The first war ends like it began. With a dash of ink. A scrawling signature. A sigh of relief. There, isn’t that better now? Things are done. General Washington listened to the terms of surrender with no ability to accept them or refute them. The decision had been taken entirely out of his hands. Thank you for your service, Henry Laurens demurred. But...the war is over. It was a good fight. And we lost it.
It’s easy to say that, Washington thinks, when you’re not the one in chains.
Clinton had been a fair jailor. He’d kept his promise to Laurens that the traitors were not to be punished until their inevitable trial. But it hadn’t stopped Clinton from trimming the fat. Washington didn’t need some of his ‘lesser’ aides. Didn’t need to have them huddled together, planning for another revolution that would never come.
He was allowed to look out the window. Watch as five of his men, good men, were lined up. Ropes around their necks as they prepared for the long drop. Grayson, Hopwood, Baylor, Trumbull, and McHenry the first day. More after that. Clinton may not have mistreated any of them prior to their deaths, but the inevitability of their ends at Clinton’s hands leaves a stain on his legacy as a sublime host.
Washington sits on the floor of his cell, watching his boys slowly be taken from him one by one. Hopwood, Humphrey’s, McHenry—Ludington. Ludington who has twelve children, and yet still stands tall and proud in the end. Letting them walk him out of his cell. Shielding the younger aides a while longer. Not fighting as he’s brought to the scaffold.
The executions continue.
Clinton’s prison is a macabre place. Conversation falling swiftly, overtaken by the lingering sense of doom. All thoughts fixated on the hangman’s noose. Who’s next? Who’s next? Who’s next? The cell door opens. Another man, another boy, pulled from where they lay. Until there’s only three left. Three dirty faces staring back at Washington from behind iron bars. Washington had started with eight times as much.
His heart breaks a little more.
In good conscious, Clinton cannot kill either John Laurens or le Marquis de Lafayette. With John’s father acting as President to the Continental Congress...King George couldn’t ask for a more valuable hostage. And to hang le Marquis….it’d be inviting conflict with France that the King similarly would rather avoid. Washington’s known from the start that he’d have been killed first if that’d been on the table. Which leaves Alexander.
His chief aide to camp. Boy soldier with no title, no lands, no wealth, nothing to keep him protected. He’s not a foreign prince, nor is he a domestic champion. He’s a thorn in everyone’s sides, and Washington knows full well that he’ll be the last to go.
Washington watches the youth. Twenty-four years old. He’d been serving Washington since he’d been a teenager. Throwing himself into fight after fight. Running desperately forward. Passing messages, commanding armies. He’d annoyed every person he’d ever spoken to, and still they’d listened to him. They’d had to. He spoke for Washington, and no one dared break Washington’s command because an upstart just happened to be issuing them.
Alexander had fought bravely when the battle started. When they knew from the start that they’d lost. When the British outnumbered them 10 to 1. He’d still unsheathed his sword, told Washington it’d been an honor, and fought until his body gave out. Bullet snapping across his side and felling him far into the field.
Surrender came not long after. Washington had no desire to see his men die. If his aides’ deaths had provided one thing...it had allowed hundreds of other men to go home to their loved ones. The war was over, and all it cost in the end was the loss of Washington’s family. A price, Washington suspected, the rank-and-file were happy to pay.
The bullet in Alexander’s side festered. It bled badly and turned red and rough, fever taking hold almost immediately. Washington half suspected Clinton felt there’d be no need to waste rope on Alexander’s neck. He’d die soon enough as it was. But he hadn’t died then. Even taken by fever and shivering badly in John’s arms, Alexander hadn’t died.
He’d managed to pull through, and come morning—all that effort will likely have been a waste. “They’re going to send us to England,” Washington tells his boys. Clinton had been implying as much for weeks now. But word has returned to the colonies. An answer to Clinton’s proclamation the war had been won. “The King seeks an audience.”
It’s hard not to be bitter. After all this time. It’s hard to not find himself entirely unamused by Clinton’s or the King’s tactics. So the King wanted to see them. Now? After all this time? After years of conflict and ignoring advisors and petitions in parliament? After Adams had languished about in court attempting to resolve the matters delicately? Now the King deigns to speak to colonists? It’s infuriating.
John’s quiet at the news. Alexander’s head is still resting in his lap, where it’s laid every night since their captivity. Seeking warmth from John’s body as he struggles to breathe through the pain in his side. The barred walls of their prison make it so that they are not all together. John leans against a set of bars, Lafayette on the other side. They sit back to back. As close as they can, and Alexander rests with John. All Washington can do is watch. Watch as his boys are taken from him one by one. As slowly yet surely, bad news yields only silence. Resignation. The time for fighting has, it seems, finally passed.
Outside, Washington can hear Clinton’s voice ordering someone to get back to work. Deadlines must be met. Arrangements made. It’s going to be a long, arduous, journey. And even with only a few prisoners...Clinton wants to ensure nothing bad could possibly go wrong. Washington doesn’t blame him. He’d respond much the same if given the chance.
He’s already resigned himself to the silence by the time John speaks. Voice low. Cracking a bit on the first vowel. “Tell them he’s your son,” he grits out. John’s arm tighten around Alexander’s crumpled form. The young aide’s fever had broken two days ago, but the exhaustion hasn’t left. He’s not had nearly enough food or water to substantiate his healing. A kind maid had provided what she could, but there wasn’t anything more that could be done for any of them at this point. Alexander’s body needed to save itself.
Lafayette sits a little straighter at John’s words. He glances out of the corner of his eye. Meeting Washington’s gaze. His fair hair hung in tangled threads along his face, and he waits with an anticipation Washington had long since fled the man’s body. “Tell them he’s your son,” John repeats. Voice stronger now as he slowly eases Alexander’s head from his lap. As he walks to the bars that line his half of the room. One filthy hand reaches out and grips the iron tightly. “They’re going to kill him.”
They are. They’re going to kill him in the morning. Why feed four mouths, when three work just as well? Washington’s heart beats faster in his chest. His eyes flick down to Alexander’s beloved face. He’s a child. A child caught up in a war that he managed to the best of his ability. And he’s going to die tomorrow for a country that wasn’t even his to start with. He chose this fight. And he’d picked the wrong side.
“If you tell them he’s your son, if you claim him as your heir, they won’t kill him. They’ll need him.” To control Washington. To use against him in any future negotiations. He’d live, but he’d live poorly. He’d live in bondage and in chains. John’s relentless though. His face is twisted in a furious snarl, his eyes are flashing with energy Washington didn’t even know he had left in him. “Tell them that he’s yours, and he’ll live.”
Washington had sat idly by as member after member of his military family were led off to slaughter. Had stood at the window and watched them hang. Alexander’s unconscious. He has no say in what’s about to happen. But Washington’s tired of watching his boys die. And Alexander...he’s a bastard orphan. Unlike everyone else, Washington can lay claim on him. Can play pretend.
He nods curtly, and John’s hand slides from the bars. Lafayette lets out a long breath of air. Flurry of French curses or breaths of relief slide from his tone. He presses a filthy hand to his too pale face. John returns to Alexander and drops to the ground with a flop. He drags Alexander closer to his body. The younger man doesn’t wake.
He has no idea he’s been made a prince in his sleep.
And no idea what his future has in store.
Come morning, John's bluff plays off. Clinton hesitates. He looks between Washington in one cell, and Alexander's crumpled form in the other. He shifts his gaze between John and Lafayette, both on their feet and challenging. Lafayette may not be in a position to help, he cannot reach John or Alexander, trapped as he is. But he stands regardless. Back straight and lips pressed thin. Glaring and threatening.
It's not the first time. When Washington's boys were all first set in irons, Lafayette and John had held Alexander up between them. Had snapped at anyone who tried to take him from them. The others had closed ranks. Keeping the dire state of Alexander's health a secret for as long as possible.
This new lie only works because of how loyal they all are. Because even though Alexander has a tendency to infuriate every man he ever spoke with, he equally has a talent for collecting fierce allies.
The lie works, because it's not the first time someone's wondered if it were true. If Alexander reached his position because of blood. Not talent. If the deeper meaning behind Washington's choice in staffing came from familial loyalty, not an honest respect for a hard working young man.
Clinton chortles when the "farce" is revealed. When the "truth" comes out. "I should have him hung regardless," Clinton tells Washington. It's a meaningless taunt. What he does is far more important to Washington than what he doesn't do. What he should do. Clinton turns. Tells the men their ship will have four passenger. He leaves them alone. Spreading word to the people outside that Washington's bastard had finally revealed himself.
Squeezing his lips together, Washington tries not to think of his wife. Tries not to imagine what her reaction will be upon hearing the news that Hamilton has been declared his heir. His first, and only, son by blood. She loved Alexander when they met. She found him sweet and charming. Both things Alexander could be when he bothered to try. Usually, he didn't bother.
There's a difference to loving a boy you meet on a battlefield, and hearing news that that same boy was your husband's son. Begotten in an affair and made true by Washington's declaration. Clinton, John, and Lafayette all serving as witnesses to the decree. Blood or no blood, it makes little difference now. Alexander's his son. And legally...he's protected.
Alexander wakes only moments before the guards come to escort them to the ship. Dark velvet eyes blinking owlishly at the world. John hisses something to him in the quiet way brothers do. Shortened words that makes much sense to them, but little to others. He grips Alexander's arm and hauls him to his feet. Guides him and keeps him quiet as they stumble toward the ships.
Washington is made to lead, but he finds his mind drifting backward. Wanting to keep his boys in his line of sight at all times. People line the streets as they walk. Shouting, booing, throwing food. Alexander stumbles. Washington can hear him trip, and John catching him. Holding him firm. Washington manages a quick look back, gratified to see Lafayette balancing and shielding them both.
He wraps his arm around Alexander's back. Hand gripping John's shoulder tight and squeezing it harder by the second. Lafayette's always managed his temper far better than John, and the talent shows here. While he forces John into behaving, he keeps his expression neutral. And John...John is tipping closer and closer to fury.
Washington redirects his attention to the path ahead. To the gangplank under his feet. The creaking steps that lead deep into the HMS Boyle's hull. They're shoved unceremoniously into the bottom ethers of the ship. Chained together, manacles clanking hard around their wrists. Tied off with a great flurry of needless action. Their jailor smiling as he actually kisses the bloody key. Sliding it into his front breast pocket as though he'd done something particularly clever.
The door to their 'dungeon' is slammed shut, and darkness descends. Small circular windows, high above their heads, serving as their only point of light. Alexander is curled on the ground. One hand pressed against his injured side, the other steadying him on the floor. He's blinking slowly. Breathing hard. Washington shifts. Turns so he can look at him fully.
Alexander had managed to hold his tongue during the walk. Even as shouts of 'Washington's bastard!' filled the square. He'd kept his thoughts to himself. Even as sweat began to slide down his face and the crowds jeered his noble bearing. 'Not used to hardship, is he?' one even dared to call him a 'little lord'. Mocking and horrible.
"What...is going on?" Alexander asks slowly. He glares up at Washington. Diminutive body coiling with righteous fury sorely misplaced. He's preparing himself for a fight that will never happen, and Washington almost wishes they could have this fight. That it's a fight worth having in the first place.
He'd offered Alexander patronage in the past. It'd been met with cold indifference at best, and fiery loathing at worst. This, he suspects, will not go over as smoothly. "Congratulations, mon ami," Lafayette tells Alexander. Faux enthusiasm digging into fresh wounds as Alexander snaps his fury in Lafayette's direction. "You're no longer a bastard."
"It's what you've always wanted," John continues. Matching the dark snarl of Lafayette's tone. Neither in the mood for playing games. "You've finally a legal father. Finally an heir. And more importantly," John snatches Alexander's chin between his fingers. Shakes his head firmly to ensure that Alexander was paying attention. "You're still alive to complain about it."
He releases Alexander. Slumps backward so he's leaning against the hull. Arms crossed petulantly in front of his chest. The revelation has not been delivered as kindly as Washington would have preferred. Someone of Alexander's temperament...deserved to be eased into such changes.
The boy's looking at Washington now, though. And the slight stirrings of irritation are...surprisingly mild. Practical, Washington reminds himself. Alexander is nothing but practical. There's no changing what's happened. Washington can see him mulling over the implications of their actions. Can see him coming to terms with the reality he's been given.
He's not happy. Washington can see it clearly. Alexander may never have discussed his upbringing, but Washington does know he kept a strange thread of hero worship for the man he called 'father'. The kind any orphan feels toward a parent who abandons them. Just you wait, I'll make something of myself and prove how good I can be. Then you'll come back...and you'll want me again.
There's no father coming for Alexander now. No parent capable of traversing the ocean to rescue him from the depths of King George's dungeons. Whatever fate lies in store for them once they reach London, it's not one that a long lost relative is going to be able to restore.
Alexander's jaw works. His tongue peeks out between his lips, then slips away. He closes his eyes. Struggles to sit himself upright, but only really managing to grunt in pain as he shifts his seat. Slumps awkwardly to the left. John catches him, pulls him back so he's leaning against John's side. "I make a terrible son," Alexander mutters.
It's concession and self-deprecation in one. Washington's not entirely sure how to respond. No, you're wonderful? You're all a man could hope for in a child? You've served me so faithfully for all these years, how could you think so little of yourself?
He says none of it. He may have taken the boy in as his, but he knows far better than to engage in a battle with Alexander's misery. He's no intention of getting a tongue lashing, when the physical whip rests as a far too likely possibility in their future.
He doesn’t need to say anything, though. John and Lafayette close ranks easily. "You?" John drawls slowly. "A bad son? Say it isn't so." There's a slight ease of tension around Alexander's face as his lips threaten to dare a smile.
"He argues constantly," Lafayette sighs. Letting his accent thickens as he counts off demerits on his fingers. Manacled wrist clinking as he adjusts the chain. "Never satisfied with anything."
John makes a show of being dramatic. "Just wants to be in charge, is that so hard?"
"It's not his fault all the other Generals are idiots," Lafayette laments in return.
"And, honestly, he just wants time off to get married. Is that too much to ask?" Even Washington's struggling to not find humor in their conjured complaints. Though perhaps reminding Alexander of his new bride hadn't been the grandest of moves. The faint hint of amusement on the boy's features snap away almost instantly.
His thumb pushes a circle around his wedding band. His eyes flick to it miserably. Married less than four months before his capture. He'll likely never see his young bride again. John and Lafayette sober quickly. Silence settling about their number even as the deck hands up above are shouting and preparing to push off on their journey.
"I... have been remiss in my duties as a father," Washington tries. To the astonishment of all three boys. "My behavior, perhaps not up to par." He's not keen on whatever consequence Alexander could see fit to bestow upon him. Knows full well that Alexander's sharp tongue can turn vicious if it suits him. But the light hearted teasing had been more than Washington's heard in weeks. If it'll restore even the slightest bit of tender affection in his family...he'll take it.
John and Lafayette both seem frozen. Not sure how to proceed, or if it's even warranted. But Alexander tilts his head a little. Quiet and assessing, before sighing. Closing his eyes and settling in a more languid slouch. Alleviating the pressure on his side while at the same time affecting an appearance of noble nonchalance. "The worst," he decrees.
It's all the motivation his cohorts need. "Doesn't host, doesn't write," John starts.
"Doesn't attend said wedding, only sends gifts." They'd been nice gifts, Washington thinks, letting them continue to list his faults. A fine mirror for the lady, a sharp blade for Alexander. He'd given Alexander time to rush off the middle of a war they were losing, so he could court and wed his paramour. It's more than many others had gotten.
"Always says 'no', always giving orders. Work, work, work, all the time." They've gotten Alexander to laugh. A quiet chuckle under his breath that ends with a grimace. His right hand pressed tight against the wound.
It's warm down here. Likely to grow warmer too. Washington lets his eyes scan the ships bowels critically. There's a faint stench of mildew permeating the air. Water splashes about in a small puddle toward the center of the ship. Cargo is stacked in lines across from them. Offsetting the balance of the anchor that's coiled not far away. It wouldn't take much, Washington thinks. To murder them ruthlessly. Tie them to the chain, drop it, and watch as their bodies are torn apart – meaningless weight compared to the anchor itself.
He feels his cheek twitch at the thought. His nose scrunch slightly before settling. The boys are still talking amongst themselves. Inventing new twists to stories they all knew by heart. Four years of service fighting side by side, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand. It's hard to believe that this is how it will end.
Shipped back to England. Recalcitrant cargo. Washington shies away from the real term. Shies away from calling their predicament exactly what it is. He thinks, strangely, of Mount Vernon. Of his wife, and her children. Of their farm and the life they thought they'd live together. Of Sampson.
Sampson's been in the colonies longer than Washington's been alive, but...he wonders if this was what it felt like to leave his homeland. Pressed into the bowels of a ship, salt water taste in the air, the feel of wood pressing hard against his body. Unforgiving. Tormenting. Boys, barely older than children, huddled close at his side. Transferred and traded, in the end, because of betrayal.
Washington's nails dig into the flesh of his palms. His teeth clench tight. Pain blisters around his gums, aggravating the roots he has struggled with for years. He lets up on the grinding. He gives himself a few moments to fester on thoughts of Benedict Arnold and John André, then submitted those thoughts to the ether to be examined by God.
There's nothing he can do in regards to either Arnold or André...and reflecting on their duplicity would do nothing for him in the short term. Not when his military family had been hanged. When he only had three souls left. He releases the tension in his shoulders. Carefully arranges himself so he can observe his boys interacting. Can content himself that for this single solitary moment, they have their health at the very least.
A loud shout up above and a sudden rocking motion. Alexander goes as taught as a bowstring. Washington has no words to soothe him. The ship pushes free from the harbor, and they begin their long arduous journey across the ocean to England.