically waving his hands over his head, an exaggerated grin on his face. Laurens was standing next to the larger boy, smiling shyly, looking half-awake.

Lafayette cackled as he and Alexander approached their friends. “Hmm, Alexander, do you think someone is trying to get our attention?” Laf stroked his chin in thought.

Alex laughed. “Maybe,” he mustered up with another anxious laugh.

He’d ended up getting some sleep, but he was still anxious about going back, especially after how his last first day went. But then John was in front of him. John and his freckled face and easy smile and… red eyes? Too little sleep?

Alex was about to ask when John took his hand and all of Alexander’s wildest dreams came true at once.

John gave Alex’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “Hey, welcome back. I’m so glad you’re here.”

He’s just saying that.

No.

Alex smiled. “Me, too,” Alex whispered.

And then Laurens leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. It was chaste and quick, but John Laurens had kissed him in public . Alexander floated into the school building, thinking maybe, just maybe, his school day would go much better this time.

***

Eliza sat behind Alexander in history class, but aside from saying hi and offering him the smallest of small smiles, she was silent. He heard the scratch of her pen against her the pages of her notebook, but that was all. She didn’t answer a single question. As soon as class was over, Eliza swung her backpack over her shoulder and dashed out of the room.

Alex raced after her as fast as he could, but by the time he’d made it to the doorway, she’d disappeared into the crush of kids flooding the hallway. One of those kids happened to have an easy smile and a freckled face, though. And that specific kid happened to be holding his hand out to Alexander. As soon as Alex took it, he felt more alive. He smiled at John.

“Hey,” he said softly. “How was chem lab?”

Laurens shrugged. “It was chem lab.”

Alex studied John’s face for a moment. His eyes were still red, so Alex guessed that John hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before. He was about to ask John how he was when the other boy suddenly dropped his hand.

“Shit,” John said. “Shit, shit, shit. This is not a safe space.”

“What’re you talking about?” Alexander asked, longing to reach out to John again, but feeling like it would only make the situation worse.”

“There are people, Alex, people .” John whispered, his eyes darting all around them. “I just… I got so caught up in… in being here, with you, I forgot, how could I forget?” He ran a hand through his hair. Alex winced when it got caught it what looked like a big knot. When had John last brushed his hair?

“John, slow down, please, baby,” Alex said, the last word just slipping out.

John locked his eyes on Alex’s. “You can’t call me that here,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.” He turned and ran off into the dissipating crowd of students.

Alex took a deep breath, trying to calm his anxiety, but it wasn’t working.

He’s finally seen through you. He’s finally seen how disgusting you really are.

No.

He’s embarrassed to be seen with you. He was only affectionate with you out of pity. He doesn’t want the public seeing him with someone as lowly as you.

“No!” Alex shouted. He covered his mouth when he’d realized he’d said it out loud. He knew what he should do. He should call Martha or George or even text Laf. The thoughts were coming back. They were surrounding him, biting him, sinking their teeth into his flesh and pulling him down. It wouldn’t be long before they’d drowned him completely.

But he didn’t touch his phone. He ran to the nearest bathroom instead, where he splashed some cool water on his face. He wanted to hide away until lunch, but he knew he’d get in trouble. He was already late for class.

So he took a deep breath and went back out there.

***

Alexander was exhausted. He’d managed to get through his next three classes, but he wasn’t sure how he was going to manage the rest of the day. His anxiety had subsided enough that he could lose himself in notes at various points throughout class, but whenever he thought of John, and the look in John’s eyes, and what John had said, the voice came back.

His notes were interrupted by the voice at times.

The hills in Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” can be seen as a symbol for the woman’s pregnancy. The sparse dialogue can be interpreted as he hates you he hates you he hates you and who wouldn’t hate you, you disgusting, no good, sinful little brat the state of the couple’s relationship. Ha you don’t have a relationship anymore and you never really did. It was all pity. All of it. He hates you he hates you he hates you. The setting of the train station can be seen as a symbol for where the couple is in their life together–– in a transitionary period; one that will determine the state of their relationship for years to come.

When lunch finally came around, his stomach was hungry, but his throat and his mind said NO , in red ink. No. No. NO. He itched at his throat. If only the choking feeling could go away, then he could eat, then he might feel a little better, just a little bit better. Then he might have some energy to make it through the rest of his classes, too.

He took his seat next to John, who was staring at his french fries as if they were a rare sight. Lafayette plopped down next to Alex, Herc on Laf’s other side.

“No Eliza?” Herc asked before biting into a sandwich he pulled out from his brown bag.

“No, she did not want to join us,” Laf said with a sigh. “Something about work in the library, researching something on the internet?” He shrugged. “She said maybe tomorrow, though!” Laf grinned, then looked at his three friends, his face falling inch by inch. “Has something awful happened? Why does everyone look so…”

“So dead inside?” Laurens said darkly. He laughed and hundreds of gnats flew out of his mouth. Alex blinked.

“I was going to say tired, but?” Laf raised a brow at Laurens.

“Oh, I was just, um, kidding,” Laurens mumbled. “I’m tired. My sense of humor gets wacky when I’m this tired.” He shoved a fry in his mouth as if to shut himself up.

“O...kay?” Herc said, glancing at John, clearly concerned.

“Anyway,” John said quickly, then shoved another fry in his mouth.

Laf seemed to get the message. He began to jabber on about one of his classes, Herc goading him, Alex just nodding along, casting worried glances at John when he thought the other boy might not be looking.

Alex picked at the food Martha had packed him so Laf wouldn’t worry, but in reality, he barely ate anything. He just felt so sick.

Toward the end of lunch, one of the glances Alex threw John’s way turned into a stare because John’s eyes were shut, his breathing evened out. He was asleep, a cold french fry in his hand, his head tilted to the side and angled slightly down.

Alex stared for a moment before gently shaking John’s shoulder. John sprang up, looking around frantically. Alex winced when he noticed the way John’s hands had balled into fists.

“It’s just me,” Alex whispered. By now Laf and Herc were staring, too.

“Mes amis, what happened?” Laf asked, head tilted in confusion.

“I just fell asleep. GOD, can everyone, like, STOP?” John exclaimed. He immediately looked mortified, his eyes widening, his hands covering his mouth as he looked at his friends’ shocked faces.

Herc held up his hands. “Sorry bro,” he said.

Laf glared at John, but then his face softened when he saw tears beginning to form in the freckled boy’s eyes. “Mon ami,” he said, reaching out a hand to John.

“No!” John hissed. He got up, grabbing his backpack off the floor. “I just need to be alone,” he said. With that, he turned and stalked out of the cafeteria, leaving his three friends in a heavy, uncomfortable silence.

In the silence, the voice arose again. This time, it only needed to say one thing: this is all your fault.

***

Alex got a text before the beginning of last period.

Laurens: Can I see you after school? Like can we go back to the Washington’s?

Laurens: I’m so sorry, Alexander. I want to explain it all, but I understand if you’re done with me.

Alexander: Of course we can. I’m not done with you, John. I’m just worried. Also it’ll be just you and me bc Laf and Herc are staying after for a club meeting. You okay with walking?

Laurens: Walking it totally fine

Laurens: I’m so sorry, Alex. I didn’t mean to make you worry.

Laurens: I’m sorry, oh god

Laurens: you deserve better than me

Alexander: JOHN LAURENS STOP THAT.

Alexander: class is starting; meet me at my locker after school lets out

Alex pocketed his phone and fidgeted throughout class, racing to his locker when the final bell rang. There was John, looking even more tired than he had when he’d fallen asleep at lunch. They smiled at each other, but Alex doubted that it reached either of their eyes.

Alexander packed in silence. They left the building in silence. They walked to the Washington’s in silence, Alex longing to take John’s hand in his, but stopping himself, not wanting to upset him again.

When they got to the Washington’s, John wordlessly followed Alexander up to his room, where they sat on Alex’s bed, crossed legged, staring at each other. Alex reached out and cupped John’s face in his hand, stroking his smattering of freckles.

“John?” Alex whispered.

That was when John finally broke down.

Chapter Text

“John?” Alex asked, this time panic evident in his voice. “What’s wrong?”

“M-my dad.” He said the last word as if it was poisonous to hold on his tongue. “And my mom, I guess,” he said, shutting his eyes and rocking back and forth. Alex reached out and took John’s hands in his, gently rubbing circles onto the backs of them.

“What happened?” he asked, his tone the shell of a bluebird’s egg.

John shook his head. “They… suspect something. They’ve threatened, um, well… church group. If it’s true, I mean.” He opened his eyes and stared at Alex. “Or if they know it’s true, I mean.”

“John, oh, god, no.” Alex pulled John close, the other boy latching onto him, sobs wracking his body.

“Th-they found sk-sketches. I to-told them it was for class, which it wasn’t, but wh-what was I gon-gonna do?” he cried. “They ba-barely believed me, and n-now I have to be so careful, b-but this morning, when I s-saw you, I f-forgot! What if so-someone saw? Wh-what if they hear?” he sobbed so hard onto Alex’s shoulder that both boys were shaking.

Alex didn’t realize that he’d started to cry, too, until he felt the trail of tears down his tan face.

This is all your fault. You tainted him. You ruined him. He was fine before you came along. He probably wasn’t even sick like this before you came along. He would have married some nice girl, had a family. Look at what you’ve done you MONSTER.

Alex held John close, letting him cry as long as he needed to. He rubbed circles on his back, he stroked his hair, he whispered whatever he could come up with to hopefully calm him boyfriend down.

Eventually John stopped crying, but he didn’t speak. He just curled up in Alex’s arms, his puffy eyes shut. Alex held him, rocked him back and forth. Alex wished he’d never come into the other boy’s life. He wished he could just remove himself and make all of John’s pain go away.

This is all your fault.

John Laurens wasn’t the first boy, either.

There’d been a boy, back when he was at his previous foster home, Alex had met at school. His name was Pierre, and he was tiny, slight, but so quick-witted. He’d taken to Alexander right away. He’d invited him to the school’s Gay/Straight Alliance meeting, and Alex, not realizing that might be a bad idea went. And Pierre held his hand. And he liked it.

When Ms. Clarke had found out, she was disappointed, but her boyfriend, James, was disgusted.

Immigrant filth, who do you think you are, coming here and tainting our good American children with your savagery? GET OUT! Before I teach you a lesson you’ll never forget. Or, you know what, HEY, hey!

Alex shuddered, accidentally stirring John.

“Whaaa?” John mumbled, his voice laced with sleep.

“Nothing, shhh. Go back to sleep, baby,” Alex whispered. He winced. Baby.

This is so wrong.

No.

Why not go out with that nice Eliza girl? Maybe she can fix––

NO.

Alex gripped John tighter, even though the other boy was already asleep again and didn’t feel a thing. He couldn’t let this happen to John. He could listen to the voices when it involved him, but not John.

He had to help him, he had to keep him safe. He wasn’t sure how just yet, but he knew he had to try.

***

There was a knock on Alex’s door sometime later. Alexander wasn’t sure how much later, since both he and John had fallen asleep, John resting on Alex’s chest, Alex leaning back against the pillows at the head of his bed.

“Alexander?” It was George.

Alex felt adrenaline shoot through his veins. He’ll be disgusted… Alex took a few deep breaths and did his best to remind himself that this was George, not… not the other man. George and Martha were clearly accepting of Lafayette’s relationship with Hercules, so there was no reason they wouldn’t be accepting of Alex and John, but, but––

Alex didn’t get to follow that particular thought spiral because the door popped open, George peering in at the boys.

“Oh, you’ve got John with you,” he said with a small smile. ‘I’ll leave you to it,” he whispered.

“Wait, um, George?” Alex whispered. He felt his breath hitched as John twitched in his sleep.

You can’t betray his trust. This time it was his own voice that he heard. But he might be in danger! But you can’t betray him!

“Son? Everything okay?” George stepped into the room, but stayed by the door, his brow creased in concern.

“Um…” Alex chewed on his bottom lip.

George sighed and offered him a small smile. “Let’s talk later, okay?”

Alex nodded, and George backed out of the room, shutting the door with a gentle click. Alex looked down at John again. He ran his hand over the other boy’s hair, longing to brush it, to show John just how much he cared about him.

Alex’s last thought as he drifted off again was focused on the freckled boy. Does John know how much I care about him? He could only hope the answer was yes.

***

John stayed for dinner that night, but he barely spoke. Judging by the number of glances they shared between one another, even George and Martha seemed to notice something wasn’t right with the boy. Lafayette tried his best to keep the chatter up, which seemed to indicate that he, too, knew something wasn’t right. Alexander watched it all happen, feeling helpless.

After dinner, the three boys scurried up the stairs, John going into Alex’s room without a word. Alex silently motioned for Laf to follow him in, shutting the door behind them. Alex wanted to help, but he knew Laf might be able to get it out of Laurens much faster, having known him longer.

“Mon ami,” Laf said softly, settling next to Laurens on the bed.

John only looked at him, eyes empty of any emotion.

“I can’t go back there,” he whispered, the saturation of fear in his voice more than making up for the lack of it in his eyes.

“Where, mon ami?” Laf prodded.

“Home,” he whispered. “They, they,” he stopped, dropping his head into his hands, a sob rising up out of him. “They’re going to find out. It’s only a matter of time. And then they’ll make me go to that stupid church program, and they’ll, they’ll tell me things–– things I already know–– about how wrong and sinful and disgusting I am.”

“John! Mon ami!” Lafayette exclaimed. “Do you think those things of me or Alexander or Hercules?”

“Of course not!” he said as if the very idea that he may was blasphemy.

“They why is it okay for you to think that of yourself?” Laf said gently.

“I don’t know!” he yelled.

At that the door to Alex’s room opened, and a bewildered Martha was staring at the boys, George soon appearing behind her.

“John?” she asked. He looked up at her, and upon seeing his tear-streaked face, Martha rushed to him. “Sweetie, what’s wrong?” she said, pulling him close, letting him cry on her shoulder.

John couldn’t speak, though. He just kept shaking his head and crying. Alex watched Martha exchange a frightened look with George.

“Son?” George said to Lafayette. “Can you tell us what’s going on?”

“Um, well,” he looked at his crying friend and took a deep breath. Alex could imagine what was racing through Laf’s head: by telling George, was he betraying or helping John? He sighed.

“John’s parents suspect he’s gay, and if they verify this, they will force him into a church program for gay youth.” Lafayette said the words as quietly as he could, as if the softer they were, the less of an impact they’d make; the less pain they’d cause.

That wasn’t the case. George inhaled sharply and Martha tightened her grip on John. Alex swore he saw tears swelling in her eyes.

“Boys,” George said, pinning Laf and Alex with a sad look, “I think Martha and I need a moment alone with John.”

Laf nodded and took Alex’s hand, leading him to his bedroom. Once they were in there, he wrapped his arms around Alex, but Alexander remained motionless, too caught up in his whirlwind of thoughts, unable to hug back.

“It will be okay, mon ami,” Laf said, somewhere in the distance.

All my fault–– my fault, Alex thought. Yes, all your fault, your fault he’s so hurt, so scared, that his own parents hate him and want to change him, the voice said.

Alexander shuddered, and Laf loosened his grip, guiding the smaller boy somewhere soft, setting him down, then pulling him close again so that everything was warm, warm, warm like the hell fire you’re going to burn in, and that John will now burn in, all his perfect freckles nothing but ash––

“Hell is cold,” Alex whispered, thinking of Dante’s Inferno.

“What?” Lafayette said.

Alexander realized he’d said that outloud and shook his head. “I’m going to hell,” he said.

“Mon ami! Non!” Lafayette cried. He hugged Alexander with more force.

“It’s Pierre all over again except this time he’s me and I’m Pierre,” Alex babbled. “But this is all my fault and I’m the one who’ll pay for it. I survived but I paid for it. And now I’m the villain in John’s mind because I was too young and in love to see that I should have let him be,” Alex yelled, tears pouring down his face. “And now he’s in so much trouble and it’s all my fault.”

Alex dissolved into a pool of tears and wished that he could drown in them, then John could be okay. With Alex out of the picture, John would be just fine.

There was a knock on Lafayette’s door. Martha poked her head in, her face crumbling at the sight of Alex and Laf huddled together on the bed.

“Oh, boys,” she sighed. She walked toward them, hovering for a moment as if she wasn’t sure what to do. She eventually sat down on the edge of the bed and sighed again. “Boys, your fa–– George and I talked to John, and George is going to be taking him home shortly.”

“What?” Lafayette cried out. “He cannot go back there!”

Martha sighed again and shook her head, a sad smile on her face. “Nothing has happened that we can take any sort of legal action against.” She looked down at the quilt. “At least nothing John will tell us about,” she whispered.

“Let us talk to him!” Lafayette exclaimed, jumping off of the bed. Alex tumbled backward, staring up at the ceiling, letting the words swirl around him.

John… going home… home… home…

Alexander sat up. “Can I see him?” he asked, his voice cracking. “Please?” he added.

Martha nodded. “Sure, he’s still in your room.”

Alexander ran out of Laf’s room and into his own, where John was pacing, George sitting on the bed.

“I can’t help if you won’t tell me–– oh, Alexander! Hi, son,” he said, standing up. “I’ll be back. I’ll give you two, an, uh, moment.” He awkwardly shuffled of the room, shutting the door behind him.

John was still pacing, hands clasped behind his back.

“John?” Alex said. “John?” he tried again, the other boy not looking up at him. Alex reached out and grabbed his forearm, feeling terrible when John quickly pulled his arm from his grip.

He knows it’s all your fault. He knows, he knows…

“John!” Alex cried. The other boy finally looked up at Alexander.

“They can’t know what I know,” John said. “But I just…” he sighed. “I can’t do it, Alex. If they send me there, if they find out, I can’t. I can’t imagine hating myself more than I already do.”

“They won’t send you there if you tell George and Martha!” Alex exclaimed.

“But I can’t,” John said. “They haven’t… It’s not…” John shook his head. “It’s all talk, for the most part––”

“For the most part?” Lafayette said, bursting into the room. “Pardon me for, um, how you say, interrupting, but I could not help but overhear with my ear pressed to the door––”

“Laf!” both John and Alex exclaimed.

“All of that aside,” he said with the wave of a hand, “you must be honest with my parents, John.”

“Stop pressuring me!” John exclaimed. “You’re all acting like this is the worst thing in the world, but it isn’t. And did you ever stop to think that maybe I deserved it?”

“JOHN!” both Alex and Lafayette cried.

John glared at them both. “I’m going home,” he said, his tone dark.

“No, wait, John!” Alex reached out to him, but John evaded him.

“Sit down John!” Lafayette commanded, grabbing the other boy by the shoulders. John wriggled out of his grasp, shooting Laf a dirty look.

“I’m going home,” he said.

The other two boys watched him leave, helpless to stop him.

***

Alexander couldn’t sleep. John wasn’t responding to his texts messages, and he wasn’t responding to Laf’s, either. Alex was once again in Laf’s bed, curled up against his foster brother’s chest. He could tell by Laf’s jerky breathing that he wasn’t asleep yet, either.

“Laf?” Alex whispered.

“Oui?” he said back.

“Do you think he’s okay?” Alex’s voice broke.

Lafayette stroked Alex’s hair. “Of course, mon ami. Angry with us, maybe, but okay.”

Alex wasn’t sure if Laf was telling the truth, but it was all he had to hold onto at the moment, so he grasped it tightly in his mind, and shut his eyes.

***

Alex didn’t feel well, but there was no way he was missing school that day. He watched everyone around him eat breakfast and drink orange juice and coffee. He stared at the toast and jelly Martha had set in front of him and took occasional sips of the cool water.

He jumped out of his seat and fled the table before anyone could say something to him about how little he ate. He grabbed his backpack and flung it over his shoulder, following Laf to the car.

Laf tossed a granola bar on his lap. “For later,” was all he said.

Alex grumbled, but tucked it in his coat pocket, where he knew he’d promptly forget about it.

When they arrived at school, neither Herc nor John were waiting for them like usual, but Eliza was. She was shifting awkwardly from foot to foot, scanning the parking lot every now and then, then putting her head down, as if she were studying the cracks in the ground. When she caught sight of the boys and her face lit up. She waved them over to her.

“You guys!” she said when they got closer. “I have a message from Herc and John.”

Alex’s heart fluttered at the mention of his boyfriend’s name.

“They said to meet in the library at lunch.”

“Where are they now?” Lafayette asked.

Eliza looked down at the sidewalk. “Um, well, John, was upset, so, um, Herc took him somewhere more private to try and calm him down before classes start.”

Alexander bit his lip. I should be the one calming him down, he thought.

“Thank you for telling us, my Eliza,” Lafayette said, taking her hand and kissing the back of it.

She blushed, trying to hide it by once again angling her face downward. “Um, you’re welcome,” she stammered.

Alexander smiled at her, wanting to talk to her some more, but knowing now wasn’t the time. You’re going to let another person suffer in silence? Going to watch another life be destroyed? That’s all you’re good for, isn’t it–– destroying, then wading through the wreckage like a victim. I bet you put yourself in peril in that hurricane. Or maybe you knew the only safe space to hide and let the others get crushed and drowned, all so you could write your way out, you selfish, no-good––

Laf’s hand landed on Alexander’s shoulder. “Let’s go, mon ami. No use in missing class. We will see them soon enough.”

Alex floated to his classes. He melted in his seats, barely retaining a word, not even processing the kind and worried look Eliza shot his way. John wasn’t there to walk him to class. John wasn’t there. John wasn’t.

Then it was finally lunch. Alex hurried to the library, catching sight of Herc standing near the circulation desk, flipping through a book. As soon as Alex opened the door, Herc looked up, set the book down, and waved for Alexander to follow him.

Alex wordlessly followed Herc down the stairs and to the oversized book section. Once the rounded the corner, he saw Laf and a very exhausted looking John Laurens. Alex sat down on the carpeted floor right away, taking Laurens’ hands in his. They were cold.

“John, I’m so sorry,” Alex said. “I shouldn’t have pushed you so hard last night, I’m just––”

John shook his head. “I’m sorry for yelling and lashing out at you. You didn’t deserve that at all.”

“Mon ami, you do not––”

John held up a hand, cutting Laf off. “Listen, you guys, I’m so lucky to have you as my friends, but this is something I can handle on my own.”

“But you don’t have to handle it on your own!” Hercules interjected. “And you shouldn’t. John, if you’re in danger––”

John held a finger up again. “What’s happening is nothing new. I’m fine. It’s just this new… threat. It scared me, but I gave it some more thought, and, well, if it really comes to that eventually, I can handle it. Nobody can make me hate myself more than I already do, right?” He laughed and the lights went out in the library, the only thing visible John’s bloodshot eyes.

Alexander blinked.

“Oops, I, um, didn’t mean to say that out loud,” John said with a sad laugh. “Oh well,” he shrugged.

“John, mon ami,” Laf began to say, but even he, with his two languages was speechless.

Alex pulled John close, letting him nuzzle between his head and shoulder. “I’m here for you,” Alex whispered. “Please let me be?”

John squeezed Alex’s hand.

“Come over after school again?” Alex asked.

John pulled away and shook his head, his eyes sad. “No, not after the scene I caused yesterday. I don’t want the Washingtons to worry about me.”

“Mon ami, please, do not let that stop you from coming over!” Lafayette exclaimed.

John smiled at him. “How about we do movie night Friday?”

Laf sucked in a deep breath but eventually nodded his head in consent. “Fine, but sleepover! For the entire weekend!”

John laughed. “We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll see.”

***

Alexander did not feel well. He really did not feel well. He was slightly dizzy, and was having a hard time focusing. His heart was racing, his palms sweating, but he was cold, so cold. He was shaking.

When John met him at his locker at the end of the school day, Alex plastered a large smile on his face. He didn’t need to worry John. John was already in enough trouble all because of you as it was. John hugged him quickly after scanning the hallway for anyone threatening, then squeezed his hand, promising to text.

Alex wandered to Laf’s locker, the school hallways bending and twisting around him. Laf found him standing in front of the vending machine that’d been broken for a few months.

“Mon ami?” he said softly, not touching the other boy for fear of startling him. “Are you hungry?”

“I…” Alex said, his mind cotton, and he couldn’t pull out the seeds of each individual thought. They were all one giant fuzz. One giant cloud.

“We’re going home,” Laf said, grabbing Alex’s forearm and leading him out of the building, to his car.

He may have buckled Alexander in, but Alex wasn’t sure. He may have called someone on his bluetooth, but Alex wasn’t sure. He may have pulled Alex out of the car and guided him into the house, into the living room, but Alex wasn’t sure.

All he knew was that he “woke up” on the living room couch with three blankets wrapped around him and a straw in his mouth, Instead of Laf sitting next to him, it was Martha, in her work clothes. She was smoothing back his hair with one hand and holding the cup Alex was currently drinking out of with the other.

Alexander shut his eyes and let the world drop dead.

When he opened them again, the straw was out of his mouth and Martha was whispering into her phone.

“He isn’t well George. We shouldn’t have let him go back.” She paused. “I know, and what’s happening with poor John is no help.” She fell silent again. “I agree. Okay, we’ll talk more then. I love you. Bye, sweetheart.”

“It’s my fault,” Alex said, his voice cracking. Martha looked at him, eyes wide. “What’s happening with John is my fault,” he said.

“Oh, god, sweetie, no, shhh, no.” She stroked his hair.

Alex felt like he didn’t deserve her kind touch. “No, no, no,” he murmured, trying to wiggle out of the blankets. “No, no, no.”

Martha held him down by his shoulders, and he hated how weak he was that he couldn’t even fight back. “Sweetie, you need to rest. I’m not sure what happened today, but it wasn’t good, and you are severely underweight and need to rest,” she said firmly.

“I’m fine,” Alex mumbled, shutting his eyes and tilting his head back.

“You’re not, Alexander,” Martha said, her voice breaking. Alex opened his eyes and looked at her, shocked to see the tears streaking down her face. “You’re not, but it’s okay. We’ll get you help and we’ll get you better.” She stroked his hair again. “Can you get some rest?”

“Stay?” the word slipped out before he could stop it.

“Of course,” she said. She pulled him onto her lap, so his head was resting there, and ran her fingers through his hair. She flicked on the TV and Alex let the noise and her touch fill his head.

The arbitrary blackness galloped in.

Chapter Text

John Laurens was sitting in his bedroom, drawing. He felt like when he wasn’t with his friends, doing homework, or doing anything else that was necessary for survival, he was drawing. He was always drawing.

Usually he drew his turtle, Rebel, but lately a certain boy had been making his way onto the pages of John’s sketchbooks in stead of his turtle. He truly lost himself in his drawings of Alexander. He wanted to get his nose, his eyes, his rare smile just right.

He was drawing Alexander when there was a knock on the door. He was drawing Alexander right before everything went to hell.

“John Laurens, can you put down that goddamn sketchbook for one minute!” his father stormed into the room and pulled the pencil from John’s hand. His mother was quick to follow his father into John’s room.

“Not more of those,” she sighed. “John, baby, you need to focus on your school work. Don’t you want to be a great politician like your father?” She draped her arms over her husband’s shoulders.

John repressed his urge to gag.

“What’s it matter, really. No matter what I want to be, you’ll end up choosing for me,” he mumbled, looking down at the half-finished image of Alexander laughing. He was going to draw himself next to Alex, the two of them sitting on the smaller boy’s bed, tangled in blankets, happy.

Happy.

“What was that, young man?” his father said. He glared at his son. “We know what’s best for you, Johnny. We only want what’s best for you.”

“Besides, if you’re not going to be a lawyer or politician, what would you be?” his mother asked. John could tell she was just indulging him, just leading him into a trap that would snap his neck. But he couldn’t help it. He took the bait.

“A doctor,” he said. He left off the and an artist part. “I want to help people.”

“Oh, Johnny,” his mother said, sitting down on the bed next to him. She ran a hand through his curls. “That’s so very noble of you. But there are so many doctors out there, sweetie. And there aren’t nearly as many Laurens,” she chuckled. “You can help people by being a politician, just like God intended you to be.”

“How do we know God intended this for me?” He was genuinely confused, but he should have known better than to question anything that had to do with religion.

“Young man! You do not question the Lord’s path for you!” his father bellowed. He locked eyes with John, then slowly looked down at the sketchpad on his lap. “It seems as if you could use some more religion in your life,” he said, grabbing the sketchbook before John could react.

Henry Laurens looked at the half-finished sketch with disgust. He shook his head as he flipped through the rest of the book. John thought of the sketches his father was seeing. Alexander, Alexander, Alexander, Alexander and John, Rebel, his sister, Mary Eleanor as a baby, Mary Eleanor now, Laf and Herc and Alex and John and Eliza, Rebel, Rebel…

John’s father shut the sketchbook and tucked it under his arm. “This is our fault,” he said solemnly, gesturing to himself and his wife. “We haven’t been as religious as we once were. We haven’t been upholding the Lord’s message as much as we did when you and Mary Eleanor were small.”

John looked back and forth between his parents. Oh shit oh shit oh shit.

“We need to stop this… deviance before it becomes an issue,” his father said firmly.

His mother stepped forward and took John’s face in his hands. “Oh Jacky, we just want what’s best for you. And a life of sin and an afterlife of suffering is not what’s best for you at all.”

“Maybe you don’t know what’s best for me,” John whispered, narrowing his eyes at his mother. He watched her face shatter into countless tiny pieces, a harder face taking the softer one’s place. “And maybe I’m just drawing,” he said, reaching out and grabbing the sketchbook from his father’s grasp.” He stood up, wishing he was taller than his dad, hating how he had to look up at him. “And even if it wasn’t just a drawing, would that be so bad?”

“Do you even need to ask that?” his father hollered. He took a deep breath, but his face was still red. John swore there was steam coming out of his ears. “If that is the case, if that is true, then there will be consequences, John. You will go to the church group for deviant youth, and you will hammer whatever devil has settled in your chest out of you.”

“I’ll come out?” John murmured.

Only his mother heard, her eyes widening. John saw a flash of her, her , again, when he was younger before–– before.

“Listen to your father, John,” she said, her voice shaking. “We aren’t accusing you of anything, but if this continues, then you will do as he says.”

John wanted to hate her, but he couldn’t. He knew that in her twisted way she was trying to protect him. He tried to pretend it was just like when he was little–– him and her against the world.

Except now she was reaching out and gently peeling his fingers off of his sketchbook. “Boys don’t draw,” she said softly.

His father gave him one last glare before turning sharply on his heel and leaving the room. His mother kissed his forehead and looked as if she wanted to say something, but lost the nerve. She just shook her head and left.

They’d taken his sketchbook away. All of his Alexanders.

He wanted to cry. He wanted to cry. But he couldn’t. Because boys don’t cry, either. He grabbed a school notebook and tried drawing on its lined paper, but it wasn’t the same. The blue lines ruined everything. They got in the way of Alex’s perfect eyes, smile, hair.

John tore the paper out of his notebook and crumpled it up, throwing it at the wall of his room with a frustrated grunt.

Boys don’t cry. Boys don’t cry. Boys don’t cry.

But they do bleed.

 

***

 

John didn’t want to go to school the next day. He was sore. He’d barely slept all night. He was going to fail his English quiz because the fight and what came after ate up all of his studying time.

Everything, including me, is going to hell, he thought.

He was holding it together. He was really holding it together, until he saw Alex. The smaller boy just knocked him out. John fell apart every time they were within twenty feet of each other, his hand drawn to Alex’s by a magnetic force much larger than anything he felt fit to question.

By the time Alexander appeared in front of him, his parents’ threats had evaporated in Alex’s sunlight. John took his hand.

For the first two periods of the day, everything was sparkling and bright and glorious. Then, in the hallway, Alex’s hand in his own, he thought he heard it. That cackle–– that familiar and life-threatening cackle that belonged to a man who wore purple nearly exclusively.

This is not a safe space. The words escaped him and he dropped Alex’s hand. He’d flown too close to the sun and he’d been synged. He was spiraling, down, down, down with only Alex’s pleas to cushion the blow of the water or earth that awaited him. Only Alex’s pleas to carry him into oblivion.     

He ran.

At lunch, he evaded. He quipped, he snarked, he laughed so darkly that he felt a fault line split within himself, but he ignored it. He blew up, storming out on the three people who cared about him most in the world.

He was a spiral, a tornado, and he knew that if he didn’t leave them at that very moment he would suck them into his gale force winds and they would never be the same. He’d be the only one to blame.

So he left them with storm clouds, because a little thunder is better than torn-to-shreds hearts.

He only texted Alexander when he felt he could handle what he had to handle. Aka, when he could tell him without telling him all of it.

But he’d sure fucked that up, too.

 

***

 

“Boys,” George said, looking at Laf and Alex, “I think Martha and I need a moment alone with John.”

How had he ended up here, in Alex’s room, having a breakdown? Why hadn’t he held it all in like he’d originally planned?

John had already had a teary moment with Alexander, complete with falling asleep on his boyfriend’s chest, before dinner, and he knew he’d been less than polite at the dinner table, where he’d barely spoken a word, and then he just ran up the stairs to Alex’s room, where he proceeded to have yet another, even worse breakdown.

He watched Laf lead Alexander out of the room and felt guilt surge through his heart. Alexander was in pain and it was all his fault. The door shut. He was alone with George and Martha.

George is not like my father, he told himself.

George was still standing a respectful distance away, while Martha was on the bed, right next to John, gently rubbing his back.

“Son, what’s going on?” George said softly.

John looked down at the floor. He didn’t want to tell them about it. He didn’t want to involve them, worry them. They should be looking out for Laf and Alex, not him.

George knelt down in front of John and caught his eye. “Son, please talk with us? Martha and I both care about you as much as we do our own boys.”

John hated how his eyes were filling up with tears again. He focused on Martha’s hand on his back. He vaguely remembered a time when his own mother once openly and lovingly comforted him like that. Before. Before.

“It’s what Laf said,” John finally whispered. “Just what Laf said.” He repeated it more firmly, hoping they’d accept what he’d said at face-value.

“Is there more, son?” George prompted him.

John wanted to curse George out and hug him at the same time. He both hated and appreciated how the man somehow saw through his act. But that still didn’t mean he would tell him everything. Because where would he even begin? Compared to some of it, last night had been nothing.

“If you mean did he hit me, then no,” John spat.

“Abuse can be more than physical, John,” Martha said after a too-long beat of silence.

“I’m fine,” John whispered.

“We can’t help if you won’t tell us what’s going on, sweetie. And we want to help.” Martha squeezed his shoulder.

“Can I go home?” he asked weakly, hating that he had to, but also hating this conversation. What was he supposed to say?

Last night hadn’t been more than that threatening conversation. Well, there had been one other part. But he didn’t like to think about it. No, he couldn’t bear to think about it. Besides, boys don’t draw. Boy’s don’t cry.

“Of course,” George said with a sigh. “I’ll drive you. Do you want to say goodbye to the boys?”

John nodded.

“I’ll go,” Martha offered. She pressed a light kiss into the side of John’s head before exiting the room. John leapt off the bed and began pacing. George sat down, watching him.

George sighed. “You know that I meant what I said, son. Martha and I love you like our own. We’ve known you since you were small, and, well, if there’s anything we can do, please, let us do it.

John didn’t understand. George and Martha were so accepting of Laf and now Alexander. They didn’t even bat an eye. How were they like that? How did they not see how disgusting he was? Was he maybe, possibly, not disgusting?

George sighed again. John could see the older man shaking his head ever so slightly out of the corner of his eye. “I can’t help if you won’t tell me–– oh, Alexander! Hi, son!” George’s tone did a complete flip upon Alex entering the room. He stood up and smiled at Alex, then at John. “I’ll be back. I’ll give you two, an, uh, moment.” He hustled out of the room, shutting the door behind him.

John knew he should stop pacing, but he couldn’t. The moment he stopped moving, his thoughts would catch up with him and overwhelm him. He couldn’t do anything to make them stop while he was at the Washington’s. He’d have to wait til he was home. So he kept pacing.  

“John?” Alex said. “John?”

John could hear the fear and worry in his boyfriend’s voice and felt guilt stabbing at his gut over and over and over again, but he was helpless to stop. He couldn’t just change his mood. That was the reason he covered his sour moods up in the first place. If he hid them, if he denied them, they remained under the surface, only rising to the top for a brief amount of time when he was alone at night.

Boys don’t draw. Boy don’t cry.

“John!” Alex cried, jolting John back to the present. He looked up at Alex with wide eyes for a moment, then averted them once again, shaking his head.

“They can’t know what I know,” he said. “But I just…” John sighed. Alexander was his boyfriend. He knew he could confide in him. He knew Alex wouldn’t judge, that he would understand. But he didn’t want to burden the boy when he was clearly treading water, and getting more and more bogged down every day.

But he was selfish. And Alex looked like he really wanted to know, like he wanted to help. John sighed as his resolve weakened.

“I can’t do it, Alex,” he whispered. “If they send me there, if they find out, I can’t. I can’t imagine hating myself more than I already do.” The words sounded much worse aloud than they ever did in his head. He vaguely wondered why that was.

“They won’t send you there if you tell George and Martha!” Alex exclaimed.

John wanted to cry at his boyfriend’s innocence. He didn’t know. He didn’t know . John couldn’t break his parents’ hearts, even if they were breaking his. If this was before , then he could do it with no problem. But not after what they’d been through.

“But I can’t ,” John said. “They haven’t… It’s not…” John shook his head. There was no way to explain this to Alexander in a way that would make sense without revealing too much. He wasn’t ready for his friends to know, to pity him, like everyone else who knew them before did. “It’s all talk, for the most part––”

“For the most part?” Lafayette burst into the room in his typical, dramatic fashion. Had it been nearly any other situation, John simply would have rolled his eyes. “Pardon me for, um, how you say, interrupting, but I could not help but overhear with my ear pressed to the door––”

“Laf!” both John and Alex exclaimed.

“All of that aside,” he said with the wave of a hand, “you must be honest with my parents, John.”

“Stop pressuring me!” John couldn’t stand it anymore. They didn’t know. They didn’t know everything, so they had no right to assume what was best for him, for his family. “You’re all acting like this is the worst thing in the world, but it isn’t. And did you ever stop to think that maybe I deserve it?”

“JOHN!” both Alex and Lafayette cried.

John glared at them. He clenched his fists, anger and fear coursing through his veins. He felt so trapped there. He had to get out. “I’m going home,” he said.

“No, wait, John!” Alex reached out to him, but John sharply whipped away from his boyfriend’s touch.

“Sit down John!” Lafayette commanded, grabbing John by the shoulders. John shoved Laf off of him, glaring at his friend once he was free.

“I’m going home .” He ran out of the room.

 

***

 

The ride home with George was mostly silent. There was a certain tension in the car, but it didn’t feel entirely bad. It felt like stifled words and jumbled thoughts. Like good intentions and the air in a room that’s been shut off from the outer world for far too long.

When they finally arrived in front of the Laurens’ mansion, George handed John a slip of paper. “That’s my cell, work phone, and the phone in my home office.” He looked John sternly in the eye. “I want you to use that anytime you feel unsafe, you want to talk, or you just need to hear kind words from someone who loves you.”

John took the piece of paper, cradling it gently in one hand. “Okay,” he whispered. “Thank you so much, sir–– I, I mean George.”

George smiled fondly at him. “Of course, son.”

Just like last time, George watched him walk into the house. John waved right before disappearing through the front door.

The kindness and love the man had just shown him was almost enough to make him reconsider what he was about to do. But the thoughts were catching up, and he knew no other way to cope.

He shut the front door and ran up to his room.

John wasn’t sure when he’d started doing this. He never used to do it before , but a lot of things were different then. He pushed it from his mind. If he went there, it would make everything that much worse. If he went there, returning would be a trek through all nine circles of hell. And he didn’t have the strength for that. At least not that night, anyway.

John turned off all but one light in his room, then retrieved what he needed from the box inside his closet he kept it hidden under. He’d placed it under photos of his siblings, to try and deter himself, to remind himself of all the beauty and joy and love there was around him. He was going to place one of the sketches of Alexander there, until they’d been taken from him.

Boys don’t draw. Boys don’t cry.

He took a deep breath and opened the box.

 

***

 

John knew he had to make things right with his friends at school the next day. He’d accidentally ignored all of Alexander’s texts from the previous night, too caught up in coping, then too exhausted to do anything except crawl into bed afterward.

He meant to wait for them like usual. He even got to school early to do just that. He stood there for about three minutes, nervously shifting back and forth on his feet. He was about to flee when he spotted Hercules in the distance. He ran up to Herc.

“Um, hey, Herc, um, I need to, um, go inside and, um, do a thing, so uh, can you tell Alex and laf that I’ll meet them for lunch? Thanks, Herc!” He was about to dash off when Herc gently grabbed his arm. John winced, then quickly straightened out his face, hoping Herc hadn’t noticed.

“Um, you wanna tell me what’s up, Laurens? First you act all weird at lunch yesterday, and now this?” Herc dropped his arm and Laurens instinctively began to gently rub and caress it. Herc raised an eyebrow at John, and John felt the edge of panic creeping over him. Had Herc realized ?

“You and Hammy having relationship troubles?” Herc asked.

John almost laughed because he was so grateful that Herc was so misguided in his guess. “No,” John said, voice firm. “We’re not, though I do need to apologize for acting like a jerk the other day.” He nervously scratched at the back of his neck.

Herc sighed. “Come on, Laurens, let’s go in and chat. I’ll text Eliza and ask her if she can let the boys know to meet us for lunch.”

“Can they meet us in the library?” John asked, his voice more of a squeak than anything else.

“Sure thing, bro,” Herc said, clapping John on the back.

He shot off a message to Eliza, grinning when his phone buzzed with a response. “She’ll cover for us. We’re good. Come on, my dear Laurens. Let’s go have a little pre-homeroom chat.” Herc placed a comforting hand on the back of John’s neck and guided him through the hallways, to the theatre.

“The theatre?” John said, giving Herc a look. “You do realize that we’re every gay stereotype right now, right?”

“Speak for yourself, Laurens. I’m not gay, I’m pan.” Herc said with a wink.

Laurens rolled his eyes. “But you get my point.”

Herc elbowed him in the ribs. “Not. Gay.”

Fine . We are every non-straight stereotype right now.” Laurens amended.

“There ya go!” Herc exclaimed, throwing an arm around Laurens and pulling him close, ruffling up his hair with his free hand.

“Herc,” Laurens whined, though, really, he hadn’t put any effort into his hair that morning. He’d just tied it back in a ponytail and hoped for the best.

Hercules just chuckled as he led the smaller boy backstage, to a small dressing room that was currently stuffed with costumes from past productions. They sat on two chairs that’d been used in the school’s version of The Sound of Music two years prior.

“Okay, Laurens, tell me what’s been on your mind,” Herc ordered.

John sighed. “Just been a rough couple of days,” he muttered.

“No shit, Sherlock. But why is what I’m asking.”

“My parents,” Laurens said, the two words slipping through the jail bars of his teeth.

Herc nodded his head in understanding. “I feel you, man. Well, not exactly, but you know.”

John nodded. Herc’s parents never abused him, but they weren’t really in his life, though Herc didn’t seem to blame them, understanding they had to work hard to provide for him and themselves.

“What was it this time?” Herc asked gently.

So Laurens told him, or at least told him as much as Laf and Alexander knew. As much as he loathed repeating the story, he loved Herc. He trusted him. He wanted him to know.

“Damn,” Herc hissed when John ended it all with a large sigh.

“Yeah,” John agreed with a shrug of his shoulders.

Just then, the warning bell rang.

“See you at lunch? In the library?” Herc asked.

John nodded. They walked out of the dressing room and through the theatre again. Once they exited and were about to head their separate ways, John spoke up again. “Oh! Herc!”

The other boy spun around, stopping in the middle of the hallway to look back at John.

“Thanks, for, um, listening,” John said nervously.

Herc’s face lit up in a huge grin. “Literally any time, bro. I’ve always got your back.”

Laurens waved goodbye and headed to homeroom. He felt a little bit better. Not much, but a bit. Well, he at least felt better until he sat down in homeroom, his jeans rubbing against his thighs, reminding him: all was not well.

Chapter Text

Alexander awoke to a flurry of voices around him. When he blinked his eyes open, there was Martha, changed out of her work clothes and into something comfier, sitting next to him. On his other side was Lafayette, curled up with what appeared to be a French translation of one of the Harry Potter books. George was sitting in the arm chair across the room, elbows resting on his knees, eyes intensely focused on Martha, murmuring something to her. Martha simply shook her head in response.

George’s eyes widened when he saw Alexander stir. “Hey, son,” he said, voice cautious. “Are you feeling better?”

“All better,” Alex said, sleep still lacing his voice.

George chuckled and shook his head, a sad smile on his face. “Let’s not get carried away,” he said.

A hand rested on Alex’s forehead. “Mm, he feels a little hot.”

“John thinks I’m hot,” Alex mumbled, eyes droopy.

Lafayette dropped his book on his lap and snorted. Alex giggled at his reaction.

Martha smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. She turned to George. “He’s burning,” she whispered, even though both Alex and Laf could hear her.

George stood and left the room. Alex tried to justify why George left, but even the voice was having a hard time getting through to him.

He’s tired of… He’s through with… He can’t…

Alex felt something being stuck in his ear, heard a little click. The thing was removed from his ear. There was a gasp.

Alex turned away from the gasp’s direction, toward Laf. He curled in on himself, hugging the blankets that had been wrapped around him even closer to his body. He was still shivering, though. He couldn’t stop shivering.

Someone was trying to sit him up, telling him he needed to open his mouth, he needed to swallow something. He didn’t even want to open his eyes. He whined, tried to wiggle out of the hands’ grasp, but he was far too weak for that.

What was all the fuss about, anyway? Why wouldn’t they just let him sleep? That’s all he wanted to do–– sleep.

“Alex, Alexander,” his mother’s voice cut through his exhaustion. “Please, sweetie, open your mouth, you need to take this to lower the fever.”

He opened his mouth. Two pills were placed inside, and water held up to his lips. He swallowed.

His mother smoothed his hair back. “Good job, sweetie.”

No, that wasn’t right. His mother had called him sweetie, but more often than that, she called him mi hijo. He blinked his eyes open. A woman came into focus, but her features were all wrong.

Not his mother. His mother was still dead. And it’s all your fault. You know how she got sick, you know––

Alexander yelped and began to struggle against the hands that were on him again. He didn’t deserve this. You are nothing. He didn’t deserve help. You are a vile, sick boy. He didn’t deserve to get better. You killed your mother.

He was vaguely aware that he was in someone’s arms, that they were cradling him, holding him close to their warm body as he shook and shook. They were shushing him, rocking him back and forth like he was a whimpering child.

You practically are.

“I killed her,” he said aloud, though he hadn’t meant to.

“Oh, Alex,” a voice said from somewhere above.

“My fault.” His voice broke on the last word.

“No, no, shh,” the voice replied. “Rest, sweetheart.”

He was so tired that he couldn’t disobey that order even if he wanted to. He sighed and let his mind turn blank.

***

When Alexander awoke it was dark in the living room and he was alone. He could hear the clattering of silverware on plates coming from the other room. There was the sound of Laf’s laugh and George’s chuckle. A sharp pang of loneliness ran through him.

See how happy they are without you? You just drag them all down. You’re such a burden.

Alex sat up and shed the blankets, suddenly finding them too stifling. He decided to creep up to his room, change into his pajamas, and stop bothering his foster family.

You’re lucky they haven’t kicked you out yet, though it’s only a matter of time.

Except when Alexander stood up, his world tilted, and suddenly he was standing on the ceiling. Laughter and clattering and chairs scraping against the tiles of the kitchen floor circled around him.

He collapsed backward onto the couch. He wished he could say he sat back down, or he flopped down, but he collapsed. His legs had stopped being legs and turned into rotten tree trunks.

He heard feet running toward him.

“Alex? Sweetie?” A breeze of cool air laced with cinnamon rushed over him; a hand landed as gently as a butterfly on his forehead. “George, he’s still hot.”

Something cool was in his ear, clicking down. Just when it was pulled out, he started coughing. He couldn’t hear what was being said, but he felt someone trying to bring water to his lips, someone else, or maybe the same person, he really couldn’t tell, was rubbing circles on his back as he arched forward, coughing harder and harder.

Everything hurt. How had he not noticed before? Or was this new? His chest especially hurt. And the coughing… He couldn’t even open his eyes. He was coughing so hard that tears were leaking from them. His throat felt like it’d been rubbed raw. His head was throbbing.

Someone picked him up. There was a blanket being draped over him, but he didn’t know why. There were blankets in his room, where he assumed they were headed. All he’d wanted to do was go to his room.

But then chilly air hit him, and he could hear the purr of an engine. He blindly wrapped his arms around whoever was holding him, clinging to them as they tried to place him in a car.

They’re getting rid of you. They’re sick of you being so sick, in so many ways. But hey, at least they aren’t leaving you outside to cough yourself to death. Maybe the next place will be half as nice as this one was, not like you deserve it, anyway, though.

“Shhh, Alex, I’m going to sit with you.” George. George was sitting with him as they drove him to his new placement?

“Ready?” Martha’s voice broke through his coughing fit.

“Oui,” Laf replied from somewhere nearby.

“Yes,” George said.

Alexander coughed and coughed and coughed.

He’d never had an entire family bring him to his new placement. He wasn’t sure about what was going on, exactly. But then George’s hand was stroking his hair, and a large, warm hand found his small, chilled one and held it tight.

Alex kept coughing. In the few moments of reprieve he had, he was too tired to open his eyes. He didn’t want to see the disgust or disappointment in George’s face, anyway. Maybe he’d never open his eyes again. That would be better than watching his life go to hell.

The car came to a sudden halt some amount of time later. How much later, Alex could only measure in coughs, which were irrelevant to time, anyway.

“You got him?” Martha’s voice flew by.

George hoisted Alex up. The cool air assaulted him again. Alex’s coughing increased to the point where he was worried he’d be sick. He curled in on himself, George’s grip on his bony body tightening.

Why did it feel like George was running?

There was a whoosh, then a storm of voices surrounded him. Shouting and wailing and crying because wailing and crying are so different and mean such different things–– crying means you’re hurt, but you’ll live, while wailing… wailing means the unimaginable and beeping and beeping and beeping and then there were arms, arms and hands all over him, and Alex was too tired to fight it.

He was being laid on something, being rushed somewhere, but he was too tired. He was so, so tired.

“It’s going to be okay, sweetie,” Martha said. “It’s going to be just fine.”

Alex knew people were saying things, possibly to him, but he couldn’t really hear them…

It’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be…

Alexander is in the bed he and his mother share in a dingy New York City apartment that has walls so thin they lose nearly all the heat. His mother has been tending to him, giving him small round pills to swallow, putting a cloth to his head, holding up spoonfuls of broth to his lips.

He’s been coughing for days, but she got him cough medicine. How, Alex isn’t so sure. They barely have enough money for food. But it helps, and he’s too sick to do the mental math at the moment. He’ll find a way to pay her back, to make it up to her.

But after three days of caring for Alex, three days of missing work, she is in bed next to him. And they are both feverish. And they are both coughing. And the medicine is running out, but Alex doesn’t know this, no, not until after. No, his mother keeps slipping pills into his mouth until she can’t unscrew the cap anymore.

“Mama, mama…” he says on the last night, his fever subsiding, but still there.

“Shh, mi hijo, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”

The next morning his fever finally breaks. The next morning his mother is lying in bed next to him, dead.

***

A hand was wrapped around his own. A soft hand, the thumb gently stroking his cool skin.

“No,” he murmured. “Mama, stay away, stay away, stay alive,” he mumbled, trying to wake up, trying to open his eyes.

“Alex, it’s me, Martha.”

Alex opened his eyes. Martha, brown eyes rimmed red looking down at him. White walls, IV, hospital bed.

“What?” he whispered, taking in his surroundings.

“Pneumonia,” Martha said with a sniffle. She squeezed his hand. “In both lungs. No wonder you haven’t been feeling well,” she said with a sad laugh. “I’m so sorry we didn’t catch this sooner, Alex. I am so sorry.”

He squinted at her. Why was she apologizing? It was his fault he’d gotten sick. It was his fault. It was his fault that his mother––

His eyes widened. “Stay away,” he croaked.

Martha leaned toward him, not understanding his words. “What?” she asked.

“Away!” he shouted as best he could with his throat so raw from coughing. “Can’t kill you, too!” he cried. He tried to squirm away from Martha, but she reached out and cupped his face, turning his head toward her.

“Alexander. I need you to listen to me right now. Are you listening?” Martha’s tone was more serious than he remembered it ever being.

He nodded, eyes wide.

“You did not kill your mother.” Martha stared right into his eyes as she said this, and Alex felt like she could see his soul. “You did not kill her, Alexander,” she said, a bit more gently this time, though the fierceness was still there. “Getting sick was not your fault, and neither was her death.”

She leaned forward and kissed Alex on the forehead. “I know you probably don’t believe this, so I’ll keep saying it until you do.” She looked him in the eyes again. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Before Alexander could say anything, Lafayette burst into the room, his eyes wild with… fear?

“Eliza,” he panted, “is here, in the waiting room.” He gestured vaguely toward the door.

“But how’d she know Alex is here?” Martha asked, standing up and motioning for Lafayette to sit in the chair on the other side of Alex’s bed.

Laf shook his head. “She didn’t. The children’s ward shares a, how you say, combined, waiting room with the maternity ward.”

Alex shifted his gaze from Laf to Martha, whose eyes had gone wide, the same fear that was in Laf’s entering Martha’s eyes.

“But she’s not due––” Martha gasped.

Laf nodded, his expression grim. “Mrs. Schuyler’s twins are coming early.”

Chapter Text

Everything had been going as planned. Eliza was disengaging from her friends, as much as she could with such nosey friends, at least, and at home she was acting the same as she usually did because she didn’t want to worry her parents. Besides, her younger siblings needed her. Even her parents need her, and they needed her to be normal . They needed the Eliza who didn’t freak out. They needed the whole girl, not this hollow one.

But, since she couldn’t exactly fill her hollowness on demand, the least she could do was pretend. And she’d been doing a great job at that, she really had. Everything had been going well.

So how did they end up in the maternity ward waiting room that evening?

It’d started with her mom complaining of stomach cramps. Nothing too alarming, she’d promised Eliza when she went up to her room after school to check on her. So Eliza brought her some peppermint tea and the magazines that had come in the mail.

That should’ve been the first sign: her mom might have been on bedrest, but she always got the mail because that was when she fixed herself a sandwich for lunch.

But Eliza shrugged it off. Her mom was pregnant with twins. She could only imagine how uncomfortable that must feel at times. Besides, Eliza had homework to do, and Cornelia and Rensselaer were due off the bus any moment, which meant they’d need snacks and help with their homework and someone to keep them from fighting all night long, or at least until their dad got home.

It was after dinner, which her mom had declined, when she heard her mom yell for her dad.

“Phil? Philip?” Catherine’s voice echoed from upstairs. Even Eliza could hear the hint of fear there. She took a deep breath. Nothing is wrong. It’s all fine.

Philip ran from the room. Silence swirled down the stairs. Too much silence. Had it not been for Cornelia’s chatter as she played with her toy horses, Eliza would’ve gone crazy from the hum of nothingness.

“Eliza!” Her father’s voice was sharp, but laced with fear.

She couldn’t remember climbing the stairs, but she remembered standing at the foot of her parents’ bed. Blood.

“Get the kids into the car, please.” His voice was disturbingly calm and even.

Eliza looked at her mother, whose eyelids were fluttering, tears streaking her pale face. Too pale face.

Without a word, Eliza took off down the stairs and hurried her siblings to the van. She buckled them in the very back row, then dashed back into the house to grab the bag of coloring books, toys, and snacks her mom always had ready to go.

Eliza only grabbed her cell phone charger, the novel she was reading for lit class, and a pencil for herself. Then she was in the car, trying to explain to her siblings what, exactly, was going on.

“Why’re we going out so late?” Cornelia yawned.

“Don’t be such a baby,” Rensselaer whined.

“Guys, please,” Eliza snapped. “This is…” she almost said serious , but she stopped herself in time. She didn’t want Rensselaer and Cornelia misbehaving, but she also didn’t want to terrify them. “This is a trip to the baby doctor,” she finally said. “Mama isn’t feeling well, so we’re all going over there really quickly to make sure everything’s okay.”

“I want Mama!” Cornelia suddenly burst into tears.

I can’t even talk to a five-year-old right , Eliza thought.

“Here she comes!” Eliza said, reaching out to stroke her sister’s springy curls.

Sure enough, there was Catherine, Philip behind her, one arm around her waist to keep her steady, his hand in hers. She watched her parents slowly hobble down the walkway to the car.

Her mother had a faraway look in her eyes that Eliza had never seen before. She was worried her mother would never come back from wherever she’d gone, especially if something was actually wrong.

What if something was actually wrong?

***

Cornelia had fallen asleep about an hour ago, curled up in the hard plastic of one of the waiting room chairs. Lafayette had draped his jacket over the small girl, and was sitting with Eliza. Sometime ago he’d taken her hand. She didn’t remember it happening, but it had happened, and was still happening.

She didn’t want to admit how much she liked being comforted by one of the very friends she was trying to push away. I’m not pushing them away because they’re bad friends, she reminded herself. I’m doing it because it’s what’s best for them. Something deep inside of her was telling her not to be selfish, to tell Laf she was fine and he should go be with Alexander, but another part of her didn’t think she could go through this alone. Her father was back with Catherine, Cornelia was asleep, and Rensselaer was nodding off.

She thought about the phone in her pocket. She knew she should text Angelica and Peggy, or even call them. But calling them would make it real. Even texting them would make what was happening to their family much more real than sitting in a waiting room with her younger siblings and Laf did.

But if the roles were reversed, she would want to know.

She disengaged her hand from Laf’s. “I need to call Angelica and Peggy,” she said.

He nodded. “Do you want me to, how you say, step away?”

Eliza shook her head. Laf was their friend, and the Washingtons were old family friends, anyway. Besides, it was so much easier with him there. And he looked so tired, too, even though it was only around eight at night. Eliza wanted him to sit there and rest.

“I’m gonna text Peggy, since she could be in a study session for all I know,” Eliza said, thinking back to the days when she, too, spent night upon night in the school library, crowded around a table with classmates and a teacher, studying for an upcoming test. She vaguely wondered what all that studying got her now that she was a complete failure.

She sighed as she pulled her phone out of her pocket and shot off a text to Peggy.

Eliza: Hey Pegs, call me when you get a chance? No rush! xox

She then hit the phone icon and dialed Angelica’s number. She was the only one of her siblings not to use speed dial. It was a small thing, but she secretly loved that she had memorized her family’s numbers.

Angelica picked up on the second ring. “Hey, Elizaaaaa!” she sang. “What’s up, chica?”

Eliza’s heart sank a bit. She hated that she was about to ruin Angelica’s good mood. She absolutely hated that.

Apparently, she was silent for a beat too long, because Angelica’s tone changed quickly. “Eliza? Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah,” she stammered into the phone. She hadn’t realized that hearing her sister’s voice would make her this… emotional. She fought off the tears that were forming in her eyes and pushed forward. “Mom, um, Mom is in the hospital, there was blood, and stomach cramps, and––”

Eliza broke down in harsh sobs. She hated herself for being this weak. She felt Lafayette wrap his arms around her and hold her close as she cried into her phone.

“‘Liza, I’m coming, okay? I’ll be there right away,” Angelica said, voice frantic.

“But you h-have school tomorrow,” Eliza said, knowing that it was a stupid excuse. Someone should really get Peggy, and she knew that. She knew she’d downplayed the entire thing to Peggy in that text, but how could she tell her over a text? How?

Angelica snapped her out of her thought-spiral. “Eliza, that doesn’t even matter. I’m coming, and I’ll get Peggy, okay?”

“Too much driving,” Eliza protested, even though she knew there was no talking Angelica out of a plan once she’d made up her mind.

“We’ll be there in the morning. If worst comes to worst, Peggy gets some good experience for her road test, okay?”

“Okay,” Eliza whispered. She told Angelica which hospital they were at, then hung up the phone.

She felt so weak for needing her older sister to swoop in and make everything better. Why couldn’t she handle things on her own? Why was she so, so weak?

Laf hugged her tightly. “It will be okay, mon amie,” he said.

“Thanks, Laf,” she whispered.

She pulled away from Laf and looked at her siblings. Cornelia was still asleep, but Rensselaer’s eyes were wide and watery. Oh god, I did that, didn’t I? She internally kicked herself for losing her composure in front of Ren. He was only eight, he didn’t need his older sister scaring him like that.

“Hey, Ren, it’s gonna be okay,” Eliza said. She knelt down in front of him and opened up her arms. He practically flew into them.

“But you’re crying,” he sniffled.

“Yeah, I’m sorry,” she said. “I just want Mama to be okay.”

“She will be, right?” The thing about kids was that they never disguised how they were feeling. It was like they couldn’t. The fear in his voice was so obvious that it was painful.

“Of course,” Eliza said, praying it wasn’t a lie.

“And the babies?” Ren’s voice was soft, like he was afraid to even ask that question.

“Yes.” Eliza had no idea, but she wanted to believe they would be, and Ren needed to believe they would be.

Maybe she needed to believe it, too.

***

Eliza got little sleep in that waiting room. Mr. and Mrs. Washington were in and out of there as they switched off with who was staying by Alexander and argued with Laf that he needed to go home. Laf won the argument in the end, though, by saying he wanted to be there for Eliza, and that if she was spending the night he sure could, too.

Philip Schuyler came to check on Eliza, Ren, and Cornelia a few times, each time looking more frazzled and exhausted than he had the last. He pulled Eliza aside around one in the morning.

“We finally have some information, of sorts,” he said. He wasn’t looking her in the eye.

“We do?” She could hardly breathe. She both wanted him to tell her five hours ago and to never know.

“They’ve determined that they can’t keep her or the babies stable, so they’re prepping her for an emergency c-section.”

“But the babies,” she gasped.

He looked up at her, tears in his eyes. “They’re only about a month premature. It’ll be okay,” he said. He pulled Eliza close and hugged her tightly.

When he let go and told her he’d be back with an update soon, Eliza stood there in the hall, watching him walk away and disappear around the corner where the elevator bay was.

That’s when it hit her: her father, her amazing, loving father, was doing what she’d done earlier to Rensselaer. He was telling her what she needed to hear.

***

At 2:03 in the morning, two new Schuyler siblings were born. There was Cortlandt, a little boy, and Catherine, named for her mother, who was finally stabilizing in the hours following the c-section.

By four in the morning, Eliza was allowed to see her mother, but she was not granted permission to see the babies. Catherine hadn’t seen them, either, they’d been whisked off to the NICU so quickly. Philip had seen them briefly.

“Cortlandt has your eyes and your smile,” he said to Catherine. He didn’t say anything about baby Catherine. That said everything.

***

It was just past six in the morning when an exhausted Angelica arrived with an oddly energetic Peggy in tow. Lafayette had fallen asleep with Rensselaer on his lap, Cornelia was curled up on their father’s jacket, with Laf’s still on her, and Eliza was awake, watching the TV, which seemed to be permanently set on The Weather Channel.

Highway Through Hell was on for what felt like the twentieth time in a row when her sisters burst into the waiting room.

“Angelica! Peggy!” Eliza whispered, rushing over to them.

“Eliza!” they both said as they wrapped their arms around her.

Eliza wanted to cry, and for the first time in a long time, she wanted to cry out of happiness. She knew she’d be happy to see her sisters, but she hadn’t realized she’d be that happy.

“What’s going on?” Peggy asked when they’d finally let each other go.

“Mom had the twins,” Eliza whispered.

“What?!” Both Angelica and Peggy exclaimed, waking up Cornelia, who sleepily eyed her older sisters.

“Quiet,” Eliza said, nodding toward Cornelia, who was sitting up in the chair. “They don’t know much.”

Angelica nodded, then turned to Cornelia and scooped her up, cooing over her. She settled back down in the chair and nodded toward the hallway.

Eliza took Peggy by the arm and pulled her out of the waiting room, down the hallway to the vending machines.

“What’s going on?” Peggy asked, her eyes wide. “All Angie told me was something happened to Mama, like cramps?”

“Yeah, Mama was having cramps all day, but we didn’t think much of it. Then, last night, there was blood.” Eliza’s voice dropped to a whisper. “They did an emergency c-section in the early hours of the morning.”

“Is Mama okay? Are the babies?” Peggy asked the last question in a tone that made Eliza believe her sister didn’t really want to know the answer–– she was too afraid of what it would be.

“Mama’s recovering, and last I knew the babies are in the NICU.”

Tears were glistening in Peggy’s eyes. “Will they be okay?”

Eliza shivered, even though it wasn’t particularly cold in the hallway. She couldn’t answer Peggy’s question without freezing over everything that was still lush and green in their lives. She couldn’t answer it without breaking her sister’s heart.

Her silence said more than her words could.

Peggy clung to Eliza, crying onto her shoulder. Eliza held her, ran her hand through her sister’s hair, told her it’d be okay. Eventually, she couldn’t keep saying that, though. She couldn’t keep saying something she didn’t believe. Not to Peggy, at least.

Eliza wasn’t sure when she’d started to cry, but by the time Angelica found them, Eliza was a mess.

Angelica, brave, strong, fearless Angelica, took one look at her sisters’ puffy eyes and tear-streaked faces and burst into tears herself.

That was how Philip Schuyler found them. If he was surprised to see his other two daughters there, it didn’t show on his face. The only emotions that were visible were exhaustion, worry, and sadness. Way too much sadness was etched deep into the lines on their typically cheerful father’s face.

“Girls,” he said, opening his arms up. They pressed into his embrace together, something they’d been doing since Peggy was born. It felt as natural as breathing.

“Girls,” he said again, his arms still wrapped around him. They all looked up at him at the same time. It would’ve been weird if it didn’t happen on a regular basis. “You should come meet your baby brother and sister.”

Eliza could remember when they’d been called back to meet Cornelia, and even Rensselaer. Their father had looked exhausted, sure, but there’d also been so much joy and pride in his eyes.

There was no joy in his brown eyes, only fear and pain and sorrow.

***

Aside from the beeping of monitors, it was quiet in the NICU. The three girls and their father stood around two small incubators. One held Cortlandt, who was the larger of the two. His skin looked healthier, and his hands were balled into tiny fists. Eliza longed to unfurl his fingers, let him grasp onto her own, as she’d once done with her youngest two siblings.

But they couldn’t touch these babies. No, they couldn’t touch them yet.

Catherine was small. So, so small, and made to look even smaller because she was dwarfed by the many wires attached to various parts of her body. She looked sickly and limp. Her chest was rising and falling, but it looked like so much effort. It looked painful.

Eliza couldn’t bear to watch, but she also couldn’t look away.

That’s my sister , something inside of her said. The words echoed in her mind, not feeling real. Peggy’s hand slipped into hers as Angelica leaned into their father. Even with her family around her, she felt so hollow. And she felt even more hollow now, looking down at her two new siblings, knowing that they were holding on for dear life.

I wish I could give them mine , she thought. They’d make better use of it.

She watched Catherine take in another labored breath.

I do not deserve this life. She was convinced she’d never had a truer thought.

***

Eliza was confused when she woke up with the sun streaming in on her face. Where her bed was, the morning sun never hit her face. She was also confused by the extra body next to her. And she was very confused when that body turned out to be Peggy, one arm lazily looped around Eliza’s waist.

 

Then all the memories of the past twenty-four hours flooded back.

After they saw the twins, and visited their mother, who’d been sleeping, so they’d all gently kissed her forehead and quietly filed out of the room, Philip told them to take the other two kids and go home.

Eliza asked Angelica and Peggy if they could round up Cornelia and Rensselaer, who’d been left in Laf’s care while the sisters had stepped away, and made her way to the room number Lafayette had given her the prior evening.

Alexander looked so tiny in the hospital bed. George and Martha were in two chairs pulled up to his bed, Martha’s head resting on George’s shoulder, George’s hand on one of Alexander’s, all three of them asleep.

Or so Eliza had thought.

“Hi,” Alex croaked.

Eliza jumped. “Oh my gosh, I thought you were asleep,” she whispered.

“Ha, no,” Alex said. “How’s your mom?”

Eliza’s heart nearly melted in her chest, threatening to drip hot wax across her ribcage. Alex was sick, in the hospital, and the first thing he did was ask about her mother.

“She’s okay,” Eliza said, praying he wouldn’t ask if she’d had the babies.

He gave her a weak smile. “I’m glad,” he said.

Eliza breathed a sigh of relief. “I wanted to check in on you, see how you’re doing?” She took a few more steps toward him.

“Everything hurts,” he said with a laugh. It wasn’t a dark laugh, like the one John Laurens had perfected. But somehow, the brightness in his laugh made the situation even more alarming. It was almost as if he were accustomed to pain.

Eliza stumbled on her words for a moment, not sure what to say. Alexander swooped in before she could make a total fool of herself.

“I guess neither of us will be at group on Friday.”

Eliza clamped her hand over her mouth to keep from laughing too loud and waking the Washingtons. Alexander lit up with one of the most genuine smiles she’d ever seen.

“How’re you feeling right now, Alexander?” she said in a mock therapist voice.

“I’d need my list of feelings to properly answer that question,” he said with a wink. Then he started to cough, and he kept coughing, and coughing, and George and Martha jolted awake and looked at him with so much concern and worry.

Once he finally stopped coughing, they looked up at Eliza, who gave them a small wave.

“My sisters are waiting for me, so I should go, but I hope you feel better soon, Alex.”

“Thanks,” he said, his voice scratchy. “I hope your mom is home soon, Eliza.” He began to cough again, and Eliza felt awful that it’d been at her expense.

“Thank you,” she whispered before leaving the room.

She took off down the hallway, to her siblings, where they all piled into Angie’s car and drove back home to the Schuyler Mansion.

Eliza didn’t remember going to bed, let alone Peggy joining her instead of sleeping in her own bed, but apparently that was what she’d done.

She could hear Angelica’s voice coming from somewhere down the hallway, then she heard Cornelia’s bossy voice and Ren’s annoyed one and knew Angelica was in their room, playing with them.

Everything felt so normal. Even Peggy randomly being in her bed wasn’t odd, since Peggy was the most physically affectionate out of the three older girls and would cling to Angelica and Eliza every chance she got. Eliza waited to hear her father call Cornelia and Rensselaer downstairs for breakfast, so they wouldn’t miss the school bus. She waited to hear her mother knock on her door and tell her and Peggy they’d better get up.

But of course that didn’t happen. It wasn’t even morning–– it was three in the afternoon. She had no idea when her mother would be coming home, and she knew her father wouldn’t leave until her mother could, especially with Angelica and Peggy home.

“Peggy,” Eliza whispered.

“Mmm,” Peggy whined.

“We should get up.” Eliza poked Peggy in the side.

“Nooooo these beds are so much more comfortable,” Peggy mumbled.

Eliza remembered the beds at their boarding school–– they weren’t awful, but they weren’t great. Her and Maria had theorized that they school chose those mattresses not because they were cheaper (though the probably were), but because that way students wouldn’t take frequent naps and could get more studying done.

It had worked, too. Eliza had only been in bed during the nighttime, well, that was until everything began to crumble. The slightly uncomfortable mattress couldn’t work its magic on her then.

Now is not the time to get all self-pitying , she internally reprimanded herself.

She poked Peggy in the side again. “Come on, Peg Board, I need to get up.”

“Fine,” Peggy murmured, clearly about to be totally out again.

Eliza shifted her sister off of her and climbed over her, Peggy not even stirring.

She padded down the hall toward the sound of Angelica’s voice. It brought back so many memories, even ones from when they were as young as Cornelia. Eliza had always been following Angelica’s voice. Always.

It was as she walked toward Angelica’s voice that Eliza began to wonder how long it’d been since she’d followed her own voice. How long had it been since she’d made her own trail?

Now that you’re a loser who had to run home, maybe you can find out .


Maybe she would.

 

 

Chapter Text

Alexander was coughing. This wasn’t a new development, though. In fact, it was so common now that it took a particularly hard hack for him to pay it much attention. Like most hardships in his young life thus far, he adapted.

He’d been in the hospital for three days. Lafayette and the Washingtons were with him nearly every second, Lafayette forgoing school and the Washingtons calling out of work. All of them reassured him it wasn’t a big deal, that they were happy to do this.

Look at you, disrupting their lives. Why can’t you just die?

Alex hadn’t seen Eliza since her brief visit the other day, and he didn’t know if that was good or bad. Lafayette told him Mrs. Schuyler had had the babies, but they were in the NICU. He hadn’t seen Eliza around, either, but seeing as he spent most of his time in Alex’s room, it wasn’t shocking that he may have missed her.

When he wasn’t coughing, Alex spent most of his time in the hospital drifting in and out of sleep. Occasionally he was carted off to be x-rayed, to see if the pneumonia was responding to the antibiotics yet; to see if it was disappearing from his lungs. Martha reassured him there’d been slight improvements, that he was headed in the right direction, but he saw the worry in her eyes when she thought he wasn’t looking.

Maybe this is it. Maybe this is when you finally stop annoying the hell out of everyone who gets stuck with you and finally leave them all in peace.

Alex was engulfed in his thoughts when there was a gentle knock on the open hospital room door.

“John!” Martha exclaimed before Alex could lift his head to see who it was. Martha had already rushed over to the other boy and pulled him in for a hug. “It’s so good to see you,” she said into his shoulder.

John hugged her back. “It’s really good to see you, too, Mrs. Wa–– I mean, um, Martha.”

Martha laughed, letting go of the boy. “But I know you’re not here for me. I’m gonna go get a coffee. Can I get you boys anything?”

They both said no, so Martha left, tossing a smile Alex’s way as she disappeared into the hall.

John stood in the doorway for a moment, staring at Alexander, before he finally approached his bed, sitting in the closest chair. “You really had me scared,” John said with a laugh. It wasn’t his dark laugh this time, but it wasn’t his joyous one, either. It was sad. It was laced with a sorrow so deep Alex didn’t know if there was an end to it.

“Sorry,” Alex croaked.

John laughed again, the sorrow growing deeper. Alex swore he could see his boyfriend splitting, hairline fissures in his skin, almost unnoticeable, almost, but when he cracked open, Alex would say how could I not have seen this coming?

“Babe, you don’t have to apologize for being sick.” John held out his hand and Alex gladly took it. “I’m just sorry for how I’d been acting. You didn’t deserve any of that,” John said softly.

“We talked about this,” Alex whispered. He let his eyes drift shut, keeping them open was too much effort. “Everything is fine now.”

“We did talk about it, yeah, but I just… You deserve someone who can openly be with you.” The quiver in John’s voice is what got Alex to fight off the heavy tiredness that was weighing down his eyelids so he could look at John.

“I understand,” Alex said.

John shook his head. “You deserve so much better than me, though.” The fissures on John’s skin were growing larger and Alex felt helpless to stop them, to mend them.

“Babe,” Alex said, his throat aching with every syllable. “No. I want you .”

John looked like he was going to try to argue more, but just sighed. “I want you, too,” he said weakly, as if he didn’t want to want Alex.

He hates you. He just can’t break up with you because you’re dying. He’d be so relieved if you just kicked it right now.

Alex simply squeezed John’s hand in response. They could talk more when Alex could actually talk, when he could keep his eyes open for more than twenty seconds at a time. For now all he wanted was John’s hand in his own, warm, alive, whole. That would be enough.

 

***

 

“I thought I heard a French accent.”

It was early in the evening and George and Martha had gone home to shower, leaving Lafayette with Alexander. Lafayette was telling Alex embarrassing stories about John and Herc when a girl’s voice cut through his chatter.

“Ms. Angelica Schuyler,” Laf said, jumping to his feet. He bowed in her direction and held out his hand. “To what do we owe this honor?”

Angelica sauntered into the room and placed her hand in Laf’s. He brought it to his lips and kissed it, winking at her afterward.

“I was visiting Mama and the babies,” she said with a shrug. From the way her face fell, Alex could tell Angelica didn’t want to say much more.

Laf seemed to catch that, too. “I hope all is well. I am just happy to see your face,” Laf said with his ever-charming smile.

“Won’t your boyfriend be jealous?” Angelica said with a smirk.

Laf waved his hand, moving to take a seat next to Alex again. “Herc knows of my affections,” Laf said with a grin.

“Thank god you’re here, Alex, otherwise Laf would totally jump my bones,” Angelica said with a laugh.

Laf acted offended. “I would never… not without your permission and Herc’s, at least,” he said with a laugh. Alexander loved Laf’s laugh. It was always so pure and happy.

Laf invited Angie to take a seat and the two chatted for a bit, Alex drifting off to the cadences of their voices. He imagined he was on a boat, being lulled back and forth by the waves of their murmurs and giggles.

When he next awoke Angelica was gone, and so was Lafayette. George was next to him, reading a book by the light of the small lamp next to Alex’s bed. Judging by the darkness in the room, Alex figured it was night.

Not wanting to disturb George, he was about to shut his eyes and at least pretend he was still asleep when a coughing fitting overtook him. George wordlessly helped him sit up and pounded on his back, just as the nurse had shown him and Martha, in order to dislodge some of the mucus.

After a few minutes, the fit passed. After drinking from the cup of water George handed him, George guided Alex back down, whispering for him to get some rest. Alex wanted to say that all he did was rest, but as soon as his head sunk into that pillow, the desire to fight his tiredness evaporated from his body.

The last thing he remembered was a whisper, George’s voice: “I love you, son.”

Chapter Text

Someone was saying something to her, but she couldn’t make it out. She couldn’t care to make it out. She was underwater, where all sounds and feelings were muffled. Where all pain was a dull ache, the blueness of the waves carrying some of the sorrow she couldn’t hold within her.

“Eliza,” Angelica said, louder that time, while shaking the other girl by her shoulders.

Eliza blinked Angelica into focus. “Angelica,” she whispered.

Her sister’s face was stony, stoic. How was she not cracking? How had she not shattered into pieces like Eliza had, like Peggy had? Like their parents had, though they mostly broke down behind closed doors, thinking their sobs were kept from the girls’ ears by the wooden walls that separated them.

Angelica sat down on the bed, next to where Eliza was curled up. Peggy was there, too, her head in Eliza’s lap after she finally fell asleep for the first time in over twenty-four hours. One of Eliza’s hands was on Peggy’s head, her fingers tangled in her sister’s hair. Angelica took Eliza’s other hand.

“Eliza,” Angelica said with a sad sigh.

Eliza thought her sister was going to try to make her talk. But what would she even say? What was there to say?

“There are moments when the words don’t reach, and there is suffering too terrible to name. This is that suffering.” Angelica’s arms were suddenly around her shoulders, hugging her close. There was an awful silence for a moment, and Eliza felt they were suspended, and knew that when the silence was broken, their world would never be the same.

The silence was shattered by Angelica’s sob.

Eliza’s hand tightened ever so slightly in Peggy’s hair as she tried to keep herself from crying, too. Angelica never cried. Eliza thought back to when Angelica, only nine years old, had broken her arm. Not a tear shed. Or when she’d been reprimanded in front of nearly the entire school for talking during an assembly. Didn’t even look ashamed. Both were things that would have had Eliza sobbing. Angelica was just different from her in that way. She was emotional, but instead of crying, her initial reaction had always been defiance.

When she thought of it that way, it all made sense to Eliza. What was there to defy here? What could she defy when their newborn sister was dead?

***

It’d been two days. Two days ago she woke up with six siblings and went to bed with five. The family now sat around the kitchen table in a foggy sadness. Their mother had come home the day before, and Philip had insisted on making pancakes for breakfast. He didn’t say it was to celebrate her return because none of them wanted to celebrate. None of them wanted to do anything close to celebrate.

Eliza knew why he was doing it without him having to say a word. He needed to see them. He needed to see his children. He needed to see his wife. He needed to pretend for just one moment that everything was fine. That they were still a happy and whole family.

But with everyone gathered around the table that morning, the opposite couldn’t have been more obvious. Even Cornelia and Rensselaer were silent. Angelica, who could normally weave conversations out of thin air, was pushing her pancakes around on her plate, shoulders hunched. Peggy was slumped in her chair, staring at the two fluffy disks drenched in maple syrup. Catherine had a cup of coffee in one hand, her head in the other. Philip was eyeing each member of his family as if he wanted to say something, but didn’t know what.

What Angelica had said echoed in Eliza’s mind again.

There are moments when the words don’t reach. There is suffering to terrible to name.

Eliza wanted to run away from the table and land back in her bed, her sisters on either side of her. That was how they’d slept as children. They’d squeezed into Angie’s twin bed, arms tossed over each other, hair tangled together. Their parents had dozens of pictures of the girls sleeping like that. One of them was framed on the living room mantle, and, for the past few months, all Cornelia could talk about was how that would be her and baby Catherine. They would be best friends and share a bed and get their hair all knotted together.

Eliza felt like she was going to be sick.

She was about to excuse herself when she caught sight of her father’s face. It was paler than she’d ever seen. Creases seemed to have appeared under his eyes overnight.

She took a deep breath. She would stay. She would stay for her father.

“I love you,” Philip suddenly said, his voice stronger than Eliza had expected it to be. He looked at each member of the family in turn. “I love you all so much.” He reached his hand out to Catherine, who took it, gripping it tightly. He reached his other hand out to Rensselaer, who was seated on his other side. “And it’s our love that will get us through this,” he said, voice wavering.

Eliza pictured Cortlandt, still in the NICU, but growing stronger every day. She imagined him coming home, filling the house with the gurgles and giggles every baby makes. But then she couldn’t stop her mind from wandering to baby Catherine, her small, fragile body in a funeral home, in a dainty pink dress too big for her tiny frame. No gurgle or giggle or wail would ever leave her lips. Her few days had been silent, and now she belonged to silence.

Just when she thought she couldn’t take it anymore, she felt a small hand slip into her own. Cornelia. Peggy’s hand found her other one. She looked up to find her family had all had linked hands.

She tried to force her mind to stay there, in the present, with her family. She tried her best to let that be enough.

***

“Mr. and Mrs. Schuyler, I am so sorry.” Reverend Westerlo said as Philip welcomed him into their parlor.

Eliza was seated between her sisters, the three of them in dark blue dresses, make-up on, hair brushed. Peggy’s was in her usual ponytail, courtesy of Angelica, while Eliza’s and Angie’s fell in front of their faces. Typical for Eliza, though not for Angelica, who usually had hers half up. But they looked nice. They looked civilized. They looked like everything was perfectly fine for the first time in the past few days.

“Angelica, Elizabeth, Margarita.” Reverend Westerlo bowed his head in their direction. He turned back to their parents. “Are young Rensselaer and Cornelia here?”

“They’re across the river with my parents at the moment,” Philip said.

He hadn’t wanted them to go, but, as Catherine had pointed out, there was a horribly grim air about the house and they were too young to truly grasp what had happened. Eliza had wanted to say they should never to have understand it, but she knew that they would need to. They would need to understand death on a personal level.

“Just as well,” Reverend Westerlo said with another nod. “So, shall we discuss the arrangements?”

Arrangements. That could be about flower arrangements. It could be about seating arrangements. It could be about dining arrangements.

But Eliza knew.

“We would like a small, family and close friends only, service at the church, if that’s a possibility,” Philip said.

“Of course it is,” Reverend Westerlo said as he scribbled something in a small notebook he’d produced from his pants pocket. “Full service?”

Philip nodded. “Please.”

“I have some reading suggestions, if you’d like some help choosing them. And I can recommend songs, as well.”

Catherine let out a pained sob, her hand flying to her mouth. Philip looked at her helplessly, placing an arm around her shaking shoulders.

“Do you need a moment? I can step outside,” Reverend Westerlo offered.

Philip held up a hand to stop the reverend from getting up. “Girls, please, fix Reverend Westerlo a cup of coffee?” Philip looked at the three of them pleadingly.

They left the room, not saying a word until they were in the kitchen.

Peggy spoke when they heard the door to the parlor shut. “I’ll listen. You guys know I’m shit at making coffee, anyway.”

“Only because you always have one of us around to make it,” Angie shot back with a wink.

Eliza set the kettle on the stove as Angelica gathered the mugs, coffee grinds, and creamer. Peggy had disappeared around the corner, and, even though she couldn’t see her, Eliza knew Peggy had her ear pressed to the door.

“What do you think they’re talking about?” Eliza’s voice was only slightly louder than the grumble of the kettle.

Angie shrugged, her back to Eliza as she bustled about the kitchen. “Mama might have needed some time just to talk to him.”

The kettle went off. Angie made the coffee. A few moments of silence descended over the kitchen. They were about to make their way back to the parlor with the three steaming cups when Peggy appeared before them looking as if she’d seen a ghost.

“What happened?” Angie asked, setting down the two mugs she was holding.

Peggy just shook her head. “Mama just keeps asking why. Asking what she did wrong, why God hates her, why it was baby Catherine instead of her.”

Peggy looked at her older sisters in turn, helpless. Angelica pulled her younger sister into her arms, Eliza hugging Peggy from behind.

There are moments when the words don’t reach, there is suffering too terrible to name.

When they pulled away, all three of them had glassy eyes. Eliza wanted to say so many things. She wanted to ask if they felt like their lives would never return to some form of normal, like they would never feel okay again. She wanted to tell them how badly she wanted to crawl into her bed and sleep and sleep and sleep and if she never woke up, well, that wouldn’t be so bad. She wanted to break down sobbing in front of her parents. She wanted to see her mother’s pain, the pain she tried so hard to hide from her children, and she wanted her mother to see her pain, too.

She didn’t want to be alone. Eliza was so tired of feeling alone.

“Does Mama really think it’s her fault?” Peggy broke their silence with a whisper.

“It’s a normal response to grief, to feel like something that’s just an unrelated tragedy was your fault. It’s a way of coping,” Angelica said as if she were reading a textbook description verbatim.

That’s when it hit Eliza. No, not hit, slammed into her, nearly knocking her off of her feet. Of course this wasn’t their mother’s fault. Catherine was nothing but a kind, loving, and devoted mom. But who had recently brought a ton of stress into her life? Who had recently messed up all of her plans for her children?

I killed baby Catherine, Eliza thought. This is all my fault. Oh my God, this is all my fault.

Eliza could feel her breaths coming faster. She needed to get away from her sisters. She motioned down the hallway opposite the parlor, toward the bathroom, and raced off, almost slamming the door in her wake.

She pulled back the shower curtain and sat in the cold porcelain of the bathtub, knees hugged to her chest, her breathing ragged.

She knew she couldn’t stay there long, that she would need to get back out there, take her place between her sisters, thank Reverend Westerlo for coming out to see them. She couldn’t let her parents down, not when she’d taken so much away from them already.

While she could never make up for killing her baby sister, she could try to never stress her parents out again. She could do everything they wanted, everything they asked of her. She didn’t know what any of that would entail, but she knew one thing for certain: she could never let them down again.

***

It was the morning of the service. Well, the very early morning of the service. It was three in the morning, to be more exact, and Eliza could not sleep.

She’d already scrolled through her facebook feed, the content only making her feel worse about everything. There were her old boarding school friends, taking part in all of the exciting senior year traditions, having fun, going on weekend hikes, studying hard in the library late into the night surrounded by books and empty to-go coffee cups. It was a community she’d been a part of for three years only to feel like she’d never really been a part of it at all.

She was considering starting a Twitter account out of sheer boredom when a text message buzzed through her phone, nearly making her drop it. She looked down at Peggy, who was curled up next to her, relieved she hadn’t awoken her sleeping sister.

Alexander: Hey, Eliza. Just now did Laf think he might maybe want to tell me what happened, after I spent all of yesterday hounding him about why everyone was so sad. And I do mean he literally told me at three in the morning. Anyway, that’s not what this text is about. I just wanted to say that I’m so sorry, Eliza, and I’m sorry I didn’t know sooner or I would have messaged you right away. I know we haven’t known each other long, but I think we could be good friends and I want you to know that I’m here for you. <3

Eliza reread the message at least ten times, grateful she didn’t have read receipts on. Finally, she figured out what she wanted to say in response.

Eliza: Thank you, Alex. Your words and support mean a lot to me. <3 As for Laf, that’s typical. Does this mean you’re out of the hospital?

She got a reply nearly instantaneously.

Alexander: SHIT

Alexander: Eliza why’re you awake??????

Alexander: Insomnia is MY thing. If we both use “exhausted” during our next group surely she’ll know we’re choosing our answers from the feelings list ahead of time.

Alexander: Anyway

Alexander: Yeah, I’m home. I came home yesterday. Still no school for a while, tho.

Eliza: I’m so glad you’re out of the hospital! Ha, we’ll have to come up with synonyms I guess.

Alexander: Thanks! But why’re you up?

Eliza: Got a lot on my mind

Alexander: Right, of course. Sorry.

Alexander: Anything I can do to help?

Eliza: No, but thanks, Alex :) I’ll try to get some rest now. Keep feeling better!

Alexander: Good plan. I’ll do the same. Thanks, Eliza. Let me know if you ever wanna come up with more synonyms for the feelings list. Sleep well.

Eliza smiled as she dropped her phone onto her nightstand. As she curled up around a sleeping Peggy, she wondered why what Alexander had said felt so right to her. What had he said that was so different from Maria’s I’m so sorry you’re in my prayers let me know what I can do texts? Or Laf’s flowery consolations? Or Herc’s bombardment of heart emojis?

Pity, she realized. In Alexander’s messages, there was absolutely no pity. How , she wondered, had he managed that?
How had he managed to, for just a few texts, push away the unimaginable?

Chapter Text

The living room had been taken over by Alexander and his illness. He hadn’t wanted it this way, but the Washingtons had insisted that he stay downstairs until he was better. They said it was so they could take care of him more easily, but he knew the truth–– he was still much too weak to go up and down the stairs.

He knew that was a moment he should probably write about in his notebook, where he tracked what he thought versus the actual actions of others, but the notebook was still in his bedroom and he had no intention of asking for it. Besides, therapy sessions had been suspended until he was recovered. As far as he was concerned, the assignment had been suspended, as well.

“Mama, Papa, please ,” Laf said from the kitchen. “We will be fine . I am more than capable of watching after Alexander for a few hours!”

Ever since he’d come home, either Martha or George had always been in the house with him. This would be the first time they’d be leaving him with just Laf, and clearly they were apprehensive, to say the least.

“Just go over the emergency plan with me once more, mon cher?” Martha asked sweetly.

Alexander could hear Lafayette sigh, but the boy indulged them. “If something goes horribly wrong I call 911, then you or Papa.”

“Thank you,” Martha said.

“Go, and please tell the Schuylers that they are constantly in my thoughts and prayers?”

“Of course, Gilbert, of course.”

Alex could tell from the silent pause and swishing of fabric on fabric that Martha was hugging Laf.

“We should be off now, my dear,” George said. Footsteps were soon coming Alex’s way.

“We’ll be back shortly, son,” George said.

Martha leaned down and kissed Alex’s forehead, frowning slightly as she rose. “Laf? Please take his temperature and text it to me?”

“Oui, Mama,” Laf said from where he leaned against the doorway.

“We’ll be back soon, sweetheart.” Martha kissed him again before following George to the door.

Alex wanted to tell them to tell Eliza how badly he wanted to be there, how horrible he felt that he was not only unable to attend baby Catherine’s funeral, but that he was keeping Laf from being there for his friends when they needed him much more than Alex did. He would be fine for a few hours, really.

He wanted to say all of this, but he couldn’t, since his throat was so sore he couldn’t speak. He absolutely loathed being unable to speak, which was ironic, considering how silent he’d been forcing himself to be ever since arriving at the Washingtons.

Lafayette sat down on the opposite end of the couch from Alex, smirking at him. “I guess I should take your temperature?”

Alex rolled his eyes.

“Oui, but Martha’s orders,” Laf said with a shrug. He grabbed the thermometer from the end table and motioned for Alex to open his mouth. After a few moments, he pulled it out, clucking at what he saw there. “You still have a fever, mon ami.” He caught Alex’s eye and winked. “But it has gone down considerably.”

Alex gave Laf a small smile, then reached for his phone. He’d been texting instead of speaking these past few days. It’d felt strange at first, texting people who were right next to him, but now it had become second nature.

 

Alexander: I’m sorry about today, Laf.

 

Laf read the message and gave Alex a look. “Why are you apologizing, mon ami?”

Alex sighed. Of course Laf wasn’t going to make this easy.

 

Alexander: It’s my fault you can’t be at the funeral, that you can’t be there for your friends. They need you more than I need you right now.

 

Lafayette stared at his phone for a moment before letting out a long, exaggerated sigh and dropping his phone onto the couch cushion. “My dear Alexander,” he began, and Alex knew he was in for a ride. “I do not accept your apology because I see no, how you say, purpose, for it. You act as if it is your, how you say, fault, that you are ill when everyone knows illness is something you can’t control.”

Alex opened his mouth to respond out of habit, but Laf held his finger up, even though they both knew Alex wouldn’t be able to say much, anyway.

“And our friends have our other friends, mon ami. John and Hercules are there for them, as will be other people who can support them. We will be there for them, mon ami, I promise. Maybe we are unable to attend today, but we will be there for them for as long as they need.” Laf smiled at Alex. “And even after that because we are, how you say, obnoxious.”

Alex mimed laughter in Laf’s direction.

 

Alexander: Thanks Laf <3

 

“It is only the truth.” Just then, an alarm went off on Lafayette’s phone. He dismissed it, then sprung up from the couch. “It is time for your cough syrup!”

Alex pouted at Laf. He hated the cough syrup, not only because it tasted horrible, but because it also made him so drowsy.

Laf gave Alex a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry, mon ami, but if I don’t give you this, Martha will, how you say, have my head.”

Alex only pouted more, knowing all attempts at reversing his fate were futile.

Lafayette returned a moment later with a tiny medicine cup full of thick red liquid. He held it out to Alex, who reached up with a trembling hand to take it. Upon seeing his hand shaking so much, Laf pulled the cup away.

“Let me, mon ami. Plug your nose,” he instructed.

Laf had taught Alex that trick–– plugging his nose as he swallowed the medicine did lessen the awful taste a bit. And a bit was more than enough for him.

Lafayette held the cup to Alexander’s lips, then tipped it forward. Alex swallowed the disgusting liquid as quickly as possible, grateful when Laf held a glass of cool water to his lips as soon as he put the medicine cup down.

“Good job, mon ami,” Laf said, stroking Alex’s hair. “Want me to sit with you?”

Alex nodded, and Laf sat him up for a moment so he could slip next to him, then rested Alex’s head on his lap. He gently ran his fingers through Alex’s dark locks.

“Did I ever tell you about the Beast of Gévaudan?” Lafayette asked as he curled Alex’s hair around his slender fingers.

“Non,” Alex replied, his voice little more than a whisper, but it felt so damn good to talk. He tried to ignore the drowsiness that was starting to settle in.

“Well, when I was un petit garçon, there was a sort of… monster, said to be lurking in the forests near my family’s estate. At night he would snatch chickens and ducks and sheep from their coops and sheds, which was not, how you say, unusual for a creature, but then he truly began to get himself into trouble…”

Laf’s voice started to fade as sleep rushed over Alex like water, like water, like––

“... people were being attack, by la bête, you see? So I, being as, how you say, chivalrous, as I am…”

Like water, people being attacked, like water, like sleep, sleep, final sleep, like water, like people being attacked by water, like sleep, sleep, final––

“My mémé heard of my, um, how you say, expeditions, and grounded me right away, but I was still determined to protect and save the good people and sheep of–– Alex? Alexander?”

Alex’s eyes fluttered open as his name broke through everything else he was hearing–– through Laf’s story, through the voices melding together in his head, bringing him back to his worst days.

“Mon ami,” Laf said gently. “You’re safe, okay? You’re here with me, in the Washington’s living room.”

“Ye-yeah,” Alex stuttered hoarsely, his body trembling.        

Laf wrapped a protective arm around him. “Shut your eyes, I will keep you safe, mon ami. I promise.”

After a moment of trying to fight off the overwhelming urge to sleep, Alexander surrendered, letting Laf’s warmth reassure him that he was and would be okay, at least until he woke again.

Chapter Text

6:07 am

Peggy’s alarm clock had been going off for seven minutes. Eliza longed to turn it off, but to turn it off would be to start the day–– a day Eliza did not want to start.

So instead she curled tighter around Peggy, who was, like always sleeping through her alarm. Normally Peggy’s inability to wake up to her obnoxious alarm bothered Eliza to no end, but, in that moment, she loved Peggy even more for it. It was something so normal in a tumultuous sea of misery and unreality.

Of course, they couldn’t avoid the day forever. Angelica swiped the screen of Peggy’s phone, turning the alarm off.

She didn’t have to say a word to Eliza for Eliza to know what she had to do.

She gently shook Peggy by the arm. “Come on, Pegboard, you gotta get up.”

“Nooo,” she whined.

As Peggy slowly woke up, Eliza could tell that Peggy was still oblivious to how dramatically their lives had changed. Eliza’d had many mornings like that–– she would wake up in her bed at home and, for one blissful moment, forget about how she’d failed, how she’d run home from boarding school, unable to finish what she’d started. Those few seconds of unawareness, of forgetfulness, were sometimes the best of her day.

Peggy blinked her eyes open and Eliza could see the knowledge of what they were about to face slamming into her younger sister’s consciousness. Eliza wanted to protect Peggy form it all, but she knew she couldn’t. There was no way. All she could do was be there for her.

She kissed Peggy’s forehead. “Come on, Pegs,” she said. “It’ll be okay. You’ve got me.”

 

7:21 am

There was no breakfast that morning. Nobody, not even Cornelia, was hungry. Philip halfheartedly tried to get her and Rensselaer to eat even a piece of toast, but Cornelia said she had a stomach ache and Ren just shook his head, his face ashen. Eliza knew the two of them didn’t fully understand, but they understood enough. They had definitely been impacted by the mournful mood of the house.

Eliza wished they didn’t feel it at all, that they could be oblivious, happy. She was both in awe of how perceptive they were and saddened by it. She wanted a normal childhood for them, but she knew that from here on out, normal was out of the question.

“Why is everyone dark?” Cornelia asked as Eliza helped her into her tights.

“What do you mean?” Eliza said.

“We’re all in dark clothes. Even Peggy!”

Peggy rarely wore dark clothes. The only time Eliza could clearly recall her sister wearing a black dress was to parties on campus.

“Wearing black clothing is a way to show we’re sad,” Eliza said. She’d finished getting Cornelia’s tights on and was gently combing through her hair. She was going to style it half pulled back, like Angie normally wore her hair.

“It just makes me sadder,” Cornelia whispered.

“I know,” Eliza said. She clipped Cornelia’s hair back and stood the girl in front of the mirror. “Is that good?”

Cornelia’s eyes scanned her reflection, taking in the dark dress that puffed out around her knees. She looked so innocent, so sad. Eliza couldn’t stand it.

“Come on, Corny,” she said, ushering the girl away from the mirror, not wanting either of them to focus on the meaning of the clothing, of their need to rise and dress so fancifully at such an early hour.

Cornelia slipped her hand into Eliza’s as they left the room.

 

8:36 am

There’d been no wake, and when the family arrived at the funeral home the small white casket had already been closed, per Philip and Catherine’s request. They allowed the three older girls a moment to kneel in front of the small box, hands clasped in prayer.

Angelica went first, going right out the door to wait for the rest of her family after. Eliza knew that meant Angie had been crying. She hated letting people, even her family, see her cry.

Eliza went up next. The green leather on the kneeler crackled as she knelt down. The edge of the small wooden ledge provided for prayer dug into her wrists as she folded her hands and set them on it. She stared at the shiny white casket and saw her reflection. She shut her eyes.

Why? Why, why, why? It makes no sense. It makes no sense. She was so, so tiny. You didn’t even give her a chance. Why? Why did you give her to us only to take her away?

Eliza blessed herself even though she hadn’t really prayed, then stood, following the same path Angelica had taken straight out of the funeral home. She pushed the door open and found herself on the sidewalk running along the back of the funeral home, Angelica a few feet away, leaning against the brick wall, looking at the side street in front of them.

Eliza walked over to her sister and stood in front of her.

“I’ll never understand,” Angelica said.

“Me either.”

They stood in silence.

 

9:10 am  

The organ music felt like too much for such a tiny, delicate life. Eliza would have preferred a harpsichord. But what did it matter, really? A change in instruments couldn’t bring her baby sister back.

It’d almost been shocking, to walk into the small Dutch Church and find it packed. It was especially shocking because her parents had insisted on very close friends and family only. Eliza had of course known that her grandparents would be there–– they had arrived at the funeral home after Angelica and Eliza had slipped outside–– and she’d figured her aunts, uncles, and cousins would be at the church service, too, but she was taken aback by everyone else who had come

The Washingtons were there, in the third row, looking sadder than she could ever recall. Hercules Mulligan and John Laurens were there, too, as were John’s parents, even though his father had never agreed with any of her father’s policies once. Then, most shockingly of all, she saw Maria, in one of the pews near the back, by herself. If Eliza hadn’t had to stay behind the casket as they somberly made their way up the aisle, she would have hugged Maria as tightly as possible. She hadn’t realized until that very moment how much she’d missed her old roommate. She hadn’t realized how much her presence during such an awful time would mean to her.

There were many other people there, mostly people in politics with her father, like the Livingstons, Clintons, Ten Broecks, Pruyns, Ten Eycks, Van Schaiks, and Yates families, who took up a large section of the small church.

If her parents were surprised by the turnout, they didn’t show it. Both of them were stone-faced as they followed the casket up the aisle and filed into the first pew. Eliza stood between Angelica and Peggy, just like always. At nearly the exact same moment, her sisters’ hands found their way into her own.

Connected. Linked. A chain that she prayed could withstand even the unimaginable.

 

10:16 am

The wind in the cemetery was unforgiving. It whipped Eliza’s hair around so much that Angelica quickly tied it in a ponytail for the remainder of the service. The family stood huddled around the open rectangle in the ground, the white casket suspended above it.

Reverend Westerlo was speaking, reading some Bible verse, offering words of comfort, but Eliza couldn’t focus. She would barely be standing if it weren’t for her Angelica and Peggy pressed against either side of her, her parents behind them, and Rensselaer and Cornelia in front of her.

Soon there was a rose being pressed into her gloved hand–– she didn’t remember putting the gloves on–– and she watched as her parents laid their roses on the tiny casket, watched Angelica lay hers there, felt her feet move her forward, saw her hand reach out, watched as her rose came to rest alongside Angelica’s.

Peggy, Rensselaer, and Cornelia placed their roses on the casket, along with their grandparents. The casket was too small for any more.

Eliza tried to block out her mother’s anguished sobs when the reverend said that the service was concluded.

 

12:57 pm

“Is everyone gone?” Peggy whispered as she slunk into the kitchen.

Angelica nodded, her mouth full of one of the various foods relatives and friends had left with them after the reception at the Schuyler Mansion.

“Mama and Papa are about to leave to visit Cortlandt and asked if we wanted to go with them,” Eliza said. Even though she was utterly exhausted in every sense of the term, she’d already made her mind up that she was going. She needed to see her baby brother, to see that he was alive, that he was growing stronger.

Peggy shook her head. “I have a headache. Besides, this way Angie can go, too, right? I’ll stay home with Ren and Corny.”

“You sure?” Angelica asked.

“Yeah,” Peggy sighed. “I’m too exhausted. I’ll get to visit him plenty tomorrow.

“You girls ready?” Philip rounded the corner, buttoning up the flannel he’d changed into after being in a suit all morning.

“Yeah. It’s me and Eliza. Peggy’s gonna stay when Ren and Corny,” Angelica said.

Philip nodded. “We won’t be long, sweetheart,” he said to Peggy.

Catherine walked into the kitchen, Cornelia in her arms and Rensselaer trailing her. She kissed Cornelia on the head and looked over her older girls. Peggy held her arms out for Cornelia, who stayed sound asleep as she was transferred.

“Okay,” Philip said softly. “Let’s go.”

 

***

 

The car ride was silent. It was a silence born out of exhaustion, sadness, and the inability to comprehend, let alone articulate, everything that had happened over the course of the past week. Eliza couldn’t help but think about how empty her mother must feel–– the twins out of her womb, one of them in the hospital, the other gone.

Gone, gone, gone.

They were silent as they pulled into the hospital parking lot, as they walked the now-familiar hallways to the NICU. Eliza noticed that her parents were holding hands. She wondered if Angelica saw, too.

Once they got suited up, they were allowed into the nursery. Eliza had grown accustomed to seeing Cortlandt dwarfed by various tubes and monitors, so she was shocked when all but one of them were gone.

The doctor approached them before anyone could say a word. “You have a really strong boy here, Mr. and Mrs. Schuyler. We’re keeping him one more night for observation, but then we feel confident that he can go home with you first thing tomorrow morning.” She smiled at the family.

“This is wonderful news,” Philip said. He smiled at the doctor, but there were still tears in his eyes. “Thank you.”

“It’s your boy who’s the fighter,” she said before nodding and walking away.

Catherine turned into Philip, her face hidden in his chest. Eliza could tell from the way her mother’s body was shaking that she was sobbing. She wanted to reach out to her mother, to comfort her, to help her revel in this one piece of amazing news amidst the unimaginable.

But she couldn’t. She didn’t know what to say.

There are moments that the words don’t reach.

So she turned and looked at her little brother. His eyes were open–– their brilliant brown stunning. His tiny feet kicked, his mouth opened. His eyes found hers.

There’s a grace too powerful to name.

“Hey, hey, Cortlandt,” Eliza whispered. She leaned over, her face nearly pressed up against the plastic cover on his tiny crib that separated them. His face lit up even more and he began to wave his fisted hands in the air.

Eliza smiled, so happy, just for that moment, to see her baby brother happy. To see him healthy.

The imagine of the tiny white coffin, the roses strewn atop it, flashed through her mind.

We push away what we can never understand.

Cortlandt waved his tiny fists again, bringing Eliza back to the present.

“Look,” she said softly. Philip guided Catherine over, Angelica, who had been trying to comfort their mother, followed.

Cortlandt waved again, his mouth opening into what looked like a smile.

“Oh my gosh!” Angelica squealed. She knelt down next to Eliza, her face up against the plastic, too. “Look at you, you little cutie! Just look at you!”

Eliza turned to see Philip smiling down at Catherine. Her mother wasn’t smiling, but she wasn’t crying, either. She was staring at her son so intently it was as if she were trying to make sure he was there, that he was real. She looked up at Philip.

“Do you think I can hold him?” Catherine’s voice cracked as she spoke.

We push away the unimaginable.

Chapter Text

Hercules Muscleman <3: Service just ended. I told the sisters you wish you were here and they said thank you <333

Hercules Muscleman <3: Well, Angelica said some other things, too, but as your bf I am censoring them

Hercules Muscleman <3: How’s Ham holding up?

Lafayette: I just got him down

Hercules Muscleman <3: What is he, a baby?

Lafayette: He’s my baby

Hercules Muscleman <3: I’m not ready for fatherhood

Lafayette: Well too bad it’s chosen you ;)

Hercules Muscleman <3: We just got to the Schuyler’s mansion so I’ll text you when we’re headed home

Lafayette: Okay babe <333 Love you!

 

Lafayette pocketed his phone. He’d just managed to slip Alexander off of him before Herc had started texting him. He looked down at the sleeping boy, face flushed from all the coughing he’d been doing lately. He leaned down and kissed Alex gently on the forehead before tiptoeing away.

Part of him felt guilty leaving Alex there when the boy clearly didn’t feel well, but Laf told himself that since he was asleep, he’d be none the wiser, really. Besides, Laf might not have another chance like this for a while.

He slunk through the kitchen and stood before the shut door to George’s study. He rarely went in there nowadays. When he was younger, George had let him play with his toy soldiers under the large wooden desk. He even let Laf use his feet as hills the soldiers could climb to get the upperhand.

But his days of toy soldiers were behind him. He slowly opened the door, relieved when it didn’t creak, not wanting to wake Alex up, and stepped inside.

George's study had always been neat. Sure, there were stacks of papers, but they were neat stacks, and Laf just knew they were stacked in a particular order. That was just the way his adoptive father was.

His bookshelf was alphabetized, books old and new shut away behind the glass doors that had a locking feature, but were never locked. Laf knew George loved to share his books with him, and assumed he was hoping he’d be able to share them with Alexander at some point, too.

But none of that was why Laf had snuck into his father’s study that day. No, Laf’s destination was the nondescript filing cabinet shoved (neatly) in the back corner of the room, a potted plant perched atop it, basking in the sun. That was where George kept any family information.

That was also the one thing George kept locked, though, thankfully, Laf had had no trouble locating the key. George wasn’t the most inventive man, so the key was in an obvious place–– behind the potted plant.

Laf grabbed it and unlocked the cabinet. He hurriedly shifted through files from George’s childhood, from Martha’s. There was information about their parents, mostly from when they’d been aged and ailing, and there was a copy of Martha’s divorce papers from her previous marriage. Then he found it. A file simply labelled “Gilbert.”

He pulled it out and found the expected–– he had gotten a peek at this file the last time he’d tried to snoop, but he hadn’t made it past the first few papers–– adoption papers, citizenship papers, and the like. He found medical information, both on himself and his parents and grandparents. But none of that was what he was looking for. No. He was looking for something else, something––

A letter fell out of the file. Laf grabbed at it, his eyes widening as he read.

Dearest George and Martha,

You may not remember me very well, as I imagine your time spent in France collecting young Gilbert was all a blur, but I was well acquainted with Gilbert’s parents and his maternal grandfather. My daughter, Adrienne, was friends with Gilbert, and it is their relationship that I write to you about.

Before his death, Lafayette’s grandfather spoke with me and my wife about a union between our two families, two of the most powerful in France––

The front door to the house opened. “Gilbert?” Martha called from the living room.

“Merde!” Laf muttered, hastily shoving the file, sans the letter, back into the cabinet before turning to the shelf behind him and opening its glass doors, grabbing the nearest book he could find and stashing the letter in its pages.

When his adoptive parents appeared in the doorway, it simply looked as if he’d been searching for a good read.

Little did they know what, exactly, he was truly reading.

Chapter Text

“What a shame,” John’s mother said from the front of the car. “Poor, poor Catherine and Philip. To lose a little one…”

John looked out the car window and pressed his forehead against the glass, watching the houses zoom by. He liked to think about the lives the people inside of them were leading. He always imagined them happy–– parents home on the weekends, maybe even after school sometimes, there to support and cherish their kids no matter what.

“To lose a child, to lose a life you carried inside of you for nine months…”

Lately, things had not been going well at home. After the sketch book incident, his parents cracked down on him even harder. When his mother found a quick doodle of Alexander in his science notebook she screamed at him nonstop for ten minutes about how he should pay attention in class and that his deviance would tarnish their entire family and was that what he wanted? To bring shame and embarrassment to the family that’d done nothing but love and respect him?

“It’s… unimaginable.”

Something in John was breaking. He was cracking open at the seams and even if he could stitch himself back together he wasn’t so sure he would. He was tired of trying to be whole. He was tired of trying to be what they wanted.

“You wouldn’t mind if I died,” he said, voice cracking.

Silence.

Silence.

Silence.

Sniffle.

“Why’re you upsetting your mother like this?” his father demanded.

“I’m just telling the truth,” John exclaimed. He looked toward the front of the car. His father’s hands were gripping the steering wheel so hard they’d turned white. His mother was dabbing at her face with a tissue.

“Johnny, I don’t know what we did or said to ups––”

“Oh my GOD!” John shouted. “Really, Mom? Maybe taking away my art and telling me that being gay brings shame to the family are what did it. You ever think of that?”

Silence.

He hadn’t expected silence .

“Huh?” he prodded, the silence getting to him.

“Being. Gay.” His father said in his low, controlled angry tone.

Shit , John thought. But then again, he wasn’t so sure it mattered at this point. They all knew it, even if nobody would say it.

“Yeah,” he said, surprised that his voice wasn’t shaking. “I’m gay, Dad. I’m gay, Mom. Wish I were dead now? Because sometimes I do!”

“Jack!” his mother yelped. “Please, please don’t say such things! Suicide is a sin!”

That’s your worry right now?” John was both astounded and completely unflustered. Of course it was all still about religion. Of course it was still all about shame and embarrassment and the Laurens family name . If he killed himself, they’d say it was an accident. He had no doubt of that.

“Send me away to one of those fucking conversion places. It won’t change me. It might kill me, but it won’t change me. I’ll die being just as gay as I was when I was born,” he said.

His mother was openly sobbing in the front seat. His father was fuming.

“When we get home you’re going to wish you’d never been born,” his father hissed.

They pulled up to a stoplight. Laf’s house was only a few blocks from there. John had a fleeting thought about getting out and running there.

“You’re going to wish you’d never opened your––”

John unbuckled his seatbelt and threw the door open. “Love you, Mom,” he called as he jumped from the car just as the light turned green. He took off down a side road, then took multiple unnecessary turns down random streets to make it harder for his parents to track him.

After what had to be twenty minutes of stealthily zigzagging across the neighborhood, he was finally on the Washington’s block. As he got closer to the house, he spotted a familiar car in the driveway.

What are they doing here? he thought. But he knew. They were looking for him, of course. He was glad he hadn’t run to Laf’s right away. He hid in the neighbor’s bushes across the street and waited until he saw his parents return to their car and drive away. Even then, he counted to one hundred before emerging and darting across the street.

He banged on the Washington’s door, frantically looking over his shoulder as he did so, terrified that his parents would come back. When Martha opened the door, she didn’t seem surprised to see him. She simply stepped aside and let him enter, placing a hand on his shoulder as she shut the door.

“Go into the living room, sweetie,” she said.

“Mon ami? What is going on?” Laf sat on the couch next to a drowsy looking Alexander.

“They know,” John said.

“Merde,” Laf said.

“Gilbert, language,” Martha said.

Alex giggled, but John could tell that his boyfriend was mostly out of it. He felt horrible for bothering him, for bothering the Washingtons.

George walked into the room and nodded at John.

“I’m sorry,” John said quickly. “I shouldn’t have come here. I shouldn’t––”

“Son,” George said, kneeling in front of where John sat. “Remember when I told you you could come to us if you needed help?”

Of course he remembered. He thought about it when his parents were being particularly mean. He thought about it when he felt lonely or unloved.

He nodded his head.

“You did the right thing,” George said firmly. “I’m glad you came here.”

“Me, too, mon ami,” Laf piped up.

“Saaame,” Alex said drowsily. If John weren’t so scared he would laugh at how high his boyfriend sounded at the moment.

“I’m afraid they’ll send me away,” John whispered. “I-I don’t know if I’d… make it,” he whispered, trying to keep that truth from Alex.

Thankfully Alex’s eyelids were drooping shut, so John felt confident he didn’t hear.

But George certainly did. He stared at John for a moment. “I think I have a plan,” he said.

John nodded his head. He trusted him, and, even if he didn’t, what else was he going to do? He had nowhere else to go.

Chapter Text

Alexander was grateful for two things at the moment: Martha’s bean and veggies soup and that Lafayette finally agreed to watch something other than Highway Through Hell , which he claimed was such an interesting show for reasons Alexander would never understand seeing as Laf’s other favorite shows were on the food network, home improvement channel, and history channel.

But what made Alex uneasy was why Laf had agreed to watch something else. Or, more accurately, why he hadn’t put up a fight. At all.

Even though he was still ill, Alex could tell something was really bothering Laf. And it was something other than John’s situation because John was still at their house–– currently in George’s office, the door shut, both of Alex’s foster parents inside with him. As long as he was here, he was safe.

“Laf?” Alex croaked.

“Mmm?” Laf said absentmindedly.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, mon ami,” he said.

“Laf.” Alex said, hating that his stuffy nose took away from the angry tone he was trying so hard to use.

Laf still didn’t pay Alexander much attention. He was looking at some paper in his lap, something handwritten, possibly a letter.

Alex decided to try another approach. He didn’t have much time, really, between John and the Washingtons, who were bound to emerge from the office at any minute, and his own body, which didn’t allow him to stay awake or active for very long.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Oh,” Laf said, folding the letter and placing it in the front pocket of his sweater. “Nothing, mon ami.”

Alex could feel his old self coming back. The old self who would freely say bullshit! and argue with Laf until one of them gave in. But with his old self came fears his illness had put on the backburner for just a bit.

Do you really want to upset him? Maybe he’s trying to protect you. It’s probably a letter about how the Washingtons are going to return you as soon as you’re better. Or maybe it’s something he wrote about how annoying you are. You’re worthless, annoying, useless––

“No,” Alex whispered.

“Mon ami?” Laf was looking at him now and Alex wanted to scream.

He’d been suppressing his true self for so long. He didn’t know how much longer he could last before he cracked. Until his true, ugly personality made its way through and got him kicked out of this home, just like the others.

“Alexander?” Lafayette got up from the armchair and sat on the couch next to Alex. He reached out for his hand, but Alex jerked it away.

I knew you couldn’t contain your ugly bastard self for much longer. Let it all out, kid. The less time you have to bond with them, the better. You’ve already stayed too long, really, but try not to think about that, about the pain of being abandoned by people you thought might genuinely care about you. Who could ever care about you? If anyone does, it’s because you tricked them, fooled them, bamboozled them.

“Alex!” Laf said louder.

“Stop!” Alex growled, curling into himself. A cough overtook him, but Laf had enough sense to let Alex ride it out.

“Why’re you upset?” Laf asked when Alex had stopped coughing.

“Because,” Alex said with a small cough. “You’re clearly hiding something from me.” He nodded toward the pocket the letter was poking out of.

Laf placed a hand over it, and a distant look overtook his eyes.

“Laf, please. I thought…” Alex shook his head. Who would trust you? So sad how you fooled yourself. Pitiful, really.

“Oh, mon ami,” Laf said with a sigh. “I just… I just can’t.”

Alex was about to try again, thinking maybe they were getting somewhere, when the door to George’s study opened.

Laurens walked into the living room, Martha right behind him, a hand on his shoulder, George bringing up the rear, his reading glasses on as he flipped through some papers.

Martha guided John to the chair Lafayette had just vacated. A few hours had passed since the service ended and John showed up on the Washington’s door. Martha was still in her funeral clothes, her neck adorned with a delicate silver chain that sparkled whenever the light landed on it.

She’d made Alex soup and the boys sandwiches after John appeared on their doorstep, then, much to John’s dismay, called his parents.

“If the roles were reversed I would need to know my boys were okay,” she told John as she dialed his mother’s number.

After that, they’d disappeared into George’s office and hadn’t emerged for hours. Whatever John was telling them, it must have been bad. One look at John’s freckled face, now puffy and red, told Alex that it had not been an easy few hours for his boyfriend.

“Mrs. Laurens will be here in ten minutes,” Martha said. She looked over the boys. “I’m going to change, then I’ll be right back.” She turned to George, who was still behind her, intently looking at the papers in his hand. “George, hon, let’s go change.”

George simply followed Martha up the stairs in response.

Alex and Laf stared at John, who just shrugged his shoulders, a sad smile on his face.

“Mon ami, what’s going on?”

“My mom is coming here to talk with me. And, uh, I guess with Mr. and Mrs. Wa–– I mean, George and Martha, too?” He looked down at his clasped hands. “I don’t know what’ll happen after that.”

“It’ll be okay, mon ami,” Laf said firmly.

John slowly shook his head. “You don’t know that,” he whispered.

Laf fell silent.

“I know something,” Alex said. Both boys stared at him. “No matter what happens, you’ve got us.”

John smiled at Alexander. “Yeah,” he said.

“Mon ami, come here.” Laf scooted away from Alex and patted the space between them.

John hesitated for a moment before joining them. Alex wrapped his arms around John and hugged him tightly. He breathed in the John ness of his hair and sighed. He only hoped he could be as good a boyfriend to John as John was to him. He only hoped––

Hey, you know that this is all your fault. You’re the reason this is happening. You’re the reason he’s in this position in the first place. If you hadn’t come here, if you hadn’t ruined him like that other boy, he’d by fine. You leave a trail of destruction everywhere you go. You hurt everyone you get close to. You take good people and you absolutely ruin––

The chime of the doorbell interrupted Alexander’s thoughts. John tensed in his arms. Alex tightened his grip.

Martha rushed down the stairs, now wearing a cable-knit sweater and dark jeans, George, sans the papers, behind her, a grim look on his face.

Martha opened the door. “Hello, Mrs. Laurens.”

“Please,” John’s mom said, stepping inside the house. “Call me Eleanor.”

John’s mother looked up and saw the boys in the couch. She saw Alex’s protective grip on John.

Even though there were tears in her eyes, she smiled.

Chapter Text

“Eleanor, then,” Martha said kindly. “Would you like to come into George’s office? Perhaps we can have a chat there.” She turned and nodded to John, who stood, legs trembling, and waited for George and Martha to lead the way.

George stepped over toward John, hand outstretched. “After you, son,” he said.

John was grateful he didn’t have to see his mother alone. He wasn’t sure he could do that. He wasn’t even sure that he could do this .

He didn’t have much time to think about it, though, because before he knew it, he was seated between Martha and George in the pleather armchairs George kept in his office. John’s mother sat across from them, looking anxious.

Good, now she knows how I feel all of the time, John thought, immediately feeling bad for thinking that in the first place.

“Thank you for coming, Eleanor,” Martha said. Her hands were folded on her lap, a calm look on her face. John wondered how she managed to do that.

“Thank you for keeping John safe,” his mother said.

“We care for your boy like one of our own,” George said with a small smile. His eyes suddenly darkened and a serious look overcame his features. “That’s why we wanted to talk with you, today. You see, we’re concerned for his wellbeing, for his health.”

“So am I, and so is Henry,” Eleanor quickly said. “So it seems we share that in common.”

“Perhaps,” George said. “Though I think what we consider to be health and wellbeing may differ in definition.”

“My Johnny isn’t––” Eleanor stammered. “He isn’t like your boys,” she finally said.

John felt like he was going to be sick. He looked at George to find the man unperturbed, and it calmed him down a bit. Just a teeny, teeny bit.

“I think you may have some false ideas about your son,” George said softly. “John?”

John nearly jumped at his name. He began to shake, but hoped it didn’t show.

“John, would you like to say anything?” There was no malice or pressure in George’s voice. George had told him earlier that he was allowed to talk as little or as much as he wanted. He told John to know that he and Martha were with him and would speak when he couldn’t. They would keep him safe.

“Mom, I-I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I’m gay, Mom. And I tried s-so hard to not be. Really hard.” He hated the tears that were forming in his eyes. He hated how weak he must have looked and sounded. “And if you send me to that, that group, or a place, where th-they try to change me? I won’t change, Mom. But I-I might not––”

This part he hadn’t discussed with the Washingtons. He hadn’t told them because he hadn’t wanted to seem dramatic. He wished one of them would stop him, but there a suspenseful silence had overtaken the room and John knew that only his voice, his words, could break it.

“If you send me there I might not survive.” He saw Martha flinch out of the corner of his eyes. He wanted to apologize to her, for being so weak, so dramatic.

“They take perfectly good care of people, Johnny,” his mom said, clearly confused.

“No, Mom. I mean––” He took a deep breath and let the words rush out of them before he could stop himself. “I mean I already hate myself. So much. And if you send me there, if they tell me I’m wrong, a sin, that I’m unnatural and need to change and can change when I know I can’t, well, it’ll be too much and I’m not that strong. I’m not strong enough. I wouldn’t make it. I’d give up sooner or later.”

A look of panic was overtaking his mother’s face. “John, certainly you don’t mean––”

“I know I’m not strong enough for that, Mom. I would do it,” he whispered, looking down at his hands in his lap. They were shaking. His entire body was shaking. “I would kill myself.”

“Are you threatening me? Manipulating me and your father?” She hissed.

“Eleanor, I don’t think that’s what John’s trying to say––” Martha tried to interject.

“You put him up to this, didn’t you?” Eleanor said, jabbing a finger in Martha’s direction. “You, you ruined him, you––”

“Now Eleanor, please, can we just talk? No need to blame anyone,” George said, his voice still steady and strong.

John was sniffling in the chair between the couple, desperately trying to dry his tears before they could fall.

Weak weak weak. Maybe you do need help, maybe they should change you, and maybe you should die trying.

“John?” He looked up, blinking a few tears away, to see his mother leaning forward in her chair, clearly wanting to reach out to him. She looked more concerned than she had since–– no, he couldn’t think of that now.

“John, sweetie?” She tried again. She sighed.

“Eleanor, can I tell you a story?” George asked.

Eleanor leaned back in her chair and offered George a small smile. “I suppose.”

“When our son, Gilbert, came out to us, we were, well, flustered.”

John had never thought about Laf having to come out. He felt bad for never considering that, never asking if it’d been hard. By the time John knew Laf he’d been out for a while, it seemed, and the Washingtons were never anything but accepting.

“We didn’t know what to make of it,” Martha added. “He was young, about twelve, and he seemed to be so… upset,” Martha said after hesitating for a moment.

“He was under the impression that we’d be disappointed,” George continued. “He told us that he knew he liked girls, but he also liked boys, and asked if we knew a way to make that feeling go away.”

A look of pain flashed over George’s face for a moment. Martha, seemingly sensing her husband’s distress, continued the story.

“We knew we needed help handling this. We didn’t want to do anything wrong. We didn’t know how to help him.”

“So we went to this group, for parents of LGBTQ kids, that meets once a week at the downtown Pride Center. We took Laf to the monthly meeting where the kids were invited to come, and he was so excited to see there were other people like him,” George said with a fond smile.

“But it also helped us,” Martha said. “I didn’t even realize a person could be anything other than gay or straight. It was an education for me,” she said with a chuckle.

“You think this… this group could help?” Eleanor asked, looking between the couple, steadfastly avoiding John’s eyes.

“Yes,” George said. “Without a doubt. It’ll help you understand John better, and it’ll help you understand that this is just a part of who he is.”

Eleanor nodded. “Can––” She took a deep breath. “Can I talk with you and Martha for a moment?”

George nodded and squeezed John’s knee. The boy left the room without a word, even though his mother tried to say something to him. He found Alexander and Laf still on the couch, Alex asleep, Laf, staring out the window across the room from where they sat.

John sat next to Lafayette. “Was it hard?”

“What?” Laf asked.

“Coming out. Your dad told us a bit about it, but I wanna know from you, if you’ll tell me. So, was it hard?”

“Oui,” Lafayette said solemnly. “I thought something was wrong with me. Thankfully Papa and Mama stopped that train of thought nearly as quickly as it started.” He looped an arm over John’s shoulders. “Do you want to talk about it, mon ami?”

John shook his head. “I want to sleep.” He left off the forever that he wanted to add to the end of that sentence because he didn’t want to worry Laf. He’s already infringed on the family enough as it was.

“Alexander tried to stay away, but the medication––”

“I didn’t mean for him to––” John sighed and shook his head.

“Shh,” Laf pulled John so his head was resting in Laf’s lap. He ran a hand through John’s curls. “Shhh.”



George, Martha, and Eleanor emerged about an hour later. John had fallen asleep on Laf’s lap, but quickly jolted up at the squeaking of the study door being opened.

“John,” Eleanor said, kneeling in front of the boy. “The Washingtons have generously offered for you to stay here for a few days, while I talk to your father.”

John blinked. He felt like he was still in a dream.

“I love you,” she said before pressing a kiss to his forehead. “I’ll be in touch with you by tomorrow morning.”

All John could do was nod and watch her leave, wondering if maybe, maybe , things were finally starting to look up for him.

Chapter Text

When Alexander woke up, John was sitting on the opposite end of the couch reading for a school assignment. It took Alex a moment to comprehend why this scene was odd because his first reaction to seeing John was pure joy. It was always joy.

His tired brain slowly worked through the past few hours to place John’s presence in context. Funeral… John at door… Laf sad… John in office… John’s mom… JOHN’S MOM

“Mom,” Alex croaked.

John looked over at Alexander, shutting his book and making to get up. “You want me to get Martha?”

“No,” Alex said, reaching out toward John, who obligingly threaded their fingers together. “Your mom,” Alex said, tugging John toward him.

“Oh,” John mumbled, looking away from Alex.

Alex wanted to take John’s face and turn it toward him, but the freckled boy was just out of his reach. Instead he made a whining noise until John laughed and looked at him, rolling his eyes.

“I’m staying here for a bit,” John finally said. He seemed sadder about this than Alex had expected. John had always hated his home. Why wasn’t he happy about a respite from it?

What did I miss? Alex frantically wondered. He had no idea how to ask all of the questions that were vying to roll off of his tongue, so he asked the most general one ever.

“Are you okay?”

John sighed, his shoulders sagging ever so slightly. “I don’t know.”

Alex was glad John had answered him honestly. He tugged John toward him, the other boy giving him a skeptical look before settling his head on Alex’s chest.

“I don’t want to kill you,” John whispered.

“My lungs aren’t that shitty,” Alex laughed, which caused him to cough.

John sprang up right away, looking at Alex with wide eyes. “See!” he exclaimed.

“Oh my god ,” Alex said hoarsely. “It’s okay, John. I promise. It was from laughing.”

“Oh,” John said, looking relieved. “In that case I’ll stop being my hilarious self.”

That made Alex laugh and cough again, and this time John joined in.

Once Alex was back to breathing with as much ease as currently possible, he pulled John back onto his chest and ran his fingers through John’s curls, gently massaging his scalp and twirling his brown hair around his fingers.

This is heaven, Alex thought.

Except if it were heaven, John wouldn’t be crying.

“John?” Alex whispered. “Why’re you crying?”

“What if it doesn’t work?” John whispered. “What if my parents… what if they choose to cut me out of their lives? I’m not sure I could stand it.”

Alex suddenly understood what John was feeling; why he wasn’t more excited to be out of his house and at the Washingtons’. It was what Alex himself had felt in the months leading up to his father hightailing it out of his life. It was what he felt while he waited every night, still hopeful his father would return. It was what he felt when he’d realized he wouldn’t.

Except Alex’s father hadn’t left because Alex was bi. He hadn’t even left because of Alex, in fact. In the few phone calls they’d shared pre-hurricane, his father had at least made that clear.

I was unhappy, sport. It wasn’t good, what me and your mom had.

Alex still never understood how his father could so easily abandon him, though. Or why he never tried to find him after the hurricane. But at least he knew it didn’t happen because of him. He may have not been enough for his father to stick around, to make some sort of effort to stay in his son’s life, but at least his father hadn’t been so disgusted by Alex that he left.

Alexander wanted to punch John’s parents. He wanted to scream at them, make them see how amazing their son was, gay or straight.

But even if he hadn’t been bedridden with pneumonia, that wouldn’t be an option. He was on an indefinite punching-and-yelling moratorium. He couldn’t risk losing the Washingtons, not when he’d made such good friends. Not when he had an absolutely amazing boyfriend.

“Oh, John,” he said sadly.

“Don’t pity me,” John said, sitting up and refusing to meet Alexander’s eyes.

“I don’t,” Alex said. “I understand,” he whispered. “And I’m so sorry, John, but not in a pitying way, in a that-really-sucks way. I promise.”

John laughed and it was like a dull, rainy late November day. Alex missed the laughs that were more like noon on a breezy summer day, but he would take almost any laugh in that moment. At least John was laughing. That had to be a step in the right direction.

***

John had dinner on the couch with Alex that night. Someone usually kept him company, but he’d always felt guilty about it. He wanted Laf to have both of his parents at the dinner table.

You don’t deserve their attention, the voice told him.

Alexander agreed.

But John seemed happy, maybe even relieved, to be on the couch with Alex, eating take-out Indian food while Alex had some of Martha’s cabbage stew. They were watching a documentary on the History Channel about the War of 1812. John seemed really into it, and normally Alex would be, too, but he just couldn’t seem to focus. Having John there was distracting. It was distracting in the best way possible.

A while after they’d finished eating, John’s cell phone rang.

“Hello?” he said hesitantly.

Alex couldn’t hear what the voice on the other end of the line was saying, but it could tell it was a woman speaking.

“Okay,” John said after a moment. “Thanks. Love you, too.” He hung up and looked at his phone for a moment before looking back at Alexander. “That was my mom. She’s coming over tomorrow afternoon.”

Alex had a million questions, but he bit his tongue. The look on John’s face clearly screamed I do not want to talk about this. So Alexander respected that. He just shuffled closer and closer to John, until the sides of their bodies were pressed up against each other, their hands linked.

Alexander understood the importance of words. He knew how to use them, how to move mountains with them. But he also understood the importance of gestures, of silence at the right moment.

For better or worse, he was learning to sometimes let silence say what he couldn’t.

Chapter Text

“It’s almost finals time, I’ve gotta go back,” Angelica said.

Angelica, Eliza, and Peggy were all sitting cross-legged on Eliza’s bed during the early hours of the Friday morning after the service. Angelica had just told them she’d only be staying one more night, then she wouldn’t be home until winter break started in mid-December. That was two entire weeks away. Eliza felt a lump growing in her throat. How was she going to survive these next two weeks without Angelica by her side?

“Papa said he’ll bring me back to school this coming week, whenever I’m ready,” Peggy added.

“Do you wanna go back?” Angelica asked.

Eliza sat between them, taking in her sisters’ faces in turn. They’d kept the lights off when the congregated on Eliza’s bed about an hour earlier. They’d all gone to sleep much earlier than usual that evening, physically and emotionally drained from the service. Peggy had forgone her top bunk, like she had been ever since she’d come home, and curled up next to Eliza. They’d all been sleeping soundly until Eliza, caught in the grips of a nightmare, accidentally kicked Peggy off of the bed, waking all three girls up.

“Yeah, kinda.” Peggy shrugged. “But also no, not really. I want the distraction, but I don’t feel like it’s gonna go well. Like, yeah, I can be at school, but I can’t do school.” Peggy leaned against Eliza’s side with a sigh. “Actually, I’ve got something I want to tell you guys,” she said in a small voice.

Eliza tried not to tense in fear. She didn’t want Peggy to notice and decide not to tell them, but at the same time, did anything good ever come from I’ve got something I want to tell you?

Suddenly Eliza was transported to about seven months earlier, when their parents sat the three older girls down on the couch before calling in the younger kids.

“I, we,” their mother said, taking their father’s hand in her own, “have something we want to tell you.” The smile on her mother’s face could have lit up the entire room.

Nothing good ever came from that phrase, only heartbreak, in one form or another.

“What is it, Pegs?” Angelica prompted.

“I… I may not be doing too well at school right now.”

“How bad is it?” Angelica asked, tone low and serious.

“B in English and Math, since those are my jam, but C+ or lower in everything else,” Peggy confessed.

“What happened, Pegs?” Eliza asked, taking her sister’s hand in her own.

Peggy shrugged and stared into her lap, steadfastly avoiding her sisters’ eyes. “I kinda… I…”

“You can tell us,” Angelica said. “You know that.”

“Well, ever since you two left, I’ve been trying to find my own way, and, well, I may have fallen in with the wrong crowd? I don’t know, really. I have fun with them,” Peggy said.

“Who is it?” Angelica asked.

Peggy was silent for a moment before whispering her answer. “It’s Margaret’s group.”

“Pegs,” Angelica said with a sigh. “You know what Margaret Shippen’s group is all about.”

“But it’s fun!” Peggy exclaimed. “And I don’t, like, go out with them, and, well, you know…”

“Margarita Schuyler you better not be!” Angelica said with a gasp.

“Who are you to talk?” Eliza said. “You always hung out with Kitty and we know what her group was about.”

“Eliza, please , I used my common sense,” Angelica scoffed.

“And you don’t think I will?” Peggy hissed. She glared at Angelica.

“That’s not what I mea––”

“No, I’m sick of being treated like I’m a clueless baby. I’m not. I’m fifteen. I don’t need you,” Peggy pointed at Angelica, “telling me what to do. And I don’t need you,” she pointed to Eliza, “defending me. I can handle myself.”

Peggy jumped off of Eliza’s bed and scampered up the ladder to her bunk before her sisters could stop her.

“Pegs, please,” Angelica whispered.

“I want to sleep a bit longer,” Peggy said.

Angelica looked at Eliza, both of them clueless as to what to do. Eventually Angelica just sighed and rolled her eyes, then got up, leaving the room. Eliza heard her enter the younger kids’ room, and she knew she was going to curl up with Cornelia.

Angelica didn’t know, but Eliza had heard Angelica do this nearly every night since she’d gotten home. It’d never really bothered Eliza, since Peggy was always with her, but in that moment Eliza couldn’t deny the sting of pain at being left alone, her big sister choosing someone else, even if it was one of their younger siblings, over her, when she was already hurting.

It made her feel like a lost cause. Like she wasn’t worth comforting or saving anymore.

She pulled her legs up under her chin and thought about what Peggy had said. Eliza hadn’t meant to overstep, or to treat Peggy like she couldn’t handle herself. She’d just wanted to help. She wanted Peggy to be free to make her own choices, her own mistakes, as painful as it may be to watch if things go poorly.

Peggy didn’t need her, though, and neither did Angelica. Once her mom was feeling better, she wouldn’t need Eliza, either. Her parents would be able to take care of the younger children without any help from their broken daughter.

Eliza flopped onto her side and pretended tears weren’t welling up in her eyes.

Again, she wondered: why baby Catherine? Why not her?

 

***

 

When Eliza awoke again, the sun was streaming into the room. She laid there in silence for a moment, listening for any other sounds of life. She didn’t hear Peggy’s soft breaths coming from above, and Angelica was nowhere to be seen. She was alone.

She sat up and looked at her phone. The time read 11:27. She’d missed breakfast, though she wasn’t even hungry. In fact, she was still tired, even though she’d just slept longer than she had in, well, a really long time. She wanted to go back to sleep, but she had a feeling that the kind of tiredness she felt wouldn’t be fixed by sleep. Her limbs felt heavy and her mind foggy. It was like how’d she felt right before she’d left boarding school.

There were a few messages on her phone.

 

Baguette Boy: Just checking in on my precious Eliza <3 remember you are always welcome here!

 

Maria: hey girly. been thinking about u and just wanted u to kno. sending love <333

 

Alexander: when do you think your parents will make you go back to group? George and Martha said next week for me if I keep getting better… I’d never thought I’d want to have pneumonia D:

 

Eliza couldn’t help but smile at Alex’s text. She hadn’t even thought about group, but she had a feeling that her dad would be on her to go again soon. If not the upcoming week, the next, because the faster Eliza was back to normal, the better for everyone.

She typed out a response to Alexander.

 

Eliza: idk, but probably next week, or the next for sure :(

 

She hadn’t been expecting a response back anytime soon, so she was surprised when one buzzed through her phone almost immediately.

 

Alexander: let’s make a deal–– we stick together, let one know if the other can’t make it?

 

Eliza: deal :)

 

She didn’t know why, but talking with Alex made her feel better. Maybe it was because he hadn’t known her before the entire boarding school debacle. Maybe it was because they’d both been forced to be somewhere they’d rather never be.

Or maybe it was because they just… got along. They clicked. Eliza could only hope that she wouldn’t disappoint Alex someday, though she was almost certain she would. She couldn’t seem to help it, lately.

My name should be “Elizabeth Disappointment Schuyler,” she thought.

She reread the texts with Alex. She would relish their friendship until it was inevitably over. Then she’d decide what was best, how to move forward.

Or, she thought, I won’t move forward at all.

Chapter Text

Lafayette could not sleep. He could not get the contents of the letter out of his head. The name Adrienne kept resurfacing no matter how hard he tried to forget.

It was familiar. Every time he thought of her name, images of brightly colored blocks and pigtails and cookies and running, laughing children appeared. But he couldn’t recall her face. He couldn’t recall anything they’d done together.

He pulled the letter out from under his pillow, which was where he stashed in when he slept, or tried to sleep, at least, and flicked on his bedside light, taking in the loopy handwriting for what had to be the hundredth time.

Dearest George and Martha,

You may not remember me very well, as I imagine your time spent in France collecting young Gilbert was all a blur, but I was well acquainted with Gilbert’s parents and his maternal grandfather. My daughter, Adrienne, was friends with Gilbert, and it is their relationship that I write to you about.

Before his death, Lafayette’s grandfather spoke with me and my wife about a union between our two families, two of the most powerful in France. He would not commit it to paper, but he all but, after the passing of my own wife, he promised his grandson would take our Adrienne’s hand in marriage to offer both of them a secure future.

I understand this may be outside the customs of your society, but remember that Gilbert, no matter how much time he has spent in America, is French. He is of nobility. He has a duty to his family name that, had his parents not tragically departed so soon, he would naturally be fulfilling.

I hope you and yours are well, and look forward to corresponding with you further.

Sincerely,

Jean de Noailles

Lafayette took comfort in a few facts. One, his parents had obtained his American citizenship around the time they received this letter. Two, he had been back in George’s office once more and had not found any other missives from Jean de Noailles. Three, he was openly dating Herc. Certainly his parents wouldn’t have allowed it only to take Hercules away from him. He trusted them to be much better than that.

But he wondered about Adrienne. What was she like? Did she know that her father was planning on forcing her to marry a boy she’d only met as a toddler? Would she be disappointed that he would not marry her?

Suddenly, an idea struck him. He grabbed his phone and opened up Facebook, frantically typing Adrienne de Noailles in the search bar. A few names popped up, but right away one face stood out.

She was fourteen, living in Paris, and attended a ritzy private school. He flicked through the photos she’d posted as public, which weren’t many. There was one of her grinning while holding a fluffy brown rabbit close to her face. There was one of her walking the streets of Paris, looking lost, but content, in her own world.

And then there was one of her with a man and a woman, her parents, Lafayette assumed. The man was white, his hair brown. The woman wore a hijab, her skin tan, her smile contagious.

Adrienne looked young in the photo. She was sitting between her parents, a huge smile on her face, her dark hair in bouncy pigtails.

Lafayette looked at the caption on the photo.

I miss you, Mama.

Lafayette studied young Adrienne’s face a little longer. He wondered if she knew what her father had planned. The letter was a few years old by now. Had her father chosen to marry her off to someone else?

Lafayette wanted to close the page. He wanted to click that x and erase Adrienne and their connection, however strange or forced it may be, from his life. But looking at that picture of her and her parents, he could not deny the pang he felt for his own parents. He was, after all, a biracial child, too, and he was French, descended from nobility, just like Adrienne.

The only difference between them was that he’d been adopted by a couple who wanted him to create his own life, while Adrienne’s father seemed set on creating hers for her.

He clicked the grey send message button and began to type.

Chapter Text

Lafayette was reading over what he’d written to Adrienne for the sixth time when there was a timid knock on his door.

“Oui?” he called out, minimizing the browser.

John opened the door and stared at Laf before asking “Can I come in?”

“Of course, mon ami,” Laf said, gesturing to his bed. He spun his chair away from his desk and laptop, silently cursing himself for not having sent the message already. He tried his best to push it from his mind. From the way John’s eyes were wildly darting around the room it was clear that he needed a friend; an attentive friend.

“What is, how you say, up?” Laf asked with a smile, knowing John both loved and hated how Laf would add how you say to phrases he most definitely knew how to say.

John only gave him a sad smile in return. “Well, my mom is coming to speak with me tomorrow morning. She wanted to come today, but then she called and said that Saturday would be better.” John sighed. “I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.”

“Oh, mon ami,” Laf said softly. He reached a hand out and took John’s in his own. John’s hands were like ice cubes. Laf took his friend’s other hand and wrapped his own around them, trying to warm them up.

John gave him a small but grateful smile. “I’m scared, Laf,” he whispered.

“It will be okay, mon ami. Your mother loves you.”

“I know, but ever since…” John shook his head. “Ever since James she’s been different. She used to dote over the three of us, me and James and Mary Eleanor. But now it’s like Mary Eleanor and I don’t even exist. Why would things change now?” John asked in a tone that let Laf know that he didn’t expect Laf to have the answer, but that didn’t stop Laf from trying his best.

“This could be her, how you say, wake-up call?” Laf suggested.

John looked up at him, a mixture of confusion and hope in his eyes.

“She has lost one son to someone else being reckless. To something she could not control,” Laf said gently. “But here she has control. And, mon ami, she does not want to lose another child.”

“How do you know that, though?” John whispered. He looked down at Laf’s hands which were still around his own. “I can’t even blame her. If she wanted to lose me, I mean.”

“Mon cher!” Lafayette exclaimed. “Do not say such things!”

“Sorry,” John said with a sigh. “I… I still don’t like myself, Laf. Not at all.”

“John,” Laf said sadly.

It was no secret to Laf or Hercules that John disliked himself. They’d thought that Alexander’s arrival and the mutual feelings that had blossomed between them had diminished John’s self-hatred, but Laf could see now how wrong he and Herc had been to assume that.

John shook his head. “Well, all will be revealed tomorrow morning.” He stood, causing Laf to let go of his hands. “I have some homework I need to do,” John said. “It’ll help keep me distracted.”

“That is a good idea, mon ami.”

John walked toward the door and was about to leave before Laf stopped him.

“Mon ami?”

John turned and looked at Lafayette.

“Please come to me, any time, day or night, oui?”

“Yeah, sure,” John said with a shrug. “Thanks.”

Lafayette watched his friend go, the door clicking shut behind him. He heard John go into the room that had become his own and put on heavy punk-rock music. Lafayette sighed. He was glad John had opened up to him, but he knew his friend was still keeping so much in. That was the thing with John, though. He could never be forced to tell anyone about how he was feeling. He had to bring it up himself. So far, he’d always eventually brought up what was bothering him.

Laf would just have to wait for it.

Laf sighed once more before turning back to his laptop. He pulled up the browser where he’d written the message to Adrienne. Instead of reading it again himself, he unplugged his laptop from its charger and made his way down the stairs to Alexander, who, though he was still camped out on the couch and still ill, was doing much better. When Laf entered the room, he saw that Alexander was reading Laf’s old copy of The Golden Compass .

“It is good, non?” Laf said as he sat next to Alex.

“So good,” Alex said as if he were in a trance, his eyes still glued to the page.

“I hate to tear you away, but could you look over a message for me?” Laf whispered.

Alex set the book down and smiled up at Laf, confusion on his face. “Sure?”

Lafayette handed Alex the laptop.

“Ahh,” Alex said. “It’s in French.”

“Oui,” Laf said sheepishly. “This girl,” he whispered, “she is French.”

Alex nodded, a smirk on his lips. “Is Herc okay with this?”

“Alexander!” Laf hissed. “It is not like that! Read the message. You will soon see.”

Alex nodded and then turned all of his attention to the words in the tiny chat window before him. Lafayette could tell when Alex had hit the part because his eyebrows shot up and his mouth fell open in a slight o .

“Whaaaat?” Alex said.

Lafayette shrugged. “You see why I’m writing to her now?”

“Yeah,” Alex said, clearly still distracted by what had been revealed to him in Laf’s note. “Yeah,” he repeated.

“Is it good?” Laf asked nervously.

“Perfect,” Alex said, handing the laptop back to Laf with a smile. “Do Martha and George know you’re writing to her?”

Laf’s eyes grew wide. “Non!” he said frantically, as if he were trying to hush Alexander. “And they cannot know!”

Alex held his hands up. “Okay, your secret’s safe with me,” he reassured Laf.

“Thank you,” Laf whispered. “I will let you get back to that fabulous book.”

Alex smiled up at Laf as he picked up the book again. “Let me know if you need anymore French proofreading done.”

“I will, thank you, mon ami,” Laf said gratefully before dashing back up to his room.

Even though Alexander had said the message was perfect, and Lafayette trusted his opinion, he couldn’t help but read it one more time.

 

Dear Adrienne,

Perhaps my name is familiar, or perhaps it has been lost to the passage of time, but you and I were friends as small children, before I moved to the USA, where I now live with my adoptive parents, George and Martha Washington.

If you have forgotten me please know I take no offense! I write to you not to rekindle a youthful friendship, but to inquire as to your state of wellbeing. I recently discovered a letter from your father, dated back a few years, and became concerned for your freedom and happiness.

In the letter your father wrote of an unofficial agreement between our families to wed us to each other when we come of age. My grandfather had agreed, but my new parents rejected this tentative contract.

I reach out only to ask if you are okay. It pains me to think someone I was once friends with would be forced to do something she does not want to do. I hope you will not be upset by this message, and that you feel no pressure to reply. Just know I am thinking of you and praying for your happiness from across the sea.

Truly,

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette



He clicked send .

Chapter Text

John had not been able to sleep.

He’d given it his best shot, but after tossing a turning for over an hour, he accepted that sleep was not going to come to him that night. Instead of sleeping, he scrolled through various social media platforms all night, trying to keep his mind off of what tomorrow would bring, but ultimately being unable to think of much else.

He’d been downstairs, pacing in front of the living room window, since around five. Sometimes he paused and studied Alex’s sleeping form on the couch. The way his mouth was slightly open, his face so calm, made John feel just the tiniest bit better.

When Lafayette and Martha came down at eight, whispering to one another as they descended the stairs, neither of them seemed surprised to see John.

Lafayette tried his best to convince John to have some breakfast, even offering to make his favorite, French Toast, but John felt too sick to even consider eating breakfast.

When Alexander awoke, he called John over to him and wrapped his arms around his boyfriend’s waist. John gently ran his fingers through Alex’s hair, relishing in Alex’s warm softness after sleeping all night thanks to the cough syrup laced with a sleep aid. John sat with him for the rest of the morning, trying to coax Alex back to sleep by rubbing tiny circles on his back, but the boy refused, fighting his drooping eyelids with what little strength he had in him.

It was 8:30 when the doorbell chimed.

Alex squeezed John’s hand and John placed a kiss on the crown of his head. Lafayette gave John a thumbs up from the stairwell before he disappeared up it. Martha moved toward the door, motioning for John to come with her. She put her hand on his shoulder and opened the door.

“Good morning, Eleanor,” Martha said cordially. She stepped aside, making room for Eleanor.

“Good morning, Martha, and Johnny,” she said, smiling at her son. There was something in her eyes that John hadn’t seen for a long time. Something… good?

It could be a trick. Stay vigilant.

“I had to bring someone else with me. I hope it’s not a problem if she sits in the living room while we chat?”

Just then, Mary Eleanor poked her head out from behind her mother.

“Mary!” John exclaimed. He bent down and opened his arms to her. After a second’s hesitation, she practically leapt into them.

“I’ve missed you,” she said into his neck.

“I’ve missed you, too.” He held onto her tightly, never wanting to let go.

Of course, as soon as his mother was in the house, her coat hung on one of the hooks near the doorway, he had to. He kissed her forehead before letting go of her completely.

What if this is one of the last times I see her?

He felt sick, but he smiled at his younger sister, then followed his mother and Martha into George’s office.

“George will be down in one moment,” Martha said. “Can I get you tea or coffee or water?”

“No, thank you,” Eleanor said with a tight smile. Her foot was bouncing up and down in its highheel. She clasped her hands together in her lap so tightly that her knuckles started to turn white.

Finally, George entered the office. “Sorry for keeping you waiting, Eleanor.” He was dressed in his usual weekend attire, jeans and a flannel shirt, but John noticed that these jeans were darker, crisper than usual, and that his shirt was tucked into them, something he usually didn’t bother doing.

“Oh, no need to apologize,” she said with a small wave of her hand.

“So, have you thought more about the group we told you about last time?” Martha said, her voice as friendly as ever. John had no idea how she did that, how she stayed so composed and respectful.

“I haven’t exactly had the time,” Martha admitted, her eyes gazing down at her black heels. “I, well. Some things have changed since we last spoke,” she said with a little laugh.

That laugh. John recognized it from his youth. It was the laugh that his mother gave anytime a situation made her uncomfortable or anytime she was anxious. John hadn’t heard it in years. He wondered what could possibly have brought it out of its hibernation.

“I suppose I should just come out and say it, then tell the story.” She took a deep breath. “Henry and I are separated. For now. I’m filing for a divorce.”

John would have fallen off of his chair if not for the sturdy backing. Divorce? His mind was spinning. Out of all the possibilities he’d spent last night pondering, this had not been one.

“Oh my god, Eleanor,” Martha said. She lightly placed a hand on Eleanor’s knee, causing her to look Martha in the eye.

John could see tears in his mother’s eyes. She hadn’t cried, really cried , since the months following James’ death.

“It’s okay,” she said weakly. She took the tissue George offered her and dabbed at her eyes, then forced a small smile onto her face. “Our marriage hasn’t been right for years, but this was the final straw.”

“What happened?” George asked. His tone was kind; not a hint of judgement in it.

“I told him what you told me.” She paused, looking down at her shoes again. “And what Johnny said about… not making it through an, um, conversion program.”

“How did he react?” Martha prompted.

Eleanor laughed again. “He thought I was insane for even considering other options. I could tell he wasn’t going to change his mind and gave up trying to convince him.” She took a deep breath. John could see her eyes were starting to tear up again.

“I slept in James’ room that night, for the first time since I closed it off a few years ago. I… losing James is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I still miss him every second of every day.”

“Oh, Eleanor,” Martha said sadly. “I can only imagine.”

Martha reached her hand out to Eleanor and she took it right away, squeezing it hard. She kept holding it as she continued.

“James’ death was a horrible accident. A drunk driver, something we couldn’t control, and it still tears me apart every day. I still go over it in my mind, trying to think of something I could’ve done differently. Something that would have saved him.” She shook her head.

John bit his lip, hating the tears that were swelling up in his eyes. He rarely let himself think of James; think of what it would have been like to still have his brother around. James had been younger than Mary Eleanor is now when he died. He’d never gotten to leave elementary school.

“And here is John, telling me that-that––” A sob tore through his mother, and John wanted to wrap his arms around her, to tell her it’d all be okay.

But he also needed to hear what she’d say next.

“I could never live with myself, knowing I could have stopped my son from being in pain and I chose not to,” she said once her sobs had subsided.

She looked up a John, and he was amazed by what he saw on her face. She looked softer. There were less sharp edges and more smooth curves. She also looked older, and more tired, but there was something calmer about her, like she was finally breathing right again. Like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

“John, I don’t understand, but I love you more than my own life and I want to understand. I really do.” She stared at him for a moment, anxiety distorting her features. “Do you believe me?”

Do you?

John was silent for a moment. This moment was going to change his life, no matter what he said. He thought of how his mother had ignored him, let his father be cruel to him over the past years. He also thought about who his mother had been, before James died, before his father had become so controlling.

Maybe she had changed for the worse after James’ death, but if people could change for the worse, didn’t that mean they could also change for the better?

John took a deep breath.

“Yes,” he said slowly, more sure of the word as soon as it left his mouth. “I believe you.”

 

Chapter Text

Lafayette could hear the distant murmurs of John and his mother talking. He was trying to catch snippets of their conversation when he was distracted by the chime of his phone.

He glanced at the clock suspiciously, seeing the time was just past 8:30. Who would be texting him so early on a weekend?

He grabbed his phone off his dresser and tapped it, lighting up the lock screen. He gasped when he saw the messenger app bubble read Adrienne de Noailles.

He wondered if he should wait a moment, collect himself, prepare himself for whatever he may read… But then he swiped it open without a second thought.

The message was written in French, which made Laf smile. He missed writing and reading in his native language. The Washingtons, of course, were always more than happy to get him books written or translated into French, but it still wasn’t the same as holding text-based conversations in French. It would never be the same as everything around him being French.

With a fond smile on his face, he read the message.

 

Dear Gilbert,

I do, in fact, remember you! I have a picture of us together in one of the scrapbooks Mama made with me when I was small. I will find it and send it to you later, but in it we are sitting on a bench near the Seine eating ice cream cones, although most of the ice cream is on our faces!

I am aware of the arrangement, and that it is null and void now. Papa has secured another arrangement with another nobleman’s son. Perhaps the name is familiar to you? He is called Louis Dieudonné.

We will wed when I am 18. You may not guess it, but I am at peace with this. I know my future is stable and secure, and while this is not who or what I would have chosen for myself, Papa has reminded me that I have a duty to my family and country to marry a noble Frenchman.

I often think that if Mama were here, she would prevent this union. She and my father married of their own free will, an act of rebellion against their parents. They do not regret it, but Papa said he had hard years because his family disowned him. It was only after the passing of his father a year before I was born that he discovered he was still in the will and would receive his inheritance.

He does not want me in a situation where I will be unprovided for, and, since his inheritance wasn’t enough to ensure my security no matter who I marry, he sees this as his only option.

My father may hold some backwards views, of which I am aware, but I want to please him and put his heart at ease. I hope you will not think less of me for doing so. Truly, my dear Gilbert, there is no other option for me.

Your friend,

Adrienne

 

Lafayette’s mind was racing. Adrienne said she was happy with this arrangement, but she also said things that seemed to contradict that statement. Laf calculated how long she had until the nuptials in his head. She is fourteen going on fifteen now, so just over three years…

He wondered what, if anything, he could do to help her.

I must do something! I cannot stand by while someone is denied their proper freedom.

Before he could think on it any more, there was a knock on his door. Laf locked his phone and placed it screen-down on his dresser.

“Oui?” he called out.

“Can I come in?” It was John.

Laf took a deep breath and prayed that the news from John would be better than the news from Adrienne.

“Oui, come in, mon ami,” Laf said.

John entered the room backwards, shutting the door behind him. When he turned to Laf, there were tears in his eyes, but a smile on his face.

“My parents are getting a divorce.” His smile widened as the words left his lips.

“Mon ami!” Laf exclaimed. “That is excellent news, non?”

“It’s fantastic,” John agreed.

Laf held his arms open to John and John rushed into them.

“Have you told Alexander yet?”

“He was asleep,” John said into Laf’s chest. “Didn’t wanna wake him.”

“Oui, I agree,” Laf said with a smile. “So, what comes next?”

John pulled away, and the two boys sat down on Laf’s bed. “Martha and George have kindly offered to let me stay here until my mom finds her own place, though this isn’t going to be an easy time for her, since the divorce can’t be finalized until they’ve lived apart for a year.”

Laf translated the statement in his mind. Aka, she won’t receive any of the money she may win in a settlement during the divorce proceedings.

“How will your mother support herself?” Laf asked while trying to recall what, exactly, John’s mother did for a living.

John shrugged. “She has a job, but whether it’s paid or volunteer or enough to support her and me and my sister… I don’t know.” He frowned for a moment before seeming to remember this was supposed to be good news. He smiled up at Laf.   

“Mon ami, if you want to talk about this, I can only imagine that it must be… strange, at the very least, and––”

John held up his hand. “Thanks, Laf, but I think I need to be alone for right now.” He smiled at Laf, but it didn’t reach his eyes. As soon as he gazed away from Laf, the frown was back on his face.

Lafayette wanted to stop him, but John was out of the room, thanking Laf again as he left, down the hallway before Laf could do anything. Lafayette simply sat in the silence for a moment, wondering not only what he was going to do about Adrienne, but also what he was going to do about John.  

Chapter Text

Mondays were always awful, but this one was considerably more awful than usual for Eliza.

Angelica had said goodbye to the family early Sunday morning, fast-tracking it back to college. Peggy had gotten in the car with their father just an hour ago, giving Eliza a long and tight hug goodbye before she left.

Eliza helped her younger siblings get ready for school, though her bus came an hour before theirs did, so the most she could do to help was get them dressed and attempt to get them seated for breakfast.

Catherine was up, pouring cereal and coconut milk into bowls, an empty look on her face. Some part of Eliza was worried, but the rest of her was exhausted. She hugged her mom goodbye, told her she loved her.

She stood on the corner, blue knit hat pulled over her head, gold scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, the ends of it tucked into her dark blue peacoat, keeping the bitter winter air out, waiting for the school bus.

On the bus, she shot Alexander a text. They’d been texting all weekend, and it made Eliza feel better. She still hadn’t talked to her other friends, and she wasn’t so sure why. Everytime she tried to figure it out she quickly gave it up, too tired to keep pondering it. That was how she was feeling quite often these days–– too exhausted to do much of anything, although she kept doing everything, anyway.

Eliza: on the bus now… it’s too early to have to exist.

Eliza: how’re you feeling?

Alexander: my life is gettin’ better ‘cause Eliza’s in it

Alexander: but really I am feeling better

Alexander: thanks to modern medicine and the Washingtons and John and of course you

Eliza: haha, you’re so sweet :’)

Alexander: also Laf is rapping in French

Alexander: it sounds good to everyone else but I know what he’s saying

Alexander: and it makes no sense at all

 

Eliza: oh my god you can finally call him out on that!

Eliza: Peggy took French just to understand what he was saying

Eliza: but she never got far enough along in it, plus he’s fast

Alexander: I just asked him why he was singing about fish

Alexander: He looked surprised, then glared at me

Alexander: this is going to be fun :)))

Alexander: but he’s about to be your problem now

Alexander: him and john are leaving. They said to meet them in the unusual spot

Alexander: wtf does that mean??????

Eliza: you’ll find out one day, young grasshopper ;)))

Alexander: >:((((((((((

Eliza: ;))))))

 

Eliza pocketed her phone and stared out the window. The bus was done picking up students, but there were still a few minutes before they would arrive at the school. Eliza remembered the time before boarding school, when she and her sisters took a similar ride to elementary and middle school. She usually let Angelica and Peggy sit together and used what little time she had to herself on that early morning ride to go over everything she wanted to get done that day. She’d plan her day, right up to when she’d go to bed, and sometimes what pajamas she’d wear.

She’d alway been an ambitious person, even in her earliest years. She’d always been orderly about her ambition, too. With Eliza, there were no secrets, no hidden agendas.

Or at least there didn’t used to be.

Eliza pulled out her planner and looked at the few assignments she’d scribbled down. This school was so easy compared to her former one. At her boarding school, she’d barely had time to breathe. Here, she felt like she was floating in free time. It wasn’t always a good thing.

She turned to the back of her planner.

It had started as affirmations. While she was still at boarding school, while she still had some kind of drive, no matter how minimal it’d been, she’d researched ways to deal with depression, and found that nearly every website recommended saying kind things to yourself and included a list of suggested sayings. So she wrote some of them down in the back of her planner, where she figured she’d see them the most.

You are just as smart as everyone else.

She’d forgotten about that, the time when she thought she wasn’t as intelligent as those around her. Now, she knew she wasn’t. She could never compare. She couldn’t even finish boarding school.

You are just as worthy as everyone else.

She hadn’t believed that one even once. She’d constantly wondered why she’d been given so many amazing opportunities only to colossally mess them up. And now, she wondered even more. She wondered why she was here when baby Catherine wasn’t.

You are not defined by how you feel.

She practically scoffed at that one. Clearly the author of those affirmations had never been depressed for as long as Eliza had. She couldn’t even remember how she’d felt before. And before hadn’t been that long ago. Not even a year ago.

Eliza flipped the page to what she now dedicated the back of her planner to. She wasn’t proud of it, but it made her feel better, for some messed up reason.

It was a list. A list of all the pills she’d pilfered from various sources at various points in time. Eliza knew she’d never be the smartest, but she was smart enough to stock up slowly.

She didn’t think she’d ever actually do it. She just needed to know she could . She just needed to know she had an out.

The bus came to a screeching halt in front of the school. Eliza exited with the throng of students, ready to start her day whether she liked it or not. Planner clutched in hand, she felt what was probably a surge of comfort, though it felt so odd to be comforted by something she knew wasn’t good.

But during the times that try girls’ souls, who was she to deny herself what little comfort, no matter what its form, that she could find?

 

***

 

The unusual place.

It was just Laf’s homeroom, but they called it the unusual place because 1) it sounded way cooler than “Laf’s homeroom” or “room 107” and 2) it was an easy way to differentiate it from the “usual place,” which Eliza had come to learn was outside the school, on the sidewalk.

She’d only been to the unusual place once, during one of the days Alexander was out sick, to give Laf Alex’s homework. Now, she wasn’t sure why they were meeting there, or meeting at all. Weren’t Laf and Herc and John upset with her for not texting back? Weren’t they done with her?

She approached the doorway of the unusual place and saw Laf sitting atop his desk, back to the door, Herc and John standing in front of them, laughing at some joke Hercules seemed to be telling. It looked like they were having such a good time. She didn’t want to ruin that.

She was about to turn away when John caught sight of her and his face lit up. He waved her inside the room, and Eliza reluctantly entered.

“Hey,” she said meekly, giving them a tiny wave with one hand, clutching her planner close in the other.

“Hey, girly! We’ve missed you,” Herc said in his booming voice.

Before Eliza could react, he’d engulfed her in a bear hug. She felt Laf and John join in, and let herself melt into their touch.

“We’re so happy to see you,” John said into her hair.

“Oui, oui, we love out Eliza!” Laf agreed.

Eliza, stuck in the center of it all, was stunned. Her brain tried to tell her they were lying, but she let the thought float away, just this once. Because, really, in these times that try girls’ souls, wasn’t it nice to feel loved, even if only for a moment?

Chapter Text

Name of groupchat: Eliza Protection Squad™

Large Baguette: yo mes amis
Large Baguette: we need to have a chat

Hunkles Muscleman: o.k.

Turtle Boy: Herc you already know what this is about lmao

Hunkles Muscleman: just being supportive of my bf damn Laurens

Pegboard: yo why u losers blowing up my phone while im in class

Turtle Boy: oh, sorry Pegs! Was your phone on?

Pegboard: lmao no way
Pegboard: i ain’t stupid
Pegboard: i’m just trying to play games but your fucking notifs keep poppin up

Turtle Boy: sorry we annoyed you with our friendship

Pegboard: don’t be salty
Pegboard: last time I check you weren’t a sea turtle
Pegboard: so don’t give out quantities of salt you can’t take

Large Baguette: as much as I love your sass, Peggy, we need to talk about Eliza

Angelface: I’ve got 15 mins before class and haven’t had coffee yet so this better be important

Hunkles Muscleman: it is

Pegboard: Is Liza okay??????????

Large Baguette: no

Turtle Boy: maybe?

Angelface: ???????????????????
Angelface: wtf is going on????????????

Hunkles Muscleman: we’re worried she’s depressed

Turtle Boy: like
Turtle Boy: hella

Pegboard: :(((((((  thought she got help tho?? I thought she was doing better???

Large Baguette: doesn’t seem to be 

Turtle Boy: maybe it’s bc of baby Catherine?

Angelface: probably
Angelface: shit
Angelface: i haven’t been a great big sis lately

Large Baguette: this isn’t your fault angie

Angelface: I’ve been so caught up in my own stuff

Pegboard: same

Turtle Boy: all that matters is we help her now

Hunkles Muscleman: yeah this ain’t anyone’s fault

Angelface: I’ll skype her tonight
Angelface: Pegs, you wanna join? 

Pegboard: I wish :(((((((((
Pegboard: I have another mandatory study session 

Angelface: shit didn’t know those were mandatory now

Pegboard: yeppers

Angelface: i got out just in time
Angelface: well i gtg to class
Angelface: will text groupchat after i talk w/ liza

Pegboard: <33333333333
Pegboard: love u sis

Large Baguette: !!!!!!!!!
Large Baguette: thank u angie!!!!!!!!

Turtle Boy: have a good class and get coffee asap!

Hunkles Muscleman: o.k. Sounds good

Angelface: <333333

Chapter Text

Alexander was finally well enough to be back in his own bedroom, which meant two things: 1) he had more privacy and 2) he had his notebook back.

The one good thing about being ill for so long was that he hadn’t been feeling his normal kinds of bad. No, instead he felt absolutely horrible, and could barely stay awake some days, but he wasn’t anxious. He wasn’t depressed. Or, if he was either of those things, he was too distracted by the pneumonia to notice.

It was his second night of being able to sleep in his own bed when the thoughts started to come back.

You didn’t die, it began.

He ignored it.

Die, die, die, it chanted.

He gritted his teeth and ignored it some more.

Die, die, die, die, die,die,diediediediediediEDIEDIEDIEDIE, it persisted.

Alexander instinctively lunged for his notebook, his hands shaking as he flipped through the pages then groped around on his nightstand for a pen. As soon as he uncapped a pen and touched it to the page, it was as if the words began to flow out of him on their own accord.

I didn’t die. Again, I didn’t die. Maybe Mama was trying to get me, maybe she misses me and wants me with her. Maybe it’s the people who died in the hurricane. Maybe they’re angry with me for living. Maybe they’re trying to get their revenge. Maybe it’s just me, being as fucked up as I am. Maybe it’s me trying to leave here before the Washingtons kick me out. I want to believe they won’t, but I haven’t even shown them my true colors yet. I can’t keep being this silent, reserved version of myself. I can feel my former vibrancy, my former life, scratching underneath my skin, making cracks, trying to push its way through my pores. I can’t fight it much longer. They’re going to see how annoying and loud and obnoxious I am and then they’ll hate me. John will hate me, Laf will hate me, Eliza, Herc, everyone will hate me. It’s easy to feel sorry for the poor little orphan immigrant kid who is meek. It’s not so easy to feel sorry for the bastard brat who never shuts up and is too argumentative for his own good. I’m going to disappoint them. It’s only a matter of time. The pneumonia was giving me an out, and I failed to take it. I failed. Again. I failed.

Alexander couldn’t even look at the words he’d just written, both because he was ashamed and because of the tears pooling up in his eyes.

Weak, weak, weak, the voice chanted.

I know, Alexander agreed.

He was too tired to fight it. He was so tired.

He shut his eyes and drifted into a fitful sleep, wishing he would wake up in the NYC he and his mother had shared for that brief amount of time, her in the tiny square of a kitchen, humming as she made breakfast. He wished for it, he wished it so hard, but he knew it could never be.

***

Alexander woke up to the buzzing of his phone.

Eliza: Are you gonna be in group this week?
Eliza: I am :(
Eliza: if you can’t be there I’ll just “get sick” Friday afternoon

Alexander: I’ll go

Eliza: the washingtons said it’s okay?

Alexander: oh, I didn’t ask
Alexander: I just feel well enough i guess
Alexander: I’ll ask tho

Eliza: okay :)

Alexander: Martha was hesitant but I think she’s happy I want to go
Alexander: so it’s a yes ;)

Eliza: ahhhh great!
Eliza: we can suffer together

Alexander: lol yes
Alexander: knowing you’ll be there makes it much more bearable

Eliza: saaaaaame<3

Alexander: :)<3

Alex let his phone drop onto his bed, a small smile on his face. Even if his friends were bound to tire of him, he was going to let himself enjoy their company for as long as possible. That way, when everything went south, he’d at least have the memories, sparkling and comforting, to replay in his mind.

***

Alexander’s fever was gone, so he was confused when he woke up drenched in sweat in the wee hours of Thursday morning. He was even more confused when he saw his door open and Lafayette step through. He was most confused about why he was panting. Why was he panting?

“Mon cher,” Laf whispered. He tiptoed toward Alex, as if a loud or sudden movement would terrify the other boy. “It was a dream. Only a dream,” Laf said as he gently lowered himself onto Alex’s bed.

Lafayette grabbed a tissue from the bedside table and dabbed at Alex’s cheeks. He was crying? When had that happened?

“Do you want to talk about it?” Laf asked.

Alexander found he could not move. His eyes were glued straight ahead of him, on his dresser pushed up against the opposite wall. His mouth was slightly open, as if he’d been about to say something before he’d been frozen. His body was rigid. It felt far away from him. Everything felt so far away.

“Mon cher,” Laf whispered. He placed a hand on Alex’s shoulder, and Alexander found himself feeling just a bit calmer.

Lafayette seemed to catch on, because he soon had wrapped his arms around Alex’s waist and was murmuring to him in French. Even though French was Alex’s first language, he couldn’t decipher it. He couldn’t truly understand any language in that moment, except for the language of fear and worry that was currently dominating his mind.

The longer Laf stayed wrapped around him, the more he began to remember. Snippets of his dream started to come back to him. There’d been a grave, open, a woman’s hand sticking out of it. He hadn’t needed to look to know it was his mother. There’d been Pierre, at first happy, laughing, then with a black eye and a limp. Then there was John, looking so lost and broken. There was John, pushing Alexander away.

Alex let out a strangled sob, and his body finally collapsed, his eyes shutting, his sobs muffled by Laf’s chest. Lafayette stroked Alexander’s hair and murmured to him in French and English and a mash-up of the two languages.

Alex couldn’t stop crying.

He couldn’t stop.

He couldn’t.

Chapter Text

Even though Alexander had begrudgingly gotten Martha’s permission to go to group on Friday, he was nowhere near being allowed to go back to school.

Luckily for him, he slept through Lafayette and John’s departure that following morning, exhausted from his nightmare the night before. After finding Alexander in wake of his nightmare, Lafayette had insisted on staying with him through the night. Alex, embarrassed, had tried to protest, but even he’d been able to tell how unconvincing he’d sounded.

So Lafayette had, of course, stayed. He looped an arm around Alex’s waist and pulled him close, Alex’s back to Laf’s chest. Alex thought he’d never be able to fall back asleep, but then Laf had started running his free hand through Alex’s hair and his eyes were fluttering shut so quickly that he’d barely had any time to worry about what dream he might fall into.

Now Alexander was alone. Well, not alone . George was home today, which was a switch from the past weeks of Martha staying home with Alex. Alex felt bad that they felt they had to stay home with him at all, especially now that he was doing so much better; now that he was on the path to healing.

It’s not because of the pneumonia and you know it , the voice told him.

He wanted to fight the voice, but he knew it was right this time. He was physically well enough to be left alone in the house for a few hours. But yet––

“Alex? Do you want some soup?” George called up the staircase.

“Uh––”

“Oh, wait, Martha just texted me and said you must eat some soup. With crackers.” George chuckled, and it floated up the stairs and danced around Alex’s room.

Alex sunk down under the covers, the shame of being treated like a child making him want to disappear from the face of the planet.

About ten minutes later Alexander heard George’s cautious steps making their way to him. Alex stayed under the covers, not wanting to see the look of pity he was certain would be on George’s face.

“Alexander? I’ve got your food. Are you awake, son?”

Alex forced himself to emerge from underneath the blankets. His face fell when he saw the smile on George's face. You’ll only ruin that smile, the voice told him.

“Son, is everything okay?” George asked, sitting on the edge of Alex’s bed, the tray holding the bowl of soup and crackers resting on his lap.

When Alexander refused to make eye contact or speak, George tried again.

“If something is wrong you can tell me,” he said gently.

“I’m sorry,” Alex whispered.

“What are you sorry for, my boy?”

“That you have to stay home. I’m really sorry,” Alex said quickly.

“Alex,” George said. “Alexander, look at me.”

Alex looked up at George with wide eyes and prepared himself for the man’s wrath.

“I chose to stay home today. Martha was more than willing. In fact, she––” George chuckled. “She was concerned leaving you with me.”

Alexander was confused. They’d both wanted to stay home with him? Why?

“I insisted, though, because you’re my so–– my foster child, too, and I want to take care of you.” He smiled at Alex, whose wide eyes were watery and full of surprise.

“So, would you like some soup?” He held the tray up to Alex. “I’m having some, too.” He winked at the boy as he positioned the tray on Alex’s lap. “If you’d like, I can bring my soup up here. We can chat, or watch a show.”

“O-okay,” Alex stammered.

“Excellent,” George said, a huge smile overtaking his face. “I’ll be back in one moment.”

Alex nodded and watched George disappear out the door, still in shock. He had absolutely no idea how this happened, but, for once, he didn’t want to question it. He just wanted to let it happen.

Chapter Text

“All right, we’ve got two steaming bowls of veggie soup,” George said as he waltzed into Alexander’s room with two bowls, some crackers, and glasses of water on a tray.

Alex had moved to one side of the bed and set up an extra pillow against the headboard for George.

George set the tray on the nightstand and sat on the bed. “Here you go, son,” he said as he handed Alexander his bowl of soup, setting the crackers between them. “Do you want to watch a show?” George nodded to the flat screen TV on the wall across from them.

“Yeah, sure!” Alex replied a bit too quickly.

If George noticed, he didn’t let it show. “Anything in particular you’d like to see? You pick anything you’d like.” He handed Alex the remote.

Alex stared at the remote for a moment before clicking the TV on. Do not mess this up. Do not mess this up. DO NOT MESS THIS UP.

Alex’s hands were visibly shaking as he pulled up the guide and scrolled through the channels. He saw Ghost Adventures was on on the Travel Channel and quickly selected that, even though it was already halfway through that particular episode.

Stupid choice. Now he’s gonna think you’re some paranoid, ghost hunting freak.

Alex let the remote drop onto the bed. He placed his hand on the metal spoon that was sitting in his bowl of soup. It was warm from the heat of the broth. He wished it was still cold. Cold things grounded him better.

Better not let him know you believe in ghosts. Better not let him know about that one time you tried to reach your moth––

“Son?” George’s voice asked from somewhere far away. “Are you okay?”

Alex could hear George, the voices and music from the show, and a metallic clanging. Suddenly a warm hand was on his cold one, causing Alex to jerk back in alarm, accidentally flinging soup onto the floor. The clanging stopped, and Alex realized it’d been his spoon hitting the side of the bowl.

Alexander wanted to run away. Or, better yet, just disappear. But George’s hand was still clamped over his own. Alex couldn’t move.

trapped frozen trapped

“Son?” George said cautiously.

“So-sorry,” Alex stammered. “So so-sorry.”

“Hey, shh, there’s nothing to apologize for.”

He’s lying. You’re awful. Awful, awful, awful.

“Sorry,” Alex said again. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” he chanted.

George stared at the boy for a moment before realizing that something much larger than spilled soup was happening. Something much larger than spilled soup had caused this.

George slowly and carefully removed the soup from Alex’s lap, setting it back on the nightstand, along with the bowl of crackers. He then scooted closer to Alex.

“Is it okay if I hug you, son?”

“Sorry, sorry, sorry,” Alex kept saying.

George pulled out his phone and sent a quick text to Martha.

George: Alex panicking. Pls come home

He then pulled Alex close to him and stroked the boy’s hair, whispering reassuring words to him. Martha was home within ten minutes, and George had no doubt that breaking the legal speed limit was involved in her swift commute.

“Where’s our boy?” Martha called as she swung the door open. The sound of her shucking her shoes off echoed down the hallway, followed by her footsteps racing toward them.

Alexander, of course, was not paying attention. He was trapped in his own world of anxiety, still frantically whispering sorrysorrysorry under his breath.

Martha climbed onto the bed and motioned for George to release Alexander from his hold, which was growing tighter and tighter as George grew more and more worried. She leaned Alex back against the headboard and placed one of her hands on his chest and one of his hands on hers.

“Alex, honey? Can you hear me?”

can you hear me hearmehearme…

Alex tried to make a noise to let the woman’s voice know yes , but all that came out of him was a garbled cry.

great, perfect. we’re going to breathe now. breatheeeeee

The words grew elongated. They waxed, they waned, they lost their meaning. But Alex felt a hand on his chest, and he felt something rising and falling under his own hand. Rising and falling calmly, like the ocean had before it betrayed him. Like it had when he still liked water and the ocean and the way the moon made the tide do her bidding.

the moon is saving me

His own waters calmed from their hurricane level strength, the gentle push and pull, give and take, of the moon once again regaining control. He felt his eyes drifting shut, surprised they’d been open that entire time, since all he remembered was a darkness so thick, so starless.

But, even with his eyes shut, he could now see something shining bright. He could see the moon, in all of its pearly glory, breaking through the oppressive dark. He wanted to reach out to it, but his arms were made of lead.

He contented himself to watch the moon and let the tide soothe him, wear him down like a pebble long eroded by the power of the salty waves.

Around him, he heard voices murmuring. He heard his name, but it wasn’t addressed to him. He couldn’t have answered, anyway. He was lost to the waves.

Chapter Text

John Laurens hated trigonometry. He wouldn’t have minded it as much if a certain somebody wasn’t in his class, but, well, he still would have hated it. If he didn’t have to see that magenta sweater every day, though, he would have hated it just a fraction less.

Normally, Jefferson, who was without his right hand man, James, in this class, left John alone. It wasn’t like trig made them magically get along, but it was like there was a mutual agreement to not further the suffering that the class already brought them by acting like the other didn’t exist.

Apparently today was the day that silent agreement finally fell apart.

“So Laurens,” Thomas said as he sauntered into the room an entire three minutes early–– a record for the boy who was usually at least one minute late. “Indulge me.” John both hated and loved that dramatized southern drawl.

“Why would I do that?” John pulled his own southern accent out of hiding, enjoying the brief look of surprise on Jefferson’s face.

“Because I thought that whole ‘gay agenda’ thing was fake, but, apparently, you’ve really got one.”

John gave Thomas a confused look.

“You just love breaking up marriages, don’t you?”

The words were a bee sting–– painful on the impact with even worse echoes of pain shooting through him. The bee sting was in his chest, his stomach, even his head. Maybe he’d gotten stung by an entire hive. Maybe imaginary welts would cover him and slowly suffocate him.

“I thought the gays were peaceful,” Jefferson said with a smirk.

Just then the teacher walked in, and Thomas took his usual seat in a chair to John’s left, up one from where John was seated.

Without asking to be excused, John bolted from the classroom. He could hear his teacher calling after him, obviously feigning concern since he was the most lackluster person John had ever met. John knew he would drop it after a moment. He had left all of his stuff, anyway. So he was going back.

John eyed the door at the end of the hallway, the one that would take him outside and away from this mess.

Where would I even go?

Before he could answer that question, he was already walking through the door and into the chilly morning air.

“Don’t let it shut all the way! We can’t get back in if you do.”

John’s jaw dropped as he took in Eliza, sitting with her back against the brick wall of the school just to the left of the door. John caught the door at the last second, and Eliza nodded to a small rock that she must have used to prop it open.

John kicked the rock back into place before taking a seat next to Eliza. “Whatcha doing out here?” he asked after a few seconds of silence.

“What’re you doing out here?” Eliza asked. There was no malice or snark in her voice. It was a genuine question, but John understood its intent: don’t ask if you’re not gonna answer.

John was silent. Eliza was silent.

“Sometimes my thoughts get too loud,” Eliza finally said.

“Jefferson was being a jerk,” John said.

“Do you need me to beat him up?” That made both John and Eliza laugh.

“Do you want to talk about it?” John asked after their laughter died down.

Eliza shrugged. “Not really. Do you wanna talk about yours?”

John shuddered. “No. Definitely not.”

Eliza nodded, and they let a comfortable silence settle between them. They stayed that way until the bell eventually rang, causing Eliza to stand and stretch. John noticed she was shaking ever so slightly.

“You coming?” Eliza shouldered her backpack and glanced down at John, who was still sitting on the ground.

“In a bit,” John said noncommittally. He wasn’t particularly keen on going back in there after what Jefferson had said. He couldn’t stop wondering who else might know, or how Jefferson knew. If it wasn’t for the fact that his stuff was still in the math room, he would just walk off the grounds.

Eliza gave him a small smile. “See you later,” she said.

“See you, Eliza.”

It’d been a few moments when John noticed that Eliza had left something behind–– a sky blue notebook with flowers sketched across the cover.

He scooped it up, sighing. Now he had to go back in there to find Eliza. For all he knew she needed it for class.  

He flipped it open to a random page to see which class it was for, hoping it wasn’t for the one she just went to. As long as it was after lunch, it’d be fine. He’d see her at lunch, either in the cafeteria or library.

He scanned the page, which was absolutely full of black inky words.

Sometimes I feel like a fall leaf, decayed by winter’s snow and ice, ready for the worms of spring to break me down into the nothing I already know I am… How can I ever compare to Angelica? So intelligent, beautiful, witty. Or Peggy, so sharp, adorable, funny. There are more than enough kids in my family that they certainly wouldn’t notice or care if I was no longer there…

John nearly dropped the notebook. He had to find Eliza. He had to find her that instant. He grabbed the door handle and tugged, but it didn’t budge. He tugged again, then looked down, almost screaming when he saw the rock had been dislodged from its place. He patted his jean pockets, groaning when he remembered that he’d left his phone in his backpack.

John Laurens was stranded outside of the school building, and it was only the second period of the day. Eliza Schuyler was somewhere in the school, thinking she was entirely worthless and alone.

John had to find a way back in, a way to her. He didn’t want to consider what may happen if he didn’t.

As long as she’s in school, she’s safe, he told himself. If that was true, then why did he feel like he was running out of time?

Chapter Text

Eliza had lost her notebook.

Eliza lost her notebook.

She noticed it’d been missing in third period, when she’d gone to take it out from its secret pouch only to find an old candy wrapper and some cracker crumbs in its place. It’d taken everything in her to not entirely lose it in AP Lit. Somehow, she kept it together, forcing herself to breathe in through her nose and out through her mouth while piecing together where her notebook could be.

She’d had it with her on the bus. That she was certain of because she’d thought she’d forgotten it and had to double check by patting its cover and running her finger down its spine a few times. But she knew she’d left it in her backpack then. She never put it in her locker–– not ever –– so the next place it could have made an appearance at would’ve been AP US history first period, which she’d skipped, thanks to the distracting array of emotions tumbling around in her head.

She’d gone to her spot outside. She’d written in her notebook. Hadn’t she placed it back in her backpack?

What if John found it?

She could hardly make it through the remaining fifteen minutes of class. As soon as the bell rang she sprung up, backpack already packed, and raced through the halls, ducking into the bathroom until everyone else was safely in class so she could sneak outside unnoticed.

She stared at the second hand of her watch, allowing it to make three rotations around the rose gold face, its ticks booming, sounding slower and slower and slower.

She couldn’t take it anymore. She slipped out of the bathroom and wove through the halls to the door. Barely anyone was left in the hallway with her, and the few kids who were still there were too busy scrambling to get to class in time to notice Eliza opening the door and stepping into the cool air.

She was shocked to see John Laurens sitting there, her notebook in his hands, tears trailing down his freckled face.

“I got locked out,” he said. “I was going to climb in through a window but then I figured you’d be back.” He glanced at her notebook, but made no move to hand it to her.

“John, I––”

“Eliza.” He stood up, hugging the notebook to his chest.

Eliza hated that all she wanted to do in that moment was wrestle it out of his grip and take off running. Where didn’t matter. She just had to get as far away as possible. As far away from this boy who now knew her deepest darkest secrets .

She took a deep breath, surprised when she released it with a sob. John’s arms wrapped around her, a hand stroking her hair. Had she even brushed her hair that morning? Everything blended together in a haze of too little sleep and sadness and numbness and she just couldn’t do it anymore. Something in her broke in that moment, and she hadn’t the faintest clue how to stitch it back together. She wasn’t so sure that she wanted to stitch it back together. She was too tired.

John was saying things to her in a hushed tone, and Eliza thought about how she didn’t deserve someone as sweet and caring and gentle as John in her life.

Eventually she realized that she and John were sitting on the ground, her entire frame violently shaking.

“Eliza, you don’t have to do this alone.” That was the first thing she could comprehend since walking out there to see John holding her notebook, holding all of her secrets.

“I’m fine,” she murmured.

“Eliza,” John said, his voice still gentle, but with a firmer edge than before. “That is nowhere near true.”

“Nobody can know.” She said it as if she knew she’d lost already.

“They have to,” John said softly. “You’re too precious. We can’t lose you.”

“I’m not worth it,” Eliza whispered.

John’s embrace tightened. “Don’t you ever say that, Sweet Lizard.”

Eliza thought about kicking the rock out from the door and running off, leaving John stranded again. But she couldn’t do that to him. She was too tired, anyway.

She let John guide her back into the school, her hand in his, leading her through what could have been a maze of hallways for all she was able to tell. She vaguely wondered what Angelica was doing at that moment, what Peggy was doing. Peggy was probably in class, but Angie? She could be in class, or she could be in the library, at a coffee shop, sleeping, goofing off with friends…

She was pulled back into reality as a hand was placed on her shoulder, guiding her into a large, comfy seat. A woman sat in a chair in front of her, John in one next to her.

She took a deep breath and tried to prepare herself for whatever happened next.

Chapter Text

Eliza was shocked when both of her parents rushed through the school counselor’s door. Her mother, usually so put together, was in a stained shirt and leggings, her glossy black hair in a haphazard bun. Her father was in his work clothes, and Eliza felt horrible, realizing she’s interrupted his work day.

You ruin everything.

She vaguely wondered where the baby was, but was distracted by the counselor, Ms. Morris, shutting the door behind her parents and directing them to the couch that lined the wall. She felt a hand interlace with hers, and it was only then that she realized John was still there.

“Do you want me to leave?” he whispered.

She shook her head and tightened her grip on his hand. No, no, no.

He squeezed back and gave her a reassuring smile.

“Thank you for coming in, Mr. and Mrs. Schuyler,” Ms. Morris said. “John here brought Eliza into my office after he read something that worried him in her journal, and, I have to say, I’m grateful to him for taking action.”

Eliza felt like she was going to throw up.

“What was in the journal?” her father asked, his voice more strained than she’d ever heard.

Ms. Morris looked to Eliza. “Would you like to talk about what you wrote, Eliza? Or maybe about what you were feeling when you wrote it?”

Eliza thought about the pills she had stashed. She wondered if she’d ever get a chance to use them now.

“Would it be easier if we allowed your parents to read the entry that concerned John?”

Eliza felt herself nod, hating that out of all her current options, this was the easiest.

She watched as Ms. Morris passed the journal to her father; as her parents began to read. When her mother placed a hand over her mouth to stifle a cry, she knew what part they’d reached.

How dare you make them suffer. You should have just ended it instead of prolonging their suffering. You’re so cruel, so selfish.

“My baby,” her mother was saying under her breath, over and over. Her father looked ghastly.

You did this to them.

“Wh-what do we do?” Her mother sounded so lost, looked so lost. The way her eyes were darting around the room reminded Eliza of a trapped animal.

Trapped by your sadness, your illness, your messed up state.

“I definitely recommend that Eliza see a therapist,” Ms. Morris started.

“She already does,” her father whispered.

“You may want to consult her current therapist on your next course of action, but there are medications, and––”

“I can’t wake up to find my baby dead,” her mother said. Her eyes were locked on Ms. Morris. She hadn’t looked at Eliza since she’d read the journal. “I can’t.” Her voice, her entire body, was trembling.

Ms. Morris nodded stiffly and looked at Eliza for a moment. Her eyes stayed trained on Eliza as she spoke again. “There are other options. Eliza could go to a hospital, a private one, or there is an excellent program out of the local hospital––”

Her mother sobbed and her father swallowed hard.

Ms. Morris gave Eliza a pitying look, and Eliza didn’t even begrudge her for it like she normally would.

“I understand that this is difficult to talk about, but there is no shame in Eliza getting the help she needs. I can certainly work with you to determine what’s the best course of action for her at this point.”

“We’re not ashamed of her,” her father said. He looked at Eliza, tears welling up in his eyes. “We ashamed of ourselves for failing to notice how much pain our daughter is in.”

“Mr. Schuyler, I understand why you would feel this way, but this is not your fault, nor is it Eliza’s. Depression is tricky, and young adults in particular are very adept at hiding it.”

Her father nodded, but she could tell by the look in his eyes that he was somewhere far away; that he hadn’t actually heard Ms. Morris at all.

“Would you like to contact Eliza’s therapist?” Ms. Morris offered.

“What do you recommend?” her father asked. “As far as treatment, I mean.”

“Well, like I said, the local hospital has a strong program and is very affordable––”

“Money is not an issue,” her father quickly added. “We only want the best. The absolute best, no matter what the cost.”

Ms. Morris nodded. “I can make a list for you.”

“That would be great,” her father said.

Eliza couldn’t believe what was happening. It felt surreal, or as if it were happening to someone other than her. Anyone but her.

John squeezed her hand again, and Eliza knew what he was trying to tell her.

If only she felt deserving of his support. If only she felt deserving of any help at all.

Chapter Text

The drive back to the Schuyler home was tense and silent.

When they finally pulled up the long driveway, Eliza was ready to bolt to her room to hide whatever damning evidence she could find before her parents could follow her. But her father simply turned off the car and sat there, still buckled in, stoic, staring at nothing. Her mother was quietly sniffling, but otherwise still, as well.

What’s going on?

“Grandma and Grandpa have the baby,” her father finally said. “And will get the others off the bus. I’m going to make some phone calls, but first, Eliza, let’s talk in my office.”

She nodded even though he wasn’t looking at her. Her mother followed them into the house, her hand on Eliza’s shoulder, her fingers digging into her bones, as if she were afraid Eliza would disappear any second.

You did this to them. They’re already suffering so much. Why are you making them suffer even more?

They stopped outside of her father’s office, and her mother pulled her into a silent hug, her frame shaking at she held onto her daughter as tightly as possible. Once she let go, Eliza sat in her father’s familiar office, where, not so long ago, he’d told her he couldn’t watch all the kids without her. Back when her mother was still pregnant. Back when they still said the babies instead of the baby.

“Eliza, sweetheart,” her father began. He ran a hand down his face, displacing his glasses. “I’m so sorry.”

Sorry?

“I failed you. I loaded more responsibility on you when you were clearly hurting. I didn’t make sure you were receiving the level of help you needed. I didn’t try to find out what happened back at your old school, and I thought I was respecting your privacy, but now I’m beginning to worry that it seemed as if I didn’t care and I––”

“Papa,” Eliza whispered. “No. I always knew you cared.” And it was true, she realized. A part of her always knew that and always would.

So why do I feel like nobody cares? Or nobody should care?

Before she could say anything else, he engulfed her in a hug. He was openly sobbing, and Eliza found that she couldn’t hold back her own tears any longer.

“We’re going to get you help, sweetheart. You’re going to feel better. It’s gonna be okay.” He stroked her hair as he reassured her, though she felt like, really, he needed the reassurances just as much, maybe even more, than she did.

“Okay,” she whispered. Because that was all she could say. That was all she could manage.

Okay.

“I’m going to make some calls, and I want you to be a part of this. I want you to have choices, Eliza, but you also need to know that we’re going to have to choose a place with an opening coming up soon.”

What?

Her heart dropped into her stomach. So the conversation in the school counselor’s office hadn’t been just talk. This was real. They were sending her away.

“I-I don’t need––”

“Eliza.” He placed a hand on her shoulder and stared into her eyes. Brown eyes, just like mine. “You do, and it’s okay. It won’t be forever, and it’s going to help you get better.”

She swallowed hard. She knew there was no talking her father out of this, so she nodded.

Just gonna waste more of their money, huh?

Her father opened up a few tabs, each with different private hospitals. He motioned her over, let her take the mouse and scroll through them for a moment.

They all said similar things, like Safe, structured environment conducive to helping your teen heal, or Individualized treatment plans or Proud to be empowering teens through their recoveries. But there was one in particular that caught Eliza’s eye: ...a focus on nature and healing, complete with outdoor studies and hikes around our 100+ acres property…

“This one,” she said.

Her father scanned the page, a small smile on his face. “You do love the outdoors.” He pulled out his cellphone and called.

After a surprisingly brief phone call, he hung up and turned to his daughter. “We leave in three days,” he said.

Eliza nodded.

In three days, she was going to the Pine Manor Treatment Center.

Chapter Text

One Week Later

 

Alexander stood between Martha and George, staring up at a tall office building. George placed a hand on his shoulder.

“You ready, son?”

Alex swallowed hard. He wanted to say no. He wanted to run away. But he couldn’t do either. Martha and George had worked hard to get him this appointment so quickly. This will be good, Alex, Martha had reassured him the night before.

“Yeah,” he said uncertainly.

They walked into the building and up a large, mahogany staircase with a plush red carpet down the center. As Alex’s hand skimmed the railing he couldn’t help but gawk at how utterly fancy the entire building was. Once they reached the second floor they passed a contractor’s office and a real estate office before rounding the corner to a glass door with the name Dr. Warren: Psychiatrist etched onto it.

Alex stopped in front of the door, his eyes wide.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Martha said. She opened the door for him.

Alex stepped in, and George directed him and Martha to a small waiting room to the left while he went up to the secretary’s desk. Martha placed a hand on Alex’s shoulder and walked him into the waiting room. She tried to make small talk, but Alex couldn’t focus on any of it.

George entered the room with a clipboard, which he and Martha filled out for the most part. Alex was grateful that they handled it, only asking him questions like “any allergies?” every once in a while. Soon the secretary entered and took the clipboard. She looked it over, then looked at Alexander.

“The doctor is ready for you now. You can follow me.” She offered him a cheery smile, but Alex felt certain she could see the terror in his eyes.

He looked at Martha and George, silently pleading with them to come with him.

“We’ll be in soon, sweetie,” Martha said. “The doctor wants to talk to you alone first.” She squeezed his hand.

Alexander nodded and followed the woman down the hall to another open door. The first thing he saw was a bunch of leafy green plants on shelves along the wall, the sun pouring in on them. The second thing he saw was a man with curly grey hair and kind grey eyes. He stood and held his hand out to Alex.

“I’m Dr. Warren,” he said. He shut the door and gestured for Alexander to take a seat. “You must be Alexander Hamilton?”

“Yeah,” Alex said.

“It’s great to meet you, Alexander.” When he smiled the skin around his eyes crinkled in a way that told Alex this man smiled often. For some reason, that set him just a bit at ease.

“You can call me Alex,” he said softly.

“Great, Alex it is.” He took a seat in the swivel chair and looked over some papers, a notebook open and pen in hand. “So,” he began.

Great, just another doctor who wants my sob story.

He set the papers down on his desk and looked at Alexander. “How’re you liking New York, Alex?”

The question took the boy off-guard, but in a good way. For the first time since getting in the car that morning, he smiled. “It’s cold,” he said.

Dr. Warren nodded. “It sure is. I’m originally from Boston, but it’s not much warmer there.”

“I wanna go there someday,” Alex said.

“You’ll love it,” Dr. Warren said. “I can tell you the best places to eat at sometime.”

“I’d like that,” Alex smiled.

Dr. Warren smiled his crinkly, wrinkly happy smile again. “Well, I guess we should get down to business,” he said with a stage sigh.

Alex laughed. This guy’s not so bad.

“So, your foster mom said you’ve been having panic attacks?”

Alex squirmed under the gaze of Dr. Warren’s grey eyes. “Yeah,” he squeaked.

He nodded. “How long has that been going on, would you say?”

Since I watched my village die. Since I heard the screams, saw the bodies of my neighbors and friends. Since wind and rain was forever ruined for me.

“Since I was about fourteen.”

“That’s a long time,” he remarked. “Two years of panic attacks?”

“Yeah.” Alexander shrugged like it was no big deal.

“You’re a strong kid,” Dr. Warren said as he jotted something down. “So when you’re panicking, what do you feel? Let’s start with what you feel physically?”

“Okay.” Alex swallowed hard. “Um, I guess I get kind of clammy? Like my hands are sweaty, and cold, and I start shaking, and it’s hard to take a deep breath, like, I uh, feel like I can’t breathe?”

Alex took a shaky breath. He did not want to have a panic attack in front of Dr. Warren.

“That sounds scary,” Dr. Warren said. “Can you tell me a bit more? How long does this last? How does the not being able to breathe feel specifically?”

“Uh, well, it feels like my throat closes up and I can’t take a deep breath? Like I… just… can’t. I, uh, guess I hyperventilate a bit sometimes? And, um, it lasts like… twenty minutes maybe? But I still feel pretty bad after,” he said.

“Absolutely. Panic attacks, and anxiety in general, are tiring.”

“Yeah,” Alex said with a nervous laugh.

“And your foster parents mentioned you’ve been feeling depressed, too. Can you tell me a bit about that?”

Alex shrugged. “Uh, I just have a lot of… dark thoughts, I guess?”

Dr. Warren wrote something down. “What are the thoughts about?”

Don’t tell him. He’ll think you’re a stupid crybaby.

“Uh, I, uh…” His throat started to feel tight. “They’re just… bad.”

You’re so stupid. You can’t even talk.

“Are the thoughts about yourself?” Dr. Warren prompted.

“Oh, yeah,” Alex said, relieved to be able to answer a question.

“Would you say you feel worthless?”

“Yes,” he said softly.

“Hopeless?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Do you feel sad sometimes?”

“Yes, but sometimes…” He cut himself off. He’ll think you’re a freak!

“Sometimes what?” Dr. Warren prompted, his voice gentle.

“Numb,” Alex whispered. You monster with no feelings.

Dr. Warren nodded. “That’s very common with depression.”

“It is?” Alex was surprised. He thought depression was all sadness. I might not be a monster?

“Oh yes,” Dr. Warren said. He wrote a few more things down before looking back up at Alex. “Well, how about we call in your foster parents? We can all chat about the best course of action from here.” He smiled his crinkly smile again and Alex felt much more at ease.

Alex nodded, breathing a sigh of relief.

Martha and George came down the hall a few moments later and took a seat on each side of Alexander on the couch. He felt surrounded–– warm–– in a strange, but good, way.

Dr. Warren and the Washingtons talked for a bit, and then the topic turned to medication.

“I know that’s why you came to see me today, to see if there’s a medication that might help Alex in conjunction with the psychotherapy he’s currently receiving.”

“Yes,” Martha said. “Do you think that’d be a good idea?”

Dr. Warren nodded. “I think that’d be an excellent idea. He looked at Alex. “I think medication could really help you start to feel better, or at least make your symptoms more manageable. Are you open to trying it?”

Alexander thought of what it would be like, taking medication. He always thought that if he ever had to, he’d feel bad about it, so he was surprised to find he didn’t. He felt relieved.

I’m finally going to feel better.

“Yeah,” he said. “I am.”

Martha squeezed his hand.

Alexander could hardly believe it–– he was getting help. His struggles were being taken seriously. For the first time in a long time, he felt the beginnings of hope growing within.

Chapter Text

Alexander stared at the little capsule resting in the palm of his hand.

Don’t do it, the voice said. Don’t rip us apart. You need me. Who will you be without me?

Alex closed his fist around the pill and took a deep breath.

“Okay, let’s get you started on a low dose, see how your body reacts, and we can take it from there?” Dr. Warren’s voice echoed in his mind.

“I’m proud of you, son.” He felt the phantom of George’s hand firmly clasping his shoulder.

“You’re so brave.” Martha’s flowery perfume hovered in the air above him.

Alexander closed his eyes.

Don’t do it, don’t do it, dontdoit––

“Mon ami?” Lafayette’s voice sounded from the other side of the door as he knocked. “May I enter?”

Alex wanted to say no, but he couldn’t. Not to Laf. “Sure,” he squeaked.

“You left this on the counter downstairs, mon ami,” Laf said, holding a glass of water in his hand.

“Oh, right,” Alex said. “Uh, thanks.” He took the glass from Laf.

“Mon ami, I think I know what is, how you say, going on.”

Alexander rolled his eyes. He knew Lafayette well enough by now to know that not all of his how you say ’s were genuine. “What would that be?”

Lafayette sat down on Alex’s bed and looped an arm over his foster brother’s shoulder. “There is no need to fear medication, mon ami, or to feel ashamed for taking it.”

Alex swallowed hard. How did Laf know exactly what he was thinking, feeling?

“But––”

“Non, Alexander,” Lad said. He put a finger to Alex’s face, shushing him. “Non. Mental illness is the same as physical illness, mon ami. They are both illnesses.”

Alex nodded. He unfurled his fist and stared at the capsule. He slowly brought his hand to his face, then tossed the pill in his mouth, following it with a swig of water. He held it there for a second, feeling it float around, and then he swallowed.

Lafayette hugged him so tightly that he swore the pill was going to fly up out of his mouth. “You did it, mon ami! I’m so proud of you!”

Alex couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks, Laf.”

“That’s what brothers are for,” Laf said. He pulled Alex down onto the bed and wrapped himself around the smaller boy like an octopus.

“Wh-what are you doing?” Alex stammered, trying his best not to laugh.

“How you say, sleeping?” Laf retorted. “My room is too far away.”

Alex laughed. “Fine, fine. But let’s at least get under the covers.”

Lafayette sprang up, a smile on his face. “Oui oui!”

The two boys dove under the covers and fell asleep tangled together, warm and safe, smiles fading from their peaceful faces.

Chapter Text

Lafayette awoke to the sun hitting his face in a different way than it usually did. He blinked a few times before realizing the warm mass next to him was Alexander, and that he was in the other boy’s bed, his arm around Alex’s waist. He smiled, content to watch his foster brother’s face, his features made peaceful by sleep and what Laf hoped were pleasant dreams.

Trying his best not to disturb Alex, he reached his free arm up above his head and groped around for his phone, eventually finding it, grateful to see it still had 30% battery after a night off its charger.

Two messages from Hercules Muscleman <3 ;)

Snapchat from Herc

Snapchat from Herc

BBC News Alert: GOP Health Care Bill Fails Miserably

Snapchat from J-Lau

One message from Adrienne de Noailles

Snapchat from Herc

He scanned all of his notifications, unsure of which to open first, but ultimately settled on the messages from Herc because, when it came down to it, Herc always came first.

(12:03 am) Hercules Muscleman <3 ;): hey babe u up?

(1:27 am) Hercules Muscleman <3 ;): call me in the morning? nothing urgent, don’t worry babe. night french fry <3

Lafayette looked at the time 7:09 am. It was a Saturday, and normally he wasn’t even up at this hour, but he and Alexander had fallen asleep rather earlier the night before. He wanted to call Herc right away, but he didn’t want to wake his boyfriend, especially if he’d gotten to bed quite late, and he didn’t want to disturb Alexander just yet. Lord knew the boy needed all the sleep he could get.

So Laf opened up Snapchat and clicked the red square next to Herc’s name. The first image was of his younger sisters with flour all over their faces and in their hair. The caption read never a calm night at the Mulligan house. The second image was of the cookies they must have been baking. They looked a bit darker than they were supposed to be. too burnt to be turnt, the caption read. The final image was of Herc’s cat, curled up on his napping younger brother.

Laf opened up John’s snap next. He nearly lost it when the image of him and Alex filled the screen. When they have a sleepover without u , the caption read. Laf took a picture of Alex, still sleeping soundly, and wrote always room for u, mon ami! ;)

He then snapped Herc a picture of Alex, the edge of Laf’s face in one corner of the screen. Mon ami is finally sleeping and I’m hostage, he wrote.

He closed out of snapchat and was about to put his phone down to get a bit more sleep when he noticed the red one on the Messenger app. Adrienne! He quickly opened it. They’d been talking pretty often over the past few weeks, the conversation turning away from her arranged marriage to their daily lives. She often sent him pictures of Paris, which he cherished. He loved America, he loved New York, but he missed France, he missed Paris. And he’d missed writing in French more than he knew.

Gilbert!

We read The Importance of Being Earnest in my playwriting class this past week and I loved it! Have you read this play? The author is buried here in Paris, too, so my friend and I took a trip after classes one day to find his grave. I do not know what cemeteries are like in the States, but this one is very old and large and everything is quite close together. But we found his headstone, which is covered in kisses! My friend didn’t want to leave a kiss, she thought it was odd and gross, but I left one, even though you can no longer kiss the stone directly, but only the glass they’ve placed in front of it. Then I left one more, for you, since I think you will love his work if you haven’t read it already.

How is your brother doing? I hope he is well! I would very much like to meet him, and your parents, some day. And I of course would love to see you again. It has been so long!

With love,

Adrienne

He grinned and reread the message a few time. Adrienne seemed like such a happy person, content in her fate. If he’d learned anything about her over the past few weeks it was that she kept living in the moment, no matter what was awaiting her in the future.

He was about to type out a response when Alexander began to whimper. The boy twitched, his peaceful face contorting in what was either pain or fear, or maybe both. Lafayette was frozen for a moment, only Alex’s murmured French pleas to stop, stop, please stop, snapping him out of his shock and into action.

“Mon ami,” he said, shaking Alex’s too-small body.

Alexander gasped, his eyes opening. He flew upright, his breathing labored, his eyes darting around the room. He pulled his knees up to his chest and buried his face there, avoiding Laf’s concerned gaze.

“Mon ami?” Laf asked quietly. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Alex shook his head no. Laf nodded, even though the other boy wasn’t looking at him.

“Come here, Alexander,” he said softly.

It took a moment, but Alex unfurled just long enough to curl up in Laf’s embrace. Laf tried not to notice the wet spot that was growing on his chest, or the way Alex’s body gently shook as he cried. Laf just ran a hand through Alex’s hair and held him tightly with the other one.

Soon, they both drifted back to sleep. Lafayette’s phone was wedged under his pillow, still set to silent, so he missed Hercules’ phone call.

And the next one. And the next.

Chapter Text

When Alexander awoke Lafayette was snoring next to him, an arm looped around Alex’s stomach. Alex smiled, Laf’s warmth making him feel safe; making him never want to get out of bed.

Moving as slowly as he could, he grabbed his phone from the nightstand, relieved to see Laf hadn’t stirred at all in the process.

Snapchat from Babe<3

Snapchat from Babe<3

Snapchat from Herc

Snapchat from Babe<3

Snapchat from Herc

Snapchat from Baguette

He was about to open John’s snaps when he heard a muffled buzzing coming from Laf’s side of the bed. He snuck his hand under the pillow and fished out Laf’s phone. Herc’s picture filled the screen, and Alex couldn’t help but roll his eyes at the fact that Laf had chosen a shirtless picture of Herc as his ID.

He shook Laf awake. “Laf,” he grumbled. “Your boyfriend is calling.”

“Huuuuuuh,” Laf mumbled, turning so his face was in the pillow.

Alex rolled his eyes again and answered, figuring he’d just tell Herc that Laf was still asleep, or at least not awake enough to form a coherent word, let alone sentence.

“It’s Alex,” he said with a yawn.

“Alex?” Herc was understandably surprised. “Where’s Laf?”

“Asleep. Next to me,” he said. He blinked a few times and the world came into clearer view. He heard a strange beeping sound from the other end of the phone. “Herc? Where are you?”

“Is Laf awake yet?”

Alex frowned. “Uh…” He looked at Laf, whose face was still in the pillow. “Not really. What’s going on?”

Hercules sighed. “I’m at the hospital.”

“THE HOSPITAL?” Now Alex was really awake, and so was Laf.

Laf sprang up and started babbling in French before he grabbed the phone from Alex. He started to speak French into the phone, but even Alex could hear Herc saying “English, Laf! English!” After that Herc’s voice was a distant murmur. Alex’s eyes were glued to Laf. He tried to detect even the slightest change in the other boy’s facial expression in his attempt to determine what had happened to Herc.

Laf hung up a few moments later and dropped back onto the bed, letting his phone roll out of his hand and thud to the floor.

“Well?” Alex said.

“It was his sister. She had a, how you say, allergic reaction, to something in the cookies they made.”

“Is she okay?”

Laf took a deep breath. “Oui, her throat was closing up but they, how you say, stopped it.” Laf turned his back to Alex. “But now my dear Hercules thinks it is all his fault, but not even her parents knew about the allergy.”

“He’s gotta understand that, right?” Alex squeaked.

Laf shrugged. “And I am the worst boyfriend in the world, mon ami. I should have called him back this morning. He said it was nothing urgent, but I should have known.”

Alex could hear the tears in Laf’s voice. “You didn’t know, Laf, just like Herc didn’t know. And you aren’t a mindreader.”

Lafayette just shrugged again. “I should have called,” he repeated.

Alex wasn’t sure what to say. Nothing I say is working, he thought.

That’s because you’re terrible at helping people, a voice said.

Before Alex was gripped by the voice, there was a knock on the bedroom door.

“You guys awake?” It was John.

“Oui,” Laf called, his voice cracking.

John opened the door and poked his head in, then jumped onto the bed with them. He stared at Lafayette, then Alex. “What’s wrong with him?” He pointed to Lafayette.

“He thinks he’s a bad boyfriend,” Alex said, grateful John, who’d known Laf for much longer, was there to help. Alex filled John in on what had happened, and John immediately started to help.

“Laf, that’s ridiculous,” he said. “Herc said in the text it wasn’t urgent. You didn’t call because you didn’t want to wake him up early, not because you don’t care.”

“What if he secretly hates me now?” Laf mumbled.  

“Laf,” John placed a hand on Laf’s shoulder and rolled the other boy over so he was facing him. “If there is one thing you know better than any of us about Hercules Mulligan it is that he always speaks his mind.”

Alex was surprised to see Laf actually blush at these words.

“Ah, see, you can’t deny it,” John said. “Now how about you get up and we’ll go visit Herc and his family, okay?”

“Okay,” Laf said meekly.

“Why’d he blush like that?” Alex asked John once Laf had left the room.

John grinned. “Because it’s a reference to how Herc asked him out. We were in the cafeteria, this was our sophomore year, and Laf was feeling less than confident about his outfit choice for the day because it was some off-the-shoulder shirt, and Herc just goes ‘Laf, you know I always speak my mind, and damn, you fine, and, if I could, I’d make you mine.””

John and Alex both burst into a fit of giggles.

“I hear you, mes amis!” Laf hollered from his room down the hall, only making them laugh harder.

Alex was taking a deep breath, trying to calm himself, when he found himself staring into Laurens’ eyes. He smiled, and John smiled back. Just like that, he knew Laf and Herc really were fine.

Chapter Text

John sunk into bed, his eyelids heavy. They’d had a full, busy day with Herc and his siblings at the hospital, but it’d been fun. Spending so much time around little kids made him miss Mary Eleanor even more than usual.

Soon we’ll be together again, once Mom finds a place to move into while the divorce is underway.

He missed James, too, but he never allowed himself to think about that. To think about how James would have been in eighth grade now. How mary Eleanor would have had two older brothers. How James never even got to learn long division, had barely learned multiplication.

Why am I thinking about math?

It was strange, the things his mind gravitated toward. But as he fell asleep, he couldn’t erase the image of James, his mop of brown curls, his sparkling grey eyes, head bent in concentration over a worksheet.

It’s the small things. The small things I took for granted. The small things he’ll never have.

***

John was driving. It was dark–– the road had no streetlights, no houses or businesses to offer any sort of light, and his high beams could only illuminate so much. The road was long and winding. There were open fields filled with wildflowers, swaying in the night’s gentle breeze under a starry, moonless sky. There was the occasional tree, a rabbit or two nibbling at some grass at the side of the road. If there hadn’t been something inherently eerie about it, John was certain he would have found it peaceful.

James was strapped into the passenger seat. His limbs were lanky and awkward, his round face dotted with acne. A pair of dark glasses was slipping down his nose. He was smiling, moving in the most uncoordinated manner to the beat of the pop song blasting on the radio. John couldn’t help but smile at him.

Something is not right, a voice told John. But John ignored it. He hadn’t seen James in so long. Why had it been so long? Why could he not get enough of his little brother in this adolescent form?

“I’ve never heard this song before,” James said, his voice still high and boyish.

John furrowed his brow. “But it’s on like every station. How’d you miss it, little dude?”

“We don’t exactly keep up to date with songs, you know. Up there, I mean.” He nodded toward the ceiling of the car.

A shiver raced down John’s spine.

“Wh-what do you mean?”

“I mean we can , but time is different there. I don’t pay new music much attention.” He shrugged.

John shook his head. Whatever James was talking about, it made no sense. But he was just a kid, so John decided to take it with a grain of salt. Kids said weird things all the time.

Headlights suddenly sped over the horizon, but they were still a good ways down the road. John was grateful for the extra bit of light, but James was suddenly too still and silent.

“Hey, John?” he said.

“Yeah?” His tone worried John.

“It’s almost time for me to go again. You know I’m, okay, right? That I’m happy?”

“Go where?” John couldn’t keep that edge of panic out of his voice.

“Home,” James said.

The other car was getting closer. John could see it was a man driving it.

“Well yeah, we’re both going home,” John said slowly.

James laughed, but there was a mournful tinge to it. “No, only I am. I love you, John. I’ll see you again soon.”

Before John could say anything, the other car swerved out of its lane, and everything was bright.

***

John awoke to screaming and was confused before he realized it was coming from him. Martha burst through the door first, quickly followed by George who was carrying Laf’s old little league baseball bat. Lafayette and a bleary-eyed Alexander toppled in next.

John panted, his eyes darting from one person to the next.

James? James? Where is James?

He hadn’t realized he’d spoken aloud until Martha was next to him, rubbing comforting circles onto his back.

“Shh, sweetie,” she whispered. “Shhh. It was just a dream.”

“James,” John muttered. Images of a funeral came to him. Of a closed casket. Of roses piled on top of a coffin. “James,” he said, sadness coloring the name.

“Shh, there there,” Martha said. “Do you want me to call your mom?”

John shook his head. “Sorry to wake you,” he said after a moment.

“Don’t be silly, John. I’ll stay as long as you need.”

He felt the bed shift on his other side and suddenly Alexander was next to him, a small arm looped around his waist. “So will I,” he said.

Martha smiled. “I think you’re in good hands,” she said. “Should I go?”

Part of John wanted her to stay. She was comforting, loving. She reminded him a bit of his mom, especially before James was killed. But he’d already woken her and kept her up. George and Laf had trickled out of the room at some point, and John could only imagine how tired Martha was.

“I’m okay. Thank you, Mrs. Wa–– Martha,” he said.

She kissed him on the forehead. “Wake me any time, John. I mean it.” With that she left, gently shutting the door behind her.

Alex wrapped himself around John, and John found himself sinking back down, a willing prisoner to Alex’s loving grip. Alex kissed his cheek, then the tip of his nose.

“Are you okay?” he asked softly.

John wasn’t sure why, but the question made him cry. Not just cry, but sob so hard he was silent. Until he wasn’t. Until he was heaving for air, and Alex was holding him, rocking him back and forth, whispering to him, dotting his face with a tissue. John could barely comprehend any of it, but he could feel Alex all around him. He could feel the safety the small boy radiated.

And he could feel James, watching over him from some distant cloud, begging him not to be sad.

John eventually fell asleep with his head tucked between Alex’s head and shoulder, tears drying on his freckled face.

Chapter Text

As much as he knew James would want him to feel otherwise, John Laurens was sad. Or, no. John Laurens was depressed.

In class he glanced at where Eliza usually sat and he felt just as empty as her seat. He sat with his friends at lunch and he knew he ate, but he didn’t feel, let alone taste, the greasy french fries as they passed his lips. He curled up with Alex at night as the smaller boy read. John pretended to read, but he couldn’t comprehend a word. He was grateful Alex didn’t seem to notice how rarely he flipped a page in the book.

The thoughts that had always haunted him were back and louder than ever before. They always worsened after he thought of James, and dreaming of him seemed to make them even stronger than before.

Die, die, die, the voice said.

John tried to ignore it, but he was so tired, so worn down, that he couldn’t fully block it out. In the past, he’d agreed with it. He’d agreed when it told him he was worthless, a mistake, undeserving of anything nice or good. He’d agreed when it told him to die.

But now, as hollow as he was, he did not agree.

I like being alive, he found himself thinking. The thought shocked him at first. Since when had he come to enjoy being alive? And how could he when he couldn’t even feel joy at the moment?

I know being alive is good. I want it.

He’d believed these thoughts alone would end the hollowness, but they didn’t. They only confused him more.

“Mon ami,” a far-off voice said. “Mon ami?”

A hand landed on John’s shoulder and shook him. He snapped his head up and found Laf staring at him, his brown eyes wide with concern. They were sitting in the Washington’s living room. George and Martha had taken Alex to one of his numerous appointments, leaving just John and Laf at the house. John blinked a few times before he realized Laf was talking to him.

“––about you, mon ami,” he said.

“What?” John asked, rubbing his head. It felt heavy and ached, even though he had no idea why.

“I’m worried about you,” Laf repeated.

“I’m just tired,” John lied.

“How you say, bullshit,” Laf deadpanned.

John shook his head. “I don’t know why I feel this way,” John said with a sigh. “Everything is getting better, like, I’m out to my parents and Mom accepts me. Mom is leaving Dad so I don’t have to worry much about him and his backwards views anymore. I have great friends and an amazing boyfriend.”

“But?” Laf prompted.

“But I’m so fucking depressed,” John said. He looked down at his hands in his lap. And I’m so ashamed of it. I have no reason to feel this way anymore. He bit back those words.

“Depression is not magically cured by your life changing, mon ami,” Laf said gently.

“But it should be,” John countered. He leapt off the couch and started to pace around the room. “Like Eliza. She’s got a reason. Alex has a reason. Me? No reason. Not anymore.”

Lafayette grabbed John by the wrist, halting him. “It’s an illness, mon ami,” he said.

“I’m so empty,” John whispered.

“Non,” Laf said. He stood and wrapped John in a hug. “You are not empty, mon ami. You may feel empty, but you are not empty.”

They stood like that until some of the tension melted from John’s shoulders, then they curled up on the couch. Laf put on Say Yes to the Dress and the two boys tried to guess which dress the bride would choose in the end, though John suspected Laf always won because he’s already seen most of the episodes. It didn’t matter, though.

Die, the voice told him.

Instead, John smiled. I rather like being alive.

Chapter Text

 

John Laurens sat on his bed at the Washington’s and stared into space. He had just gotten off the phone with his mom and was still having trouble processing what she’d told him.

I’m coming this weekend to pick you up, Jacky, okay? We can be a family again. You, me, and your sister. Doesn’t that sound nice?

And it did. It was what he wanted, right? It had to be what he wanted.

So why do I feel so awful? he asked himself.

He could feel himself slipping away. He could feel himself leaving his body, his mind. He gripped his phone tightly in his hands and focused on the cool feel of the glass screen. He focused on how sweaty his hands had grown from gripping it so hard. He focused on the ticking of his watch and forced his eyes to focus on the window, the tree limbs swaying gently in the breeze.

It’s not working.

He took a shaky breath. He could feel all of the emotions he usually repressed bubbling up. He took another shaky breath.

It’s. Not. Working.

His phone dropped to the floor making a loud bang, but he could barely hear it. He was up, off his bed, at his dresser. He tossed tank tops and t-shirts out of his top drawer, looking, searching.

You’re going to have to pack all of these up soon, anyway.

He tore through his jean and sweatpants, sending them flying over his shoulders and onto his bed.

Better get out your suitcase. Mom will be here in three days.

He finally reached his underwear and socks, still frantically throwing them out of the drawer, looking, searching for what he knew Laf had secretly looked through his room for at one point, but John was smart, smart enough to hide one well and the rest poorly, to make Laf think he had them all, to make it seem like Laf had won when really, really––

He felt the cool metal and exhaled, nearly sobbing in relief as he did. He sank back onto the floor and looked at the blade, its silver gleaming in the afternoon sunlight.

“Mon ami?” there was a knock on his door.

John dropped the blade in surprise, his mouth open, but no words coming out.

“John?” Laf tried again.

John wanted to say something, but his throat wouldn’t allow any sound to rise through it.

“I’m coming in,” Laf said. The door swung open.

John was frozen.

Laf surveyed the mess John had made of his room. “Mon ami, what the, how you say, hell happened in here?”

“My mom called,” he mumbled.

Laf raised an eyebrow at John. “What exactly did she say? Destroy your wardrobe?”

“Very funny.” John rolled his eyes.

“But really, mon ami, what did she say?” Laf sat on John’s bed and John rose to join him.

“She’s coming to pick me up this weekend. She got an apartment for me and my sister and her.”

“Oh,” Laf said quietly. “And you are not pleased?”

“No, I am, I just…” he sighed and flopped back onto the bed.

“You will miss us?” Laf said with a grin.

“I’ll miss you, how you say, a bit,” John said mockingly.

Laf stuck his tongue out. “Hilarious, mon ami.” He stared at John for a moment too long. “You know you always have a place here, oui?”

John felt his freckled cheeks flush a deep red. “Ye-yeah,” he muttered, looking away. “Okay.”

“Because you do, John Laurens. Always.” Laf leaned down and kissed John on the forehead.

“O-okay,” John said, now truly flustered.

“We should clean up, non?”

“Oh, uh––”

Shit shit shit.

“I–– I got it, Laf, really, it’s––”

“Mon ami! Non! Nonsense! I shall help.”

“Really, Laf, it’s fine. I can––”

Laf glared at John. “Shut your freckled face, John Laurens. I am helping you.” He stuck his nose up in the air and John knew the battle was truly lost.

He watched helplessly as Laf began picking up shirts and socks. He heard the click of metal hitting the floor.

“John,” Lafayette said. He stared at the floor, silent.

John knew what he was looking at.

“How did you get this?” Laf asked. He dropped the clothes and slowly bent down to pick it up. He stared at the small blade as if he’d never seen one before. “I thought…” He shook his head.

“I’m sorry,” John mumbled, looking down at the blanket spread over his bed. “I… I didn’t, you know…”

“Well that’s good,” Laf sighed. “But mon ami. Why did you keep it?”

John looked up at Laf and saw the pure confusion on his face. John felt tears welling up in his eyes, but he couldn’t look away from his friend’s face.

“Because,” he said, his voice breaking, “I need to know it’s there. For if things get to be too much.”

“But Alexander and I are here!” Laf said. “I do not understand, mon ami. When you were alone, with Henri,” he said, pronouncing John’s father’s name in French, “then I understand. But now? I thought…”

“I can’t help it!” John shouted. “I thought you knew that. I thought you, you––” John clenched his eyes shut. “I thought you didn’t see me as the freak I am, but clearly I was wrong.”

“Mon ami,” Laf said, his tone softening. “Who ever said you were a freak?”

John felt the bed sink and he knew Laf was now sitting next to him. A hand enveloped his own.

“Just because I do not understand does not mean I think you strange.” He squeezed John’s hand. “I just… am ignorant?” He shrugged. “But I love you, John Laurens, and nothing will change that.”

John sniffled and nodded. “Sorry if I overreacted,” he said after a moment.

“Shush, you’re okay, mon ami.” Laf smoothed back John’s hair and pulled the smaller boy close to him. “I’m sorry I got upset. I just love you, mon ami, and hate to see you hurting.”

“It’s okay,” John said, his face buried in Laf’s chest.

Laf rocked John back and forth for a moment. “We need to tell Martha and George,” he murmured.

John shot out of Laf’s arms and stared at him. “But I didn’t do anything!”

“But you feel the need to, and that’s not okay,” Laf said slowly. “Please, mon ami. Please?”

John opened his mouth to reply, but before he could, there was a loud shriek from the other room. Both boys’ eyes widened, and at the same time they shouted: ALEX!

Chapter Text

“Son, son!” George cried, helpless.

Alexander cowered in the far corner of his room, arms protecting his head from the blows he imagined were to come. His scream nearly broke George’s heart.

Lafayette and John flew into the room, their eyes wide and questioning.

“I came in here with his medication and some water,” George said. “I must have frightened him?” The man not only sounded defeated, but looked it, too. His shoulders were slumped, his hands trembling ever so slightly.

Martha was the last to arrive on the scene. “What happened?” she asked breathlessly.

“I-I accidentally scared him.”

Martha worried her lip. “Boys, no offense, but leave. I’m going to talk to him.”

George set the pill bottle and glass of water on Alex’s nightstand. He lingered for a beat longer before following Laf and John out the door.

Martha slowly approached Alexander and knelt next to him. “Alex? Alex can you hear me?”

He made no sign that her words had penetrated his consciousness. In reality, he was far, far away from his bedroom at the Washington’s. He was back in the foster home where who he was had been seen as a crime. Where the father thought his fist could beat the bisexuality out of him. After each beating, the man had always brought Alex a cup of water and some advil, as if he were suddenly remorseful. Seeing George enter, pill bottle and water in hand, had sent Alexander back to the dimly lit rooms of that home; to the crumbling, moldy walls that his body had faced some of its worse abuse in. And he was still there. He was still there. He was still––

Alexander? A woman’s voice broke through. Can you hear me?

An angel? he thought.

It’s Martha. You’re safe. You’re so safe here, Alex. Can you come back to me?

Martha… He struggled to place her. There was no Martha in this home.

Breathe with me? The voice began to count to five, instructing him to breathe in, then out for five counts.

His lungs seemed to respond on their own. Slowly, the muddiness of panic drained from his mind. He felt a warm, comforting hand on his shoulder. He felt calmer. He felt…

“Alex?”

He blinked his eyes open and saw Martha sitting on the floor with him. He was curled up, his arms hugging his knees to his chest. He slowly unfurled. She smiled at him.

“Hey,” she said softly.

“Sorry,” he croaked.

Her smile faltered for a moment. “No need to apologize, sweetie,” she said. She stroked his hair. He was suddenly so tired. So, so tired. His eyes fluttered shut.

“I bet you’re exhausted, huh?” Even with his eyes shut, he could tell she was concerned. The worry saturated her voice.

“Sorry,” he whispered again.

“No need to apologize,” she repeated. “But you need to take your medication before you sleep.”

Her hand left his head and he felt the vibrations of her steps as she retrieved his medication.

“Open your eyes for a moment, sweetie?”

Two pills fell into his hand. He tossed them into his mouth and swallowed them down with the water Martha gave him. She then helped him off of the ground and into bed.

“Want me to stay for a bit?” she asked after she’d tucked him in.

Alexander ignored the voice that told him not to act childish as he nodded his head once.

“Then I will, sweetie.” She sat on the edge of his bed and gently ran a hand over his hair. “I’ll stay until you fall asleep.”

With Martha’s comforting presence, sleep soon claimed him, its sweet tendrils pulling him down into a welcoming darkness devoid of dreams, free from fear.

Chapter Text

Lafayette was sprawled across his bed while scrolling through Instagram. He smiled at Angelica’s #TBT post of her and her sisters as kids with ice cream smeared across their faces. The caption read Ah, the good ole days. Missing my sisters <3

He worried his lip. Anyone simply reading the caption would think Angelica was a bit homesick, missing her younger sisters, but Lafayette knew what she really wanted to say. She missed Eliza. It’d been over two weeks since anyone outside of the Schuyler family had seen or heard from Eliza. Angelica texted vague updates to the group chat on occasion, usually in the vein of Just talked to Eliza on the phone and she sounded chipper! or Eliza said she’s been sleeping better :)

The truth was that Eliza had very little contact with the outside world. Cut off from technology, right now it was her parents who visited her each weekend, but soon they would be joined by Angelica, who had only a week of her first year of college left.

Lafayette really wanted to go, too, but he was afraid of intruding on family time. All he could do was hope Eliza would be back–– and feeling better–– soon.

One new message from Adrienne de Noailles

Laf’s heart jolted at the notification. He swiped across the screen of his phone, brining up the message from Adrienne.

Dear Gilbert,

I have unexpected but fantastic news! Papa and I will be taking a vacation to the States very soon, during one of my breaks from school. We will be going to your New York City to see some shows on Broadway, visit Lady Liberty (whom we gifted to you all those years ago!), and do many other things, all of which Papa is carefully and happily planning.

Can I see you when we visit? Papa would also love to say bonjour to your parents. Perhaps we may arrange something? I will know more about when exactly we are expected to arrive shortly.

Oh, one final question. Is the coffee shop from F.R.I.E.N.D.S. a real place? Because it is my favorite American show and I want to go there if I can!

Adieu for now, with love,

Adrienne

Lafayette reread the message at least three times before jumping off of his bed and rushing downstairs to the kitchen, where his parents were seated at the table. In his excitement, he almost burst right in, but stopped himself at the last minute, their low murmurs giving him pause.

“... more severe than anyone thought, sweetie, not your fault…”

“...he’s, oh, I can’t stand to see how much pain…”

Laf’s breath hitched. He knew without a doubt that they were talking about Alexander. Ever since he’d started his new medication, he’d been having nightmares that were so awful he didn’t want to sleep at all. John’s impending departure from the Washington household was likely worsening these nightmares, as well, since it was usually John who brought comfort to Alex when he awoke screaming.

“... nightmares will go away after a few weeks…”

“... with him leaving tomorrow how will Alex…”

Lafayette slumped against the wall.

I cannot be selfish and interrupt them right now to ask for such a frivolous thing.

Then, a realization hit him: his parents had no idea that he’d sought and rekindled a friendship with Adrienne. Would they be upset with him? Would they jump to the (correct) conclusion that he’d found her name by snooping through his father’s papers? Would they be disappointed in him?

He was about to run back up the stairs when he heard chairs scraping across the tiled floor. George poked his head out at Laf.

“I thought I heard someone come downstairs,” he said with a smile.

If Laf hadn’t heard parts of his parents’ conversation, he was certain he would have missed the sadness in George’s eyes.

“Ah, oui, I wanted… a snack,” Laf said slowly. “But heard you and Mama talking and did not want to be a bother.”

“Very considerate of you, son.” George offered Laf a hand and pulled the boy up from the ground. “We’re done, though, so snack away.”

“Heh, oui, thank you.”

Lafayette blindly grabbed an apple and retreated to his room. He placed it on his dresser and flopped back onto his bed. He had no a clue what to do. Not about Adrienne, Alexander, John, Eliza, himself…

But as he reread Adrienne’s message, something settled within him. He felt calmer, happier. For that one moment, he was able to smile–– the reality of her message finally striking him.

Adrienne de Noailles was coming to New York.

Chapter Text

Peggy Schuyler missed her sister. Actually, she missed her sisters , but Angie was still a text away. Eliza? Eliza was radio silence. She refused to answer when Peggy called. Apparently, she also refused to answer when Angelica called, but that didn’t make it sting any less. And that didn’t make her try any less, either.

Peggy was in the middle of calling the center Eliza was at when Maria, Eliza’s old roommate, walked into the dorm room.

“Hey girl, wanna––” Maria began, but Peggy held a finger to her lips to shush her.

Maria smiled and rolled her eyes, but Peggy could see the worry in them. That day, weeks ago, played again in her mind.

Maria and Peggy sat atop a picnic table in the courtyard. Peggy swung her legs back and forth, watching the gold buckle on her black loafers glimmer in the sun. She crunched into her apple as Maria continued to talk.

“I’m just saying that maybe she needs time to be alone. It doesn’t mean she loves you any less. Eliza’s always been more solitary, anyway. Didn’t you say she spent most of her time wandering the forests behind your house as a kid?”

Peggy bit into her apple again as she nodded.

“Climbing trees and staying there for hours? Or getting lost in novels?”

Peggy nodded again. She refused to meet Maria’s eyes. She didn’t want the other girl to see the hurt that was there. It would only make her feel pity for Peggy, and that wasn’t what she wanted.

“There were days she barely said a word to me and we shared a room! It wasn’t anything personal. She’s just in her own world.” Maria shrugged. She turned to Peggy and placed a hand on her knee, putting a stop to her swinging leg.

“I think right now she needs to be in her own world, Pegs. She’ll come back to you eventually, I promise.”

That was three weeks ago now, and Eliza had yet to return to her. School was almost over, and soon Peggy would head home. Would Eliza allow her to join their parents on visits? Peggy was grateful Angelica would be the first to try, since she got out of school a few weeks before Peggy. Angelica seemed more equip to handle the rejection for some reason. She just had tougher skin, or at least acted like she did.

I’m sensitive. I’m weak.

Someone finally picked up the phone at the center.

“Hello, you’ve reached the girls’ floor of Pine Manor Treatment Center. This is Nabby speaking. How may I help you?”

“It’s Peggy Schuyler. Again,” she said with a nervous laugh.

She could practically hear the pity ooze through the receiver. “Peggy, hi, sweetie. I’ll go see if she’s up to a phone call tonight.” Nabby was too cheerful. Peggy swore she got more cheerful each time she called.

Probably because she knows you’ll be rejected.

Maria hovered over where Peggy was flopped onto her bed. There was pity in her eyes.

I wish everyone would stop pitying me.

“Wanna get dinner after this?” Maria whispered.

Peggy’s stomach growled and both girls stifled back a laugh.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Maria giggled.

Someone picked up the phone. “Hello?”

The words froze in Peggy’s mouth. This was not Nabby with her usual Sorry, sweetheart, she’s just not up to it tonight! This was her . This was Eliza.

“Hello?” Eliza repeated.

“Eliza?” Peggy’s voice cracked as she said her sister’s name.

Maria’s eyes widened. “Eliza?” she hissed.

Peggy nodded.

“Oh my god,” Maria said.

“Yeah, it’s me,” Eliza said. There was no laughter in her voice.

Peggy had so many things to say to her sister. Weeks of things. But, right now, only one phrase came to her. “I-I… I miss you, Liza.”

“Oh, Peggy,” Eliza said. She sounded a bit more like her sister this time, the sweetness evident in her voice.

“I really do,” Peggy whispered. She clutched the phone close to her cheek as if it could bring her closer to Eliza. “Will you let me see you in a few weeks? When I get out of school?”

“Of course I will, Pegs. I’m so sorry I haven’t talked to you.” Sweetness. Pure sweetness. This was her sister’s voice. This was her sister.

“Okay,” Peggy choked on a sob.

“Oh, Pegs, please don’t cry, I didn’t mean to make you cry,” Eliza said.

“Not your fault,” Peggy murmured into the phone.

“Yeah, it is. I ignored you, and I’m so sorry. It will never happen again, Pegs, okay?”

“Okay,” Peggy said, still crying.

Maria was next to her, rubbing soothing circles onto her shoulder and stroking her hair.

“I hope you can forgive me someday,” Eliza said.

“Of course I forgive you, silly,” Peggy said with a sad laugh.

“Thank you,” Eliza whispered.

“Have you talked to Angie?”

A beat of silence.

“No,” Eliza said.

“She misses you, too.”

“I know,” Eliza said. “It’s just really hard. I’m homesick and exhausted and hearing your voice is both the best thing ever and really painful because as soon as I hang up you’re gone again and I’m stuck here. Alone.”

Peggy didn’t know what to say at first. What could she say? She couldn’t tell Eliza they would text or email or snap each other because there was a no-technology rule. She could write her letters, but even those would take days to get there. Then she remembered.

The sisters were about to be separated for the first night ever. Angelica and Eliza were going on a sleepover, but Peggy, only four, was still too young to tag along. She stood by the doorway, teddy bear clutched to her chest, sniffling, as she had been all day.

“We’ll be back before you know it, Pegs,” Angelica said with a grin. “Enjoy having the room to yourself! Have a sleepover with your teddy.”

Eliza stared at Peggy for a moment. That distant look came over her older sister’s face–– she chewed her lip and her eyes glazed over, as if she were in another world. It was a look that meant she was thinking up something fun or creative or sneaky. It meant good things, fun things, were about to happen. Peggy loved that look.

“The moon is full tonight,” Eliza said. “Let’s look at it at the same time so we know we’re doing the same thing.”

“What time?” The pain of her sisters leaving was quickly forgotten now that she had something to look forward to. Something tangible, something that would bring them back together.

“8:30,” Eliza said. “Does that sound good?”

Peggy nodded her head eagerly before lunging into her sister’s arms.

When she looked at the moon that night, at exactly 8:30, she had no doubt Eliza was doing the same. And something warm came over her. Something that felt like safety, that felt like love.

“The moon,” Peggy said into the phone. “At 8:30 we’ll look at the moon.”

Silence.

Did she forget? Does she think it’s too childish?

A sob came through the receiver.

“You remember?” Eliza said, her voice ragged.

Tears came back to Peggy’s eyes. “Of course I do,” she said.

“The moon, at 8:30.”

“The moon at 8:30,” Peggy echoed.

“Tonight,” Eliza said as if she were in a trance.

“And every night. Every night until you’re home.”

“Every night until I’m home.”

Peggy smiled.

***

Peggy sat at the window of her dorm room and looked up at the stars. The chunky red letters of her digital clock read 8:30 . Her eyes locked onto the moon’s comforting glow.

Something warm, something comforting, washed over her. She knew Eliza was looking at the moon.

Chapter Text

John awoke to a heavy sadness pinning him to the bed.

This is the last morning I wake up in the Washington’s house , he thought. Stop being dramatic, he countered. There are always visits and sleepovers. This isn’t where you belong, and you know it. You’ve put them out long enough. You’re just a no good, worthless piece of––

John’s thoughts were interrupted by three sharp knocks on the door. He knew who it was right away.

Alexander.

“Come in,” he called out softly.

Alex opened the door and hovered there–– a storm cloud, lighting brewing in its gray depth, ready to strike whoever dared to get close; whoever dared to scoff at shelter.

“Come here,” John said.

I will always weather his storm .

Alex slid onto the bed next to John and crawled under the covers. He wrapped an arm around John’s torso and buried his face in John’s loose curls. John felt a dampness on his neck.

Alexander is crying–– and it’s all because of you.

John hugged his boyfriend close and ran a comforting hand through his hair. “Shh, I’m still gonna see you. I’m just going home, okay? We’ll talk and text and hangout all the time. We can have sleepovers, even, if you want me, that is, I didn’t meant to invite myself or––”

“I’ll always want you,” Alex whispered.

Tears now rolled down John’s cheek, too. The two boys fell asleep, and in their dreams, they were together–– the threat of separation evaporated into fluffy white clouds that rolled away and left their storm elsewhere. In their dreams, it never stormed again.

***

It was pouring. John stood in the Washington’s living room, his raincoat on, suitcase packed and waiting by the door. Alex stood next to him, their hands intertwined. Lafayette sat on the couch, muttering in French. Alex occasionally turned around to shush him, but eventually gave up since he was the only one who knew what Laf was saying, anyway.

A red sedan slowed to a stop before turning into the Washington’s circular driveway.

“Merde,” Laf said.

Even John knew what that meant.

“Shit’s right,” Alex agreed. His grip on John’s hand tightened.

“They are here,” Laf bellowed into the kitchen, where George and Martha were waiting. They’d decided to give the boys some privacy, so long as they called them as soon as John’s mother arrived.

Martha all but ran into the living room, her arms wide open. She gathered John in a tight hug. “You remember that you always have a place here, sweetheart. We’ve loved having you and we would love to have you again.”

When she released him, George placed a firm hand on John’s shoulder. “You’re always welcome in our home, John,” he said. He smiled at the boy before giving his shoulder a final squeeze.

Lafayette was next, muttering in French and English as he hugged John tightly.

“I’m not going away forever, I mean, I’ll see you at school,” John muttered.

“Oui,” Laf said. “But you will not be, how you say, nextdoor, any longer. I will have to text you,” Laf pouted.

John rolled his eyes. “The horror,” he said.

“Oui!” Laf exclaimed.

Alex got John last, while Martha and George stepped out to talk to John’s mother.

“Don’t go,” he whispered.

“I wish I could stay,” John said. “But my sister needs me.” He thought of his little sister, all alone save for their mother as her world was turned upside down. “And I think my mother does, too.”

Alex nodded. “I’m selfish,” he said, his voice small.

“No,” John said. He leaned down and kissed Alex on the lips. “You’re perfect.”

“John? John, are you ready?” his mother called from the foyer.

“Coming,” he said. He hugged Alex one last time. “I’ll text you as soon as I get settled,” he promised.

Alex nodded before he reluctantly let go of his boyfriend.

Walking out the door, his back to his boyfriend, was the hardest thing John had done in a very long time.

***

Five hours later, John had the apartment to himself. His mom and sister had gone out grocery shopping after insisting on making a cake to celebrate the family being reunited. So far, it was vastly different from life with his father. His mother was much happier, first of all. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen her genuinely smile, but she’d been doing so all day now, and it melted some of the ice that had gathered around his heart after he was forced to take leave of Alex and the Washingtons.

She also looked humbler, more like she had before his brother died. Her face, her voice, was softer. She had a warm glow to her, one that he hadn’t realized had been missing for so long until he felt its heat again.

I could actually get used to this , he thought. This isn’t going to be so bad after all.

The home phone rang.

Caller ID hadn’t been installed yet, and there was no way John was randomly answering the phone, so he let it go to the machine.

“Eleanor? It’s Henry. Answer the damn phone, Eleanor. Are you really going to let our son divide us like this? It’s a phase, Eleanor. He’s just being dramatic and he’s sucked you into it. Do you know how poorly this reflects on my image right now? How frivolous and selfish you’re being? Stop indulging him and come home.”

His father ended the call, a sharp click ringing through the line.

Stop indulging him. It’s a phase. He’s just being dramatic.

John took a deep breath. His father’s negativity was starting to overwhelm him, pulling him down, down into the still, murky depths of his sadness, of his self-hatred, of––

His cell phone chimed. It was a text from Alexander.

Alexander <333: I’m thinking of you. I miss you, baby <333

His father’s words faded, replaced by Alex. By Alex’s eyes glowing in the light of his laptop. By Alex’s smile, cautiously spreading across his face before entirely conquering it, laughter pouring out from somewhere deep inside him, mingling with John’s. By the warmth of Alex’s hand intertwined with his own.

John took a deep breath, held it for a moment, then slowly exhaled. He texted Alexander back. He looked out the window at his new neighborhood, a tidy apartment complex across town from his father’s house. John smiled.

He cannot take this away, John thought. This is something he can never take away. John looked down at the text from Alex and his smile widened. I will never, ever let him.

Chapter Text

“Alexander,” Dr. Harper said with a smile. “Please, take a seat.” She gestured to the blue couch. 

Alex perched on the edge of it. Even after two months of therapy sessions he still felt so unsure of himself there. He didn’t want to lean back, not just yet. He usually found that he’d get more comfortable part way through the session–– whether because she made him feel more at ease as time went on or because he got tired of holding himself he wasn’t sure.

Dr. Harper crossed her legs as she settled into the yellow armchair across from him. “So, Alex, let’s start with a medication check, hmm? How’s the increased dosage been going?”

Alex shrugged. “Fine, I think.”

She jotted something down. “How’s your energy level been?”

“I’m a bit more tired,” he admitted. “Like, around the middle of the day. It’s kind of annoying.”

“I can imagine,” she said. “When are you taking the medication?”

“Uh, with breakfast,” Alex said. Martha always placed the pill next to his cup of orange juice. He appreciated the routine of it. He also appreciated how it made him feel like she cared about him.

“Hmm, I wonder how taking it at night would go,” Dr. Harper wondered aloud.  

“Well, I haven’t been sleeping as well, so maybe it’d be helpful,” he said.

“Would you like to try that?” she asked.

He shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”

She smiled and wrote something else down. “Okay, let’s try that for about a week?”

“Okay,” he agreed.  

“And how has your mood been?”

“Uh,” Alex stammered.

She was silent, an encouraging look on her face. Alex knew she’d remain silent until he said something, so he cleared his throat and tried again.

“Uh, well, I guess I’ve been a bit sad,” he said.

“Did anything trigger it?” she asked gently.

He shrugged even though he knew exactly what triggered it.

It’s unfair of you to want to keep John to yourself. You know it’s best if he’s with his family yet you’re still too selfish to be happy for him. Why can’t you just be happy for him like a good––

“Alex? What’re you thinking about right now?”

Alex snapped his gaze upward, back to Dr. Harper. He hadn’t even realized it’d shifted downward toward his feet. “Oh, uh, John,” he said. A slight blush rose to his cheeks.

“What about John?” she prompted.

“He moved out this past weekend. He, uh, moved into a new apartment with his mom and sister.”

 “Is this a good thing?” she asked as she scribbled something onto her legal pad.

Alexander shrugged. “I think he’s happy.” 

“And what about you?”

“What about me?” he said.

“How does his leaving make you feel?” She looked up at him, and Alex knew she already knew the answer, but that he would still have to say it.

Alex looked down at his worn sneakers. “Sad,” he whispered.  

“It’s okay to feel sad,” Dr. Harper said gently. “Do you miss him?”

“So much,” Alex said. He sagged back against the couch and exhaled. “I feel so selfish.” 

“Why do you feel selfish?” Dr. Harper looked and sounded genuinely confused.

She’s just a great actress. She’s really thinking that, yeah, duh, you’re being selfish.

“Because it’s a good thing for him but I’m sad about it. I should be happy,” Alex said quickly.

“You can be happy for him and still sad about it. Does that make sense?”

“Um, maybe?”

“Okay, well, what I mean is on one level, you’re happy for your boyfriend because he’s in a good situation, right?”

“Yeah,” Alex nodded eagerly.

“But on the other hand, you’re sad for yourself because you miss seeing him more often, correct?”

“Yeah,” Alex said with less enthusiasm.

“You can feel these two things at once, Alex. Feeling sad, missing him, those aren’t bad feelings. There are no bad feelings,” she said.

Alex laughed. She smiled at him. That was once of her favorite sayings. There are no bad feelings.

“What would be bad is if you were hostile toward John, or mean and unsupportive about his move. Do you feel as if you’ve behaved like that at all?”

“No,” Alex said. “I would never be mean to him.”

 Dr. Harper smiled. “That’s what I thought.”

“So… it’s not selfish of me?” Alex asked.

“No,” Dr. Harper said, a tinge of sadness in her voice. “Not at all.”

“Okay,” Alex whispered. “Okay.” He decided to try his best to believe it.

Chapter Text

John Laurens pulled up in front of the Washington’s house at 7 pm. After two weeks of living with his mom and sister, he had to admit–– things were going much better at home than he expected. For one, his mom let him borrow the car that night. That alone was awesome, but what she let him borrow it for made it even better. Tonight, he and Alexander were going on a date.

“Here,” she’d said as she gave him the keys. “Treat Alex to the movie.” She handed him a twenty dollar bill and kissed him on the forehead. 

John wondered if he was dreaming. Never, not in all of his sixteen years, had he let himself imagine either of his parents being the slightest bit accepting.

“Thanks, Mom,” he said.

Now he’d parked the car in Alex’s driveway, the radio on low. He’d already texted Alex to let him know he was there, but hadn’t gotten a reply yet. Just as he was started to worry, his boyfriend emerged from the house in a forest green sweater that complimented his tan skin. Over the past few weeks, Alex had started to look better, healthier. He still had a long way to go, but the area under his eyes wasn’t as hollow anymore.

John’s heart fluttered as Alex walked toward him.

As his boyfriend got closer to the car, John noticed Alex was hiding something behind his back. He grinned at John as he opened the passenger side door, but didn’t get in. 

“Hey,” Alex said, a huge smile on his face.

“Hey,” John smiled back lazily. “What’ve you got there?”

Alex whipped a bouquet of flowers out from behind his back. They were red roses with baby’s breath interspersed between them. “For you,” he said.

“Alex,” John said. “These are beautiful. You shouldn’t have.” He reached out a trembling hand to take them.

Alex grinned harder. “I wanted to.” He climbed into the car and pulled the door shut, then leaned over the center console, his mouth brushing against John’s ear. “I wanted to do something nice for you.”  

John turned and kissed Alex long and hard. “You are the sweetest,” he said when he pulled away.

With that, he put the car in drive and headed off to the theatre.

 

***

 

“That movie was awesome,” Alex said as they walked out of the theatre, hand in hand.

“Yeah, it was pretty cool,” John agreed. “Hey, can I show you one of my favorite spots around here? When do you have to be home by?” 

“Ten,” Alex said. “So we’ve got about a half hour.”

“Perfect,” John said with a grin.

He tugged on Alex’s hand and the two boys sprinted through the parking lot, filling the night air with their bubbly laughter. John opened the passenger side door for Alex, and smiled to himself when he saw his boyfriend blush. He’d blushed when John paid for the tickets, too. Making Alexander blush was one of John’s favorite things.

They zoomed out of the parking lot and away from the theatre, into the dark of night. Soon they left all the street lights behind, the road turning more rural and suburban. Alex clung to the side of his door, nose pressed against the window. John could see his boyfriend’s wide eyes filled with wonder in the reflection. 

“Before you ask, no, I won’t tell you where we’re going,” John said. 

“Aw,” Alex said. But John could tell he liked the suspense, the surprise. John only hoped Alex would like the actual surprise as much as he enjoyed waiting for it.

A few minutes later, John pulled off the road near a field, the hood of his car directed toward the tall grasses swaying in the breeze. John popped his door open and jumped around to Alex’s side. He guided his boyfriend out and onto the hood of the car.  

“Look,” John said, pointing to the stars.

“Woah,” Alexander whispered. “They’re beautiful.”

They sat in silence for a moment, their fingers interlocked, only the sound of their breathing, the wind, and the crickets and peepers surrounding them and the stars.

“You know what this reminds me of?” Alex said after a moment.

“Hmm?”

“You.” His thumb was on John’s face, tracing his freckles. “You have constellations on your face, John Laurens, and I want to explore every single one of them.” 

John felt a blush spreading across his face as Alex leaned in, their lips brushing together, their warm breath melting into each other. In that moment, he knew what he had known deep down for the past few weeks, what he’d known, but previously had no words for: he was in love with Alexander Hamilton.

Chapter Text

Lafayette’s phone buzzed. Adrienne de Noailles , the Messenger notification read. He couldn’t hide his smile as he snuck his phone under the lunch table to read her text.

“Who’s that?” Herc asked. He tried to look at his boyfriend’s phone, but Laf tilted the screen. 

“Just Adrienne,” Laf said.

He didn’t know why he felt the urge to hide their correspondence from Herc. He didn’t know why he felt so guilty when he said just Adrienne. He didn’t know why his heart started to beat a bit faster every time he got a message from her. 

“Oh,” Herc said.

“French girl?” John asked from the other side of the table.

“Oui, my friend from how you say… kidhood?” Laf nudged Herc under the table.

“You know the word, you baguette!” John exclaimed. He threw a fry at Laf and the three boys laughed when it landed in his hair.

“Alex comes back tomorrow,” Laf said after a moment. 

The table fell silent.

“Mes amies?”

“Wow,” John said. “I–– I’ve been dreaming of this day.”

“Same, but no homo,” Herc said. 

“You’re dating a man ,” John said, throwing his hands up in the air.

Herc and Laf laughed, but Lafayette felt the pinpricks of guilt in his stomach.

Why do I feel guilty? I haven’t done anything wrong.

“Is he ready, like, mentally? I mean we know he’s ready academically,” Herc said.

Lafayette shrugged. “I hope so. It is he who insists. Mama and Papa were prepared to have him  simply come back next fall, clean plate and all that,” Laf said. 

“Clean slate,” John mumbled. 

“What?” Laf said.

“Not clean plate , Baguette. Clean slate .”

“If both are clean I do not see the problem?” Laf crinkled his eyebrows in confusion. “You Americans and your odd sayings,” he muttered.

“Clean slate or plate, Alex doesn’t want it?” Herc asked.

“Non, he wants to be back here now.”

“Can’t say I blame him,” John said around a mouthful of fries. “School is a good distraction. He’s probably been so focused on his health and recovering that he needs a break from it all.”

Laf nodded in agreement. He thought back to when he first arrived at the Washingtons, how school had been such a welcome diversion from the longing he had for his family, for his home, for his country. When he got sick with the flu in the first few months he was miserable, and not only because it was the flu, but because he was forced to stay home and ruminate on everything that was missing, on everything that was wrong.

He remembered Martha stopping in during her lunch hour on the third day he was sick to find him curled up on the couch sobbing.

“Why are you crying, sweetie?” She sat down next to him and felt his forehead. “Your medicine run out? I thought we had a few more hours on it, but let me check…”

She was about to get up when Laf grabbed her hand. “I miss her,” he said. “I miss Mama.”

“Oh, Gilbert,” Martha said. She opened her arms and the boy climbed into them. He held onto her as tightly as he could as he sobbed.

But that wasn’t all. It would have been nice for her to hold him, to let him cry, but of course Martha didn’t just do that. She cried, too. She cried with him, and there was something about his pain stirring her own that told him she cared. She really cared. She was not his mother–– no one could ever be–– but she loved him, and he realized he was starting to love her, too.

He was jolted from his reverie by his phone buzzing again.

“Reply,” Herc said with the wave of a hand. “No need to keep the girl waiting.”  

Lafayette could see the first line or so in the message’s preview: We have decided on dates for our trip! We will be arriving in JFK at…

 Laf pocketed his phone. “But I am with you,” he said to Herc. He kissed the tip of his boyfriend’s nose.  

“Gross,” John whined. 

“Homophobe,” Herc said. 

“I am dating a man!” John threw a fry at Herc. “You’re just rubbing your love in my face.”

 “Oh please, as soon as Alexander is back you two will be all over each other every minute you have together,” Herc teased.

 “Yeah, but he’s not here and your love for each other is making me miss him even more,” John said.

 “Tomorrow, mon ami,” Laf said. “Tomorrow.”

Laf did his best to focus on Herc and Laf, ignoring it when his phone vibrated yet again. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not push her entirely from his mind. His fingers itched to pull out his phone and reply to her, to talk with her, to laugh with her.

But he didn’t. He was with Herc.

I am with Herc .

Why, then, was she all he could think about?

Chapter Text

Alexander took a deep breath. The walls of the high school loomed in front of him. He was finally returning. He was finally going to spend the day with his friends–– yes, friends–– again. He was going to spend his days learning, reading, writing, solving math problems, getting into debates, watching John lose it over Laf’s horrible jokes at the lunch table.  

All he had to do was move. All he had to do was take one step forward. Then another, and another.

You can do this. One foot in front of the other. You can do this, Alexander.  

It was not his voice. It was not the voice. It was his mother’s voice.

Suddenly he was five again, and going to kindergarten for the first time…

Alexander clung to his mother’s skirt. “Momma, I’m afraid,” he said.

She knelt down and cupped his trembling face in her warm hands. Alex breathed in. She smelt of cinnamon, his favorite scent. His favorite because it was what his Momma smelt like.

“My sweet boy,” she said. “I know it’s scary, but you’re going to have fun. You’re going to learn, Alex, and knowledge is a superpower.”

“It is?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. “The best anyone can ever have.”

“Even better than invisibility?” He was skeptical.

“Much better, because with knowledge, you can learn how to disguise yourself. You can learn how to fly, how to see people’s bones. You can learn how to save lives and build anything you want.”

“I’m gonna learn all that in kindergarten?” he asked, wide-eyed.

“You’re gonna learn even better things in kindergarten,” she said.

Alex let go of his mother’s skirt. “I’m gonna be a superhero!” he declared, pumping a fist in the air.

She kissed his forehead. “Yes you are,” she said. “Yes you are.”

Alexander took a deep breath. He put one foot in front of the other.

You’re going to be a superhero, Alexander, her voice echoed in his mind. Of that, I have no doubt.

***

Someone needed to be a superhero.

“And that’s why we need to restrict the flow of undocumented immigrants,” Thomas Jefferson said. He let his paper flutter to the floor, a smug look on his face. “Mic drop,” he said with a wink. 

The teacher sighed. “Strong argument, Thomas,” she said begrudgingly. “Can anyone counter?”

Alexander may have kept up with the homework assignments, but there were certain aspects of school that could not be done from home, and in class debates were one of those things. Back on his island he had been a feared competitor. Even when he and his mother first moved to NYC he’d made a name for himself on the debate team.

All of that changed when his mother died. All of that changed when he learned how cruel the world, and the people in it, could be.

But something vaguely familiar was thrumming through his veins. It was an urge. The urge. The urge to speak up, to fight back.

But what if they hurt you? A familiar voice–– and not his mother’s–– said.  

Alex took a deep breath. He pushed the voice down, even though he could practically feel it struggling to get out from under his imaginary grip. He stood up.

“I have a response.”

The murmuring that had broken out in the classroom quickly dropped away. The teacher looked surprised, but nodded and motioned for Alex to come to the front of the classroom.

“This country was founded by immigrants,” he said, his voice shaky. “To say immigrants should no longer be allowed in is contradictory.” He couldn’t look at Thomas, the teacher, or anyone else in the room. As soon as he did, he would realize what he was doing and panic. 

Don’t think about anyone or anything but your words, your beliefs.

That was what once made him great at what debating. And, oh, how he wanted to debate again.

“I should be more specific,” he said. He turned his body in Jefferson’s direction and looked his way, avoiding looking directly at him. “This country was founded by undocumented immigrants. It was founded by people who took the risk of coming over here to build a new life, and eventually a new nation. The moment we start restricting who can come here is the moment we lose what makes us a strong nation to begin with. The moment we––”

Alex was cut off by the ring of the school bell.

The teacher quickly jumped up, shouting over the sounds of students throwing books in their bags and chatting. “We will continue this tomorrow. Everyone bring in a one page persuasive essay on why we should or should not get stricter with immigration,” she said.

Alex darted back to his desk and began to toss his books inside. A shadow loomed over him.

“No one has usually got the guts to go up against moi,” Thomas drawled. “I have to say… I am impressed.” He leaned closer to Alexander and whispered in his ear. “But don’t you think you can defeat me, bastard runt.” Thomas pulled back and grinned at Alex before strutting out of the room. 

“Alex,” the teacher said before Alex himself could leave. “Excellent work. It’s great to have you back.”

Alex smiled. “Thank you,” he said. “I’m glad to be back.”

As he walked away, a voice echoed in his head.

My superhero.  

Chapter Text

The first thing Alexander noticed at lunch was how odd Lafayette was acting. Or, more specifically, how odd both Lafayette and Hercules were acting. Judging by how twitchy John was, Alex guessed his boyfriend noticed it, too.

“So we doing anything after school to celebrate Alex being back?” Hercules asked with a too-wide smile.

“He may be too tired,” Laf said quickly. “We should not, how you say… pressure him.”

“You know how to say that,” John mumbled.

“But what if he wants to?” Herc asked, his words clipped.

Laf’s eyes narrowed. “What if he doesn’t?”

“What if we ask him?” Laurens cut in.

“Uh…” Alex looked back and forth between Laf and Herc. “I feel like this isn’t about me?” he said nervously.

“Don’t involve Alex in your shit,” John said.

“What shit?” Laf and Hercules said at the same time.

“Oh my god, are we really doing this?” John sighed and took a long sip from his juice box. 

“It’s really hard to take you seriously when you do that,” Herc muttered.

John slammed the now empty juice box onto the table. “It’s hard to take you two seriously when you avoid your issues!”

“Okay, woah, man, I was just joking,” Herc said, holding his hands up in surrender.

Alex could feel his heart racing. He’d imagined a lot of things going wrong on his first day back, but Lafayette and Hercules fighting had not been amongst them.

I’m not prepared for this, he thought. Not at all.

Panic began to seize him. Last night he’d done just as his therapist had suggested–– imagine everything that could go wrong and see that none of it was really that bad, then imagine everything going right. He’d felt mostly at peace after doing that exercise.

They’re only fighting like this because you’re here, the voice said.

No, even John seems to know it’s bigger than that, Alex thought.

“You okay?” John whispered in Alex’s ear, his breath warm and unexpected, but oddly comforting.  

“Just gotta run to the bathroom,” Alex said, standing fast. “I’ll be right back.” He forced a smile on his face and purposefully slowed his steps so as not to worry his friends.

Still, he could hear John as he left: “Great, you’re freaking out Alex! You two need to deal with whatever shit is going on and…”

John’s voice faded by the time Alexander got to the cafeteria door. Once he was out of view, he sprinted to the bathroom, where he splashed cool water on his face. He then took a moment to look at himself in the mirror.

His face was thin, but not as thin as it’d been a month or so ago. He looked tired, but he knew he’d looked even more tired before. His hair seemed shinier, and there was a quality to his eyes that had been missing for a while.

That sparkle in your eyes, his mother’s voice said. It’s how I know you’ll succeed. You have passion, ambition. Alex swore he could feel her hands on his cheeks.

A coughing from one of the stalls interrupted his thoughts. A familiar boy emerged, stooped over in a coughing fit. He had dark skin, short hair, chunky glasses, and was dressed in khakis, a plaid shirt, and sweater vest even though it was nearly summer. He kept coughing, his coughs starting to sound more like wheezing the longer they went on.

Alex tried to place him, but his worry for the boy overshadowed his ability to remember him.

“Are you okay?” Alexander said.

The boy desperately motioned to the stall as he continued to cough, and though Alex was a bit concerned about what he might find in there, he had to at least try to help. He cautiously entered and was relieved when he saw a navy blue backpack hanging on the back on the door. He brought it over to the boy.

The boy made another motion, as if he were pressing something, and pointed to the tiny front pouch. Alex unzipped it to find an inhaler. The boy puffed it into his mouth and coughed a few moments longer before he was just panting, the fit over with.

“Th-thanks,” he said once he caught his breath.

“No problem,” Alex said. “I’m Alexander. Alexander Hamilton.” He held out his hand.

“I know,” the boy said, taking his hand and shaking it. “We met briefly before your, uh, absence. I’m James Madison.”

Madison. Madison was Jefferson’s friend. Alex’s face must have relayed the horror he felt at this realization because Madison quickly held his hands out, as if to stop Alex from running away. 

“I wanted to apologize for how we last met, and for Thomas. I love him, but he’s a huge jerk sometimes.”

“I don’t understand. You seem… rather nice. Why him?” 

James shrugged. “It’s complicated.”

Alex nodded. He could at least understand that.

“But I hope we can be friends,” James said.  

“Me, too,” Alex said with a smile. “Well, I better get back to lunch,” he said after a moment’s silence.

“And I should go back to class,” James said. “See ya, Alexander.”

“Later, James.”

Alex left the bathroom with a smile on his face. His first day wasn’t even over and not only had he stood up to Thomas, he’d potentially become friends with Thomas’s best friend. He glanced down at his watch. It was nearly time to get to class.

He couldn’t wait to see what the rest of the day had in store for him.

Chapter Text

Lafayette sat at the lunch table with Herc, John, and, finally, Alexander.

Herc swirled a fry in ketchup before popping it into his mouth. He’d been avoiding Laf that entire morning and hadn’t looked him in the eyes once for the past ten minutes of lunch. Laf shouldn’t have been surprised, he knew that, but he was.

He recalled what he shouted at Herc over the phone last night. “ I thought we could talk about anything!”

“I did, too,” Herc said, “but I guess there are just some things I never thought we’d need to talk about in the first place.”

“But––”

There was a click, and the line went dead.

Herc’s voice brought Laf back to the present moment. “So we doing anything after school to celebrate Alex being back?” Hercules asked.

“He may be too tired,” Laf said before anyone else could respond. “We should not, how you say… pressure him.”

Why am I antagonizing him? I want to make things better, not worse.

“You know how to say that,” John mumbled.

“But what if he wants to?” Herc asked.

Lafayette could tell Herc was upset, and, more specifically, upset with him. He also knew he shouldn’t pick petty fights with Herc at the moment, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. He squinted at Herc. “What if he doesn’t?”

“What if we ask him?” Laurens interjected.

“Uh…” The anxiety in Alex’s eyes made Laf feel bad for what he was putting his foster brother through.

Me and Hercules, Laf reminded himself. And this is about something important. Alex will be fine.

“I feel like this isn’t about me?” Alex said with a small laugh.

John glared at Laf and Herc. “Don’t involve Alex in your shit.”

“What shit?” Laf and Hercules said at the same time.

“Oh my god, are we really doing this?” John sighed and took a long sip from his juice box.

“It’s really hard to take you seriously when you do that,” Herc muttered.

John slammed the now empty juice box onto the table. “It’s hard to take you two seriously when you avoid your issues!”

“Okay, woah, man, I was just joking,” Herc said, holding his hands up in surrender.

Laf spared a glance back at Alex and saw panic filling his eyes. He wanted to stop, to comfort Alex, to tell him this was not about him at all and he was so sorry for making him feel like it was. But Laf could practically feel Herc trembling with rage next to him. He knew to give in now would be to lose. And what would he lose, exactly?

Everything you love. The person you love.

Alex stood up so fast his chair nearly toppled over. “Just gotta run to the bathroom,” he said. “I’ll be right back.” Oddly, he retreated at a rather calm pace.

Laf tried to let that comfort him, to make him feel less awful about not going after Alex; about not making sure he was okay.

John slammed his fist on the table. “Great, you’re freaking out Alex! You two need to deal with whatever shit is going on and leave him out of it.”

Laf went to open his mouth; whether to explain or dismiss the fact that something was wrong between him and Herc, he wasn’t sure.

John held up a hand. “And you know what? Leave me out of it, too. I want to help, but you’re both acting so… fucking childish.” He shook his head and looked down at the few remaining apple slices he had left.

I must swallow my pride. It is one thing to fight with Herc, but a complete other thing to hurt our friends in the process.

“It is my fault,” Laf said. “I have upset Hercules.”

John looked surprised that Laf admitted that so easily. Laf was surprised at himself, too, but he kept going.

“I may have told him something that... hurt him.”

May have?” Herc said. He crossed his arms and glared at Laf. “You definitely hurt me, Gilbert.”

“It was not my intention,” Laf said. He felt his throat getting tighter and his face getting hotter.

Please, tears, just let me get through this before you fall.

“Well your intention means shit when it’s turned out opposite, huh?”

“Okay, forget staying out of it,” John said. “What the hell happened?”

“He wants to date a girl,” Herc said flatly. His words made Laf wince.

“So he broke up with you?” John’s mouth hung wide open.

“No,” Herc said. “He wanted to talk about it ,” he said with air quotes.

“I am confused!” Laf exclaimed. “I am confused, and I wanted to talk about it with Hercules because I love him.”

“If you loved me then you wouldn’t be thinking of some French girl you haven’t seen since you were like a toddler!” Herc shouted.

A few people turned and looked at their table, but soon went back to their food and conversations.

“You don’t understand,” Laf said, tears welling up in his eyes against his wishes.

“You’re right. I don’t.” Herc stood. He swung his backpack over his shoulder and stormed out of the cafeteria.

One part of Lafayette wanted to chase after him, to beg him to listen, to help because he was so, so confused. Another part of Laf wanted to slump down in his chair and never get up again. That part won.

He let his head rest against his arms on the lunch table. He jolted when he felt a warm hand on his back. He turned to see John looking at him sympathetically.

“I want to understand,” John said. “Tell me?”

Chapter Text

“You do not have to do this, mon ami,” Laf said as John tugged him toward the school library.

“I know,” John said. “But I want to.”

The two boys had decided to skip class in favor of talking over what the heck was going on with Lafayette and Hercules. Or, more accurately, John had decided they would skip class. Laf was in no position to disagree–– he was still shaken up from Herc’s departure from the lunch table–– and he wanted to talk about what was going on more than he wanted to sit through a chemistry class.

They settled behind the shelves that houses the oversized books. It was drafty, thanks to the windows nearby, but hidden from sight for the most part. It was where the boys always went when they needed to have a more private chat.

“So, what’s up?” John asked, keeping his voice low and soft.

Lafayette sighed. “Mon ami, I am so confused.”

“You can tell me, Laf. No judgement,” John promised.

Laf smiled weakly at John. “Merci,” he said.

“Does it have to do with Adrienne?”

At the mention of her name, Laf’s heart fluttered. He felt heat rise to his cheeks. He avoided John’s gaze as his friend chuckled.

“I’m taking that as a yes,” he said.

“I am so ashamed,” Laf said.

“Why?” John sounded genuinely confused.

“Why?” Laf asked incredulously. “Because it is wrong! I am with Hercules!”

“Have you cheated on him?” John asked.

“Of course not!”

“Then you haven’t done anything wrong.” John stared at Laf for a moment before offering him a small smile. “You can’t help your feelings, Laf. All you can do is decide how to act on them.”

“It feels wrong,” Laf said. “I thought Hercules and I were forever.”

“No offense, but you’re seventeen, Laf. You’ve been dating for two years, and he’s your first partner. You’re young. You’re not bound to the first person you date for the rest of your life.”

Tears started to well up in Laf’s eyes. “But I want to be,” he admitted. “I want to love him like I did, but something is missing.” He choked back a sob. “And I hate myself for it.”

“Hey,” John said. He took Laf’s hand in his own. “None of that. There is nothing to hate yourself for. People fall out of love, Laf.”

“You say this so serenely,” Laf said. “But what if this was you and Alexander?”

A look of pain flashed across John’s face, but he quickly disguised it. “I can’t predict the future,” John admitted. “And neither can you. We can only be true to ourselves. It’s what’s best for us, and for those we care about.”

Laf sucked in a shaky breath. “When did you get so smart, Laurens?”

John pulled him in for a hug. “I’ve always been this much of an emotional genius,” he said.

Laf laughed. “Thank you, mon ami.”

“Of course. Any time, Laf.” He paused. “One more thing, though?”

“Oui?”

“Don’t keep Herc waiting too long. Think it over, but keep his feelings in mind, too.”

Lafayette nodded. “Oui,” he said sadly. “Oui.”

Chapter Text

Mom: can you pick Mary Eleanor up?

John: Sure. What time?

Mom: 3:45

John: okay :)

John sighed as he pocketed his phone. So much for hanging out with Alexander, he thought. He and Alex had been planning on hanging out after school, originally with Laf and Herc, but after their lunchtime fight they’d bowed out. And now John would have to, too.

He stood by Alex’s locker as students flooded the hallway, chattering and jostling up against each other in a rush to get their stuff and vacate the premises. Alexander bounded down the hallway with a huge smile on his face. John couldn’t help but smile back.

He’d honestly been surprised at how well Alexander had handled his first day back after so long. He’d expected a somewhat wilted Alex by this afternoon, and was amazed to find the opposite. Alexander looked more lively than he ever had. Oddly, it made John regret that he couldn’t hang out with Alex even more than he already did.

“Hey!” Alex singsonged as he approached John.

“Hey,” John said.

“I got this really cool assignment,” Alex began. “We have to take a map of…”

John couldn’t help but stare at Alexander’s lips as he spoke. His beautiful lips, the way they curved up so perfectly when he smiled, how soft they felt against his own…

“Uh, earth to John?” Alex waved a hand in front of John’s face, snapping him back to the present moment.

“Oh, sorry!” John felt a blush rising to his freckled face. It reminded him of how often Alexander blushed when they first talked, before they were dating. He missed that blush.

“What were you thinking about?” Alexander asked.

John didn’t give it much thought–– he just did it. He leaned forward and caught Alex’s lips with his own, kissing him gently at first, then with passion. Sure enough, when he pulled away, there was that beautiful blush.

“O-oh,” Alex stammered.

John smirked and winked.

“What brought that on?” Alex whispered. He touched his lips, as if he couldn’t believe what had just happened.

“Your beautiful face,” John said.

That time it was Alexander who kissed him.

***

John pushed the door to the apartment open. Mary Eleanor raced past him to her room. She’d been texting her friends the entire way home. John often had to stop her from crossing a busy intersection, or from stepping in a puddle, but he didn’t mind. It was endearing in a way, really.

“HI,” he heard her shriek into her phone as she shut her bedroom door.

He rolled his eyes, a smile on his face. He was glad she was still allowed to attend her fancy private school. Their father apparently found that important to keeping up appearances, or he simply didn’t want to punish Mary Eleanor for John’s sins.

Sins, John thought. He used to thinking kissing Alexander was a sin, but how could it be? How could something so beautiful and pure be sinful? How could love be sinful? He looked up at the cross his mother had hung over the doorway. Next to it was a small rainbow flag.

John smiled up at both objects. Never, ever had he dreamed he’d see both displayed in his own home.

Well this isn’t your home. You got kicked out of that, and you ruined your mom’s life, your sister’s life, your father’s life…

Mary Eleanor, still in her room, laughed so hard she snorted.

I don’t think I ruined her life, John countered the voice. She seems pretty happy, still.

John’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out and mindlessly swiped the screen. He figured it was his mother, likely asking him to get dinner started. He was shocked to see who it was actually from.

Father: We need to talk.

John stared at the screen for a moment. How should he respond? Should he even respond?

John: why are you suddenly interested in talking to me?

Not even thirty seconds passed before the response.

Father: please, John.

Please. His father never said please.

Everything inside him screamed no! His fingers hovered over the screen.

John: fine. We can talk.

Send.

John swallowed hard. What had he gotten himself into?

Chapter Text

Angelica Schuyler sighed as she scanned her dorm room one last time. Everything aside from her phone and keys was packed away in her car. Her roommate had left the night before.

Her freshman year of college was over.

She hated herself for it, but what she was returning home to made this strange tightness swell up in her throat. When she thought of her mother’s sad, empty eyes, of Eliza’s empty bed, of her father doing everything he could to hold the family together…

I’m dreading this, she realized. I would give almost anything not to go back there.

But it was time, and there was no avoiding it any longer.

She took a deep breath before shutting the door on her dorm.

Where one door closes, please let another one open.

***

It was about three in the afternoon when Angelica pulled up the driveway. Her mother’s car was there, unsurprisingly. It’d been her parents’ plan for her mother to take a year off from work after the birth of the twins, and now Angelica wondered if that would get extended, or shortened. Her mother did like to distract herself with her work. Maybe it would help her.

Work can’t bring back your dead sister. God, Angie, stop being so insensitive.

She popped the trunk open and tucked a few bags under her arms before waddling up to the front door. She unceremoniously kicked it open.

“I’m home!” she shouted.

“ANGIE!” Cornelia screamed as she ran around a corner and launched herself onto her older sister.

“Corny,” Angelica said with a chuckle.

“Annie, Annie,” Rensselaer chanted as he toddled toward her as well.

She scooped them both up in her arms, letting the bags fall to the floor. As she buried her face in Cornelia’s brown curls she was immediately calmed by the familiar scent of cheerios and maple syrup–– the smells of her childhood.

“Is that my Angelica?”

Angelica looked up in shock at her mother, who was standing in the doorway before her, her dark hair braided to one side, a smile that didn’t reach her eyes upon her face.

But it’s something.

“Mama,” she said, reverting to her childhood name for her mother.

Cornelia and Ren wriggled out of her grasp and ran off to play. Her mother enveloped Angelica in a hug.

“It’s so good to have you back here,” she said.

“It’s good to be back,” Angelica said. She felt slightly bad for lying. But what else can I say?

“You’ve got your room to yourself for a bit,” her mom said. “Peggy doesn’t get out of school for about a month.”

“And Eliza?” Angelica whispered.

Her mother averted her eyes. “Likely another week,” she said softly. Her brown eyes quickly found Angelica’s. “She would probably love a visit from you, Angie.”

Angelica shrugged. “She doesn’t seem to want to talk to me much.”

“She’s talking to Peggy, and we visit her every chance we get.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean she wants me to see her.”

“You’re her sister, Angelica. She loves you. She’s just… hurting.”

“Of course she is,” Angelica said, surprised at the anger in her own voice. “She wanted to die!”

Tears welled up in Angelica’s eyes. What’s going on? Why am I crying?

“Oh, sweetie,” her mother said. Her arms looped around Angelica again, and soon Angelica found her face buried in her mother’s shoulder, sobs rising up out of her.

How long have I needed to cry like this for? How long has this been simmering right below the surface?

“Wh-what would I d-do,” Angelica said through her tears, “if she’d-she’d died, Mama?”

“Oh sweetie, I know,” her mother said, her own voice thick with tears. “But she didn’t. She didn’t, Angie.”

All Angelica could do was sob in response.

She didn’t, she didn’t, she didn’t. But she didn’t was different from she won’t.

“You need to see her, Angie. You need to see how much better she’s doing.” Her mother pulled away and used the sleeve of her shirt to dry the tears from Angelica’s face. “And she needs to see you, trust me.”

“She doesn’t,” Angelica said.

“Angie, in all this time there, she’s asked for only one thing from home.”

Angelica looked into her mother’s eyes, which still had tears pooling up in them. How often does she cry now? Angelica wondered.

“What was it?”

“That picture of you three holding hands, looking at the sunset over the ocean, from when you were about ten.”

“I remember,” Angelica said. “It’s my favorite.”

“She misses you, Angie. I promise that she misses you.”

Angelica thought of all the times she’d looked through the photos on her phone of the three of them, back at boarding school, over the summer, from their childhood. Eliza was always smiling. Always. When had it become fake? How did I not notice?

“Okay,” Angie said. “I’ll visit her.”

“Good.” Her mother smiled, and there was a quality of warmth to it that hadn’t been there in a while. “We’re going tomorrow afternoon,” her mother said.

Angelica nodded. In less than twenty four hours, she would see her little sister again.

I hope she missed me, too.

Chapter Text

Lafayette stared up at the ceiling. He’d lost track of how long he’d been doing this for. He just stared and stared and stared, his mind stuck on a destructive repetitive track.

Why did I have to ruin everything and message Adrienne? Herc and I were happy, and now I might hurt him, even though I don’t want to. He doesn’t deserve this. He deserves so much better. He deserves so much better than me.

He was interrupted from his thoughts by his phone ringing, the French pop tune set as the ringer blaring into his quiet space. He jolted off his bed and scrambled to grab it.

Hunkles Muscleman <3 the ID read.

Lafayette felt his throat constrict with anxiety. What would he say? What if Herc was calling to yell at him? To break up with him?

You deserve it.

He answered the phone with a gulp.

“He-hello?”

“Hey.” From that single word Laf could tell Herc was sad.

You did this to him.

“Hey,” Laf said.

And that’s all you can say?

“Why haven’t you broken up with me already?” Herc asked.

Laf stuttered in surprise. “Wh-why would I break up with you?”

“Don’t play this game, Laf. Don’t make me say it.”

“But Hercules I lo––”

“Don’t!” Herc shouted, his voice thick with tears.

“But it’s true!” Laf said, tears now rolling down his cheeks. “I love you, Herc, and I-I… I’m so confused!”

“If you really loved me then you wouldn’t have feelings for her,” Herc said sharply.

Laf winced even though Herc couldn’t see him.

“I don’t want to feel this way,” Laf said weakly. “I hate myself for it.”

Silence filled the line for a beat too long.

“Don’t say that,” Herc finally said with a sigh. “You don’t actually hate yourself.”

“I do,” Laf said, his voice even smaller. “How could I not? I’ve caused the person I love most in this world pain, and I don’t even understand why.”

“Laf––”

“I’m going to fix this,” Laf said. “Just you wait, mon amor. I will fix this.”

Silence. Silence. Silence. He hates you he hates you he hates––

“How?”

Laf swallowed hard. “I don’t know,” Laf admitted. “But I will, and soon this will be nothing more than a, how you say, terror of the night.”

“Nightmare,” Herc said with a small chuckle.

“Ah, yes, that.” Laf felt a smile twitch at his lips.

“Okay…” Hercules sounded skeptical, but he wasn’t saying no.

“I will have it fixed by tomorrow. Meet me in our library spot before homeroom?”

“Okay,” Herc said again. “Okay.”

Laf hung up and opened up his laptop. In reality, he had no idea how to fix this. What if I can’t fix this? All he knew was he had to try.

He pulled up Google and typed.

Can I love two people at once?

Enter.

The first result: How to tell if you’re polyamorous.

Chapter Text

John stared at his phone. 3:27 . He was three minutes early. His father had told him they would meet at 3:30 in the school parking lot. He expected sneaking away from his friends to be challenging, but it was surprisingly easy, possibly because he hadn’t actually seen them for more than a passing moment all day. Normally he’d be hurt or worried or upset, but today it was working in his favor, so he didn’t question it.

There were benches outside the school, but John didn’t sit. He paced, listening to the padding of his sneakers against the concrete of the sidewalk. He stared at his fraying shoes, studied the way they slapped the ground as he moved.

A man cleared his throat behind John. “I didn’t know feet were that interesting.”

John jumped, startled, and turned to see his father standing before him, dressed in a navy suit with a red tie, complete with the American flag pin that every politician had to have at least twenty of.

Every single word John knew died in his throat. There was his father, in front of him, in the flesh. His face was as clean shaven as always, his skin a glowing tan, and his hair dyed jet black in an attempt to hide the effects of aging.

“Well, are you just going to stand there?” His father gestured to a nearby bench. He took a seat, but John remained standing.

It’s nice to feel like I have some power over him, even if it’s just height, John thought.

“It’s good to see you, son.”

Son. Son.

“Don’t call me ‘son,’” John muttered.

“You are my son,” his father said, giving John an odd look.

“Not since you kicked me out,” John said. “Not since you decided that an arbitrary part of who I am is more important than me as a person, as your child.”

“See, son, I may have… overreacted.” Henry ran a hand through his slicked back hair.

“Stop it,” John said. “Stop calling me that!” He felt rage coursing through him. His fingers curled into fists.

“Even if I stop calling you that, it doesn’t make it less true,” his father said. “That’s what I’ve realized. I cannot escape you, and you cannot escape me.”

“But I can,” John said. Tears gathered in his eyes, but he did his best to ignore them. He could cry later. He could cry all he wanted later.

“My blood is in you, son,” Henry said. “And the sooner you realize that, the easier this will be.”

“What will be?”

“I’m offering you and your mother a deal. A deal that can keep our family together.”

“She doesn’t want you anymore,” John spat. “None of us do!”

“No, see, you started this, John, and you can end it. You can give your sister a complete family, and your mother the home life she’s accustomed to. I didn’t do a thing. This is your selfish decision to be some backward––”

John took a step toward his father and looked down at him, his nose held high in the air. “I didn’t choose to be gay, but you chose to be a bigot.”

“Get help,” Henry said. “If you get help, then all of this will disappear.”

“You must have lost it to think I’d get any kind of help that you suggest!” John laughed, but anger filled his eyes.

“Listen, it’s a ploy. Just make it look like I tried, like you tried, and when you get out, just pretend for the next year or so, then go live your… lifestyle… at college. You’ll get your inheritance through your mother’s name, since I’ll have to publicly disown you when you aren’t cured, but––”

“Are you… Are you bribing me?” John said incredulously.

“Call it what you want,” Henry said with a shrug. “I see it as a way for all of us to get what we want.”

“What about my mom? Mary Eleanor? Will I still get to see them?”

“Not publicly, but privately, sure. I don’t see the harm.”

“How do I know this isn’t a trick? That you aren’t just throwing me in a camp and leaving me there?”

Henry sighed. “Because your mother would never let that happen.”

John nodded. That much was true, at least.

“I don’t know what to say.” John sighed.

“I think the answer is clear,” Henry said. “Accept it, and our lives go back to normal.”

Normal? John thought. He’d come to love his new life in the small apartment with his mother and sister. He’d never felt closer to them. He’d never felt happier. And could he survive a place where everyone told him who he was was a choice? Was wrong? Even if he knew it wasn’t true, could he withstand it?

“John!” Alexander ran down the sidewalk from the school building to John.

“Think it over and call me by tomorrow morning,” Henry said. He quickly stood and strode to his car.

“Who was that?” Alex asked as he wrapped his arms around his boyfriend.

John leaned into Alex, taking in the sweet scent of cinnamon, the warmth of Alexander.

“Nobody. He just wanted directions.”

“Didn’t your parents teach you not to talk to strangers?” Alexander teased.

“Ha, right,” John said. He forced as large of a smile on his face as he could, praying Alex wouldn’t sense that anything was wrong.

Alex grinned and bopped John’s freckled nose. “Let’s go,” Alexander said.

“Laf and Herc?”

Alex shrugged. “They’re talking. It could be a while. I texted them that we were headed out, but who knows when they’ll finish that conversation.”

John nodded. “Okay, let’s go, then.” He laced his fingers through Alexander’s and squeezed his boyfriend’s hand.

Alex smiled up at him and squeezed back.

12 hours, John thought. 12 hours to decide.

Chapter Text

One hour. One hour left to decide.

John Laurens paced in his room, the early morning light just peeking through the blinds.

Do I destroy any chance my mom and sister have at a normal life just to keep myself happy? Or are they happy here? Can I even survive that kind of place?

He’d thought about texting or calling Alexander at least twice every minute, but kept deciding not to. He didn’t want to suck Alex into this. He didn’t want to give his boyfriend even more to worry about. Alexander had enough on his plate without John’s issues.

His phone began to go off, startling him. He sighed in relief when he realized it was just his alarm. He shut if off and went back to pacing.

Okay, Laurens, imagine what it’d be like to be at a place like… that. Think. Think really hard.

He pictured himself being dropped off at some dusty old house run by a secretly gay middle-aged guy.

Okay, it wouldn't be exactly like it is in But I’m A Cheerleader, he reminded himself.

He imagined what he’d hear every single day. He’d hear how wrong he is. How his feelings are unnatural. How he needed to change. How he was sinning, or he was a sin, whichever one they felt like telling him, and he was going to hell unless he either changed his ways or ignored his “natural inclinations.”

He shuddered. I can’t. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

“I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry, Mary Eleanor,” he whispered.

He picked up his phone and dialed his father, who picked up in the middle of the first ring.

“Son,” he said.

“Father,” John replied.

“Well? Did you make your decision?”

“I did.” John took a deep breath.

You can do this, John. You have to do this.

“I won’t do it,” he said, his voice growing surer with each word. “I won’t take part in your selfish plan.”

“Think of your mother, John. Your sister! Do you want to force her to live with the shame of having a perverted––”

“The only shame she’ll ever live with is that she’s got you as a father. And that’s my worst shame, too. I’m proud of who I am, and you can go to hell for trying to make me feel otherwise. Goodbye, and don’t ever call me again.”

John hung up and threw his phone on the bed. He began to sob, his tears thick and heavy. His phone rang and buzzed and chirped, but he ignored it.

I don’t owe him anything, he thought. Not a single thing.

There was a knock on his door right before it gently opened. “John? Honey?” His mother entered the room, and upon seeing his tear-stained face ran over to him, kneeling on the ground in front of him.

“Oh my god, honey, what happened?” She took his hands in her own.

“D-dad,” he said, another sob rising out of him.

She sighed. “What did that man do now?”

She pulled John close and hugged him, rocking him gently back and forth until his sobs subsided. She got him a glass of water, then sat on the bed next to him. His phone had thankfully fallen silent. When he checked, he had 13 missed calls and 9 voice messages, as well as an array of texts from his father, which he deleted without reading.

“What happened, honey?” His mother asked gently.

“Dad wanted to make a deal with me,” John said. “I go to conversion camp and our lives go back to normal. Y-you and Mary Eleanor can move back home, and after I graduate high school, he’d publicly disown me, give me my inheritance through you, and I’m free to do as I want.” John began to cry again. “I’m sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry I said no. I’m so selfish and awful and––”

His mother grabbed his wrists firmly. “John, look at me.”

When he didn’t, she repeated herself with more force.

“John. Look. At. Me.”

John looked up and was shocked by the anger in his mother’s eyes.

“He had no right. No right at all to even talk to you, let alone ask something so horrible of you. I am so relieved, and so proud, that you said no. I researched those places, Jacky, and they sound so dangerous. I-I remember what you said, that you wouldn’t make it out alive.” Her eyes filled with tears. “You are worth a million of him, Jacky. You are worth so much more than him, and you always will be.”

She pulled her son close and hugged him tightly. “Please, don’t you ever forget that.”

“I won’t,” he said into her shirt.

When she pulled away, she kissed his forehead. “Let’s get Mary Eleanor up. We’re not going to school or work today. We’re going out for breakfast, then to the museum.”

John’s face lit up. “Really? Why?”

“Because I love you, and when I think––” He could tell his mother was doing her best not to cry. “When I think of how close I came to losing you, in so many ways, I’m overwhelmed with the need to spend every moment possible with you.”

John wrapped his arms around his mother. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you so much, Jacky.” She kissed him again, then stood up, slapping her hands on her thighs. “Okay, well, I’ll get your sister, and you get ready.”

John nodded. He grabbed his phone and sent a quick text to Alex.

John Laurens: Not gonna be in today. Surprise family day with Mom and Mary Eleanor :) Let Laf & Herc know? Xox

Alexander wrote back almost right away.

Hammy <333: Have fun! I’ll let them know. See you this weekend? Xox

John smiled.

John Laurens: You bet! ;) xox

John turned to his closet, a grin on his face. Of all the ways he’d imagined this day going, he had never pictured this. He could not have been happier.

Chapter Text

Lafayette could not stop going over that conversation with Hercules. It’d been three days, and they had yet to speak again. It’d been three of the longest days of Laf’s life.

They’d met between the shelves of the nonfiction section in the school library. Hercules’ eyes were red and puffy, his nose raw. Laf wanted to fall to his knees and beg Hercules to forgive him for the pain he’d caused him, but he knew that was useless. An answer would be the only helpful thing here.

Laf knew he looked a mess. His hair was coming out of his ponytail because he’d slept on it without retying it that morning. His shirt had been selected from the floor–– an oddity for him, since he was typically neat–– and probably had some form of a food stain on it.

“So…” Herc shrugged, avoiding eye contact.

“So,” Laf sighed. “I think I’ve figured this out.” Laf took a deep breath. This was the moment. The moment he would learn how Hercules would react to his discovery. To this newfound part of his identity.

“I think I’m polyamorous,” Lafayette said in a rush.

Herc was silent for a beat before nodding. “I figured.” His tone was neutral. “And that’s of course fine, Laf. You know I love and accept you for all of you.”

“R-really?” Laf said. Tears of relief were welling up in his eyes.

“Of course.” Herc offered him a small smile and his hand. Lafayette gratefully took it, squeezing it tightly.

Herc looked down at his knees, his legs tucked underneath him. “There’s just…” His voice trailed off. “It’s just that I’m… I’m not polyamorous, Laf.”

Everything was still within Lafayette for one moment, and then the world crashed. He felt as if someone had punched him in the gut. He felt as if he was free falling from a cliff. Yet he’d known this was a possibility. He’d told himself he would have to accept it, see where they would go from here. He knew what his answer to this statement was. He’d rehearsed it in his head the night before until he’d finally fallen asleep sometime after two.

“It’s okay,” Laf said. “I only want you.”

Herc smiled at his boyfriend, but shook his head. “We need to break up,” he said softly.

“But, but we––”

“Laf, please, let me explain. This isn’t because you’re poly and I’m not. It’s not because of Adrienne. It’s not because I’ve stopped loving you.”

“Then… I do not understand,” Laf said, wide eyes locked on Herc’s.

“It’s because I can’t be the reason you don’t get to learn more about yourself. I can’t be the reason you don’t have the time and space to test out new kinds of relationships and learn more about how you love people. I love you, Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. I love you with my whole heart, and that’s why I’m doing this.”

“But I love you too!” Laf said, confusion clouding his head.

“I know,” Herc said. Tears ran down his face. “And if after this we still love each other, then nothing will stop us.”

“Hercules, please, don’t do this,” Lafayette begged.

“I think it’s best if we take some time apart this weekend,” Herc said, his voice cracking. They normally saw each other at least once over the weekend. Laf couldn’t remember the last time they hadn’t.

“Do you want to tell our friends?” Hercules asked.

Laf felt himself nod. He felt Herc squeeze his hand, Herc’s lips graze against his own for a second, much too short, much too gentle, too distant. He watched Herc walk away. He heard the bell ring for class.

But he wasn’t present for any of it. All he could hear was Hercules telling him it was over. All he could feel was his heart shattering onto the mud-colored carpet of the library floor.

They hadn’t talked at all that weekend, and Lafayette hadn’t told their friends.

John was distracted. By what, Laf didn’t know, but he assumed it was something to do with his family. Normally, Laf would attempt to find out what was going on, but he felt weighted to his bed. Even lifting his phone was too much.

Alexander had all but locked himself in his room. Something about working on a counter-argument to Jefferson for their next class debate.

So far, Laf had managed to fool his parents into believing nothing was wrong. He was just evasive whenever they asked where Hercules was.

He hadn’t even replied to Adrienne. It’d been a few days, and he knew he should be excited for her upcoming visit, but all he could feel was an emptiness; an emptiness where Herc should be.

There was a knock on his bedroom door. “Sweetie?” Martha called.

“Oui?” Laf tried to infuse his voice with cheeriness, and in the process realized he may have overdone it.

“Can I come in?”

Laf grabbed a book from his nightstand and opened to a random page before calling out “Oui!”

Martha opened the door and looked at Laf. She shut it and sat on the edge of his bed. “Do you want to talk about what’s going on?”

“Hmm? What do you mean?” Laf asked. “I’m just reading.”

“The book is upside down, Gilbert,” Martha said with a sad smile.

He looked. So it was. “Oh…” He dropped it onto his bed and flopped over, burying his face in his pillow.

“Come on, sweetheart,” Martha said gently. “You can tell me anything. You know that, right?”

When Laf looked up at his mother, he knew his face had changed, dropped. He knew the sadness was in his eyes, but he was too tired to hide it anymore.

“Hercules broke up with me,” he said.

“Oh, Gilbert,” Martha said. “I am so, so sorry.” She pulled him into a hug and rocked him back and forth as he sobbed.

“I l-love him,” Laf said.

“I know, I know.” She ran a hand through his hair.

“Mama,” he said without much thought. “I’m polyamorous.”

“Okay,” she said, not missing a beat.

“Hercules thinks I should explore it, but he is not like me.”

“Oh honey,” she said soothingly. “Sometimes we do hard things for the people we love. Things we think are for the best, but maybe really aren’t. But ultimately, we do it because of love. If you can hold onto that, maybe it can ease some of the pain.”

What we do, we do out of love, Laf thought.

“Oui,” he said.

“Can I do anything to help?”

“Stay with me?” His voice was small, scared.

Martha hugged him tighter. “Of course I will, my Gilbert. I will stay for as long as you need. Always.”

Chapter Text

Lafayette did not want to go to school. He stayed under the covers for as long as he could Monday morning, dread filling him as he thought about seeing Hercules again.

Dread, he thought. How can I dread seeing someone I love? He hadn’t thought it possible until now; until he felt it.

His stomach churning, he dressed for the day. He couldn’t concentrate on what he was putting on. He couldn’t think of anything aside from what seeing Hercules would be like. What seeing Hercules and not being his boyfriend would be like.

A knock sounded from the other side of his bedroom door. That was when Laf realized he’d sunk to the floor, arms wrapped around his knees. He stood, body trembling, as he called out “Oui?”

“You okay?” Alex said. “You didn’t get up two hours early like usual.”

Laf was silent. He didn’t want to lie to Alexander, but he also didn’t want to tell him the truth. I can’t do that to Alex. I can’t make him deal with me like… this… when he’s just getting better himself. I can’t be that selfish.

“Oui, just… fell asleep late,” Laf said.

That at least wasn’t a lie. He’d fallen asleep around three, after crying in bed for a few hours. He stared in the mirror and saw puffy, bloodshot eyes staring back at him. He rubbed them and sighed.

“Okay,” Alexander said. “Breakfast is ready.”

“I’ll be right there,” Laf said.

Instead he stared in the mirror again. He stared at his face so long that it looked foreign. Oddly, that made him feel better. He glanced down at his watch. He knew he had to leave soon to be at school on time. He also knew he needed to tell Alexander and John what’d happened. But he couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

After staying in his room for as long as he could, Laf shouldered his backpack and headed downstairs. He grabbed a bagel he had no intention of eating and waited by the door for Alexander and George, who was driving them to school that morning.

“In all my time here I don’t think I’ve gotten up for school before you,” Alex said. The smaller boy was chipper, his eyes bright.

I can’t ruin that for him, Laf thought.

Lafayette forced a smile. “I was up late reading a good fanfic,” he said.

Alex laughed. “Okay, understandable.”

The ride to school was silent for Laf. He could hear Alex and George chatting, Alex excitedly going over the parameters for his debate with Jefferson, but he couldn’t decipher any meaning from their conversation. When George pulled up to the school, Laf’s mouth moved, the usual words left his mouth, and his feet carried him inside.

He waved goodbye to Alexander and headed to his locker. Or he thought he was headed to his locker. Instead he found himself in the library, in the spot he and Herc usually went to. He crouched down there, huddled against the cool metal of the bookshelf, and took a few deep breaths. As badly as he wanted to, he could not stop the tears that began to fall. All he could do was remain silent and hope nobody would discover him.

He felt his phone buzz once, twice, three times. Someone called it. Someone left a voicemail. Another text came through. And then there were feet in front of him. He looked up to see John, a sad look distorting his freckled face.

“Laf,” John said gently. “What happened?”

Laf shook his head. John sat down next to him and pulled his friend close, letting him cry into his chest, stroking his hair.

“You’ll miss class, mon ami,” Laf finally managed.

John huffed out a laugh. “Classic Mom Friend,” he said. “Worrying about me when clearly you’ve got more pressing issues.”

Laf shrugged and smiled at John.

“So can you tell me what’s actually up?”

“Hercules broke up with me,” Laf whispered.

“Should I murder him?” John asked.

John Laurens ,” Laf exclaimed. “He is also your friend!”

John shrugged. “Yeah, but… you’re crying?”

Laf laughed. “I may have made him cry, too,” he said.

John was silent. Laf knew he was waiting for him to expand; that John wasn’t going to push, but he also wasn’t going to fill the air with meaningless words. This was one of the things he loved most about John Laurens.

“I told him I’m polyamorous, and he wanted me to have the freedom to explore that side of myself. He said he didn’t want to be the reason I couldn’t.”

“Well that sucks,” John said. “Like… that majorly sucks.”

Laf sighed. “Oui.”

“And I’m not so sure that’s his call to make?”

Laf looked up at John, brow furrowed.

“Like, I get it, but he isn’t holding you back, right? Or did you want to date other people and he was uncomfortable?”

“He thinks I like Adrienne,” Laf admitted.

“Do you?” There was no judgement in his voice.

“Maybe?” Laf sighed. “It’s all so confusing, mon ami. All I know is that I love Hercules and he is not here with me.”

“Talk to him, Laf. Maybe not right now, but soon. Give him some time to… feel. Then talk to him.”

“Okay,” Laf said quietly.

“Now we’re going to do something that you as a Mom Friend would not approve of,” John whispered.

“What?” Laf felt the barest bit of excitement stir somewhere deep within him.

“We’re playing hooky, Baguette.”

JOHN LAURENS NON–– John clamped his hand over Laf’s mouth.

“Shut up! I have it all taken care of, okay? You and me. Hooky. Let’s do this fucking thing, Baguette.”

“Since when did you get so bad?” Laf asked.

John grinned. “Since I told off my father.”

Laf couldn’t help but grin back. “Okay,” he tentatively agreed. “But we cannot get caught!”

“Trust me,” John said. “We won’t.” He stood and offered Laf his hand. “Ready?”

Laf took it and let John hoist him to his feet. “Oui,” he said. “I am ready.”

Chapter Text

“Mon ami, I am not so sure,” Lafayette said as John pulled him toward the library exit.

“Have you ever done something bad, Laf?”

“Aside from break Herc’s heart?”

Laf .”

“N-non, mon ami.

“Then you’re going to be fine,” John said with confidence. “Everyone should do something bad every once in awhile.”

“Are you trying to tell me you’re a murderer, John Laurens?”

John laughed. “Not that bad.” He led Laf toward the main entrance of the school.

“What?!” Laf hissed. “But they’ll see!”

“Hiding in plain sight,” John said. “Now act cool!” John straightened himself out and strolled toward the doors of the school like he was the principal. Laf timidly followed him.

They walked outside and away from the school, Laf checking over his shoulder every few seconds, convinced they were being followed.

“Remind me not to take you on a crime spree,” John mumbled.

“Sorry I do not want to be naughty!”

John laughed. “You so need this,” he said with a chuckle.

“Who is this bad boy?” Laf said, lightly punching his friend’s arm. “Is this the side of you Alexander sees?”

John blushed at the mention of his boyfriend. “N-no,” he stammered. “I just… It was spur of the moment, and it felt right, so I did it.”

Laf nodded. “Okay, Mr. Spur-of-the-moment, then where to?”

John broke out into a grin. “Luckily I already have that planned out!” He grabbed Laf’s arm. “We need to get to the nearest bus stop.”

“Where are we going?” Laf felt excitement for the first time since the disaster with Hercules. Part of him felt guilty for feeling any form of happy , but then he reminded himself that he had all night to sulk and cry. He had the rest of his life for that, in fact.

“That’s a surprise,” John said coyly.

They waited for the bus, swiping their passes when it opened its doors with a hiss. Laf sat, John grabbed a handle and stood above him, letting his body sway with the movement of the bus. The only other people on it were elderly and a mother with her whimpering infant. John started making faces at the baby to get him to stop crying. Laf couldn’t help but smile at that.

Nearly everyone else got off before John and Laf, who exited the bus pretty far downtown. Laf took in the people in suits and dresses, walking with purpose between high offices buildings. He suddenly realized that his father could be among them. He stopped in his tracks, panic overtaking him for a moment.

“What?” John asked, looking around for the threat.

“What if Papa is here?” Laf whispered.

“We won’t be out for long.” He offered Laf his hand. “Come on!”

Laf took it and John began to run. Laf did his best to keep up with him, eventually laughing as they made their way through all the official looking people on break or yelling into their phones. There was something about being so young and free and unprofessional that made Laf feel so alive in that moment.

Eventually, John took a sharp turn, tugging Laf into a rundown looking building. It was dark inside, and took Laf’s eyes a few moments to adjust. But once he did, he saw a large spread of vintage arcade games in front of them.

“No way,” he said, his face breaking out into a grin.

“My dad used to take me here,” John said, his voice small, sad. “Before… Well, before.” He was silent for a moment, just staring at the games as if he could still see his younger self and his father there, playing together. “But I haven’t been here in forever, and I want new, happier memories here.” He turned to Laf. “What do ya say?”

“Oui,” Laf said softly. “What should we play first?”

***

Hours in the arcade and one stuffed turtle later, John and Laf emerged onto the streets of downtown once again. This time they hopped a bus and headed up a few stops to an ice cream parlor, where they both ordered huge sundays, hungry from missing lunch.

“I feel so bad,” Laf said with a giggle.

“Same,” John said, his face covered in chocolate ice cream.

“Thank you for this,” Laf said. “You are an amazing friend.”

John blushed and looked down at his ice cream. “I just… I, uh… thanks.”

They both laughed.

“So, home?” Laf asked once they’d both finished.

“We got one more stop actually,” John said with a sly grin.

This time Laf let John lead him to the bus stop without a question. He knew that John wouldn’t budge, and that whatever he had planned would be amazing.

John slouched next to him on the bus, this time full of other teenagers getting out of school and some office workers headed home early.

Lafayette was surprised when they got off at the State Museum.

“I haven’t been here since I first arrived in New York,” he admitted.

“I haven’t been here in years, too,” John said. “But I think it has just what you need.”

Laf let John lead him in through the rotating doors and straight back, skipping over the museum entrance. They hiked up a few small sets of stairs before going down a long hallway. Some old model cars came into view, then Laf spotted their destination.

No way ,” he whispered.

“Yes way,” John said with an excited giggle.

Before them stood the carousel Laf had ridden during that long ago visit; that every kid in the area rode at least once in their childhood.

There were mostly toddlers waiting to get on it at this time of day, but that didn’t deter Laf and John. They raced toward the short line, the guard smiling at them as they approached.

“You boys wanna ride the carousel?” He asked with a smile.

“More than anything,” John said, his freckled face lit up with excitement.

The current rotation ended and the toddlers filed off, only a handful staying on. The guard gestured to Laf and John to get on. They selected two horses that were next to each other. When the ride started up, John let out a holler of delight.

“We are young and alive, Laf!” He shouted over the old-timey music. “And sometimes, that’s all you need.”

Laf shut his eyes and tilted his head back, letting the up and down, circular motion of the ride soothe him. He knew when they got off, when they got home, things would be shitty again. That his heart would still be broken. That even a hundred days of hooky with John couldn’t cure that.

But John was right. In that moment, being there, with one of his best friends, was more than enough. Laf resolved to enjoy the moment for as long as he could. It was enough.

Chapter Text

 

Alexander was fuming. He’d just walked into the classroom and simply catching sight of Thomas Jefferson sent waves of anger through him. From his puffy hair to his royal purple sweater to the smug look that so naturally graced his features, Alexander was thoroughly annoyed.

James Madison sat next to Thomas, slightly hunched forward, coughing every few minutes. As large as he was, something about James seemed so small. Alex got the sense that the boy wished he could disappear sometimes; probably especially when Thomas got a bit too outspoken with his backwards views.

“Okay, class,” the teacher said. “Today we’ve got another topic up for discussion: the right to bear arms. What does the constitution say and how should we interpret it?” She looked around at the students for a moment. “Anyone want to go first?”

Let him go first. Listen carefully to his argument, then take him down.

Thomas’ hand lazily raised into the air. “I guess I will if none of y’all are game.” He cleared his throat. “So obviously we need guns to protect ourselves. The constitution allows us to for a reason. How was this country established? Hmm? Through a rebellion the involved firepower. If the government gets out of hand and we ain’t got guns, how are we supposed to take the power back for the people?”

“Okay, good start, Thomas. Can anyone counter or add to his argument?”

Alexander raised his hand. “Self defense is one thing, sure, but the founders couldn’t foresee the creation of machine guns, of guns that automatically reload. Not only is it necessary to look at this amendment in its historical context, but we also need to look at how technology has advanced today. The general public has no need for military-grade weapons.”

“I disagree,” Thomas drawled. “If we don’t have what they have, then how are we supposed to defend ourselves?”

“Where is this government uprising theory even coming from?” James mumbled from behind Thomas. He covered his face with one of his large hands.

“Fine, government uprising theory aside, what about hunting? Self defense from intruders?”

“Sure,” Alex shrugged. “With a permit and passage of the proper background checks.”

“Background checks and permits are too invasive,” Thomas said. “If I want a gun and I can pay for one, then it’s my right to own it!”

“This is my right, boy!” A voice bellowed from somewhere above Alexander. He could no longer see the man, his foster father. His eyes were trained to the ground, his body trembling, his head throbbing from the blow.

“It’s my right to show you who's boss here, and to remind you that if you go down the road of debauchery you have no place in this home!” Another strike came, this time as a kick to Alex’s ribcage.

“You will never see him again. Never!” A sharp pain shot through Alex’s back. “If I find out you have, you’ll have more than a few bruises to worry about.”

“Alexander?” The teacher stood in front of him.

“What does the Bible say?”

Alex stuttered.

“Repeat it to me, boy!”

“I-I don’t know––”

“All your words and you don’t know those from Our Lord? You’re damned to Hell.”

“I-I––”

“Shut up! Speak again and it’ll be your last––”

“Alexander?” She shook his shoulder.

“Do not speak again!”

So he hadn’t.

“Alex?”

Finally, as he sucked in a deep breath, his consciousness returned to the present moment. His face burned as he realized everyone was staring at him. Even Thomas looked concerned. Thomas Jefferson pitied him.

“I-I––”

“Speak again and it’ll be your last!”

“I’m sorry,” he whispered.

The bell rang, and slowly the classroom came back to life. The teacher placed a hand on Alexander’s shoulder, motioning for him to stay. She was saying something to him, but her voice was garbled, as if he were underwater or had cotton swabs stuffed in his ears.

She seemed to notice that he couldn’t make sense of what she was saying. She motioned for him to stay seated as she grabbed the phone that sat, generally unused, on its hook by the door. Alexander shut his eyes.

How did that happen? Why did it happen? I could have won. I thought I’d moved past all of this. I thought I was finally myself again. I thought I’d loosened his hold on me.

The next fifteen minutes were like a dream. His teacher gently took his arm and shouldered his backpack as she led him down the hall to the secretary’s office. He was seated in a chair by the main entrance. For some reason, his eyes were trained to that door. He expected someone to come through them, but he wasn’t sure who. When George rushed through them, Alexander felt stupid for not remembering.

George and Martha have you now. George and Martha.

George said something to him, but Alex just shut his eyes and shook his head. Everything was going too fast. He was having trouble staying in the present. He felt George’s large hands wrap gently around his own, unfurling them from the fists Alex had unconsciously clenched them into.

“Breathe with me,” George said. He began to count.

Alex had done this exercise so many times that he didn’t even have to think about it. He breathed with each count, and soon the world came back into focus. Soon he felt more… there.

“Can you stand, son?” George said.

Alex still avoided eye contact, but he nodded.

“We’re going to the car, then we’re going home,” George told him.

“Okay,” Alex whispered.

Home. Home sounded like heaven in that moment. Home. For the first time, Alex realized he thought of George and Martha’s house as home. Home. As George placed a hand on Alex’s shoulder and guided him out the doors, Alexander already felt a bit better; a bit safer.

Chapter Text

Thomas Jefferson could not stop thinking about his debate with Alexander Hamilton. Or, more specifically, he could not stop thinking about the moment it all went wrong.

Before Hamilton found his voice, debates had been boring. Sometimes Thomas bribed James with candy or cough drops to take an opposing position in class just so Thomas could go up against someone who had some semblance of debate skills. But James was his friend–– of course he never really challenged Thomas, no matter how badly Thomas wanted him to.

It’d been dull before Hamilton. Ever since the transfer student piped up that once, and with views so opposite Thomas’–– genuinely held views, at that–– Thomas knew he was in for a good time. So it did not do to see his debate partner crumble. And not even over the debate, clearly, but something else entirely. Something Thomas was still trying to place his finger on.

For what had to be the hundredth time that night, Thomas replayed the class in his mind.

“Okay, class,” the teacher said. “Today we’ve got another topic up for discussion: the right to bear arms. What does the constitution say and how should we interpret it?” She looked around at the students for a moment. “Anyone want to go first?”

Thomas volunteered. “I guess I will if none of y’all are game.” He cleared his throat. “So obviously we need guns to protect ourselves. The constitution allows us to for a reason. How was this country established? Hmm? Through a rebellion the involved firepower. If the government gets out of hand and we ain’t got guns, how are we supposed to take the power back for the people?”

“Okay, good start, Thomas. Can anyone counter or add to his argument?”

Hamilton raised his hand. “Self defense is one thing, sure, but the founders couldn’t foresee the creation of machine guns, of guns that automatically reload. Not only is it necessary to look at this amendment in its historical context, but we also need to look at how technology has advanced today. The general public has no need for military-grade weapons.”

“I disagree,” Thomas said. “If we don’t have what they have, then how are we supposed to defend ourselves?”

“Where is this government uprising theory even coming from?” James mumbled from behind Thomas. He covered his face with one of his large hands, something he did whenever Thomas embarrassed him.

“Fine, government uprising theory aside, what about hunting? Self defense from intruders?”

“Sure,” Hamilton shrugged. “With a permit and passage of the proper background checks.”

“Background checks and permits are too invasive,” Thomas said. “If I want a gun and I can pay for one, then it’s my right to own it!”

And that was when things got… odd. Instead of firing back at Thomas with sharp words, Hamilton’s eyes glazed over, his breathing quickened, and beads of sweat began to form along his hairline.

Their teacher had noticed almost as quickly as Thomas. She stepped forward, a bit closer to Hamilton. “Alexander?” she said.

Hamilton’s breath hitched and his breathing grew even shallower.

“Alexander?” The teacher gently shook his shoulder, but he violently flinched backward, nearly falling from his chair. Yet even after that, Thomas could tell Hamilton was still not there .

“Alex?” The worry in the teacher’s voice was becoming more and more evident. Just when Thomas was about to jump into action–– what, exactly, he planned to do he hadn’t known; he just knew he needed to do something –– Hamilton seemed to return to his body from wherever he’d gone off to.

The boy desperately sucked in a deep breath, as if he’d nearly drowned. He blinked a few times, as if he were just realizing where he was. Hamilton’s face blazed a bright red as he became aware of all the eyes on him.

“I-I––” he stuttered. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Why is he apologizing? Thomas wondered. Before he could answer the question for himself, the bell rang. Thomas wanted to stay, although he wasn’t sure why. He nearly did, but James cleared his throat behind him.

“Ready?” his friend asked.

Thomas forced himself to follow James from the room. It took everything in him not to stay; not to look over his shoulder at Hamilton.

“I’m sorry,” Hamilton’s apology from moments earlier echoed in his mind. It haunted Thomas for the rest of the day. It followed him home, repeated in his mind throughout dinner, and as he tried to do his homework.

He nearly texted Lafayette a few times, but each time he opened up their conversation, he remembered that he did not care about Alexander Hamilton and that Lafayette might still be upset with him for how he’d treated Hamilton when he started at the school… He threw his phone down every time.

“Why would he apologize? And to who?” Thomas muttered, alone in his room, staring up at the ceiling from his bed.

The question he’d been avoiding, but that’d been nagging at him, hovering in the back corner of his mind since that afternoon, now found him alone and vulnerable in the dark.

Did I cause Hamilton’s panic?

Never had Thomas Jefferson wished the night to pass so quickly so he could get back to school the next day and see Hamilton. Hell he didn’t even care if Hamilton ever debated him again. Thomas just wanted to see that he was okay. And that terrified him.

I’m just being a decent human, Thomas tried to comfort himself.

But something deep inside him knew that while, yes, a decent person would worry about a fellow classmate, it was something else entirely to be consumed with worry. And, as much as Thomas wanted to deny it, he was consumed with concern for Hamilton. What scared him the most was that he had no idea what that worry meant or why he felt it so strongly.

He only knew one thing: it was not a good sign.

Chapter Text

The text from Lafayette made John’s stomach turn.

Baguette: Alexander isn’t well

Baguette: can u come over?

Laurens: on my way

“Mom!” John called.

“I’m only a room over,” she said with a tired laugh. “No need to yell.”

“Right, sorry.”

The small size of the apartment still took some getting used to after living in a mansion for most of his life. Sometimes John still felt guilty that they were living here instead of at their home, but then he remembered who was at home and decided he would have taken an even smaller apartment rather than return there.

“I’m going to Alexander’s.” He leaned against the doorframe of his mother’s room. “Lafayette said he isn’t doing well.”

There was a moment of hesitation, but his mother nodded and smiled at him. “Okay, sweetie. I hope he feels better soon. Don’t stay out past curfew.”

“I won’t. Thanks, Mom,” John said.

Even a month ago this conversation would have been impossible, John reminded himself. I can’t believe how far she’s come.

John drove the short distance to the Washington’s, hands firmly wrapped around the wheel, a slight tremor in his arms. What happened? Is it pneumonia? Has he had an anxiety attack?

He pulled into the circular driveway and took a few deep breathes. No matter what it will be okay. He wasn’t so sure that was true, but he needed it to be.

Lafayette sat on the front step. He stood as John walked toward him.

“Mon ami,” he said. “Apparently he had a… moment… at school.”

John’s heart sank. And I wasn’t there. He could tell from the look on Laf’s face that he was thinking the same thing.

“What happened?”

Laf shut the door behind him, leaving him and John in darkness on the porch. “He was debating Jefferson when he remembered something. He… he doesn’t want to say what, and we-we are so worried.” Laf’s eyes filled with tears. “I was hoping he might open himself to you.”

John nodded. “I can’t promise anything,” he said hesitantly.

“I do not expect you to, mon ami. Just you being here will help him.”

They stood in silence for a moment, the sound of crickets and cars whizzing by in the distance taking over. Finally, Laf opened the door.

“He and Martha are upstairs in his room,” Laf said.

John nodded and headed upstairs. Alexander’s door was shut. John hovered for a moment. You can turn around now and he would never know, he thought, and then immediately felt horrible for thinking that. He knocked.

Martha answered. “Oh, Alex, look who it is!” she said too brightly. “It’s John.” She hugged John hello. “I’ll give you two a moment, okay, sweetie?”

Alex sat catatonic on the bed. He barely seemed to acknowledge John’s presence. John tentatively sat on the edge of the bed.

“Hey, Alex,” he said. “I’m sorry Jefferson was a dick and I wasn’t there.”

His boyfriend didn’t react. He had a pillow clutched to his stomach and was rocking back and forth ever so slightly.

“Can I hold your hand?” John asked.

For a beat too long, Alex said nothing. He made no sign he’d even heard John. But then he placed his hand on the bed between them. John grabbed at it desperately, relieved at the warmth of Alex’s skin. He’s so still I was afraid he’d be cold.

“Can you talk to me?” John asked.

Alex shook his head. No.

“Okay,” John said. “We can just sit here.”

And they did. For how long, John didn’t know. He heard shuffling in the hallway and knew Laf was hovering. He heard murmurs from downstairs and knew George and Martha were discussing what to do next. He was so lost in these sounds that he nearly missed the whisper of Alex’s voice.

“I can’t stop remembering,” he said.

John looked at his boyfriend. Alex’s eyes were rimmed red from crying.

“The things he said. The things he did. I thought… I tried to forget, but I can’t.”

John wanted to kill whoever made Alex feel this way, but he knew that wasn’t what Alexander needed to hear at the moment.

“Maybe you aren’t supposed to forget,” he said instead.

“But I want to,” Alex said. He turned to John for the first time. Tears welled in his eyes. “I would give nearly anything to forget it all.”

John pulled Alex toward him, and the smaller boy clung to him, sobbing.

“I wo-would give anything,” he cried.

I would give anything for it to never have happened to you, John thought, but he remained silent.

“You’re not alone, Alex,” he said. “I’m here, Laf is here, George and Martha are here, and we love you.”

“L-love?” Alexander hiccupped.

“Yes. I’m in love with you, Alexander Hamilton, and I would do anything to make whatever happened to you never have happened in the first place, but I can’t, so instead I promise to help you heal. To hold your hand, and to support you.”

“I love you,” Alex whispered. “I don’t deserve you.”

“Don’t ever say that,” John said. “It’s not true. It will never be true.”

Alex hugged John tighter, slowly becoming more himself. They held onto each other, never wanting to let go. And for the longest time, they didn’t.

Chapter Text

It was mid-morning of the following day and Alexander sat in his therapist’s office for an emergency session following… The Incident, as he thought of it. And if there was one thing he did not want to talk about, it was what he remembered.

His therapist sat across from him, her eyes, full of concern, boring into him. “Your parents told me a bit about what happened yesterday,” she began. “How do you feel about talking about it?”

“Scared,” he admitted.

“Is it something you’d like to try?”

No, he thought. But then he remembered what John had whispered to him before leaving last night: I know how much it hurts to remember something so painful, but maybe by remembering it and feeling it you can hurt less. John had kissed his forehead after that and left Alex to ponder his words.

“Yes.” His voice quivered as he spoke.

“What was happening before you had the memory?” she asked.

Alex shifted uncomfortably on the blue couch. He glanced out the window at the busy road and listened to the whooshing of passing cars as he gathered his thoughts.

“I was debating Thomas Jefferson in class. He’s a classmate,” Alex said, the image of Jefferson and his magenta sweater and puffy hair and smug smile filling his mind. What I would give to be trapped in a room with him right now instead of talking about this.

“Something he said reminded me of something… he once said.” Alex shivered. He didn’t like thinking of him .

“Are you referring to your former foster father?” his therapist asked, her voice gentler than ever before.

Alex nodded once, swallowing hard.

“What happened in the memory?”

Alex fidgeted with his hands, finding a callous on a finger and picking at it. “He was angry with me again. He was… yelling.”

“What was he yelling?”

His therapist’s voice was growing fainter and fainter. The room was melting away. The whooshing of cars evaporated like fog in the sun’s rays, and suddenly Alexander was there again.

“Never forget–– this is a sickness, boy! An illness! If this doesn’t wrestle it from your soul, you have much worse to fear.”

The blows stopped hurting after the first few strikes. Alex became numb. His mind was stuffed with cotton, and he was far away from his body, looking down on the ugly scene. A scraggly boy bleeding and bruised on the kitchen floor. A man popping open a beer and swearing under his breath.

Alex resurfaced, panting, as if he’d been underwater for too long.

“What are you thinking?” his therapist asked. She leaned forward in her chair, as if he might topple over off the couch and she’d need to catch him.

“I saw him again. I…” Alexander shook his head. “He told me it was wrong.”

“What was wrong?”

“Me and Pierre. The boy I loved.” Alex took a shaky breath. Shame coursed through him as tears tracked down his cheeks. “He… he hit me. He told me I was wrong, that he needed to fix me, and he beat me.” The words fell out of his mouth before he knew what he was saying. “And I can’t keep living it. I can’t keep remembering!” He sobbed, his hands flying to his mouth to cover the sound. “I’m not that strong!”

“Oh, Alexander.” His therapist held a box of tissues out to him. “You’re stronger than you realize. Everything you just told me… I know how much strength that took and I am so proud of you.”

Alex stared at the blue and gold pattern of the carpet. Following the lines with his eyes soothed him.

“These memories won’t always haunt you,” she said. “I promise. And we can work on techniques to shut them down when they appear outside of therapy.”

Alex nodded. “Please,” he whispered.

“Of course. Can we try something first?”

Alex’s eyes met hers. “Okay,” he whispered.

“I want you to say this: ‘I am strong.’”

Alex laughed anxiously. “Wh-what?”

She smiled encouragingly. “Yes, you heard me right. You need to say it so you can begin to believe it. ‘I am strong.’”

Alex shook his head and laughed again.

“You can do it,” she said. She stared at him, waiting.

“I am strong,” Alexander said softly.

Her face broke out into a grin. “I knew you could do it.”

Alex couldn’t help but smile back. I am strong. The words echoed in his mind. Even though he was nowhere near believing them, just the thought that someday he could was enough to give him hope. And that was more than he’d had in a long time.

Chapter Text

The smell of ointment is the first thing he notices. It is dark, only the flickering of candles in circular holders offer any light. John can just make out the shape of a man dressed in robes standing before him, chanting something in a different language… Latin… his voice melodious, but detached.

“...etiamque Domino Deo ut harum corporis peccatum expulsat teque in lucem adferat sempiternam oramus.”

The man lowers a hand toward John and draws a cross on his forehead, the chanting turning to muttering. John knows someone is standing in a pew behind where he kneels at the base of the altar. He knows without looking that it is his father, and that his hands are clasped in prayer, but his eyes are made of ice. He knows his mother is there, weeping, and his sister is holding onto her skirt, scared. He knows she is scared because of him.

He squeezes his eyes shut, the smell of ointment now choking him as the priest swings the thurible around him praying The Lord’s Prayer, still in Latin. This, at least, John knows.

Hands fall on his shoulders and begin to shake him violently. The priest shouts “Repent, repent!” John opens his mouth to repent, to pray for forgiveness, but nothing comes out. The incense is filling his lungs. There is no air left; nothing left for him to take in. His mother screams, but he knows his father is holding her back, letting him die saved because that is better for his soul than living and––

“John, John, sweetie!” His mother shook him awake.

John sprang upright in bed, sweat dripping down his forehead, his pajamas clinging to his clammy body. He shivered, but not with cold.

“Sweetheart,” she said softly. She sat on the edge of his bed and ran a hand through his hair. “Are you okay?”

“It… it was just a dream?” He looked at her, knowing his eyes are wide, his voice childlike.

“Yes, of course, honey,” she said. She kissed his forehead. “Would turning on a light help?”

John nodded vigorously. She flicked on the bedside lamp and the comforting glow helped John regain control of his breathing. Somehow the scent of incense was still trapped in his nostrils.

“I’m so sorry, Jack,” his mother whispered as she soothingly ran a hand through his hair.

“Why?” Does she know what I was dreaming?

“I should have gotten you out of that house sooner. I should have been there for you.”

John remained quiet because this is true. It’s true and they both know it.

“It was a dream about him, right?”

John swallowed hard. “Yes.” His voice cracked.

She bit her lip. “I have them, too,” she said after a moment. “He can’t just leave us alone.”

John laughed, but it comes out more cynically than he intended. “No,” he agreed. “He can’t.”

“And we know, logically, he’s not here,” she says, seemingly more to herself. She turns and looks at John. “But we can’t forget.”

“Exactly,” John whispers.

“Johnny, sweetie…” She sighed. “I don’t want you to take this wrong, but…”

She’s sending me back? This is too much for her? She can’t take care of both me and my sister?

“... but I think you and I both need to see therapists.”

John choked on laughter. “No shit, Mom!”

Her jaw dropped at his language, but then she laughed, too. “Well, that went better than I expected.”

“Alexander sees a therapist. I think it’s a good idea.”

She nodded her head. “We’ll get different ones, too, so no…”

“Yeah, that would be weird,” he said with a laugh.

“Okay, then it’s settled. Tomorrow I’ll search for one.” She kissed his forehead. “Are you okay to go back to sleep?”

John imagined settling back down in the dark, alone, the smell of incense, the priest’s chanting, his father’s praying… His breathing started to quicken.

“It’s okay not to be, Johnny,” she said softly. “Want to sleep in my room tonight?”

Part of John felt defeated. He hadn’t slept in his parents’ room since he was in kindergarten… But that was only because his father wanted him to “man up.” At the age of six. But the more he thought about spending the night alone in his room with the priest and his father lurking in the shadows, the less foolish he felt because he needed sleep and he was not going to find it here.

“Okay,” he said, his eyes cast downward. “I’m sorry, Mom.”

“No need to apologize,” she said, her voice more forceful than it’d been all night. “I want you to be comfortable, John. You’re my child, and I will do anything for you.”

“Thanks, Mom. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She smiled at him. “Now let’s go get some sleep, okay?”

He smiled back at her and grabbed his pillow. “Okay.”

Chapter Text

Lafayette refused to leave Alexander’s side. He hadn’t been there for Alexander after his debate with Jefferson. He hadn’t even been in the school building. This is all your fault, a voice told Laf. If you’d been there like a good brother, he’d be fine. Your selfish decision caused this.

But I skipped school to comfort John! Laf countered.

And by doing that also took John from Alex, who he probably wants to spend more time with than you, anyway. You failed them both.

Laf had acted as Alexander’s shadow all weekend, and, come Monday, was cautiously sticking by his side as they made their way up the sidewalk to the school. Alexander seemed indifferent, eyes bleary with sleep, heavy backpack causing him to slouch forward, but Laf knew better. He knew the battle Alex had gone through that morning.

It’d started around 5:30 AM. Laf awoke to a door creaking open, and the bathroom door softly being shut. He sat up in bed. Alexander. Laf listened for a few more moments. At first, there was silence. Then he heard the nearly silent sound of sobs.

Laf sprang out of bed. He knocked on the bathroom door. “Alexander?”

The door opened a crack. Laf stepped in, making sure to shut it behind him. Alex sat on the tile floor, face a pasty color, tears staining his cheeks. The smell of throw-up hit Laf.

“Are you sick, mon ami?”

“Not in the way you’re thinking,” Alex whispered. Suddenly, his eyes widened and he leaned over the garbage pail and wretched again. Laf winced as Alex gagged. He knew Alex was barely eating again. There was nothing left to throw up.

“Oh, mon ami.” Laf sat next to Alex and gently stroked his hair. He knew anxiety had a habit of making Alex so sick he… well, got sick.

Laf stayed with Alex until he felt well enough to go back to his room. He curled up on his bed, his head in Laf’s lap, as Laf sang him lullabys in French.

“You should stay home today, mon ami,” he said.

“I can’t. It’ll make it worse. It’ll make it harder to go back tomorrow.” Alex’s voice was chopped and strained. Laf could tell he hated the words that were coming out of his own mouth.

“Certainly one day wouldn’t hurt,” Laf said gently.

“It would,” Alex whispered.

Laf nodded. Who am I to tell Alexander what is best for him? He knows his anxiety better than I do.

And you weren’t there for him in the first place, the voice reminded Laf. None of this would be happening had you not been so selfish.

Laf swallowed the guilt and instead channeled his energy into helping Alex get ready for the day. It went slowly. In between each piece of clothing Laf had to walk Alexander through breathing exercises to calm his anxiety. They spent at least a half hour on the small rug in front of Alex’s closet, just breathing, with Alex crying intermittently.

Laf made sure to tell Martha that Alex was in not state to even think of breakfast. She nodded and bit her lip. Laf could tell that the mother in her wanted to feed Alex, but that the rest of her knew that would be a bad idea. She slipped Alex’s lunch to Laf, who promised to give it to him and text her if he didn’t eat.

The car ride to school was one from hell. Not because Alex made it so, but because Laf couldn’t do a thing to stop the suffering Alexander was going through right beside him. The smaller boy’s eyes were focused out the window as George drove, the man’s eyebrows creased in worry. Laf could see from the window’s reflection that Alex was crying.

“You really don’t have to go today, son,” George said as they pulled up to the school.

Alex shook his head. George nodded. He understood.

“Well, give us a call if you need anything. Or a text,” he added, as if he just remembered texting existed.

“I will take care of him,” Laf promised.

You already failed at that, the voice said.

Then this is my chance to make it up to Alex, Laf countered.

Alexander took a deep breath, and the two boys walked toward the school.

Chapter Text

Alexander walked through the doors of the school. It felt as if every voice was an arrow directed at him; each consonant sharp, each vowel projected at his ears alone. He squeezed Laf’s hand. As they got further into the school, the crush of students became heavier, and Alex felt more and more helpless. He was convinced that at any moment he’d be swallowed whole.

At least this would be over then.

Laf said something to him, but Alex couldn’t differentiate Laf’s words from the flurry of sounds around them. He figured out what Laf must have been saying, though, as he saw John and Herc approach them. Both of them wore worried expressions, but John especially was feigning a smile. Had Alexander not been in the midst of panic, he would have called them out on it. But he could barely make out what anyone said to him.

The world began to close in on him. A bell rung somewhere in the distant. John’s hand rested on his arm. Laf hovered too close to his face. Herc looked around the hallway anxiously, as if he wanted to flag someone down for help.

The thoughts began to pile in his mind. If you go to class you will be trapped. If you go to class bad things will happen. If you go to class you will die. Part of him knew these were illogical, but that part of him was buried beneath layers of panic.

John squeezed his arm and said something. Alexander felt bile rising in his throat. Everything was too much. Everything was happening and he couldn’t make any of it out. He had to calm his racing thoughts. He had to.

Alexander bolted.

He didn’t know his legs could do that. He didn’t remember giving them the command. He just knew that if he didn’t get out of there now, things were only going to get worse.

He shoved open the door to the nearest boy’s bathroom and dove into a stall. He slammed it shut and drew in fast, shaky breaths.

I will not throw up I will not throw up I will not throw up.

He barely had time to think before he threw up absolutely nothing, not having eaten breakfast. The taste of bile stung his tongue. His breathing calmed, and his skin began to feel clammy. He wanted to find his water bottle, which was somewhere in his backpack, but all he could do at the moment was sit on the cool tile floor, his back against the side of the stall, his energy focused on his breathing.

The door burst open and John came in. Alex could tell by the sound of his gait.

“Alex?” his boyfriend said gently. “Hey.”

Alex opened his eyes to find John crouched on the floor peering at him from under the stall.

“What happened?”

“I threw up,” Alex said, voice hoarse.

“Oh,” John’s face fell. “I’ll take you to the nurse.”

Alexander was tired of nurses. He was tired of this monster controlling his life.

“No,” he said. “I’m fine.”

“You just threw up,” John said, brow furrowed.

“From anxiety,” Alex amended. “Which is not nurse-worthy.”

“Mental health is just as important as physical health,” John said worriedly.

“I’m fine ,” Alex said. He finally felt able to rummage through his backpack for his water bottle. He took a few careful sips.

“Okay,” John conceded. He sighed and shook his head. “Let me walk you to class?”

Alex stood, legs shaky, but his mind clearer. The worst had happened and he was still here. Even if he hadn’t made it to the actual classroom yet, he was too close to give up.

“Please,” Alex asked.

John held out his hand and smiled as Alex took it. Alexander knew John refrained from commenting on how cold his boyfriend’s hands were, and how badly he was shaking. They walked silently to Alex’s class, and when they got to the door, John kissed Alexander on the forehead.

“You’re so strong,” John whispered. “I’ll see you after class. I’ll be right here.”

Alexander nodded and counted the seconds in his mind as he took a breath. In one, two, three, four, five, hold one, two, three four, five, out one, two, three, four, five.

He opened the door.

The anxiety slammed into him again, but he made it to his seat. He took out his book, his notebook, and a pen. He placed his water bottle on his desk. He crossed and uncrossed his legs. He kept counting his breaths. And then the teacher started class, and Alexander forced himself to focus on the lesson. By the time the bell rang at the end of the period, Alex realized he’d been engulfed by the history class. It was over. He’d conquered it for this one class.

Even after losing so many battles, he was winning the war.

Chapter Text

Adrienne de Noailles

Gilbert,

Upon reading your latest message I feel the need to tell you that your pains sound very similiar to your brother’s. None of what happened was your fault, but rather simply the circumstances. Is this understandable? Am I being too bold? It seems to me you suffer from a disorder of anxiety as well. I want to help you, Gilbert. Sometimes I curse that we are separated by this ocean.

Xox

Adrienne

 

Lafayette

Adrienne,

You did not overstep! I hope you know that between us you can say anything. I appreciate your concern, but it is impossible for me to have an anxiety disorder. I can still function, and mon ami Alex is at many times impaired by his illness. Maybe I was just having a bad day? I think it must have been that. Thank you for caring. Please know you can always say anything.

Xox

Gilbert

 

Adrienne de Noailles

Then if I can say anything, I say bullshit! (wow, it felt so naughty saying such a word, even over text!) Mon amie Marie has anxiety and she is not impaired entirely by it. Most days you would never know. There was only one time when I knew, and that was because she told me. It is possible you have this kind of anxiety? The silent kind?

Xox

Adrienne

 

Lafayette

I have been a bad influence on you, mon amie! ;D

 

Adrienne de Noailles

Laaaaaf do not avoid this~

 

Lafayette

But it is impossible.

 

Adrienne de Noailles

BULLSHIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (I will keep swearing until you understand)

 

Lafayette

Silent anxiety? Maybe a thing for others, but not for me. It was a bad day.

 

Adrienne de Noailles

You seem to have many bad days then, mon ami :’(

I hope you know I only press this because I care.

 

Lafayette

I know <3

Will you feel better if I talk to mon Mama and Papa?

 

Adrienne de Noailles

Much <333

 

Lafayette

Fiiiiiine. I will then, but only for you.

 

Adrienne de Noailles

Glad to be a good influence on you! Unlike the one you’ve had on me ;)

 

Lafayette

Speaking of being a good influence, it’s late over there! Get some rest!

 

Adrienne de Noailles

You are correct. I’ll go to sleep now. Goodnight, mon ami <333

 

Lafayette

Goodnight, mon amie <333 And thank you.

Chapter Text

Lafayette couldn’t stop thinking about what Adrienne had said. Silent anxiety. It wasn’t noticeable like Alexander’s. It wasn’t visibly disruptive to his life. But it drained him. It hurt him. Maybe he deserved help for it. Maybe.

The first thing he had to do was the hardest: he had to tell someone. Specifically, he had to tell his parents.

Hey, so you know how you have one messed up kid right now, how does having two sound?

He shook his head. How could he do this to his parents? They already had so much to deal with. He was functioning. Barely, sometimes, but he was. If it was actually a problem, wouldn’t he be unable to?

He paced his room, lost in thought. He was so lost in thought that he didn’t notice when there was a knock on his door.

“Gilbert, sweetie?” Martha called.

Laf startled and stopped in his tracks. “Oui, Mama?”

“Can I come in?”

“Oui.” He opened the door and forced a smile on his face, but there was something in his mother’s eyes that told him she didn’t buy it.

“I just got a message from Adrienne.”

Laf’s heart stopped. He swore his heart stopped.

“She said you’ve been having bad anxiety lately?”

There were tears in his mother’s eyes. You did this. You put those tears there. You could have prevented this by remaining silent. This could have been prevented, but you’re selfish. You’re so, so selfish.

“She is being how you say, uh, pro-protective,” he stammered. Whenever he was flustered, his English flew out the window.

Martha smiled sadly and patted Laf’s bed. He sat next to her, but he was ready to crawl out of his skin. He wanted to escape. He needed to escape. He did not want to be there, having this conversation.

How dare Adrienne do this to you, the voice said.

She was only doing what she thought best, Laf countered.

How dare she, the voice said with more conviction.

There was a war inside of Lafayette, and he had no idea how to fight it; how to win it. He dropped his head into his hands.

“Gilbert, honey, it’s okay,” Martha said. She rubbed circles onto his back. “It’s really okay, sweetie.”

“No, it’s not.” Tears welled in Laf’s eyes. “You already have to help Alexander, an-and you don’t need more on, how you say, your dish, to deal with.”

“Gilbert, honey, you are never something to deal with. You’re my son. Papa and I love you. You’re our child. We would go to the ends of the earth to help you, just as we would Alexander.”

“But––”

“No buts. Now please, honey, tell me what’s been going on?”

Laf sat up and took a few deep breaths. “I feel like everything is my fault. I feel all of this dread all of the time and n-no matter what I do I can’t shake it.”

“Oh honey, I am so sorry you’ve been suffering in silence. Would seeing a therapist sound good to you?”

“I’m not…” Laf shook his head. “I’m not sick enough. It’s barely an issue.”

“I doubt that, honey. Anxiety presents itself differently for everyone. And just because yours is quieter than someone else’s doesn’t make it any less of an issue.”

“I guess,” Laf sighed.

“I’ll talk to Papa, but does seeing a therapist sound helpful?”

Lafayette thought about how much seeing one seemed to have helped Alexander.

“Yeah, that sounds good.”

“I’ll talk to him when he gets home, but I’m certain he’ll agree. We’ll make some calls.” She squeezed his knee. “Honey, please never feel like you have to suffer, or suffer alone or in silence. No matter what else is going on in our lives, you and Alexander are our priorities. We love you more than you can imagine and will do anything for you, okay?”

Laf wiped away a tear. “Okay, Mama. I love you.”

“I love you, too, sweetie.” She pulled him into a tight hug. “So, so much.”

Once Martha left, Laf pulled out his phone and typed two words to Adrienne:

Thank you.