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Paint splatters and Penstrokes

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“Mamá, what’s on her arm?” Six-year-old Alexander stared at the woman across the street, her arm covered in script, black ink swirling around her tanned skin. She was reading it, a small smile on her face as a pink blush grew on her cheeks.
His mother frowned, only for a moment. “Hijo, don’t point.” His hand dropped instantly back to his side. “That’s a message from her soulmate, their skin is connected.” He tilts his head to the side, looking at his mother. “When he writes on his skin, she sees it on hers,” she continued, clasping the ends of her sleeves tight in her hands.
Alexander’s eye lit up as he understood. “Is that why you always wear long sleeves? You don’t want other people reading Papá’s messages, right?” A few people overheard the conversation, looking in their direction, a smattering of disdain and pity, depending on whom they were focusing.
“Come on, Alexander. Let’s go home.” She murmured, ushering her son away from the center of town, avoiding eye contact all the while.

“What do you mean Papá’s gone? Is he coming back?” eleven-year-old Alexander stood his ground, staring at his mother wide-eyed. When she said nothing, he scowled. “You two are soulmates! He wouldn’t just walk out! He…” he paused, two thoughts clicking together in his mind. “Right?” He took a tentative step forward, gripping her sleeve in his hands and rolling it up her arm. She didn’t fight him.
Her arm was bare.
His brows furrowed. “You weren’t… why would you…” he started, unable to finish the sentence as a multitude of thoughts bombarded his brain. Rolling up her other sleeve, that one bare as well. His eyes suddenly flew to his own arms, his equally empty.
She gasped as he made the connection, saying the fact that she had hidden from him for years. “Some people don’t have soulmates, m'hijo,” when he started to sputter, she gripped his hands tightly in hers. “But don’t let that keep you from falling in love.”
“What are you saying?” Alexander started, his eyes drawn to his own skin. “I’m only eleven. Maybe she just doesn’t doodle on her skin. Maybe she doesn’t know?!” He stepped back from his mother, frantically scanning around their small home for a writing utensil. He found a pen, scrawling quickly on his arm before his mother could stop him.
Are you there? The words blurred slightly as the ink bled into his skin, but the words were clearly visible. “You’ll see Mamá. She’ll respond, you’ll see!” His mother was crying. He ignored her.
They waited.
His mother had left his side, rattling around their dilapidated kitchen and emerging with dinner in hand. Rather than trying to attempt normalcy, she set the plate in front of him in the family room, there was no point trying to get him into the kitchen.
They waited.
The sun had long since set, the stars dotting the sky of St. Croix. His mother had called him to bed. He asked for more time. She nodded, wishing him goodnight, her tears clouding her vision as she turned into their room.
He waited.
Dawn was breaking. The stars blinking out one by one as the sun was crawling its way up the horizon. He had fallen asleep on the couch, what seemed to have only been a moment had actually been a few hours. He scrambled to an upright position checking his message. Checking his shoulder. Checking his other arm.
They were bare.
Alexander screamed.

By seventeen, his world had turned upside down. St. Croix was far behind him, his mind scarred as though the hurricane had swept directly through him on its path of destruction. When people referred to his mother, they weren’t referring to the woman with beautiful tan skin, the woman with hazel eyes that shone like the sun itself, surrounded by the inky veil of her hair. No, that woman was gone.
Why she never took her medicine, he’ll never understand.
Alexander stood in the doorway, social worker by his side. He had been taken in by a couple from the states, without his consent. Apparently, the couple was already filing the appropriate adoption papers, before having met him. After what he had been through, he wasn’t given the option of emancipation; they said he needed a support system or something, he hadn’t been listening, too busy planning a strongly-worded letter to be sent upon arrival about how inhumane it is to be forced into a family against his will.
The social worker placed her hand on his shoulder, leaning down to whisper to him, “I know you’d rather be on your own, but these are great people, promise.” He scoffed, in which she replied, “if I’m wrong, give me a call and you’ll be out of here. I’ll ask for your emancipation myself.”
He nodded. “I guess I’ll be seeing you soon, then.”
She laughed. “God I hope not.” She paused, probably realizing how that came across. “Don’t misunderstand, Alexander,” she said quickly. “You’re a great kid. Crazy smart. But I don’t ever want you in my car again. I want this to work out for you. You deserve to be happy, and I think this is your best shot.” She smirked, quirking her brow at him. “Try not to throw it away before it’s even in the chamber, yeah?”
“I probably would’ve gone for the alcohol metaphor before the gun, but to each their own, I suppose.” He glanced at her face, her twitching lips revealing that her scowl wasn’t completely genuine. He deflated, “I understand,” he started, deciding to continue with her metaphor, “I’m not throwing away my shot. But if this place turns into an explosive…”
“I’ll be here as quickly as possible. Believe it or not, I’m on your side, kid.” She patted his shoulder before dropping her hand to her side again, gesturing to the doorbell. “Go ahead, Alexander. You ring it. You’re in control here.”
He smirked, hiding how appreciative he was of the sentiment. With so little control in his life, it meant a lot that she gave him this. He could wait hours if he wanted. But as the cold November air seeped into his skin, the decision had made itself. He gripped the end of his sleeve in his hand, pressing the button with his knuckle. She smiled approvingly, which he surprisingly returned.
The door opened too quickly, making him jump. A woman stood on the other side of the door, filled to the brim with nervous energy. Immediately Alexander noticed all the differences between this woman and his mother. Her skin was much paler, her hair a mousy brown and curled meticulously into a professional-looking-yet-still-casual bob. If his mother’s eyes were the Sun, hers were the sky. Their blue the exact color of the sky just past sunrise: pale, yet bright with the promise of a new day. She noticed him jump, her smile dipping for just a moment. “Oh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you dear!” she started, her nervous energy making her voice leap between octaves. “Come in, come in!” she ushered them both inside, offering the social worker a cup of coffee, which she politely declined. “How about you dear, coffee, tea? It’s pretty chilly out there.”
He blinked, uncertain how to respond. Take it and come off as needy, or refuse it and be rude? He thought for a moment, tugging at his shirt sleeves absentmindedly. “You don’t have to. I’m alright,” he settled on, hoping he found the balance.
“You’re right, I don’t have to. I want to. You seem chilled,” she glanced at the sleeve ends held tightly in his hands. “Oh, I know!” she smiled, looking back at his face, making him tense. She knew what, exactly? She saw the sleeves, she knows he doesn’t have a soulmate, she knows he’s broken she-
“Do you like chocolate, dear? I think hot cocoa is the perfect beverage for a chilly fall day like today.”
…What? “Uh... yeah. Chocolate’s good.” Eloquent. Good job, Alexander. Way to use your words.
She clasped her hands together in front of her chest, smile so wide it had to be painful. “oh good! Hot chocolate it is! I’ll get started!” she paused. “My husband should be down any minute. He can show you your room while I talk to Ms. Ross here.” She glanced up the stairs, scowling slightly, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “George!” she called out, glancing to Alexander after a ‘thud’ was heard upstairs. “I’m sorry about him, dear. He gets so caught up in his work sometimes.” Huh. Alexander could relate.
“It’s okay. I do too,” he found himself saying. He blinked, staring wide-eyed at the two women in the room. He hadn’t meant to voice that. He was greeted with two identical smiles.
The man who walked down the stairs was not what Alex had been expecting. George was almost the exactly opposite of… Alexander didn’t remember her name. Did she ever say her name? He loomed over the other three in the room, his skin darker than Alex’s. In fact, Alex noticed, his skin seemed to be the perfect blend of George’s and his wife; he couldn’t help wondering if that was a factor in their choice of soon-to-be adopted child. He quickly disregarded that. If they wanted a child to blend into their family, why would they adopt an older teen? That’d be illogical. So what’s in it for them? I’m not- he made eye contact with George, deciphering what emotion he could see in the molasses colored irises watching his face.
He seemed excited, not nearly at the same level of energy as his wife had been, but Alexander could see the happiness cutting through the other emotions clouding his eyes. Caution, nervousness, perhaps? But what Alexander didn’t see was pity. Surely he had seen the file, read his sob story, and yet, not a flicker of pity in his gaze. George gave a wave, his smile sheepish. “I’m sorry, son. I didn’t mean to keep you waiting.” He finished his descent down the stairs, reaching his hand out to Alexander. “George Washington, but feel free to call me whatever you like, so long as it’s not offensive. George, I believe some of Gilbert’s friends call me ‘G-Wash,’ which is strange, but fine, if that’s what you prefer. it’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Alexander tried not to bristle at the ‘S-word’ as he took the man’s hand in his own. “Alexander Hamilton. Any shortening of my name is not tolerated.” He hadn’t meant it to come out quite as sarcastic as it did, but he held his ground.
George blinked, before a smirk of his own appeared. “I’ll honor that if you’re being serious, but something tells me you’re just being facetious.” Facetious. Nice.
He gave a noncommittal shrug. “You’re right. Alex is fine.” George gave a laugh, a warm, hearty sound that warmed through Alex as though he was sitting by the fireplace on the other end of the room. Alexander found himself smiling brightly in response. Sure, Alexander was not completely thrilled with this situation, but as far as first impressions went, the Washingtons didn’t seem so bad. Alexander had heard the horror stories that could come from foster care/ adoption, so he wasn’t fully trusting yet, but he could see himself really liking this couple.
He’s still going to send that letter though.

Ms. Ross had left shortly after Martha (who gave a flustered introduction when she realized she had not, in fact, told Alexander her name) had handed him the hot cocoa with a generous amount of whipped cream, cocoa powder sprinkled on the top like one of the fancier coffee drinks he could never afford. She shook George’s hand and got hugged by Martha before turning to face him. One last nod to Alexander, the silent Call me if something happens heavily implied. He nodded in response, and she was gone.
The following silence was awkward, but not nearly as uncomfortable as predicted. The three of them sat in the family room, George lighting the fireplace before joining them in the center of the room and sipping at the hot chocolate Alexander had noticed Martha give him. “No cinnamon this time?” George asked, breaking the silence with an easy smile toward his wife.
She shook her head. “I want to know Alex’s taste before I start playing with the recipe.” She turned to Alexander, “I overheard you say Alex was fine, right?” He nodded, sipping at the beverage in front of him.
Oh. My. God.
This wasn’t hot cocoa. He had had hot cocoa back home, the really cheap powdered stuff that they got for free because it was near expiration. That was decent, sure. But this? This was ambrosia, nectar of the Gods. It was liquid sunshine, a warm hug in a blue coffee mug. The chocolate and subtle vanilla undertones flooded his senses, warming him up both physically and metaphorically. “Woah.” Whoops.
“Is that a good ‘Woah’?” Martha laughed. The perfect complement to George’s, her laugh was light, airy, and filled with life. George laughed along with her when Alexander gave a dumbfounded nod in response, actively sipping at the slightly-too-hot drink in lieu of a verbal answer. The couple smiled at each other. Alexander licked the whipped cream off his lips, only slightly self-conscious. The sheer domesticity of the scene amazed him. He had just met these people, and yet, he felt as though he had known them his entire life. The constantly on-edge, never stopping Alexander Hamilton found himself relaxing in a room of strangers, sinking into the armchair.
Something caught Alexander’s eye as George put his arm around Martha, so, in typical Hamilton fashion, he fixated on it. George’s shirt sleeve had shifted, revealing something on his wrist. Three little words and a heart, clearly printed on the inside of his arm. A side glance to Martha’s wrist and… yep. Same thing. Soulmates. Of course. Alexander set his mug down, gripping his sleeves in his hands before picking it back up.
Martha noticed this, of course, glancing at her wrist for a moment, but didn’t acknowledge it. Instead she stood, gesturing to his backpack on the floor by his feet. “We never did show you the house.”
“Of course! Come with me Alex, I’ll show you around.”

The tour itself was a blur to Alexander; he had never been in a house so large in his life. He decided to keep track of the important rooms: Family room, kitchen, dining room, bathroom, other bathroom, George and Martha’s room, another bathroom (why do rich people feel the need to have so many bathrooms?) George’s study, Library. Library. Alexander had free reign to the library, George had said. He could go in whenever he wanted, read whatever he wanted, George had even said that they could probably wedge in another shelf in there if necessary (“You seem like a reader. Maybe we can fill this library to capacity. I think we can squeeze in another shelf or two.”).
Word choice suggests that the library is near capacity, meaning endless knowledge at Alexander’s fingertips, without the garish light of a computer screen.
Gilbert’s room. “Who?” Alexander asked unceremoniously. “I mean, you mentioned that name before, who’s Gilbert?”
“You could call him a family friend, I suppose,” George answered, eyes flicking up as he contemplated his word choice. “Sorry, I’ve never been asked to explain Gilbert’s relation to us before.” Alexander got ready to apologize for prying, praying that he hadn’t damaged the potential bond so soon, George read him like a book, immediately waving his hands rapidly in an attempt of clarification. “No, no, it’s alright. I met his parents during my time in the military, back in the day,” George’s expression turned wistful, “Anyway, that’s a story for another day. Gilbert is an old friend’s son, he flies back and forth between here and France. We obviously have the space, so he stays here while he’s stateside.” George laughed, “But he’s here so often I think he’s forgotten which house is actually his.” There was a pregnant pause, Alexander could sense the continuation, biting his lip as to keep himself from speaking out of turn. “He can be a lot to handle, so if he ever gets to be too much, just let him know and he’ll dial back. He’s a good kid. I think you’ll get along just fine.” George reassured him, quelling the fears Alexander hadn’t realized he had. Alexander nodded, uncertain as to how to respond. George responded in kind, before gesturing down the hall. “These are all guest rooms. We have the one next to Gilbert’s fully furnished to be yours, but if you’d prefer another room, just let me know and we’ll rearrange it in the morning.”
Pause. George wanted a response, Alex. Alexander shook his head. “No. no, next to Gilbert is fine. Thank you for your hospitality.” Alexander fumbled, averting eye contact and instead staring at his shoes, which he hadn’t realized he still had on. The battered fabric of his Converse was an eyesore against the pristine carpet. “This one?” He gestured to the room in front of him.
George nodded again, “That’s the one. I’ll let you get situated. If you need me for anything, I’ll be helping Martha with dinner, I trust you know your way back to the kitchen?”
“I think so.”
“Good,” another pregnant pause. Alexander reached for the doorknob, twisting it before George’s hand appeared on his shoulder. “Look, Alexander. Martha and I know you weren’t particularly happy with the idea of being taken in.”
Alexander bristled. How did he know? That conversation never left the doorstep! Had he been that obvious? George must think him ungrateful, he-
George squeezed, the added pressure stilling the shakes in Alexander’s limbs. “But we’re very happy to have you. Martha and I, we think you can do great things, Alexander…and we want to be there when you do it. I know this isn’t home to you yet, but I really hope it will be.” George smiled, patting his shoulder a few times before turning to walk down the hall. “I hope you’ll be at dinner?” he asked, as though he didn’t just rattle Alexander to his very core.
“Y-yeah.”
George didn’t give a verbal response, instead giving a nod and a smile before walking casually down the corridor.
Once George was gone, Alexander turned the knob to the room, stepping inside and carefully closing the door behind him. As an afterthought, he reached for the lock, twisting it until the satisfying click rang out.
The room gave off a very calming aura, Alexander realized. The walls were a soft blue, the white curtains gauzy and translucent. All he had to do was crack open a window and they’d dance lazily in the breeze like in those cheesy movies his mother liked to watch on the off chance she had the opportunity. Alexander set his bag on the floor, adjacent to the cherry wood dresser—which he didn’t need to inspect to know was actual wood and not one of the cheaper particle board ones—and sat on the bed. Similarly to the chair downstairs, the plush mattress embraced him like a warm hug. It took every ounce of Alexander’s being to not flop down and go to sleep. After all, it had been so long since he had been in a real bed, and nothing to this caliber. Rather than sleeping, he studied the quilt draped daintily underneath him. Small squares in different shades of red and blue each sewn meticulously together into the large blanket, small squares of white putting space between the colors. With such a wide collection of shades and patterns, the blanket should be almost painful to look at, and yet the quilt was entirely cohesive, not a single square looked out of place. Alexander flipped the corner of the quilt over, greeted with a fabric the color of new denim, a faint star pattern running throughout. His fingers ran over a rough patch in the seam, proving to Alexander what he had assumed: it was homemade.
He didn’t understand. Martha and George didn’t need to welcome him into their home so fully, they didn’t need to show him this level of kindness. Welcoming him with homemade hot chocolate, giving him an extremely soft bed in a large room with a homemade quilt, and if the smell wafting up the stairs was anything to go by, there was a hot meal waiting for him; it was all almost too much, too kind. He was a stranger, a nobody. A soulmate-less bastard from the Caribbean, destined for greatness, maybe, but destined to be alone.
Martha seemed awfully friendly with his social worker. Alexander’s head snapped up, eyes focused on the curtains, but mind elsewhere. Martha never introduced herself to the social worker. Martha hugged her before she left.
The fog of confusion had lifted, perfect clarity ringing through his head as annoyance took the place of the hopeful optimism. “They’re friends,” he whispered to himself. “They already knew each other before this.” He paused, his shoulders slumping as he stood, the comfortable mattress suddenly suffocating. He was a charity case, a favor paid to a friend, nothing more. Alexander scowled to himself. He let himself get swept up in the motions, allowed himself to hope. He pulled up his sleeves, the fabric of his sweatshirt pooling at his elbows. As always, his arms were bare. “This is who you are,” he said to himself, his tone dripping malice. “You’re meant to be alone. No one is supposed to love you.” The sentence that used to make him erupt—to cry and scream—had lost its sting. It’s just a fact to him now, a reminder to not let people in. Sleeves down, eyes up. No one will see. No one will know.
A glance at the alarm clock on the bedside table showed he had spent probably too much time moping. Alexander unlocked the door, rapidly pulling his shirt sleeves tight around his hands, concealing his arms again. No one will know. He reassured himself once more before finally crossing the threshold and closing the door behind him.
One wrong turn later, he was in the kitchen, George smiling at him upon his approach. “Alexander! I was just about to get you! I hope the room is acceptable...?” George trailed off, studying the boy’s face. “Is that a no?” he laughed, “it’s the mattress, isn’t it? I told Martha that it was too soft, not everyone wants to sleep on a feather pillow!” He sounds more jovial than annoyed, which would have comforted Alexander earlier. However now his eyes narrow and his mind clouds with doubt.
“Did you mean it? What you said in the hall?”
George idly tilted his head, brows furrowing for a moment. Alexander could see him playing the conversation back in his head, and watched the light return to George’s eyes in sharp and crisp. “Of course.” George responded, his voice soft. “I’m assuming you’re referring to the end of our discussion, outside your room.” Alexander nodded, his neck straining against the mechanical movement. “I meant every word.”
“Alexander! I hope you like your room! Isn’t the mattress amazi-” Martha paused halfway through taking off her apron, the pale pink fabric dangling awkwardly over half her face. “What’d I miss? Are you okay, Alex?”
“How did you know Ms. Ross? You know, before?” Alexander cursed mentally once again for his lack of eloquence. He was a wordsmith, writing and speaking is what he did. He spoke three languages for Christ’s sake! Why are they all abandoning him?
“Betsy? We were in a quilting club together years ago. She’s amazing. Hand embroidered all her quilts, said it gave them more character. You should see the one she did for the opening of the memorial, I think it’s still framed there, right dear? We could take-” she paused, “I’m sorry, I went on a tangent there,” Martha shook her head, clearing it of thoughts of quilting, no doubt.
“Alexander, I know what you’re thinking, and it’s not true. We will reassure you as much as we have to, if it means you’ll believe how much we want you here,” George’s voice was kind, but there were diplomatic undertones, the implicit challenge to question him issued, which, naturally, Alexander jumped on.
“Why?” he spat out. “What do you gain from this? I’m just a scraggly teen from the Caribbean, not an orphan but might as well be,” he bit his tongue. Too much, reel back. “What do you get for taking me in? For trying to adopt me. You know they only pay you for foster care, right? But you’ve already started the adoption process, right?” The raised eyebrows of Martha answered his question. “Betsy told me. Why are you turning a paycheck into a bill?”
They were silent for a while, but Alexander didn’t back down. He stared at them both, fire in his eyes. He dared them to prove him wrong. He was right, of course. They had nothing.
“Alex…” Martha whispered, before dashing across the room and pulling him into a tight embrace. Alexander stiffened under the touch, guilt washing over him as he felt her shudder a sob into his shoulder. George stayed where he was, a frown on his face. His eyes were sad, yet not pitiful, for which Alexander was grateful.
When her sobs faded, she dropped her hold on Alex, stepping back to cradle his face in her hands. “Alex, you’ve been through so much, I understand why you’d feel that way. But,” she caressed his cheek with her thumb, “Please know that’s not the case. You are so much more than a scraggly teen from the Caribbean. Do you want to know why we decided to take you in? The real, honest reason?” She prompted, still holding his face as to maintain eye contact.
Did he want to know the reason? In theory yes, of course he wanted to know. But what if the answer wasn’t what he wanted to hear? Or what if she lied to placate him? No, he may have only just met Martha, but he trusted her, at least a little. She wouldn’t lie to him after swearing to give him the real answer. He nodded, Martha’s arms shaking along with his head. She lifted one of her hands to tuck a stray lock of hair behind Alexander’s ear.
“Betsey sent us your work. Your essays, your poetry. The story of the hurricane. As much of it as you were willing to give her.”
“My writing…?”
“It’s beautiful Alexander. Eloquent, heart-wrenching, and far too professional for someone your age. We had asked her where she had gotten these gorgeous pieces of writing, and that’s when she told us of your situation. That you were one of her kids, that you had been orphaned, uprooted from everything you’ve ever known. It was then that we realized that you were meant to be in our family. It was fate that assigned Betsey to you, Alexander. I genuinely believe that.”
Alexander was reeling. His writing had sent him to the Washingtons. His writing is what they saw first. They had had no idea of his identity, no idea of his story, none of it. He was just a talented writer to them when they decided to welcome him into their home. For the first time in a long time, Alexander Hamilton was speechless. “I...”
“Don’t you see, Alexander? We already love you.”
The tears fell from his eyes long before he had the capacity to stop them.
“Alexander,” Martha had embraced him again. They were crying, Alexander couldn’t tell which sobs were his and which were Martha’s anymore. His arms wrapped themselves around Martha’s frame, although he couldn’t tell if he was comforting her or himself. Eventually, Alexander glanced up at George again. His eyes were misty, his face contorted in a way Alexander recognized immediately. He was trying to be strong, trying not to let his own emotions take control of the situation. It was something Alexander had thought he had mastered before leaving the island.
But this was different. It was easy to mask pain, his mother’s death, his cousin’s suicide, the hurricane, he coasted through these no problem, his hardened exterior protecting him from the visible signs of grief and pain. Showing weakness on the streets might as well be a bullseye painted on his back. He was scrappy, after all. Even with everything that happened, he still couldn’t seem to die. But this wasn’t pain. For once in his life, he wasn’t in pain. These people, the Washington’s cared, genuinely cared. Fate had never been kind to him before, but at that moment, he believed it. Fate had assigned him to Betsey, fate had led him to the Washington’s door.
Living with the Washington’s might not be as inconvenient as Alexander had previously thought. He may still have bare arms, he may not have a soulmate. But maybe, just maybe, he had found his home.

Chapter Text

Alexander continued to allow this new hope to grow as he spent more time with the Washingtons. The three of them became more of a family unit than Alex had ever had, and that didn’t bother him at all. George was a politician, but he got to work from home for the most part, and Martha an entrepreneur, running her business from her home as well, so they were almost always together. Alexander gravitated towards George most days, devouring his old books from college, occasionally sitting in his office while George had a video conference (which was probably illegal, but Alex never made a sound and George never shooed him out). In truth, Alexander thought George appreciated the company, he didn’t say much to him, but he didn’t have to.
He never delved into his past by his own volition, but would give clipped responses, should George or Martha ask anything. By the end of November, he had told them more than he ever thought he’d tell anyone.
“So, this house looks infinitely fancier than normal, what’s the occasion?” Alexander asked, idly flicking an orange leaf on the garland around the banister.
Martha emerged from the kitchen, a fall themed apron wrapped around her slender frame, the sleeves of her pine green sweater rolled up around her elbows. “We’re having some dinner guests at 2.”
He cocked his head to the side. They normally had dinner at five or six, after all. “Two? That’s a little early, don’t you think?”
Martha giggled, “Normally, yes, but not for Thanksgiving.”
“Oh right.”
“You didn’t have Thanksgiving back on the island, right?”
She had stopped referring to the island as “back home,” Alexander noticed. He decided to test it, “No, we didn’t. Although back home, we probably couldn’t have afforded it if we did. You guys go all out for this thing, right?”
Martha quirked a brow at “at home” but chose not to acknowledge it. Either that or she blatantly refused to. “Well, how about you see for yourself. Want to give me a hand?” she smiled, gesturing for him to follow her into the kitchen. Curiosity getting the better of him, he followed without questioning the fact that he couldn’t cook to save his life. Both literally and figuratively.
Alexander’s eyes nearly popped out of his skull at the sight before him. Every burner had a pot or pan bubbling away, the oven aglow, the outline of a too-large turkey illuminated by the oven light. There were pies, five of them, cooling on the table. Upon noticing his fixation with the pies, Martha informed him that there were more in the fridge. Alexander choked out a laugh. “Five wasn’t enough? Who are the dinner guests? The entire US Army?”
It wasn’t that funny, Alexander thought, but he had never seen Martha laugh so hard in the entire month he’d been there; her infectious giggle forcing him to laugh along. “No,” she managed between giggles, “but it isn’t every day that the family gets together. I haven’t seen my son in quite some time.”
“Son?” Alexander sputtered. George and Martha had a son? Why had they never mentioned him? “As in, not Gilbert, right?” Alexander still hadn’t met the Frenchman, but his name so frequently left the Washingtons’ lips, he wouldn’t doubt it if they referred to him as their son.
“No, not Gilbert,” Martha replied, idly tugging on her shirt sleeves. It was strange, seeing Martha utilizing his and his mother’s nervous habit. The habit of the soulmate-less. She took a deep breath, moved to the stovetop and suddenly became very interested in the bubbling pots there. “I have a son. Few years older than you.” Upon Alexander’s trepidation, she continued, “…from a previous marriage.”
“Wait. You were married before George? But you’re…” he paused as she turned, glancing to her arms instead of saying the word.
“Soulmates?” she laughed, the tone poisoned by bitterness. “You’re right. But just because my first husband wasn’t my soulmate doesn’t mean I didn’t love him.” Her blue eyes were hard…. Cold. She had obviously had this conversation before.
“That’s not what I was implying, I’m sorry.” Alexander immediately apologized, wishing away the look of pain from Martha’s face. “I’m sure you were in love with him. You can love someone without being their soulmate, and vice versa,” He attempted a non-committal shrug. “Some people don’t even have one. That shouldn’t stop them from falling in love.”
Alexander froze. His mother’s words to him all those years ago tumbling from his lips. Words that he himself didn’t believe. So why say them?
The relief in Martha’s expression answered his question for him. She shot him a private smile, something that filled his heart with a surge of familial affection. “You truly are wise beyond your years, Alexander.”
“No, not really. My mo-“
“I’m home!” A new voice cut off Alexander’s sentence. Normally, an interruption like that would annoy the teen, but just this once, he was thankful. He was about to divulge his mother’s greatest secret, something she took to the grave. Sure, in retrospect, the people of St. Croix probably knew of his mother’s lack of soulmate, if the stares were any indication. But other than Alexander, his father, and his brother, anyone who knew his mother was gone. Now, nobody needed to know.
The new voice seemed to belong to another teen, around Alexander’s age, perhaps a bit younger; the heavy French accent hinted that this was Gilbert, not Martha’s son. Gilbert’s appearance was androgynous, Alexander noticed. Their hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail, set high on their head; its springy texture resulting in a rather adorable pom-pom bouncing along with each energetic movement. They were wearing a dove gray cardigan, a burgundy v-neck underneath and patterned skinny jeans, with the most flawless winged eyeliner that Alexander had ever seen (not that he’s seen many people wear dramatic makeup; his mother never wore makeup, and Martha’s was always subtle) and just a touch of stubble dotting their chin. “Gilbert!” Martha cried out, confirming Alexander’s suspicions. She embraced the French teen, giggling as they kissed her dramatically on both cheeks. “How are you dear? How’s France?”
Gilbert laughed when Martha tightened her hold on them, “France is lovely, Martha, but nowhere near as lovely as an American Thanksgiving.” They looked over Martha’s head to make eye contact with Alexander. “Who’s this? A friend of Jacky’s?”
Alexander quirked a brow “Jacky…?”
Martha separated from Gilbert, turning to Alexander and shaking her head. “My son,” she supplied, before turning back to Gilbert “but he hasn’t gone by Jacky in years,” she tapped Gilbert playfully on the chest. “Gilbert, this is Alexander, he’s been living with George and I for almost a month now. Alexander, this is Gilbert.”
Gilbert crossed the room and embraced Alexander, chastely kissing both of his cheeks. “Lovely to meet you, Alexandre.
“You as well, Gilbert.” Alexander’s eyes focused on the eye liner. “Gilbert is what you’d prefer, right? Martha’s never called you anything else, so…” Alexander grabbed his sleeves, rubbing his thumbs against the cuff of the fabric.
“I prefer Lafayette, actually. Merci.”
“Lafayette,” Alexander repeated with a nod. He bit his lip. Should he ask? Could he ask?
“I’m a boy.” Lafayette said, reading his mind.
“Was I that obvious?” Alexander asked, squeezing his sleeves tighter.
“Yes. But that’s alright,” he waved it off. “As far as I know, I’m a boy. I just enjoy makeup. Why should girls be the only beautiful ones?” they, he said with a laugh.
Alexander laughed along. “Fair point.”

Much like the Washingtons, Alexander found himself taking a liking to Lafayette fairly quickly. Once Lafayette found out that Alexander spoke French, any and all awkwardness completely disappeared between the two of them. When Jack, Martha’s son, appeared with his wife Eleanor and their baby daughter Elizabeth, Lafayette broke conversation only for a moment to greet them and introduce Alexander.
Jack seemed uninterested in having a discussion with Alexander, so Alex didn’t try to facilitate one. Martha was giddy to see her son, of course, but was much happier to see her grandchild, which brought a smile to Alexander’s face. He had never gotten to see his own mother with a baby, but he felt as though she would have behaved similarly to Martha. She had always stared longingly at the babies she saw around the island, always complimenting them to the parents who would speak to her. Alexander shook his head to quell the anger building in his heart. His mother didn’t deserve the dirty looks; she didn’t deserve what she had gotten. She deserved so much better. She-
“I’ve never been so happy that you married off so early, Jacky.” Martha said to her son without taking her eyes off the baby gurgling in her hold. Alexander blinked, uncertain as to why that sentence had managed to pull him from his thoughts.
Jack gave an exaggerated “Mooomm” which earned a laugh from both Martha and Eleanor, before wrapping his arm around his wife’s waist “but in all seriousness, why would I have waited? She’s my soulmate, after all.” Jack kissed the top of her head.
Of course. Alexander clenched his jaw.
Lafayette glanced at Alexander before leaning over and whispering. “Before you ask, yes, they’re always like that.” He pulled away to roll his eyes. “You can be soulmates and not nauseate everyone in the room.”
The two teens shared a laugh, the negativity brewing in Alexander fading away as quickly as it was brought on. Lafayette seemed to possess the ability to defuse him, he seemed to sense his discomfort and know exactly what to say to quell it. Alexander smiled to himself, other than Ned back on the island, Alexander had never had friends before. Acquaintances, sure, but Alexander could already feel the tight bond of comradery brewing between himself and the Frenchman. Just so long as he doesn’t manage to ruin it.
The way Lafayette spoke about soulmates, the ability to joke in a negative manner about the enamored, is it possible that he’s bare-armed as well? Alexander had never met another soulmate-less person other than his mother, so just the idea of meeting someone else in his position made his heart pound. If that was the case, Alexander needed to keep Lafayette around. However, after the gender incident, Alexander decided to keep his mouth shut on the soulmate front for Lafayette. For the moment.
“So,” Alexander started “Does one of your friends really call George G-Wash?”
Lafayette’s dark brown eyes widened considerably, “Did, did he really tell you about that?” Lafayette looked at the ground, his face contorting into an emotion Alexander hadn’t seen on him until now. Lafayette had given him the ‘always happy’ vibe, so seeing him look upset made Alexander uncomfortable. Lafayette tried to laugh it off, but it fell flat. “Sorry, I didn’t answer your question. Yes, each one of my friends has a name for him. ‘G-Wash’ was Laurens. He’s normally here for Thanksgiving, but I’m afraid he’s unable to join us this year.”
Alexander tilted his head to the side, his brow raised. “Why’s that?”
Lafayette looked back at Alexander’s face, his expression conflicted and unreadable. “His father made him go back,” he shook his head, pompom of hair bouncing with the motion. “I’m sorry, it’s not my place to say. You’ll meet him soon enough, I’m sure. John never stays there long.”
The rather cryptic answer from Lafayette left Alexander with more questions than answers. Obviously this isn’t the first time, going off Lafayette’s word choice, and obviously wherever there was, it wasn’t the best place. “Well, that was certainly helpful,” Alexander said sarcastically, “but I get it. Not your story to tell.” He shrugged. The two went silent for a beat or two before Alexander spoke up. “Well, what’s he like? John, I mean.” Alexander watched Martha coo to baby Elizabeth as he spoke. “You said I’d meet him eventually, so I’d like to know who I’m looking for.”
Alexander was going for nonchalant, of course, but he couldn’t deny the intrigue bubbling through his body. This guy, John Laurens, he had a story that Alexander yearned to learn. So, in typical Hamilton fashion, he fixated on it.
Lafayette chuckled, casually brushing a loose spring of hair from his eyes. “John’s an…” he paused to find the right word, “interesting? Complex?” Lafayette bit his lip, moving his hands in front of him; the silent you know what I mean? question answered with a nod from Alexander. “He’s very reckless, but compassionate. He definitely cares more about his friends’ wellbeing than his own.” Lafayette shot Alexander a look that could only be described as knowing. “I realize I have only known you for a short time, mon ami, but I feel as though you and John are very similar. I do hope you can meet him sooner rather than later.” Lafayette casually stared out the window. “I’m sure you will. I’m certain, actually.”
Again with the encrypted responses. Alexander still knew next to nothing about John, but apparently Lafayette saw a similarity between him and himself. Hopefully, Alexander thought, that similarity could lead to a strong friendship, should he stick around the area long enough to meet him (Alexander found himself rather attached to the Washingtons and couldn’t imagine leaving in the next month or so, at least).
Martha had apparently gone back into the kitchen whilst they were speaking, because her voice rang out, calling the family to the table. They sat in the dining room: George at the head, Martha to his left, Alexander to his right. Lafayette quickly sat next to Alexander, Jack and Eleanor sat next to Martha, Eliza’s highchair at the other end of the table, in arms reach of her mother.
Alexander suddenly felt self-conscious. With them all sitting at the table together, Alexander felt like a guest for the first time since he arrived there. Trying to take his mind of the growing discomfort, he focused instead on the display in front of him. The too-big turkey now graced the center of the table, golden brown with little caps to cover the bones of the drumsticks. There was a bowl overflowing with mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, salads, and foods Alexander had never even seen before. The pies were still in the other room, as the table was to full to accommodate them. He paused, an incongruence catching his attention. There was an empty table setting on Lafayette’s right. Was that for John? A purple ribbon sat curled on the plate. Alexander shot a look to Lafayette, a silent question hanging in the air.
Jack cleared his throat, drawing Alexander’s attention. “It’s for Patsy.” Again, the response given only left him with more questions. Alexander didn’t voice it, but he didn’t have to. “My little sister. She... she’s gone. Rare form of epilepsy.”
“Jack…” Eleanor started, but a lifted hand from Jack silenced her.
“By the end, she was having seizures almost constantly, one day she collapsed in her room. She was gone by the time the paramedics arrived.”
Martha sniffled. “That must have been hard,” Alexander quipped awkwardly. Jack wasn’t that much older than Alexander, so Patsy must have been young when she passed.
“You have no idea.”
Alexander bristled. “No?” How would he know? No, Alexander had never lost a sibling to a disease, but Jack still had a mother. How dare this… carajo think that he knew anything about what he had gone through?
“Son, that’s enough.” George put his hand on Alex’s shoulder, but stared at Jack.
“Sorry,” both Jack and Alex deflated.
“Now, Alex, in lieu of prayer, we have this tradition where we go around the table and everyone says at least one thing we’re thankful for. Some years are easier than others, of course,” George said with a sad look toward the place setting for Patsy, “but even in the darkest times, we can find something, no matter how small, to be appreciative of.” George waited for Alex to nod before continuing. “I’ll start. I’m thankful to have both Jack and Gilbert with us tonight, and of course, for the newest additions to our family, little Eliza,” he said with a smile, “and our bright Alexander.”
Alexander sputtered, coughing on the water he had sipped.
George clapped his hand on Alexander’s back, laughing when he recovered, “Martha?”
“You stole my answer.” The entire table laughed, save for Alexander, who was still reeling from George’s response.
“As George said, I’m thankful for our little mismatched family, John included, although he’s not here this year,” Lafayette coughed, distracting Alexander from the disgruntled mumble from George. “And as always, I’m thankful that Patsy’s not suffering anymore,” she sniffled again, her voice trembling, “no matter how badly I wish her suffering ended with her smiling here today, I have to be thankful that she’s at peace.” George grabbed her hand, rubbing his thumb along her knuckles soothingly.
Jack and Eleanor both spoke about being thankful for their baby’s health, Eliza cooing happily from her high chair, and eyeing the mashed potatoes all the while.
When they made it to Lafayette, his eyes were misty. “I’m thankful for my American family, that I have a place to call home in the greatest country in the world.” George chuckled. “I’m eternally grateful to George and Martha for taking me in, as well as the friends I’ve made here. Hercules, John, and now Alexander.” Again, Alex sputtered. Lafayette smiled in response “And of course, for my dear Adrienne and her family back in France.” He turned, prompting Alexander to speak.
“I…” he paused picking at a loose thread on his sleeve. What was he thankful for, really? He was half-tempted to come up with some lame cover, to save face. However, Alexander’s mouth spoke the words before his brain could stop it. “I’m thankful that I was denied emancipation,” his voice came out as a whisper. There was a sharp intake of breath, causing Alexander to look up from his sleeve to see Martha beaming at him, tears rolling freely down her face. Alexander’s eyes widened, flicking over to George to see a fat tear clinging halfway down his cheek, a warm smile directed at Alex, pure affection in his gaze. Alexander floundered for the words to continue. He didn’t expect to make them cry. “I’ve been stateside for only a month, but the people I’ve met, George, Martha, even Ms. Ross, you all have so much faith in me. I’ve had to fight for everything up to this point, the hurricane, the sickness my mother and I shared, I had to fight tooth and nail just to keep going. But now, I fight to make my island, my mother, and you,” he gestured to George and Martha,” I fight to make you all proud. But I no longer feel like I’m battling to stay alive. For the first time in a long time, my head is above water, and I can finally… just breathe.” Whoops. He had overshared again. He nervously glanced around the table, Lafayette put his hand on Alexander’s shoulder, George and Martha both crying, probably painful smiles gracing both their faces. “Too far?” Alexander asked, a sheepish grin playing on his lips.
“Not at all,” George replied.
“That was beautiful, Alexander.” Martha hiccupped. There was a beat of silence before she recovered enough to speak again. “Now!” she said, clapping her hands together, tears still bubbling down her face “Let’s eat, yeah?”
“Yes, please!” Lafayette chirped, “I’ve been in France for months, all I smell is food that is terrible for me and I need it.” The entire table laughed again, Alexander included this time. The first plate that passed down the table started a whirlwind, the smells of food and the sounds of laughter completely engulfing Alexander. He was slightly overstimulated, the voices a little too loud, the colors a little too bright, but he was happy. He was home.

Alexander groaned, scooting away from the table with his hand on his stomach. “Mistakes were made. Please tell me the pie comes later. I might actually explode.”
Lafayette laughed, nodding his head. “I said the same thing with my first Thanksgiving. Worry not, little Alexander, the pie comes later.”
“Good.” Alexander leaned back in his chair, tugging at the collar of his shirt.
“It is warm in here, is it not? I’m happy I am not the only one…” pause. Lafayette snapped his fingers. “roasting in here.”
Alexander nodded, chuckling. He wanted nothing more than to strip down to a t-shirt or roll up his sleeves. But that wasn’t possible for him. It was definitely warm prior to eating, but the heat was completely suffocating now.
Lafayette seemed to take the initiative, unbuttoning his sweater. Alexander immediately fixated on the action. If Alexander’s hypothesis was right, Lafayette’s arms would be bare. Is Lafayette that confident that he’ll show his empty arms to the people in the room? Surely Martha and George would already know. Maybe it’d be alright. Alexander nodded to himself. If Lafayette could show his bare arms to the world, so could he.
Lafayette stripped off his sweater. Alexander stared. They were not bare. Lafayette’s arms were completely covered in messages; his dark skin marked up with pens of different colors, little doodles and maybe even a painting or two.
Alexander blanched.
There were three handwritings.

Chapter Text

Three. Alexander was reeling. He willed himself to breathe again, flicking his eyes over to the leaf garland on the stairs and focusing on one leaf in particular to ground himself. The handwritings on his arms could mean a few things

1) Lafayette has two soulmates.

Alexander shook his head. He had never heard of that before. Not completely impossible, but extremely unlikely.

2) Lafayette has one soulmate, and one of his friends wrote on his arms to talk to her.

Does it work if someone else writes on your skin? Alexander had never heard of that either.

3) No soulmate(s): people wrote on his skin to leave goodbye messages when he left France.

Alexander scowled. Obviously wishful thinking. Obviously he has a soulmate. Why wouldn’t he? Everyone did.

“Alexander?” Lafayette grabbed his shoulder, shaking him out of his thoughts. “Are you alright?”

He gave a robotic nod. “Your soulmate seems talkative,” was all Alexander could muster. He continued to stare at the fake leaf; it was dyed wrong. The red didn’t blend into the other colors like it was supposed to; it looked like it was dipped in blood, the deep red hue blotched messily against the pale yellow.

“Mm. Adrienne misses me whenever I’m here, and Hercules doodles when he’s bored.” He said, chuckling as he traced a drawing on his forearm.

Two. Lafayette had two. That wasn’t fair. Why did he get two when Alexander couldn’t even have one? What did he do to deserve being alone? “You have two soulmates?” Alexander choked out.

Oui,” he shrugged, “Maybe that is why I don’t understand people like Jacky, rushing into a marriage with his soulmate right away. It is not a big deal, no?”

Alexander’s mind went fuzzy. Having a soulmate was a big deal. His mother was ostracized because she didn’t have one, because she fell in love with a man who did. He couldn’t understand how Lafayette could be so nonchalant. Two soulmates, and it didn’t even matter to him. He and Lafayette were about the same age, maybe Lafayette’s second soulmate was supposed to be his, given away by the cruel hands of fate. 

He couldn’t see it, but Alexander could feel the scowl on Lafayette’s face. “You don’t seem okay. You are overheating, yes? Maybe if you just-” Lafayette’s hand moved from his shoulder to his wrist, slowly rising up his arm, his sleeve pinched in his fingers. The fabric scratched past his wrist-

Alexander slapped his hand away, clutching his sleeve in his hand. “No!’ he screeched, scrambling away as though he had just been burned. His heart beat erratically in his chest, his hearing dampened by the sound of his own pulse.

Lafayette jumped, his eyes wide. The house was silent, everyone in the adjacent room just as shocked as Lafayette. Before long, a scramble of footsteps could be heard; Martha rushed into the room, standing in the doorway and blocking Alexander’s view of the leaf garland.

“Alexander, are you okay?!”

Alexander attempted to call more air into his lungs, but nothing more than a small wheeze obeyed him. It’s not enough. Lafayette almost saw. Two Soulmates almost saw bare arms. He can’t know, none of them can know. Everyone’s supposed to have at least one. He was a freak. Broken. Wrong. He’s not worth someone’s love, that’s why fate didn’t give him a soulmate. It didn’t want to burden some poor woman with his existence. There was ice in his stomach, the cold weight battling the fire in his lungs. Which would kill him first? Alexander wasn’t sure. The fire burned brighter, the ice got colder, was he sweating or shivering? Another forced breath, and again his lungs disobeyed. He was the mis-dyed leaf, the ugly drop of blood staining a beautiful yellow. The battle of elements raged on, the ice had entirely frozen his stomach, the fire flickering into his throat. Surely he couldn’t survive this, surely the lack of air would at least knock him unconscious first.

He couldn’t seem to die.

Martha filled his field of vision, her hands caressing his face like butterfly’s wings. She was saying something that Alexander couldn’t hear over the sounds of his own heartbeat. Focus on her lips, read her lips, a small part of Alexander commanded himself. He stared at them.

Al. ek. He squinted, trying to make out the shapes her lips were making. Al. ek. Sa? Za? N. Te? He shook his head minutely, no, that was wrong. Al ek sa/za n… der. Aleksander. Alexander! He looked up at her eyes, the glisten in them showing her panicked state.  

Alexander found his new leaf. Martha’s eyes were stormier now, the bright blue she normally had had transformed into a duller gray. Alexander felt himself blink, suddenly hyper-aware of every twitch of his body. Martha’s eyes were rainclouds, nothing like the volatile thunderheads that plagued his dreams, but the clouds of a rain shower in April. Pale gray, a slight blue hue once he focused, and still beautiful, in a different way. Even with them widened in panic, Martha’s eyes were calming, serene. Huh. There was one blond eyelash above her right eye, a golden thread amidst the dark brown. The blond eyelash was slightly longer than the rest, refusing to curl up in the same manner as the others.

He took a breath.

Lafayette was apologizing, profusely, Alexander realized. He could finally hear more of what was going on around the sound of blood pounding in his ears. Martha was still repeating his name, a few “it’s okay, you’re okay” breaking the repetition. Lafayette had leaned as far away from Alexander as possible without getting up; giving him space, while showing he wanted to help.

Blink. Breath.

He leaned into Martha’s left hand, the sensation of her hand cradling his face pulling him back to reality. The ice was melting, the fire flickering out. “Sorry.” Alexander could feel his face heat up in shame. He had thought he was over it, the panic and anxiety about people finding out. Hell, he had been ready to take off his long sleeve shirt, or at the very least, roll up his sleeves. He was so close to showing them his secret. But seeing Lafayette’s arms reverted him back to the same flighty behavior he had had in his preteens. “I…wasn’t expecting him to…” he tugged on his sleeve ends, his excuse falling flat.

“Of course, of course. I won’t do anything like that again. You have my word,” Lafayette leaned toward him tentatively, like he was approaching a lost puppy. He went to place a hand on Alexander’s shoulder, but hesitated, his hand floating awkwardly in the air.

“It’s alright. I overreacted. You were trying to help. I appreciate that.” Alexander tried to smile at him, but the last dregs of anxiety turned it into more of a grimace. He glanced back at Martha, the post-panic exhaustion weighing him down. “I... I’m pretty tired, I think I’m going to,” he glanced at the clock: 4:30 p.m., it was far too early to call it a day. It’d be rude to Jack and Lafayette if he locked himself in the room for the rest of the night, “take a nap,” he finished. Whether he sleeps or not is yet to be seen, but he just needed to be by himself. At least for a little while.

Martha nodded in understanding. “Okay,” she brushed his hair back from his forehead before stepping back and allowing him to stand.  “Go to bed, sweetie. We’ll save you some pie.” She smiled, tugging on her own sleeves and nodding again.

Lafayette called “Good night” in French as Alexander started up the stairs, his fingers brushing the mis-dyed leaf on his way.

The second the door closed behind him, Alexander ran his fingers through his hair, tugging absently at its roots. He fished through his bag, most of his belongings still packed, and grabbed his journal and a pen.  Leaning against the headboard of his bed, his knees became his writing desk, having to fidget for a while to get the angle right.

“Okay, let’s think this through,” Alexander said to nobody in particular. “Talk yourself through it, come up with an excuse, regain composure, then go back downstairs.” He heaved a sigh. The pen swirled around the paper, a chart blooming on the page in blue ink. Martha, George. Pause. He stood, grabbing another pen, red ink. A red line tied the names together. ? (Martha’s first husband). Blue line.  Next line down, Jack, Eleanor, red line. Patsy?  Could he ask if Patsy had a soulmate? Alexander quickly disregarded the idea. Too suspicious. Lafayette, Hercules, Adrienne, written in a triangle.  Red lines connect both to Lafayette. A question mark filled the gap between Hercules and Adrienne.  

Pause. Hercules. Hercules doodles when he’s bored, Lafayette had said. Soulmates could be of the same gender? Alexander bit his lip. He had never heard of that either. Was Lafayette that special to God, fate, or whatever’s up there? The island never acknowledged couples of the same gender, maybe there were men with male soulmates, or women with female, and they just stayed quiet about it. Lafayette had no qualms telling him that one of his soulmates was male, after all. That must mean-

Anger bubbled up within Alexander. That was it, wasn’t it. It wasn’t that it didn’t happen, nobody told him. It was always a male had a female soulmate. No one talked about the homogeneous couples.  A soulmate is a soulmate, right? Why should it matter their gender? Alexander huffed. “So, if my soulmate was male, would I be just as ostracized as if I had no soulmate at all?” What would his mother have said, if he had a male soulmate? Would she have forced him to wear long sleeves? Would it matter? As long as he never wrote his name, nobody on the island would know. Could you tell by their handwriting what gender they were? Alexander thought no, as he always had rather “feminine” handwriting by society’s standards. His mother wrote in cursive, so he writes in cursive. It looked much nicer that his chicken-scratch print. Doesn’t mean he’s a girl. Surely there are women out there with “masculine” handwriting. “Why does handwriting have a gender? Why is that a thing?” Alexander mumbled, flipping the page in his journal and titling the top.

Essay topics:

“Gendering non-gendered objects: the death of potential.”

“Same-gendered soulmates: an unnecessary stigma.”

Alexander smiled to himself. He was already itching to start writing, but unwillingly closed his journal anyway. This journal was personal, meant to document his thoughts, not the final products. He’d need a notebook. Or three. Or five, depending on just how passionate Alexander gets while he’s writing.

“Later,” he promised himself. He didn’t want to keep them waiting too long, and the time alone had waned the post-panic exhaustion much more than a nap would have. Alexander hardly slept anyhow, and never napped. He couldn’t nap, really. The moment his eyes closed, he was guaranteed a full night’s sleep: a solid four hours.

Leaving his room behind, he walked down the corridor silently, his socked feet ghosting across the carpet. He could hear his name mentioned. Jack.

“So what’s his deal? Alexander, I mean.”

Jack,” Eleanor warned.

“No, Ellie, seriously. I’ve never seen such a flighty teenager. So, what’s his deal?”

Alexander crept as close as he could to the corner without being spotted. He could feel the frustration gaining momentum in his blood stream. This carajo. Alexander decided right then that he didn’t like Martha’s son.

“He’ll hear you.”

“He ruined Thanksgiving!”

“Jack!” Martha scolded, her voice cold. “That’s enough.

“No, Ma. George was tellin’ me you want to adopt this kid? You saw how he just exploded! He’s a time-bomb! Screaming like that for no reason and then running off with his tail between his legs? What is he, retar-“

Jack.George boomed, making Alexander jump. Luckily, the people downstairs were too distracted to hear the soft thud that came from his head hitting the wall. “You know we don’t use that word in this house.” Alexander couldn’t see it, but he could sense Jack curl into himself, ashamed. The image made Alexander smirk, just a little. Who’s got the tail between his legs now?

“It seems you have the,” Pause. “how you say,” Alexander could see his hand moving around in his mind’s eye, “tail between your legs now, yes?’ Lafayette, that sassy little shit. Alexander knew he liked Lafayette.   

“Gilbert,” a warning from George.

“Couldn’t help it,” Alexander could hear the smirk.

George sighed. Martha’s voice continued. “Jacky, Alexander’s had a rough go. He got a little overwhelmed and needed a break. That’s okay. And yes, we are planning to adopt Alexander, if he’ll let us. He’s already a member of this family, whether you like it or not.” Martha finished matter-of-factly. George made an affirmative noise, confirming his stance on the matter.

Alexander could feel the initial prick of irritation fading as the warmth spreading through his chest. “Had a rough go” sounded like pity, and his pride took the momentary hit. But his tightened heart kicked up at her last sentence. He’s already a member of this family, whether you like it or not. He was family. He had a family. He’d never forget his mother, but until the fateful day that he sees her again (if there is an afterlife, something Alexander wasn’t 100% certain on.) he was grateful he had found his destination. Sure, it would have been preferred if he and Jack got along, but Martha wasn’t getting rid of him to please her son. Other than his actual mother, no one had ever tried to hold on to him like Martha was. Alexander had sat down on the floor without realizing it, his hand tracing the swirls in the carpet. All of this was Alexander’s.  We’re having some dinner guests at two, that’s what Martha had said. We. Including Alexander. Guests, including Jack. This was his house, Jack would go home later, but Alexander will stay here, and Martha will make hot chocolate, and George will tell him stories that bore Martha to tears. Alexander was so entranced in his own thoughts he didn’t hear someone coming up the stairs.

“Alexander? What are you doing out here?” George kneeled beside him. Alexander flicked his eyes up to look at George, new-found affection giving him a feeling only described as fuzzy.

“I came out of my room, I wanted pie.”

George laughed, standing up and reaching his hand out to help the boy to his feet. “Of course, but that doesn’t explain why you were sitting in the hallway, staring at the carpet.” George’s smile flickered, just for a moment. “Are you… are you feeling better?” he said awkwardly.

Alexander stayed seated for a moment, analyzing his own emotions. His eyes flicked back and forth as though his thoughts displayed in front of him like a script, before focusing back on George’s face, a conclusion met. “Yeah. Yeah I am,” Alexander grabbed George’s hand. 

 

When he descended the stairs with George, Jack greeted him nonchalantly, as though he wasn’t just talking about him behind his back.  Eleanor was sending her husband a dirty look, an oblivious Elizabeth cooing in her lap. Baby Elizabeth made eye contact with Alexander, a happy giggle erupting from her small form, pulling a grin from the teen. After all, how could anyone frown around a laughing baby? It wasn’t possible, Alexander was sure of it.

Jack’s little faux pas wasn’t sitting well with Lafayette, though. “Ah, Alexandre, I hope you slept well! Jacky was just talking about you! I’m afraid he was breaking some sugar on your back, mon ami, but fret not! I did not take these words standing up!” Pause. An embarrassed look to Alexander. “That was wrong.”

“Lying down,” Alexander corrected with a laugh.

Merde. I thought I got all the… intricacies of your language.” Lafayette looked disheartened. 

Alexander crossed the room to Lafayette’s side, putting his hand on the Frenchman’s shoulder. “It’s alright, the idioms are the hardest to grasp. Lord knows I don’t know all the French ones,” he patted Lafayette’s shoulder. “The sugar thing doesn’t work as well in English, either, I’m afraid.”

Lafayette mumbled an undecipherable string of profanity. “You’ll have to assist me grasp the idioms Alexander.” He sounded completely defeated, but the smirk on his face caused the other teen to laugh again.

Alexander’s stomach answered for him. Lafayette stared at him, biting his lip to keep from laughing. “Tell you what, if we can tackle the complexities of the American idiom after pie, I’ll take you up on that.”

A grin from everyone in the room (other than Jack who has taken to grumbling to himself in the back of the family room, everyone purposefully ignoring him.) responded to the request with zeal, heading back into the kitchen to fetch the pie flavor of choice. 

Halfway through his slice of pecan pie (given to him by Lafayette. It sounded ridiculous. It was delicious, of course) a happy chime cut through the sounds of forks scraping plates. Lafayette pulled his phone out of his pocket, the screen flickering to life.

“It’s John!” Lafayette cried out, swiping his finger across the screen and holding his phone in front of his face. George and Martha dropped their plates, crowding behind Lafayette. Alexander would be lying if he said he wasn’t curious. He continued to eat the pie, feigning nonchalance. “John, mon ami! How are you? How did you get your phone?”

“H-Hey,” the voice was crackled, something told Alexander that it wasn’t just the phone connection. He sounded exhausted. “I found where they hid our phones. Had to call my family, you know?” Martha was smiling at the screen.

“We wish you were here,” Martha quipped.

“I wish I was too.”

George was scowling. “I can’t believe Henry sent you to that awful place again.”

There was a laugh on the other end, it was sad; broken. “Can’t you? It didn’t work the first three times, why he thinks it’ll work now…” the voice cut off. Alexander picked up on a slight accent, but it sounded like he was trying to correct it as he spoke.

“We’ll get you out of there, John. I’m heading into work Monday to propose the end of these…”

“Shh. Hang on.” Silence. “Sorry, thought they found me. I appreciate it G-Wash. Good luck convincing South Carolina.”

“Oh, how rude of me! Alexander, come here! Come meet John!” Lafayette called to him. “John, you will love him. I swear it.” Something about the way Lafayette said that made Alex flush, and judging by the awkward chuckle crackling through the phone, John was in the same position.

Alex rounded the table, leaning over to catch a glimpse of Lafayette’s companion. The call quality was horrible; Alexander couldn’t make out a single feature on the other boy’s face. “Nice to meet you,” Alex waved. “Can you see us any better than we can see you? You look like a cubist painting.”

John barked out a laugh, “’Fraid not. Although you all look more impressionistic than cubist.” John smiled. Well, Alexander was pretty sure he smiled, anyway. “It’s nice to meet you too, featureless blob named Alexander. I-“

“Jack Laurens! How’d you get that?!”

“Shit. Gotta go, love you all bye!”  The call ended. The room went silent again, save for baby Elizabeth noisily gumming at some pumpkin pie.

“Sooo…” Alexander trailed off. “That was John Laurens, huh?”

“That was John Laurens,” Lafayette confirmed.

“Huh. He seems interesting.”

Lafayette raised a brow to Alexander… was that a wink?

“You know what I meant.” Alexander grumbled. “So, where is this awful place? Why can’t he have his phone?”

“This one’s in South Carolina.” George answered. “They take their phones away to isolate them, make them see reason, they say,” George’s spat out the words, tone dripping malice. “It’s not like he can control—“

Lafayette coughed, shooting George a warning glare.

George nodded. He patted Alexander’s shoulder. “You’ll have to ask John when he comes back. If he’s already got his phone, it shouldn’t be much longer. I’m sure he’ll be back in a few weeks, at most.” Martha soothingly rubbed George’s back. Alexander quirked a brow. Was George telling Alexander that? Or himself?

George leaned in and whispered something to Martha. She nodded vehemently in response almost instantly.

 

Alexander lost track of time after that, too preoccupied with thoughts of John Laurens’ mysterious story. He knew nothing about this other boy, only his voice, crackled through a bad phone call, and his knowledge of art history. Still, that subtle curiosity that had stirred within him when Lafayette had first mentioned John Laurens, had caught flame and was burning alive and well.

It wasn’t until after Eleanor had announced her departure and left, baby Elizabeth and a still-pouting Jack in tow, that he spoke up again. “Hey, Lafayette? Who’s Henry?”

Lafayette scowled. “John’s father.” Alexander leaned in, expecting more of an explanation, however the room fell quiet once more. Lafayette wouldn’t tell him anything more, neither will George or Martha, surely. But George looked extremely distraught as he was talking to John. To the point that he’s actually going to discuss with other politicians face-to-face, rather than via video-call.

Whatever is happening to John Laurens, it wasn’t good.

 

Chapter Text

A week had passed since Thanksgiving and the call from John Laurens. Lafayette went to the high school—Alexander wasn’t sure how that worked, but didn’t ask—each day returning increasingly defeated looking as the week progressed. Martha and George had signed Alexander up for an online school to catch up and finish out the year, so as to start in January in the same grade as Lafayette. His “call it an early Christmas gift” laptop and his journal in his hands, Alexander walked down to the family room, perching on the couch to work on his schoolwork for the day. He found himself eyeing the front door, much like the rest of the household has been as of late.

Martha went out to buy…something for her business. If Alexander was completely honest, he had no idea what Martha’s business was, but he felt as though he had lived in their house too long to ask. George was in a meeting, probably pushing his secret agenda. Well, secret to Alexander. Everyone else in the household knows exactly what’s going on, it seemed, if the coded questions were any indication.

Alexander sighed, closing the laptop and instead opening his worn journal, uncapping both the blue and red pen. He opened to the same page he had the week prior, tracing the messy chart with his finger. A new name is written. John Laurens. Question Mark. Alexander leaned back. Out of all his hundreds of pages of writing, this one thing, this John Laurens? was probably the most accurate of them all. The other teen was still an enigma to Alexander, and it frustrated him to no end. He found himself thinking about the other teen almost constantly, a solid chunk of his journal dedicated to the few facts he’s gathered about him.

John Laurens:

-Son of Henry Laurens (name sounds familiar?)

- Father sent him to ???, SC

                -George looked distraught. “Awful place”

                -authoritarian environment (no cell phones)

-Sounded exhausted.

                -emotional abuse?

                -fourth time at ???

“Didn’t work the first three times”: the only thing written in red on that page. Alexander furrowed his brow. Laurens had said that to George, and was, essentially, Alexander’s only real hint. Wherever, South Carolina was trying to change some aspect of Laurens, Alexander could gather that much. But the trait in particular is what eluded him, and judging by the intentional withholding of information from the Washingtons and Lafayette, it was some kind of big secret, something only John could tell him when he felt comfortable. Alexander knew that feeling well, and would respect it, even though he was starting to believe his curiosity would kill him. As he idly rubbed his arm through his black hoodie, the lightbulb clicked on in his brain.

What bigger secret is there than his own? Lafayette won’t tell him about John because he didn’t know that Alexander was in the same position! Alexander almost slapped himself. That had to be it. Maybe if he came clean to Lafayette, he would be more likely to confirm his- no.  Alexander was curious, more than curious, but he had a reputation to protect. He couldn’t go through what his mother did. No, he couldn’t tell Lafayette. At least, not yet. 

Besides, what could Wherever, South Carolina do about not having a soulmate? Alexander deflated. They couldn’t just assign them, that’s not how it worked. He absently tugged on his hair with his free hand, the back of the pen sitting between his lips as he thought. If it wasn’t that he didn’t have a soulmate, did he have a soulmate…Alexander clenched his teeth, effectively cracking the pen cap.

Did he have a soulmate he didn’t want?

Could that happen? Could you hate your soulmate? Alexander was reeling, this new possibility rattling around his mind like an explosive, destroying every preconception he had made about the other teen.

Back to the chart

John Laurens? :No/Unfavorable soulmate?

Alexander bit his lip, his stomach clenching in nerves for no apparent reason as he drew an arrow from “unfavorable” and wrote his next inquiry. Male?

“He’ll be back soon, Laf, you know how Laurens is.” A voice Alexander had never heard before sounded as the front door opened. Alexander jumped, his journal falling from his knees and onto the floor. On instinct, he kicked it under the edge of the couch, effectively hiding it from the possibly prying eyes of the stranger. Lafayette came in first; Alexander opened the fist he hadn’t realized he had made.

The stranger’s skin was much darker than George’s and Lafayette’s, and his teeth were almost too white, the comforting smile he was sending Lafayette practically glowing. Other than the gray beanie covering his hair, he was dressed in a fairly formal manner. His black peacoat was unbuttoned, showing his white button-down shirt covered by a warm gray vest; a royal blue tie was the only splash of color in the outfit. He carried himself in a very specific manner, professional, for the most part, broad shoulders straight back, standing tall, head held high. He was definitely older than the other two in the room, but there was something so blatantly childish in his mannerisms that Alexander momentarily thought they were the same age.

Lafayette looked dreadful. His posture was the exact opposite of his companion; his shoulders were slumped, he refused to lift his feet with each step, the toe of his shoe dragging unceremoniously across the floor. He barely looked at Alex, idly flicking his hand to gesture to the stranger. “Alexander, Hercules. Hercules, Alexander.” His tone lacked any of his normal passion, making Alexander frown.

He shot Lafayette a worried look, but stood from the couch, reaching over to shake Hercules’ hand. His grip was firm, his hand slightly calloused. “Nice to meet you.”

“So, you’re the little lion, huh?” Hercules asked, an easy smile on his face.

“The what?”

Hercules flicked his eyes over to Lafayette, shrugging his shoulders, ‘You know how he is,’ heavily implied. Alexander nodded in understanding. He may have only known Lafayette for a short time, but learning that the nickname came from him was no surprise. Lafayette almost spoke in code, giving nicknames to almost everyone he knew, save for Adrienne and… Hercules.

Oh. My. God.

“You’re Hercules,” Alexander repeated, “Your drawings are nice.”

“My drawings?” Hercules paused, scratching his chin for a moment, “ooooohh,” he dragged out, “Laf’s arms?” Alexander nodded. “Heh. Yeah, well, when I’m waiting for fabric to dye or something, I… get bored,” He rubbed the back of his neck, looking up at the ceiling in order to avoid Alexander’s gaze.

Alexander quirked a brow, “fabric?”

“Yeah!” Hercules looked back at him with a new light in his eyes, “I’m a tailor, mostly, but I dabble in fashion design. Mostly for this one,” he gestured to Lafayette, “and the Schuyler sisters, but who knows? Maybe I’ll have my own label one day.”

In lieu of a response, Alexander spit out another question. “Why lilies?” There were almost always lilies on the Frenchman’s arms, a new one appeared the moment another faded away.

“You really want the answer to that? It’s really cheesy, you might throw up.”

“Can’t be that cheesy, right? Unless, you draw them because they’re Lafayette’s favorite flower or something,” Alexander joked.

Silence.

“Oh my God. You’re gross.” 

 “Hey! It started out with a design, I was starting a new line of dresses based off different flowers, right?” Hercules sat on the couch, before looking up at Alexander and Lafayette before patting the space on either side of him. “Gather ‘round kiddies, Papa Herc’s got a story.”

Lafayette snickered as Alexander made a face. Lafayette sat as close to Hercules as possible without being on top of him. “You do not have to remind me that you’re old, we are aware,” he teased.

Hercules made an offended noise. “I’m only twenty-three, thank you very much. Not my fault you’re both children.” When Alexander didn’t move, Hercules shot him a defeated look, like a father left in charge of bratty children. “You wanted to know the story. Just humor me, kid.”

Alexander relented, joining the two on the opposite end of the couch. The second he sat down, Hercules’s smile was back. He shrugged off his peacoat—albeit with some difficulty with Lafayette practically in his lap. His sleeves were rolled up, doodles covering what skin could be seen. Certainly Lafayette’s arms matched under his cable knit sweater.

“Okay, anyway. Actually, I should probably give some background, huh?” Alexander shrugged, which Hercules seemingly took as a ‘yes’, “So I was fifteen, and just starting to dabble in designing clothes. A friend of mine, Cato, his moms are both really artsy, so they had a studio that they let me use a corner of for my designs. One of his moms, Livia, is a painter—super talented--and flowers were some of her favorite things to paint, so I was surrounded by pictures of flowers whenever I was in there.”

Alexander couldn’t help but smile as Hercules weaved his story. The man constantly interrupted himself with more information, cutting the flow of the tale, but giving it some kind of endearing quality. Hercules caught Alexander’s grin, responding with one of his own, before continuing. “So I decided ‘Hey, why not make dresses based off the flowers? Could be fun!’   These were supposed to be like party dresses, you know? Nothing too fancy—I was only fifteen, why would I make a fancy dress—so I decided to start with a carnation, you know, strapless, semi-sweetheart neckline, layered tulle skirt to get that easy float that carnations have,” he paused, taking in Alexander’s change in facial expression. “Right, unimportant.  Anyway, so I was up to my eyeballs in red tulle, and it just… was not working out.  It looked okay, but wasn’t what I had in here,” he tapped his temple, “you know?”

Alexander nodded. That, he understood perfectly, having written and rewritten every piece of writing he had ever created hundreds of times.

“So yeah, I took a step back to see where I could make changes, and I saw Mama Livia’s new painting of an Easter lily—this happened in like March, by the way—and it just hit me. I need to make a ball gown based off this flower. I couldn’t think of anything else, especially not this carnation disaster in front of me. It was like my fingers were rebelling against me until I sketched out this dress.”

Another thing Alexander understood, thinking back to the five partial essay drafts sitting in Word at that moment.

“But before I could design the dress, I had to draw the flower itself, I don’t know, it works for me. Well, I didn’t have paper that didn’t have designs on it, and I couldn’t use one of Mama Livia’s canvases, obviously, so I grabbed a silver gel pen and sketched it out on my arm.

“You just figured Lafayette wouldn’t mind a random flower on his arm?”

Hercules laughed, “I didn’t know Laf existed,” he shrugged. “I thought I was a bare-arm.”

Alexander choked. “What?”

“Yeah, I mean, I was fifteen, so you were,” he looked at Laf, who was resting his head on Hercules’s shoulder,” what, nine?”

Lafayette nodded, refusing to lift his head. “And I was born into a rich family, so I wasn’t supposed to write on my skin, the first mark had to be from the other person.” Alexander looked at him incredulously. “Tradition.”

“So yeah, I had no idea I even had a soulmate. As I was scouring around for paper—because I wasn’t going to sketch a dress on my arm in gel pen—I happened to glance down at my arm and see writing underneath it.”     

“I said it was beautiful,” Lafayette supplied. The warmth was returning to his face, retelling this story seemed to have had a therapeutic effect on him, for which Alexander was thankful. He silently hoped he would never see Lafayette look that lifeless ever again.

“Yeah, but you said it in French, so I went ‘that means beautiful right? I mean, thank you, but I don’t speak French,’” Hercules looked to Alexander and rolled his eyes, “what a way to introduce yourself to your soulmate, right?” Alexander laughed along with him, surprised when the normal pang of jealousy never came.

“I didn’t speak English yet, but my mother did, so I showed her the mark.” Lafayette smiled softly, “she immediately hired me an English tutor.” He paused. “I found out about Adrienne when she responded to my comment to Hercules with ‘what is?’” he chuckled, “it was in French, of course, so I knew it wasn’t him.”

Alexander’s curiosity piqued, he leaned forward, “so,” he gestured to Hercules, “you and Adrienne aren’t linked then? She would have known about the lily if you were.” He mumbled the last part more to himself than to the others.

“Nope,” Hercules said, popping the ‘p’ in the word. “We’re just here for Laf. We both get his messages though. He’s gotta color-code.”

Alexander started to laugh, before the matter-of-fact tone actually registered. “Wait, really? Can’t you just write each person’s name before the message?”

The dual stare he received proved that he said something wrong. “No…” Hercules started slowly, “names don’t appear. I thought everyone knew that.”  

 Oh no. “I’ve never tried,” Alexander feigned nonchalance. Not a lie. Alexander forced himself to breathe. This wasn’t the time to panic. He looked at Hercules’s facial expression. There was an unreadable emotion hiding in his gaze, but the easy smile had returned.

“Hey, guess you don’t need to when you only have one, right?” Hercules shrugged, Lafayette letting out a disgruntled noise as his head moved with the motion. “Alright Laf, you need to get up. Moping around isn’t going to get Laurens back from ‘Camp MakeYouStraight.’”

Hercules knew where John was too? Did everyone know except for him? Alexander felt his skin crawl. There was nothing that bothered Alexander more than withheld information. He had met John, however brief, or however horrible the call quality was, they had met. Didn’t that mean that Alexander deserved to at least know at least some of the situation?   

Lafayette sat up, slapping Hercules’s arm with a pointed look to Alexander.

“He didn’t know? You said he called you, I figured…”

Alexander slammed his hand against the couch in frustration. “Can someone just tell me what’s going on? You’ve been talking in riddles all week, purposely leaving out information, refusing to answer questions? Hell, even George and Martha are acting weird! Where is John, and what’s happening to him?” Alexander had stood at some point in his tirade, the shocked gaze of Lafayette pulling him out of the red fog that had clouded his mind. Hercules had wrapped his arm protectively around the French teen. There was fear in his eyes. In that moment, Lafayette was afraid of him. Alexander slowly lowered himself back on the couch, dropping his head.

Of course he’s a bare-arm. They’re all violent. Why do you think they don’t have soulmates? The voices of the island cut through his memory, filling him with guilt. “It’s… George looks so distraught, Martha cries whenever we go to bed and John hasn’t come home,” Alexander whispered, quoting a conversation he had had with her a few days before. “Whatever’s happening to John, it’s scaring the Washingtons, and I can’t help if no one will tell me what’s going on.”

Hercules had relaxed his hold on Lafayette, reaching over and patting Alexander’s knee. “Laf, you might as well. If John gets mad, blame me.”

Lafayette still seemed conflicted, mulling it over in his head before climbing over Hercules and sitting between him and Alexander. “Alright, fine.” Lafayette’s voice was no higher than a whisper, as though it physically pained him to say the words. “John is…. He has been sent to a ‘camp-’”

“They call it camp Acolyte,” Hercules supplied.

“-Right. Camp Acolyte is for… um.”

Hercules saw him struggling and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Do you want me to…?” Lafayette deflated, leaning to Hercules with a nod. “Okay. Essentially, Camp Acolyte is this place that bad parents send their kids who are,” he cleared his throat, “unfavorably attracted to the undesirables.”  

Alexander shuddered. “What does that even mean?”

Hercules shrugged, “different for each parent. For Henry Laurens, it means those who identify as male.”

Alexander’s eyes widened, an unfamiliar feeling swirled in his stomach and made his chest tighten. “…what do they do to him?”

Hercules averted his eyes, dropping his gaze to the floor, “John won’t say.” Lafayette looked away, the back of his hand pressed against his lips as he struggled to keep his composure. Hercules reached for his other hand, entwining their fingers together.

“That’s completely ridiculous! They do unspeakable things to him because his soulmate’s a man? He can’t change that! And why should he want to?

Hercules and Lafayette went quiet, looking at each other.

“…What?”

“Well,” Hercules started, chewing on his lip. “That’s the problem.”

“What are you talking about? You just said-“

“I said Laurens was attracted to men. I said nothing about his soulmate.”

Alexander leaned back, the back of the couch enveloping him. “What are you saying.”

Lafayette cleared his throat, nodding to Hercules. He rested a hand on Alexander’s shoulder, his dark blue nail polish was slightly chipped, like he had been picking at it. Alexander fixated on Lafayette’s hand for a moment before looking back to meet his gaze. “Alexander, his soulmate is Martha Manning. A woman.”

Alexander sank deeper into the couch, his mind absorbing the new information. “His soulmate’s a woman, but he’s exclusively attracted to men?”

Hercules and Lafayette both nodded.

Alexander stood up, throwing his hands up in the air. “What the hell is that?! I mean, what kind of cheap fate or God or whatever assigns you a soulmate you’d never be attracted to? What’s the point of even having a soulmate at that point?”

“There are platonic soulmates, Alexander.”

He stared at them, slowly lowering his arms. “There are?”  More things they never told him about on the island. Cool.

“What do they teach you in the Caribbean?”

“Not much, apparently,” he spat out. Damn island, hiding all these things from him. The question he could never ask pops into his brain against his will: would he have learned these things if he had gotten a soulmate? Or did they decide he didn’t need to know as a bare-arm?

Alexander could practically see the lightbulb appear above the Frenchman’s head. “Hercules, take the day off tomorrow.”

“What? Why?”

“We’re getting coffee.” Hercules started to ask another question before Lafayette cut him off. “He needs to meet the Schuylers.”

Chapter Text

The front door opened, causing the three men to stop their conversation. They were all waiting with baited breath, silently hoping to see the same face.

Martha walked in, the surprised flicker of hope upon seeing three faces dimming when she focused on Hercules. “Oh, Hercules. It’s nice to see you,” the pleasantry fell flat.

“Same to you Mrs. W,” he took a breath. “It’s alright, I wanted you to be John, too.”

Martha deflated, her narrow shoulders curling in, “He called us on Thanksgiving, I would’ve thought he’d have made it out by now.” Her worried gaze flickered over to Alexander; a raised hand from Lafayette stopping her from backpedaling.

“He knows, Martha. We told him.”

“You did..?”

“The Little Lion can be quite,” Lafayette snapped his fingers for a moment, “ferocious when he wants to be.”

Alexander rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassment coloring his features. “I forced them to tell me. You were all acting strange, and-”

“John will understand, I’m sure.” Martha crossed the room, standing beside Alexander and mussing his hair with her hand, “Little Lion, hmm? Well, you definitely have the mane for it,” she said with a giggle.

Alexander grumbled, but leaned into the touch.

“Oh, Martha, Hercules and I are taking Alexander out tomorrow to meet the Schuylers.”

Martha smiled, “oh, good! He could use the fresh air,” she teased, “where are you headed?”

“Riddle and Blueskin? The coffee shop with the carousel theme? It’s Peggy’s favorite, figured she’d be more likely to meet new people that way.”

“Probably smart,” Martha said with a nod. “Well, I’ll leave you to it, boys. I have some business to attend to. Is it alright for you to just order pizza tonight? I’m not sure how long this’ll take.”

Lafayette and Alexander nodded, and Martha left the room.

“Just got word back from the Schuylers. Tomorrow’s a ‘go’.”

No one acknowledged that tomorrow was Friday.  

 

“You’re sure it’s alright that you’re not at school right now?” Alexander asked, his voice muffled by the scarf around his face.

“Completely. Thomas will cover for me, if anyone asks.”

“Thomas?”

Lafayette nodded. “Another friend of mine. But, uh… I do not believe the two of you will get along as well,” he bit his lip. “He has some… views on things that I do not feel you would agree with.”

“What do you mean?”

“I would rather not say. This is a happy occasion. We do not want to… how you say... poke the bear with a stick?”

“That… is how you say that, actually. Fair enough.” Lafayette beamed.

The Riddle and Blueskin was a cozy little café, the sign a brown carousel horse with a blue bridle and blond mane and tail. The inside was small, which, to Alexander, only accentuated the cozy feel. Round tables dotted the middle of the room, a few booths hugged the walls, but Alexander could only see eight tables in total. The wooden floor caught his attention, the wooden planks placed in a curve, making rectangular room seem rounder. At the edge of the counter, a full-size copy of the sign stood, a little girl sitting upon its saddle getting her picture taken.

“That is Riddle,” Lafayette pointed to the horse. “And that one,” he gestured to the blue-gray horse on the other side of the café, “is Blueskin. The owner bought the coffee shop the same day his favorite childhood amusement park was getting shut down. He managed to buy these two horses before they destroyed the carousel.” Alexander raised a brow at Lafayette, “he tells everyone he catches admiring the horses,” Lafayette responded with a laugh. “Which one do you like better?”

“What?”

“The horses. Riddle or Blueskin?”

Alexander looked at the other horse. It was beautiful, really. The Blue-gray paint didn’t have a chip in it, its brown leather saddle looked polished and new, black mane combed, and equally dark tail braided tightly. The red bridle’s bright hue the color of a newly bloomed poppy, the silver rings glistening under the cafés lighting, not a spot of wear in sight.

By comparison, Riddle looked worn down, his brown paint had faded, chipping in spots and showing the lighter brown paint underneath. His glass eyes were cloudy, as though they haven’t been replaced in years. The black saddle was worn and indented, the blue bridle faded and beginning to wear thin in spots. Blueskin was beautiful, certainly. But Riddle had character. Riddle told a story. The little girl gone, Alexander approached the dark brown horse, running his fingers through the blond mane. Real horse hair. “Riddle, I think.”

Lafayette smiled to himself, causing Alexander to give him a questioning look. “Nothing. That is what I thought you would say.”

Hercules appeared behind them a few moments later. “So, Riddle or Blueskin?”

Alexander jumped. “Does everyone get asked that when they come here?”

A female voice answered, her confident tone drawing Alexander’s attention before he could locate the source. “Of course. Why do you think the owner lets Riddle look worn like that?” She stepped in front of Alexander, her curly hair whipping behind her. “It’s a character test. You find out a lot about a person from whether they prefer Blueskin or Riddle.” She was beautiful, to say the least; but it was the fire burning in her eyes that caught his attention.  The hand on her hip reached out and took Alexander’s hand. “Angelica Schuyler.”

“Alexander Hamilton,” he responded, his hand mirroring her firm grip.

“Hamilton?” Angelica pursed a brow. “Lafayette said we were meeting the new addition to the Washington family.”

Alexander bristled, “I’m not adopted.”

Angelica tightened her grip on his hand, bringing him closer to her, the height difference between the two more prominent. “Is there something wrong with being adopted?”

“Easy, Angelica. He didn’t mean it like that,” Hercules cut in.

“I’d rather hear that from him, if that’s alright,” replied Angelica, icy gaze still on Alexander.

“Herc’s right. That’s not what I meant. The Washington’s haven’t adopted me-“

“Yet,” cut in Lafayette.

“-So I’m still a Hamilton. Don’t think I ever won’t be.”

“Alexander, I thought you liked being in our family…” lamented the also-not-adopted Lafayette.

“Also not what I meant,” replied Alexander with a half-hearted scowl. “Alexander Hamilton has such a nice ring to it. It sounds important, regal even.” Angelica snorted; the wall she had built up to attack him with was breaking, Alexander realized. “Alexander Washington? I don’t know… I don’t hear it.”

“You could hyphenate! Alexander Hamilton-Washington.” Hercules supplied. “Wait, you know what? Washington-Hamilton’s got a better ring to it.”

“Then my name would be a mile long. Alexander Washington-Hamilton? You don’t think that’s a little much?”

Hercules started snickering, elbowing Lafayette in the ribs. “What do you think, is it too long a name Ma-“

“Don’t.” Lafayette sighed, drooping his head. “If anyone has a name that’s too long, it would be myself. Remember how I said my family was on the… traditional side?”

“Laf, tell him your name at home. We don’t have time,” Angelica laughed, her most-likely true personality shining through. “Eliza and Peggy’ll be here any minute, they had to watch Ren and Lia until Dad came back.”

“New additions?”

Angelica beamed. “Yep! Dad’s saying he’s done, said we have a full house now, but I’m thinking there’s at least one more in the future.”

Hercules whistled. “Bless Philip Schuyler, man.”

“Angeliccaaaaa,” a new girl entered the café, her soprano tones ghosting around the room as she sang.

Angelica turned, “Eliiiiiizaaaa,” she sang back. Alexander gawked. This was Eliza? She looked nothing like Angelica, her much paler skin surrounding subtly-almond shaped eyes, a river of dark hair flowing easily down her back. Her eyes didn’t have the same fire that Angelica’s did, but instead possessed a warm glow, her expression one of unadulterated happiness.

“It is rude to stare, mon ami,” Lafayette teased.

“Shut it.”

There was a huff, before a third girl popped out from behind Eliza. “And Peggy. Seriously, when will you guys sing my name?”

“Turn 17, get a motif,” Eliza laughed.

Angelica crossed to the door, ruffling Peggy’s curls. “We just have to think of one first. “Peggy” isn’t exactly the most melodic name, Pegs.”

“Well, Lord knows I’m not a ‘Margarita,’ seriously, what were they thinking?”   

The older girls shrugged, turning back to the group of boys. Eliza perked up upon seeing Alexander, a friendly smile appearing on her lips as she glided across the room to him. Alexander had never thought the word elegant could apply to a girl in a bomber jacket and skinny jeans, but somehow, Eliza made it work. “You must be the new Washington! I’m Elizabeth Schuyler, it’s a pleasure to meet you,” she beamed.

Alexander couldn’t help but smile brightly in return, Eliza already had him wrapped around her finger, he had just met her and was already willing to conquer the world if it meant making her happy. “If I had to fight in a war to meet you, it would have been worth it.” What.

The smile on her face disappeared, her lips forming an ‘o’ shape as her eyes widened in surprise. Alexander could hear Lafayette and Hercules guffawing in the background, but he could only focus on the blush blooming and quickly darkening into a deep red. She said nothing.

“I cannot believe,” Alexander paused, his face most certainly matching the middle Schuyler’s, if the burning in his cheeks was any indication. “I’m such a dork, but I-“

Eliza’s smile had returned, more bashful than before. “Let’s go get a drink?” she offered, gesturing to the counter behind them.

Peggy appeared in front of them, how she kept moving without him noticing was really unsettling to Alexander; he’d have to keep a closer eye on Peggy when he wasn’t praying for the floor to swallow him whole.

“Something sweet?” Peggy asked, “You up for hot chocolate?”

“You know me,” Eliza replied, looking at Alexander as she spoke to her sister, “A little bit of cinnamon?” Did she, did she just wink? Why would she wink about-oh. Oh. Alexander flushed, his face burning brighter than he had previously thought possible.

“And for you?” Alexander turned to see the barista looking at him expectantly, a smile playing on her lips, certainly from witnessing the previous encounter.

“Just a coffee, a splash of cream.”

“Boring,” Peggy booed. “I was hoping you were one of those hipster types with the mile-long drink order. You know, like Angelica.”

“Hey!’

The barista laughed, “She’s got you Ang, I had to be specially trained to make your coffee specifically.”

“Not my fault y’all have bad taste in coffee.”

“Y’all?” Eliza repeated

“Ooooh, have you been hanging around Thomas without us knowing?” Peggy wiggled her brows.

Please.” Angelica rolled her eyes. “I just works in the context, alright?

“Oh, so you’re saying it ironically. Like a hipster.” Peggy chirped.

The barista laughed, setting down glass mugs filled with the previously ordered beverages. Alexander’s eyes widened. Glass mugs? Coffee shops still do that? “We have to-go cups too,” the barista—Alexander looked at her nametag—Joanna said, reading his mind (was he that transparent? He really had to work on that.) “But the Schuylers always hang here. Figured you’d be here too.” She shrugged. “Nice pick-up line, by the way. I’ve never seen Eliza go red like that.” Alexander glanced at the middle Schuyler, relieved to find her too distracted by her sisters to pay attention to the conversation.

“I swear I didn’t mean to say that.”

“Sure, you didn’t, Don Juan.

“Hey, that’s not-“

“You never told her your name.”

“I didn’t? I didn’t. The first thing I said was that god-awful,” he blanched.

Joanna laughed. “She thought it was cute.”

“What makes you say that?”

The barista held her hand out for Alexander to shake. “Joanna Bethune. I’m a good friend of ‘Liza’s. Just trust me on this.”

He shook her hand “Alexander Hamilton. –“

“Maybe tell her that, Rico Suave,” Joanna laughed. “Yo! Liza, your cocoa’s not gonna be hot if you keep standing there.”

“Oh! Sorry Jojo!” Eliza snapped back, reaching for her wallet in her coat pocket.

Joanna held up her hand. “Nah. You’ve been more than entertaining enough to earn the drinks. Just take ‘em,” Joanna paused. “You too Rico.” She rolled the ‘r’, winking when Alexander scowled.

“That’s not my name.”

She shrugged. “It’s a coffee shop, I’m obligated to get your name wrong.”

“Fine,” he said with a roll of his eyes. “Thanks Jolene.”

“Funny,” she said sarcastically. “Take your coffee before I make you pay for it.”

He did as he was told with a chuckle, following Eliza and Peggy to the booth in the corner.

“So, Jo, is my drink free too?” Alexander overheard Angelica ask.

Hell no! Your drink alone will bankrupt this place!”

“It’s not that fancy!”

Peggy looked over at Alexander, leaning on the table with her face in her hands, “it really isn’t that fancy, hers is the most complicated out of all of us, so, you know?”

Alexander nodded. “My name’s Alex, by the way. Never said it earlier.”

“Yeah, Ang told us while you were chattin’ with Jo.” Peggy laughed.

The aforementioned Schuyler came over, Lafayette and Herc in tow. Angelica’s drink was definitely fancier, if the sauces and swirls on the whipped cream were any indication. “Fancy.”

“Shut it Alexander. I’m not sure I like you yet.” Angelica leaned on one hand, a more menacing take on Peggy’s carefree posture. He wasn’t certain, but Alexander thought he saw her lip twitch upward.

Eliza bumped her sister with her shoulder, “Angie, you’re being mean.” Eliza swiped her finger across the whipped cream atop her drink and popped it in her mouth.  

“So, Alexander, what’s your story?” Peggy asked, using the plastic coffee stirrer as a straw.

“Actually,” Laf interrupted, “We were hoping you could tell him your story.”

“Yeah,” Hercules added, “They didn’t teach him much about soulmates before. Just the absolute basics.”

“As in, heteronormative, fall-in-love-get-married-have-kids-and-die,” piped in Angelica, her posture relaxed, yet unchanging. There was a new curiosity in her gaze, however, that did not go unnoticed.          

Alexander nodded, “pretty much.”

“Gross.”

Eliza smiled at her sister, raising her mug to her lips.

“You seem like a smart enough kid, so I’m sure you’ve gathered that Peggy and I are adopted,” Angelica started.

“I gathered that you were, judging by the outburst earlier.”

Angelica’s eye twitched, but nodded anyway. “Well, Mom and Dad are Eliza’s biological parents.”

“And I have one biological brother, Philip Jeremiah. I call him PJ,” Eliza giggled, “he hates it.”

“But Mom was having a lot of issues when it came to having more kids,” added in Peggy.

Eliza nodded solemnly, “there were so many miscarriages, or still births. And when Mom could carry to term, there was something wrong with the babies and they’d pass away.” She stared up at the ceiling, “Counting them, I’d have nine or ten siblings by now.” She looked back to Alexander, “but I hadn’t heard about the soulmate thing until I started middle school—right after PJ was born—because a classmate had his marks.”

Alexander gave her a confused glance. “So, you were, what, eleven? Before you found out about it? How?”

Eliza shrugged, sipping her cocoa again. “Mom and Dad were pretty busy dealing with the fertility problems to have the soulmate talk.”

Alexander drank his coffee to try to hide the shame rising in his face. Way to be insensitive.

“Anyway,” Angelica continued, “Peggy and I were both at Milton Hershey—“

“—A boarding school in Pennsylvania. A solid chunk of the student body doesn’t have a home to go back to, you know?” interrupted Peggy.

“I had been Peggy’s surrogate sister from the moment she arrived to Mil Hersh. I was French braiding her hair when Eliza’s message came through,” Angelica laughed.   

“On both your arms?” Alexander asked

“No, just the left one,” replied Peggy with a smirk. Alexander squinted at her, her smirk erupting into laughter as response.

“Then when Peggy replied to Liza, I got her reply too.”

“I didn’t tell Mom or Dad about my two soulmates yet. I wore long-sleeves every day, so they wouldn’t see, and I talked to them for… I think it was a few months before I finally told Dad.”

Alexander was invested, committing the story to memory to jot down in his journal—which was still under the couch—the moment he was alone. “Why did you wait?” Alexander vaguely caught Lafayette mouth something to Hercules, but dismissed it.

“I wanted to know more about them first,” Eliza said like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Of course, with the limits of the skin transfer, we had to speak in code. We told Eliza we were both orphans. That went through, but our genders didn’t.”

“So we wrote on our arms in only pink pen for a few days, and Eliza responded by drawing three girls standing together with a question mark,” Peggy smiled at the memory, Eliza and Angelica laughing along with her.

Alexander could see the link between them. The way they could feed off of each other—finishing each other’s thoughts without talking over one another, as though one can sense when the other is about to speak. The three Schuylers may not look alike, but they were practically one unit. Alexander struggled to imagine the past Eliza described; it seemed impossible that there was a time where Eliza didn’t have her two sisters at her side.  

“Our names came next,” said Eliza. “After all, the names can’t pass through, everyone knows that.” Lafayette snorted, bumping Alexander with his shoulder. Alexander elbowed him in the ribs, a scowl appearing on his face. “…Did you not know that?”

“Not until yesterday. Like they told you earlier, the whole soulmate thing was pretty hush-hush in the Caribbean.”

Angelica leaned back. “The Caribbean? Where’s your family from?”

Alexander blanched, “Unimportant,” he dismissed, directing the conversation back to Eliza, “so how did you tell each other your names?”

Eliza took pity on him, rushing into her response to keep Angelica from interrogating him about his underwhelming response. “with pictures!” she said hurriedly, “I drew a stick-figure in a skirt and crown and drew the British flag next to it.”

“Queen Elizabeth,” Alexander murmured. “That’s really smart. Good job Preteen-Eliza.”

Eliza smiled, “Thank you, I thought it was clever.”

“I drew angel wings. Pretty easy. Pegs had some issues.”

“Well, I couldn’t think of anything for Peggy. I ended up drawing what I thought a margarita looked like. You know, like the drink?”

Eliza looked at Peggy for a moment, before shooting a sheepish look Alexander’s way. “I…didn’t get it.”

“Long story short,” Angelica continued, “we managed to get Eliza our information—minus Peggy’s name, but I told her that I knew Pegs, so I’d introduce her—don’t ask how we coded out Milton Hershey and Pennsylvania, it took a while-“

“But I figured it out, and told my parents about my two soulmates and where they were, so Dad took me to Pennsylvania to meet them. Mom didn’t want to risk PJ, after what happened with the others, so she stayed home,” Eliza went to take another sip before she noticed that her cup was empty, making her frown into the porcelain before setting it on the table again. “So I walked up to the desk in the office, my dad in tow, and I said to the man there ‘Hi. My name is Lizzie’—I went by Lizzie then—‘Schuyler and you have my soulmates here and I would like to meet them puh-lease’,” Eliza stretched out each syllable. “Obviously he had no idea who I was talking about, so I said that one of their names was like Angel and the other one knows her. Because that’s obviously enough information in a school of hundreds.”

“Serendipitously enough, I happened to have had a meeting with my social worker that day, so I was coming out of the meeting room across the hall when she made her announcement,” added Angelica. Serendipitous. Nice. “So, I flew in there. And when I saw Eliza I just knew she was the girl that Peggy and I had been talking to. I was suddenly so nervous, seeing her face-to-face; it was too good to be true, you know?”

“So she just whispered-”

“Queen Elizabeth?” Angelica mimicked her younger self, “is it really you?”

“I couldn’t even answer her; I just flew into her arms. She then practically dragged me up to Peggy’s room to meet the final member of the trio, Angie’s social worker saw the whole thing, called Peggy’s social worker, Dad called Mom, and the rest is history.” The three girls all smiled at one another, surely carbon copies of their smiles that day.

Angelica tore her eyes away from her sisters and looked to Alexander again, her face apologetic. “I’m sorry about earlier. It’s just.. I’ve only been a Schuyler for six years. I was twelve, almost thirteen when Mom and Dad adopted me and Peggy. I knew the stories; teenagers don’t get adopted. I thought for sure I was never going to have a family.”

Alexander nodded, “so when I said I wasn’t adopted, you thought I was rejecting the Washingtons. Rejecting a family. I get it. Apology accepted,” he said with a smile.

“You’re actually not half bad, Alexander Hamilton. Maybe we will keep you around.”

Lafayette’s phone started to ring, his face draining when he checked the screen. “It’s George.” Lafayette stood from the table, answering the phone with a nervous look to his friends.

Alexander’s nerves sparked an electrical current within him, zapping every hair to stand on end as he stared at the French teen, watching him pace around the table. He caught a glimpse of the sisters and Hercules, their faces showing that they were feeling the same thing.

Lafayette ended the call, looking back at the table again. “We need to go home. Schuylers, you are coming too.”

“What’s going on?” murmured Peggy.

“It was Martha. She took George’s phone. George… received news about Laurens.”

Dread deadened the electric current, making Alexander go numb with the exception of the dead weight in his stomach and the now too bitter taste in his mouth.

Everyone previously seated at the table had stood up, gathering their coats in silence. Eventually Angelica spoke, a subtle tremor sneaking through in her controlled tone. “Well, what is it?”

“He broke out of Camp Acolyte,” Lafayette whispered ushering them quickly through the door and ignoring the ‘goodbye’ from the audibly confused Joanna.

“Well that’s good, right?” Alexander asked, the iciness of the worry in his heart much worse than the December air.

Lafayette shook his head. “They caught him down the road. His ride didn’t show.”

Eliza gasped. “No.”

“What does that mean, Laf? What happens when they catch him?!” Alexander asked quickly, the panic making his voice raise.

“It’s only happened once before, his first escape,” Hercules said, his tone thick with sadness. “He won’t say exactly what they did to him, but… it changed him. It took months to get the old John back. Now that he’s a repeat offender…” Hercules trailed off, shaking his head.

“So, what are we going to do?” asked Peggy, “what is going to the Washingtons going to do to help John?”

“Your father is there too,” Lafayette supplied, spinning around and walking down the street backwards so he could look at the group. “Martha didn’t say much else.”

“So why did Martha ask us to come home? Why is their Dad there? Laf, did she give you anything else?”

He had spun back around, his back to Alexander. “No. But I could hear George in the back. I have never heard him so panicked before, in all of the years that I have known him. He was truly shaken to…” Lafayette snapped his fingers, looking for the word.

“his core?” Hercules supplied, voice soft as he placed his hand on Lafayette’s shoulder, trying to comfort him, but Alexander could see the shakiness in his fingers.

“Yes, that.” He looked over his shoulder to make eye contact with Alexander. “I think…”

Hercules finished the thought. “George is getting John out of Camp Acolyte.”

Chapter Text

Alexander stared at Hercules, trying to pick up the pace while still maintaining eye contact. “How could he? Can he even do that?”

“You are not the only persuasive one, mon ami.” Lafayette called back, their shared home in view. Alexander blinked, the walk home seemed much shorter, as though the street had folded over itself in order to expedite the return trip. He felt a hand touch his wrist, making him flinch for only a moment before he realized it was Eliza’s. She snaked her hand into his, intertwining their fingers. She was trying to keep herself calm, he realized as he saw her other hand tightly gripped in Angelica’s.

Alexander squeezed her hand, seeking comfort himself as Lafayette opened the door to the scene in front of him. The first person he saw was Martha, her tear-streaked face shattering Alexander’s heart. There was another man in the room, his inky black hair the only feature Alexander could see. Surely that must be the Schuylers’ father.

He walked into the house, pulling Eliza and Angelica—and Peggy, who had latched onto Angelica’s hand at some point. He fought the urge to wrap his arms around the crying woman in front of him. “Martha? Where’s George?” Did he already leave for South Carolina? Was he actually going to South Carolina?

Martha felt the same urge that Alexander had, however she acted on it, wrapping her arms around Alexander and hiding her face in his neck. As Alexander dropped Eliza’s hand to embrace Martha, every possible bad scenario flashed through his mind. George was planning on kidnapping John and got caught. George is in jail. George had already left, but had gotten into a car accident; Alexander hadn’t paid close enough attention to see if his car was in the driveway.

John was dead.

Alexander’s blood ran cold. That had to have been his mind running rampant again, there was no way that camp could have killed John. However, the hyper-logical section of his mind continued to provide evidence for that exact scenario. The main one being what Hercules continued to tell Alexander whenever Laurens was mentioned: he refuses to tell anyone what Camp Acolyte does to him. In theory, the camp could very well be abusing John at that moment, or worse.

Martha finally separated from Alexander, her eyes puffy. “George wishes to be left alone, Alexander.”

“No, Martha. He might be able to get through to him,” said the probable Mr. Schuyler. Alexander turned to face him, confirming his suspicions. Even though Eliza’s eyes were larger, the resemblance was uncanny. “Alexander Hamilton, I presume. I’m Philip Schuyler. I wish we had met under better circumstances.”

“Likewise.”

“Listen, Alexander, I’m certain you’re aware, at least partially, of the situation with Senator Henry Laurens and his son John, yes?”

Senator. Alexander blanched. “John’s father’s the Senator..?” That’s why his name was familiar! Alexander had been studying the materials for a citizenship test before he had met the Washingtons—he didn’t need to take it, he was a US citizen, he just wanted to see if he could pass it—and one of the questions was to identify the senators of the state in which he would be residing. Alexander, of course, didn’t stop there, and instead decided to learn every senator. Henry Laurens, Republican. South Carolina. He could see the chicken scratch handwriting of his thirteen or fourteen-year-old self. “The Senator of South Carolina sends his son to that place…? And he’s still the Senator?!” Alexander exclaimed.

Martha and Mr. Schuyler looked at each other before shrugging, “Republicans.”

Alexander shuddered.

“I’m afraid, Alexander,” Mr. Schuyler continued, his voice hushed to keep the next tidbit out of the prying ears of his daughters, “this situation with John has hit your father-” Alexander purposely ignored the mistake, “-more than he wants us to know.” He paused.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s locked himself in his office, but, Alexander, I think you can get through to him. Call it a hunch.”

Alexander noted the constant repetition of his name to analyze later, and nodded his head before stepping up the stairs, leaving a confused trio of Schuyler sisters in his wake. His head filled with anxiety-riddled thoughts as he hovered his hand in front of the door. He knew that George saw John as family, but if it was bothering him to the point of locking himself in his office, Mr. Schuyler’s hunch was right; this was a wound that cut much deeper for George. Why, Alexander wasn’t sure, but he was damn well going to find out.

Knock. Knock.

His fist tapped against the wood, echoing out with each hit.

“Martha, now’s not the time.” George sounded rough, his voice scraggly. Alexander shivered. George was proud, George was calm… usually. But now, George sounded broken. Martha’s tears saddened Alexander, but this timbre of voice from George terrified him.

“It’s me.”

“Alex?” He could hear the confusion in his voice, there was a shuffle of something on the other side of the door, and a slightly too-long pause before, “Come in.”

Mr. Schuyler was right; Alexander was allowed into the room where even Martha was being sent away. Alexander eased open the door, as though George was a frightened deer on the other side. Even the slightest too-fast movement could send him into a panicked frenzy—based on his own experiences, at least. “George? Are you-” One look at his face answered the question before he could finish it. His eyes were puffy and swollen—it seemed that Martha wasn’t the only one crying—but the dark circles pooling underneath them tipped Alexander off. He hadn’t had those dark circles when Alexander left that morning. Those weren’t insomnia-induced dark circles. George had had a panic attack. And recently.

“Alexander.” George rubbed his closed fists against his eyes, “John tried to escape Camp Acolyte last night. His sister Marta was supposed to be his ride, but her father had taken her keys. She called me to let me know about the situation. Believe me Alex, she’s devastated that she couldn’t help her brother. This isn’t her fault.”

Alexander nodded, staying silent.

“We have to get him out of there,” George’s tone was more rushed, the panic seeping back in. Alexander’s heart started to race, his own anxiety feeding off of George’s. “The longer we wait, the worse it’ll be for him. They’re not above beating him, Alexander. They’ll send him to the Room, they’ll starve him, they’ll…” George’s eyes were no longer focused, his gaze cloudy. He leaned forward in his chair, staring at the ground and trying to control his breathing.

Alexander crossed the small office, struggling to keep his racing mind quiet as he reached out and placed a gentle hand on George’s shoulder; George flinched as though he’d been burned.

“George, it’s me. It’s Alexander. You’re okay. It’s just me,” Alexander knelt on the ground next to George’s chair and repeated himself over and over, his voice as gentle as possible. When he could see the recognition flash in George’s eyes, he finally asked the obvious question:

“George… Have you...” Alexander furrowed his brows, “...have you… been to Camp Acolyte before?”

George stared wide-eyed for a beat, before giving a resigned sigh. “Yes.”

Alexander gasped. He knew the answer, but he wasn’t prepared to actually hear the word.

“Martha hadn’t yet married Daniel Custis when we met. He was courting her,” something in George’s tone hinted that there was more to that than George was willing to tell him, “and she was in love with him, but she started to question some things when we met. Anyway, when they found out we were soulmates,” he took a shuddering breath, “it didn’t go over well, on either end.”

Alexander tilted his head. “Why not?”

George stared at him incredulously. “It was a different time, I suppose.” Slowly, he lifted his hand, showing the back of it to Alexander. “During the time, the idea of a black man and a white woman being together was unheard of, soulmates or not. Her parents convinced her that our bond was to be platonic, and they spurred her into marrying Daniel, a white man from a nice family,” he spat the word out. “My folks, when the same conversation didn’t work out—I was so in love with her, and I knew she harbored some kind of romantic feelings for me, she told me so,” he said with a tap to his forearm, “I couldn’t stand the idea of being forced into a platonic bond because of something as frivolous as skin color. And when I refused to accept the answer they gave me… they, they sent me to Camp Acolyte.” He shot Alexander a pleading look, “they didn’t know, Alexander, I swear they didn’t know. They thought it was a group therapy, you know, one of those ‘sit-in-a-circle-and-talk-about-your-feelings’ things. My folks had no idea what went on in that godforsaken camp.”

“I believe you. But George,” Alexander bit his lip, “what happened to you there?” Alexander wasn’t sure if he actually wanted the answer, as anything George said could be happening to John at that very moment. The way George was responding to him; this was a side of George Alexander was certain no one else had seen. “Does Martha-“

“No. She has no idea. I… didn’t write to her while I was there. I had a lot of explaining to do after everything was said and done,” he tried to smile, but it fell flat, the emptiness in his gaze counteracting the grin.

 “Wait, has no idea? You still haven’t told her?”

“No. And neither will you,” George said, his tone firmer, “Patsy would blame herself if she found out; it eats at her enough that we can’t protect John from that place. Her health isn’t the greatest, Alexander.  If she had known that her marrying Daniel condemned me to that horrible place?” George shook his head, “I don’t know if she would’ve been able to handle it.”

“I think you’re underestimating her. I think Martha’s stronger than you give her credit for.”

“You’re probably right,” George gave a half-hearted chuckle, reaching a hand over and ruffling Alexander’s hair. “You truly are wise beyond your years, Alexander.”

Alexander gave him a small smile. “So you tell me,” he bit his lip, “George, I hate to cut open old scars, but please. Anything that had happened to you might be happening to John.”

George stared at him, suddenly horrified as though he had forgotten. “Then we don’t have time. John’s in danger of very real psychological damage,” he stood tall, his shoulders squared. “Let’s go.” He walked passed Alexander, the teen jumping to his feet to follow him down the stairs. Go where? Alexander had hoped he could have fished a little more information out of George, but with what little he had been given, he knew they had to get John out sooner rather than later.

By the time Alexander had scrambled after George, he had made it back to the main room, the group looking up expectantly at George to come up with some plan to fix the situation. “George,” Martha started.

“We’re going to get John out. It’s not going to be easy,” George rubbed the back of his head, looking up to the ceiling to avoid eye contact, “it’s sort of kidnapping.”

“We’re kidnapping John?”

“I’m afraid we don’t have much of a choice.”

Mr. Schuyler quirked a brow, “George, you know we-“

“I don’t want to do this, Philip, believe me, but we’re talking about John’s sanity here. Permanent mental and emotional damage,” he took a breath, “and once we get John, we’re going to shut down Camp Acolyte, once and for all.”

“George!” Mr. Schuyler exclaimed, “We have been trying for months to get camps like Acolyte shut down. No, it’s been years. Ever since John first came back, we’ve been trying to get through to these people. What makes you think we can shut it down now? After all the times we’ve tried?” Mr. Schuyler ran his hands through his hair, his exasperation evident.

“Before that,” Martha interrupted. “John. How are we getting him home?” The three Schuyler girls nodded fervently behind her.

“Yeah, the politics can wait. We need our freckled ray of sunshine back,” added in Peggy.

George coughed, “I haven’t exactly…” he trailed off.

“You came down here saying we were going to kidnap Laurens and you don’t have a plan?!” retorted Angelica.

“Well, it isn’t like George could call John and come up with an escape plan, remember?” shot back Alexander. Angelica scowled, but said nothing.

“Alex’s right, Angie. This is a serious situation,” piped in Eliza. She looked to the top of the stairs to make eye contact with Alexander, smiling quickly at him before steeling her expression. “But rather than yelling at Mr. Washington, why don’t we come up with a plan?”

They all nodded, but said nothing. After a too-long break in the conversation, Hercules piped up. “The only thing I can think of is 007-ing this shit.”

Everyone stared. “It’s crazy, and dangerous, but look, we can’t get a hold of Laurens from outside Acolyte, right?” Alexander began to pick up on the suggestion. Hercules was right, it was completely insane.

“So one of us will have to go in.” Alexander looked to the other teens in the room.

“Herc and I can’t,” lamented Angelica. “I’m 18. Legal adulthood and whatnot.”

Eliza, Peggy and Lafayette looked at each other for a moment. It seemed that both Eliza and Peggy were getting ready to volunteer when Alex spoke up. “I’ll do it.”

“Absolutely not,” steeled Martha. “John Laurens is a son to me. It’s bad enough I have one of my kids at that place, I’ll be damned if I send my son into that hellhole myself.” Son. The title warmed through him rather than the electric shock it used to bring, again, something he’d have to analyze at a different time.

Alexander finally walked down to the bottom of the staircase, crossing over to Martha and putting his hand on her shoulder, looking from Mr. Schuyler and his daughters to George, Lafayette and Hercules before speaking again. “Think about it Martha. I’m the only one who can. Eliza and Peggy are Schuylers. Why would the Senator of New York, one of the most liberal states in the nation, send his precious adopted daughters to a camp he was actively trying to shut down? And Lafayette, everyone knows who you are, and even if they could get you through-“

“John would think the worst,” George finished the sentence, his face pallid. “Camp Acolyte will have him convinced that everyone who loves him on the outside actually loathes him. Seeing you there, Gilbert, will more than likely make John think that we’ve turned our backs on you.”

“He would know that is not true!”

George shook his head. “They don’t play fair Gilbert. These people are not above emotional abuse. I would not be surprised if he thinks his own sister had abandoned him, and you know how close he is to Marta.” He hung his head.

Hercules squeezed Lafayette’s shoulders in a side-hug. “I’m not going to let him go in blind, alright?” He turned to Alexander, “I can help you.”

“How?”

Hercules laughed, “I’m a tailor. But I have other hobbies too.” He paused, “I’ve been working on integrating lights into fashion, surely a microphone, camera, and earpiece wouldn’t be that difficult. Could probably do it by tonight, really. Got a friend who’s super techy, I can probably get it from him.”

“And you can make it believable enough that they won’t take it away from me?”

“You underestimate me, little lion.” Hercules smiled; Alexander nodded. The idea of an earpiece and microphone relaxed Alexander, if only slightly. He’d rather have someone helping him through it, rather than the idea of flying in there alone.

“Stop talking like you’re going in there. You’re not going in there,” Martha’s voice broke, “Alex, you have been through enough for four lifetimes. George, tell him he’s not going in there. There has to be some other way.”  

Alexander could see the heartbreak on George’s face, even without the secret reveal. “You’re right Martha, I have been through a lot. But that’s exactly why I’m the perfect person to do this.” Alexander felt like he was being sent to war, “I was young, scrappy, and hungry in the Caribbean, the only difference now is I’m not hungry anymore,” he puffed out his chest, feigning more confidence than he had. “It’s in and out. I come in with a story about wanting to ‘purify’ myself or whatever, find John, and get out.” Alexander wasn’t sure if he was convincing Martha or himself. “I can do this. Let me do this.”

George stepped between Alexander and Martha in order to pull his wife into an embrace. “I hate this too Martha. Dear God I hate this. But I swear to you, if I could think of any other way to get John out of there, I’d have already done it.” He kissed her forehead, “I’ll drive them out myself. I swear.” Alexander stared at George’s back. Would George be able to be around that camp?

“You swear our boys will come home? Immediately?”

“Less than three days. No question.”

“Two days. Two days and all three of you are back in this house.”

George hesitated, but nodded anyway. “Promise.”

The Schuyler girls looked at their father. “When Alexander leaves, we’re staying with Mrs. Washington,” Angelica said to her father. Philip looked to Martha, before nodding to the girls.

“Alright. We…” he paused, “we won’t tell your mother about this, alright? The stress would be detrimental.”

Their little meeting fizzled out shortly after that. Hercules agreed to meet with George and Alex before the next morning to set him up with the technology needed for his mission. The Schuylers swore to be there to see them off the following morning, Eliza looking at him for a moment longer than her sisters before following them out the door.

It was only 1pm, but Alexander felt the weight of the situation hit him in the chest. “Is it alright if I nap? Do you need me for anything?”

Martha and Lafayette rushed him simultaneously, smacking each other in order to hug Alexander. “Thank you for doing this, little lion.” Lafayette pressed a kiss to Alexander’s temple. Martha said nothing, only squeezing him tight.

Before long, Alexander was back in his room, his body sinking into the plush mattress. Tomorrow, he was to be shipped off to South Carolina. By Monday, he and John would be back home, the plan having gone off without a hitch.

He hoped.

Chapter Text

By the time Hercules had come back, Alexander had already packed a bag to go to Camp Acolyte, paced around his room innumerable times and finished three of the essays that had been sitting in his drafts, the severity of the situation chasing away any possibility of sleep. Some of the clothing he had grabbed had been from his life before the Washingtons. He had rubbed his fingers over the worn cuffs of his lighter weight long sleeves from the island, smirking at the Spanish and French graphics that covered each garment. He was really planning on milking the whole ‘unfortunate immigrant story’ that he was planning on telling the Acolytes, (apparently that’s what the camp employees call themselves, a little self-righteous in Alexander’s opinion) even if he hadn’t completely figured out his sob story yet. After all, he couldn’t mention the Washingtons, George was vocally against the camp; his name would be suspicious. Alexander and George were planning to come up with the final product on the drive down.

The actual fitting of the earpiece was a blur to Alex. It was hidden in plain sight, disguised as a simple hearing aid. Alexander had to pretend to be hard of hearing in his left ear, which was not unbelievable; he had survived a hurricane, hearing loss isn’t that far out of the realm of possibility. Hercules refused to say why he had the earpiece and just shrugged and said, “Ask my friend,” an identity he also refused to reveal. The microphone was hidden into an undershirt, sewn into the collar seam. 

“Okay Alex, put this on,” Alexander snapped back into clarity when Hercules spoke.

“As in, take my shirt off?”

Hercules quirked a brow, “if you want to phrase it like that, you weirdo, yeah.”

Alexander gripped his shirt sleeves. “Uh, I’m not…” He flicked his eyes to George and Lafayette, who had been sitting on the couch while he stood in the center of the family room, pizza half-eaten and abandoned around them.

Hercules’s gaze flicked to Alex’s hands. “Want to change in your room?”

“Will I need to come out here in the undershirt?”

Hercules paused. “I could go in with you. I’d be the only one to see you, okay?”

Alexander tensed. This was it. Someone other than his mother would know his secret, and the only way to get out of it would be to abandon the mission, and by extension, John. Deep breath, “okay.”

“Okay,” Hercules concluded, gesturing for the younger teen to start up the stairs. Lafayette shot him a look, unspoken anxieties silenced with the easy smile that almost constantly appears on Hercules face.

Once they were alone, Alexander turned back to Hercules, his hands shaking. “Alexander, hey. Hey,” Hercules reached out to him, but didn’t touch him, his hand hovering in front of Alexander. “whatever’s going on, it’s okay. You’re totally okay. It’s just me.”

“You promise not to tell a soul?”

Hercules dropped his hand, shrugging, “no one else is in the room.”

“Is that a yes?” Alexander snipped.

“Yes. Alexander, you can’t freak me out, alright? I’ve seen a lot during my lifetime.”

“You’re only twenty-three.”

“Unimportant. You don’t have to worry. I won’t judge.” Hercules raised his hands up with a shrug.

Alexander took a deep breath. “Okay.” Alexander lifted his shirt over his head, forcing his arms to retract from his sleeves, consciously having to fight his arms out of his shirt and into Hercules’s view.

“My God.”

Alexander crossed his arms out of reflex, turning his back to Hercules.

Hercules clapped his hand on Alexander’s bare shoulder, an audible smack reverberating across the room. “Geez, you scared me Alex! I was prepping myself for scars or burns or something.” Hercules brought his other hand to his chest, clenching the t-shirt underneath. “I was over here having a heart attack for nothing.”

Alexander felt a sharp pain in his neck as he snapped his head to the side to look at him. “For nothing? I’m a bare-arm Herc! A nobody. A love-less piece of garbage that-“ A raised hand from Hercules silenced him.

“I’m going to stop you right there. I told you my soulmate story, remember?” Hercules started, tapping the side of Alex’s temple with a finger. “I didn’t know Laf existed, remember? Maybe you have soulmate with who’s younger than you, like me and Laf,” he paused, “or maybe you don’t. Either way, it’s not something to be ashamed of. But I won’t tell anyone until you’re ready to.” Hercules grabbed the undershirt from over his shoulder, holding it out for Alexander. “Let’s make sure this works, okay?”

Alexander nods, pulling the gray fabric over his head. “Does it work?”

Hercules took a second earpiece from his pocket, placing it in his ear and gave a quick tap on the front of Alex’s shirt. “Yep. Loud and clear.”

“And thanks.”

Hercules smiled. “No problem.”

Alexander quickly switched out of the wired piece of clothing, changing back into his long sleeve shirt. “So this is really happening, huh?”

Hercules shrugged. “’Fraid so.”

“I thought of one pretty big hole in our plan though,” Alexander said, sitting on his bed for a moment. He wasn’t quite ready to go back downstairs.

“What’s that?” Hercules started to sit next to him when he paused, standing back up and inspecting the quilt draped on the bed. “Hey, wait,” Hercules located the rough patch in the outer seam immediately. “Yo, Mrs. W. gave you this quilt?”

“Yes?”

Yoooo. I made this!” Hercules laughed, sitting on the bed and pinching at the outer layer of the quilt. “This was my gift to her at my first Washington Christmas!” His laugh stopped abruptly, a different thought no doubt taking precedence and cutting the reverie. “Sorry, the hole in the plan. What was it?”

“What does John Laurens look like, exactly?”    

Hercules did nothing but blink for a moment, “weren’t you there on Thanksgiving?”

Alexander nodded, “Well yeah, but the call quality was bad, I couldn’t see…”

Hercules chuckled, “yeah, hold up, I probably have a picture of him.” He pulled out his phone, presumably scanning through the pictures he had saved.

An inexplicable wave of nerves washed over Alexander. The mysterious boy who had taken up a large part of Alexander’s thoughts and journal space—which was still under the couch, he really needed to grab that—was finally getting a face in Alexander’s mind. Was Alexander afraid that he wouldn’t meet his expectations? He almost laughed at himself. He had no expectations, he hadn’t tried to conjure up a face for him, he was just a name in a notebook and a voice on a phonecall. So what was the source of his nervousness? If he was thinking realistically, seeing John’s face would complete cement the plan of the following day, make it reality. But Alexander wasn’t thinking about that.

“Oh here’s one! It’s not great, but you’ll get an idea,” exclaimed Hercules, making Alexander jump before focusing on the phone being held out to him.

Oh.

Turns out he had had expectations, because this boy was not at all what he thought John to be. He had light tan skin and curly hair, his bright hazel eyes were crossed, a dopey but contagious smile on his lips. His freckles looked like someone had splattered paint across his face. The was no pattern that Alexander could see, but it was the chaos in his freckles that Alexander was drawn to.

He was beautiful. Not in the same way as Angelica or Eliza, but in a category all his own. Entirely John, and completely disorienting to Alexander.

“I think I got it,” said Alexander. Much less embarrassing than what he said with Eliza, but the strained tone of his voice made him just as uncomfortable.

Hercules smirked, “okay, good.” He stood, stealing a glance at the quilt again before crossing the room, “I think it’s time to let Washingdad and Laf know before they bust down the door, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Again, after confirming that the plan was a go, the meeting quickly fizzled out, everyone going their separate ways as the dark reality of the situation set in and exhaustion took over. Everyone said their goodnights, Hercules and Lafayette going upstairs together—Hercules wanted to do a final mic check before he left, there was no point in leaving only to come back in the morning. George retreated to his and Martha’s room soon after, giving one last look to Alexander.

Alexander stayed in the family room for a few moments, gathering his thoughts while simultaneously not thinking at all. The feeling was strange, like his mind was going a mile a minute but somebody hit the mute button. As an afterthought, he reached under the couch, grabbing the journal that had been abandoned—was it really only the day before? Alexander felt like he was introduced to Hercules months ago—and retreated back up to his room, closing the door and pulling up Hercules’s quilt for the last time. After some tossing and turning, he finally drifted off to sleep, calmed by the image of green-hazel eyes and a bright smile.

 

Alexander woke long before the sun the following morning, dashing to the bathroom down the hall when the overwhelming nausea rolled in his stomach. Thankfully a false alarm, but unfortunately only the beginning of the discomfort he would have to endure that day. Walking down the stairs, he was shocked to see Lafayette and Martha on the couch. The two looked up at Alexander, Martha’s expression one of pure anguish, but said nothing. Instead, Martha stood, walking into the kitchen and returning with an orange mug; by the time Alexander made it to the bottom of the stairs, the mug was in his hands, the scent of coffee wafting up to him. Alexander took the mug with a nod, joining them on the couch and keeping silent.

No one said a single word until George came into the family room, two hours later. “Morning,” the rough tone of the newly-awake George cutting through the deafening stillness of the scene before him. “You’re all up early,” he remarked, walking into the kitchen to pour himself a cup of coffee, and soon emerging with an identical orange mug to Alexander’s.  George sat in the armchair adjacent to the couch, sighing when the leather back of the chair hit his shoulder blades. “Awfully quiet today,” the older man quipped, a different sigh leaving him when the other three in the room only looked at him, perpetuating the silence. “I know.”

“When do we leave?” croaked out Alex, his voice ragged from the lack of use.

George glanced at the wall clock, something Alexander, admittedly, never noticed. He looked disgruntled, making Alexander nervous, “Soon.”

Alexander nodded in response. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that their plan was far from simple. Sure, in theory, all he had to do was find John, and go with him to George’s car, and go home, problem solved. But that wasn’t realistic. Alexander had no idea where he would find John, for one. The camp may be much larger than anticipated, another thing he’d have to ask George. But even if he found John, he had to get him to trust him—a person he was just meeting—and even if he manages to do that, then they had to break out and get to George’s car without getting caught. Even with Washington on his side, this plan was shaky at best, and Alexander knew that. He didn’t want to admit it, but he was scared. Alexander was genuinely scared for the first time since St. Croix. Camp Acolyte was his new hurricane, and he hadn’t even been there yet.

There was a quiet tapping on the front door, the Schuyler girls filtering in one by one. It took one look at Alexander for Eliza to get teary-eyed. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly, swiping at the tears and forcing a smile, “Good morning Alexander.”

Alexander laughed, forcing himself to lighten the mood in order to turn that smile into something genuine. “Hey, I’m not dying, you know.”

Eliza giggled, “That’s true.”

His quip had done its job, lightening the mood significantly. They made idle chitchat until Hercules appeared, tapping Alexander’s shoulder and gesturing up the stairs. “Oh. Right.”

“Sorry, man.” Alexander stood from the couch, the seat quickly being taken by Peggy, who gave a not quite genuine smile in response to Alexander’s equally fake scowl.  

After Alexander walked the Green Mile and returned to the family room with his suitcase and microphone now hidden on him, he was quickly engulfed in a hug by everyone in the room, save for George, who was focusing on the carpet, and Hercules, who had been pushed out of the way by his own soulmate. The closest to him, and more than likely the one who initiated the group hug, was Martha; she leaned into him to whisper in his ear “forty-eight hours and you’re home. With or without John. You hear me?” he tried to shoot her an incredulous look over the heads of the others. Martha pretended like she said nothing out of the ordinary, “Good luck.” Martha said as the hug disbanded.

Oddly enough, Angelica was the last to let go. Her arms had wrapped themselves firmly around his stomach, her cheek pressed against his shoulder. When she realized everyone else had let go, she slowly released her hold on him, taking a step back only to stand directly in front of him, a hand firmly on each shoulder. The fire in her eyes blazed bright, “Listen Hamilton. You’re in there to get John, alright? Nothing more. Don’t try to make friends, don’t do something reckless,” Angelica leaned forward ever so slightly, narrowing her eyes, “And do not try to martyr yourself, got me? No leaving yourself behind to get John out, no causing a distraction at your own expense, none of that nonsense. You’re a part of this family whether you like it or not.”

“It’s true! We love you!”

“Don’t be stupid Hammy!”

Alexander blinked at the three Schuylers. “You literally met me yesterday”

The three girls shot him an identical look, “unimportant.”

George cleared his throat, giving Alexander a depressed look. “If we wan-“ he cleared his throat. “if we’re going to get there on time, we have to get going.”

Alexander’s throat tightened. “Yeah.” He separated himself from the eldest Schuyler, crossing the room to the door, his bag tight in his hands. “Let’s just do this, yeah?” That meant to sound more motivational than it did. He looked at the newly discovered clock: it was only 6am.

George answered the unspoken question, “it’s almost a thirteen-hour drive.” Oh.  

Alexander looked at the group of people who had within an instant become some of the most important people in his life. He felt as though he was a young soldier, off to war. A nagging thought wondered if this was the last time he’d see them again. He tried to shake off the sensation, but it wouldn’t leave. “Martha?” he started, readjusting the bag on his shoulder. She perked up, focusing her pale sky colored eyes on him. “I can still be a Hamilton….as a Washington, right?” He cringed at the word choice, the illocutionary meaning of the question more than likely wasn’t interpreted.

The whole room went silent, every person considering the phrase. Surprising to Alexander (and probably everyone else), it was Lafayette who understood the meaning first. “Little lion, are you asking to be adopted?”

Suddenly embarrassed by the request, Alexander ducked his head before nodding. “I just. I’ve only been here for a little over a month, for Christ’s sake, I met more than half of you this week alone. And,” he paused to sort out his emotions, “my mother died when I was twelve. It’s been years since I felt like I had a family to come home to, hell, it’s been years since I’ve had someone to come home to. But I hadn’t forgotten what family felt like, and this… this is it. If I’m to go to this camp-thing, I’m less likely to do something stupid-” he managed to flick a glance over to Angelica and Peggy, who both had their hands clasped over their mouths, “-if I have an… official family to come home to.” If Hamilton was being honest with himself, it was a continuation of the sensation of being a soldier drafted into war. He didn’t have a girlfriend to propose to before being shipped off, but this was the next best thing. “And I turn 18 next month, so you’d need a different form if I waited any longer.” 

Martha beamed; George placed a loving hand on Alexander’s shoulder. “Of course you can, dear.” Martha managed to squeak out, before scowling at him half-heartedly. “But you can’t just ask that as you walk out the door!”

“Whoops?”

“Son,” George said with more affection than ever before, as though the endearment has more weight than ever before. “We’ll finish the paperwork as soon as you come home, but we really-”

“-have to leave, I know.” He gripped his bag, tightly. “I’ll be back in two days. Promise.” He opened the door, walking outside and to the car, refusing to look back at his family for fear of breaking down. Before long George was in the car, starting the engine and pulling out of the driveway. Alexander made the mistake of looking out the window; the Schuyler sisters and Lafayette were crammed against the window, waving with tears streaming, somehow visible against the poor lighting. He gave a half-hearted wave back, before turning away, biting his knuckle.

The first hour or so was quiet, neither Alexander nor George knowing entirely how to have the imminent conversation. It was in the Starbucks at the second rest stop that the conversation finally started. “So, what have I signed up for?” Alexander started, walking back to the car clutching his coffee like it was life itself. “How will I find John?”

“If it still works the same way, you’ll have group, where the entire camp meets up and talks about what’s “wrong” “George attempted to make airquotes with the hand not gripping his coffee and the bag of snacks, “with you. After that, there’s the individualized group—which sounds like a contradiction because it is—but basically, they sort the kids who are there for the same reason. To find John, you’ll have to say you’re there for the same reason,” he murmured.

“So I’ll have to tell them I’m gay?”

George shot him a look, “Not necessarily. The opposite might still work; it would be more difficult to sell to the Acolytes though. Your soulmate doesn’t write anything that reveals their gender, do they?” George paused in the conversation to get in the car, starting the engine as Alexander got in, probably looking as sick as he felt.

“No. They don’t write much of anything.”

“Ah. I would’ve expected your soulmate to be as talkative as you are,” George said with a chuckle. “Speaking of soulmates,” he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeve. Before Alexander’s eyes, the message from Martha faded in on George’s arm. Be safe. George nodded, rolling his sleeve back down.

“Anyway,” George continued, moving on to the main point of the conversation. “Ideally, you’ll be roomed with him, as that would make private conversation easier. With John being in there for being attracted to men, you’re likely to get checks.”

“What?”

“These people have no interest for your well-being, they will wake you up in the night to make sure you aren’t up to anything. This will be your biggest obstacle in breaking out. Depending on how ‘suspicious’, they deem you and John’s relationship, those checks could be as frequent as every fifteen minutes.”

“Oh. What happens if we aren’t there?”

“They treat you like prisoners, Alex. Guards, Dogs, complete lockdown…” George trailed off. “Tasers, sometimes. No doubt with John,” he gripped the steering wheel tight enough to lose pigment in his knuckles. “Of course. I’m assuming the current owner isn’t like King George the Second.”

“Who?”

George had the same distant look on his face that he had in his office, his mind elsewhere. “The garish oaf of a man who owned it when I was there. He ruled over us with an iron fist. He was old when I was a teenager, so surely someone else has taken it over. But if the new guy’s anything like King George Two, John might be in the Room, which will make your rescue mission infinitely harder.”

“George, were you..?”

“Yes. If John is in the Room, he’ll be weak. It’s only been a few days, but they’ll already have deprived him of sleep and starved him to the point of complete weakness.” George fought to get the next words out, “easier to break that way.”

Alexander shuddered, he couldn’t imagine the happy-go-lucky face Hercules showed him in any kind of discomfort, he didn’t want to imagine it. “John’s not exceedingly tall, is he?”

George shot him a look before looking back at the road, “No? Maybe an inch or two taller than you, if that?”

“I’ll just carry him then. Piggy-back it.”

George smiled, reaching his hand across to pat Alex’s knee. “There you go. Problem solved.”

“I thought so.” Alexander sipped on his now cold coffee, “George. What happened to you at Acolyte? I know not even Martha knows, but I’m about to go in there…” he wasn’t sure where he was going with that.

“You’re right, you’re right. Okay,” George gave a loud exhale, his shoulders slumping. “I was, sixteen? I think, when I was admitted into Acolyte. Of course, I had no interest in being there, in making friends—there wasn’t any reason to, I had no reason for being there, I loved my soulmate, she loved me back. The first day I tried to break out. I lived in Virginia then, figured I’d be able to hitchhike my way home. Well, they didn’t trust me—for valid reason—so they gave me the fifteen minute checks. I made it to the front gate when they caught me.” Alexander’s eyes widened. He had had a feeling that was where the story was headed, but only Alexander had assumed that surely George would have at least made it off the property.

“I was sent to the Room immediately. The lights in there are… they’re bright. They’re too bright. Your eyes are burning within three minutes. The Acolytes actually sent King George in himself, although it was hard to tell with all the goddamn lights in my eyes. He came into the room…” he trailed off, gripping the steering wheel again. Finally, he looked at Alexander, for only a moment, “He tazed me, Alexander. I was sitting on the mattress, hiding my eyes from the light and he just tazed me. Out of nowhere.”

“He what?!”

George nodded, swallowing hard. “It gets worse. After I fell on the floor, he forced me to stand, as though my goddamn muscles weren’t convulsing,” he spat out. “When I finally managed to get to my feet, he got real close and whispered, something about me being a ‘good boy’ now.” The two in the car shuddered. “I didn’t get dinner that night, breakfast was a piece of plain toast, no water. I threatened to report them and they told me that they had evidence that I assaulted an employee.”

“You didn’t, right?”

“Of course not!” Alexander just shrugged. “But that’s what I’m saying Alexander. These people don’t play fair at all. They aren’t above blackmail, they aren’t above abuse, they…. God, I don’t want to send you there. No one deserves this; but especially not you.”

Eventually, they were forced to stop for lunch, grabbing something quick before getting back on the road. He stopped his car almost as soon as he started it, a state border sign in clear view.

WELCOME TO VIRGINIA: Virginia is for lovers

“Only a few states to go,” said George, staring at the sign.

“Yeah. Should probably think of my story.”

“Yeah.” He started to pull back onto the road before pausing again. “We could go back home, Alexander. No one would be mad at you.”

“What? What about John?!”

“We can find another way to get him out. You don’t have to put yourself in danger like this. We shouldn’t have put that kind of pressure on you.”

Alexander reached over to put his hand on George’s shoulder. “George. I’m not going to leave John in there, especially now that you’ve told me that.”

George gave a forced nod, “If you’re sure.”

“So, backstory?”

“Yeah, let’s come up with something.”

 

Far too soon for Alexander, the car came to a rolling stop, a long line of trees dotting the road. If Alexander squinted, he could see a gate in the distance. “This is it.” George looked miserable, genuine fear appearing on his face. His fingers fidgeted endlessly against the steering wheel. “I… I can’t get any closer Alexander, they have cameras.”

“Right. So this is it.”

“Yeah. You have your hearing aid?”

Alexander tapped his pocket, pulling out the earpiece. “Yeah, how bad would it have been if I forgot this?”

The look on George’s face could only be described as conflicted. “Honestly, I’d probably be happier if you did.”

Alexander didn’t want to get out of the car, and George obviously didn’t want to let him go. But this was it. No going back now. “Alright. See you in forty-eight hours.” Alexander put the earpiece in his ear and with a mock-salute, got out of the car.

“Be smart, make me proud, son.” George’s smile was reassuring, but every trepidation, every anxiety, and every doubt in the man’s mind leaked into his voice.

“Hey, it’s not like you’re far away.” Alexander tapped his earpiece. “See you soon, George. I’ll say hi to John for you.” He shut the door, securing his bag and sealing his fate. 

<<Alexander, can you hear me?>> George’s voice cut through the speaker in his ear, his voice tinny and warped, but clear as a bell.

“Loud and clear.”

<<Good. I’ll be testing the range for a while; there’s a hotel about a mile or so from the camp. Hopefully you can hear me from there. That way I’ll always be only a sentence away.>>

“Gotcha. Test away. I’ll respond when I can.” Alexander neared the gate with each step. His anxiety was flaring strong, deep within his stomach, but it had competition for his beating-too-fast heart. Each step was one step closer to John, to the final member of his little family, to the boy who took over so many pages of his journal—which he had on him that John absolutely could not find, he reminded himself. His excitement was palpable. He glanced up to the sign that decorated the gate. Camp Acolyte was written in large white letters, underneath, the smaller font declaring: a beacon of light for struggling teens

“Wow. When they advertise like that, you’d have no idea.”

<<Exactly. That’s why my parents fell for it.>>

“Yikes.” Alexander glanced at the booth adjacent to the gate, a redheaded man sat with a bored expression. The man seemed to perk up; Alexander had been noticed. “Shit. George, there’s a guy at the gate. I can’t keep talking.”

<<Alright. You’ve got your story down. You’ll be fine. I’ll help if I can.>>  

Alexander tried to shrink down, really milking the ‘unfortunate teen’ look. The redhead stood from his booth, walking to the gate and peering at Alexander, a one-hundred-percent fake smile on his face. “Hi there! Can I help you?”

“Hi, um, this is Camp Acolyte, right? The camp for kids who aren’t attracted to the right people, right?” Alexander’s weak act rolled off his tongue without an issue. It was old news for him, a strategy he used back on the island during tourist season.

“You are correct!” He gestured to the sign, “what can we help you with, kiddo?”

“Um, well, I’m from the Caribbean, and my island is… was, really religious.  Mis padres weren’t so keen on my… um… I mean… my attraction. to guys, I mean.”

The redhead nodded thoughtfully, the sight made Alex want to vomit. “Well, then your parents sent you to the right place! All the way from the Caribbean huh?” He whistled, “that’s quite a ways, isn’t it?” Alexander didn’t dignify that with a response. “So, where are your parents?”

Alexander looked to the ground. “I don’t know if it was on the news on the mainland, but there was a hurricane a little while ago. My folks… they didn’t make it.” A lie, his mother had died long before then, but he didn’t need to know that. “I want to make right by them, which means I have to stop being… you know.” 

“Of course, of course. We’ll be happy to help you cure your affliction. How old are you, boy?”

“Fifteen.” He had never been happier to be short and unable to grow facial hair. Even better, his passport was misprinted thanks to poor record keeping by the midwife, and even his official documents said he was two years younger than he actually was. He’d have to fix it when the Washingtons adopted him, but that’s a problem for another day.

“So young. Not too many boys your age can see the errors in their ways. I think you could be a good influence on some of our more… stubborn campers. I’m sure George will be more than willing to wave the attendance fees.” The redhead opened the gate, a simple slide latch, Alexander noted, and let him inside before reaching out his hand. “My name is Samuel Seabury.” He said with a smile.

“Alexander Hamilton.”

“Come with me Alex, we’ll introduce you to George and get you settled in.” Seabury squinted, “Hold up, what’s that?” he gestured to the earpiece.

“This?” Alexander touched it, cringing at the crackle that echoed in his ear, “Hearing aid. I lost a lot of my sense of hearing in the hurricane. My house collapsed on top of my father,” he was going to say his mother, but the idea of a house falling on top of his father was too satisfying to pass up, “I ran to get help. Pro tip, don’t go outside in a hellacious storm. It does a number on your ears.”

“So why only one hearing aid.”

“I got clipped with debris, it hurt my shoulder and I couldn’t lift my left hand high enough to cover my ear,” Alexander said matter-of-factly.

Seabury nodded in understanding, buying the excuse. Alexander took the opportunity to pry a little. “What did you mean about stubborn campers? Are there people here who don’t want to get better?” Alexander forced the bile building in his throat to subside.

Seabury nodded gravely, “Unfortunately they aren’t all as intelligent as you seem to be. Especially one of our older campers,” he looked over his shoulder, before whispering, “Jack Laurens is a real problem.”

“Jack Laurens?” John. Success.

Seabury shook his head, “Violent little shit. He punched three of the counselors and even threatened George!”

“Why would he do that?!” Alexander feigned shock. If it was anything like George’s story from earlier, that was a lie, in order to get Alexander on their side if John tried to sneak out again.  

“He’s not as enlightened as you. He has the same affliction as you do, but without the drive to get better.”   

“He’s the same as me?” Alexander asked, falsified wonder coloring his voice. George said nothing, but Alex could hear a muffled chuckle sound in his ear. Obviously he was the ‘same,’ that was the point.  

Seabury shot him a weird look.

“It’s just. They don’t talk about people like me on the island. It’s weird to hear about someone else with the same problem, you know?” Alexander backpedaled. He needed to sell it in order for Seabury to let him near John. “But why wouldn’t he want to fix it? Is his soulmate a boy, or something?” Alexander bit his lip. He felt vile, talking about these things like there was something wrong with it. But that was the only way to get John out of here.

“No! That’s the weird part! His soulmate was here!” Alexander and George gasped in sync.

<<He told me that they met as children. How old was John the first time…>> George whispered. At least George was still in range.

“Why was she here?” Alexander asked, “was she into girls or something?”

Seabury laughed, “No, no, nothing blasphemous for Ms. Manning.” Alexander tried not to show his disdain in the sentence. “Her parents thought she was a no-mate.”

“A no-mate? You mean like a bare-arm?”

“Is that what you people call it?” You people? Alexander prickled. “The English call ‘em  no-mates.”

“You don’t sound English.” Alexander remarked.

“I’m not. But George is. Spend enough time with him and his family, you pick up on a few things.”

“What can you do for bare-arms though?” Alexander found himself asking.

Seabury shrugged, “Not much, but we’ve never had a real one here. Martha was the first one to come here, and it turned out the only reason she never found Jack was because he was so distracted with his foul thoughts to test it out. She was only here for a week, and went home with messages from Jack all over her arms. It’s a real shame that Jack wasn’t attracted to his own soulmate, but we’re working on him,” he winked. “He’s just stubborn.” He paused. “Hey! Knock it off!”

Alexander hadn’t noticed that he was in the center of the camp until Seabury shouted. He looked over to see two young kids, who were no older than seven, drop the sticks they were holding and take off down one of the trails. Seabury only shook his head and gestured for Alex to follow him down the main road again. “There are kids here? Your sign said it was for teens…”

“That’s how it started, but when George the Second passed and George the Third took over, he decided to expand the healing powers of the camp to all ages.”

“His son?”

“Grandson, actually. His son, Frederick, didn’t want to run this camp, for whatever reason, so George III took over to continue the legacy when he was old enough.” The way Seabury spoke, it was as though he was speaking about his own family, his voice glowing with affection. “This is the main office, I’ll go in, talk to George and get you all set up here, Alexander. I’m sure he’ll be happy to have such an enthusiastic camper, a rare breed indeed. Just stay here.” Seabury gestured to the bench next to the main office building.

Alexander obeyed, sitting on the bench and placing his bag at his feet. “George, you still with me?”

<<Y-Yeah. I’m a—ho-l now. Can y-hear me?>> George’s voice crackled through.

“Sort of. Pretty broken, but it should be alright.” Alexander rolled his shoulders to alleviate the tension built up by his nerves, scanning the main courtyard of the camp. Every building looked like a large cabin, they’re natural walls a deep brown from years of weathering. There was a tetherball next to one of the buildings, the yellow orb battered and scuffed. It looked exactly like what Alexander had always imagined a summer camp to be, if he didn’t know any better.

The most unsettling thing was the lack of campers. It may have been December, but the weather was comfortable, much warmer than the Washington’s home by a long shot. And yet, there were only a handful of campers wandering around, most of which were either young teens or children. Surely they were too young to understand why they were there, and so for them, Camp Acolyte really was just a sleep-away camp.

Alexander scanned across the yard, his eyes locking on an older teen, probably around his age, with a strangely neutral expression on his face. He looked oddly familiar to Alexander, but he couldn’t quite place him. The other teen walked up to the younger kids, looked at Alexander, then placed his hand on the girl’s shoulder. “I believe there’s a new camper, make yourself scarce if you don’t want King George to see you messing around,” he said.

The young girl saw Alexander, her green eyes almost glowing against her dark tan skin. She nodded to him, her companion following suit, before the two dashed off. The girl looked over her shoulder as she ran, “Thanks Aaron!” She called out.

Aaron? It clicked, the library computer on the island filling his mind. President of Princeton Dead: Teen Son Given Full Tuition Scholarship. “Pardon me!” Alexander called out, the other teen turning his head to make eye contact.

<<Is it John?>> Alexander heard George say, his message clearer than earlier.

“Are you Aaron Burr?”

The teen’s expression flickered before regaining its neutrality. “That depends, who’s asking?” He asked, taking a step closer.

<<Alex, what are you doing?>>

“Oh, well sure. That’s valid. My name is Alexander Hamilton, it’s so nice to meet you, you see, I saw the article about your father a few years ago, and I’m an orphan too, Princeton is one of my top choices for school, and I, I’m sorry, I’m rambling, I just didn’t think I’d see you here, you know?” He prattled off.

Aaron raised a brow, “I’m getting nervous, sir. You’re not asking me to put in a word at admissions, I hope?”

“Of course not, I’ll get in without your help,” Alexander shrugged, “I was just trying to make conversation.” 

Seabury returned, another man in two. Aaron stood straighter instantly upon seeing the other man; Alexander guessed this was the new King George.

“Aaron! Are you welcoming our new addition?” The overdramatic British accent confirmed Alexander’s suspicions. “You must be Alexander! Samuel here was telling me your story! Making right by your parents after their traumatic death is quite the noble cause for someone of your age! We’d be happy to help you in your journey to recovery! As a matter of fact, you and Aaron here have a lot in common. Mr. Burr, do me a favor and help Alexander settle in. Maybe the two of you can help Jack see reason,” King George added as an afterthought.

Aaron gave a tense nod, agreeing to the request but not being entirely happy about it.

“Good, I’m glad we’re in agreement! You’ll have a great time here, I’m sure of it!” King George chirped, his tone overly flamboyant. Alexander shook his hand, King George’s grip was weak, it was the handshake of someone who has never done work a day in his life.

“Well, I’ll show you to the cabins then,” said Aaron stiffly.

“Cabin Leviticus, dear Aaron!”  

Aaron’s eyes widened, but he didn’t comment. “This way.”

Alexander gathered up his bag and followed Aaron down the path that he had seen the kids run to earlier. As he walked away, King George and Seabury called out in perfect sync:

“Welcome to Camp Acolyte!”

Chapter Text

Alexander waited until he and Aaron were out of earshot before he asked, “Is it named Leviticus for the reason I think it is?”

Aaron nodded. “Probably. They organize the campers by offense.”

“Offense?”

He shrugged, “I can’t think of a better way to word it.” Aaron walked deeper down the trail, the thick trees shielding the main buildings from view. “There aren’t too many in that cabin, not right now anyway.”

“No? Not too many gay kids then?” Alexander chirped. “Or is it just because it’s December?”

Aaron stared at him, his eyes round like dinner plates. He quick glanced around, sighing when he confirmed they were alone. “Can I offer you some free advice?”

Alexander cocked his head to the side, “Sure?”

“Talk….” He paused, contemplating his word choice. “less.”

“What?”

Aaron leaned over, lowering his voice as though the trees could report back to King George. And, maybe they could. “You’re already on King George’s good side. Don’t ruin it. Talk less. Smile more. Believe me, it’s easier to be here when they like you.”

Normally, Alexander would snap at someone for trying to tell him to stop talking, but he knew Aaron was right. If he wanted to stay out of the Room, he had to behave.

Alexander looked up to see a wide field, and adjacent, a few sets of log cabins, clothes hanging on the lines between them. Alexander had a strange feeling bubbling up in his stomach. Replace the dirt with sand and the logs for boards and he’d be back in St. Croix. The wave of nostalgia almost scared him. “This is where we’re staying?”

“Yeah. These are the boy’s cabins. The girls are over there,” he gestured through the trees, where if he squinted, Alexander could see the green metal roofs glinting. “Leviticus is the one in the back, by the shower house. You brought a warm sleeping bag, right?”

George had given him his old military sleeping bag to use, Hercules’s quilt folded up on the bottom of his bag, just in case. “Yeah, I think, why?”

Aaron just shot him a look. “You’ll need it.”

“Ah. So, what are the sleeping arrangements, then?”

“For you? Bunk beds. I’d pick one away from the window, that spotlight in the middle is motion activated. Shines right in the window and wakes you up with every chipmunk that runs by.”

<<That’s new.>>

“Good to know, thanks.” Alexander paused, the wording of Aaron’s response was grating on him. “Wait, wait. What do you mean for me?”

“It’s different for some campers.”

Alexander prickled, “Could you be anymore vague?”

Alexander seemed to have gotten under Aaron’s skin. “Look, you just got here. I’m trying to ease you into things, okay?” Aaron gestured to the cabin in the back, Leviticus written on the sign in yellow. “Get yourself settled, then I’ll take you up to the main hall for food. It’s not as bad as it looks.”

“Oh?”

“It,” Aaron looked green, “it doesn’t taste that bad. It looks positively revolting.”

<<That’s not new.>> Alexander heard George say; he had to stifle a laugh at the completely disgusted tone in George’s voice. 

 “Got’cha. I’ll get situated then.” Alexander grabbed the handle of the door, opening it with a tug and stepping inside. Most of the thin mattresses were bare, only two of them had any kind of signs of life. One had a few blankets layered on top of one another, the bed made meticulously. The multitude of the posters on the wall congregated above that bed, the only non-bunkbed in the cabin. Each poster had a Bible verse written on them in a multitude of fonts. Surely this was the cabin counselor.

The other bed looked… rough, to say the least. A fancy looking suitcase was thrown haphazardly across the bed, a shirt sleeve sticking out of the dark leather. There was a pillow on the floor, a blanket coming out of its tight wrappings, the center of the blanket pulled out of its coil. Alexander contemplated the top bunk, but only for a moment, opting for the bottom bunk for a quicker getaway later. “Hey Aaron?’ he called out.

“Yeah?” Aaron poked his head in through the doorway. He glanced at the bed before grimacing. “oh.”

“Whose stuff is this?”

“That’s…” Aaron bit his lip, pulling his head out of the doorway to peek around, before returning to murmur the answer. “That’s Jack’s.”

“Jack Laurens?”

“Yeah.”

George was oddly quiet, but Alexander was certain he had heard. “Why does his bed look like that?” Alexander knew the answer, terror coursing through his veins.

“Jack tried to leave a few days ago.” Aaron paused, counting on his fingers, “actually, it’s been almost a week. He’s,” Aaron gave a frustrated sigh. “Look, this camp doesn’t take kindly to people who try to break out. They have this room. For,” Aaron continued to look over his shoulder. “For those kids. Most of the other campers don’t even know about it. It’s only for those… disobedient campers. I don’t even know what happens in there. But it’s not good. Jack must still be in there.” Aaron looked down, “Damn. A week in the Room? Jack’s pretty reckless, and yeah, the escape attempt was stupid, but a week? King George isn’t messing around this time.” He made eye contact with Alexander again, his brows furrowed. “Hey, we’ve got head back to center of camp. They’re still on high alert after Jack, they’ll come looking if we wait too long.”

“Yeah. Okay.” As they started to walk back to the center of camp, Alexander felt the need to find out more. “You said people don’t know about the Room, right?”

“Shh!” Aaron shushed him. “Talk less. Dear Lord, take my advice before you get us both sent in there.” He huffed, but answered the question anyway. “But no, only some of the older kids know… the ones who’ve have been here a while.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Few months. It’s pretty nice here so long as you walk the line, but I haven’t gotten over my…” he coughed into his fist, “reason for being here.”

“Care to share?”

Aaron gave him a strange look. “Not yet.”

“Talk less?”

“Please.”

“Okay... Well, what cabin are you in?” Alexander smirked.

Aaron scowled, but told him anyway. “Corinthians.”

Alexander quirked a brow, scanning the signs of the other cabins. No Corinthians in sight. Aaron coughed again. “It’s in the other cabin area.”

“The girl’s cabins?”

“They’ve deemed my offense as something more feminine in nature.” Aaron looked uncomfortable. Alexander ignored his discomfort and pressed on, in typical Hamilton fashion.

“Well now you have to tell me.”

“I don’t, actually.” Aaron snipped, before shrugging. “You’ll probably find out in group anyway.”

“So you can tell me now.” Alexander knew he was supposed to be there to find John, but he felt the need to indulge his younger self. He had really felt connected to Aaron Burr, even if they led such different lives. Angelica’s advice not to make friends echoed through his ear, although it may have been George, Alexander refused to focus on it to make sure. “Kill the shock, beforehand, you know?”

Aaron sighed in frustration, “you just don’t know how to let things go, do you?”

“I call that determination.” Alexander bumped him with his shoulder, “So?”

“I should have stayed in my cabin,” Aaron mumbled. “Fine. There’s a pretty large age gap. With my soulmate, I mean.”

Hercules and Lafayette came to mind, “How large an age gap?”

Burr looked sick, “Ten years.”

Alexander whistled. “Older?”

“Yeah.”

“Well hey. That’s not so bad. They could’ve been a kid, right? That’d be weird.”

Aaron stopped in the middle of the trail, his toe kicking a root with a thud. “They?”

Alexander kept walking for a little, turning back when he realized Aaron wasn’t next to him. “you didn’t specify. Guy? Girl?”

“I don’t live in Leviticus, remember?”

“Oh. Right. Girl, then. So she’s ten years older than you? That’s all it took to get you sent here? I hardly see that as a problem. How could they assign you to a cabin? The Bible hardly cared about the ages in their marriages, right?” Alexander couldn’t be certain on that; his Biblical knowledge was sub-par at best.

Alexander swore he saw Aaron smile, just a little bit. Alexander beamed in return. “I suppose you’re right, but that’s not the problem with my love for Theodosia.”

“So what’s the problem then?”

“She’s married.”

“Oh shit,” Alexander whispered.

Aaron nodded, “I, uh. I got caught. At her house. We weren’t doing anything, I’m only seventeen, I’m not getting her in trouble. But..”

“They sent you here.”

“Right,” he paused. “Their methods are unorthodox to say the least, but if they can help me get over Theo, maybe there’s some merit to it.”

“Are you serious? You’re the one who was telling me about a single misstep meant being sent to the Room, that keeping my mouth shut is the only way to survive. It’s abuse. Brainwashing. Where’s the merit in that?!” Alexander started flailing his arms as the passion filled his tone, his voice raising ever so slightly.

Aaron clapped his hand over Alexander’s mouth. “Shut. Up,” he hissed. “I knew your story didn’t match up. Why would anyone voluntarily throw themselves in here?”

Shit. “Listen. Aaron, promise me you won’t rat me out. I’m not planning on staying long.”

<<Alexander. What did you do?>> George crackled, the connection fluttering.

“Nobody needs to know,” promised Aaron. “You’re obviously here for some other reason. And as long as you don’t manage to ruin my life, your business is your business.”

Alexander breathed a sigh of relief, quickly squashed by the gathering cumulating in the field next to one of the large buildings.

“This is group,” explained Aaron, “you’ll see most of the other campers out here.”

“Most?”

“Jack.”

“Right.” Of course John was trapped in the Room. How was he supposed to get in there? Where even was it? The campground was larger and more spread out than expected. Unless John gets released from the Room in the next twenty-four hours, their plan was a total bust. George’s radio silence was not easing his nerves by any means either. Surely the ex-military man would be giving him some sort of strategy, right? Where was he? Alexander shook his head, and upon Aaron’s confused expression, Alexander gave a what he hoped was a sheepish grin. “Sorry, I just, didn’t expect quite so many people here, you know? I didn’t think there was that large an…audience for these types of camps.”

Aaron shrugged, an unknown emotion clouding his gaze. “You’d be surprised.” He seemed conflicted, a fairly common expression for the other teen, Alexander noticed, but Aaron turned his gaze from the group to Alexander again. “I might regret this. I’m probably going to regret this. But I’m not going to let you flounder around and make a fool of yourself yet. Come on, sit by me.”

The relief that washed over Alexander was almost too much to bear. The continued silence from George on top of the new knowledge that John was in fact locked in the worst possible place for him made his mission a lot scarier. If his new companion had suddenly left him out to dry, Alexander may have had a complete breakdown.  “Hey Aaron, wait. One more quick question before we go over there.” Aaron quirked a brow, nodding for him to continue. Alexander lowered his voice to a whisper, “if not all the campers know about the Room… where is it?”

Aaron frowned, “I’m not one hundred percent sure. But if I had to take a guess…” Aaron looked in the direction of a path they hadn’t walked yet. “The Apostle lodge. That’s where King George lives, and also the only place here that no campers are allowed near,” his frown deepened, “why do you ask?”

“Just curious.” Aaron clearly didn’t buy that, but he said nothing. The two teens made their way to the head of the circle, only a few people away from King George himself. Alexander felt the discomfort prickle down his spine. The more answers Aaron gave; the more desperate Alexander became. The Room was more than likely in a completely forbidden area, meaning Alexander had no way of approaching it without being marked as suspicious. Unless. Alexander stared at the leader of the camp, the man’s jacket a too-bright red, its fur hood a stark white with black flecks. The only way to not be suspicious would be to get on this man’s good side, so much so that he would welcome him into his home, and leave him alone. Entirely impossible in his two-day deadline. If Alexander was being honest, the likelihood of his rescue mission being successful in the deadline is shrinking by the moment. Which meant he was subjecting himself to more than two days of this camp, guaranteed. But he was already here, he wasn’t going to leave without John. He’d have to apologize to Martha later.

“Okay! Little campers! We have a new face with us for the foreseeable future!” King George called out, his voice once again falsely sweet. “So let’s give Alexander a warm welcome!”

Suddenly dozens of eyes had trained themselves on Alexander, making his skin crawl. “Hi Alexander,” the campers all called out, their voices dull and lifeless. Hardly a warm welcome, but Alexander sent a what he hoped was reassuring smile out their way.

King George beamed at him, as though that was the most energetic welcome he had ever heard. “Alexander, I’m sure Aaron has briefed you on how things work around here, but I’ll give the speech anyway. This is our camp-wide group therapy sessions, where all of the little Almost-Acolytes gather for reassurance and support they need to continue on their road to recovery.” King George clasped his hands in front of his chest. It was almost laughable, really; the way he carried himself as though he wasn’t mentally abusing and brainwashing all of these kids, a solid chunk of them too young to realize why they were here. “Quincy! You first!” King George turned back to Alexander, “Quincy here has been here for a while, he can show you how it’s done.”

Quincy, as it turned out, was a young boy with brown eyes and a missing front tooth, no older than ten. Alexander’s stomach flipped. He was so young, much too young to be subjected to this. And how long was “a while” in the eyes of King George? He stood up, bouncing on the balls of his feet for a little bit before calling out. “Hi everyone! My name is John Quincy, but just call me Quincy.” King George cleared his throat, his eyes much colder as he glared at the young boy. Quincy stopped bouncing, staring wide-eyed at the man in red, the fear evident on his face. “Sorry Sir, but Alexander didn’t know.” Quincy’s eyes flicked over to the teen, the silent plead for help glowing through his gaze.

Alexander felt for the boy, so he spoke up, “He’s not wrong, sir.” Alexander started, averting eye contact in order to hide the protective defensiveness that he was certain was evident on his face. “I’m going to see him around; I don’t want to call him the wrong name. He won’t know I’m talking to him.”

King George seemed contemplative for a moment, before turning back to the child, glancing at the boy’s violently shaking knees and laughing. “Fair enough, Alexander’s saved you for now, but we’ve talked about this before Quincy.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.” Quincy said quickly.

“You’re wasting everyone’s time Quincy. I’m a very busy man, and your fellow campers want to eat. You don’t want them to miss dinner, do you?”

“Ah! I’m sorry! I’m uh, I’m here because my Pa doesn’t like my arm-marker. He says she’s a bad person. So I’m here to make sure I never ever ever fall in love with her.” Quincy finished his introduction, sitting on the ground next to two kids around his age, the girl to his right patting his shoulder sympathetically.

“Arm-marker?” Alexander whispered to Aaron.

“It’s what King George has us call our soulmates. If yours is the same problem as Jack’s, you don’t have to change your label for her,” Aaron explained, “it’s only for the people whose soulmates are the problem.”

“Oh.”

“Aaron!” Aaron and a preteen stood up. King George huffed. “The real Aaron. The male Aaron.” The group around the preteen began tugging them down.

“I am male!” the preteen hissed.

“Excuse me?!” King George stalked toward the group of tweens, all their eyes wide. King George turned around, looking directly at Alexander again, a smile on his face but rage in his eyes. A shiver involuntarily raced down Alexander’s back. “Forgive me Alexander, she’s a wild one.”

“You are not male. You are a young lady, Katherine. And you will be referred to as such.” King George’s tone was icy, his words clipped. “Where did you get those?” He gestured to the preteen’s pants. “Ladies wear skirts here.  We need to kill these ridiculous delusions of being male, you know that’s not true. And that ridiculous thing on your chest? We’ll be confiscating that. Now. Go, to the ladies’ room, take that off, and turn it in to Charlotte.” Alexander glanced around at his words. Sure enough, half the campers wore skirts, their legs tucked underneath them. It was bad enough that Camp Acolyte was trying to change these kids, but to the point of reverting back to such backwards thinking as women not being able to wear pants? What year did King George think it was?

“N-No.” The preteen begged, his tone desperate. “P-Please. Not my binder. I’ll behave. I’ll call myself Katherine, I’ll wear skirts,” tears streamed down his face. Alexander shuddered, trying to keep his own anger at bay. He couldn’t say anything, no matter how badly he wanted to. He already slipped up in front of Aaron; a blowup in front of the entire camp could be catastrophic. And so he watched with a broken heart as the preteen left with a friend to change; he’d have to talk to him in private, reassure him when he can.

King George shook his head, exhaling loudly before laughing again, as though the complete destruction of the preteen’s self-esteem brought him immense joy. “Again, I must apologize to our new guest, because of all of your dreadful behavior,” he said, sighing dramatically. “They aren’t usually this obnoxious. Our Almost-Acolytes are typically much better people.” He shot them all a look. Alexander could see almost every camper curl into themselves, shrinking down as far as they could. “And apologies to you Aaron, Katherine’s such a problematic child, isn’t she? Wasting everyone’s time with her ridiculous delusions.” He shook his head, “now, Aaron, continue please.”

“Right. I’m Aaron, and I’m here to dissuade myself from following down the path of adultery, as my arm-marker is already married,” Aaron said briskly, sitting back down.

“Yes. Good Aaron, very good. I see you’ve finally adopted the new terminology that we’ve been teaching you. I’m proud of your progress.” King George beamed, totally unaware of the fact that Aaron looked like he was ready to throw, pass out, or a combination of the two.

“Yes, now. Alexander, I wanted to give you a few more examples, but after Katherine’s ridiculous interruption, I’m afraid we’re falling behind, and I would very much like to eat. So it seems Aaron and Quincy are the only two examples you’re going to get.”  

“George, sir. I believe our little rebel is ready to return from his private meditation.” A new man stepped forward, his red hoodie reading ‘Howe’ in gold embroidery over his heart.

“William?” George gave a surprised greeting, “is that so? Has the…meditation finally gotten through to him?”

“I believe so.”

“Good,” King George said with a nod. “Bring him here.” He clicked his tongue, “Again, Alexander, I find myself interrupting you. How rude of me. My apologies. Again.  But it seems that our rebel is ready to cooperate, and we need to show him all the support we can, lest he have another outburst.”

Still reeling from the interaction with the other Aaron—Alexander would not call the preteen Katherine, juggling two Aarons wasn’t that difficult—Alexander didn’t make the connection, only nodding numbly in response.

William Howe left, walking down the path that Aaron had pointed out to him earlier. 

“While he gets our little rebel, Alexander, if you please. Just say your name, first names only, we try not to give out surnames here.” Alexander scrunched up his face in confusion, hadn’t he used Aaron’s last name when he introduced him? He was almost positive he did. “And then tell the camp why you’re here. We all want to get better, so there’s no judgement here. Regardless of your sin.” Alexander bit his tongue, trying not to point out the hypocrisy of that statement after forcing a camper into using his deadname.

“Okay,” Alexander forced out, getting himself to his feet, his legs asleep from sitting on the ground for too long. “My name is Alexander Ha-” he stopped, “Sorry, habit,” he said sheepishly, “and I’m here because,” he bit his lip, preparing his lie. He hated that he had to lie to all these kids, but if he kept it vague, maybe he could get through this without the others finding out about his voluntary admission. “I’m here because my soulmate is a woman, but I’m physically and romantically attracted to men.” Alexander managed, sitting quickly as the bright blush rose onto his cheeks. Curiously, only half of that sentence burned like acid to leave his lips. He would have to analyze that later.

“Very good, Alexander,” George praised. “Now, campers. Alexander is a very special case!” George chirped, the embarrassment quickly turning to dread as the campers stared at him in confusion.

“Sir! Where do you want me to-“

“William! Don’t interrupt me, That’s rude,” George chided. “But I suppose this takes precedence. Bring him here. Up by me.” Alexander noticed the sickly looking teen being pushed down the field, their eyes to the ground, curly hair concealing their face. The teen dragged their feet, physically unable to lift them. They made themselves as small as possible, their shoulders curled in, spine hunched in a what seemed to be painful manner. William released his hold on the teen, who apparently was only standing with his support, as they crumpled to the ground the moment they were out of William’s hold.

King George stood over them, a terrifying grin on his face. “It’s nice to see you again. You’ve had the longest private meditation session this camp has ever seen. I trust you’re willing to be a good boy now?”

Be a good boy. Alexander thought back to George’s story, to him being tazed. And, judging by the way the teen in front of him cringed, Alexander wouldn’t doubt if they went through something similar.

“We’re in group,” King George dug his foot into the teen’s ribs, making them whimper. “Introduce yourself.”

The teen shuddered as they forced their head up, their face slowly becoming clear of the greasy curls that had covered it. Alexander gasped as he saw the thick clusters of freckles prominent against the pallid, sickly-looking skin. Clouded hazel eyes framed by the dark circles and eye bags that were much too pronounced to be healthy. They…he was squinting, the light too bright. He managed to make eye contact with Alexander, his face expressionless.  When his mouth opened, his voice was crackled and soft, weak from lack of use.

“My name is Jack Laurens.”       

Chapter Text

Alexander had to physically restrain himself from lunging at King George, biting his lip so hard he could taste blood. George had told him about his experience, at least a little bit, but to see its impact in the flesh… how could they let King George do this?! Aaron placed a steadying hand on his shoulder, his other hand held to his own lips, eyes wide in shock.

Was this really the beautiful person Hercules had shown him?

“And?” King George prompted, his foot dangerously close to digging into John’s ribs again. Alexander gripped at the dying grass underneath him, pulling it from its roots.

“And. My soulmate is a woman for a reason,” John said, his face still devoid of any emotion.

“That reason being?”

John took a shuddering breath, his head lowered again, “it is sinful and wrong to be attracted to the same sex. God will condemn me unless I repent.”

“No,” Alexander whispered. There was no way this could be the same boy that stole his cell phone to videochat with the Washingtons on Thanksgiving. Alexander pretended to scratch his chest, tapping the microphone hiding in the collar of his shirt. Why wasn’t George speaking?

“Yes,” King George praised. “Very good, Jack. It seems that your meditation had been quite beneficial.” He was almost cooing, like a mother to a newborn baby. “But it looks like you’ve tired yourself out, haven’t you?” John cringed, surely from the memories of the past week. “Aaron dear,” King George called out, Aaron’s hand on Alexander’s shoulder tightening. “Ah! Actually, Alexander, dearest, you come here too. This is your cabin mate, Jack,” King George gestured to Alexander. John lifted his head again to look at him in confusion. “He volunteered to come here, you know.” King George continued. The gasp that rippled through the camp was deafening to Alexander’s ears. John hadn’t gasped in shock however; his only response was a small nod.  “Now that you’re seeing reason, I’m certain the two of you will get along! Alexander and Aaron here will bring you back to the cabin, get you all rested up. We’ll even get your dinner for you both. You’ll be spending a lot of time together, so I’ll let you miss dinner just this once to get to know each other,” King George said with a wink, making Alexander’s skin crawl.

“William, be a lamb, and tell the kitchen to provide two meals to cabin Leviticus, wouldn’t you? Aaron, you’ll be back.”

“Understood,” said Aaron, his tone hushed. The two teens approached John, helping him to his feet and each taking a side to support him. John leaned heavily against the two boys, his arms resting across both their backs as he dragged his feet along with them.

Alexander followed Aaron’s lead as they led John back to the…their cabin. Other than a few roots snagging John’s feet, the three made it back to the cabin with minimal trouble. John was fairly light, something that concerned Alexander greatly. George had mentioned that the old King George had barely fed him during his time in the Room, and judging by the weak state John was in, that was a method the newer King George used as well. His joke about piggy-backing John out of Camp Acolyte was looking to be more of a possibility now.

The trip into the cabin was a different story. By the time they had made it to the door, none of the boys had said a word. Finally, Alex spoke, gesturing to the door. “I can support him; you get the door?” he asked Aaron.

“Yeah.” Aaron leaned John more into Alexander’s side, John complying with no complaint. He was supporting his own weight, but only barely, heavily relying on Alexander to stay standing. Aaron had made it to the door, slowly starting to open the door—

Suddenly, John’s full weight crashed on Alexander, his body limp, as though he was a weighted ragdoll. “Woah, hey!” Alexander shouted in surprise.

Aaron was back at their side, lifting John’s left shoulder to lean back against his. “Come on,” he said gruffly, helping lift John’s limp body up the steps into the cabin. They set him gently on one of the empty beds, looking at each other worriedly.  “I’ll go get the nurse,” Aaron started, only to be interrupted by John’s weak voice.

“Did I pass out again?” John croaked.

“Again?” Alexander asked, a face he hadn’t pictured in years flashing in his mind’s eye with perfect clarity.

John gave a weak nod. “Yeah. Don’t get the nurse though. He won’t help me. I just need to sleep.”

Alexander bit his lip. “You should probably stay awake until you eat something.”

“Alexander’s right. Christ Jack…” Aaron started.

“What happened in there?”

John only shook his head in response, refusing to speak about it. “You should head back,” John said instead. “George’ll be looking for you if you don’t leave soon.”

Aaron looked conflicted, but nodded anyway. “It’s been quiet without you Jack,” Aaron said as he stood by the still-open door.

“Nice change of pace, huh?” John managed a smirk, his hazel eyes still muddy and unfocused.

Aaron huffed, hiding a pain-filled laugh. “Surprisingly, no.”

Now alone with him, Alexander could see the similarity between the broken shell in front of him and the vivacious boy Hercules had shown him. “I haven’t introduced myself yet, I’m-“

“Don’t.” John retorted, his tone cold. “Just. Don’t.” John said with a defeated sigh. “So you’re broken like me, huh?”

“What?” Alexander blanched. “John you’re hardly broken. Well, you look a little broken now, but some food and sleep should fix that.”

“…John?” John looked confused, his unfocused gaze even more distant. “I’m Jack here… who told you to call me John?”

Alexander glanced out the window, the kitchen staff approaching. It would have to wait.

“Hey, the food’s here.”  Alexander opened the door for the kitchen staff, a teenage girl and a woman who looked like she could be her mother on the other side. The teenager handed Alexander the trays, telling him to return them to the kitchen when they were done. Alexander tried not to bristle at the fact that she tried to hardest to make sure they didn’t accidentally touch. “Thanks,” he said monotonously. The older woman shot him a dirty look, pulling her assumed daughter back in the direction of the kitchen.

He glanced down at the trays. The food, to be frank, looked absolutely vile, every food on the tray almost the same color and texture. He tried not to grimace, helping John sit up and handing him one of the trays before sitting at the other end of the bed.  “You good?” He asked, the ‘can you feed yourself?’ heavily implied.

“Coulda picked better words, don’cha think?” John said, audible disgust in his tone.

Embarrassment colored Alexander’s features. This conversation was not going the way Alexander had hoped, John was so cut off and bitter because of what had happened in the Room, something that he still wouldn’t even speak of, that he wouldn’t even let Alexander introduce himself. “Heh. Yeah,” he said awkwardly. He watched John shakily lift a forkful of the gray-brown slop into his mouth. He made a noise that could only be described as a moan, of the least attractive variety, as the flavor(s?) of the mush coated his tongue. Alexander had to hide a snort of laughter at the sound, covering his mouth with his hand to dampen the noise.

John gave him a dirty look in response, scooping another forkful of slop into his mouth. Alexander sent a sheepish grin John’s way before glancing down at his supposed food. He grimaced, desperately missing Martha’s cooking. But judging by John’s reaction, it couldn’t be that bad, right? Alexander tentatively lifted a mush covered fork to his lips, fighting his better judgement and letting it pass into his mouth.

Alexander made a face, it must have been exceptionally ugly as John had erupted into a raspy laughter. Alexander felt a warm glow fill his chest, thinking back to their first conversation and the laugh he had heard after his cubist comment. This laugh was almost at that level, the raspy undertone aside. He felt that this was as perfect a moment as he would get. 

“You don’t look like a Cubist painting anymore.” Alexander remarked nonchalantly, forcing down another forkful of the inedible sludge the camp called food. Aaron Burr had lied to him; the food was absolutely as bad as it looked.

John was in the midst of shoveling more food in his face when Alexander spoke, his fork hovering halfway between the tray and his mouth, the grime falling back onto the plate with a nauseating ‘plop.’ “A what?” John paused, tilting his head ever so slightly to the side. Alexander was sure he was imagining it, but it looked like the half-tray of food he had already eaten had brought life back into John’s face, his face not quite as gray as it had been only half an hour ago. “Why would you…?” John hadn’t yet made the connection, setting the tray on the floor and staring at Alexander with a slightly unfocused gaze—the closest he had gotten to direct, focused eye contact with Alexander.

Alexander bit his lip, his discomfort growing. Had he forgotten their conversation on Thanksgiving? Repressed it alongside the horrors of the Room? If Alexander was being honest, he was really hoping their meeting would’ve been as easy as his meetings with the others. But more specifically, he really wanted their introduction to make a good story later; he wasn’t sure why it was so important to him, but it was. Maybe if he gave another hint?

“Uh..” Alexander went to give another clue, because just telling him was too simple. When he glanced up to make eye contact with John, he was met with hazel eyes snapped wide in perfect clarity. John’s gaze inexplicably made Alexander shiver, a timid smile on his face in the silent hope that he wouldn’t have to come up with more hints for John.

“Cubism… Alexander…” John whispered, “Thanksgiving.”

“Yes!” Alexander chirped, making John jump, the freckled teen grimacing at the pain that came with the muscle movement. “Sorry! But yes! I was hoping you’d remember! It’s me! I’m here to—“

“You were with the Washingtons… and now you’re here.” John said, his voice gaining a strange undertone. “G-Wash… George sent you here.”

“What?” Alexander “No! I--”

“You’re in Leviticus. You’re like me. George sent you here and you’re like me.” John’s left hand was knotted in his hair, staring at Alexander with desperation in his eyes.

“I volunteered to come here, remember?!” Alexander cried out, leaning toward John in an attempt to get through to him. “King George told you that I volunteered to come here!”

Of course you said you volunteered to come!” John practically sobbed. “George is in politics. He’s been vocally against these camps for his entire career. If they find out that he sent you here, it’d completely ruin him,” John flailed his arms, grimacing as each motion hurt him, but not stopping the motion regardless. There was a sharp intake of breath, his arms dropping as a hand returned to his hair again, tangling his fingers in his curls and tugging. He stared at the tray on the floor, his voice barely a whisper. “They were right. The Washington’s don’t care about me. They aren’t fighting for me. Howe and Samuel were right.”

“No!” Alexander threw caution to the wind, dropping his food tray unceremoniously onto the ground, the food unmoving as it congealed onto the tray, and grabbed John’s shoulders with his hands. “No, John, that’s not true! None of that is true! I volunteered to come here to--“ Alexander was shouting, he realized. He looked over his shoulder, seeing no witnesses to his proclamations anywhere in sight, but he dropped his voice to a whisper. “John, look at me.”

John didn’t move, staring at the floor.

“Please, John. I need you to look at me so you know I’m telling the truth,” Alexander continued, refusing to move although the position he was in made his joints ache. John waited for a few more moments before obeying, lifting his head slowly to look at him, his hazel eyes misty with unshed tears. “I volunteered to come here to get you out.”

“No way.”

“I’m serious.” Alexander said, trying to keep his voice even. “Lafayette wanted to do it. But everyone knows he’s basically George’s son.” John only stared at him in disbelief, so he pressed on, “Hercules and Angelica both volunteered, but they’re too old. And obviously Eliza and Peggy couldn’t because of their ties to the Senator. So, here I am!” Alexander realized how bad that sounded, “they didn’t force me to! I definitely volunteered!” he said quickly, hoping to ease John’s guilt.

With each familiar name, John’s body language shifted into something more trusting. “You all… discussed this?”

“Of course. Please, the way they talked about you? I loved you long before I met you. Volunteering to come here was as easy as breathing.” Alexander shrugged, the double meaning of his words going over his head.

“Uh.” John stared at him, doe-eyed. “I’m flattered?”

What he had said finally clicked. “Oh my God. Love like, like platonically. Familial love, I mean.”

John snickered, “of course.”

Alexander was embarrassed and simultaneously relieved, watching as John seemed to come back to life before his eyes. His moment of mistrust and fear of abandonment from the Washingtons was fading away; the John that Alexander had met in a terrible video call was slowly taking its place.  Alexander leaned back, getting back the much needed distance in order to avoid eye contact.  “H-Hey, still not my most awkward meeting with the Laf crew.”

“Oh?” John gave him a look, making Alexander squirm uncomfortably.

Alexander sighed. “Do I have to?”

“No,” John said, visibly exhausted but energized enough to don a smirk. “You could refuse to tell me, but then I’ll just ask Laf and Herc when you get me out of here.” The smirk widened. “They’ll be more than happy to reenact it.”

Alexander sighed dramatically, internally beaming at the small laugh he got in response. “Fine, fine. I may have, um, accidentally told Eliza a pick-up-line before,” John already snorted in laughter, Alexander realized, “before telling her my name?”

John erupted into uproarious laughter, holding his stomach and coughing after a few moments. Alexander found himself wishing John’s throat wasn’t so dry, the raspy noise hiding in the undertones was damaging the beauty of the sound. It was at this moment, Alexander realized that there wasn’t any kind of drink with their meals. He thought to mention it to John, but decided against it. John wasn’t at Camp Acolyte at that moment. For the moment, he and John were in Martha’s living room, chitchatting on the couch while Lafayette and Hercules were out doing who-knows-what. Alexander wasn’t going to pull John out of that mindset to mention the camp’s lack of thought. “What made you think that’d work?”

“I didn’t mean to, that’s the thing!” Alexander exclaimed, “I… Sometimes I just… say stuff, you know? Like sometimes things just leave my mouth before I realize it, you know?”

“You know?” John mimicked.

“Shut up.”

John leaned back, his shoulders resting along the wall of the cabin, a yawn leaving his lips. “Well, Alexander, I’m gonna be honest. I’m not sure if your little escape attempt is going to work.”

Alexander stiffened, their façade of normalcy gone. “Why do you say that?”

John looked at him, sadness… and something else, blurring his gaze, “My sister ruined that by leaving me behind. Security is ramped up now because of me. I’ve broken out of here a few times, but each time had gotten harder. Somebody would rat me out, and my old exits got blocked off. My last chance was my little sister. But when I needed her most? She abandoned me.”

“George told me about that. Marta, right?”

John’s eyes widened, “yeah,” he paused. “G-Wash told you about what exactly?”

Alexander noted the use of the nickname with a small smile. It seems that John’s earlier mistrust of George was gone for the moment. “Something happened with her and your father, I can’t remember exactly. But she called George to tell him what happened and begged him to help you. Not that he needed the added motivation, I think Marta’s phone call just expedited the process a little more.”

John nodded, but said nothing, yawning again.

“Hey, it’s been a day, huh?” Alexander said, his voice softer, “Maybe you should go to sleep, yeah? We can figure out the details of the jailbreak later, okay?” The was a stray curl of John’s hair in his face, Alexander repressed the peculiar urge to brush it away.

“Yeah okay,” John agreed, glancing at where his belongings were thrown haphazardly before he groaned in dismay. “The least they could’ve done was make my bed as they sent me to—” he stopped.

“Right,” Alexander nodded. “Hang on,” Alexander stood and crossed the cabin to the bed he had claimed, reaching over and grabbing his quilt. He scooped up John’s pillow, handing the items over to John. “No point in moving, right? To be honest, I’m not sure you could if you wanted to.”

“I can move,” John contested, taking the items anyway. To prove his point, he wiggled his way off the bed, pushing himself to his feet. His left leg quickly buckled, Alexander moving to support him before he crumbled. “Okay. Maybe not yet.”

Alexander gave a soft chuckle, “Yeah, maybe,” he teased, letting John sit back down on the bed. John wrapped the quilt around his shoulders, fluffing his pillow and placing it on the bed before letting himself fall on top of it.

“Alright, alright,” John said, sleep already coloring his tone, “I’ll go to sleep. You should probably bring the trays back into the kitchen. The cook gets pretty fiery if you take too long to bring them back.” He rearranged the blanket to cover his legs better, kicking his legs until the blanket draped over them at an angle he found comfortable. “Hey, didn’t Herc make this?” John asked, rolling the edge of the blanket to inspect it better.

“Yeah, so he tells me,” Alexander confirmed, still hiding giggles from watching John flail his legs. Even after a sort of rough introduction, Alexander found himself bonding to John quickly. Of course, below that connection he felt with John was the anger bubbling in his stomach at the maltreatment the freckled teen had had to put up with for so long. The aforementioned teen was already dozing off, Alexander taking that time to follow his advice and picking up the trays. He sent another look John’s way, his breathing already slow and easy, indicating that he had fallen asleep that quickly. Alexander smiled, happy that he was getting the sleep he needed. Surely he’d need the sleep today to prep for their escape attempt tomorrow—or the next day, he’d have to talk to George and tell him he’d need more time. Alexander wanted to explore the camp the following morning to try to find every possible escape route, which will be much easier if John was by his side. He also wanted to track down Aaron 2, to reassure him and maybe to find a possible testimony for the inevitable legal battle that was to come.

A knock on the door made Alexander jump, shocking him from his thoughts. He turned, seeing Seabury through the door’s window. He opened the door, closing it softly behind him. “Sorry, I was just going to return the trays.”

Seabury nodded, looking at the hardened blobs, “not hungry?”

Alexander shook his head, “No, not really. I ate before I got here.” Not a complete lie, he had had some snacks and a quick lunch with George, but that was hours ago, he was just hoping that he’d make it through the conversation without his stomach growling.

“Ah,” Seabury chirped, giving a cautious glance through the cabin window. “How’s the rebel?” he asked, “he hasn’t tried to lunge at you, has he? We shouldn’t have left you alone with that animal.” Alexander tried not to bristle at his words, but failed, miserably.

“He’s sleeping, actually. And to be frank, I didn’t see anything violent about him.” He’s physically unable to attack me right now even if he wanted to, Alexander managed to keep from saying.

“Well, don’t let him fool you. He’s mastered the innocent act,” Seabury spat, starting to walk in the direction of the center of camp, Alexander following behind, “I’m sure his mediation has cured him of his behavior, but don’t worry, we’ll get a staffer in your cabin to make sure he doesn’t attack you in your sleep.” Seabury looked embarrassed as he continued the thought, “you know, as soon as we find someone who’s willing to stay there.”

Alexander looked at him from the corner of his eye, “Are you all that afraid of him?” Was there really merit to their claims? Seabury seemed genuinely fearful of John, but Alexander had a hard time believing that the boy who was just laughing and teasing him could be that violent.

Seabury looked away from him, fidgeting in discomfort, “um, no, no the uh…. The male counselors feel…at risk in Leviticus.”

Alexander’s face scrunched in confusion. ”At,” he paused, trying to comprehend what he thought Seabury was trying to hint at, “risk? Of what?”

“You know,” Seabury’s fidgeting got worse, his discomfort growing to the point of making his voice waver. “It’s the cabin of… they’re afraid that they’re…”

Alexander’s jaw dropped in disbelief, “Are you all afraid of getting hit on by a camper?” he asked incredulously. Was he serious?

“Well, the level of sexual deviance is much higher with you people—”

“Us people. Sexual deviance?” Alexander knew these people were completely wrapped up in archaic ideology, but to the point that grown-ass men were afraid of being flirted with by teenagers. “I don’t think you have to worry about that.” They were mentally—and sometimes physically, Alexander thought with a panged thought to John—abusing these kids. Alexander was positive that they were the least attractive people on the planet. Nobody in their right mind would even think about them in any other light than absolute loathing. Except Aaron Burr, but he may not be in his right mind after all. He’d have to track down the other Aaron—Aaron 1? Alexander stumbled in his inner monologue. Maybe having two Aarons would be problematic. Burr it is.

“Alexander,” Seabury called, snapping him out of his thoughts yet again. “Kitchen’s that way,” he pointed in the direction of the large building.

“Right, sorry.”

“No problem,” Seabury waved him off. “but hurry up, Jack’s free from group today, but you’re not, we expect you up at the chapel in ten.” Seabury gestured again, this time up the hill to the stone chapel waiting at the top.

“We?”

“Me and George.” Alexander bit his tongue to keep himself from correcting the glaring grammatical error. “You and Jack may be the only ones in Leviticus, but we put you two in with the Corinthians cabin for your therapy.” Corinthians was Burr’s cabin. Alexander suppressed a relieved sigh.

“Okay, I’ll be up there in a minute, I just have to,” he lifted the trays to make his point before taking off in the direction of the kitchen.

Upon opening the door to the main hall, the same teenage girl from earlier was washing dishes, “Hey,” Alexander called out, “I brought the trays back.”

The teen said nothing, only taking the trays from him, once again making sure they didn’t touch. Alexander bristled. “I’m not diseased, you know.”

The teen’s head snapped up. “Aren’t you? You’re a sodomite. That’s a disease,” she said matter-of-factly. Her voice was nasally and too high, making Alexander cringe on top of the anger flaring up within him at her words. Sodomite? Seriously?

“Pretty high and mighty for someone who looks like a foot.” He spat out, watching as her eyes widened in hurt. She wasn’t a particularly homely girl, if he was being honest, she was actually quite pretty—not Schuyler sister level pretty, but pretty enough—but he was looking to hurt her at that point, not necessarily honesty.

“You don’t know what a beauty is, you’re too focused on men and your deviant behaviors,” she sneered, venom oozing from her voice. She leaned over the counter to get in his face as she spoke, a disgusting grin on her glossed lips.

Alexander had a thought pop in his head, acting on it before his better judgement could stop him. He closed the distance between them, their lips meeting for a moment before she recoiled in shock, holding her hand to her lips.

“Be careful dearie. You might catch the gay,” he said as he casually dragged the back of his hand across his lips, removing the residual lip gloss from his own mouth and maintaining eye contact with her all the while. Her face flushed as she watched the motion, green eyes following the movement of his hand.

“H-how d- why would- you’re- I—” she stuttered out, unable to make a coherent thought.

Alexander winked at her, a saccharine grin on his face as he walked out of the building. That would probably bite him in the ass later, but dear Lord was it worth it.

His own antics gave him a small burst of confidence, walking up the hill to the chapel with a small spring in his step. This, of course, went away as soon as he saw the ring of chairs, King George sitting in the front of the room, a large red banner with a silver and gold cross behind him. “Ah, Alexander! There you are, come in, come in! We saved you a seat next to Aaron!” King George waved him in, patting the seat between Burr and himself. A surge of nerves rippled through him as he sat down, shooting a worried look Burr’s way.

“Now everyone, you met Alexander earlier, so let’s get started,” King George started, opening a Bible and reading aloud. Alexander immediately tuned it out, instead looking at the other campers. Three girls sat across from him, assumedly Burr’s cabin mates. They all fidgeted in their chairs, averting eye contact with King George as shame covered their faces. They were all tugging at their shirt sleeves—the habit of the soulmate-less was apparently the habit of those ashamed of their soulmates as well.

“Praise be to God,” they all said, signaling the end of the Bible reading.

“Today’s a good day for you to join Alexander! Samuel, pass out the markers!” Seabury did as he said, handing each of them a marker of various colors. An orange marker was placed in Alexander’s hand; he stared at it before turning his head to King George to give him a confused look.

“Alexander, your task is a little different than the others, but we are writing to our arm-markers today, telling them that we are no longer going to consider them anything more than a burden in our lives,” King George spoke.

“But she’s my friend!” a young voice cried out; it was Quincy—how did Alexander not noticed him here?

King George clicked his tongue, “she’s an undesirable, and therefore has no reason to be in your life, Quincy.” He scanned the horrified faces of the campers, a gleeful smile on his face. “We’ll be checking your messages, so no funny business!”

Alexander could barely hear him over the pounding of his heart. Writing to their soulmates? How could he get out of this, how could he—Alexander took a breath, trying to calm himself. He had a different problem, he didn’t have to denounce his ‘soulmate’ he would be fine. He eyed up the garish orange marker that he was twirling in his fingers. So why did he get a marker?

“Alexander, you are telling your soulmate that you’re changing your blasphemous ways to be with her,” King George chirped, clasping his hands in front of his chest.

Alexander’s blood ran cold. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” he forced out, his nerves evident in his voice.

“Nonsense! I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to see such a lovely message from you!” King George laughed, Seabury joining in.

“Really, she—I” Alexander floundered for some excuse to keep his sleeves down. He had to get out of this situation as soon as possible, they couldn’t know. They couldn’t find out that he didn’t have a soulmate, he told them he had one, how was he—

“Come on now Alexander, don’t be shy!” King George continued, his voice gaining a more commanding edge to its originally perky tone. He grabbed Alexander’s arm before he could react, gripping his sleeve and yanking it up as Alexander desperately tried to escape his grasp.

The whole room went silent.

His arm, as always, was bare.

Chapter Text

The silence stretched on for far too long, King George gripping Alexander’s wrist as he tried to understand what he was seeing. Eventually, he looked up into Alexander’s eyes, his icy blue gaze shook Alexander to his core. “Is this a joke?” King George asked. “Covered your arm with some girl’s makeup for a quick laugh?” Alexander could see the attempt at a smile on King George’s face, a snarl the only expression the man could manage. He grabbed Alexander’s other arm, yanking the sleeve up to see the same result. He clicked his tongue. “Was this Jack’s doing?” he asked, pure venom in his voice.

“What?” Alexander stuttered out, his mind fuzzy.

“Samuel, your water bottle please.” Samuel gave him an inquisitive look, but obeyed, handing him the red plastic bottle. King George unscrewed the black cap, sputtering as it splashed droplets of water on his face. His icy gaze returned to Alexander, unceremoniously dumping the cold water on Alexander’s bare forearm. Alexander cringed as the frigid liquid doused his skin, not that King George paid him any mind. He instead began rubbing his forearm vigorously with his thumb, making the skin sting.

A red mark bloomed on the center of his forearm, and King George stopped scrubbing, scowling. “What is the meaning of this?!” He roared. Alexander could see the girls across the circle jump at the sudden change in tone. He vaguely heard a crackle from the earpiece, but he was far too focused on King George’s face and threatening tone. “You said your soulmate is a woman! So,” he stood, yanking Alexander’s arm with such force that he had no choice but to stand, “where is she?”

Seabury stared, “You’re a no-mate, Alexander?” he sounded almost betrayed.

King George kept his too-firm grip on Alexander’s arm, using his other hand to force Alexander’s gaze to meet his again, squeezing his jaw tightly enough to form a bruise, Alexander was certain of it.  “We don’t appreciate liars here at Acolyte. Perhaps some, meditation is in order here.” Alexander began to shake uncontrollably. The Room. He couldn’t go to the Room. How would he get John out? What would happen to him? Think.

“She’s dead.” He said quickly, “My soulmate’s dead.”  There was a ripple of gasps through the small group. Seabury had been the one to gasp the loudest, at least, that was what it had sounded like to Alexander.

“Excuse me?”

He nodded rapidly, going for solemn and missing by a long shot.  

 “What was her name?” King George said, his tone indicating he didn’t believe him.

“Esperanza,” Alexander said, not missing a beat. 

“Was it the hurricane? The one that killed your parents?” Seabury asked.

Alexander shook his head, “No, mi esperanza se murió antes del huracán.”

“English, please, señor.” King George spat.

“Of course. My bad. My esperanza died before the hurricane. I was twelve or so. There was a disease, some kind of sickness that swept through the island. We both had it, I survived, she,” he paused, “she went quick.”

Using his mother’s actual death seemed to have convinced King George of his story. “My apologies. May I see your tattoo, then?”

“My what?”

King George rolled his eyes, “Christ, what’s the Spanish word for tattoo?” Alexander scrunched up his face is distaste.

Quincy, surprisingly, spoke up, “It’s tatuaje, I think.”

Alexander blinked. He had never heard that word in his life. “What’s a tattoo?”

King George’s eyes widened. “Really?” He loosened his grip on Alexander, still holding his arm but dropping the hand on his face. Alexander unconsciously rubbed at his chin, the pain spreading up his cheeks. “Your little island didn’t honor the fallen?” he sneered, “truly was a barbaric people.”

“Can you please. Just. Tell. Me. What. A Tattoo. Is,” Alexander prided himself in not lunging at King George at that moment. The island was a lot of things. But calling them barbaric was something only his people got to do. “Please,” he stressed again.

King George dropped his grip on Alexander, his eyes narrowed. “Your lack of culture is not the affliction you want me to cure,” he wasn’t shouting anymore, however the venom hadn’t left his voice. “Why don’t you ask Jack? He can tell you, let him do something useful for once.”

Alexander stood there for a moment, uncertain as to what would happen to him. Was he safe? Free from the clutches of the Room?

“You’re dismissed, Alexander. Return to your cabin,” Burr whispered. When Alexander stayed where he was, he hissed, “Go.” Before he changes his mind.

Alexander looked at Burr for a moment, was it really that easy? One little lie and he was free to go?

<<Alexander, listen to your friend. Get out of there.>> A voice Alexander had dreadfully missed crackled through his earpiece, clearing his mind. He nodded to Burr and dashed out of the chapel, unable to stop himself from sprinting back toward the cabins.

“George?” he cried out once the chapel no longer loomed behind him. “Where were you?”

<<Someone recognized me. Alex, I think our plan is in jeopardy. Alex, listen, you have to stay another day. At least. I—>>

“Are you crazy? I almost just got sent to the Room! You heard that! John can barely stand; we need to get out of here as soon as possible,” he hissed. Sure, only a few hours before he would’ve agreed with him. But that was before his cover was almost blown. Alexander found himself gripping at his sleeves again. That was before his secret was revealed.  

The was silence for a moment. <<Henry Laurens found me. He’s suspicious.>>

Alexander could see his and John’s cabin, dropping his voice even more to make sure no straggling camper could hear him. “John’s dad? How did that happen?” He couldn’t help the panic rising in his voice. “So if John goes missing from the camp— “

<<—I’ll be the first person they’ll ask.>>

“Shit. So we have to wait. At least until Henry loses suspicion.”

<<Precisely.>>

“How long do you think?” Alexander prompted as he opened the door.

“How long do I think what?”

Alexander looked at John—who was not only awake, but had made it over to his actual bed at some point—and raised a finger to his lips.

<<Ideally, two days. Knowing Henry, a week.>>

“A week?! You can’t be serious!”

“Alexander?” John asked, “Hey, buddy? The talking to yourself thing is kinda freaking me out.”

<<You’re alone, right? Just you and John?>>

Alexander scanned the cabin, greeted by only John’s freckled face, twisted into a confused and uncomfortable expression. “Yeah.”

<<Give him your earpiece. Let me explain. >>

Alexander did as he was told, removing his hearing aid and handing it to an extremely confused John.

“Are you…okay?” John asked, eyeing the hearing aid suspiciously.

Alexander rolled his eyes. “Perfect. Just put in the hearing aid, John.”

He shot Alexander an incredulous look, but did as he said anyway. His eyes scrunched up as he placed the apparatus in his ear. “This thing is awful, Alex, how do you deal?” He looked around the cabin for a moment, “Yo, this isn’t going to damage my hearing, is it? Cuz-“ His eyes widened, mouth dropping open into a small ‘o’. “G-Wash? Yoooooo you’re really 007-ing this shit? Where did you even get this? Where’s the mic?” Alexander stretched his shirt collar, tapping at the undershirt. John beamed.

Judging by the change in facial expression, George had snapped at him. Alexander took John’s distraction as an opportunity to really assess the damages King George and his assistants had done to him.  The dark circles under his now brighter eyes, while still prominent, had definitely lessened after his seemingly short nap. However, with that dulled, Alexander could notice the other things underneath. He could see fading bruises on his cheeks and jaws, each a slightly different shade of color. The largest one visible to Alexander was that on his neck, which had faded to a sickly green. It was an older bruise, one that must have occurred during his first few hours in the Room.  It seemed to dip down beneath the collar of his shirt, where a multitude of wounds were waiting, he was sure. The image of King George kicking John in the ribs flashed in his mind again. The way John recoiled. The way he whimpered when King George threatened to kick him again.

John snapped his fingers, making Alex tear his eyes from where he assumed the bruise on his ribs was to look back at his face. “You okay, Alex? You zoned out.”

Alexander could feel the heat rise to his face. “Uh, yeah. Fine. Just. A lot on my mind.”

John’s attention was drawn back to George, his eyes flicking over to his left side. Alexander couldn’t help the sigh that escaped him. He crossed the cabin, sitting on his bed, diagonal from John. He picked at a loose thread, keeping silent to keep from distracting John, and keeping his eyes from wandering back to John to keep from embarrassing himself.

“My father found you?” he heard John ask, fear coloring his voice much like it had Alexander’s earlier. “I see.” He could feel John’s gaze on him, but he said nothing. “So… we just play along. Act like reformed little campers and escape when the time is right. That’s probably for the best anyhow, let them drop their guard. Think they’re safe,” John responded to George, his voice calmer than it had been only a moment ago.

“Oh?” his voice lilted, the bedframe creaking as he shifted his weight. “I see. How exactly did he do that?” Alexander dipped his head, ears burning. John’s gaze was back on him again, and again, Alexander made sure to avert his gaze. There was a moment of silence that went on for a beat too long before John spoke again. “Oh. Understood.” Pause. “Alexander.”

He looked up the unprecedented spike of nerves dimming when he saw John reaching out, the earpiece in his hand. Alexander stood, grabbing the earpiece and tucking it back into his ear. “George, I’m back.”

<<I didn’t tell John about your soulmate. I’ll let you handle that. >> Guilt prickled at Alexander. He had never told George his secret, so of course he believed his soulmate was dead. <<Oh, and Alex?>>

“Yeah?”

<<Be safe, son.>>

“Yeah. Hey, we never spoke about it, but I can take the earpiece out to sleep, right? It’s not exactly the most comfortable thing.”

George chuckled. <<Yes. Just keep it close in case something happens.>>

“Of course, signing off.” He pulled the earpiece out of his ear, tucking it in his pocket. “This has got to come off too,” he said, tugging at the undershirt. “If I have to wear this thing for a week, I’m not going to sleep in it too.”

“Understandable. Go right ahead.”

Alexander stared awkwardly at him for a moment. “Oh! Uh,”

“Is there a problem?”

“I just—“ Alexander fumbled.

“You can change in the bathroom, if you’d prefer,” John gestured to the closet-sized room in the corner. Alexander nodded, grabbed pajama pants from his bag and headed to the bathroom. He changed quickly, transferring the earpiece to his pajama pants’ pocket.  He returned to see no change in John, the teen still sitting on his bed, having pushed his suitcase to the foot of the bed to accommodate. “Hey, looks like they haven’t convinced anyone to stay in the gay cabin.” John laughed.

“Yeah, Seabury said something about sexual deviance? What’s that all about?” Alexander sat on his bed and set his clothes in his backpack, laughing as he thought about the disgruntled look on Seabury’s face.

John made a face in disgust. “Yeah, sure. Everyone knows that emotionally abusive is exactly what we look for in men,” he said sarcastically. “There’s no story. I didn’t hit on an Acolyte, if that’s what you thought.”

“Nah, of course not.” Alexander shot him a look, “But I mean, that’d be quite the story.”

John returned his expression, “Hate to disappoint,” he sighed dramatically. “Guess I have to hit on Samuel Seabury.”

Alexander made a noise of disgust. “You really don’t have to do that. I’ve already made the staff uncomfortable enough tonight.”

John quirked a brow, “yeah, G-Wash said you got yourself in trouble? What did you do?”

Alexander shrugged. “Did something I shouldn’t have. Unimportant.” He paused, the earlier conversation running through his mind. “Hey, what’s a tattoo?”

John stared at him. “Really?”

Alexander huffed, “Yeah, really. In my little,” he searched for the word, “spat with King George, he brought up tattoos, then when I didn’t know what that was, he told me to ask you. That’s how I got out of group early.”

“Ah.” John looked upset; it put Alexander on edge. “A tattoo is… a permanent mark, after your soulmate dies.” He paused, “You go to an artist, before your soulmate’s last mark fades away, and the tattoo artist will trace over it… in ink, but like, with needles?”

“With needles?!”

“Yeah, they just kinda,” he tapped his wrist rapidly with his finger, “with the needle, but only in the skin, it doesn’t like, make you bleed a bunch or whatever. But then you’d have the last message your soulmate ever sent you on your body forever,” He sighed wistfully, “and, if you have an actual artist, they can design something based on your and your soulmate’s relationship, and add it to the message, so it’s like a tribute. To them, I mean.”

“That sounds painful,” he mumbled, “but sweet. If I can ask though,” he paused, “why did he make me ask you?”

John’s shoulders slumped, making Alexander immediately regret his question, “I’ve seen them done, firsthand.”

Alexander leaned forward. “You have? To whom?”

“Whom?” he laughed, “you would use ‘whom,’” his smile quickly fell, “it looked painful, but it was for Jem. My, uh. My little brother. His soulmate was a year younger than him. Artist said he had never had to ink someone so young.” He frowned.

“You… don’t have to tell me more, if you don’t want to.”

“No, you’ve got questions, go ahead.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah. Go ahead.”

“…how old?”

“was Jem?” he sighed. “He was… he was ten.”

“What…happened?”

“He—we were just outside of London, on vacation, and the two of us discovered that if you sat on the roof, you could see the stars. Jem loved the stars,” John managed a sad smile, “he knew every constellation, I swear. Even ones I had never heard of. Well, one night, it was raining, and I told Jem that we can’t go on the roof. We won’t be able to see the stars tonight. But Jem wanted to go up there anyway. It’s a steel roof, the rain made it slick and Jem lost his footing and…” John gasped, tears springing to his eyes. “Jem, he…”

“John,” Alexander pushed John’s suitcase to the floor, and rested a hand on his shoulder. John’s head snapped up, Alexander wasn’t sure he realized he had lowered his head.

“I’m sorry. It’s just… if I hadn’t shown him that we could get on the roof he wouldn’t’ve….”

“John, stop. It wasn’t your fault.”    

 John took a shuddering breath, “you’re right, you’re right. It’s just, still fresh, you know?”

“How long ago was it?”

“Last year?”

“My god, John.” Alexander squeezed John’s shoulder reassuringly, his hand flying away when John cringed. “Shit, sorry. Your bruises… how bad are they?”

John huffed, “quite the subject change. But, they’re not so bad. They’re healing.”

“He kicked you in the ribs earlier today.”

“That wasn’t a kick. He just, aggravated the bruises that were already there.”

Alexander frowned. “That doesn’t make me feel better about it.”

“Would showing you make you feel better?” John quirked a brow.

“Actually? Probably, yeah.”

John shrugged, “Fine,” he shifted to fully face Alexander and grabbed the bottom of his shirt, tugging it up to give him a clear view of his chest. Alexander couldn’t help the gasp that left his mouth. His torso was an artist’s palette, his tan skin muddled by the purples, blues and greens of bruises in different stages of healing, broken up sporadically by pinks and reds of… were those burns? “It’s not as bad as it looks, promise,” John said, refusing to look at Alexander’s reaction.

Alexander exhaled, “God I hope not.” He brushed his index finger over a particularly inflamed looking burn, immediately retracting his hand when John jumped. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine. That was a… goodbye gift from Howe right before he brought me down to group.” John looked as though he was trying to burn a hole through the cabin’s front door. “Did you know tasers can actually burn you?”

Alexander was horrified, the blossoms of red and pink on his stomach taking a whole new meaning. “These are all..?”

John nodded, lowering the hem of his shirt and finally facing Alexander again. “Yeah, but I’m alright!” he tried to reassure his friend. “Really.”

Alexander, obviously, wasn’t convinced. “John, who are you trying to reassure here?” He watched John’s eyes dart over to one side, eyeing Alexander’s bag, where the bugged undershirt poked through. “George?” It clicked. “Hang on.” Alexander stood from John’s bed, going to his bag and unceremoniously shoving the undershirt to the bottom, theoretically muting the microphone. “You’re scared that if George knew, he’d try to break you out faster.” Alexander stated.

John looked away, idly rubbing the fading bruise on his neck. “George going to jail for abduction is the last thing me need if we want Acolyte shut down. He’s not really the impulsive type, but—“

“—why give him the reason to be. I get it.”

“Hey, can we talk about something else? I did just get out of there, I’d rather not relive it so soon, you know?”

Alexander nodded. He could relate. He remembered Betsy and the therapist trying to get him to speak about the horrors of the hurricane. Writing about it was easy, speaking was harder. “Like what? Hobbies?”

John chuckled. “Alright, classic first date question.” Alexander gave him a weird look. “Kidding, kidding. Let’s see. Hobbies.” John leaned back, contemplating for a moment, “Well, I mean, I draw sometimes? Does that count?”

“Why wouldn’t it count?”

“Well I dunno. It’s not something cool like playing an instrument or designing clothes.”

Alexander raised a brow, “Does Laf play an instrument?”

John smiled, “Heh, you caught that, huh? Yeah, piano. And, violin. And flute? I think?”

Alexander whistled. “Damn. He’s never mentioned it.” He paused, “But drawing can be cool too, you know,” he laughed, “you any good at it?”

John shrugged. “I dunno, I’m okay, I guess?”

“Can I see?”

“Once we get out of here, maybe. I don’t have any sketches.”

“I have paper,” Alexander sang.

“Ugh, fine. I guess I can doodle something. Give me the paper.”

Alexander beamed, digging through his bag, avoiding his journal and pulling out his notebook. He flipped through his pages of various essays until he stumbled upon a blank page, folding the notebook open and handing it over to John. After a few more moments, a pencil emerged from the bag as well.

“I take it you write then. Hobby-wise, I mean,” John laughed, rapidly flipping through the pages, too quickly to read then, only to see how many pages were covered in Alexander’s handwriting. “Impressive,” he noted.

“Hardly,” Alexander scoffed. “That’s only one notebook. You should see the collection I’ve got back home.”

John’s smile grew. “Oh? I’ll have to take you up on that.” He started dragging the pencil across the paper, the subtle scratching noise adding its rhythm to the symphony of nature noises outside their door. 

Alexander smiled in return, a calm domesticity settling over the two of them. Alexander almost didn’t want to speak, didn’t want to disrupt the atmosphere that surrounded him and John. But curiosity plagued him, “so, what are you drawing?”

John laughed, “I was wondering when you’d ask. See, there’s only a few things I can draw from memory: some kinds of birds and the North American softshell turtle.”

“That’s…oddly specific.”

John shrugged, “I had to draw it for a friend of mine for a project. You draw the same thing over and over, you get pretty good at it.”

“If you say so,” Alexander laughed. “Art has never been my specialty. I can kind of draw, I guess, but I’ll stick to writing, I think.” John looked up from the paper in order to smile at him.

“Sooo,” he drew out the word, “what do you write about?”

“What don’t I write about?” John glanced up. “It’s mostly essays, to be honest. I just, write about what I see. Pretty argumentative stuff, if I’m being real.”

“Like journalism?”

“Sort of, I don’t normally publish though. “

“Why not?” John paused in his drawing, giving Alexander his full attention.

He shrugged, “just never thought about it. Some of my stuff is out there, I wrote poetry after the hurricane that I think made it in some publication. It’s half the reason I’m stateside.”

“Yeah hey, what’s your story? Like, how did he end up with the Washington’s?”

“You up for that?”

“Yeah, shoot.”

And so he did. Alexander started retelling his story. All of it. His father leaving, his mother’s death, his cousin’s suicide, with details he had never told anyone. It was as though the floodgates had finally opened, all of the withheld details pouring out. John had listened intently, nodding along and making eye contact with each new section of the story. He withheld his and his mother’s biggest secret, of course, but more so out of habit than power of will. After John trusted him to tell him the story of his brother, trusted him to show him the bruises of the Room, there was no way Alexander could refuse to respond in kind. At the same time, telling someone his story was a relief on its own.

“And, now I’m here.” Alexander finished.

“Damn.” John stared at his drawing for a moment. “That’s quite the story. Oh. Here. It’s not the greatest, but hey,” John passed back the notebook.

“Yeah, well, all the great protagonists need a tragic backstory, right?”

John barked out a laugh, “That’s one way of justifying a shitty childhood.” He paused. “So, your dad. Is still out there, somewhere?”

Alexander shrugged, looking at John’s sketch of a dorky looking turtle. “Wow, they aren’t an attractive species, are they?”

John laughed again, “well, that drawing hardly does it justice, but no, they aren’t the prettiest turtle species. They’re kinda cute, in an ugly way. Like puggles. Or hairless cats.”

“Hairless cats are adorable in their own right. What are you talking about?”  Alexander closed the notebook, placing it gently back into his bag, suddenly careful to avoid damage on the previously tossed around notepad. It had art within its pages now, in the form of a beady-eyed softshell turtle.

There was a silence for a moment, before John spoke again. “Do you resent him? For leaving you and your brother?” John asked.

Alexander shook his head. “No. I did for a while, but he wasn’t fit to be a father, not really. I was more upset that he left my mother with two boys and zero money.”

John nodded. “Ah.” He paused for a second, debating on his words.

“Hey, what is it?”

John shook his head. “Nothing, I think we’ve probably delved into each other’s pasts enough for the first night.”

“Alright. I mean, we might be here for a week, after all. We can save some stories for later, I guess.”

“Yeah,” John said, “I should probably get changed, huh.” He glanced out the window, the opaque darkness surprising the two teens. They hadn’t noticed how late it had gotten.

“Yeah, probably. Can you stand yet? For long enough to get changed, I mean.”

“We’ll find out,” he said with a huff as he pushed himself off the mattress. He stumbled forward a bit, but regained his balance before Alexander needed to intervene. “Hey, guess I’m alright,” he grinned. “And I don’t have to hide the bruises from you, so that makes things easier.” He popped open his suitcase, grabbing his pajama pants and a t-shirt. As always, the sight of the short sleeves sent a pang of jealousy coursing through him, much to his own frustration. John pulled his long sleeve shirt off, baring his bruised chest again, before finally showing his arms. His marked… Alexander squinted at the writing on his friend’s limbs. Something seemed off.

After John pulled on the T-shirt, he seemed to notice the same thing, as he shot an obviously nervous glance Alexander’s way.  The writing was blurry, and faded. His soulmate hadn’t written on his arms in a long while. “Do her messages always fade like that?”

John bit his lip, shooting another worried look toward the bag, the symbol of George and the bugged shirt. “There’s something I should tell you.”          

Chapter Text

Alexander and John stared at each other in silence for a moment, John’s charged statement lingering in the air. Judging by the way he had looked at the bag, it was something even George didn’t know. Alexander forced himself to swallow. When had his throat gotten so dry? “Oh?” he managed, his voice no louder than a whisper. “What is it?”

“I...uh...” John shot another worried look to the bag. “Can we talk outside?”

“John, it’s pretty late. Won’t they be suspicious?” Alexander gestured outside, the motion sensitive spotlight flashing with the return of each camper.

“Not if we sat right outside the cabin. Just far enough to…”

“—not be overheard,” Alexander finished the sentence, prickling with nerves.

John nodded. “Right.”

Alexander didn’t like this any aspect of the plan. The idea of walking out of the cabin without the mic and earpiece felt like he was being told to swim through a shark tank with a bucket of chum strapped to his chest. They’d be sitting ducks, and he had already made King George suspicious of him. But John was trusting him with a secret he hadn’t told anyone else. Denying him this could potentially diminish the strong bond they had managed to develop in such a short time. And to be frank, Alexander would much rather take the sharks than the loss of John’s trust. “Okay. But only for a minute, yeah? “

John nodded. “Thanks. I just—it’s big.”

“You’re not making me feel any better about this.”

“I know. I’m sorry,” John crossed to the door, holding it open and gesturing for Alexander to step through. Alexander followed his lead, casting one last look at his bag before walking out.

Once he heard the door shut, Alexander turned to face John again, the small stoop on the cabin just large enough to accommodate the two of them. “Okay. What is this secret that George can’t hear? It’s about your soulmate, right?”

“Yeah,” John bit his lip, “you see, I—”

A twig snapped, making both boys jump. They both started chuckling and joking about how jumpy they were being, both trying to calm their own nerves by teasing the other boy about his. That is, until yet another snapped branch silenced their forced reverie. A distinctly feminine voice swore under their breath, and Alexander saw the color drain from John’s face. “Alex, go back inside.”

“What?”

“Just go!” John hissed. “If anyone comes in to check, just tell them I went stargazing.” John grabbed Alex’s shoulder, squeezing it for a second. “It’ll be fine. I’ll be back in twenty minutes, tops.”

“John, I—”

“Alex, please. I’ll explain the second I get back. Promise.”

Alexander saw the look of desperation in his eyes. “John, I swear to God if you get yourself in trouble—“

“I won’t. They’ve never caught us before.”

Us?

Alex,” John whined. “If she sees you, she’ll take off. I have to go.” He skipped a step, stumbling a bit.

Hey!” Alex hissed, his voice low. “Do you not remember that you could barely stand like, two hours ago?”

“I’m fine. Adrenaline rush has got me covered, and if not, she’ll be there too,” John glanced around, making sure the counsellors of the other cabins weren’t witnessing his behavior. “Just wait in the cabin. I’ll be back before you even notice I’m gone.”

Alexander huffed. “Just. Be careful.”

“Of course,” John disappeared around the corner of the cabin, before popping his head back out to look at Alexander. “Don’t tell George.”

“Are you serious?!”

“It’ll all make sense when I come back. But you can not tell George about this.”

“Is this part of the secret?” Alexander realized.

Yes. Now I have to go. See you soon.” And with that, John vanished behind the cabin again. He vaguely heard him soothe the panicked feminine voice, and the quiet retreat of two pairs of feet.

Alexander did as John told him and retreated to their cabin, now much more suffocating without the other teen.  He pulled out his journal, both for the calming effect it had on him as well as the ability to sort out his thoughts. He flipped to the John Laurens section, embarrassed even more by it now that he had finally met the boy. Underneath his other notes, ‘SECRET??’ was added in large red letters. ‘meeting with girl in woods?’ was added in blue underneath. All the while, the feather-light earpiece sat in his pocket like a brick of lead. Everything in him told him to tell George. John was quite literally off in the woods at night with a stranger—without a flashlight. Nothing about that situation sounded like a good idea. But John asked him not to tell George. Technically he didn’t promise to keep it from George—no. He had already had this mental battle. He wasn’t going to risk John’s trust. Alexander heaved a frustrated sigh. Why did he let John go?

Ten minutes in, Alexander was pacing back and forth like a worried housewife. Where was he? Finally, he heard the door open. “Christ John, there you—“ Alexander bit his knuckle.

“Evening, Alexander,” King George chirped, his red jacket practically glowing in the lighting of the cabin.

Remembering his backstory, he held up a finger, fishing his earpiece out with his other hand and placing it back in his ear, a frustrated voice greeting him.

<<Alexander. When you said you were taking out the earpiece to sleep I didn’t mean right away. Where are you? Did you seriously bury the mic?! Are you crazy?!>>

“Good evening, sir. Um, what can I do for you?” Alexander asked, his palms sweaty.

“I was making rounds, and I happened to notice you pacing in the window,” King George said nonchalantly. He casually glanced around the cabin. “Where’s Jack?” he asked, a too-casual tone in his voice.

“Oh, Joh-er-Jack said something about stargazing? He told me about the tattoo thing. Guess he wanted to… spend time with his brother again? Spiritually, I mean.”

King George clicked his tongue. “Jack knows better than to break curfew.” A wave of anxiety crashed over Alexander. Did he know he was lying? Did he just condemn John to the Room again?  “But,” King George continued, “I suppose it’s my fault, having you pick open freshly scabbed wounds. It was a tragedy, what happened to little James.” King George shook his head. “All over the news at home when it happened. Not every day a stupid American boy manages to kill himself on British soil.”

Alexander was taken aback. King George thought the location of his death was the tragedy. Every time he spoke, he managed to become more heartless; it was almost impressive, in a horrible kind of way.

“He didn’t happen to tell you where he ran off to?”

Alexander shrugged. “Didn’t run off anywhere. He just went to stargaze. Somewhere with a break in the trees, if I had to guess.”

King George made a noise of disappointment. “Of course. Well, tell Jack that I’m graciously waiving the punishment for missing curfew as my condolences for the passing of his brother.” His eyes narrowed suspiciously at Alexander, cancelling out any possible sincerity in the previous statement. “But make sure you tell him that this is the only time I’ll be this kind.”

Alexander shivered. “Understood. Will do.”

“Good,” King George nodded. “Sleep tight, Alexander,” he sang as he left the cabin.

Once King George was gone, Alexander flopped on his bed, a sigh of relief escaping his lips. That was another crisis averted. And for the moment, he was grateful John hadn’t come back yet. How would King George have reacted if John had waltzed into the cabin as he was talking? Again, the thought of telling George rattled through his mind like a frightened bird. This time, though, was narrated by the nervous voice of the aforementioned man in his ear, his tone getting more anxious with each passing moment.

<<Alexander. Son. I know you’re not sleeping. You really need to answer me or tap the mic or something. Please.>>

Alexander exhaled the breath he wasn’t aware he was holding. The image of the George he had seen in his office flashed through his mind, aggravating the bird that fluttered within and drove him to dive for the mic. He dug through the bag, pulling out the undershirt and throwing it on his pillow. “George, you hear me?”

<<Alex.>> There was a palpable relief in his tone, riddling Alexander with guilt.

“Sorry.”

<<Is everyone alright? You? John?>>

“Yeah, yeah we’re fine. No worries.” Again, the guilt ate at him. He didn’t know if John was alright, he was still out in the woods with some random person doing who knows what. He rapidly tried to change the subject, “How did Martha take the extension to the plan?”

<<Ahh…>> The mic crackled with the sigh that left George’s mouth <<Not…Not as well as I had hoped, but about as well as I expected.>>

“Sooo she flipped shit.”

George laughed half-heartedly. <<Not the word choice I would’ve used, but yeah.>>

“Okay, I’m back, I’m back,” John rushed in, holding his hands up in the universal don’t kill me pose. Alex held up the undershirt; John froze, a freckled deer in headlights.

<<John? What does he mean he’s back? Where was he? Alex? >>

“George, it’s fine. He just took a walk. It’s totally fine.” Alexander somehow succeeded in glaring at John while keeping his voice calm and upbeat for George. You’re making me lie to him, his glare said.

I’m sorry, said John’s answering pout.

Alexander could hear a faint buzzing noise coming from George’s end. <<Uh, Alex. I have to.. shit>> George swore under his breath. <<It’s Martha. I have to take this.>>

Alex whistled. “She’s actually calling you? Writing on your arms wasn’t enough?”

George coughed. <<She, uh. Ran out of skin.>>

“Oh shit. Good luck.”

<<My phone might interfere with the-->>

“It’s cool, it’s cool. I have to talk to John about something anyway. Don’t let Martha murder you through the phone.”

George chuckled. <<I’ll do my best.>> The earpiece crackled, a faint “Hello?” could be heard over the static before Alexander removed the earpiece. Alexander put the mic back into the bottom of the bag. “Now. You want to tell me what that was?”

John looked sheepish, saying nothing.

“Let’s start with the random person sneaking up to our cabin?”

John sighed. “It’s a long story, and it’s pretty late. Alex, can this maybe wait until morning?”

Alexander was about to complain, that John had made him wait long enough, that he had scared him half to death, disappearing for almost half an hour—when John shifted, causing the light to hit the yellow-green bruise on his neck just right, making it almost glow. John had been too weak to walk only hours before; Alexander had almost forgotten. The image of John, battered at King George’s feet, that made Alexander bite his tongue. He gave an exasperated sigh. “Okay. You’re not getting out of this, though.”

John smiled, obviously relieved to be allowed to put off the story for a few more hours.

“Oh, but, make me cover for you from King George again, I’m leaving your ass here.” John’s eyes widened until he saw the obvious smirk on Alexander’s face. He relaxed for just a moment, before the meaning behind Alexander’s words had registered.

“Wait, it was King George?! Christ Alex, I thought for sure it would’ve been Seabury or something.” John ran a hand through his hair, blushing as he pulled a small twig from the dark curls. “But no worries. She won’t be coming back.”

Alexander literally bit his tongue to keep from prying, hanging on to the promise of an explanation in the morning.

“I know, that’s not fair. More questions than answers. I’m sorry,” he yawned, “in the morning, I promise. We’ll have to wake up pretty early though. Breakfast is at 7:30.”

What.

John shrugged. “They have a cereal bar in the morning though, so, no slop.”

Alexander smiled “hey, I’ll take that. So, like 6am?”

“Something like that,” John said, switching off the light and plunging the cabin into darkness. Alexander watched the dark shadow that John had become cross over to his bed, the frame creaking as he collapsed onto the mattress. “Yo, did you want your quilt back?”

“Nah, you can keep it tonight. I’ve got George’s old army bag.”

“Alright,” Alexander heard John shift his blankets, assumedly snuggling into the Hercules’s quilt. The mental image made Alex smile.

“Oh, hold up.” Alexander shuffled around, jamming the earpiece back in his ear to hear the heavy static had stopped. He managed to find the undershirt, hovering it over his bag and leaning down to speak into it. “Yo, George. John and I are calling it a night. We’ll check in in the morning.”

<<Alright.>> George sounded exhausted, the argument with Martha must have taken a lot out of him. <<Alex, I know you, just do your best to actually get some sleep tonight.>>

“That’s the goal.”

<<Goodnight, son.>>

“Goodnight.”

“’Night,” echoed a sleepy John.

The earpiece back in his pocket, the cabin engulfed into silence. Within minutes, John was asleep, breathing deeply with just a subtle hint of a snore.

As Alexander had expected, the night had passed, the sun began to rise, and the only thing Alexander remembered was the shadows dancing in the constant flickering of the motion-sensor light.

 

He must have slept a little, at least, as the next sensation Alexander experienced was a cold hand on his shoulder, gently rousing him from his rest. “Alexander. Hey, Alex,” a soft voice whispered.

Alexander distinctly remembered mumbling something, but what that was was anyone’s guess. The warm voice laughed, a soothing sound, which only lured Alexander into a deeper slumber.

“Hey, I had a story to tell you, remember?”

John. The thought clawed its way through the clouded, muddled environment of his sleepy mind, his eyes snapping open with such speed as to startle the other teen.

“Woah, hey! Jesus Alex, don’t hurt yourself,” John paused, staring at Alexander’s face long enough that he could feel a bashful heat rise to his face. “Yo, did you sleep? Like at all?”

“Obviously, you just woke me up,” Alexander grumbled, his voice thick with sleep.

“You know what I mean. You weren’t too cold, were you?” John asked, eyeing the quilt.

“No, no. This is normal,” Alexander gestured to what he was certain was dark circles under his eyes. “Now, story time.”

John sighed. “Yeah, I promised, after all.” John leaned over, burying the undershirt deep into Alexander’s bag again. He crossed over, sitting on his bed and patting the space next to him.

Alexander groaned, “made me wait until morning and now I have to get out of bed? Ughhh,” he made an exasperated noise, making John laugh. Soon enough Alexander was sitting next to him, curiosity replacing the sleepiness in his gaze.

“Okay. So, you know how my soulmate,” John paused, “is Martha, right? Herc or Laf told you that?”

“Yeah?” Alexander glanced down to John’s arms. He was wearing a dark teal sweatshirt, its sleeves obscuring the faded messages he had seen the other day.

“Well, I may have… fudged some of the details that I told them. About how Martha and I met.”

Alexander couldn’t help the eyeroll. “John, you can give me all the details after you tell me what your little rendezvous in the woods was.”

“No, no! It’s related, promise.” John’s shoulders hunched inward as he leaned forward slightly, a few curls falling into his eyes as he tried obscuring his face. “Sorry. I… Alex, I don’t know why I’m telling you this. Why I want to tell you this. Hell, I feel like I have to, you know? I mean, I just met you. I’m about to tell you something that could potentially make you want to avoid me forever. Things no one knows.” John looked up again, the desperation in his eyes startling Alexander, “But there’s just something in my gut telling me that youspecifically you—need to know. Is that crazy?”

Alexander shook his head. “Not at all.” It was the same compulsory thought that Alexander had had when he spilt his story. Well, most of it, anyway. “I felt the same thing,” he vocalized the thought. “I told you some…details that I hadn’t told anyone. Not even George. I couldn’t tell anyone those things, for a long time, and then I meet you and it all just kinda…” Alexander waved his hand in front of his mouth, pantomiming.

John snapped his fingers, “Yes! Okay, so it’s not just me?”

Alexander laughed, “guess not. So, continue?” his voice lilted.

“Right, got distracted. So yeah, I told G-Wash and Co. that I met Martha as a kid. That’s true, but I implied that,” he paused. “I’m going to apologize in advance. I’m not as great a storyteller as you are.”

Alexander ducked his head.

John chuckled, looking up at the ceiling as he continued his tale, “But I actually met Martha here. My first year.”

Obviously Alexander couldn’t tell him he knew that, however he was quick to latch onto the newest tidbit of information. “How old were you? Your first year.”

He tilted his head, leaning back on his hands as he thought. “Eight?” he paused, before nodding in confirmation. “Yeah, I think I was eight.”

“Why would your father send an eight-year-old here?”

“My first crush,” John’s smile was bittersweet. “It ended up working out though, since I met Martha.”

“Right,” Alexander couldn’t hold back the bitterness in his tone.

John’s gaze flicked over to Alexander, his face remaining angled to the ceiling. Alexander pretended not to notice. “Anyway, Martha and I got super close, and once the counsellors saw my messages on her arms, they sent her home. She hasn’t been admitted here since. For me, the uh, ‘treatment’ got worse, as now they knew about Martha. I went from a boy who liked boys to a boy who had a girl… waiting for him,” he shuddered. “They immediately started calling her my future wife and shit like that. She was just a friend, you know? The only person I was even considering to be with was,” he stopped himself. Alexander bit his lip to keep from grinning at the apple red glowing from his ears. “Well, that doesn’t matter.”

Alexander mirrored John’s pose, leaning back and staring at the same support beam. He casually leaned into John, bumping his shoulder playfully against the other teen’s. “Oh come on, tell me about your boyfriend.”

John scoffed. “He wasn’t my boyfriend, dork. It was a stupid little crush, it only lasted a few months. Not even worth mentioning.”

“And yet you mentioned it.”

“You asked!

Alexander laughed as John pouted at him. “Fine, fine. But, what does that have to do with..?” he trailed off.

“Right. Well, Martha was never admitted here again, right? Well, she… visits, sometimes.”

“She what?!” Alexander hissed. “Was that who was snooping outside the cabin?”

“Yeah.”

“How does she do it? How did she get this deep into the camp without getting caught?” Alexander dropped his voice to a whisper, risking a glance out the window. A few campers were beginning to stir, signaling that their story hour was drawing quickly to a close.

“She won’t tell me. I’ve asked so many times and she just… refuses.” John looked over his shoulder at the window. “Yeah… we have to get going soon. Look, they’ll probably separate us for the day. Don’t want the two gay kids getting too close, you know?” he rolled his eyes.

Alexander scoffed. “Yeah. Wait, is that all I’m getting, story-wise? ‘I have something to tell you’ is a lot more ominous than that.”

John stood, stretching his arms above his head, his back emitting a quiet ‘pop’. “Uh, no. There’s more. I’ll tell you the rest when I can, but if we don’t get down to breakfast on time, they’ll come looking. Especially since you had to cover for me with King George last night.” He rummaged through his suitcase for clothes, pulling out a pair of jeans. “You might want to get dressed.”

“Oh. Right.” Alexander bit his lip. “John, I… Can you, speed through the details and give me the main point?” He couldn’t get himself to look at him. “Like I said, ‘I have something to tell you’ is really ominous and it’s about your soulmate and I—“

He heard John shift, assumedly to look out the window again. He sighed, “You’re right. Alexander, I need you to look at me.”

Alexander did as he was told, his gaze making its way to the worried look on John’s face. Too slowly, John reached to the zipper of his hoodie, pulling it with such tentative movement that Alexander could hear each one of the zipper’s teeth separate. “John?”

“Just,” John sighed again, “Just give me a second.” With a slight change in speed, John unzipped the hoodie, a deep breath pausing him before he shed the fabric.

Alexander focused on a particular cluster of freckles under John’s eye, physically unable to look at his arms, and the faded messages that resided there. He saw John’s eye move, a nervous chuckle in the air. “My, uh, my arms, Alex.”

Nerves prickled at Alexander, but he did as he was told. His head moving mechanically, he forced himself to look at the…

Vibrant, vividly bright messages of Ms. Martha Manning. Alexander’s head snapped up, “What? How?”

“This is why Martha comes by. Alexander.”

Alexander was reeling, “I don’t understand, I—“ he stared at the messages, various colors and message lengths, but they all had one thing in common. “They’re all the same..?”

“She…” John heaved yet another sigh, although it was possible that he was keeping himself from hyperventilating. “Martha writes on my arms to keep people believing my story. She’s… not my soulmate.”

“What do you mean she’s not your soulmate? You mean she’s been pretending to be your soulmate for almost ten years? Why?”

John swallowed hard, trying to maintain eye contact, however his eyes kept flitting away. Alexander held his breath, the weight of the situation made the air nearly impossible to breathe. Alexander could see John’s hands shake at his sides, his nervous demeanor mirrored on Alexander.

After a few moments, John squared his shoulders, closed his hands into fists and looked met Alexander’s gaze, the slight vibration of his irises the only indication of his nerves. He took a breath, steeling himself long enough to speak again.

“I don’t have one.”

 

Chapter Text

I don’t have one. The sentence continued to echo in Alexander’s mind as he stared at the boy who had quickly become a close friend. I don’t have one.

Alexander bit his lip, refusing to allow himself to hope, “is this some kind of joke?”

Oh no. Alexander watched as John’s heart shattered, the look of agony on his face tearing into Alexander like a knife to the chest. “What? Alex, I thought… I thought, I don’t know what I thought. I shouldn’t have told you that. Come on, we need to go. Get dressed.” John’s voice was hollow, numb.

“No!” Alexander leaped to his feet and grabbed John’s wrist, keeping him from turning his back on him. “No, I—I just never thought…”

“What, that bare-arms actually existed?” John’s voice was completely devoid of emotion, his gaze unfocused and distant once more. “Yeah, well. Surprise.”

“No, I knew they existed, obviously—” Alexander stopped himself. Was he going to do this?

“Then, what, Alex. You didn’t think I was one, you thought I was deserving of someone, right? Of Martha? Of anyone? Well, the universe obviously didn’t think so.” John’s voice broke, the true nature of his pain flooding over his words.

“Some people don’t have soulmates, m’ijo. But don’t let that keep you from falling in love,” the words rolled off his tongue, verbatim, from all those years ago.

John stopped, his pain shifting into confusion. “M’ijo…? What are you saying? What are you talking about?”

“That’s what my mother told me. Back when…” Alexander took a deep breath. “Back when I…” he trailed off, physically unable to say the words.

“Alex?” John asked tentatively, the glimmer of hope palpable.

“Back…when…” Alexander eyes went out of focus, his world growing blurry. He released his hold on John, stumbling back to the bed as the cabin spun around him.

“Hey, woah!” John was at his side. “What’s going on? Alex, hey!”

Alexander couldn’t speak, but he knew. He had to tell John. He had to. Even if he had to fight his own body to do it. With shaking hands, he fumbled for his shirt sleeve.

“Alex? Do I need to get George?” John asked, trying, and failing, to keep himself calm.

Alexander whipped his head back and forth. George can’t know. Not yet. Alexander hoped the message got across. He gripped the cuff in his hand, he could do this. John was the same. He literally couldn’t respond badly to it. But holding this secret was such a strong part of who he was. Was he really ready to lose that?

The obvious answer was no, but he knew he needed to do it. The blurry vision began to clear, just enough for Alexander to focus on the task at hand. John had trusted him enough to confide in him a secret he had held for even longer than Alexander himself had. He knew what it felt like, feeling broken, feeling unwanted, unloved. Alexander had the opportunity to show John that he wasn’t alone. And as unprepared as he felt, there was a selfish part of him that wanted to tell him. That needed to tell John that he was the same way.

He was doing this.

“Me too,” he managed to choke out.

John shook his head minutely. “I…I don’t understand.”

Alexander gripped at the cuff of his sleeve again—this time, however, his hands were steady. He dragged his hand up his arm, his sleeve moving along with it. For a moment, his hand stuttered, trying to shove the cloth back in its place. Alexander resisted. “Me too,” he repeated.

John’s gaze flicked down to Alexander’s arm, his eye widening. “No,” he whispered. His hand slowly reached out, wiping at Alexander’s skin with his thumb, in the same manner as King George had, only far more gentle. He said nothing, only staring at the blank expanse of skin in front of him. Alexander tried to keep himself from squirming away. “You really are…?” John didn’t have to finish the sentence. Alexander nodded.

“Wait…” John paused, the disbelief still visible. “The tattoo thing.”

“King George saw my arms, I improvised. Told him “she” was dead,” he made air-quotes with his fingers.

“So he asked to see your tattoo—“

“—but I didn’t know what that was,” Alexander finished. “Right.”

John whistled, the tone low, “Damn.”  John looked down, a small smile on his face that Alexander was sure he wasn’t supposed to see. “Heh.”

“What?”

John looked back up, the smile being forced away. “Nothing,” another glance out the window. Alexander followed suit, obviously they were running out of time. “Hey, so… G-Wash… he, doesn’t know, does he?”

“No. Herc knows because he had to set up the mic, but you’re… you’re the only person I’ve ever told, willingly.”

John nodded, but said nothing more about it.

 

Soon enough, Alexander was following John out of the cabin, earpiece and mic fully back in their places. Neither teen even hinted at the conversation that had occurred. As they walked down the dirt path, Alexander saw another familiar face. “Aaron!” he called out.

“Good morning, Alexander. Jack,” Burr greeted politely, side-eyeing the cluster of younger campers who snickered at the boisterous salutation. He waited for the two of them to catch up to him before continuing. “How are you feeling?”

“Oh, uh, I’m alright.” John replied. The weight of the withheld secrets rested heavily over the three of them.

“Good. Good.” Burr responded curtly. A group of younger campers called out to Burr, asking him to join them; he complied, giving John and Alexander another quick nod before walking toward the kids.

“Well. That was…”

“Awkward as shit?” Alexander prompted. John laughed in response, nodding. “Why was that so weird?” Just yesterday Burr was helping him practically carry John into the cabin. How had their dynamic changed so quickly?

John only shrugged. “It’s Aaron? He’s always like that. Don’t let it get to you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said? He’s hot n’ cold, you know? Best friends one day, strangers the next.” John looked up as he walked, “It bothered me at first too, but you get used to it.” He looked back at Alexander, a smile playing on his lips. “Pro-tip. Don’t sing the Katy Perry song. It doesn’t make it better.”

Alexander guffawed, throwing his head back. “Oh my god, did you really do that?!”

“Of course not.” John snickered.

“C’mon John, you’re no fun,” Alexander bumped into him, knocking their shoulders together. As soon as he had done it, Alexander swore he could hear a pin drop on the forest floor. He slowly looked behind him, the various clusters of campers stood still, staring wide-eyed. It was as though he and John were surrounded by owl statues, painfully silent and extremely unsettling.

“Can I help you?” Alexander turned to fully face the other campers. It hit him then that there were more children than he had originally noticed; as his eyes flitted from face to face, Alexander realized that most of the population there were maybe thirteen. None of them said anything. Anger prickled at Alexander. “Hey! What’s your problem?”

“Alex, don’t.” John warned. “C’mon.” Are you serious? One look at John drained him of his anger. The freckled teen looked haunted, his body language turning into something that reminded Alexander more of the whimpering pile he met at group than the energetic person he had come to know. This, of course, only added onto Alexander’s confusion. “Try not to… you know, touch me. While we’re around other people,” John mumbled. Alexander’s chest ached.

“Weren’t you just complaining about how Aaron went all hot and cold on you?” Alexander retorted, the rejection he felt oozing into his words. He bumped into his shoulder, they did that a million times while they talked the night before, it just felt natural.

“Alex, it’s different with us.”

“Why?” What did I do? The unspoken question was easily interpreted by John, their unspoken conversations would be fascinating under literally any other circumstance.

He watched John’s shoulders droop, his eyes glassy—not watery but getting close—“Alex, what cabin are we in?” he asked.

“Why is—“ Alexander answered his own question. The other campers thought they were flirting. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

They spent the rest of the walk in silence, walking with a wide enough gap that there was no possibility of accidental contact.

Alexander hated every second.

 

After what felt like hours, they were seated at a table in the main hall, across from each other. The other end of the table was filled with assumedly female campers, judging solely off the skirts. Alexander scanned around the room, suddenly aware of the fact that he and John were the only two ‘male’ campers in the area, every table adjacent to them were entirely inhabited by girls. The group closest to them whispered to each other, sending looks his and John’s way when they thought he wouldn’t get caught.

Alexander’s blood ran cold when he recognized one of them. “Aaron?” He was in a skirt, a flowery bow in his hair. Alexander realized that Aaron’s binder was gone as well.

Aaron froze, his eyes glazing over. “My name is Katherine.” The girls around him chirped their encouragements, the redheaded girl to his right straightening out the bow.

“You should know better than to call her that. Perpetuate her delusion,” Redhead girl spoke, her hand drifting from the bow in Aaron’s hair to his shoulder.

Alexander narrowed his eyes, “do you even know what ‘perpetuate’ means?” As her face now matched her hair, Alexander assumed that meant no. John watched on, uncertainty on his face. Had John met Aaron before being thrown into the Room? Alexander wasn’t sure. “As for the name, I’ll continue to call him that as long as I’m not putting him in danger,” Alexander involuntarily glanced at John, his imagination taking control as he pictured Aaron in John’s shoes, covered in healing bruises and burns. He shuddered, his expression softening as he saw the light in Aaron’s eyes at the use of his preferred pronoun. “When it’s not safe, is there something I can call you?”

Aaron drew back in surprise. “No one had ever asked me that before.” He paused, “Wait, didn’t you volunteer to come here?”

<<Alex. I know what you’re trying to do. Tread lightly.>> Oh. Looks like George was awake after all.

“Yes, I did,” he considered his next phrase. This could potentially break all trust Aaron could ever have in him, after all. “That’s a…long story, but I’m starting to realize what this camp really is,” he decided on.

“You haven’t even been here a whole day,” Aaron retorted.

<<Alex.>> George warned.

Alexander shrugged, ignoring his guardian. “Yeah, well, you all showed me a lot on my first day.” The kitchen staff came around then, dropping food loudly onto each table. More sludge, Alexander noticed, but at least this sludge sort of looked like oatmeal? The fact that the food was even a little recognizable brought a sliver of comfort.

His response seemed to have comforted Aaron, if the small smile was any response. “Rin works, you know, when you can’t call me….” he glanced up, the kitchen staff nearing their table, “you know.”

“Rin. Got it.” The girls around Aaron stared wide-eyed during the entire conversation, their hushed whispers increasing in frequency. Alexander tried not to let it bother him. Redhead squeezed Aaron’s shoulder

“Here,” came an all too familiar voice, a bowl of gruel slammed down on the table. Alexander looked up and met the green gaze of the young kitchen girl. She must not have recognized the back of his head, but the moment she saw his face she went red, her expression a combination of flustered and livid. “You.

“Lovely to see you again… I’m sorry, I never caught your name,” Alexander greeted. He hoped his smile hid the anxiety running down his spine.

The girl huffed, “you’re lucky I didn’t tell George about your little stunt.” He smirked at her response, his anxiety fading.

“You’re right, I am. Thanks for that,” Alexander winked, pressing his luck.

<<Alexander, what did you do?>> Oh, right. He never told George.

She stuttered, her cheeks turning a lovely shade of pink. “W-Well I can just tell him, you know!”

“You could,” Alexander started. “But you would’ve already.” He could feel the eyes of everyone at the table burning into the back of his head, but he ignored them, focusing instead on the shaking irises of green in front of him, her eyes twitching as she watched his face. “Think about it…I still don’t know your name, so I’m going to make up a name if you don’t tell me what it is.”

“Elizabeth.”

Alexander deflated for just a moment. Another Eliza? “Okay. Elizabeth. If you were going to tell George about what I did, you would have followed me to group, right? You knew where he was, you could have easily ratted me out. So, why didn’t you?”

He had her, he knew. She stood there for a moment, mouth agape.  “Also, I want to apologize for what I said yesterday, I said that just to hurt you like you hurt me.”

There was a strange concoction of emotions in her green gaze. She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry too. I went too far.” She spoke quickly, leaving so fast he barely had time to register her words.

“What was that?” John whispered as she fled.

“I’ll tell you later.”

<<You’ll be telling me too.>>

“Yeah, I’ll tell you later,” he repeated for George’s sake.

“Ooookayy” Aaron quipped, stretching out the word. “Anyway, what are you two up to today?”

“What?”

“Yeah, it may be a,” he coughed, “religion camp, but they still have us do camp activities and things.”

“Wait, really?”

“Well it’s either that or Bible study with your cabin counsellor, camp activities are definitely a better way to pass the time.” John shrugged, “not that we have a counsellor anyway.”

“Wait, you don’t?” Aaron asked.

Alex and John shook their heads. “They can’t find anyone who would stay in our cabin with us. Works out for us, I mean, no Bible study.” Alexander laughed.

“Katherine! I’d like to have a word with you please!”

Aaron cringed. “It’s probably about my binder.” Alexander and John tilted their heads. “They, uh. Bought me a bra.”

“Ah. Gross.”

Aaron laughed. “Hey, at least you don’t have to wear it.” He stood, tugging at the skirt in discomfort and crossing to the woman that must have been the Charlotte King George had mentioned before.

As Aaron left, the girls that had sat around him turned their full attention on Alexander and John. “So, are you really, you know...” One girl asked, staring quizzically at the two of them.

“Really what?” Alexander deadpanned, He knew what she meant, but he just wanted her to say it. “Finish your question.”

She shuffled uncomfortably, running her fingers through her dark, wavy hair. “You know.

Redhead—Alexander had decided that he had no interest in learning the girl’s name—huffed. “Gay. Are you really gay?”

Alexander and John shared a look. “Would we be here otherwise?” John asked, Alexander’s annoyance prickling under John’s skin as well.

“But why?

Both teens narrowed their eyes. “Really,” they said simultaneously.

“I don’t know, why are you straight?” Alexander prompted, “You are straight, aren’t you?”

“Of course I am!” The redhead said quickly.

John rolled his eyes. Alexander narrowed his own. “So you do see Aaron as a boy then. Good.” Alexander said nonchalantly, his tone incongruent with his suspicious gaze. Suddenly all eyes were on Red, her mouth open wide. Her eyes flickered over to Aaron for a millisecond, just a quick glance, but it was enough to confirm Alexander’s suspicions. If he was being honest, it was sort of a shot in the dark on Alexander’s part, not to mention slightly hypocritical as he had just done the same thing to Redhead as the other campers had done to him and John only a moment ago. But this was different. This time, the assumption was right.

“I don’t know what you’re implying,” Red used the oatmeal on the table as a distraction, reaching over to grab it and throwing some in the bowl in front of her. The bowl was passed around the girls, all of whom were silent.

Alexander shrugged—Aaron was returning, he didn’t need to know, for now, at least. “Sure you don’t.”

Aaron came back, looking slightly dejected at the small bag in his hands. Upon observing the silence at the table, he tilted his head, looking to Alexander for an explanation. “What happened while I was gone?”

John answered for him. “Nothing, conversation just fell flat,” he shrugged, scooping some oatmeal out for himself, and then Alexander when he realized his bowl was still empty. Alexander nodded in thanks, popping the spoon in his mouth with only some hesitation. Bland, but edible. And therefore a much better alternative than anything else.

<<Alex. I have an update on our plan. Try to get yourself and John out of public eye as soon as you can.>>

Alexander bit his lip, earning a quizzical look from John.

“Uh, hearing aid’s bothering me.” Alexander said, cringing more exaggeratedly the second time. Aaron looked worried, a pang of guilt ripped through Alexander.

“Are you okay?” Aaron asked, “what’s going on with it?”

Alexander swallowed the guilt bubbling up in him again. The more he talked to Aaron, the more difficult it became to lie to him. Alexander found himself wanting nothing more than to be able to protect Aaron, and if he could break him out too, he would in a heartbeat. But that wasn’t a part of the plan, Aaron can’t know. “Just weird crackling,” as he pulled another spoonful of bland oatmeal into his mouth, a lightbulb lit up in Alexander’s mind.  “I think the battery’s dying. Hey Jack,” the other name felt odd on his tongue, “You wanna come back with me to the cabin so I can replace the stupid thing?” George has something to tell us. We need to be alone.

Alexander could see that John understood, his hazel eyes glowed in anticipation, only a slight shudder in his gaze alluded to the nerves Alexander was sure John was feeling.  “Yeah, no problem. Don’t want you getting lost,” he teased.

“Hardy har.” Alexander deadpanned.

Aaron returned to his seat next to Red and raised a brow, “well, they’re going to send us out and about soon, but the cabin area’ll be crawling with counsellors,” Aaron’s tone laid heavy, a secret meaning to his words.

Shit. Aaron knew something was up. Alexander could feel it. “Well, we’re just switching out a battery, the counsellors don’t matter,” Alexander started, extremely thankful that the group of girls had lost interest in their conversation. Other than Red, of course, who hadn’t stopped staring daggers at him since his comment earlier.

“Uh-huh. Nah, I get that. But afterwards. I’d suggest using the labyrinth. No one ever goes there,” Aaron shrugged. If John’s eyebrows could’ve hit the ceiling, they would’ve.

“She—He, sorry—He’s not wrong,” John started. “The labyrinth is always empty. Mostly because it’s creepy as hell, ironically enough, but it’s quiet.”

Aaron smiled softly at the correction. “Huh. Never thought I’d find two people who’d “accept my delusion”” he scoffed, “Especially not here.” Red looked particularly put off, much to Alexander’s amusement. “Jack, right?” John nodded, “This sounds awful, but you guys can’t leave without me, okay? You’re pretty much my only hope.”

Alexander’s heart ached as he forced a smile.

“You should go soon though.” Aaron looked around at the quickly gathering staff. “If you get caught in the cabin during activity, you’ll be forced into a neighboring cabin’s Bible study,” Aaron paused, looking at John, “but you probably already knew that.”

John rubbed at the back of his next. “Heh. Yeah. Alex, if we’re going to fix your hearing aid, we’ve gotta go now.”

“Yeah, okay.” Alexander nodded blankly, his chest still throbbing from Aaron’s words. They both forced down the last of the oatmeal before awkwardly swung their legs over the bench in order to stand.

“You guys are really cute together, by the way.” Alexander tensed, shooting a wide-eyed look Aaron’s way, only receiving a laugh in response.

“We’re not. A thing, I mean. I just met the guy yesterday,” Alexander stuttered out. Was that what Aaron thought was going on? If Alexander was being realistic, that could be beneficial, strategically speaking. But, for one, he had killed by denying the implied relationship that quickly, and two, he really didn’t want to lie to Aaron anymore.

Alexander had done precisely what Angelica Schuyler had told him not to do. He had made friends.

Alexander and John said their goodbyes to Aaron, clearing it with one of the staff, their red coats garishly bright under the lighting, and leaving the main hall, headed back towards the cabins.

Halfway between the main hall and the cabins, John finally spoke, his voice tired, “We can’t take him with us.”

Alexander’s shoulders drooped. “He can’t stay here. You heard him. If we leave without him, they’ll crush him.” You’re pretty much my only hope.

<<Alexander, John’s right. We can fight for Aaron’s way out after you and John are on the other side of that gate.>>

“We can’t leave him here. You both heard what he said. We’re his only hope.”

“I think he was exaggerating.” John didn’t believe his own words.

“But what if he wasn’t? What if he needs us to keep him… okay…?” Alexander shuddered, thinking back to the blood soaked mattress and the tearstained face of his cousin’s wife as she cradled their son.

John’s entire demeanor changed, he glanced around, seeing no one, and quickly pulled Alexander into a hug. It lasted only a second, both teens scared of getting caught, but the reassurance of the embrace drew Alexander out of the memory. “Aaron will be fine, okay?” Again, Alexander knew John didn’t believe the words, but he didn’t call him out on it, trying desperately to fool himself into believing the same lie. “He’s a smart kid. He can probably fake his way out of here.” Like Martha. Alexander finished the thought.

“I guess. But—“ I don’t want to risk it.

“I know.”

<<We’ll get him out of there.>> George repeated. <<Are you alone?>>

“John, where’s the labyrinth? I think we should take Aaron’s advice and avoid the cabins.”

John nodded. “This way.” He pivoted on his heel, going down a path Alexander hadn’t walked before. “So, it was George right?” John whispered.

Alexander nodded. Up ahead, a wooden cross hung, slightly suspended in the air by the trees on either side. If he walked on his toes, he could see rocks of various sizes had been set meticulously on the ground around it. “Is that…?”

“The labyrinth, yeah. Obviously, it’s not like, Pan’s, and there’s no David Bowie, so…” John sucked air through his teeth, “pretty misleading name if you ask me.”

Alexander raised a brow, giving John a weird look. “David Bowie?”

“You know, ‘You remind me of the babe’?”

“What babe?” Alexander puffed out his cheeks in a pout when he heard George’s chuckle crackle in his ear.

John beamed, “Babe with the power!”

Alexander frowned. “What are you talking about.” George’s laughter grew, much to Alexander’s annoyance. John’s smile fell, and for a moment, Alexander felt guilty for not playing along, not that he knew how to.

“You really haven’t seen Labyrinth? With the Goblin King and the weird puppets? Dude. First movie night back at the Washington’s.”

<<Agreed.>>

Alexander huffed. “George said he’s in.”

“Yesss.” John said, the word ending with a hiss. Alexander only rolled his eyes in response, a small smile making its way onto his face. The idea of having his family together, Martha and George, Lafayette and Hercules, him and John, the Schuyler sisters. Aaron. Burr. They wouldn’t be there. They’d still be at Acolyte. The small smile vanished as soon as it had come. 

“Oh, Alex, I can’t wait, the costumes are ridiculous, the whole thing is basically one giant acid trip, you’re gonna hate it,” John said, Alexander’s mood change going unnoticed.  “But like love-hate it, you know?” He took in Alexander’s expression, falling into silence as they stepped into the stone maze on the ground.

It was fairly secluded, but speaking to George in such an open area definitely made Alexander nervous. “Okay, George, we’re alone. What’s going on?” Alexander looked around, his own anxieties prickling his skin.

John watched him. “I’ll keep watch,” he nodded, turning his back on Alexander to focus on the trail in front of them. 

<<Alright. I got word from Marta. Henry returned her car. She’s, uh, she told me she was willing to follow me to the camp to get you in a few days. We’re thinking the day after tomorrow.>>

“Wait, really? Why is she coming too?”

<<John has to get in Marta’s car.>>

What?!” Alexander exclaimed.

“Alexander, what’s going on?” John turned his head to look at him for a second, before turning back to watch for other people.

“George is talking about us getting out of here the day after tomorrow.”

“Really?” John exclaimed. “That’s great! Why do you sound so weird about it?”

“Marta’s coming to get you.”

John spun around to look at him. “What?! Why? I thought I was going with you.What if Marta doesn’t show up again? His face read.

<<That was the original plan. But Henry got me thinking. I’ll be no help for our cause in prison.>>

“George realized what you said during our conversation before. If he got caught with you in the car… And.” Alexander bit his lip, “Maybe she wants to make it up to you from last time.”

John turned back to watch the trail again, “Yeah, maybe.”  There was a pregnant pause, unspoken emotion weighing down the air around them. “I just thought. I dunno.” John kicked one of the smaller rocks, sending it flying down the path.

“Yeah. Me too.”

<<I’m sorry Alexander. But I feel this is the safest way.>>

“Where does John go then? If he can’t come with us, and he can’t go home, where will he be?” He was too focused on John’s future to be embarrassed by the desperation in his voice.

<<Philip Schuyler has offered. Marta’ll drive up to state lines, where I’ll pick him up, hopefully we can get him into our car without being seen.  If anyone asks, John broke out of Camp Acolyte with help from his sister, and ran away to stay with Philip’s family.>>

“And your trip becomes coincidence.”

<<Exactly.>>

“So what’s happening?” John asked, keeping his gaze on the road.

“We need to find our escape route. Day after tomorrow, you’ll get in Marta’s car, you’ll join us at the state lines, and then you stay with the Schuyler’s until we can start the fight against Acolyte.”

“The fight?”

<<Tell John that I’m planning to take King George to court and get the camp shut down. If I can’t get the government on my side to shut all the camps down, I’ll start the conversation with Acolyte. >> Alexander smiled and repeated the information to John. John beamed.

“So the real work begins then.”

“Yeah.”

<<That’s all I had to tell you. Go back to the center of camp. You need to make them trust you as much as possible.>>

“Yeah. Okay.” Again, Alexander repeated the information to John, who agreed.

“Yeah we should go.” John tilted his head to direct toward the trail again. Alexander took a step toward him when he heard something hit the cross behind him. Alexander stiffened. He didn’t think to watch the trees. Both teens whipped around to look at the source of the noise.

“Well, that wasn’t what I expected,” Aaron said as he stepped out from behind the cross, sadness clear in his gaze, “I don’t think I was supposed to hear that.” 

Chapter Text

The sound of his own heartbeat deafened Alexander for a moment, acid running through his veins. “You,” he paused, trying to swallow the growing lump in his throat, “you set us up?” He was trying to find a way to get Aaron out of there only a few moments ago, and he betrayed him like that?

“No!” He said quickly, his hand reaching toward Alexander. “No, I…” he huffed, reaching up into his hair and yanking out the bow Red had so meticulously put in. “Okay, maybe, yeah, but not the way you think. I… I was really expecting to hear something else.” Aaron shifted his weight back and forth, hesitating. “So, you’re really leaving then?” He asked. Alexander looked to John, another silent question.

He heard a sigh coming from the earpiece, the sound of air passing over the microphone irritating to Alexander’s ears. <<We have no choice. Tell him.>>

Alexander nodded. “Yeah. That’s—” he stopped himself. If they were caught once, they could be caught again. “Yeah.”

“Not here, I get it,” Aaron relented. “Look, I really didn’t mean to spy—“he stopped. “That’s not true. I just wanted to, I don’t know.”

John sighed, “we really aren’t dating, you know. We seriously just met,” he shot a look to Alexander, a smirk on his face for only a second. “You know, officially.” He chuckled, breaking the tension in the way Alexander had noticed John had mastered, “isn’t that right, ‘featureless blob named Alex’?”

Alexander snickered, “that’s true, Mr. Cubist painting.” He took in Aaron’s confused expression, “We’ll explain later,” he promised. “When we can. For now, we need to look like model campers so they don’t get suspicious.”

“Yeah, probably a good plan. Wanna join me and Jodie in the art building? They’ve gendered everything,” he rolled his eyes, before sighing and fastening the bow lopsidedly into his hair, “so you’d end up building chairs or something, but hey, beats Bible study.”

“That it does,” John smiled.

The three began walking toward the art building, Alexander trailing slightly behind the two seasoned campers. “Yo, wait, who’s Jodie?”

Aaron spun to face him, walking backwards, “The girl with the red hair? Keeps playing with this stupid thing,” he gestured to the bow. “She’s a nice person, promise. She has a habit of talking without thinking sometimes.”

“So does he,” John said with a laugh.

“Shush.” Alexander scowled. “So her name’s Jodie then,” he shrugged, “I’ve just been callin’ her Red.”

“Like to her face?”

“No, course not. Just, in my own personal monologue,” he said, tapping his temple with his index finger.

“That’s good,” Aaron nodded. “I might just start calling her Red. At least until I can leave this place.” His joking demeanor took on something sadder. “I can’t go with you, can I.” It wasn’t a question, he already knew.

“Aaron I—“Alexander started, but Aaron’s raised hand silenced him.

“No it’s okay, I get it. It’s a two-person escape plan.” Aaron drooped, but quickly straightened his shoulders again. “I want to help you.”

“No way.” Aaron helping them escape almost certainly meant he’d be sent to the Room. It may make their escape attempt more dangerous, but if it meant keeping Aaron safe, so be it.

“Why not? Red and I—“ Aaron started, Jodie’s codename already slipping into place.

No,” Alexander stressed. “Aaron, listen, I know you trust her. But, you’ve got to know that if she found out about our—“ he stopped, a red coat glistening in the distance. “she’d rat us out.”

“She’d never do that to me.”

“Except this isn’t you Aaron. This is me and John. Think about it. Say we get in trouble, you’d get in the same amount if you got caught helping us, so what do you think Red’ll do?” Aaron had to understand.

He did. Aaron stopped walking. “She’d protect me.”

“Which means?” Alexander prompted.

“She’d… rat you out.”

Alexander nodded. “I’m sorry, but she can’t know anything about this. We didn’t want you to know for fear of you somehow getting caught in the crossfire.”

Aaron looked like he had more to say, but he held his tongue. They approached the building kitty-corner from the food hall, apparently the art building, and John grabbed the door, holding it open for Aaron. “Here you are, uh, Rin.” John said awkwardly, mouthing sorry at the boy as he walked through.

“Why thank you, Jack,” Aaron said, his voice lilting up into—what Alexander assumed—its natural register. He curtsied with a giggle, making everyone uncomfortable. Except, of course, the woman in the glaring red coat in the back of the long room. She beamed, her too-white teeth almost refracting light like diamonds.

“Ah! Katherine! You decided to join us after all!” chirped the red coat, her hand waving Aaron over. “Jodie here said she didn’t know where you wandered off to. We were getting worried,” she continued, her tone sinking into some more suspicious, her eyes flicking over to John and Alexander for a moment.  

“Oh! I thought I told you Jodie, I’m sorry. I went out to the labyrinth. Thought a walk-through would,” he contemplated the words. Aaron had a bad taste in his mouth, Alexander could tell, “reassure me of God’s presence.”

The red coat nodded, “And did it?” she prompted.

Aaron nodded. “Yeah, I think so. And I happened to bump into Jack and Alexander there. Jack was showing him around, you know, since he’s new here?” he lied, tugging at the fabric of his skirt. “I know they’re boys,” Alexander cringed, how Aaron must feel to exclude himself… it must be awful, “but they can join us, right Mary?”

The red coat—Mary—paused for a while before nodding. “I think we can find something they can do. Something more manly than sewing, for sure,” she laughed. Judging by the look they shared, John must have been thinking about Hercules as well. How would Acolyte react to a guy built like Hercules making dresses for a living? Alexander bit back laughter. How he wished to see that. “Oh! We can get you working on the chairs or the table. The woodworking bit is almost done, but we need someone to detail them. Either of you boys work with wood burning tools before?” She asked, her tone friendly. It was a shame, if they had met anywhere else, Alexander felt he would’ve gotten along with her. But her employment there was enough to tell him that she couldn’t be trusted.

“Well, I don’t know about Alex, but I haven’t. Can’t be that hard though, right? I could probably figure it out,” John tried to shrug nonchalantly, but Alexander could see his excitement in the twitches of his fingers. “What do you want me to draw on there?”

Mary shrugged. “Well, they’re Adirondack chairs, so I’d say something woodsy,” she contemplated. “Well, why don’t you sketch out a design on paper and then I’ll give it the okay. How’s that sound?”

John beamed. “Perfect.” Alexander couldn’t help but return the infectious grin. For once, someone in this camp is letting him draw—something this camp has deemed as feminine, judging by the cluster of sketchbooks being placed by the embroidery hoops—without any fear of repercussion.

“And you?” Mary asked Alexander.

“Oh, I’m not much of an artist,” he said with forced laughter. “You said there was still some woodworking to be done, yeah? Like what?”

Mary smiled, “A real man’s man, huh.” She bit her tongue, “Oops. Probably not the best choice of words for you, eh Leviticus?” she giggled. Alexander’s smile fell. She coughed. “Right, well, there’s still some sanding to do, smooth the edges on the table legs, that kind of thing. Sandpapers behind the works-in-progress. Have at it.” Alexander nodded, separating from John and walking over to the “male” half of the large hall while John went with Aaron to the “female” half to gather supplies. As they crossed the room, the supply cabinet was closed, revealing a woman who had previously been concealed from view. She was unconventionally pretty, Alexander noted, her ink black hair braided into a bun, her straight, almost aquiline nose was prominent, as were her strong cheekbones, and it was exactly the combination of those features that made her face so interesting. She flicked a nervous glance over to Alexander and John, her dark eyes relaxing ever so slightly when she, assumedly, didn’t recognize them. “Oh, ignore her, Alexander. She’s under a vow of silence for the foreseeable future. After all, she’s broken one of the 10 commandments. Isn’t that right, adulterer?”

The woman stared indignantly for a moment, before shriveling under Mary’s gaze and nodding. At that comment, Alexander’s view of Mary shifted. ‘Adultery,’ was the only reason he existed. If it wasn’t for his mother leaving her first husband, he wouldn’t be alive. He grabbed the sandpaper from the table, grasping it in his fist and relishing in the sensation of the grit digging into his skin. The other woman turned to him, eyes flickering to his closed fist. She gave a minute shake of her head. Alexander forced his hand open.  She was right, if he spoke out, he’d only make it worse. And he and John were almost gone. He couldn’t risk anything now. Not when they were so close. Sorry, Mamá.

“It’s unbelievable really. We’re supposed to be a good influence on these kids, and you go and start an affair. How disgusting. He’s a child.

Wait. Alexander did his best to pretend he wasn’t listening, casting a look John’s way. John stared back, mildly horrified at what he had overheard. He hadn’t made the connection Alexander had. Maybe John didn’t know the details that he knew.

“Honestly, it’s revolting, you’re lucky you’re too old to be a camper yourself—“ Mary bit her tongue and looked back to see three sets of wide eyes and the calculating gaze of one Alexander Hamilton. “Sorry guys and girls!” Mary chirped, waving her hand, “Now’s not the time for that! She’ll just be doing her work, and I should take my own advice,” she laughed. “Now Katherine, Jodie, we’re embroidering today, yeah?”

“I mean, I guess,” said Aaron.

Mary clicked her tongue, “Now now. Katherine, that attitude is completely unnecessary…” Mary started prattling off to Aaron and Red, the two preteens looking about as bored as expected.

Alexander tuned her out, once again turning to the other woman, who was tugging at the red jacket in discomfort. He sanded away at the table leg, his eyes flickering between the woman and John. John nodded. There was a quiet snapping noise, and a pause in the sound as John swore under his breath. “Hey Alex? Do me a favor and grab me a pencil? I’m pretty sure they’re in that cabinet over there.”

Mary went to stop him, but John called her over, asking about different animals to go on the chairs. Alexander smiled as he stood. Bless John Laurens.

He walked down the middle of the main hall, approaching the cabinet where the woman stayed standing. Upon his approach, she handed him a pencil for John, a tight-lipped smile on her face. “Thank you… Theo, right?” The smile fell, her eyes wide. Now that he was closer to her, he could see the blue mottling of a fresh bruise right under her throat. It was small, but concise, not the sloppy shape of a bruise a person could get accidentally. Alexander lowered his voice down as low as physically possible, listening as Aaron began to talk too loudly to Red, providing more distractions for Mary. He made a mental note to thank him later too. “You know he’s here, right? I’m assuming your husband works here then.”

Theo nodded, her eyes watery. She went to speak, but Alexander shushed her. “It’s okay. Burr told me. You’re soulmates, aren’t you?” Another nod. Her eyes flickered up to study Mary for a moment. “I know you didn’t… you know.” Theo nodded again, relief in her watery gaze.

<<Alex. Remember why you’re here.>>

“We’ll be in touch,” Alexander concluded with a nod, hoping she could see the determination he felt. Judging by her vehement nod, she did. He crossed back to John, handing him the new pencil, his grip on the utensil lasting just a moment too long. We have a new development.

“Thanks Alex,” John said, not alluding to anything that had just occurred.  Alexander only nodded, leaning over to look at the sketch. “oh, it’s just a pattern for the chairs, it’s not like, detailed or anything,” he said bashfully, starting to cover the page with his hand but stopping himself, allowing Alexander a clear view.

“This goes across the back of the chair, right?  Like, where your shoulders go?” An entire forest scene stretched out in front of him, each part highlighting different animals. Obviously the sketch wasn’t finished, but based off the books of forest life in front of him, a buck was going to join the bear and moose already on the paper. “Have you ever drawn a moose before?”

“No? Why? Is it bad?” John’s eyes flickered over to the paper, scrutinizing the graphite and paper beast.

“No! No, it’s really good. I was wondering if you had ever drawn moose for your friend’s project too,” he reassured with a laugh.

“Oh,” John chuckled. “Yeah, no. First go.” He paused, “but actually, I was thinking… each chair gets a different piece of the scene, right, and then, with a round table, you can do the whole thing across the edge,” he crossed over to the where the tabletop had been placed, running his fingers across the outermost edge. “Thought it’d be more cohesive that way.”

Mary, who had been pulled from her riveting talk of embroidery with Aaron and Red turned, looking at the design. “Oh this is just lovely! Now, how about you take the scrap pieces in the corner and practice with the burner, okay?” She glanced at her watch, “We obviously can’t do all this today, you guys have group, after all. “But if you want to come back tomorrow?” she asked, hope in her gaze. John looked to Alexander, who relented with a nod. They still had another day. John smiled, before nodding at Mary. “Great! The burning tools are over there, you’re older, so I hope I can trust you to not burn yourself.”

“I think I’ll be okay,” John laughed.

The two of them worked for the next few hours; Alexander was surprised to see himself relax, even joking around with John while he worked. About half an hour into it, John felt comfortable enough with the burning tool to start carving into the wood of the table top. At that point, Alexander became more of an observer than an active participant.  Mary attempted to make him do something else, but John was quick to rescue him, saying he felt more comfortable having a second set of eyes. Mary narrowed her gaze for a moment, but said nothing. As John finished tracing in the outline of the bear into the table (he opted not to shade with the burn tool, instead Mary had agreed to paint it with wood stain during group) a loud clanging noise rippled through the center of camp. Alexander jumped at the noise, making the other campers laugh. “Time’s up. Off to main group. Then lunch,” he informed Alexander. “See you tomorrow, Mary.”

Mary was already pulling out the stains, Theo pushed to the side. “See you tomorrow Jack!”

Alexander made eye contact with Theo, sharing a nod. See you tomorrow. Aaron and Red left the room first, more so under the influence of Red pulling him than Aaron wanting to leave. Alexander could see that Aaron wanted to talk to him and John. But Alexander had to tell John the update. The meadow was directly on the other side of the path, limiting his opportunity. He’d have to tell John later.

King George was already standing in the middle of the field. The loud clanging continued, it turned out to be a large brass bell hanging from the roof of the dining hall; Seabury stood on the porch, slamming the hammer into the walls of the bell. Alexander cringed, memories of the panic that last accompanied a similar noise. John seemed to have noticed the change, leaning over to nudge their shoulders but stopping before they met, opting instead for tapping his shoulder with a finger. “You good?”

“I will be, when Seabury stops ringing the damn bell.” Alexander gritted his teeth, continuing his march forward. John gave him a concerned look, but not pressing it. Alexander didn’t recall Seabury ringing that atrocious calamity-maker the night before. Alexander turned, noticing Burr on the other side of the circle. For a moment, he contemplated telling him about Theo. Surely he didn’t know she was here. How else would he be so complacent about the situation? Surely knowing that Theo was here would build the fire Alexander was positive Burr had. Somewhere. He could feel it. He hated using the woman he had just met as a catalyst, but it might be nice to have Burr on their side.

Whether it be for selfish or selfless reasons, he wasn’t certain.

“Come on, come on, we don’t have all day!” King George sang as the campers all gathered around in various stages of dismay. “Come on, don’t be shy!” Soon enough, the campers had all clustered around the man in the ridiculous red coat, sitting on the cold ground. “Now, today, we’re going to do something similar to what we did yesterday—“

“And every other day,” John mumbled under his breath, making Alexander snicker.

King George focused on them like a hawk watching its prey.  “Well, you two seem to have gotten close,” he clicked his tongue, “Not too close, I hope.”

Alexander grumbled, clenching his teeth in fear of doing something too reckless. But dear Lord did he wasn’t to do something reckless.

<<Alex. Don’t do anything you’ll regret. You’re almost home.>> Home.

George was right. Doing something reckless like kissing John in front of King George would be bad for everyone involved. Even if it would make George’s face match that gaudy coat he always wore. Alexander screwed up his face in confusion at his own thoughts. Why were all his reckless thoughts about kissing people? He had to stop doing that.

King George took Alexander’s expression as an answer, nodding with a slightly deranged smile, “good. Jack was showing such improvement during meditation, after all. Wouldn’t want that to go to waste.” John sat rigid at Alexander’s side, his slightly trembling hands the only thing moving. Alexander was at war with himself. Half of him was focused on trying to comfort and reassure John without physical contact—Alexander knew that would only do more harm than good—and the other half was burning with rage. How can King George dangle the memories of the Room over John’s head? Remind him of the torture he put John through?

“Careful little Alex, keep looking at me like that and you might have to do some private mediation yourself,” King George warned.

“Alex. Don’t.” John managed, seemingly struggling to get the words out. Alexander managed to tear his burning gaze from the King, making eye contact with Burr for only a moment.

He saw it. It was fleeting, fading into embers as quickly as it had ignited, but that fire Alexander had been searching for in Burr—it yearned for freedom, ready to burn. And dammit, Alexander was going to fan the flame.  

He couldn’t help the smile that appeared on his face, before he quickly dropped it to avoid suspicion, looking to the ground in what he hoped looked like submission. King George chuckled. “Glad to see we’re on the same page.”

Alexander smirked at the ground, rebellion flaring up in his belly. Just you wait.

Lunch was, interesting to say the least. Their little group had grown by two, Aaron and a much less enthusiastic Red sat with them, the group of girls once again sitting on the other end of the table, gossiping away. They talked about menial things for a time; Alexander had sat on the other side than he had at breakfast, his observant gaze constantly scanning the room in front of him. “Hey, I need to talk to Aaron.”

“What about?”

Alexander shook his head, “Sorry, other Aaron. Bald Aaron.” Surprisingly, Red snorted.

“Still, what about? That Aaron’s pretty… closed off,” Aaron continued. His eyes widened, flickering to Red for a moment.

Alexander nodded. “Something he talked to me about when I first got here.”

“Yesterday.”

“Unimportant.”

John studied his face for a moment. “Is this about what I think it’s about?”

Alexander shrugged, not immediately understanding the silent addition to the question for the—what he thought to be anyway—first time since meeting him. “Maybe? Hell if I know,” he thought back to the way he caught John’s gaze flickering back to him and Theo while he was distracting Mary, “Actually, yeah. Probably.”

Red narrowed her eyes, a common thing for her, apparently, “Oh hey, why were you talking to the adulterer for so long?” she asked, leaning her face on her hand.

Alexander returned her glare, “Why do you feel the need to call her that?” His voice contained more malice than he intended as he couldn’t help the image of his mother from appearing in his mind.

At the very least, Red had the humanity to look ashamed. “Sorry.” She hung her head, “I know I sound just like them.”

“Then why do you talk like that?” Alexander lowered his voice, “Do you really think this camp is helping you?”

<<Alexander. You need to calm down.>> Alexander huffed, scratching at his chest with the sole purpose of ruffling the mic. They should’ve never sent a Hamilton on a spy mission. Not when the rebellion would be so easy to lead. <<Son. I know you’re upset. But being reckless is probably the worst thing you can do right now.>> Alexander stared indignantly at John, knowing the expression wouldn’t be misconstrued to be directed at him. He was hardly being reckless! Recklessness was his earlier thought. Kissing John would’ve been reckless. Kissing Elizabeth was reckless. This was calculated, every bit of it.

Red looked upset; Aaron patted her shoulder. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “To be honest, I’m not even sure why I’m here.”

“What?” Alexander and John hissed.

Red sighed, “My soulmate’s a boy. He’s nice and all, but I’m pretty sure we’re just supposed to be friends. But when I told Mom, she told Dad, and they sent me here.”

Alexander frowned, “That doesn’t make sense.”

Aaron frowned deeper. “He’s rich. Jodie forgot to mention that part.”

John’s eyes widened. “No,” he whispered. “It’s just like Jemmy.” Upon the familiar name, Alexander focused more of his attention to him. “His soulmate was…” he bit his lip. “Less, uh, well, less wealthy. Than we were, I mean. So when she and Jem became really close friends, but with a pretty obvious lack of anything more—because they were children, but that’s a different story—Alice’s parents tried to, coerce her, into falling in love with him.” He paused. “And when the accident happened… her mother tried to get the tattoo artist to falsify his last message.”

What?!” The other three exclaimed.

“She thought if the artist would tattoo a love confession instead of the real message,” John eyes watered, thinking back to his little brother and the apparent drama that occurred after the tragedy. “we would’ve still taken her in as a Laurens.” Alexander gasped. After a moment, John realized his mistake.

“Wait, Laurens? Like Senator Laurens?!” Aaron asked, spitting out the name.

John’s shoulders drooped, “…yeah,” he whispered, his voice broken. “I’m his son.”

“No way,” Aaron exclaimed. “But you’re so nice.

John barked out a laugh, relief coloring its warm tones. “Well, thanks.”

“So wait, the Senator sent his son here? It’s not about ‘protecting religious freedom or whatever—“ Red started, before she stumbled on the next word.

“Bullshit?” Alexander prompted.

“—that he’s been spewing?” Red finished, using Alexander’s interruption as the replacement for the word.

John nodded. “Pretty much, yeah. He’s sent me here a few times,” John suddenly couldn’t make eye contact, wringing his hands as he focused on them. Alexander began to suspect that the atrocities that he had been told were only the tip of the iceberg. John would tell him with time. He hoped.

“There’s bald Aaron,” Aaron whispered, fearful to break the silence that lingered after John’s words. Alexander perked up, scanning until he saw Burr heading toward one of the red coats.

“Ah!” Alexander turned back to Aaron, “thanks Aaron, I—“ he paused, distracted by the way the light overhead shined on the boy’s face. “I never noticed you had freckles before,” Alexander quipped, a complete non-sequitur. Certainly they weren’t as prominent as John’s, but they were definitely there, speckling in a sparse cluster across his wide nose.

The small blush on Aaron’s cheeks accentuated them though. “Oh? Well yeah, I mean. Most of Mom’s family is Polynesian, but my dad’s is about as pasty as you can get,” he chuckled. “Guess I inherited his side a little more than I thought.” He idly rubbed at the darkest cluster on the bridge of his nose, only a shade or two darker than his light tan skin.

“They’re cute,” Alexander stated, “I’ve always been a fan of freckles,” he finished with a smile as he stood. It was true. Even as a child, Alexander was always drawn to his freckled companions. He found them fascinating, each speckled face covered in a myriad of colors and patterns. “Alright, I’m off, be back in a second.”  He stood from the table and crossed the room, not noticing the two burning faces in his wake.

“Aaron, can I talk to you for a second?” Alexander tapped Burr on the shoulder, pulling him from his conversation with the red coat.

“Actually, I needed someone to walk with me back to the cabins for a second anyway,” Burr shrugged, looking to the red coat. Alexander vaguely noticed that they were male, judging by the rumble of a response Burr received. Burr gestured to the door, Alexander following close behind. He turned and waved at John, Aaron and Red, letting them know he was leaving.

John narrowed his eyes, a visibly conflicted expression on his face. But he said nothing, letting Alexander slip through the door.

Burr said nothing for a while, the two of them staying silent as they left the main campground. “Okay. What do you need?” Burr asked, his tone civil.

Alexander’s eye twitched in annoyance. “Burr—“

“Don’t call me that.”

“Aaron. I know you think you need to get over Theo.” Alexander relented, calling him his first name before jumping straight to the point.

“Yes?”

“I don’t think you should. If you love this woman, go get her,” Alexander suddenly couldn’t tell him right away. Burr was flighty. He had to ease him into this.

“You think I don’t want to? She writes me every day Alexander.” He pulled his sleeve up, revealing messages spattered up and down his skin in light tan. “She uses her makeup, so he can’t see.” Burr frowned. “I want to…” he paused, “but I can’t. She’s happily married.”

“She’s not,” Alexander interrupted.

Burr stopped in his tracks, Alexander stuttering to a stop a step or two ahead of him. “What do you mean?” He said suspiciously, dark eyes narrowed.

“Burr, she’s here.” Alexander blurted. Way to ease him into it.

“You’re lying.”

“Why would I lie about that?” Alexander exclaimed.

“Why wouldn’t you?” Burr countered.

“I don’t know, because I’m not an asshole?!” Alexander fired back, his irritation growing, “do you really think so little of me?”

Burr’s face seemed to soften at that. “No, I… I consider you a…friend, of sorts.” Burr forced himself to start walking again, visibly uncomfortable. “But if she was here, why wouldn’t she tell me? She knows I’m here. We’d still see each other.”

Alexander’s shoulders drooped. “I think she’s being abused.”

Burr’s eyebrows furrowed, and again, a fleeting spark lit his gaze. “What do you mean.” There was no lilt at the end of the statement. It was a demand, not a question.

Alexander heard George grumble, but he said nothing, so Alexander pressed on, “I was with John—er, Jack—in the art building. She’s in there. They’re forcing her into a vow of silence for—“

“Because of me.”

“No! Well, kinda. Okay yeah, but that’s beside the point. Actually, why would they let her be here too? If they’re so worried about the two of you, wouldn’t they keep here as far from you as possible? Where’s the practicality—“

“Alexander. Talk—“

“less. I know I know. God, Burr.”

“Don’t—“

“Call you that. I know. Jesus.” Alexander remarked. “The point was, I saw her, then overheard one of the redcoats—er, staff,” Alexander’s nicknames were starting to bleed into his verbal speech, he had to keep an eye on that, “call her an adulterer, so I figured that was probably Theo. So I approached her, Joh-Jack distracted whats-her-face,” he paused, “Mary. Her name was Mary.”

“Alexander,” Burr spoke through his teeth, visibly annoyed.

“Right, unimportant. Anyway, when I went over to her, I noticed… a bruise. Right here.” Alexander pointed between his collar bones, directly above the mic. “It was too clean to be accidental, Aaron. Too deliberate.”

“No.” Burr shook his head. “He promised.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Her husband. When they sent me here. He promised that nothing bad would happen to Theo.”

“Yeah, well. He lied.”

<<Alexander. You could be more sensitive.>> Alexander could hear George trying not to laugh at his responses.  He couldn’t help it. Alexander liked Burr well enough, he was a friend. But Alexander had never met someone who could frustrate him so quickly.

“So, what do you want to do?” Alexander prompted. Come on Burr, grow a spine. Alexander waited for him to agree to fight back. Protect Theo. Shut down Acolyte. This was it. This was the start of the revolution. This was—

“I’m going to wait.”

“I’m sorry what?”

“Alexander, I see what you’re trying to do. I knew your little backstory didn’t add up.” Burr opened a cabin door, ushering Alexander inside. “But until I see Theodosia myself, I want no part in your plan.”

“Sooo, if I help you see Theo, you’ll help us fight Acolyte?”

Burr’s eyebrows shot up, “Is that your plan?”

Shit. “Is that not what you thought it was?”

<<Alexander. What happened to secrecy?>> George’s voice oozed frustration.

“No. But yes. If what you say is true, and this place really is hurting Theo. I’ll help you.”

“Deal?” Alexander stuck out his hand.

Burr gripped it tightly in his own.  “Deal.”

Chapter Text

The promise made, Alexander and Burr trekked back to the center of camp, whatever Burr needed shoved in his coat pocket. Alexander was already planning the Burr/Theo reunion. In theory, it should be easy. “Yo, hang on. I think my watch fell off in the art building,” Alexander said loudly enough for the redcoats around to hear. He gripped at his wrist to sell his lie, “You wanna come help me look for it?” He prompted Burr, “It’d go faster with another set of eyes.”

Burr made a show of contemplating the idea, for someone who tried so hard to fake impartiality, he wasn’t a very good actor. “You’re probably right. Yeah, let’s go,” Burr said after a moment.

Alexander glanced over to the red coats, they were all shrugging to each other, turning their backs one by one. Once their backs were turned, Alexander let the smirk show on his face. This was it.

The two crossed into the art building, Mary stood over the table, a paintbrush in hand as she colored in the bear John had etched earlier. “Oh! Alex! What are you—“ her eyes flickered to Burr. “—you can’t be here.”

“Mary, I’m pretty sure I had my watch on when I came in here, but it’s gone. Aaron was going to help me look for it.”

She stood, squaring her shoulders. “Well, he can go back to the main hall, I’ll help you find it instead.” She tried to smile, conflicting with the malice in her tone.

Alexander feigned innocence, “Mary, what’s the matter? Why are you upset?”

“Aaron can’t be in here.” She repeated.

“Why?”

“He’s not allowed.”

Burr seemed at odds with himself, but he spoke up, “Did I do something wrong?” He asked, his jaw squared. He was poking the bear, getting her agitated. Alexander smiled to himself. He knew Burr was a good addition to the team. There was a quiet gasp from the back of the room, Theo once again hidden behind the art cabinet.

“Actually, that other woman’s supposed to sweep and put stuff away, right? Aaron and I can just ask—“

No!” Mary roared. “There was no watch in here, and he can’t see her!” As though in a teen drama, Mary’s hands flew to her own lips, silencing herself. Alexander tilted his head, celebrating in his mind. Checkmate.

“She’s just staff, right? What’s the problem?” Alexander asked, trying to stifle the confidence in his voice. “Oh, and is she okay? I noticed she had a bruise earlier, she must’ve bumped into a cabinet pretty hard, huh? Pretty clumsy, right?” Alexander kept his tone light, laughing a little as though he had told a joke.

Mary’s gaze hardened. “Why are you really here, Alexander. You didn’t have a watch.”

Alexander held his hands up, “Alright, you got me. There’s no watch.” Burr’s eyes flew open wide as he stared at Alexander in disbelief. He’d have to apologize to Burr when they got home. How? He didn’t know. But he’d try. “Yeah, sorry Aaron. I lied. To be honest, I wanted to see how the staining was coming out. Jack’s design was so good, I wanted to see if it was coming out the way he had planned it. I figured if I told you I was looking for something, you’d let me over to get a good look at the table before you shooed me away,” he hung his head as if in shame, managing to wink at Burr. Hopefully Burr could tell even though he only saw one of Alexander’s eyes.

Mary seemed to soften, just a tad. “You could’ve just said so and I would’ve showed you. But Aaron, you really shouldn’t be here.”

Burr bit his lip. “Can I see this table before I go? Alexander and Jack have been talking about it the entirety of lunch, I’m afraid it has piqued my curiosity.” Alexander perked up. If he stood at the table, he could see Theo. Genius. Maybe he had underestimated Burr’s acting ability after all.

Mary seemed conflicted. “It’s not even close to completion, there’s not much to look at,” she tried.

“But you just stained the bear, right?” Alexander asked. “Please?  Just quick look and we’ll get out of your hair. Promise.”

Mary huffed, defeat clear on her face. “Fine. One peek. Then out.” She must not have made the same connection.

“Thanks Mary,” Alexander tried to give her a thousand-watt smile. She huffed again, but nodded. The two teens crossed over to the table, Alexander idly touching some of the detailing John had managed to carve before the ghastly bell rang.

He heard Burr gasp. He saw Theo. “Jack drew this?” he tried. “I didn’t know he was artsy.” His gaze flickered to Theo again. Alexander followed; she made eye contact and offered small smile once she was certain Mary wouldn’t see.

“Yeah he’s very talented, I must say. Shame.” Mary said. “Alright, there’s your sneak preview, now off you get.”

“Alright, alright. Fine. We’re off. Thanks again Mary.”

“Do me a favor and don’t let George see you in here. He’ll have my head.”

Alexander turned on his heel, offering a small salute. Mary scoffed, turning back to the can of wood stain. Burr’s gaze drifted back to the cabinet, Theo once again hidden by its door. Alexander grabbed his sleeve, tugging him out of the building.

Burr was quiet. Alexander let him go the moment they were outside—the last thing he needed was a red coat thinking he was holding Burr’s hand or some nonsense like that. “Hey, are you…” Woah.

The fire blazed.

 

Soon enough, Alexander was back with John and Aaron, Burr off to do… whatever it was that Burr did, a girl around Aaron and Red’s age trailing behind him.

John’s gaze followed Burr for a moment, the stormy expression still on his face. “Hey, Alex. We have an afternoon activity slot before small group. We have to do something outside this time though,” before Alexander could respond, John shrugged, “those are the rules, I don’t get it either.” Alexander could tell that John was itching to return to the table, his art was calling out to him. Alexander made a mental note to sacrifice one of his notebooks, John needed a creative outlet just as much as Alexander did, it seemed. “Any ideas?” He opened the conversation up to Aaron and Red, his face still trained on Alexander’s.

“There’s…” Aaron trailed off. “Oh wait, you can’t.” He furrowed his brows. “Wait, we have water stuff now! There’s the little man-made lake at the end of the property, on the other side of the chapel. We could go canoeing or something.”

Alexander stared at the younger boy. “A man-made lake? For Acolyte?”

Aaron nodded. “Yeah,” his shoulders slumped as he looked at John, “it got uh..”

“A hearty donation by the Republican Party. A solid chunk being from a specific senator of South Carolina and his family.”  John sighed.

No,” Alexander blanched.

“The people of South Carolina think I’m this bad kid. My father is claiming that Acolyte is helping me become a better person. And they’re buying it. People are donating to this place in droves.” Alexander didn’t think John could’ve made himself any smaller, and yet, somehow he managed to. “I made the mistake of getting into a fight defending a friend of mine—racism is still thriving in the South, unfortunately—and my father turned me into this violent kid when the paparazzi found out that I was his son. Said I ‘wasn’t the same after the death of our dear James,” John spat out, his accent thick as he imitated his father. His voice was raising in volume, Alexander reached over and touched his wrist. John. Not here.  John made eye contact before taking a deep breath and slumping forward. “He never bothered to tell the people that I had been here three times before then.”

“Three times?” Red squeaked, her voice low.

John nodded. “Still no change either,” he spat out, his voice slightly hysterical. “I’m still gay.” Alexander’s heart ached. “This place doesn’t work, Red. You know it, I know it. We all do. Except maybe Aaron,” he added, gesturing in the direction in which Burr was last seen.

Red leaned forward, not acknowledging the nickname. Her voice was barely audible as she whispered, “So what do we do?”

John looked at Alexander again before he leaned in, “You behave. Make it look like whatever they did was working, they’ll let you go. And then we fight. We get loud, make it impossible for them to ignore. And we shut places like this down.”

“Promise us,” Alexander continued, staring directly at Aaron, “No matter what happens. You don’t fight until you get out.”

<<This is so much more than a rescue mission, Alexander.>> He was scolding Alexander for straying from the plan, but Alexander can hear the pride in his voice. No matter how badly George was trying to fight it.

“Why are you talking like that?” Red asked.

Alexander glanced up, making eye contact with Elizabeth the kitchen girl. He shushed them, keeping eye contact with her. She blinked slowly, turning her back and walking in the other direction. “Not now.”

“Canoeing?” Aaron asked. “You can fill us in then.”

Alexander nodded.

<<Alex. Your earpiece is water-proof, but the microphone is not. I won’t be able to help you in the water. Go, since this is the new plan, I guess>> George said sarcastically, <<But you’ll be on your own. Make sure anything you don’t want King George to find is hidden well. They’re more likely to search your cabin if you’re physically unable to return.>>    

Alexander gasped, the quick intake alluding to the anxiety that prickled in his veins. Burying the mic in his bag whilst still in the cabin was one thing. But this different. This is dangerous. If he wasn’t careful, the mic would be found, he would go to the Room for sure. His journal. The last thing he needed was that section of his journal getting into the hands of King George. But where could he put it?

<<You’re smart, son. You’ll be alright. Just, fill me in as soon as you get back.>> George’s kind words put Alexander at ease, at least a little. George still had faith in him, even after straying so far from the original plan. So he should have more faith in himself.

“Yeah. Okay. John. I have to run back to the cabins first.”

John nodded. “Yeah. Let’s go now, we’ll meet you at the lake.”

Aaron beamed. “Okay!”

The two stood, leaving the preteens at the table and crossed to the same red coat Burr had spoken to only a short while before. “Hey, Jack and I have to go back to the cabin before we do the afternoon activity thing,” Alexander said awkwardly.

The red coat narrowed his eyes, “Just the two of you?”

“Yes?” Alexander mirrored his expression. They had gone back to the cabins alone before, what was the issue now?

 The red coat shook his head. “George told us not to let you two wander off alone anymore, Leviticus,” the man sneered the cabin name in disgust. “You need someone else to accompany you.”

Alexander felt a retort burn red-hot on his tongue. Was he for real? He went to spit out a reply when John spoke, “Does Aaron work?” It took Alexander a moment for him to realize John meant Burr.

The older man huffed. “Doesn’t matter. If you can find him. He ran off with some girl a while ago.”

John nodded, “Okay. C’mon Alex. Let’s go find him first.” John went to grab Alexander’s wrist, and hesitated, his hand hovering for a moment before falling to his side, gesturing with his head instead. The red coat’s locked on to the movement, a snarl curling onto his face.

“This is bullshit and you know it,” Alexander hissed once they were out of earshot.

“I know,” John replied, “But that’s Acolyte for you. To be honest, I’m surprised they don’t think we’re going to ‘convert’ Aaron or some nonsense.”

“True. Frankly if they let use bring a ‘girl’ we could just grab Aaron.” Alexander sighed, a long exhale through his nose, “Little Aaron. Listen, I know we aren’t supposed to use last names, but can we just call Older Aaron ‘Burr’? This is getting obnoxious.”

John stared at him, “How do you know his last name?” he asked incredulously.

Alexander shrugged, tapping his temple with a finger, “I read an article about him a while ago. Remembered his face.”

“Why was there an article about Aaron?” Alexander shot him a look, “Burr?” John corrected.

Alexander hesitated. “That’s… Well the article was more about his parents, really.”

John only nodded. “I suppose it doesn’t matter.” He glanced around, spotting Burr and the preteen girl coming from around the corner. “Hey, what did you guys talk about earlier? Where did you go?”

Alexander shrugged, “back to the cabins for a second. Burr had to grab something.” Alexander chewed on his lower lip, they were in the thick of the main hall at that point, red coats dotted through. “What we spoke about doesn’t… really matter.” He shrugged. John narrowed his eyes.

“Are you sure? You were really adamant to talk to him. I just…” John paused, “I don’t know. I mean. Whatever. Yeah. If it was that important, you’d tell me, right?”

Guilt gnawed at Alexander. “Of course. I… I’ll tell you later,” he relented.

“Okay,” John nodded, gesturing to Burr with his head. “Go ask him. He likes you better.”

Alexander’s step stuttered for a second. There was something in John’s tone. “John, are you alright?”

“Yeah, totally fine, now, go talk to Aar-“ he sighed, “Burr.” He smiled, a forced, ugly thing completely devoid of any of the light that belonged there. Alexander frowned, but nodded anyway. Later.

“Yeah, okay.” Alexander crossed the room to Burr, who had an uncharacteristically paternal grin on his face as he spoke to the young girl. “Yo, Aaron, Jack and I need to steal you again.”

The girl stared at Alexander as though fireworks were firing around him, her deep brown eyes wide with wonder. Upon further inspection, Alexander realized she was in the group that he snapped at earlier that morning. “Oh. You busy? I mean, not too many guys talk to us so we probably can’t get anyone else, but we could probably wait a few more minutes—” he said awkwardly, trying not to make eye contact with the girl and her curiosity-glittered stare.

“Can’t you two go alone?”

“They won’t let us. Decided we got too close to wander around unchaperoned,” Alexander rolled his eyes.

“You sleep in the same cabin.”

Thank you.”

Burr huffed, looking to the young girl again. “I suppose I have to go for now. I’d love to accompany you and your friends on the trails. After all, I suppose I owe you.” He winked, making the girl giggle. Alexander wanted to throw up.

As they left her side, Alexander leaned in to whisper, “If I ever see you wink again, I’ll barf.”

“Ha. Ha.” Burr deadpanned. “They really won’t let you and Jack walk back to the cabins?”

He shook his head. “Apparently not. We got stopped just now. King George’s orders, I guess.”

“Are they suspicious?” Burr’s face took on a different expression. Right. Any risk on his and John’s part is a risk on Burr’s life. And Aaron’s. Maybe Red’s by association. Alexander deflated for a moment. If only they could all escape together.

“No. I don’t think so. I think they think that John and I are in-” he stopped himself. “enamored with each other.”

“Can you blame them?”

“Excuse me?”

Burr paused, John walking over to join them and standing on Alexander’s right side, their shoulders not touching, but only barely. John kept his gaze on Burr, shoulders squared, chin up. Alexander paused, glancing between the two of them. The dynamic was so odd, a strange tension filling the air that Alexander could only define as distrust. They were close enough only a few days ago. Maybe not friends, but definitely not this. Burr raised his brow with a look to Alexander. See? His facial expression read. Alexander’s face screwed up in confusion.

“Let’s go,” said John. “Hey Aaron,” he added as an afterthought.

If Burr was bothered by it, it didn’t show. “Jack,” he replied, following along as they crossed back toward the cabin area. “Did you tell him?” Burr prompted Alexander once they were out of earshot again.

“Tell me what?” John said, his voice low.

“No,” Alexander answered Burr.

“Tell me what.

Burr raised a brow, “Really? I thought for sure you would’ve the second you figured it out.”

What?!”

Alexander focused on Burr. “C’mon. Ye of little faith.”

ALEX.”

What?” John’s expression tore at Alexander. “Oh God, sorry John.” Alexander glanced at Burr, who, after his eyes widened in surprise, nodded. “The other woman in the arts building, the one I was talking to?”

“Yeah?” he asked, his eyes narrowed as he glanced between Alexander and Burr. Alexander could feel his face contort in some expression, but the emotion was foreign to him. John seemed to recognize it, however, because his gaze softened considerably.

“That was Theodosia. She’s my…. Arm-“

“Burr.”

“don’t call me that,” Burr said out of reflex. “Soulmate. She’s my soulmate.”

“Oh shit,” John whispered. “So, Burr’s in on everything now?”

Alexander shrugged, “more or less.”

“Less, actually. Is there more to this?”

Alexander opened the door to the cabin. “Kind of? I-” he stopped dead in his tracks, staring wide-eyed. There was another pack in their cabin. “Someone’s been in here.”

Burr looked at the pack. “That’s a counselor bag. I thought you said you didn’t have one?”

“We didn’t.” John chirped, staring at Alexander. What do we do? John tapped his ear. George?

“Well, this changes things,” replied Alexander, minutely shaking his head. George is silent. His earlier words echoed through Alexander’s head. Shit. He raced to his bag, digging through it with a panicked urgency. The familiar cover of his journal brushed against his fingertips. Relief washed over him. He pulled it from its confines, flipping to the section that he feared had been seen, with just enough sense of mind to avert it from the curious gaze of its subject matter. It was still there. Writing still untouched, pages exactly as crinkled as he had left them.

“Everything okay?” John asked.

“Yeah, sorry. There’s just,” he slammed it shut when John took a step forward, “A few things in here I don’t want anyone to see, you know?”

John immediately stepped back to his original place. “Understandable.”

“We have a counsellor now,” Alexander stated, compartmentalizing. This was his new hurricane. But only the rain band. The eyewall was coming. The time to be scared was over. The fear, anxiety, stress, any shred of weakness had to wait. “He’ll probably comb through our shit the moment our back is turned. He’s probably waiting to see which bag is which.” Alexander could hear the switch, his tone was calculated, as though emotion was a waste of time. This was the tone he had when he spoke to Betsy for the first time. When he spoke about Peter’s suicide. The old Alexander Hamilton was back. The Alexander Hamilton whose sole purpose was to keep himself alive.

“Alexander?” John and Burr noticed the change, exchanging a look for the first time that day.  “Are you…?” John couldn’t get himself to finish the question. He already knew the answer.

“We have to hide this. Somewhere no one can find it.” Alexander said, holding up the closed journal. “John, keep watch. Make sure whatever counsellor we’ve got doesn’t come back.”

“I have a spot,” said Burr. John’s eyes flicked from the window to Burr.

“I doubt Alex wants to leave his journal that far away,” John said. We’re not staying.

“Where?” prompted Alexander.

“My cabin. There’s a loose floorboard.”

Alexander nodded, holding the book in his hands in contemplation.

“Alex, you’re not seriously going to let him take it, are you?” John exclaimed.

“It’d be safe there?” Alexander asked.

Burr nodded. “As safe as it could be.”

John stared at the two. “Are you serious? What makes you think he won’t read it?”

Burr kept calm, but Alexander noted the indignation in his gaze. “Why would I read it? Also, are you not supposed to be keeping watch?”

John huffed and turned around. “His soulmate works here. Why should we trust him?”

Burr scoffed. “Theo doesn’t want to be here either. And frankly, Jack. You don’t have a choice in this. Alexander trusted me enough to let me in on what was going on, whether or not you trust me is irrelevant.” Burr shrugged, regardless of the fact that John couldn’t see him do so. John growled under his breath.

“Hey. We don’t have time for this. Burr. We leave the day after tomorrow. Can I get it back before then?” John blanched as he heard Burr gasp.

“Wait, you’re leaving?” Burr’s eyes flicked to John. “What makes you think you’re going to make it this time?”

“We have a plan. But again. We can’t talk now. They’re going to get suspicious if we don’t get back soon. Now, I need to hide this too,” he tugged at the undershirt. “George, I don’t know where you are, but I’m going silent. I’ll fill you in later.”

<<I’m here. Hear from you soon, son. Be smart.>> even George’s voice seemed different. Militant. Alexander nodded. George felt the same way, it seemed.

“George?” Burr asked. Alexander huffed as he watched Burr put the dots together. The counsellor would be back at any moment. They didn’t have time. “It’s bugged, alright? My family’s on the other side.”

“Your family,” Burr deadpanned. “Was anything you told them true?”

Alexander ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. “Does that matter right now?” He tugged at his shirt, acutely aware of Burr averting his gaze. Burr had seen his arms earlier, under the guise that his soulmate was dead, but again, irrelevant. His shirt back on, he stuffed the undershirt into an inside pocket of his bag, piling pens and other small items he had had on top of it. “Alright. Burr. Here.” He handed over his journal with only slight trepidation. “I’m trusting you with this. Don’t make me regret it.” Burr nodded, taking the bound pages into his hands and tucking it on the inside of his coat.  “John, let’s go.”

John turned, his gaze cloudy. “Yeah.”

 

Burr separated from them the moment they left the boy’s cabin area, heading to his own in order to stash Alexander’s journal. “Hey, Alexander,” John started tentatively. “You’re kinda freaking me out, man.” John tried to lighten the statement with a laugh, only for it to instantly fall flat.

“Hmmm?” Alexander snapped out of his daze, looking at John rather than the path.

“You’re… well, you’re not being…” John sighed. “You’re not being you.

Alexander blinked. “What are you talking about?” This was him. For most of his life, this was him.

John frowned. “You’re not as expressive, you’ve been staring at the path this whole time.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

Yes.” John paused. “Well, no. But for you, it’s different. I don’t like this,” John admitted, finally getting to his main point. “I don’t like any of this. Burr. Aaron. Even Red. I’ve never really made friends here. Not in my four circuits. Martha was the only one who would talk to me, and that was more so to put together the plan. The closest one was Burr, but that was shallow at best. But you just…” he sighed again. “After everything that’s happened. How can you trust them so easily?”

That sentence broke through to Alexander. He was right. Alexander trusted them. So easily. He wanted to trust them. That wasn’t Nevis Alexander. Nevis Alexander didn’t even trust his own brother, the little shred of family he had had left. That was New York Alexander. That was Washington Alexander. A small voice in the back of his head sneered, You’ve gone soft. Your time with the Washingtons has made you weak. Alexander shook his head, shooing the heckler away. The “rationality” that hardened his heart wore away. His time with the Washingtons didn’t make him weak.

It made him human.

His steely façade broke, Alexander immediately scrambling to put it back together. No, there was no time for emotions. He needed to be logical. He needed to be smart. Be scrappy, Be—

A stray curl bounced into John’s face, directly between his hazel eyes that shone like the Sun itself.  “John,” Alexander whispered, his voice sounding young to even his own ears. “I’m scared.”

John blinked, before offering a small, relieved smile. Throwing caution to the wind, he reached out and took Alexander’s hand in his, squeezing it. “I am too.”

Chapter Text

Their hands stayed intertwined for only a few moments, but the immediate rush of comfort the gesture brought Alexander was almost overwhelming. It was time to keep going, to meet Aaron and Red at the lake, but Alexander couldn’t get himself to move. Couldn’t get his hand to pull away.

In that, it was John who ended the gesture, pulling his hand away, a pale blush accentuating the splatters of brown across his cheeks. Alexander felt his hand shudder, his mind overpowering the body. “We need to… yeah,” John managed.

“Yeah,” answered Alexander.

The trip to the lake was quiet, but comfortable, the silent promise hanging between them. The relief was palpable to Alexander. He had admitted his fear. Let someone in. That alone terrified him, but simultaneously brought along the intense sensation of comfort, of being safe. If he was being logical, he’d question it, but for once, Alexander was letting himself enjoy the sensation. They made it halfway to the chapel when they were stopped, the same red coat with the deep voice as before. “Hey!” he hollered, making the two teens jump, “Where’s Aaron? You two can’t be alone!”

Alexander’s hands curled into fists until he forced them open again. How dare he ruin the illusion of peace? They were walking a platonically-appropriate distance apart—they had been certain of it, they continued to side-step away whenever they had somehow ended up close together again—and they weren’t even talking. What was the problem? John looked to Alexander to respond, a helpless expression on his face. Right. John hadn’t been by his side when he broke up the conversation. “Aaron went to meet that girl and her friends on the trails, Jack and I are headed to the lake to go canoeing with…” Alexander paused. Aaron and Red. “Rin and…” Alexander laughed to himself. “Oh my God.”

The red coat scowled. “You dare take the Lord’s name in vain at a time like this?”

Alexander laughed harder. This guy made it sound like he stumbled across a murder scene, not two boys walking to a lake together. “Sorry,” he managed. “I just totally blanked on the girl’s name.”

John snorted. “Jodie?”

Jodie!” Alexander made a fist, slamming against his open palm like a judge’s gavel. “That’s what it is. I really gotta remember that.”

The red coat paused. “Rin? Which one is that.” No. He couldn’t do it. Alexander knew what the red coat wanted from him.

“You know, short, curly hair? Freckles?” Alexander tried.

John frowned. “Katherine’s a name like Alexander, you know? Kind of a mouthful. Alex and Rin are just easier,” he said with a shrug. Bless John Laurens.

The red coat made the connection. “Oh. That weirdo. You know she’s a girl, right Leviticus?” he snorted. “Trying to ease yourself into women with a girl who thinks she’s a boy?” Alexander felt his nails dig into his palms. Judging by the hard set line in John’s jaw, he was clenching his teeth. “What’d she try to call herself?” he listed, shifting from foot to foot. “Aaron, right?” he laughed. “How ridiculous.”

“Can we go meet them now?” Alexander spat out.

“Woah, woah, Mr. Attitude,” he held up his hands in a mock surrender. “I should report you to George, but I suppose I’m feeling generous, so I’ll escort you to the lake myself. Don’t get used to it.”

The rest of the walk was made in a much more bitter silence, the red coat’s obnoxious spewing the only sound.  

“Here you are, Leviticus. Laurens Lake,” he announced with a knowing look to John.

“You…named it after…” John tried, unable to finish the sentence. Fire raged in Alexander’s belly. If he ever met Henry Laurens, it’d take a miracle to keep Alexander from punching him in the mouth.

“Of course,” the redcoat sneered. “He was one of our biggest benefactors. It only makes sense for him to be immortalized in Acolyte.” Alexander’s eye twitched. He was beginning to think that it’d take a miracle to keep him from lunging at the scumbag in front of him too. It’d be so satisfying to just pull his hand back and—

“Alex! Jack!” Aaron called, waving at them.

“Let’s go Alex,” John mumbled.

Alexander unclenched his fist as the red coat turned to leave. He will never be satisfied.

“Hey guys!” Aaron called out as they approached. Alexander rolled his shoulders in an attempt to relax them. The lifeguard stood in front on him, his windbreaker the same garish red as every other staff member. There was a flash of recognition in his eyes as he studied John. John stared at the ground, color draining from his face. His reaction put Alexander on edge. Who was this guy, and why was John so afraid of him?

“Hello boys,” he greeted, his voice too friendly. “Since we have two boys and two girls, we’re going to pair you up!’ he said with a pointed look to Alexander and John. Of course. They couldn’t be left alone anymore. Alexander repressed the desire to act out. After all, he made Aaron and Red promise not to get in trouble, he should follow his own advice. He forced himself to smile, his Caribbean act once again coming in handy.

John made a quiet noise of discontent. Alexander knew. He had just had this revelation about being human, and there he was, slipping so easily into the old routine. But this was part of the plan, he needed to talk to Aaron. He hoped John could understand.

Alexander saw the realization flash in Aaron’s gaze, before a girlish giggle erupted from the boy, Aaron bashfully turning his head. Unlike the teen who shared his name, Aaron was a fantastic actor. Alexander tried not to think about how much he had practiced this particular routine. “If that’s the case, could I, maybe, go with Alex?” he asked, staring at the ground, toes tapping adorably together in fake nervousness. “We spoke about it earlier, and he’s never canoed before. I know how to steer, so…” he trailed off, flicking his eyes up to the red coat in hope. Red clenched her teeth. Alexander played along.

“Yeah, I mean. If Rin could help me learn, that’d be amazing,” he said, not taking his eyes off of Aaron. This was an amazing play. If Aaron pretended to be a girl, and Alexander pretended to have a crush on him, it’d be bound to get the camp to trust him a little more. Maybe even let him and John be alone again. After all, their fear would no longer be a problem. As soon as they got Aaron out of there, Alexander would have to find him and take him out. Maybe he and John could help Aaron get more ‘Aaron’-style clothing. Help him get rid of the old ones. Alexander’s smile turned more genuine. Yeah. That’s exactly what they’d do. He’d have to tell John.

“Rin?” the red coat asked, a strangely excited smile on his face. Alexander’s smile grew, as did Aaron’s. He was buying it. 

“Oh, uh, yeah.” Alexander ran his fingers through his hair, pulling a few locks out of the ponytail, then—in what he hoped looked flustered—pulled the hair tie out and redid it, smoothing the hair back in place. “Everyone calls me Alex, and I just thought Rin needed a nickname too,” Alexander carefully avoided using any pronouns, “’Rin’ just fit, you know? I thought it was cute.”

The redcoat nodded knowingly. “Very well. Jack, I suppose you go with Jodie then.” He winked, Alexander tried not to gag. “Let’s let these two be alone for a while. I think there’s something they need to talk about,” he teased.

Aaron and Alexander, as though rehearsed, turned toward each other with thousand-watt smiles before making eye contact and hurriedly turning away. The redcoat chuckled. Perfect. The canoes were already resting in the water, the boats bobbing and rippling the surface. Aaron had lied earlier, for a man-made lake, it was huge; the opposite side was barely visible. Alexander tried not to think about how much money it had cost to create, how much money John’s father had dumped into it. A slight breeze blew across the water, not enough to disturb the surface, but just enough to bring motion to the flowers that grew a few feet from the lake’s edge. The flowers weren’t wild, they had been planted, their bright colors deliberately put there to disguise the aftermath of tearing into the earth.

After being set up with lifejackets and an extremely basic lesson in how to canoe, they were off. Alexander in the front with Aaron steering one, John steering the other. Once they made it far enough out to lose the risk of being overheard, Alexander turned and nodded to John. John responded in kind before steering their canoe toward the other side of the lake, Red protesting just slightly.

“Wait, we’re really going to leave them alone?”

“Yeah.” John said, jaw clenched.

“Why? Jack, what are you doing? Hey! Don’t turn this canoe! Hey!” Red tried steering them in the other direction. John had her beat in strength however, so they listed sideways, but in John’s direction of choice. Alexander snorted. Before dragging them away, John shot him a look. Hurry this up.

Alexander sent a sheepish grin John’s way. I’ll try.

As they drifted off, he turned his head as far as he could to make eye contact with Aaron without risking the balance of the boat.

“So,” Aaron started. “You’re really leaving, right?”

Alexander’s shoulders dipped. “Yeah.”

“And the other Aaron is in on it now, isn’t he.”

Alexander nodded.

“You’re sure that’s a good idea?”

“Yeah,” Alexander paused. “Wait, John responded the same way. What did he do to make you all distrust him so much?”

He could feel Aaron rolling his eyes. “He’s a favorite. He behaves, he embraced the treatment so easily. Never met a dog who doesn’t bark or bite, you know? It’s suspicious.”

Alexander bit his lip. “They, they have something on him. He’s being blackmailed.”

“What?!” the exclamation echoed across the water. Alexander shushed him.

“I’m not going to details. It’s his story to tell. But yeah. That’s the main reason he behaves so well here.”

“And you know for sure that he’s telling you the truth?” Aaron really had zero love for the other teen.

Alexander nodded again, pulling his oar through the water and watching the ripples, “Yeah. I’ve seen it for myself.”

“Holy shit.” Aaron paused. “He’s staying behind too, right?”

Once again, Alexander’s heart ached. “You know I’d take you with us if I could, right?”

There was a pause. “Yeah.”

Suddenly, something Alexander had read in one of George’s old law books popped into Alexander’s mind. “Hey Aaron, how old are you?”

“Thirteen, why?”

“Aaron, we’re going to open a case against this place.”

“Like, in court?”

“Yeah. So… feel free to say no. You can say no.”

“What are you asking of me?” There was a short gasp of air, “Are you asking me to be a spy?!” He sounded excited.

“Of sorts. Just keep yourself safe, and keep observant. John and I won’t be around to keep tabs on you,” he gave a sad smile, although Aaron couldn’t see. “It won’t be long. A few days at most. Then we’ll call you in. And all you have to do is tell them how they treated you. Again. You can say no.” Alexander repeated. “This will be… pretty public, you know? I’m sure the press will be there. And, you’ll never be able to get away from this situation. It’ll be with you forever.”

The heavy atmosphere didn’t go with the serenity of the lake. The two had long since stopped paddling, their boat drifting into the center of the lake on its own accord. Aaron was silent for quite some time. “When, this is all over. We’ll still be friends, right? Even when Acolyte is behind us?” His voice was small.

“Of course,” Alexander answered immediately. “I’ll have to tell George and Martha to make another table setting at Thanksgiving next year. You, me, and John.” Aaron laughed quietly, making Alexander smile.

“Those are your parents?”

“Foster parents,” Alexander clarified immediately… before backtracking, “soon to be adoptive parents.”

“So, this whole thing was just a plan to get John out from the beginning, and to get dirt on Acolyte?” He had never heard Aaron’s voice so full of hope. “They aren’t trying to change who you are?”

I’m not even gay, Alexander went to add, but something stopped him. “No. Not at all,” he said instead.

“If I do this for you, for all of us, I may not be able to go home. To see my family ever again, right?”

Alexander’s heart shattered as Aaron’s tone shifted. “That depends on your parents. But it’s a possibility.”

“Yeah.”

“Ideally, they’ll realize how badly their way of thinking impacted you, and they’ll accept you for who you are.”

“But if they don’t. I’ll get kicked out.”

“You’re positive?”

“Yeah. Dad’s family’s crazy conservative. It’s not safe for me there. I can never be Aaron there.” Aaron sighed. “But I’m not Katherine. I never was, not really.”

Alexander nodded again. John would have to deal with Red for a while longer, Aaron needed this. “Why Aaron?”

“Huh?”

“Why did you pick Aaron?” Alexander bit his lip. “If I can ask that. Can I ask that?”

Aaron laughed. “Nobody’s ever asked me that before. But you’re fine, don’t worry!” he added. “I guess I was looking for gender-neutral sounding names for a while. I tried Alex for a bit, actually.”

“Really?”

He laughed again. “Yeah. Doesn’t fit me as well as it does you.” He idly splashed the water—with his fingers, if Alexander had to guess, the sound was too soft for the plastic oar—“I didn’t settle on Aaron until a few months ago. I figured it’d be an easier transition for my parents you know? Katherine to Aaron? It just sounds like a nickname. My folks could lie to themselves if they wanted. Spelt it the feminine way—“ he paused, “you know, E-R-I-N? That would’ve been fine by me, as long as they called me the name I wanted.”

“Can I overstep my boundaries again?”

Aaron rocked the boat to symbolize the shrug Alexander didn’t see. The motion spooked Alexander, making him cling to the boat. “Sorry,” Aaron said between giggles, “Didn’t mean to scare you.” He paused before bringing the conversation back. “Okay. You ask one personal question; I get to ask one too. Deal?”

Alexander paused, silently praying the question didn’t get too personal. “Sure.” He contemplated his words, thinking for a moment about changing his question. But something had nipped at his thoughts ever since he first started to get to know Aaron. “Who bought you the binder? You said your parents aren’t accepting, and you’re too young to have a credit card.”

Aaron exhaled. “Hoo boy. You really want to open that can of worms?”

“Too personal? I could—”

“No, no, a deal’s a deal,” Aaron sighed again. “My cousin did. Roxana. She’s probably the only super supportive family member I’ve got.” Aaron sounded uncomfortable. “But once she turned twenty, she just kind of, vanished. My family won’t talk about her. I haven’t heard from her in months. I…don’t know what happened to her.”

“Oh shit. I’m sorry I brought it up.”

“No! No, It’s okay! Really. My turn. Okay. Why are you in the system?”

“Hoo boy. That’s fair. Mamá died when I was about your age. Papá… he’s gone. I don’t know. Left my brother and I a few years before Mamá passed.”

“You have a brother?”

“Yeah. James.”

“Did he come stateside too?”

Alexander shook his head. “No. We were never, super close. After Peter,” Alexander bit his lip. He’d have to explain that too, “we split up to hide from the system. Peter’s dad tried to help me out. Died before he put me in the will. By the time the system caught wind of James and I, he was already old enough to be on his own.” Alexander shrugged, omitting the last sentence that almost spilled from his mouth. James never even said goodbye. Never bothered to show up.

“Peter was next of kin then?”

“Yeah. Cousin. He, uh. Got in some hot water, on the island. Financial troubles, then they found out that Ledja’s son was his, and he just… couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Oh my God. I’m sorry.”

Alexander waved it off. “It’s fine. Is what it is.”

“I guess.” Aaron paused, the two silently staring at the other canoe for a moment. “I’ll do it. I’ll be your spy.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I’ve got nothing to lose really. Katherine’s family is hardly Aaron’s. You know, like you said. Save me a seat at Thanksgiving.”

“Yeah.” Alexander bit his lip. “I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have to do this.”

“I shouldn’t, you’re right,” Aaron said, his tone much more mature than it should be at thirteen. “But you’re not the one who needs to apologize. Acolyte is. My dad is. You’re trying to fix their mistakes.” There was another pause. “When do you leave?”

“Day after tomorrow.”

“Do me a favor?”

“Depends on what it is.”

“Heh. Yeah.” Aaron splashed at the water again, the boat leaning ever so slightly to the left as he reached over the edge. “If you can, I don’t know how possible it is. But can you try to find Roxana? I know it’s nearly impossible, but you know. If you can. She’s got a weird name: Roxana Kryskowski.” He chuckled. “You can tell she’s from the white side. But she’s mixed race too. Her mom’s from Sri Lanka.”

John and Red’s canoe drifted closer. “Roxana Kryskowski. Got it.” Alexander paused. “So, is that your last name too, then?”

“For now,” Aaron mumbled. “I’m hoping to get it changed when I’m old enough. Don’t know to what, but just, not that.”

“Understandable.”

“Red still can’t know any of this?”

“No. Although, she may get called in too. I don’t know. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what happens after we leave.” John and Red were within earshot.

Aaron dropped his voice to a whisper. “It’d be good for her to get involved. She’s not LGBT. As bad as that sounds, maybe we need the token Cis White Straight.”

Alexander knew he was right. Stuffy white politicians were hardly going to listen to them. While they had Burr, he was still only two-thirds of the equation. “I hate that you’re right.”

“So do I.”

Upon approach, Alexander looks directly at Red. “John and I are breaking out of Acolyte. We need you to help us dismantle it from the inside. You in?”

John’s jaw dropped as Aaron snorted. “You were much more eloquent with me,” Aaron giggled.

“Yeah, well,” Alexander turned to look at him, “I have a huge crush on you, remember Rin?” he said with an exaggerated wink.

Aaron burst into a fit of giggles, “and I, you, Alex.”

“I’m glad we got that sorted.” The laughter between the two echoed across the lake. “Brilliant acting on your part, by the way.”

“Maybe I wasn’t acting. Maybe I actually love you.”

“Wait what,” echoed the other three, each in various states of dismay.

“Acting. Guys I’m kidding, relax.” Aaron laughed again, slapping his knee. “Your faces ohmygod.”

“Funny,” Red deadpanned. Alexander erupted into raucous laughter. Could she be any more obvious?

“So,” Aaron turned the conversation back. “How many times have you pretended to be straight?”

Alexander only shrugged.

Aaron nodded. “I feel you. So, we like, spent the time alone to like, confess our love or some nonsense, right?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Wait,” John interrupted. “You really think they’re gonna be cool with a seventeen-year-old and a what, twelve?”

“Thirteen,” Aaron corrected. “Wait, dude you’re seventeen? I totally thought you were younger than that!”

Exactly. And so does Acolyte. Sometimes this baby-face comes in handy,” Alexander said, slapping his cheek. “They think I’m fifteen.”

“Wait,” chirped in Red. “Are we really ignoring the fact you asked me to help you take down Acolyte like this is some kind of weird-ass war?”

“Yeah,” the other three said. “You’re the last one to know,” added in Alexander. “And you can thank Aaron for that. I wasn’t planning on telling you.”

“Aaron?” Red turned to look at the preteen, Alexander silently brimming with pride at the use of Aaron’s preferred name. ”You?”

“Yeah, we need you Jo. A pretty little white girl like you? They’re bound to take us more seriously.”

“You really think so?”

“We’re in the South, Jo. Of course.” Aaron rolled his eyes. Alexander bit back a laugh. Naïve, oblivious Aaron strikes again.

“And,” Alexander added in, “We need as many different kinds of Acolyte stories as possible, to show the people what this camp really is.”  

“So what would I have to do?”

“Nothing. Just wait for us to call you in, and tell your story. That’s it.”

“I’m doing it too,” said Aaron.

Red looked across the lake, the red coat was waving his arms. A moment later, the clanging of the bell could be heard. Alexander cringed. “Hate to rush your decision, but we’re running out of time.”

“I’m in.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Alexander smirked.

John and Aaron began steering the canoes back to shore, the four teens all sharing glances when they can. Alexander’d have to tell George about everything. Especially Roxana. Maybe George could start the search.

“Welcome back!” the red coat called as he dragged the canoes onto the shore. It’s almost time for large group, but you have a little time if you want to change clothes. Supposed to get cold later.” Remembering the new facet of the plan, Alexander reached over and tentatively took Aaron’s hand in his. Aaron stared at him, wide-eyed, until the flash of recognition glistened in his eyes. He giggled, tightening his grip around Alexander’s hand. The red coat smiled.

Nobody mentioned the new rule.

As the four headed back to the cabin area to change, Alexander kept his grip on Aaron’s hand. Or maybe Aaron kept holding on to his. He wasn’t exactly sure. As they stepped into the trail, away from the main clearing, Red cleared her throat “Any reason you’re still doing that?”

“Doing what?” prompted Aaron, as though he had forgotten about Alexander’s hand in his.

That,” Red hissed.

“Oh,” Aaron looked down at his and Alexander’s conjoined hands. He made no move to separate them. “It’s part of the plan…?” he paused, “And. It’s kinda comforting, in a way. My older brother used to hold my hand, you know, before,” he grimaced, “it kind of reminds me of that.”

Red scowled, but let the subject drop. Alexander tightened his grip on Aaron’s hand. Aaron returned the gesture, a small smile on his face.

 

The group broke up at the entrance to the boy’s cabin area, Alexander finally dropping his grip on Aaron’s hand.  “Meet us here later?” Alexander prompted. “We’ll be more likely to convince King George if we go back together.”

Aaron nodded, “Yeah, makes sense. Jo, can you help me get girlier? I really want to sell this.”

Alexander frowned, concern for the boy’s wellbeing twisting his stomach. “Are you sure? I don’t want you to feel-“

“Thank you,” Aaron interrupted, “but I’m sure. This is a good plan, I think. I’ll see you in a few,” Aaron winked, kissing Alexander on the cheek for good measure. Alexander slowly lifted his hand to his cheek, a slight blush dyeing his features as Aaron walked away. He hadn’t expected that.

John scoffed. “Come on. Let’s go.”

Alexander snapped out of his daze. “Right, hey wait. The lifeguard. What was that about?”

John frowned, idly kicking a twig as he walked. “He’s uh. He’s CPR-certified.”

“And…?”

“There were moments. In the Room. They brought him in. Just in case.” John’s eyes glazed over as he spoke.

Alexander’s blood ran cold, his previously heated face draining to stony ice in an instant. “What do you mean?”

“I’d rather not.”

“Later?” Alexander prompted.

“Yeah.”

For the moment, he let the subject drop, his gnawing curiosity remaining starved for information. Alexander opened the cabin door, staring distrustfully at the sights around him, specifically the gray and red backpack sitting directly to his right. Still no sign of the counsellor, but Alexander refused to be lulled into a false sense of security.

“Get your other shirt back on, I’ll keep watch,” John said, clearly just as suspicious as Alexander. Alexander nodded, digging through his belongings. He panicked for a second when he didn’t see his journal, before remembering the agreement he had made with Burr. Right.

Finger reached a familiar cotton, the hard spot in the collar proving that the mic was still there. Alexander quickly stripped off his shirt placed the bugged clothing back on his body. “We good?” Alexander asked, hoping George knew what he meant, but not calling out his name.

<<Alexander. Welcome back son.>> George’s tone was obviously relieved. <<I didn’t hear any rustling while you were gone. Your belongings weren’t tampered with.>> George’s relief flooded into Alexander.

“Still no sign of the counsellor?”

<<No.>>

“No. He’s not here.” John turned. “You should put on a sweatshirt or something. I think they’re doing night walks tonight. It gets cold.”

Alexander nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” He reached through and grabbed his maroon hoodie, his fingers grazing the soft material. “Hey. Are we okay?”

“Huh?” John turned and stared at him, his guard duty forgotten, “Of course we are. Why wouldn’t we be?”

“I don’t know,” Alexander stared at the hoodie in his hands. “Just this weird feeling, I guess.” Alexander bit his lip and pulled his hair from its tie, dropping the hoodie on his bed and running his fingers through his hair. “So you aren’t mad? About me and Aaron? Because I kinda felt like you were mad,” Alexander’s true worries tumbled through his lips before he could stop them.

“Which Aaron?”

“Either? Both?”

“I’m not mad. About either.”

“Then why’d you ask for clarification?”

“I..” John paused. “I don’t know. But I’m not mad. Promise.”

Alexander chewed on his lip again, but said nothing.  

“I promise,” John repeated.

“Okay. We should probably go. Aaron and Red are probably already waiting for us.” Alexander pulled the hoodie on, “You need a sweatshirt.”

John chuckled. “Guess I should take my own advice, huh?” He popped open his suitcase, throwing on a teal sweatshirt, tugging its white zipper up to the middle of his chest. The two teens headed to the door. “This’ll be my last night walk,” John whispered, an excited smile tugging at his lips. Alexander blinked. He had only just arrived and it already felt like he had been here for months. He couldn’t imagine it felt like to John. In only a few days’ time, he’d be at the Schuyler’s. He’d be in New York: South Carolina and Camp Acolyte behind him. The constant cycle of runs at Acolyte, of escape attempts, of nights in the Room, they’ll all be over.  

John pushed open the door, his grin almost painfully large. “Let’s get this over with.”

Chapter Text

Alexander was wrong. Aaron and Red weren’t already waiting for them as they crossed into the clearing. “Is he really going to make himself get all girly?” Alexander asked.

“I guess,” John quipped. “Now, uh, just to be sure. You don’t actually have feelings for him, right? Like, romantically?”

“Who, Aaron?” Alexander glanced around. No one in sight. “No. It’s all part of the plan. There’s nothing going on between us. I also really just met him today.

John blinked, “has it only been a day?”

Alexander nodded. “I know. Feels like it’s been longer.”

“Huh,” John shook his head, getting back to the topic at hand, “So, what did you talk about? While I was with Red. You owe me, by the way. My arms hurt like hell.”

“Yeah, I do. I’ll make it up to you when we get home. Promise.” John smile returned at ‘home’. Alexander had no choice but to grin back. “I just got a little backstory. Oh, and I asked Aaron to spy for us.”

<<You did what?!>> George squawked. Alexander cringed; it took him a moment to realize John had said the same thing.

“Look, I know. But I figure, when this all hits the fan, the more stories we have, the better. He agreed. You heard the rest.”

<<I didn’t.>> George grumbled.

“Oh, we might need another seat at Thanksgiving.” A silent question rung out. “Aaron seems to think that his parents will disown him. He asked me to look for his cousin Roxana. Said she’s his only ally on the other side.”

<<Last name?>>

“Krys… something. Kryskovski? No… Kryskowski! That was it. Dad’s white. Mom’s Sri Lankan.”

<<Got it.>> George said, a subtle crackle in the background that was more than likely a pencil being dragged across paper. <<Anything else?>>

“No. That’s it, I think.”

“Hey guys!” Red’s voice rang out. “Sorry we’re late! Sh-“ Red shook her head, “still he,” she whispered to herself. “He was pretty serious about this.”

“H-Hey,” came out a quieter voice, the tone shy and obviously uncomfortable. Alexander looked behind Red to focus on the other voice. “What do you think?”

The image before Alexander was unsettling. The ribbon in his hair had been replaced with a hairband, a large white flower resting off to the left side of his head. Instead of the T-shirt/plain skirt combination he had previously been wearing, he was in a pink dress, its gauzy material floating around his knees. White knee socks covered the rest of his legs, matching the thick sweater wrapped around his shoulders. His makeup was innocent looking enough. Mascara lengthened his lashes, a light gold eyeshadow glittering on his lids, and the same glisten on his lips as Elizabeth the kitchen girl. He looked beautiful. But he didn’t look like Aaron.

“I can’t see your freckles,” Alexander said.

“oh, yeah. That’s my fault,” Red interrupted. “When he said he wanted makeup, I did a full face. Had to ask the counsellors for a foundation to match his complexion, but you know.” She puffed out her chest, “I think I did a good job, all things considered.”

“I guess,” Alexander frowned.

“Does it look bad?” Aaron asked.

“No,” Alexander responded quickly. “But the freckles.” He never understood why the beauty industry considered freckles to be imperfections. Why would anyone want to cover them up?

“I could wash some of it—“

“No way,” said Red. “We worked too hard to cover them up. And setting spray, Aaron. It’ll take ages to scrub off the foundation and we don’t have time,” she shot Alexander a look, her ears a fiery red, “Just look at Jack’s freckles instead.” Oh Red. Alexander tried not to roll his eyes.

“Except that would be the exact opposite of what we’re supposed to be doing, I’m supposed to be in love with Aaron, remember?” He snapped. “Wait,” he paused, biting his lip, “that came out wrong.”

“Yeah, I think it did,” answered John, averting eye contact and waving his hand. “You look great, Aaron.”

“Yeah, you do!” Alexander parroted. “But, Aaron, are you sure you’re comfortable with this?”

“Am I comfortable?” Aaron stressed, “God no. But I’m okay. So let’s go. The less time I’m in this cotton candy disaster, the better.”

“Hey! I like that dress,” Red pouted.

“Yeah, well. It looks better on you,” Aaron said as an afterthought. He reached out to take Alexander’s hand in his. “Let’s go.”

“You’re still a boy, okay?” Alexander stressed, whispering as they walked, John and Red trailing behind. “No matter what they tell you.”

Aaron squeezed his hand. “Thanks Alex.”

 

Walking to group with their hands clasped had the exact effect they had been hoping it would. John surprised Alexander and acted on his own accord, teasing him about his new ‘relationship’ and trying to embarrass him as any friend would. “You literally just met Rin this morning, you nerd,” John teased. Alexander tried to ignore the distant look in John’s eyes. Later. He’d ask him later. Aaron rolled his eyes at John’s antics, giggling and leaning into Alexander’s side as they approached.

Seabury stood in the center of the circle, King George sitting on an Adirondack-style lounge chair and sipping at iced tea through a straw. For a moment, Alexander pictured King George in an oversized sunhat, servants fanning him on either side. He had obviously been going for that regal look, but he looked more like the tourists of St. Croix who assumed that Alexander didn’t speak English. Alexander snickered, thinking back one of the happier memories of the island. Of confusing tourists with his brother while his parents looked on. Back when they were still a family. Alexander blinked. Focus. It wasn’t the time to reminisce. He had a job to do.

Seabury made eye contact with Alexander first, before his eyes darted to their conjoined hands, then to Aaron’s new look. His eyes bugged out of his head, an inhuman squawk leaving his lips. King George darted upright, a relatively comedic sight as he fought the slope of the chair. His eyes widened as he saw the reason behind Seabury’s noise, a strange smile dancing on his lips. Alexander unconsciously squeezed Aaron’s hand. Aaron leaned into him more, simultaneously seeking and providing comfort. This was it. This was the man they had to convince the most.

“Well, well, well,” King George murmured, clicking his tongue. “This is quite the transformation for you Katherine.

Aaron tensed. “Well. I met Alex,” he squeezed Alexander’s hand as tightly as he could, pain shooting up Alexander’s arm. He tried not to show that his discomfort. “I like him a lot. So, I’ll be a girl for him,” Aaron said, not a single ounce of his true emotions in his words. It sounded believable, as though calling himself a girl wasn’t excruciating.

“So soon? You’ve only just met,” King George narrowed his gaze. “You’ve fought us for so long, and now you’re changing because you met a boy?” Aaron only half shrugged, not releasing the vice-grip on Alexander’s hand. “And what about you, Alexander? Katherine’s finally realized she is a girl. You’re telling me that you want to be with her? Leviticus?” The cabin name rolled off his tongue like a slur, the word digging into Alexander’s chest.

Alexander tried to speak, his tongue felt like sandpaper. “Rin reminds me of Esperanza,” he managed, once again avoiding pronouns. “They have similar personalities. I… I didn’t have a chance to make it right by her.”

Seabury nodded gravely. “That’s so sweet.”

King George whipped around to stare at Seabury, finally getting to his feet. “I don’t know,” his gaze flickered to John for a moment. “I’ve never seen you two interact before. You’re always with Jack and Aaron.”

“Actually, sir,” Burr spoke up, a suspicious look to Alexander prefacing his next statement. Alexander nodded. He’d have to explain to Burr later. “Rin,” Aaron said carefully, “and Alex have been practically attached at the hip since this morning. They ate breakfast and lunch together; I haven’t seen them apart since.”

“I can confirm,” the deep voiced red coat spoke. “I walked Alexander and Jack to the lake to meet up with Katherine and Jodie. Alexander was so focused on meeting her that he forgot Jodie’s name.”

“You did?” Aaron asked him, bumping his shoulder as part of the act, but genuine humor in his eyes.

“My bad?” Alexander turned to Red. “I’ll remember it. I promise.”

“Whatever,” muttered Red. Alexander wasn’t sure if she was just playing along or was genuinely upset.

“Me too,” said Mary, emerging from the art building. “Katherine found Alexander and Jack at the labyrinth after breakfast and practically dragged them back to the art building with her.”

“Katherine was so nervous before they went canoeing together; I’ve never seen her like that before,” quipped the lifeguard. “Alexander seemed pretty excited about it too.” Alexander felt the blood rush back into his hand as Aaron loosened his grip, a prickling pain coursing through his fingertips. They had only had the act going for the lifeguard. He almost couldn’t believe it. They were misconstruing their platonic interactions for romantic ones, without any prompting other than seeing the two boys hand in hand.

Charlotte—Alexander assumed—crossed over and rested her hand on King George’s shoulder. “Come on dear, lighten up. This could be very therapeutic for both of them. Young love in its purest form,” she smiled. John and Red scoffed behind them.

King George looked at her with soft, loving eyes—probably the strangest thing Alexander had seen upon arrival here—and relented. “Very well, who am I to get in the way of God’s plan?”

Alexander snorted, a laugh repressed a beat too late. King George’s eyes snapped back to Alexander, “Something funny?”

“Sorry. That’s a…” he made himself laugh again, “a punchline to a joke I had with my mother back on the island.” Not a lie, albeit said sarcastically to cope with being bare-armed. Mamá had a dark sense of humor. But then again, so did he. “It’s funnier in Spanish.” He prayed King George would let it drop.

“Using God as a punchline is never funny,” King George scolded, another red coat nodding vehemently behind him. “But you’ve proven to me that the Caribbean is nothing but an island of heathens anyway.” The hand that wasn’t holding Aaron’s clenched into a fist, Alexander’s fingernails digging into his skin. A long list of profanities screamed in Alexander’s mind, an amalgamation of English, Spanish and French ripping through his head. For one, this bastard was too stupid to realize the Caribbean wasn’t a single island, and then he had the audacity to try and call his people heathens? Alexander couldn’t wait for the day he got to see King George in a courtroom for everything he’d done. He made a mental note to use the word ‘heathen’ in his testimony. So, maybe Alexander was petty. He could live with petty.

Aaron’s hand tightened around his again, pulling him from his thoughts. “He’s not worth it Alex,Aaron whispered.

Alexander deflated, “You’re right.”

Charlotte—Queen Charlotte didn’t have the same ring to it—smiled. “Look at them, dear. She’s already got him wrapped around her finger,” she said with a giggle.

“A woman’s charm is a powerful one,” King George responded, his tone sweet as he kissed her cheek. That moment was more unsettling than anything Alexander had seen from King George. Alexander wanted to categorize King George as a monster, a vile, inhuman, scumbag. But to Charlotte, King George was sweet, caring…. Human.

“Too true, too true,” Charlotte quipped. “Now, we should probably get going, right? We’re running a little late, dear. You wanted them to go to chapel before the walk tonight.”

“Oh! That’s right, that’s right,” King George spoke, his kind persona still intact. Alexander looked around. The girl with Burr earlier was sitting near where Alexander stood, curious eyes trained on him. Something else flickered in her dark gaze. Disappointment? Alexander raised a brow. The girl only shrugged and turned toward King George again. ”Well, I suppose we can skip group just this once. Go eat, then head up to the chapel,” King George announced. Charlotte nodded.

The children cheered, leaping to their feet and dashing into the mess hall.

“Thanks Alex and Kathy!” Quincy leaped up to them, “I’ve never seen him this happy!”

Alexander looked up, King George’s eyes narrowed as he looked in their direction. Alexander gulped, a hot rock in his throat. “No need to thank us,” he smiled at the boy. Aaron looked at him, assumedly going for loving, but the fire of determination filled his gaze instead. A silent word hung between them.

Not yet.

 

Their group at dinner had grown yet again. John, Alexander, Aaron and Red claimed their seats in the corner, the same seating arrangement as earlier, with Alexander keeping an eye on the room around him. Burr joined them before long, the curious girl waving goodbye and scurrying off in the other direction. Alexander did his best to ignore the other half of the table, a cluster of campers, both male and female, sitting there, absorbing every word. Aaron leaned into Alexander, Alexander ‘casually’—deliberately—put his arm across his shoulders. Seemed they couldn’t drop the act. Not yet anyway.

John’s eyes watched the movement with feigned disinterest. He idly rubbed at his shoulder, still bothering him from canoeing, Alexander assumed.

Guilt flooded over Alexander when he saw the motion. If it had truly only been a day, then John’s wounds from the Room were still relatively fresh.  John must have been in more pain than he let on. “Sorry,” Alexander apologized, shooting a glance at their spectators, “I had to be alone when I told… Rin,” the other name felt wrong on his tongue. “You were a good friend for doing that for me, I didn’t mean for you to hurt your shoulder.”

“Huh?” John stopped rubbing at the joint, his unfocused gaze snapping into clarity as he looked at Alexander’s face, “No, no. I’m fine. Muscle’s just a little sore, is all.” He looked over Alexander’s head, staring out the window. “If anyone should apologize, it should be R-,” he sighed, “Jodie. She’s the terrible canoer here,” he teased, the forced humor only adding to the awkward atmosphere.

This small talk was killing Alexander. Every facet of the rebellion, of the fight against Acolyte, sat before him—minus Theo, as Alexander was certain she was in on it, Burr could pass on the message—but instead of meaningful conversation, they had to keep up the act so long as they had an audience. He hadn’t thought about the publicity of his and Aaron’s little stunt.

Alexander looked over John to the room around him. It was exactly as he feared, all eyes were on them. Not constantly, but the turning heads and flickering gaze created a perfectly timed rhythm. They were constantly being spectated. By red coats and campers alike.

In trying to make their plan go smoother, they may have made it even more complicated.

John seemed to notice this too, his hands in white-knuckled fists on the table. Alexander fought the urge to reach out and grab one. To calm him down. Reassure him that it’ll work out. Somehow. “Hey, do you guys mind?” Alexander muttered to the other half of the table. “We’re trying to have a conversation.”

“Yeah, but,” a boy, around Quincy’s age, Alexander thought, spoke up, “you’re like a couple. And you’re not soulmates,” he whispered. “That’s crazy.” A cluster of kids at the table nodded in agreement.

“You know people don’t always marry their soulmate, right?” Alexander retorted.

“They don’t?!” the boy sounded excited. “Mom said that I had to!”

Alexander shook his head. “Some of my dear friends are soulmates and sisters. They were adopted together.”

“Like the Schuylers?” a teen girl, maybe fifteen, quipped. Alexander’s blood ran cold, before the girl sighing wistfully calmed him down. “Man, I wish I was adopted by Philip Schuyler. Not only is he loaded, but he seems like a genuinely good person.” Her head lowered, blond hair falling in front of her face. “But noo, I got the foster mom who only wants to adopt me because of my soulmate. He’s loaded too, rich family, but he’s just… ugh.”

“Hey, me too!” Red chirped. “Why aren’t we in the same cabin?!”

“I’m in Aaron’s cabin,” the girl remarked with a gesture to Burr. “I, uh, met someone else.”

“Not your soulmate?” the first boy cried out, flabbergasted, yet ecstatic.

She shook her head.

“Who are the Schuylers?” Alexander asked, feeling ridiculous. John snorted. “I’m not from here, so…”

“Oh, right. Philip Schuyler’s a….senator…?” she said, stretching out the word. “I think. I don’t remember. Something politics. But he’s got two adopted daughters. Angelica, Eliza’s his biological one, and…” she snapped her fingers trying to think of the name and coming up empty. Alexander fought back a laugh. Poor Peggy.

“Peggy,” John finished. “Angelica, Eliza and Peggy.”

“Right! That’s it,” she sighed. “They’re like heroes around here. Success stories. Their father is trying to, well, you know,” her voice suddenly dropped low. “illegalize camps like this one.”

“So wait, you want this place shut down?”

The entire table laughed. Hunched over, one kid barely missed slamming their forehead into the table. The blond girl wiped a tear from her eye. “You are probably the only person who volunteered to be here,” she said, her eyes flickering to Burr. “No one wants to be here, Alexander.”

<<Alexander. Don’t even consider it.>>

Damn. Direct order. “I’m learning that. I don’t regret my coming her though.” George made a noise of approval.

“Obviously not, you’ve got Katherine now,” she giggled. “First full day and you managed to get a girlfriend. Impressive.”

The kid who almost hit their head looked up, amber eyes glistening. “Aaron… are you really Katherine now?”

Aaron stiffened next to Alexander, his hand clutching Alexander’s knee. “What do you mean?”  

“I mean… I don’t think I’m a boy,” the kid said, “and you were such an inspiration, the way you stood up to King George like that? It made me think, that if you could be a boy, then I could be… a girl… I guess.”

Aaron looked squarely into the honey colored gaze, “well, are you a girl?”

The kid recoiled, “well, no. I don’t have a—“

“I didn’t ask if your body was female. If you have double-X chromosomes. Or what you have in your pants,” Aaron said, his tone mature and caring. “Are you a girl?” He asked, tapping a finger against his own chest, over his heart.

“I…. I don’t know.” they relented. “I just don’t think I’m a boy.” The tone of the conversation hit them. They beamed, lime green bands on their braces almost as bright as the grin itself. “I knew you were still Aaron!”

Aaron hushed them. They slapped a hand over their mouth, nodding. “But wait,” the young boy from earlier spoke again. “So, if Aaron’s still Aaron, then…” his eyes met Alexander’s. Alexander winked. “Oh my God,” he whispered.

Alexander could practically see the gears turning in the blonde’s head. She glanced at Burr. “And this Aaron is here. And his arm—“ she cut herself off.

Burr nodded. “They know. It’s okay.”

“Are you all… and Alexander volunteered to come here… and…Oh my god. You volunteered to…” she trailed off, whispering as quietly as she could. No one said a word. They didn’t have to.

The table erupted into raucous, gleeful laughter.  The blonde leaned over and hugged the kid with the honey colored eyes. The young boy was crying. “Thank you,” he whispered to Alexander.

“Don’t thank me yet,” Alexander said as he watched the red coats focus in on their table. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Elizabeth the kitchen girl approached, a large bowl of food in her grip. Alexander’s eyes widened upon the realization that it was pasta. As in, visibly pasta, not the sloppy grime they had passed off as food the night before. She said nothing, a knowing look to Alexander as she placed down the pasta. She knew it was fake, Alexander realized. He stared at her, a silent plea in his gaze. John saw his expression and turned to look at her himself, his expression harder, more threatening. She only shrugged, a smirk playing on her too-pink lips as she giggled at a silent joke.

Alexander prayed he wasn’t the punchline.

The trip up to chapel soothed Alexander’s frayed nerves, at least by a miniscule amount. His stomach half-full of actual food (Alexander couldn’t get himself to eat much. John looked worried), their small group of five were surrounded by the rest of their table at dinner, the blonde and the young boy—who had turned out to be the biological son of her foster mother, at the lead. Alexander made a mental note to learn their names before he left. They could be useful later.

“Wow, quite the large group!” The man at the pulpit beamed. “You’re the new boy, Alexander, I presume?” There was something eerily familiar in his face.

“Yeah, that’s me.” Alexander scrutinized every feature on the man’s face. What was it? “Have we met before?”

“Not officially.” He placed his hand on his chest and bowed his head in lieu of shaking his hand. “Reverend Galloway, at your service.” Alexander clicked his tongue. His name wasn’t as helpful as he had hoped.

He decided to just bite the bullet and ask, “No, but like, there’s something else… you look familiar, but not like, familiar.” Alexander cringed at his word choice. He had gotten complacent in his vocabulary, choosing the easy instead of the eloquent. He’d have to work on that.

“Well, I was a politician and a lawyer for a while, believe it or not. Then I met Grace and found God, “ he said dreamily. “Ah! I know, my daughter, probably. She works in the kitchen with her mother.” He smiled, crinkling his slightly bluer, but still very green eyes.

“Elizabeth?” Alexander asked.

“That’s her! My dear Betsy’s a beauty, isn’t she? You can’t have her though, she’s destined for another. Tis God’s will, my boy.”

Alexander scrunched his brow. He was talking about Elizabeth like she was some toy, a special edition baseball card.  For a second, Alexander considered telling Reverend Galloway that he kissed his daughter the night before. Thankfully, a squeezed hand by Aaron kept his impulsivity in check. He’ll have to tell him later. When they call him into court for his crimes against children. A small smile grew on Alexander’s face. “S’cool, I’ve got Rin,” he said instead, turning a pressing a light kiss to Aaron’s forehead.

“Gross,” quipped John.

“You guys are gross,” reinforced Red.

Reverend Galloway chuckled, “Now, now, leave the young couple be. Unless…” his gaze became more scrutinizing. “You are not going against God, are you?” His gaze flickered to their arms. “Why are you looking for a relationship outside the Soul Link?”

“Is that what you call it?” the young boy from earlier chirped.

“Yes! Have you never read the great book?” Reverend Galloway crowed, walking back to the pulpit to grab his copy of the Bible. “The Lord created Adam, then Eve from his rib. This created the first Soul Link, the unbreakable bond between man and woman.”

“But what about Quincy? His dad doesn’t want him to marry his soulmate!” the boy exclaimed, “Did God make a mistake?”

Reverend Galloway clicked his tongue. “God doesn’t make mistakes,” he said quickly. “Sometimes the Soul Links get…” he chewed on his lip, “Lost in translation. Like with Quincy. Or some other campers we know,” he stared directly at Burr. “So in their cases I don’t believe we’re going against God’s will, He has made it very clear that there are certain… rules we must follow in order to find our way home,” he finished, looking up to the roof of the chapel. “Now, back to the matter at hand. With whom do you have a Soul Link, Alexander?”

Alexander couldn’t believe the drivel this man was trying to teach these children. There were obvious gaps in the story. If ‘God doesn’t make mistakes,’ how can they be against homosexuality? There are Soul Links, or whatever, between men, between women. Links that are romantic in nature. If they aren’t mistakes, which Galloway agrees with him on, then why condemn those who are just ‘following God’s will’? Why did these rules only apply to people they’re afraid of?

“Alex?” John prompted, “You good, man?”

No.” Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.” Alexander squeezed Aaron’s hand. “She’s dead. Died a few years ago.”

Galloway’s smile fell. “My condolences. Losing your Soul Link at such a tender age. Just know that she is with the Lord now, she’s in a much better place.”

“Sure,” Alexander responded, his voice hollow.

“And you, Katherine? I don’t believe you’ve ever spoken of your soulmate…?”

Alexander’s curiosity got the better of him. Aaron hadn’t spoken about his soulmate, not one time. He turned to look at the other boy, discomfort clear on his face.

“He’s…. unimportant.” Aaron tried.

“Now, Katherine. He was God’s choice for you. How dare you say he’s unimportant.” Galloway chided.

Aaron squeezed Alexander’s hand. “He rejected me, okay?”

“That was only because of your delusion, certainly.” Galloway responded. “His future wife wanted to be a man, I say I would have probably rejected you until you repented, had I been in his position.” Alexander scrunched up his face. Something about the way he worded that seemed, odd, to say the least.

No,” Aaron stressed. “He’s…” he looked incredibly nervous, as though he was about to confess to some heinous crime. “He’s one of the Dark-Arms.”

“Blasphemy!” Galloway crowed. “Your Soul Link slashed by a sinner so horrendous that he will never find repentance!” Galloway began screeching Bible verses. How sacred the Soul Link is, that one should follow the rules lest he be judged. Alexander tried to tune him out.

“What’s a Dark-Arm?” Alexander leaned over to whisper to John.

John smiled.

Alexander heard the mic crackle with a breathy chuckle from George.

<<I never thought I’d say this, but they’re probably our greatest ally.>>

Chapter Text

George’s answer hardly answered his question. “Yo, Galloway. Help me out here.” Tattoos, Dark-Arms, wasn’t the whole ‘soulmate’ thing enough without all the auxiliaries? “What’s a Dark-Arm?”

“He’s too far gone,” Aaron muttered. He was right, Galloway was catatonic, screeching Bible quotes until his face matched the hue of his jacket. “The Dark-Arms are…. a rebel group, I guess.”

“A cult!” crowed Galloway, his face nearing purple in color.

“Sure. They, uh. They reject the idea of soulmates and…. Color in their arms, blacken them out so their soulmate’s message can’t come through.”

“Wouldn’t that show up on your arms though?”

“With ink, Alexander,” John cut in. “They tattoo their arms.”

Alexander thought back to their earlier conversation, of needles rapidly poked into the skin. “Their whole arm..?” he asked, unable to stop the shudder that shook him.

“Yeah. Some do more. I heard their one leader has 95% of his body tattooed or something like that.” John shook his head. “Tattoo artists could lose their licenses if they get caught helping the Dark-Arms. Maybe even jail time.”

“Really?!”

Aaron nodded, “it’s no joke to these people, Alexander. They see a Dark-Arm on the street? They get hurt. Bad sometimes.”

“Killed?” Alexander asked.

Aaron stopped for a beat before nodding slowly.

“Shit.”

“Yeah.”

“As they should! They’re nothing but heathen and deserve to be punished! Especially those with a Soul Link! It was a gang of no-mates! Useless little deviants with no reason for living started that damned cult for the sole purpose of persecuting those with Soul Links! The chosen people of God are under attack by the Devil’s minions!” If anger hadn’t filled Alexander’s heart, he would have laughed. Under attack? Persecution? Was he serious?

“So, bare-arms are the Devil’s minions, huh?” Alexander asked instead.

“Alex,” John warned.

Galloway turned wide-eyed. “Of course they are! They’re disgusting, making the Linked go astray, participating in…. sodomy,” Galloway actually shuddered, “and other unnatural behaviors. Destroy the lot of them, I say! Make them repent for their crimes against our Lord!” Alexander saw more campers file in, silent and wide-eyed.

“Isn’t one of the main rules of Christianity not to kill people? Love thy neighbor and all that?” Alexander asked.

<<Alexander, I know you’re upset but please. You’re almost home. Don’t say anything that’ll put you in a bad situation.>>

Galloway swiveled his head to stare at Alexander, eyes narrowed. “They don’t count. The Linkless are no better than animals.”

Alexander saw red.

 

John, Aaron and Burr gripped at him, yanking him back. Galloway stood in the corner of the chapel, fear evident on his face, no matter how hard he was trying to show anger. Alexander felt water in his hair. He relaxed in their grip. “What..?”

“Well, well, well,” King George’s voice was light, but the threat behind the words was clear. “What have we here? Reverend, care to explain to me what just happened?”

“This, this hell-spawn was possessed! Lunged at me for no reason whatsoever! He tried to kill me!” Galloway cried dramatically.

“He did not!” Aaron screeched. “Sir! Galloway was talking about bare-arms like they were animals. Like their lives didn’t matter!”

And?” King George asked, a bored expression on his face. “An attempt on the life of a priest is a serious matter, Katherine.” King George looked to Alexander, “I should just send you to meditation right now. But I’ll let you defend yourself. Make your case. “

<<Alex.>>

He had no choice. He had backed himself into a corner. To keep his own secret safe, he had to reveal another. He hoped his mother would forgive him, if she could.

“Mamá. Was bare-armed. My father… he wasn’t.”

“Ah, so you’re a bastard, son of a no-mate.” King George’s head tilted back, considering his options.

“I’m sorry. I just… reacted. I wouldn’t have….” Alexander tried. He couldn’t finish the end of the sentence. It’d be a lie, and he knew it.

“Typical for your kind. Can’t control your temper. I should’ve guessed you had a no-mate for a mother.” King George tutted. “You’re very lucky you had your little friends to stop you. A mistake like that could’ve cost you quite a bit. You can ask Jack.” John's grip on Alexander’s waist tightened. “But I…Katherine’s doing so well. She may be able to leave soon, and that’ll be all thanks to you. If you can behave yourself.”

“What are you suggesting?” Alexander asked, silently begging that it wasn’t what he thought it to be.

“You obviously care about the people around you. People you’ve only just met. The question is, however, what comes next?”

“Excuse me?”

King George looked behind Alexander to where John stood, “He’s not going to lunge again, certainly, you can let him go.”

John stuttered, but did as he was told.

“To put it simply, Alexander. I’m combining you and Katherine into one unit, of sorts. You both behave and follow down the path you appear to be attempting to walk, you get to leave, a clean bill of health from Camp Acolyte. You misbehave and, well? The consequences will reflect that.”

No. “So, anything I do will reflect on Rin?” No. Dear Lord no.

A sinister smile appeared on King George’s face. “That is correct.”

<<Alex?>> A chill ran down Alexander’s spine. Aaron shrunk in on himself.

“So I expect this to be your last little outburst here at Acolyte, understood?”

Alexander only nodded. “Yeah,” he whispered, his voice dull. Their new companions looked on with disappointment in their gaze, some of them separating and walking in other directions around the chapel. The spark of excitement they had previously had fizzled out before him, empty compliance taking its place. The young boy grabbed his foster-sister’s sleeve, but the blonde held her ground.

King George, satisfied with the quiet, defeated-looking Alexander leaned in, pushing between him and Aaron to whisper in his ear. “Don’t get any ideas. This is your final warning, Alexander. Tread lightly.” Alexander shuddered; King George laughed.

“Right! Now that that is taken care of, Reverend Galloway, if you please.”

 

Chapel was a blur to Alexander. He was vaguely aware of himself standing and sitting, following the motions of John and Aaron mostly. The only sensation he was readily aware of was Aaron’s hand tightly in his own. Occasionally, John’s hand would brush the other one, his knuckles tapping against the back of his palm. His mind was only on Aaron however. They’d have to change the plan. They had to take Aaron with them. They had to. Him staying behind was no longer an option. Alexander leaving was a condemnation for Aaron to the Room. He was too careless, rallied too many people. He looked suspicious, Acolyte figured it out. No. They hadn’t. Not quite. Not everything.

Before long, Aaron was helping him up, a dazed Alexander following numbly. Nothing felt real, he felt as though he was slightly outside his own body. His legs moved on their own accord, his soul tethered behind like a balloon tied around the wrist of an eager child.

“Alexander,” a fuzzy voice said. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” a voice that was not his left his mouth. “I think.”

“Are you sure?” the voice asked again.

His head nodded. “This happens sometimes. I’ll come back in a minute, just hang on.” Alexander grimaced, although his mouth didn’t move. Is that what his voice sounded like to other people? No, that wasn’t his voice…was it?

“Hey,” a different, equally muffled voice came through. “Rin, put your hands on his face. One on either cheek. Like this,” the voice said. “Alex. I need you to focus on Rin’s hands, okay? Focus on how they feel.”

<<Alexander? What’s going on over there?>>

Alexander tried to do as he was told. Sure enough, a slight pressure could be felt on the one side of his face. He focused on it, feeling the pressure appear on the other side and pulling his spirit back into his body strictly by those anchors.

“You back?” the second voice, John, asked.

Alexander nodded, his head feeling like his again. “Yeah. I think so. How did you…?”

“It, uh, used to happen to my mom. After Henry was born,” John mumbled.

“What was that?” Aaron asked, dropping his hands. “Are you okay?”

“It’s hard to explain. There’s a term for it, I can’t remember it off the top of my head though. But instead of feeling like you’re here,” John gestured to torso, pointing over his heart, “you kinda feel like your body is here but you’re, like, four inches to the right,” He looked to Alexander, “right?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

“The night walk will help. If you ignore the speech and focus on the stars, it’s pretty relaxing.”

Aaron leaned in, whispering into Alexander’s ear. “And you can find your exit.”

“What? But Aaron-“

“It’ll be fine. The plan goes on.” He pulled away, grabbing Alexander’s hand again. “Let’s get going. We’ll stay toward the back, straggle behind, really…. Enjoy nature,” Aaron said as a red coat got a little too close for his comfort.

“I guess.”

Alexander looked up to see all their new companions had abandoned them, except the blonde and her brother. She frowned. “Are you changing your mind?”

He looked to his friends. Burr. Red. Aaron. John. Determination steeled their gaze, only slivers of fear sparkling through. “No.”

They all smiled. “Good.”

He smiled back. “What’s your name? Both of you.”

“This is Caleb. I’m Nora.”

Alexander nodded, stretching out his right hand, Aaron keeping his grip on his left.

“Welcome aboard.”

Nora shook his hand, her grip firm and determined, much like Angelica Schuyler’s. The rebellion grew.

 

 Nora and Caleb split from them after that, opting to move to the middle of the group with a promise to nip gossip in the bud and lessen suspicion.

Burr separated from them soon after, moving himself near the front for the same reason.

As planned, Alexander, Aaron, Red, and John stayed near the back, a few feet behind the rest of the group. Of course, a couple of red coats buzzed around them, making sure they didn’t get too far behind, but talking wasn’t necessary for that part of the plan. Find their exit point. There was a gate at the entrance. But did the fence cut through the forest? Realistically, it probably did, trapping all of them inside with only one exit. But maybe there’s a gap in the fence, a loose post, something. “How far do we go during these things?”

“Depends on how far Galloway’s willing to go,” answered a red coat as he passed by. “If he really gets into it, he’ll walk you all the way from Laurens Lake to the gate,” he shrugged, disinterested.

“Shit.” Alexander mumbled, hiding his grin. Aaron giggled beside him.

“Yeah, sorry bud. Lots of walking in your future,” John teased, his own grin too dangerous to be teasing.

“Ooohh kayyy,” the red coat responded, raising a brow as he walked away.

King George walked up behind them, “What happened to your little group, Alexander? You seem to be back down to four.”

You wish. Alexander thought to himself, picturing the other members of his growing rebellion in his mind’s eye. “Can’t say I blame them after my outburst earlier. Are you walking with us, sir?” Alexander focused on the man’s hair in order to suppress his desire to punch his smug face. Alexander frowned. That was a mistake. King George’s hair was greasy, sandy brown, and parted down the middle. He had never paid attention until now, too focused on his face and voice to notice. God, it was ghastly. He should invest in a wig; his hair was beyond hope.

King George’s laugh jolted Alexander out of his thoughts. “Wow, you really aren’t that difficult a dog to train, are you? So well behaved now. I’m almost impressed. But no, I shall not be accompanying you. Too cold for me, I’m afraid.” King George waved to Galloway, there was a call from the front, and the herd began to move.

A cold breeze ran over them, making him shiver. The front of his chest was freezing. Why—

Alexander thought back to earlier. He vaguely remembered water in his hair.

This hell-spawn was possessed! Galloway had said.

Oh no. Alexander touched his shirt with his free hand, sure enough, a cold wet spot hit his fingers.

Alex. Your earpiece is water-proof, but the microphone is not. I won’t be able to help you in the water. George had said.

<<Alexander?! Talk to me, son. Are you alright?!>> The panicked sound of George’s voice rang clear through Alexander’s ear. The microphone had shorted out. He had no way to tell George he was alright. No way to continue the plan.

He was stranded.

His stride stuttered, John’s arms appearing to re-center him. “Woah, you alright?”

“Did… did Galloway throw water on me?”

Aaron nodded. ”Yeah, holy water. Said you were possessed by a demon or something. Why? Are you cold?”

“Oh my god.” John whispered.

“Yeah.”

“What?” Aaron asked.

“It’s broken?”

“I think so.”

What?” Aaron repeated. Alexander turned, glancing at the redcoat that was nearing them.

“My, uh. Hearing aid.” Alexander said.

“Hey!” John flagged down the nearing red coat. “Reverend Galloway threw water at Alex and now his hearing aid is freaking out. Can we run back to the cabins?”

“Why?” asked the red coat, her black hair in a tight ponytail swishing behind her. “If it’s broken, what’ll going back to the cabins do?”

“Uh, I can put it away?” Alexander supplied.

“You’ll get lost. Won’t make it back to the group,” her eyes narrowed. “Please, you really think I’m going to let you two get out of this?” she laughed, “if I have to walk the whole thing, so do you. Just, I don’t know, put it in your pocket or something.”

 Alexander frowned. He should’ve known that wouldn’t have worked. The red coat continued to stare at him. He had no choice. Carefully, he plucked the speaker from his ear and placed it into the pocket of his hoodie. Hopefully, George would figure something out. He always did, didn’t he?

As they wandered through the woods, Aaron would squeeze his hand or John would ‘accidentally’ bump into his shoulder, each one pointing out different escape options. If he was being honest, none of them looked perfect—as Alexander had feared, the gate did in fact surround the entire property—but he nodded along regardless. One of them would have to do, he supposed. It was all a matter of which.

 While Galloway’s long trek around the property was great for the plan, Alexander felt the fatigue taking its toll. His legs felt like iron, each step making it harder to lift his feet. He began to stumble, his now heavy shoes catching on protruding roots on the forest floor. The other campers were in a similar state, some of the older teens started to carry the younger children on their backs, the scolding of the redcoats only working to keep a few of them awake. Finally, they made their way to the main field, near the cabins: the last stop. “And now, I’ll let you go. Let God bless you all with good dreams as He illuminates the path to righteousness. Good night.” Galloway nodded, before walking back down the path, headed toward staff housing, surely. Most of the campers left immediately. Burr left without a word. Nora and Caleb looked over, Nora giving a small nod before heading off.

Soon enough, the field was empty, save for their group of four and a red coat or two. Alexander looked to Aaron, the poor boy was falling asleep on his feet. Red didn’t look to be in better shape. And yet, they stayed. Alexander turned to John, going to suggest heading to bed for their sake.

John was staring at the sky, his face basked in moonlight, eyes wide and watery. He was completely mesmerized, his eyes flickering back and forth, never completely focusing.

Alexander followed suit, and the view he got stole his breath away. The sky was clear. There was no light pollution, no clouds, just stars. More stars than Alexander had ever seen. “Woah,” was all he said. It was all he could.

Aaron and Red glanced up, but their exhaustion got to be too strong. Alexander vaguely felt a kiss pressed to his cheek, a mumbled goodnight. Then they were alone. Him and John and the stars. They sat on the grass, eyes trained toward the sky. They said nothing.

The last redcoat in the field grumbled. “Come on!” he called.

John tore his eyes from the stars, Alexander’s eyes drawn to the motion. His cheeks were drenched, tears rolling freely down his face. “Please,” he whispered. “Jem never got to see stars like this.”

The redcoat shrunk. “You…” he sighed. “Look. If you get caught, I wasn’t the last Acolyte here, got it?”

“Thank you.” John managed a sad smile. The redcoat left. John leaned back on his hands for a moment, before quickly deciding that wasn’t the best vantage point and flopping himself fully on the ground. Alexander cringed at the small ‘thud’ he heard as a result, but John didn’t seem to have felt a thing. “Jem…” he mumbled. “I wonder. If there is a heaven, you think they can see the stars?”

Alexander leaned back, his head hitting the ground at a much gentler pace. “I’d think so. I’m sure they can see stars we don’t even have names for,” Alexander mused. “Galaxies we’ve never seen.”

“Jem’ll have named them, I think.” John said, his voice wistful. Alexander caught a glimpse of the small, sad smile playing on the freckled teen’s lips. A fresh tear rolled from his eye, running a path before getting trapped in the curly lock of hair in front of his ear, having come free from the hair tie. “He’s probably made his own constellations too. It was a game we played, back then.”

Curiosity piqued in Alexander. He glanced at John for a moment, “Yeah?”

“Yeah. I tried to teach him the real ones, but he wasn’t havin’ it,” he laughed. ”He’d rename the ones I’d shown him, created ones all his own,” he paused. “He would’ve liked you, I think.”

Alexander felt a warm glow light in his chest. “You think?”

“Yeah.” John sighed. “Look, there’s the Big Dipper.” John pointed up at the sky.

Alexander made a noise of recognition. “I never got why they called the dippers bears. More like beavers, or cats or something. Bears don’t have tails like that.”

John snorted, a genuine laugh escaping around the back of his hand as he bit at his knuckle. “Yeah, Jemmy definitely would’ve liked you. He said the same thing.” 

Alexander smiled, scooting closer to John. The cold ground wicked away at his body heat, but he couldn’t seem to focus on it.  “So, what other ones do you know? Constellations, I mean.”

John turned his head to look at Alexander, a soft smile on his face. “Do you actually care? Or are you just humoring me?”

Alexander’s face flushed. “I don’t see why it can’t be both.” He was going for snarky and missed by a long shot. “You’re so…” he stopped. The last few words left his mind before they could leave through his lips. What was he saying?

“I’m so…?” John prompted.

“I don’t know,” Alexander admitted. “Comfortable? Right now?” he struggled to find the words. “You seem so relaxed, in your element. And compared to how you were when I first met you—“

“Like, two days ago—“

Alexander scowled, “Irrelevant.”

“I get it.” John murmured, the conversation finishing silently. He looked back to the sky. “Okay, so you see the big dipper, right?”

Alexander scanned the sky. “Actually, I think I see the little one. I always seem to find that one first.”

John laughed, “not surprising. Polaris and all.” He paused. Alexander could feel John’s gaze on him again. “Okay, look over here. Big Dipper, see?”

“Yeah. Okay.”

“And then, the squiggly line between them is Draco. And next to him is Cepheus, it's like, pentagon-shaped.”

“Cepheus the King.”

“Yeah. King House. According to Jem.” They both chuckled. “Then, actually, look back to Polaris, then straight across to the next bright star, that’s the start of Cassiopeia. Or “Queen Wiggly Worm.”

“Ah, yes, the wife of King House.”

“Exactly.” The sad smile appeared on John’s face. “She’s Jem’s favorite. I don’t know why, her story is awful.”

Alexander looked over to John, their eyes meeting. “She claimed to be more beautiful than the nymphs, ended up as a worm in the sky. Seems fair.”

“Yeah, I’m sure that’s why.” John laughed, “had nothing to do with the fact that ‘Cassiopeia’ is just fun to say. As is 'Queen Wiggly Worm'.”

“Yeah no, that can’t be it.”

As their laughter died down, Alexander looked to John again. The moon was full, its beams giving him a silvery glow, as though he himself was a living star, glistening, with only Alexander to witness its sheer beauty. His eyes were closed, his face peaceful. If Alexander didn’t know better, he’d say John had fallen asleep.

“Which one’s your favorite? I’m sure you have one, right?”

“Hmm?” John asked, cracking open an eye. “Oh, my favorite constellation?” His eyes opened wide once more, their hazel gaze scanning the stars. “There.” He pointed.

Alexander followed the direction of his hand, focusing on a bright line of stars. As he focused, the figure of the constellation took shape. “Orion?”

“Yeah. I don’t know why. The belt is just so pretty.”

“Yeah, it i—woah.” A flash of light flew through the sky.

“Was that a shooting star?” John asked.

“I think—there’s another one!” Alexander called out. 

Before long, dozens of shooting stars tore across the sky, bright white lines painting themselves across the black canvas. Neither teen said a word. They didn’t have to. John’s hand found Alexander’s.

They were going to be okay.

 

After the meteor shower died down, Alexander stood, pulling a misty-eyed John to his feet. Had Jem ever gotten to see a meteor shower? Or even a shooting star? Alexander didn’t know. He’d ask some other time.

“That was amazing,” murmured John as they crossed into the cabin area.

“Yeah,” Alexander responded, unable to say more. The two teens squinted at the sensor light that flickered on as they approached.

  Silently, they made their way to their cabin, mildly surprised to see that the camp hadn’t sent out a search party. Surely they had been in the field for hours. Alone. In the dark. Alexander quirked a brow. Why hadn’t they looked? His hand frozen on the door to Leviticus, he looked to John. Be ready. John nodded. Surely their new counsellor was waiting for them. He had to be. Unless maybe he fell asleep?

Alexander held his finger up to his lips, slowly easing the door open with his other hand. He cringed at the creak of the door, seemingly loud as a gunshot against the silence of the forest around them. In the dark, Alexander tip-toed through the cabin, careful not to wake the—

The counsellor bed was empty, the red backpack still in place.

“What the f—“

“What?”

“There’s no one here!” Alexander hissed.

John blinked, squinting through the dark to look at the empty bed. “Guess our counsellor is a fan of night walks?”

Alexander squinted. Something wasn’t right. It had to be one or two in the morning by then, any counsellor wouldn’t stay out that late.

“Maybe he’s out looking for us?” John supplied.

“Without rallying the troops? You’ve run off before. We didn’t come back with the rest of the group, there should’ve been a riot or something.”

John shrugged. “Yeah, it’s definitely weird.”

“Wait. This bag is… It’s different. The other one didn’t have this.” Alexander stared at the small pouch pocket at the front of the bag. “John, this is a different pack.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m…sure.” Alexander grit his teeth. “Keep watch. I’m going to dig through it.”

“Okay.” John put his hand on Alexander’s shoulder, squeezing it. “Be careful.”

“I doubt it’s booby-trapped, John. I’ll be fine.”

John didn’t look convinced. “Still.”

Alexander rolled his eyes, turning back to the pack. He grabbed the zipper, on the small pouch, pulling with such trepidation that he heard the head pass each tooth. There was a folded piece of paper, the camp schedule written on it. He turned the paper in his hand, gently unfolding it. His eyes widened when he caught a glimpse of another piece of paper; construction paper, specifically, trapped within the schedule. “What’s this?”

“What’s what?”

“Hang on.” He pulled the corners of the paper apart. It was a note.

Alexander,

Hopefully A.B. was right, and you’re observant enough to notice the change and nosey enough to dig through my bag. It took quite a bit to get this here. I hope I bought you some time. Don’t do anything stupid. And obviously, don’t tell them anything. Play dumb. You’re a damn good actor, Alexander.

I’m in.

~T

Chapter Text

Alexander blinked against the early morning light as it filtered through the slightly dirty window of their cabin. How long had he slept? He wasn’t certain. His eyes focused on John, the other teen still asleep. The bruises Alexander could see had almost faded, their muddled green fading into the healthy tan of his skin. In a few days’ time, all physical signs of his time in the Room would be gone completely. What hadn’t faded, however, were the deep purple circles under his eyes. John needed the sleep. So did Alexander, but that wasn’t as important to the teen. He was used to not sleeping. The circles and bags under his eyes were a permanent facial feature at this point; Alexander wasn’t sure if he’d recognize his own face without them.

As quietly as he could, he tiptoed across the floor, shooting a worried look John’s way when he stepped on a particularly creaky floorboard, and grabbed the note from the counsellor bag again. The understated handwriting looked back at him, its small font holding so much meaning.

Construction paper, A.B, T. It had to be Theodosia, of that Alexander was certain. There was a pile of construction paper next to the cabinet in the art building. Alexander ran his finger across the tattered edge. It was ripped, not cut. She must have written it when Mary wasn’t looking, folded it into her camp schedule and tucked it away while the other woman’s back was turned.

“How did you get here though? How didn’t you get caught?” Alexander mused aloud, running his fingers across the paper as he thought. Burr must have written to her, told her on her own skin. But how? How did he manage to get the message across without anyone seeing it, on her skin or his own?

Alexander looked toward his bag, where the undershirt with the now-broken microphone laid. George would have been able to help him think through it, if Galloway hadn’t thrown the damn water on him. He leaned over and grabbed the hoodie off its perch on the bedframe, digging through its pockets for the earpiece. He placed the device in his ear. Silence. George must still be asleep.

Folding the note again, he hid it in the pack, opening another pocket. Maybe Theo left him something else. The main pocket of the bag seemed normal, papers, first aid kit—Alexander made a mental note to grab that, just in case—a counsellor nametag. Nathan Hale. Where did she get that? A Bible. A notebook. A notebook. Alexander flipped back the cover.

John 3:16

A Bible verse? Alexander sighed. Believability, he supposed. But did anyone need to look that verse up? He wasn’t particularly religious but even he knew that one. Unless.

A lightbulb went off in Alexander’s mind. He reached in, grabbing the maroon leather of the Bible, flipping its pages as rapidly as he could while still being quiet. John. He slowed the turning of the pages as he got closer. Scanning the lines, he rolled his eyes at the words in front of him, before stumbling upon the proper verse. 

Alexander couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped him, as sure enough, black pen stained the page.

23-9-14. Luke 2:14.

Twenty-three. Nine. Fourteen. Alexander scowled at the page, repeating the numbers in his head. He had no idea what they were for, but it had to be important.

“Are you actually reading that?” asked John, his voice slightly lower from grogginess.

“Yes, John. I’m totally reformed. Acolyte has changed me. The program worked. I’m cured,” Alexander tried his hardest to keep his tone flat, but laughter lilted the last few phrases.

John chuckled along with him, crossing over to sit on the ground in front of the counsellor bed. “So,” he said, placing his hand on Alexander’s right shoulder and leaning in to look at the book, “what are you really doing?”

“Theo went full 00-7.”

“So you’re sure it’s Theo?”

“Who else would it be?” Alexander asked. “A.B. is obviously Burr. Construction paper from the art building, and signed ‘T’. It’s gotta be Theo.”

John made a noise of affirmation and rested his chin on Alexander’s left shoulder. “What’s that code?”

“I dunno.”

“Ah.” Alexander tried to focus back on the book in his hands, but he found himself instead focusing on the weight of John’s head on his shoulder, of his hand on the other one. John’s arm flush against his back. His hair, free from its tie, tickled Alexander’s collar bone. “So, on to Luke, right? Alex?”

“What? Oh, yeah! Yeah,” Alexander said quickly, his face flushing.

John lifted his head. “You good?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, just, this is a lot, you know?” he tried.

John nodded. “Yeah, who would’ve thought that a rescue mission would turn into dismantling a camp from the inside out. But you’re totally a spy now, so like, that’s pretty neat.”

Alexander bit his lip. “I mean, I guess. Sorry.”

He quirked a brow, but said nothing.

“Luke.” Alexander began flipping through the pages again. John settled his chin against Alexander’s shoulder again. Alexander felt his lips turn up at the corners.

John watched him flip through for a while. “Other way.”

“What?”

“Luke’s over here.” John reached over, grabbing a decent sized chunk of pages and turning them in the other direction than Alexander had been. “Right here, see? Luke.”

“How did you…?”

John laughed. “Have you ever heard my dad speak?”

“Right.” Alexander looked for the verse in question.

1782.

“Seventeen-eighty-two?” John inquired.   

Alexander wondered aloud, “The year? What happened in 1782? Like, historically?”

“Hell if I know. You’re asking me?” John laughed, angling his head to knock their temples together. “You’d probably know it before I would.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I don’t know. You just seem like the type, I guess. Walking computer. Read books for fun. Full of useless knowledge. Like, you’d know who won the Battle of Yorktown before you’d be able to tell me who Julie Andrews is.”

Alexander flicked his eyes over to look at him. “We won Yorktown. That’s the end of the Revolutionary War, John.”

“See?” John laughed again. “Now tell me, who is Julie Andrews?”

Alexander thought for a moment. The name sounded vaguely familiar. “She’s, an actress, right?”

“So uncertain, thanks for proving my point,” he teased.

“I was right, wasn’t I?”

“Yeah, but with much less conviction.”

Alexander scowled. “Shut up.”

John patted his shoulder sympathetically. “Don’t fret, Alexander. Once we get back to the 518, we’ll have movie nights all the time. I’ll get you caught up on your cinematic history.”

“The 518…?”

“Yeah…? You know, the 518? Albany?”

“People call it that?”

John snickered. “Oh man, have they sent you to public school yet? The Washingtons?”

Alexander shook his head.

“Good. We’ve got some slang to teach you.” John paused. “Wait, when did the battle of Yorktown end?”

“1781.” Alexander answered immediately.

“Ha,” John snickered. “Nerd.” He paused. “But shit. I was kind of hoping that I unconsciously made the connection, you know? Damn.”

“It’s cool. You were close.” Alexander consoled, reaching with his right to teasingly pat the other boy’s head. “Only a few months off.”

Alexander could see John narrow his eyes in his peripheral vision, making the teen laugh. “Is there anything else in the bag?” John inquired.

“Haven’t looked yet.”

“So,” John said, gesturing up to the bag, and consequentially digging his chin into Alexander’s shoulder. “let’s look.”

Alexander did as was suggested, yanking the pack down from the bed and onto the floor with them. “Okay, we should—wait.”

“Why?”

“How long do we have before morning call?”

“Dunno,” John asked, pulling away from Alexander to look out the window.  “Maybe an hour or two?”

“We have to slip in with other campers, right at its peak. As far as the camp knows, we have a counsellor in here. If we leave too early or too late, they’ll realize we’re unsupervised.”

John shrugged.” I figured, now let’s not waste what little time we have, Alex.” John clicked his tongue before going back and digging through the bag. “Yoooooo,” John stretched out the word. “Alex, look.”

Alexander looked up from the Bible, his eyebrows shooting through the roof “No way.” In John’s hand was a small, silver, touch-screen phone.

“It’s a few years old, c’mon Theo, time for an upgrade.” John said, inspecting the phone.  “George’s number is still the same, right?”

“We’ve gotta unlock it first, dork.” Alexander paused, chewing on his lip. “Did she mean to leave this in here? This could kill her. If we get caught with her phone… they could kill her. There’s no way she’d risk that, right? Why would she risk her life like that?”

John only shrugged. “Maybe it’s worth it. To see Acolyte get shut down. I mean. If we get caught, they could kill me. Again, technically.” John added. Alexander stared at him. “My heart stopped once or twice in the Room… I told you that.”

Alexander’s heart thudded against his ribs. “You said it so nonchalantly. Do you…” Alexander forced himself to swallow, his throat suddenly gone dry,” do you not care about your life at all?”

John furrowed his brows. “Who are you to talk?” John stood up, gesturing with his hands as he spoke. “You knew how awful this place was before you got here. Surely George told you stories about my other escape attempts. And you just. You just skipped down the path, twirling your hair as though you weren’t literally throwing yourself to a pack of dogs!” John huffed.

“To get you! I wasn’t going to leave you here!” Alexander retorted, jumping to his feet.

Why?” John shot back. “Why did you volunteer to go? You didn’t know me! Why not send Laf, or Peggy, or Eliza?”

“Are you crazy?” Alexander blurted as soon as the middle Schuyler was mentioned, “What if something happened to her?!” Alexander suddenly pictured Eliza in John’s place, battered and bruised, too weak to stand. Her heart stopping. Alexander’s own heart began thudding against his ribs again, as though it would be able to restart Eliza’s just by working harder. His brain screeched for his body to listen. It was all hypothetical. Eliza was fine. Lafayette was fine. Peggy was fine, everyone was fine. “Besides,” he continued when his heart had finally calmed down. “Everyone knows Laf lives with the Washingtons. And the Schuylers are the most recognizable children in politics. No one knows who I am. It made sense.”

John quirked a brow, frustration fizzling out of him. Something else flashed quickly in his gaze, something Alexander didn’t have time to decipher. “Alex,” he said slowly. “Before these few days happened. Before you actually met me. Or Aaron. Or Burr.”

“What.” Alexander turned away. He had a feeling he knew where the conversation was going. And if it was, he couldn’t look at John’s face.

“What were you planning on doing if the plan backfired?” John asked. “What if we were going to get caught?” John sighed. Alexander heard him take a step closer, but he refused to meet John’s gaze. “Alexander, look at me.”

“No.”

John took another step closer. Alexander felt John’s arm on his shoulder, his slightly calloused hand gripping at the back of his neck. “You were planning on martyring yourself, weren’t you,” it was a statement, not a question.

Alexander made the mistake of glancing at him. Those hazel eyes stared into him, and any and all thoughts of deception completely disappeared from Alexander’s mind. “I… yeah.” Alexander looked away only to glance back again. He had compared John’s eyes to the Sun before, and the simile held true. He couldn’t look into their light for more than a few moments at a time, but simultaneously didn’t want to look away. “Yeah.” The floodgates had opened, more words spilling from his lips without his consent. “Everyone missed you. Everyone needed you. Martha would cry. A lot. Lafayette would get more depressed with each day. It was an easy decision. And if I didn’t come back, they’d have you, so it’d be okay.”

John laughed, its tone sad. “Alex. Do you really think that?” Alexander said nothing. “They gave you an earpiece and microphone. That was Herc, right?”

“Yeah.”

“And George has been with you as much as he can, right?”

“Yeah.”

“And how did Martha feel about it?”

“She…didn’t want me to go.” Alexander knew where John was going, “John, I know that they care about me. They’ve made that clear, and I’m grateful, but—“

“But nothing, Alexander.  Having me back wouldn’t mean anything if it meant you were still here. Besides, I’d be miserable without you. Understand? We both leave tomorrow. Or we both stay behind.”

“Together.” Alexander’s heart was full.

“Together.” John repeated, leaning forward and touching his forehead to Alexander’s.  They stayed like that for a moment, foreheads together, saying nothing. This was it. Tomorrow, they’d leave Acolyte, and begin attacking it from outside.

Someone tapped on their cabin window, forcing the boys to spring apart. Shit. That probably looked bad, and they had gotten caught. They were doomed. The plan was doomed. They’d go in the Room. Alexander was certain of it. He—

He met the amused gaze of Quincy and Caleb, the two boys waving their arms goofily above their heads, effectively blocking the window from view. “Good morning Alex and Jack!” Quincy called out. “Walk to breakfast with us!”

John heaved a relieved sigh, his face not quite relaxed. “Sure,” he nodded.

The older teens hurriedly got dressed, Alexander leaving the bugged undershirt buried in his bag. He contemplated the earpiece while John repacked Theo’s bag. “Do I bring it?” He asked John. “If that woman with the ponytail sees it, she’ll know something’s up, but what if George says something and I miss it?”

“Bring it. Just say that it dried out and is functioning again. If she asks. Which she probably won’t.”

“Yeah. Okay.” He placed the piece back into his ear. Sure enough, a crackled voice spoke not long after, still thick with sleep.

<<Alex. I’m assuming the microphone is no longer functioning, since I haven’t heard a peep from your side. The plan is still on as it was. You have less than 24 hours left, Alex.  Marta and I will be waiting outside Acolyte’s property once it gets late. Around where I dropped you off. I’m sorry it’s so far, but that’s a close as we can get. Thank the Lord there are so many evergreens nearby; they can’t see the very edge of their property. And by some miracle, they don’t have security cameras on the edge of the property. At least, according to Hercules.>> George paused. Alexander could see the conflicted expression that was more than likely on his face. <<I didn’t ask. Wait until the camp falls silent and make a break for it. No goodbyes. I know you’ve made friends, Alex, but you can’t tell them. We’ll get them out of there as soon as we can. But you and John are our top priorities.>> George paused. <<God I hope you can hear me. I hope you’re safe. If you’re not in my car before sunrise, I’m going in there and getting you myself. I love you, son I’ll see you soon.>> There was a shuffling noise, then silence.

I love you, son. Alexander beamed.

“George?”

“Yeah.”

“What’d he say?” John tilted his head.

“Just, you know, reiterating the plan. We leave tonight.”

“Tonight?! I thought he said tomorrow!”

“He did. But he meant early tomorrow morning,” Alexander smiled wide, “you have a nice night’s sleep? Because that was the last time you’ll ever sleep on an Acolyte bed.”

John choked out a giddy laugh. “So, this is it, huh?”

“This is it.” Alexander nodded. He’d have to get his journal back from Burr.

“So, when should we check the phone?”

“When we can. But Quincy’s right, we should probably head out soon.”

“Yeah.”

Following their own advice, the two boys left their cabin, Alexander ruffling up the counsellor bed as an afterthought. “It helps if it looks slept in,” he said in response to John’s strange expression.

 

They greeted the younger boys at the door, Caleb’s shy smile contrasted slightly with Quincy’s grin, and set off toward the mess hall. After a few moments, Quincy spoke, his voice quiet. “So, you and Kathy.”

“Rin,” Alexander corrected.

“Right. Does she… know about the, you know…” Quincy gestured between Alexander and John, his normally jovial face twisted with seriousness. The emotion didn’t fit the young boy, like a kitten trying to hiss.  “Because she deserves better than that, you know.”

Alexander was hit with a whirlwind of different emotions: dismay for the misgendering of Aaron and the inability to correct it, amusement at the way Quincy is defending Aaron’s honor, embarrassment for getting caught being so careless with John in the first place, and something else. The idea of unpacking the details of each emotion seemed exhausting to Alexander, so he forcibly shoved them into a corner of his mind to deal with later. He had to stop doing that, the pile was sure to completely topple over eventually. It had already gotten close a few times, piling more on probably wouldn’t help.

He shook his head to clear it of the imaginary boxes of emotion in his head, “what, dating someone who… you know.” Alexander stuck a thumb back to where his cabin sat. “Pretty sure he signed up for that when he agreed to date me in a conversion camp.”

“She,” Quincy corrected. Alexander bit his own tongue which such ferocity he was surprised he didn’t taste blood. “And it’s not a conversion camp. Not to all of us.”

Alexander quirked a brow. “What’s Acolyte to you, Quincy?”

“It’s to keep me from falling in love with my arm-marker.”

“Your soulmate. And why?”

“Cuz Papa said so.”

Why?” Alexander pressed.

“’Cuz she’s not from here, and Papa said that I wasn’t gonna marry no for-rain-ner.” Quincy quoted.

“Did he tell you why foreigners are so bad?”

“No!” Quincy responded, his eyes glittering with curiosity. “Will you tell me? What’s so bad about ‘em?”

John frowned. “Absolutely nothing,” Alexander answered.

“Really?” Quincy’s paced stuttered, the boy almost tripping himself. “No, there’s gotta be something bad about them.”

“Quincy. Am I a bad person?”

Quincy stared at him for a while, scanning his face. “I don’t think so? Caleb thinks you’re a good person. He’s the one who wanted to walk with you.” Caleb nodded, waving his arms above his head like he did earlier. Alexander’s eyes widened as he nodded in understanding. It had been Caleb’s idea to block the window, and he used the guise of walking with them to convince Quincy. “And if Caleb thinks you’re a good person, then you must be a good person.” Quincy nodded knowingly. “Even if you’re cheating on Kath—Rin.” He cast a narrowed gaze on John.

John started choking, his eyes wide as dinner plates. “Nope! That’s not what’s—We’re not—I mean. No. Just friends.” John managed, a quiet cough passing through his lips again. “Rin may be ready to rush into a relationship with this guy, but I’m,” another cough, “not.”

“Oh, that’s ‘cuz he’s from the South. He’s got to be Quartered first,” Caleb said, nodding knowingly to Quincy.

Quincy’s eyes widened, the glisten of curiosity back with a vengeance. “What’s that mean?!”

“No!” John’s face flushed. “Jeez, the first thing you say all morning and it’s that?!” Caleb’s face fell. His shoulders dipped. “No, no. Caleb, I’m not mad,” John backpedaled, “it’s just... embarrassing. You meant courted. Not quartered. Although that’s not the problem. I mean. I--” John made a strange noise, ducking his face away.

Alexander laughed. He couldn’t help himself. He felt bad for the other teen, but his reaction was priceless. What Alexander would’ve done to have a camera at that moment. He never wanted to forget what John looked like when he was flustered. 

“What’s ‘courted’ mean?” Quincy asked. “We don’t use that word in Massachusetts.”

“Wait, Massachusetts?” John asked. “Your Dad sent you here from Mass?

“Yeah, we’re from Boston,” Quincy responded, shrugging.

 John looked at Alexander, the residual blush from earlier still burning brightly and conflicting with the dumbfounded expression. “But—”

 Quincy glanced at them. “I could barely hear you when you introduced yourself the other day,” he started. “But I think you said… is your last name ‘Laurens’? You’re Mr. Senator Laurens’s son, right?”

John’s face went from red to pale white in a millisecond. “Did I say that? Did everyone hear me?” He looked to Alexander.

He tried to remember. As much as he had been forcing himself to forget what John looked like when they first met, beaten and weak, collapsed on the ground. His beautiful hazel eyes clouded and dim, surrounded by dark circles, squinting almost-closed in the bright light. The now-faded bruises were a brighter green, only just beginning to heal. He opened his mouth, his voice was quiet, so quiet. And not at all the expressive tone Alexander had quickly come to know.

My name is Jack Laurens, he had said. “You did,” Alexander confirmed. “But it was so quiet. I doubt the whole circle heard you.”

“They didn’t. I barely did.”

“I didn’t,” Caleb confirmed, looking to Quincy.

“But Rin, and Jodie,” John pleaded.

Alexander frowned. “They had left the circle right before you got there. Rin had to change.”

“So you are, then?”

John hung his head. “Yeah.”

Quincy frowned. “It’s okay. Papa’s a politician too. John Adams?” he whispered.

“Your father is John Adams?” John hissed. Quincy nodded. “Ugh, I hate that guy. Sorry, Quincy,” he added quickly.

“It’s okay. I don’t like your dad either. It’s only fair,” he managed a smile. Alexander frowned. “He’s getting pretty popular in Massachusetts, though. People are scared that that Washington’s going to run for President. They want Papa to run against him.”

George Washington?” Alexander squeaked. He had sat in George’s office with him during video calls. He’s always at home. He had never mentioned it. Nobody did.

“Yeah? I guess?” Quincy shrugged. “I dunno. The New York guy. The used-to-be-Virginia one.”

“That’s George,” Laurens whispered.

“Oh my God.”

“Yeah. Papa thought Washington was going to run, and then suddenly I was here.” Quincy shrugged. “Now that I think about it, he never really cared where Lulu—uh, Louisa—was from. Then a few months ago, like June-ish? He started asking me a bunch of questions about her. If she was American. If her parents were American. What religion she was. A whole bunch of stuff.”

“You’ve been here since June?”

 Quincy nodded again. “Yeah. It hasn’t been that long, has it? I don’t know. Every day is the same around here. It’s kinda starting to get pretty cold though,” his eyes widened, forced open for comedic effect. “I didn’t miss Halloween, did I?!” he joked.

Alexander’s heart broke.

“Quincy, it’s December,” Caleb whispered. “We’ve known each other for three months now.”

“No way.” Quincy stopped dead in his tracks. “Pa said I’d only be here for a little while. That I was at summer camp. He said he’d pick me up before school started. It can’t be December! Papa said!” Fat tears rolled down the boy’s face, which he hurriedly rubbed away, pushing against his closed eyes with his fists in an effort to stop crying. “He said.” He repeated.  His sobs faded into hiccups as he continued to rub his hands against his face. “I want my mom. I wanna go home.”

Alexander said nothing, his mind’s eye travelling back to a rundown house in the Caribbean. His hands balled into fists, held tight to his side.

“You’ll get to leave soon,” Alexander heard John promise. “I’m sure of it.” A pause. A hand on his shoulder. ”Alex? Yo, no fading off again, come on.”

“Sorry. Just, I’ve been there. Sort of.” Alexander said vaguely. John nodded.

“So,” John forced his voice into a happier tone as he changed the subject. “Your soulma—“ he stopped. They were nearing the center of camp now, the red coats were near. “Arm-marker is named Louisa? How did you find out?” he asked.

“Oh, well, names don’t come through on our skin, yeah?” Quincy brightened at this, tears still running past his small smile. “Lulu’s really smart. She drew a toilet,” he giggled.

“A toilet?” John said, surprised. He was dramatizing his reactions—the big brother routine, Alexander realized.

“Yeah! Cuz she’s British! So she calls it the ‘loo’,” Quincy nodded. “Then, a big capital ‘E’” he drew the letter in the air with his finger, “then a saw. Like the wood-cutting one.” He made the sawing motion. “Loo-E-saw. Louisa.”

Alexander smiled, thinking back to the Schuylers’s story. The Soulmate code was universal apparently. Cheat the system. Sketch it out. Hope they understand, as you’d have no way of knowing if they’ve actually figured it out, or if they’re calling you the wrong name, wherever they are. He had spent so much of his life feeling sorry for himself that he never realized how fascinating Soulmate culture could be.

“How did you tell her your name?”

Quincy looked embarrassed, looking to the ground and kicking a small stone with his shoe. “I, um. Haven’t yet. I can’t figure out how to say ‘Quincy’,” he paused.

“Wait. Wait a second,” John interrupted, shaking his head. “Your father is against your soulmate because she’s English? So he sent you to a camp that is run by an Englishman? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Quincy nodded vehemently. “That’s what I said!”

Alexander narrowed his eyes. “Quincy. What other questions did your father have about Louisa? What else did you tell him?”

Quincy looked up to the sky, watching the clouds as he thought. “Um, he asked where she was from, how old she was, where her parents were from….” He paused, looking back to Alexander with a defeated stare. “Is it because she wears scarves?”

“Scarves?” John asked; Quincy nodded. “Papa made a weird face when I said that she liked to wear pretty scarves that covered her hair.”

Alexander looked to John, recognition clear on his face. “Is she Muslim? Did she use that word?”

Quincy’s eyes lit up. “Yes! I thought that was what her scarves were made of.”

John chuckled half-heartedly, “that’s muslin. With an N. Muslim, with an M, is the word we use for people who follow Islam, like Christians follow Christianity.”

Oooohhh.”  Quincy nodded in understanding, before quickly shaking his head again. “Wait, there are other religions?”

Alexander and John stared. “Yes,” Alexander spoke, “there are quite a few of them, actually.”

“Really?” Quincy asked. He paused again. “Wait, so like Jewish-ness? Is that a religion?”

“Judaism, yes,” answered John.

“Your parents never mentioned other religions? Or your school?”

Quincy shook his head. “I’m homeschooled. Mom told me about Jewish people, and what happened to them a long time ago, but when I had questions, Pa made me go to my room.”

John grit his teeth. “God I hate that guy.” he crouched down to be eye-level with the younger boy. “Quincy, I know what the media is saying, maybe you don’t, maybe you haven’t heard it yet. But Muslim people are good, okay? There are people here who are going to say bad things about Louisa. Maybe your dad will be one of them. But it’s not true, okay?”

“It’s not?” Quincy stared at John, looking for reassurance. “Wait. The bombers! The Boston Marathon! They were—“

“Maybe so,” John relented, his gaze sad. “But that doesn’t mean all Muslims are like those boys. There are bad Christians too. Christians kill people sometimes, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Does that make every Christian bad, because some Christians are bad people?”

“No,” Quincy answered immediately, before pausing. “Is that what people think about Lulu?”

John frowned. “Some people, yes.”

Quincy screwed up his face, throwing his hands in the air. “But that’s stupid!”

The other three boys laughed at his reaction. “Yes, yes it is,” chuckled John.

“Alex! John!” Aaron called as he jogged up to them, a pink ribbon in his hair. “Way to wait for us, jerks.” He half-heartedly punched Alexander in the shoulder. Alexander rubbed at his arm dramatically.

“Sorry. Caleb and Quincy wanted to walk with us today, and we got talking. Lost track of where we were,” he said with a sheepish grin.

Aaron rolled his eyes, reaching out and grabbing Alexander’s hand in his. “Whatever. Replace me and Jodie with boys. I get it.” He teased, pain in his eyes with the words. Alexander knew Aaron wasn’t upset at him, more so upset with his own misgendering.

“Now why would I do that?” Alexander leaned over and kissed Aaron’s temple. Quincy looked to the ground after a glance to John.

John stared at the fake couple, Alexander could only describe the expression as helpless. He tried to suppress his own embarrassed laughter. It seemed no amount of explanation would convince Quincy that he and John weren’t a couple.

A lightbulb went off in Alexander’s head. King George was already suspicious of Alexander’s ‘relationship’ with Aaron. What if Quincy confirmed that he was right? After he and John leave, King George would more than likely talk to the campers they had spent the most time with, or any time with at all. If Quincy confirms that he suspected Alexander of having feelings for John, their escape together would, ironically, look less suspicious. They would look like two teens running away to be together, escaping a camp where being in love with each other was deemed inappropriate. George said that morning that Acolyte can’t see the property line; if he and John could time it just right, they could escape into the cars without the Acolytes seeing them. They’d have no idea that John and Alexander escaped by car, and would spend the next morning scouring the property for them, the two already across state lines and halfway to New York by then.

Alexander smiled at John, hopeful. Who would have thought that someone thinking he and John were in love would actually help them leave a conversion camp?

John made eye contact with Alexander, shooting him a confused look before smiling brightly in return.

Quincy looked up, before making a weird face again. “C’mon Caleb. I think I see your sister,” he said, tugging on Caleb’s sleeve. Caleb laughed quietly, waving to the older boys before leaving.

John took a step toward the Alexander and Aaron, their couple routine in full swing. “We need Caleb’s last name before we leave,” he whispered.

“You got the same vibe I did, then.” Alexander whispered.

“What?” Aaron cocked his head to the side, the pink ribbon swinging with the motion.

“Abuse.”

Aaron’s eyes widened, looking back at the boy as he latched onto his foster sister, sending a shaky smile to the kid with the honey colored eyes. “How can you tell?”

“He’s tethered himself to Nora, barely speaks when he’s away from her. Everything he said during our conversation here, what little that was, was entirely directed at Quincy--” John started.

“--With whom he’s been friends for three months,” finished Alexander. “And when John got all flustered—“ he started the next sentence, a teasing grin on his face.

“Shut up,” John interrupted, “I kinda… I don’t want to use the word ‘snapped’ but—“

“He reacted.”

“Right, thanks. When I reacted to Caleb’s words with—“

“you got flustered.” Alexander snickered.

John shot him a look, “yes, thank you,” he looked back to Aaron, “he was afraid of me. Eyes wide, hunkered down shoulders. Practically pleaded for me to calm down without saying a word. He immediately thought I was upset with him.”

“So, someone has been yelling at him whenever he speaks. And judging by his attachment to Nora, she stands up for him. Or at the very least, comforts him after the fact,” Alexander finished, nodding. “I could be,” he paused. “We could be wrong, but since we both came up with the same conclusion—”

“There’s probably some merit to it.”

“Okay, that may be a possibility, but can you two stop with that?” scoffed Red. Alexander jumped. Had she come over with Aaron? Probably.

“Stop what?” asked John.

“The weird, “finish each other’s sentences” thing. It’s creepy.”

Alexander dropped Aaron’s hand for a moment, looking at John and forcing himself to ignore the look of confusion he got from the younger boy. “We were having the same train of thought. It just—“

“—made sense,” nodded John. Realizing what he did, he smiled sheepishly at Red. “Whoops. Did it again. My bad.”

Red screwed up her face as she stared at them. “Come on, you weirdos. Breakfast. Morning group is cancelled. I guess King George wasn’t feeling well?” she shook her head. "It’s irrelevant. Either way. Food. Let’s go.”

The three boys followed her lead up the steps of the main hall, campers trickling in behind them. It seemed that all the counsellors had been informed of the change of schedule. If it wasn’t for Red, he and John would have given away their secret. Alexander made a mental note to thank her later.

Their normal table was empty. Alexander smiled as he watched the other kids glance at it for a moment, before changing their minds and sitting elsewhere. A group of girls looked over and made eye contact with Alexander, the young girl with the curious gaze leading the crowd. She glanced at the gap between Alexander and Aaron—Alexander had forgotten to grab his hand again—and smiled at him, nodding to her friends to sit somewhere else. Huh.

Red seemed to think nothing of the exchange, if she noticed it at all, and led them to the table, Alexander once again sitting in the corner and watching the room. Before long, the room was filled with campers, bustling with chatter. Nora and Caleb sat with the kid with the golden eyes. Alexander spotted Burr sitting away from everyone else, before being called over by the same girl as before. He had been staring at the table across from him—

The next table practically gleamed with red, the hoodies and wind breakers of various staff momentarily blinding him from their faces. Howe. The lifeguard. Ponytail girl. Seabury. Mary.

No Theo.

Alexander scanned through the faces of the other red coats around. She wasn’t anywhere to be found.

 

Elizabeth the kitchen girl trotted over, a fearful look in her eye dulling her bright smile. “Alexander!” she called out to him. Alexander blinked in confusion, as did his group. “I was told to deliver this? She said you left it in the art building. Seems pretty important,” she smiled. It’s okay. Alexander’s confusion grew as she passed him a fabric satchel, it’s material a heavy muslin—maybe even canvas, Alexander wasn’t sure.

“This isn’t mine,” Alexander said out of reflex. He had never seen that bag in his life. It was beautiful, embroidered flowers decorated the flap, a wooden button keeping it closed. Little buttons and zippers decorated the strap. It looked like something Martha would make. Maybe Hercules.

“No?” Elizabeth frowned, green eyes hard as she stared at him. “Oh! The bag. She said keep it.”

“Who?” asked Aaron.

Elizabeth’s hard stare turned to pleading. “Oh! Oh! Okay. Sorry, Yeah. Thanks Elizabeth,” Alexander took the bag from her hands; it was considerably heavier than expected. Something about its weight felt, familiar somehow. Elizabeth nodded, dashing back into the kitchen.

Who?” Aaron asked again.

“I think I know,” Alexander answered.

“You think?” Red hissed. “Have you forgotten that you’re –“

“No, I haven’t.” Alexander snapped.

He wrapped his hand around the button, passing the smooth wood through the hand-sewn buttonhole. Flipping over the top flap, he peered into the contents. The main pocket was locked, a combination lock holding the zipper to a metal ring sewn into the seam of the bag. 23-9-14, Alexander remembered. He’d have to test it later, it was obviously important, and therefore could not be seen by the other campers.

“Actually, I’ll be right back. Bathroom.” Alexander said.

“Me too. I’ll go with you,” chirped John, standing quickly. The other half of the table stared, murmuring quietly.

The two boys glanced at each other before heading off into the bathroom. Once they were certain they were alone, Alexander opened the bag again, John standing in front of the door, effectively blocking anyone from opening it and surprising them.

“The three numbers on John 3:16. That has to be the combo, right?” John whispered.

“That’s what I was thinking.” Twenty-three. Alexander rolled the dial past zero. Nine. He switched directions, slowly ticking over to fourteen. He tugged it.

Click. The lock popped open. He pulled the zipper, a piece of notebook paper revealed itself.

I did a lot of dangerous things for you. We did. What you do next is all you. We’re not involved.

Don’t talk to either of us today. We don’t want to know.

A.B

Afuera. 6041738

Ah. Typical “Hot and Cold” Aaron Burr. Alexander almost chuckled, staring at the collection of numbers. At first, he thought it was a phone number, but the word in front of it complicated that hypothesis. He screwed up his face. Afuera. Outside? Outside what?

He peered into the bag again. His journal stared back.

His journal. Afuera. The gate. The string of numbers was the passcode for the gate.

“Holy shit,” Alexander whispered.

“What?”

“Burr wrote our way out.”

Chapter Text

The two teens rushed back to the table to avoid suspicion. Upon passing him, Alexander nodded to Burr, holding the bag in his arms so the other boy could see it. Burr closed his eyes, nodding slowly once before turning his head. That was that, Alexander realized. Until Acolyte was behind him, that would be his last interaction with Aaron Burr.

Alexander could feel the frown on his face. He had hoped to get closer with Burr, if he was honest with himself. Burr kept his distance, but Alexander couldn’t help but think that they were still friends, in a weird way. He may have bowed out, but he managed to give them the key to the gate. He held Alexander’s journal. Helped Theo give them supplies. He wanted them to succeed, he just didn’t want his name on it.

Once everything was said and done, he’d invite Burr and Theo to Thanksgiving. With Aaron and Red, Nora and Caleb, maybe even Quincy, if he could manage it.

The Washingtons might actually need a bigger table.

“What’s up?” John asked him, pulling Alexander from his thoughts.

“Nothing. Just,” Alexander smiled at himself, “wishful thinking, I suppose.”

“About?” John prompted.

“Thanksgiving?” Alexander answered, a small laugh passing through his lips.

“Ugh,” John groaned. “Isn’t Martha’s cooking the greatest? I’m so bummed I missed Thanksgiving, man.”

“They don’t do anything for it here, right? Since King George is British?”

John nodded, “Yeah. But I didn’t even get camp food that day.”

“Wait, what?” Alexander stopped walking, drawing the attention of a kitchen worker. Elizabeth’s mother, specifically. John gestured for him to keep moving.

“Shhh,” he shushed Alexander. “I got caught with my cell phone, remember?” John’s expression morphed into something more pained than serious. “That was the day I was sent to The Room.”

“I thought you tried to escape?” Alexander hissed.

“I did. Laf wasn’t the first call I made. Marta was. I thought I was in the clear after I explained that I just wanted to wish my family a happy Thanksgiving. They punished me by not letting me eat dinner, so I thought that was the end of it. But it made them suspicious enough of me, so when I went to escape—“

“They were already waiting.”

“Exactly.”

Alexander nodded, now too close to their table to continue, no matter how quietly they were whispering.

Once seated, Aaron leaned into Alexander again, his demeanor teasing rather than falsely flirtatious. “Soo, what was in the bag?”

“Hmm?” asked Alexander.

“Oh come on. You obviously brought the bag in the bathroom so you could see what was in it. So…” Aaron trailed off, gesturing to the bag with a dip of his head.

Alexander only shrugged. “It’s my journal. I brought it with me to keep prying eyes like yours out of it,” he teased.

Aaron pouted, “Hey, that’s not cool. I wouldn’t have read your diary.”

“Journal,” Alexander corrected.

“Same thing,” retorted Aaron.

“Either way. There’s some stuff in it that I’d prefer not be read.” Alexander involuntarily glanced John’s way.

Aaron mimicked the motion, glancing over at John. “Okay?”

Red cleared her throat, “Lay off it Aaron,” she chided, making eye contact with Alexander for a second. “I have one too. I feel your pain.” Her eyes flickered slightly downward. Aaron. Alexander smiled.

“Thanks Red.”

Something in Red’s expression shifted. “Are you ever going to call me Jodie?” There was something disingenuous in her tone.

Alexander’s smile twitched. “Never.” She knew. Of course she knew. She was beginning her goodbye.

She giggled, its tone devoid of any actual mirth. “Good. It’d be weird if you did.”

 

Breakfast was, unsurprisingly, some kind of oatmeal, lacking any color or consistency to describe it as anything other than slop.

Alexander looked up to the kitchen worker, surprised when he met the brown gaze of a man, a hairnet around his beard. “You’re not Elizabeth.”

He narrowed his eyes, “Is that a problem?” his posture was strong. Intimidating. Threatening. As though he wasn’t easily a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than Alexander.

“Not at all, just different. Your name is?”

The man curled his lip in a snarl, the expression partially covered by his mustache, but the message was still clear. He stomped away without giving Alexander a proper answer.

“Well then.” Alexander stared at the man as he trod back toward the kitchen. He couldn’t wait until he didn’t have to deal with the looks and sneers just for existing. Alexander rolled his eyes, at least let him say something derisive before deciding you hated him. Was that so much to ask?

“Anyway,” Aaron started, staring after the man as well. “What’s the game plan today? We doing the same thing as yesterday?”

“I think I’d break Mary’s heart if I don’t work on that table,” John snickered.

“True, true. I can deal with another day of embroidery. I’m actually getting pretty good at it,” Aaron replied, a hint of pride in his voice. “I’ll have to show you when I’m—“ he paused. “Wait. Right,” Alexander felt Aaron curl in on himself.

“I’m sorry,” Alexander whispered. John stared at the ground. Red reached across the table and touched Aaron’s wrist in silent comfort. For a moment, Alexander felt an irrational pang of jealousy flow through him. Red’s ability to comfort her friend physically without anyone seeing it as something romantic, why couldn’t he do that? Why did the world decide that men only made physical contact for romantic or sexual reasons? It was bullshit and the whole world knew it, and yet people continued to teach their sons not to hug their friends goodbye. Or if they do hug, it was the side hug thing, as though two men’s chests touching automatically meant that something was going on when the sun went down. It was beyond toxic, telling boys to internalize affection like that.

“Alex?” Aaron sniffled. “What’s the matter? You seem upset.”

“I’m fine.” He said. A small part of his mind scolded himself for internalizing, for doing exactly what he had been silently ranting about only moments ago.

“You sure?” John leaned forward. “You zoned out for a while there. What’s on your mind?”

“Nothing. Well, nothing important, anyway.” He couldn’t meet John’s eyes.

John made a noise of discontent, but said nothing.

“Well, you’ll just have to show him later. After everything is finished,” said Red, patting Aaron’s hand.

“Right,” Alexander confirmed, going for a comforting smile and missing by a long shot. The group fell silent for a while, absently eating the bland oatmeal in front of them before it got too cold and solidified.

“I never thought…” John started, his voice as soft as was physically possible. “I don’t want to…”

“—say goodbye.” Alexander finished, his voice rough. “Angelica told me not to make friends. But I did. I did and now I—we—” he corrected, “have to leave you here.”

“I know what this camp can do. I know what this camp does,” John looked between Aaron and Red. Suddenly, Alexander’s mind was filled with his biggest fears. Aaron in The Room. Red beaten and bruised on the floor. Caleb forever mute as Acolyte abused and manipulated him into never opening his mouth again. Nora, her strong grip lost. The kid with the honey-colored eyes, forever lying to themselves about their gender. The girl with Burr, her curious gaze clouded and dull. Burr, his fire forever extinguished. Theodosia, broken, under the thumb of her abusive husband. Quincy, fearing and resenting his own soulmate because of her faith.

Acolyte destroys people. Camps like Acolyte brainwash and manipulate until children are nothing more than carbon copies of their parents. No personalities, no beliefs. Just blind obedience and backwards methodology.

“We’ll be okay,” Aaron said, his voice filled with obvious uncertainty. He leaned away from Alexander, looking at Red. Red nodded with determination, her body attempting to mask the fear in her eyes.

“Promise me,” Alexander said. “If they go after you, you rat me out. Tell them everything you know.”

“What?!” Aaron exclaimed, “No way! I’m not going to betray you like that!”

“Aaron, promise me. I won’t be able to live with myself if something happened to you because I left you behind.”

“But Alex, I—“ he started, his eyes watering.

“Red?” Alexander prompted.

Red looked upset, chewing on her lip. “Okay.” She said after a moment.

“Jodie! We can’t!” Aaron cried, his voice escalating just slightly.

“Hopefully it won’t come to that,” Red said, “But if it does, they won’t be here anymore, Acolyte would no longer be a threat to them. They’ll be safe.”

Alexander and John shared a look, but said nothing.

“I can’t,” Aaron curled in on himself, sniffling.

Alexander wrapped his arm around the younger boy, pulling him close. “Okay. Just know that if the time comes where you have to tell them our plan, just know that John and I won’t be upset with you. It won’t change our friendship at all, okay?”

Aaron leaned into his side. “Okay,” he whispered. “Hey Alex. Remember the cousin I told you about?”

“Roxana? Yeah. What about her?”

Aaron bit his lip. “It’s my fault she left.” Alexander went to interrupt, but Aaron silenced him with a look. “I know, but… I told my mom that I was worried about her. She was saying these…things. About her friends. They were planning something to make the world better for people like me. But she wouldn’t tell me where. Or what it was. I was worried she was going to get herself killed, so I told my mom. A week later, she was gone.” He heaved a sigh. “If you find her, tell her I’m sorry?”

Alexander nodded. “Of course.” He dropped his voice down to a low whisper, “but we still have today, why are we saying goodbye?”

Aaron wiped at his eye. “Ha. Right.”

 

After a quick run back to the cabin to stash the bag—accompanied by Quincy and Caleb to honor Burr’s request—they were back in the art building. John practically dashed to the table, wood burning tool in hand.

Mary held her hand over her heart as she laughed at John’s whirlwind of motion. “Hello to you too!” she giggled. Alexander nodded to Mary, glancing around. As expected, but much to Alexander’s disappointment, Theo was nowhere to be found.

He looked to Aaron, frowning. Aaron, who had been setting up his embroidery, raised a brow before scanning around the room. “Hey, where’s that other lady?” Aaron asked.

Mary tilted her head. “What other lady?” She glanced around. “Oh, her. Yeah, don’t worry about her.”

Alexander narrowed his eyes at her words. John had stopped moving. He glanced at his freckled companion; John’s face was pale, hazel eyes burning into Alexander.

“Is she okay?” Aaron asked, watching the older boys’ interaction.

“What? Yeah, of course. She apparently caught a cold or something. Her husband said she was staying in bed today.” Mary quirked a brow. “Why? What did you think happened to her?” she asked, her voice coated in suspicion.

“I, uh, I dunno,” Aaron tried.

“She was pretty clumsy, we thought maybe she broke her leg or something,” Red supplied, not looking up from her embroidery hoop.

“What with the Night Walk last night. I tripped a few times myself. It didn’t seem out of the realm of possibility,” Alexander continued, nerves prickling at his skin. He silently begged whatever deity was up there to keep Theo safe.

Mary nodded. “Yeah, I keep telling them the night walks are a bad idea. We’re in the forest,” she rolled her eyes. “No broken legs this time, but it won’t be long now, I’m sure. “

“Hey, Mary, can I ask you a weird, kinda personal question?” Red asked suddenly. Alexander, John and Aaron all turned to look at her in surprise. What was she thinking?

Mary seemed taken aback herself, but tried to laugh it off. “Well, you can ask, but I might not answer you. Depends on what it is.”

“Of course, it’s not like super personal, I was just curious.” Red took a hand off the embroidery hoop to wave it nonchalantly in the air. “Why did you decide to work for Acolyte?”

Mary tilted her head. “Oh geez, I mean, I guess I don’t know? I was looking for a job, and I was pretty great with children, so Acolyte had a pretty strong appeal. I loved being around kids, and got to help them through some pretty awful afflictions.” Mary smiled, before dropping it for just a second, “Do I agree with all of Acolyte’s methods? No, but I know it works, and that’s the important part.”

Aaron looked up at her, screwing up his face. “You sound like a success story.”

Mary’s eyes widened. “Well, if you must know, I am one.”

All four teens gasped. “Really?” John whispered, the burning tool slipping from his grasp.

“Yes.” Mary nodded again. “I was questioning my faith. This is embarrassing,” she ran a hand through her hair, her fingers tugging on an unseen tangle. “But there was a point in my life where I didn’t believe in the power of the Soul Bond. I thought that we should—” she cut herself off, “unimportant. Either way, I questioned my faith, my mother sent me here. Acolyte cured me of any and all question. God is undeniably here, and the Soul Bond is perfect.” Her face dressed in an uncomfortable smile, Mary crossed over to Aaron and Red’s table. “I know it’s hard for you to see, Jodie. But trust that the Lord made the right decision for you.” Red sputtered, staring at the stitchery in front of her instead of responding. Mary patted her shoulder, turning to Aaron. “And I heard your soulmate is a Dark-Arm,” she continued, her voice shifting to something less loving as she said their name.

“Who told you that?” Aaron asked.

Mary only chuckled. “Word travels fast here.” She reached out and brushed Aaron hair from his face in a strangely maternal gesture; Aaron leapt back as though he had been burned. “Such soft hair. It’s a shame you won’t grow it out. You’d be so pretty with long hair.”

Aaron stared at her, visibly uncomfortable. “I like it here,” he said, tugging at the ends of his hair. The curls unfurled down before bouncing lazily back to their place below his ear.

“Rin’s pretty now, actually,” Red snipped. There was a beat of silence. Red’s eyes widened; the girl immediately ducked her head as blossoms of red bloomed on her face.

Alexander chuckled, crossing the room to stand behind Aaron, his hands gently resting on the younger boy’s shoulders. “I couldn’t have said it better. Short hair looks amazing on Rin,” he smiled. The smell of burning wood filled the air again. John must have gone back to work, the crisis averted.

Mary made eye contact with Alexander, the conversation fizzling out. “Just trust in the process. It may seem a little unorthodox, but… it’s all for the best. Trust in Acolyte.”

Alexander made a noncommittal noise, leaving Aaron’s side to go to John’s.

They worked in silence, Alexander painting in the carvings with stains as John moved to the next creature. By the time the cacophonous bell tolled, they had finished most of the table—John was carving much faster than he had been the day before, his hands confident around the burning tool now.

Mary crossed to the table, looking at the boy’s handiwork. “Amazing! Excellent job!” she praised. “I’ll finish the last bit of staining while you eat. Then we can tackle the chairs tomorrow, alright?” she chirped.

“Yeah” Alexander nodded. Aaron and Red looked at the ground.

“Perfect!” continued Mary, the emotions of the other campers going unnoticed. “See you tomorrow!”

Lunch was unusually quiet. Again, group had been cancelled, but the mirth from earlier had turned suspicious. Whisperings of mediation rippled through the group. “Is anyone missing?” he heard one camper ask her group. They all shrugged in unison,

Beard-net was back, throwing down the food on the table. “Here,” he said gruffly and left before anyone at the table could respond.  “John,” Alexander started once the other man had left. “Did King George visit you in the Room?”

John’s eyes immediately dropped to the table, his hands curled into fists. Immediately, Alexander wanted to retract the question, to apologize for his lack of sensitivity, but John spoke before he could say another word. “Yeah. Yeah he did. He spent the whole first day in there with me. He…” John stopped, shaking his head.

“That’s okay. You don’t have to say any more. Thank you,” Alexander nodded.

“Are you thinking what I am?”

“Yeah. But who?”

“You think someone got sent into the Room?” asked Red.

Alexander only nodded.

“One of us?” Aaron asked. Us. The rebellion. Their group had grown so large, so quickly. There was something both exhilarating and terrifying in one two-letter word.

“I don’t know.” Alexander looked around, trying desperately to see a familiar face. He saw blonde hair, a single lock twisted into a familiar braid. Nora. Alexander breathed a sigh of relief. Next to her. Empty. “No,” he whispered.

“What?” John asked, concerned. He turned around to scan the room. “Who’s missing?”

“Where’s Caleb.”

“Caleb?” John scanned the room, “isn’t he next to… he’s not next to Nora.”

No,” Red and Aaron echoed simultaneously.

“He’s fine. He’s gotta be,” murmured Aaron.

“Aaron’s right. The boy doesn’t speak without Nora or Quincy nearby,” John rationalized.

Alexander thought back to that morning. “Maybe he didn’t have to. He blocked our window this morning. What if someone saw him protect us?”

John’s face drained of its color. “You don’t think…?”

“Protect you?” parroted Red. “Protect you from what?”

“We were careless,” Alexander explained, his eyes straining to see the dark, shaggy hair of their quiet companion.

They didn’t ask for more, the four of them on full alert. “Why don’t we just ask Nora? Ask her where Caleb is?”

“We can’t draw attention to her. Can’t break schedule,” Alexander said, his voice devoid of any emotion. “Anything we do out of the ordinary is suspicious. If they have Caleb, it’s only a matter of time before they link it back to Nora. We can’t make it easier for them to get her too.”

“Alex?” Aaron rested his hand on Alexander’s shoulder. “Why are you talking like that?”

Alexander was vaguely aware of John turning around to look at him. Alexander refused to meet his eyes. It wasn’t the time.

“He’s stressed and worried about Caleb. This is ‘Crisis Mode’ Alex.” There was a strange timbre in his voice. Alexander tried not to pay attention to it.

“Find Quincy.” Alexander commanded. “If we find Quincy without Caleb, then we know.”

“What if we don’t find Quincy?” Aaron asked.

John tapped on the table to get Alexander’s attention. Alexander’s eyes darted to the source of the noise, before turning back up to scan the crowd. He heard John sigh. “Two options: ideally it means they’re both still at their activity.” He stopped.

“Or?”

“They’re both in the Room.”

“No way. The Room can’t hold two people, can it?” Red hissed. Alexander caught John shrugging.

“Potentially. There could be more rooms. It’s…hard to tell when you’re in there.”

“There,” Alexander interrupted. “I think I see Quincy.”

“Do you see Caleb?!” The other three crowed.

He squinted. Caleb was a little taller than Quincy, but they were both so small. Alexander whispered to whatever god existed that he would see Caleb nearby. His eyes were forced away from Quincy when he caught Nora moving out of the corner of his eye.

Her hands were covering her mouth, eyes wide and watery. She raced into the middle of the room, her sobs loud enough to drown out the chatter of the other campers. Or maybe his brain tuned everyone else out. Maybe they stopped talking; Alexander couldn’t tell. Caleb was wrapped in his sister’s arms. “He’s safe.” Alexander whispered. “Caleb’s safe.” As relieved as Alexander was, the appearance of Caleb pushed the original question back to the surface. “So who is it?”

“I see Burr. So it’s not him.” John turned back to Alexander, a small smile playing on his lips. “Glad to see you’re back, Alex.”

“What?” Alexander tilted his head.

“You’re not in Crisis Mode anymore.” Alexander shrugged in response; John frowned. “Anyway. It’s not Nora, Caleb, Quincy, Burr, or any of us,” he gestured to the group in front of him. “I saw the other kid—we never got their name—so they’re fine too. And that girl that’s always with Burr, she’s there too. So we’re all safe.”

A new theory popped into Alexander’s mind. “Wait. I’ll be right back.” He stood from the table. Aaron and John simultaneously grabbed at his arms, Alexander could feel John’s hand burn into his wrist.

“Where are you going?!” he hissed, fear in his voice.

“I’m checking something, I’ll be right back.”

“Well let me go with you!”

“No,” Alexander responded curtly, pulling his arms free from their grasps; he turned his face away from the look of hurt in John’s eyes. “I’ll be fine. Just hang here.”

John made a noise of discontent, but nodded.

“I’ll be fine,” Alexander repeated. He stepped away from the table, squeezing John’s shoulder in reassurance as he passed him. Walking up the main hall was almost surreal. There had to be at least a hundred kids in the room, and somehow, Alexander could still hear the buzz in the lighting overhead. A group of children that large should never be that quiet. He looked to the red coats, gauging their reactions. They were clustered in small groups as well, whispering quietly to each other and looking toward the doors. Whatever was going on, the red coats were frightened… no matter how much they tried to hide it.    

“Excuse me,” he called into the kitchen.

Beard-net appeared in front of him. “What.” His gaze was hard-set, stone cold brown eyes bore into him. Alexander tried not to shudder.

“Yeah, hi. I was…” he trailed off, reconsidering his words, “I have a favor to ask Elizabeth. Do you know where I can find her?”

“She was told not to speak to you lot anymore.”

“I see, and uh, why is that?”

Beard-net shrugged. For the moment, it looked as though his hard exterior was cracking. Alexander thought he saw a smile crack through his facial hair. “Kid, you attacked her dad.” He chuckled, “you really think they want her to talk to you after that?”

“Uh. Right. That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to her about. I was hoping she would apologize to him for me. I figured if it came from his daughter, he’d be more likely to forgive me.”

“You’re probably not wrong. I’ll pass on the message.”

“Thanks.”

He nodded, spinning on his heel. “Yo, Lizzie!” he called out.

Alexander heaved a sigh of relief and walked back to his table, his friends anxiously waiting for his return. “Alex, what was that?” Red hissed.

“It’s not Elizabeth either. They won’t let me talk to her since I attacked her dad, but the guy with the beard called into the kitchen for her when I left, so she’s okay too.” He turned to Aaron; the other boy had refused to meet his gaze. “Aaron, what’s the matter?”

“I was thinking…. Alex, there’s one more of us, someone we haven’t seen all day.” Aaron started; Red and John looked to the ground. “Burr.”

“What do you mean? We saw Burr! He’s right over there!” Alexander looked over, and sure enough, Aaron Burr sat at the time, the girl missing her curious gaze as she patted his shoulder. Burr looked troubled. He fought to keep a neutral expression, but the façade broke a little more with each passing second. “No way.”

“Think about it Alex,” John tugged on his wrist to get him to sit back down. “Mary said her husband claimed she was sick, but she didn’t hear form her herself. The red coats look miserable. The only logical reason is that—“

“The person in the Room is one of them.” John nodded at Alexander’s words.

“That’s the only thing I can think of,” he paused, “and with the look on Burr’s face…”

Pain squeezed Alexander’s heart. “It has to be Theo."

Chapter Text

Theo, thrown on the floor, looked up at King George’s smug face. She forced her weak legs to stand, looking her captor in the eye. King George smirked, nodding his head. A crackle rippled through the air; Theo fell to the ground, body convulsing as the electricity coursed through her. Her tan skin torn and bleeding, she took another shuddering breath, before her body went still. Theodosia, a fighter—strong, brave and stubborn—was forever silenced, face-down on the floor. King George laughed gleefully as he stood over her body.

“Alex!” John’s voice cut through Alexander’s head, pulling him back to his current surroundings. He was still in the main hall—the population had dwindled to half-capacity. John had half-thrown himself across the table, his hands firm on Alexander’s shoulders as he shook him.

Alexander focused on John’s face. He studied the splatters of freckles across the other boy’s face, each one of them was unique, Alexander couldn’t find a single freckle that looked exactly the same as another one. After he was certain he had observed each and every spot on the boy’s face, his gaze travelled to John’s eyes. They shimmered wide with fear, water beginning to collect in their corners. Alexander’s heart thudded once, hard against his ribcage. Even in this state, they were stunning. Greens blended with amber, flecks of russet littered within their colors like glitter.  It seemed as though John had every color hiding in his gaze, blended seamlessly like an artist’s palette, and Alexander was determined to find them all.

He took a breath.

“Alex?” John repeated, his voice softer.

Alexander nodded. “I’m okay.”

John didn’t look convinced, but gave him a shaky smile anyway. “Welcome back.”

Aaron had grabbed Red’s hands across the table at some point. Judging by the red hue of her fingers, he was squeezing them with a decent amount of force. Tears flowed freely from his eyes; the collar of his shirt was drenched.  “What was that?” he whispered, his voice shaky. “We kept calling your name and you wouldn’t answer and then you started crying and then—“he took a shuddering breath, “Are you really okay?”

Alexander felt frustration boil within him. He was hellbent to protect Aaron, and all he had managed was to scare him. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Don’t apologize,” he sniffled, “Just, where were you?”

He shook his head.

“We don’t know for sure if it’s Theo,” John said quietly. He released Alexander’s shoulders and slid back into the seat. Alexander missed the contact.

“Every sign points to Theo, John. We did this. I did this to her.”

“No,” Aaron retorted, his voice firm. “If I’m not allowed to blame myself for Roxana, you’re not allowed to blame yourself for Theo. She decided to help us. She knew the risks.” He let go of Red’s hands, replacing John’s hands with his own. Alexander relished in the physical comfort, even if it wasn’t as effective. “I’m worried about her too, but we can’t blame ourselves for her decisions.”

“Then what do we do?” asked Alexander.

Red looked to him, idly wringing her hands in order to get back their normal blood flow. “Nothing we can do,” she frowned. “Look, you guys are still leaving tonight, alright?” John and Alexander both went to interrupt, but Red spoke first, “don’t give me that. The plan continues. We’ll still be here when Theo gets out. Burr too, probably. The three of us can help her.” Red’s eyes burned in determination.

“Wait, before we plan for that, shouldn’t we be sure it’s Theo in there?” Aaron cried desperately. “I mean, yeah, the evidence is pretty convincing. But like John said, we don’t know. Not for sure.”

“How do you suppose we do that? We can’t talk to Burr. We promised we wouldn’t. And even if we could, he can’t talk to Theo without risking himself.” Grief coated Alexander’s voice as he spoke.

Aaron ducked his head. “Right.”

Red suddenly snapped her head up, looking over to where Burr had been sitting a few hours earlier. “Wait. He asked you not to speak with him, or Theo, right? Is that what you had said before you grabbed Quincy this morning?”

“Yeah,” Alexander confirmed, thinking back to the note that he had quickly whispered to Aaron and Red before he stashed it back in the cabin.

A small smirk appeared on the girl’s lips. “He never said we couldn’t talk to her.”

“Her who?” asked Aaron.

“That girl he’s always with.  She was comforting him this morning. She knows about Theo. Maybe she knows about this too?”

Alexander bit his lip. John spoke for him, reading his mind, “Should we risk it?”

Aaron looked to Alex for a moment. “I mean, it’s the only way we’ll know. I’ll talk to her.”

Red frowned. “No way. You’re dating Alex, remember? It’d look suspicious.”

Aaron tilted his head. “How so?”

“Think about it, Burr’s soulmate is in the Room. Hypothetically,” she added. “Burr and Alex are fairly close. They don’t trust Alex. Alex’s g-significant other talks to Burr’s close friend, then reports back to his ‘boyfriend.’ You really don’t think that looks suspicious?”

“But you’re my best friend. It’s still the same passage of information,” Aaron rationalized.

“True,” Red amended. “But. I think it’s worth a shot. And, to be honest: Alex started this whole thing, John’s given us vital information on the truth of the camp, and you’ve spent this whole time not just pretending to be a girl, but also Alex’s girlfriend.” Her shoulders drooped. “I was fully convinced I was supposed to be here before I met you all. It’s my turn to support the cause. I can do this for us.”

“Red’s right.” Alexander cut in. “This is her thing. The more distant the relationship is to me—or John—the better.” Aaron went to cut in, but stopped himself. “And Red?” Alexander added.

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

Red smiled. “Hey, I’m in on this too. I’ll go now, meet up at dinner. Figured you’ll be packing up during afternoon activity, right?”

“Nothing to pack.” Alexander and John said simultaneously. “Only thing to put away are the sleeping stuff. We can do that tonight,” John finished.

“Either way. It’s probably best you don’t talk to us during activity. We should really try to make it look as unrelated as possible,” Alexander amended.

Red nodded. “Right. Alright, I’m off. I’ll see you guys later.” Red gave a mock salute and left the building.

“So, what do we do? We can’t canoe without her.”

“Right. Huh. John? Any ideas?”

“Well, Burr and that girl usually go hiking in the afternoon. So we can’t do that.”

“Right.”

“Hey! Kid, come here!” Beard-net called, his voice gruff.

Alexander’s head snapped up to see him curling his finger, eyes glued to him. “Guess that’s me. I’ll be right back.” He stood from the table, a nervous glance was shared in his absence; Alexander did his best to ignore it. “Yeah?”

“I don’t know what your little friends are scheming,” Beard-net started.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Alexander tried to play it off.

“Elizabeth must like you, putting herself on the line to give you that bag at breakfast. Especially after a direct order not to talk to you anymore.” He dropped his voice down to a whisper, “Look, kid. I get it. Elizabeth told me everything. You kissed her. You and Katherine’s little fling isn’t real.”

“What are you saying?” Alexander fought to keep his voice steady.

Beard-net smirked. “C’mon kid. You’re not fooling me.” Alexander said nothing, Beard-net’s smirk grew. “You think you’re the only spy in Acolyte?”

“Excuse me?” Alexander fought back a smile. There was something in the other man’s gaze that Alexander needed to explore more.

“Come ‘ere.” Beard-net called him into the kitchen. Alexander followed through the half-door, curiosity getting the better of him.

“Hey!” One of the remaining redcoats called out. “He can’t go in there!”

“He tried to steal food!” Beard-net called back, reaching over and snatching Alexander’s arm. “Gonna make him wash dishes for payback!”

John and Aaron immediately called out. Alexander shot them a look, hoping they could see through it. John made eye contact, confusion clear on his features. Regardless, he smacked Aaron’s arm, gesturing for them to leave. “Well, shit. Have fun washin’ dishes, man!” John called with a laugh.

“Yeah, shut up,” Alexander grumbled. The redcoat seemed to buy it, covering a snicker with his hand before turning and following Aaron and John out of the room.

“Lizzie and her mom’s off doing whatever, but just to be safe, stand by the sink. I’ll make it look like you’re doing work.”

Alexander nodded, his eyes trained on the bearded man as he walked.

“Keep your eye on the enemy. Good,” Beard-net had a totally different personality now. He seemed chipper, more sarcastic. “But I’m not your enemy, kiddo.”

“Prove it,” Alexander commanded. “Give me one reason to trust you before I confirm or deny anything.”

“Smart boy.” Beard-net praised. “Alright.” He glanced around, confirming they were alone before gripping at his sleeves. He looked around once more before he tugged the cuff up, revealing his wrist.

It was solid black.

“You’re a Dark-Arm?!” Alexander hissed, his hand slapping the edge of the sink, splashing water into the air.

“You trust me now?” he asked, replacing the cuff of his jacket. “Caleb Brewster, at your service. But please, just Brewster is fine.”

“Does she know? Elizabeth?” Alexander asked. “Is that why she ratted me out?”

Brewster scowled, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “You know, kid. Customs dictate you tell me your name and we shake hands.” He glanced at Alexander’s hands, partially submerged in the dishwater. “I’d suggest drying them first.”

Alexander rolled his eyes, wiping his hands off and reaching out. “Alexander Hamilton.” He shook Brewster’s hand. “Now? My question?”

“Alright, alright. Yeah, she knows. She’s one of us.”

Alexander’s eyes widened. “Liar. I’ve seen her arms. Not a speck of ink on them.” She had been wearing a thin white blouse at breakfast. The ink would have been visible, surely.

Brewster shrugged. “She’s new. Just recruited her, actually. That’s why I’m here. We needed some eyes on the inside of these camps.” He smirked. “I sent her with her mother to your cabin your first night. I asked her to say those things to you, rile you up. I wanted to see how true your façade was. Didn’t expect you to kiss her, but hey. Added entertainment for me.”

“You were there?”

“Of course,” he shrugged. “You just didn’t see me. She is quite the little actress, isn’t she?” he laughed, “Lord knows I wasn’t expecting her little performance at breakfast the next day.”

“But wait, her father’s the chaplain. A priest. Her mother is just as—“

“Not everyone turns out like their folks. I thought you would know that with the Laurens boy.” He gestured to where John had been sitting a few minutes prior. “So, who are you with? I doubt you’re one of us. And you’re too young to be press. Your file said you’re fifteen, yeah?”

“Seventeen, actually. I lied.” Alexander admitted, “Put the baby-face to use.”

Brewster nodded. “Niice. But you ain’t press.”

Alexander shook his head. “A writer, yes, but not press.”

“So, who?”

Alexander quirked a brow, “You really think I’m gonna reveal that? They could get in a lot of trouble if they’re caught.”

“That’s fair,” Brewster relented.

An idea sparked in Alexander’s mind, “Hey wait. Do you know who’s in the Room then? You’re staff, surely they’d tell you, right?”

Brewster frowned. “’Fraid not. It’s an adult for sure though. All the campers are accounted for. They won’t tell me anything.”

“Shit.” Alexander frowned. He stuck his hands back into the water. Brewster quirked a brow. “I have to make it look like I was washing dishes, remember?” He pulled his hand out of the water to wiggle his fingers.

Brewster beamed.  

“Wait, why would you ask if I was press?” Alexander continued.

“There’ve been a few reporters who’ve tried to interview Georgie directly. For both sides. They usually get sent home with a lackluster response from Seabreeze.” Brewster gave a half-hearted shrug. “Figured it wouldn’t be long before an investigative reporter snuck in. As if they have any idea how to properly get information.”

“And you do?”

There was that shit-eating grin again, hiding behind his facial hair. “Indeed I do, Hammy. I found out about you, didn’t I?” Alexander frowned. “Relax kid, I’ve got a trained eye for this stuff. You think on your feet, very clever. We could use a kid like you.”

“You trying to recruit me, Brewster?”

“Nah. You’re already getting information for someone else. We don’t do double agents. Leads to nothing but trouble,” Brewster’s face turned stormy.

“Past experience?”

“Can’t tell you everything boy-o,” he winked. “Go back to your little spy ring. They’re probably already planning my death,” he ended with a laugh. “Of course, don’t tell them anything I’ve told you. You’re not long for Acolyte, I’m assuming, but your little friends are. Can’t get myself caught because a preteen gave me up.”

“Fair enough.” Alexander nodded, headed toward the door again. “We’ll be in touch, I’m sure.”

“Looking forward to it,” Brewster responded cheerfully. “Oh and Ham-“ he stopped himself, “Alexander?” Alexander turned back to face him again. “I’ll keep an eye on them.”

He nodded. “Thanks.”

 

As it turned out, John and Aaron had been waiting just outside the main hall. When Alexander opened the door, John’s hands clamped onto this shoulder, inspecting Alexander’s face. “Are you okay? What was that?! Did he hurt you?!” John asked in a flurry, his chest heaving in too-quick, too-shallow breaths.

“John, I’m fine. Elizabeth told him about what happened on my first day. He really did make me wash dishes,” he managed, showing his shriveled fingers as proof. It technically wasn’t entirely a lie. 

“Oh, your little… yeah, what did happen? You were supposed to tell me, but then Aaron caught us talking in the labyrinth.”

“Oh, right.” Blood rushed to Alexander’s face. “Uh. I kind of kissed her?”

“You what.

“She was saying all these awful things about gay people and I just kind of—”

“—she was saying homophobic shit so you reward her?” John hissed.

“No!” Alexander retorted quickly. “I kissed her, told her she might catch the gay, and left.” Alexander’s fear of hurting John overpowered the momentary rush of pride at the action.

“You…you what?” John asked again, the beginnings of a laugh pushing through his lips. He was trying to be serious, but it was clearly a losing battle. Aaron had already lost the fight, wiping a tear away as he laughed.

“You’ll catch the gay!” Aaron crowed, gripping at his stomach. “I can’t believe! Did you really say that?!”

Alexander snickered, “yeah. Yeah I did.”

“Is that what you apologized for?”

“Oh God no. I apologized for saying that she looked like a foot.”

That broke John’s hard exterior. His quiet snickers turned into laughter. Before long, the three of them sat laughing in hysterics on the porch of the mess hall. A red coat walking down the path shot them a look. “Hey! Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“Sorry!” John called back. “C’mon Alex,” he said, laughter dying down into small giggles, “We’ve got to find something to do.”

“Any plan?”

“Nope!” Aaron replied, “but we’ll find something.”

 

‘We’ll find something’ translated into walking through the labyrinth. They had already been in the art building that morning, and obviously Alexander and John couldn’t do anything strenuous. “You’ll be running enough later,” Aaron had said with a sad glimmer in his gaze.

The redcoats that walked by, as few and far between as they were, smiled at them. “They must really think we’re making progress,” John supplied in an answer to Aaron’s confused expression.

“Well we are,” Aaron replied, a smirk on his face, “just not in the way they want us to be.”

“True.” Alexander studied the stones of the maze around them. Some were painted, Bible verses written in messy script across the rock. He lazily read each stone; most were verses about repentance, but it gave Alexander something to do at least. A strange stone caught his eye. It was darker than the rest, dark black against soft gray. Rather than painted, a message was scratched into it. RIP Philip, the text read, the dates underneath suggesting the boy was just nineteen when he passed. “Shit.” Alexander hissed under his breath.

John was at his side in an instant, peering at the stone. “Oh. That.” John frowned.

“You know anything about this?”

John nodded, “I knew the kid, briefly. He was nice enough. I don’t really know why he was sent here, he wouldn’t say. He was already an adult though. Rumors say he got in legal trouble, but due to the circumstances of the incident, he got sent here instead of prison.

“What did he do?” Alexander asked, “You know, according to the rumors.”

John smirked, “Said the kid tried to get into a gun fight with a guy for talking shit about his dad.”

“And that didn’t mean jailtime?”

“He didn’t fire. The other guy did. Guess the judge took pity on him or something?” He shook his head. “I don’t know how much of it I buy, to be honest. But he was definitely shot at. He had a scar on his side.” John tapped his torso, right above his hip.

“Do you know how he…?” Aaron asked, having joined them in staring at the make-shift memorial.

“Died?” John finished. “Acolyte said suicide. But,” he trailed off, “I don’t know if I believe that either.”

“Oh.”

They said nothing, staring at the rock in silence.  “I’m glad someone else remembers him,” John said quietly, breaking the silence. “For someone in such a shitty situation, he had such a good outlook on life. Kinda like you, Alex. He wanted to change the world someday. And we all thought he had a chance.” Alexander reached over and carefully took John’s hand.  John squeezed back.

“We should go,” Aaron said. “We spent a lot of time waiting for Alex, activity’s probably over.”

Alexander looked up at the gradually darkening sky. “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

Rather than the food hall, the redcoats ushered the campers up to the chapel immediately. Alexander flagged down the nearest redcoat, asking about the change in schedule. She only shrugged in response. “The schedule’s off. Y’all didn’t have group today, so it’s too early for dinner.”

Rev. Galloway stood in the door of the chapel, waving the campers inside. When Alexander approached, he stopped, his hand dropping to his side. He glared, daggers shooting toward Alexander’s very soul.

Alexander glared back.

The session was similar to the day before. Alexander followed the motions of John and Aaron, not particularly interested in what the man up front had to say. He vaguely heard them praying for King George’s health, the nervous looks of the redcoats giving away that the camp leader wasn’t really sick. Alexander bowed his head in order to hide his face, asking instead for Theo’s safety. Galloway’s words turned into more of a blessing, and they were released to dinner.

“Hey, you good?” John asked, clapping a hand onto Alexander’s shoulder as they walked. Aaron stood on his other side, holding his hand.

“Huh? Yeah. Yeah I’m fine,” Alexander reassured.

“We’ll get info from Jodie, remember?” Aaron reassured, squeezing his hand a little too tightly. Alexander could see the younger boy bite his lip.

“Are you okay?” Alexander asked, knocking their shoulders together.

“Huh?” Aaron shook his head rapidly, his curls bouncing around his head. “Fine. Just. I don’t see her yet.”

“Red’s smart. She’s okay,” John murmured.

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“Are you guys really just friends?” Alexander asked abruptly, the words escaping before he could stop them. He had wanted to change the subject, but that wasn’t exactly the path he wanted to go down. He silently scolded himself, scrunching up his face. “Sorry. Not my business.”

John patted Alexander’s shoulder, “Sorry Aaron, he just says stuff sometimes,” John said, quoting one of their first conversations with a grin.

Aaron was still sputtering. “No, I know that. I just. Damn. Wait why? Why would you think we weren’t?” he prompted, pulling Alexander to a stop and scrutinizing his face.

“That’s not an answer, Aaron,” John teased.

“We really are just friends guys.” Aaron quirked a brow, “Projecting, Alexander?”

“What?”

“Alright, alright, come on now,” John said quickly, lightly shoving them both to get them walking again.  

“No seriously. Why would you think we weren’t? Did she say something?” Aaron asked.

Alexander and John shared a look. Do we tell him?

Guys,” Aaron stressed. “That weird telepathy garbage isn’t fair. Help me out.”

Alexander squinted. John’s brows raised, tilting his head to the side. Aaron growled in frustration. “How do you do that?”

They looked back at him, shrugging simultaneously.

“Guys!” Red’s voice tore through the crowd. Aaron beamed. John tapped Alexander’s shoulder. “Hey!” Red said when she caught up. Her ankles were coated in mud, shoes beyond the point of saving. “I know, don’t go hiking with Burr and Ellie. They don’t mess around.”

“I see that,” John laughed.

“Did you find out about Theo?” Aaron asked.

Red shook her head. “She wouldn’t talk about it. But the expression on Burr’s face,” Red trailed off. “It has to be Theo. He wouldn’t look that haunted if it wasn’t.” She shuddered involuntarily. “I hope I never see someone look like that again.”

Alexander nodded, picturing the distraught faces of the survivors post-hurricane. “I understand,” he grimaced.

John mirrored the behavior. “Me too.”

They fell quiet, each mind plagued with a different memory.

After a few beats of silence, Aaron spoke up, his free hand drifting to his hair. “Hey, so let’s go eat, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

With every camper accounted for, the children of Acolyte were acting more like they usually did. Every now and then, an older camper would pop their head up and scan the crowd, but for the most part, all was normal.

Brewster came over with pasta, another bowl balanced in his grip. When he set it down, Alexander’s eyebrows shot up, “Meat?” he asked incredulously.

“Yeah,” came Brewster’s gruff reply. “Just eat it.” Alexander could see the glint in his gaze as he turned on his heel and walked back to the kitchen.

“Man, what is with that guy?” Aaron grumbled. “I miss Elizabeth. She was friendly-enough at least.”

Alexander bit back his reply. Brewster had told him not to say a word. He might not play along if his cover got blown, and, frankly, Alexander had already failed Theo—he wasn’t about to fail another ally.

“I’ve never gotten meat here,” John stared at the bowl. “Ever.” He paused. “You don’t think this is some Soylent Green shit, right?”

Silence.

“You know. Soylent Green is people?” he tried again, looking to Alexander. “Really? Nothing?” he shook his head. “Add that to the list.”

“The list?” Aaron asked, now eyeing the bowl of meat suspiciously.

“One, it’s not people.” Alexander said with a hard look to John. He scooped the meat sauce onto his pasta, quickly shoveling some of the food into his mouth. Surely Brewster somehow managed to get meat out to the campers for an added protein boost for their escape. “And two,” he turned to Aaron, “I’ve apparently lived under a rock, so John’s going to catch me up on pop culture.”

“We’ve got like, thirty years of movies to watch,” John nodded. “Maybe more.”

Aaron nodded. “Gotcha.”

John turned around, looking to the group of kids. He looked over his shoulder. “Last time.”

“Yeah,” Alexander replied. Aaron grabbed Alexander’s hand.

“So you’re really going?” Aaron asked, his voice low. “Even with Theo?”

Guilt stabbed through Alexander’s heart, “Yeah. Red was right. We can’t risk another day here. And we have no way of reaching our ride. The plan’s gotta continue. I’m trusting you guys to gather info. We’ll call you out in a few days, tops.” Alexander squeezed Aaron’s hand. “Your time here is almost over too.”

Aaron and Red smiled. “Nora and Caleb too?”

Alexander nodded. “Yeah.”

“And  Burr and Ellie” added Red.

“If they will, yeah.”

“Quincy?” Aaron asked, his smile growing with each name.

“Of course,” replied John. “You think Caleb’d really let us leave Quincy behind?” the group laughed quietly, “We’ll all hang out together, outside. We’ll go to the malls.”

Aaron tilted his head in confusion. “Plural?”

“There are two that are practically down the street from each other,” John explained. “Albany’s pretty boring, but after here? Boring’s a blessing.”

“Wait. Albany? Like New York?“ Red connected the dots. “Those friends of yours are the Schuylers,” she whispered.

Alexander grinned. “Do you know how hard it was to pretend I didn’t know them?”

“Especially since you’ve already hit on ‘Liza.” John snickered.

Alexander’s face flushed. “Shut up.

“Wait,” Aaron’s smile fell. ”You hit on Elizabeth Schuyler?” He paused, chewing his lip.  “Are you not really gay?” His voice was quiet. Oddly enough, his eyes were trained on John, not Alexander. 

John blinked, pointing to himself, “Me?”

Aaron shook his head, “No, Alex. Sorry. I was… zoning out.” He pivoted to properly face Alex. “Are you?”

Shame flooded over Alexander. He hesitated. “I’m attracted to women,” he said quietly, his voice barely above a whisper. He focused on his feet, unable to look any of them in the eye.”

He thought he saw Aaron and Red share a look. Alexander heard John move, fidgeting uncomfortably.

“Only women?” Aaron asked, his voice strained.

Alexander said nothing. His face burned red-hot.

“Alex.” Aaron called.

“Yo, yes or no?” Red prompted.

“Guys, please.” John begged, something in his tone tore at Alexander’s heart. He couldn’t place it.  “Just leave him alone.” John shuffled again. “I have to go to the bathroom. I’ll be back.”

“I don’t know.” Alexander finally answered.

“What?” Judging by the sound, John sat back down.

“I don’t know. It’s…never…. You know. The island was a small place. You have one thought about that and…well, you just don’t. Okay? So I didn’t. Think about it, I mean.”

“But it’s not a no…?” Red asked. “Like, you could, maybe, fall for a guy? Someday?”

Alexander lifted his head, looking to Red and doing whatever he could not to look at John. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility. It could happen. Potentially.”

Red turned to smile at John. Alexander looked over her head, strange movement catching his eye. “Hold up. Look at him.”

Red smirked, “What, already see someone you… wait. Why is he doing that?”

“What?” John asked. “Wait, isn’t that the lifeguard? He’s not supposed to be in here.”

Alexander stared at the lifeguard. He was pacing, his feet hitting the tile floor in rapid succession. His hands were a blur, constantly switching positions. In his hair, wrung together, rubbed against his jeans… Jeans? What lifeguard wears jeans? The lifeguard bit his lip, his head whipping back and forth as he constantly scanned the room for signs of activity. He was flighty, uncertain. Constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

He knew.

“What’s with him?” Aaron’s voice shook, “Why is he acting so weird?”

“He’s on call,” answered John. “Waiting for the person in the Room to need to be brought back to life.”

Aaron shuddered.

A wide-eyed red coat dashed into the room, her curly blond hair flying wildly behind her. Her face was white. Too-white. She ran to the lifeguard, grabbing his shoulder. She said nothing. His face soon matched hers, completely lacking pigment. The two red coats dashed out of the hall.

“Okay campers! Back to the cabins!” One of the redcoats called out, her hands clapped in front of her chest in a saccharine gesture.

“Alex what’s happening?” Aaron clamped his hand down on Alexander’s.

Alexander’s hearing was fuzzy, the world spinning around him. It was obvious. The man in charge of bringing people back from the brink of death just got yanked out. The girl who got him was paler than any person should be. They were ushering the campers out of the area. The counsellors were scared. Tears built up, clouding his gaze. He felt someone tug on his wrist, yanking him toward the door. “Alex, we have to go,” the voice—John’s voice—said.

“Kid, what are you still doing here? Move, move!” another familiar voice barked. The pressure on his hands were replaced by larger hands on his shoulders. He heard his friends protest, and a door shut. Alexander blinked, letting the tears roll down his cheeks in order to clear his vision.

Brewster frowned, looking into the boy’s eyes. “Now’s not the time. I’ve got this here. C’mon. Move, kid. You gotta get back. It sucks,” Brewster said as he shook Alexander’s shoulders to pull him out of his stupor, “I know, it sucks. But this might be the distraction you needed. Go home, Hamilton.”

“This isn’t happening,” Alexander managed.

“It is. You know as well as I do. But this is your chance. The Acolytes are distracted. Go.” Alexander nodded. Brewster tapped Alexander’s face. “There ya go. See you on the other side, Hammy.” Brewster cracked a smile.

“Yeah. Yeah.”  Alexander nodded again. “Tell Elizabeth I said thanks?”

Brewster’s smile grew, “Will do. Now, go to your friends.”

Alexander put his hands on Brewster’s shoulders, squeezing them. With one more nod, he was out the door.

“Alex!” John called. He was alone.

“Where are Aaron and Red?”

“Gone,” John scowled. “Redcoats ushered them back to the cabins. I said I couldn’t go back to my cabin without you.”

“And they let you stay?” Alexander asked, flabbergasted.

John shrugged. “Their minds are a little occupied with Theo.”

Alexander’s shoulders drooped.

“Or, you know, whoever’s in there,” John tried.

“John.”

John hung his head. “I know.”

Alexander turned to look down the path. “I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”

John shook his head. “I know. Aaron was pretty torn up about it. But there’s not much we can do, you know?”

“Yeah.” Trying to sneak in a goodbye would be too dangerous. “We have to get ready. Let’s go.”

 

The two teens rushed back to the cabins as quickly as they could. The cabin area was buried under a smog of fear. Not a single person was left outside their cabins, each one lit up, save for Leviticus. Muffled crying could be heard, as well as the attempted soothing by older campers and counsellors alike. Whatever they were trying to do earlier, the false guise of normalcy, was shattered. Everyone knew something was very, very wrong.  

 Once they were inside, they acted quickly. Alexander rolled up the sleeping bag, John folded the quilt. Within minutes, they were completely packed. The two teens stared at the red pack by the door. “Do we take it?” John asked.

Alexander thought for a moment, “Yeah, I think we should. We haven’t looked through it all yet. There could be more damning evidence against Acolyte in here.” And more damning evidence against Theo. Alexander refused to finish the thought out loud.

He didn’t have to, if John’s expression was any indication. “Yeah.” He went to grab for the pack; Alexander grabbed his wrist.

“Hang on.” Alexander snagged the bag instead. He glanced at the back wall of the cabin, a loose panel labeled ‘FIRE’ stared back. He examined the panel closely, before kicking it open and jumping out, the red backpack in his grasp.

“Alex, what are you--?” Alexander began rubbing the front of the backpack into the dirt, the marshy forest floor clinging to the fabric. By the time Alexander was done, the bag was a mottled brown, the red almost completely obscured. He tossed the bag back to John, unceremoniously scrambling back into the cabin. John smiled. “You clever boy.”

Alexander felt his face heat up. He shook his head to clear it. “And now we wait.” Alexander sat on the floor. John sat beside him, unzipping the pack and rummaging through it. Alexander watched, curious, “What are you doing?”

John grinned pulling out the phone, “what was that number again? Seventeen-something?”

“Eighty-two,” Alexander responded. “You don’t think that’s the…?” he trailed off.

“Only one way to find out.” John’s fingers tapped at the screen. Sure enough, an artificial lock clicked, and the phone opened.

“No way.”

John beamed. “And we even have service. It’s a Christmas miracle.” He started typing again.  

Alexander grabbed John’s shoulder as the other teen brought the phone up to his ear. He shot him a look. What are you doing?!

A beat of silence.

And another.

Alexander heard a muffled voice come through into John’s ear. John beamed. “Glad to see you didn’t change your number on me,” he said, his voice drenched in relief.

<<John?!>> at least, that was what it sounded like to Alexander.

“John, who did you call?” Alexander hissed.

John’s smile grew. He held the phone out to Alexander. “Say hi to your dad.”

Alexander scrambled for the technology, snatching it from John’s hands. “Geroge?!”

<<Hello, son.>> Alexander could hear the grin in his voice. <<Now, tell me. Where exactly did you get this phone?>>

“I didn’t listen to Angelica and made friends.” Alexander bit his lip, “Actually, giving us the phone might’ve gotten her in a lot of trouble,” he looked at John. John put his hand on Alexander’s shoulder. “She might be in the Room, George.”

<<Is she one of them? An Acolyte?>> George’s voice was strained, his own memories of the Room surely haunting his brain.

“Sort of? Her husband is. Her soulmate is one of us. Aaron Burr.”

George made a noise of recognition. <<And you’re positive she’s in there?>>

“Yes.” Alexander paused. “Well, no. No one can confirm. But she’s the only one that makes sense.”

<<Not even her soulmate?>>

“He asked us not to talk to him today. He knew we were leaving, didn’t want to be tied to our disappearance.”

<<Ah. Smart.>>

“But now we don’t know.”

<<So, you’re back in your cabin now? Alone?>> George paused. <<You never got a counsellor?>>

“No,” Alexander responded. “That was all Theo too. She left a bag in here to throw them off. Even put an ID card in there in case anyone checked it.”

<<Who’s ID?>>

“Uh, hang on.” Alexander tilted the phone away from his mouth. “John, is the ID still in there?”

“Yeah,” John said after digging through the front pouch. “Here,” he handed the card off, his hands trembling.

“Hey, you alright?” Alexander whispered, leaving his hand on John’s, the card wedged in between them.

John looked at their hands before sending a shaky smile to Alexander.  “I will be. It’s just, my last escape attempt didn’t go so well.”

“This one will, I promise.” Alexander smiled, pulling his hand away and putting the phone back to his ear. “I’m back,” he said to George. “The ID card is some guy named Nathan Hale…?” His voice lilted at the end, as he squinted at the card, scrutinizing the face in front of him. “I’ve never seen him before, I don’t think. John? Do you recognize him?”

John looked over Alexander’s shoulder. “Maybe? The picture’s not the best quality, but I think that might be the guy who drives the little cart thing around.”

“John says he might recognize him, but he isn’t sure,” Alexander repeated into the phone.

<<I’ve heard that name.>> George said.

“You have?”

<<Yeah. I have.>> George sounded disgruntled. <<I can’t remember where.>> There were a few beats of dead space. <<I suppose it doesn’t matter now. What matters now is getting you out of there. Marta’s due to call me, I’ll patch her into the call.>>

You can do that?” Alexander interrupted.

George laughed. <<Yes. I can do that. Tell me, what’s the atmosphere like in there? Has anybody else noticed anything out of the ordinary?>>

Alexander blanched. “Yeah, they pretty much guaranteed that when they yanked the only man in Acolyte who knows CPR out of the dining hall and ordered everyone back to the cabins.”

George swore under his breath. <<So they’re all on high alert. That’ll make this trickier.>>

“I know.”

“What?” John asked, tapping Alexander’s leg. Alexander shook his head.

<<Have you figured out your escape route?>>

Burr gave us the code to the gate.”

There was a pause. <<Really?>>

“Well, Theo did, probably. But yeah.”

<<So your method of escape is the front door.>> There was something in George’s voice that held a deeper story. Alexander didn’t press it.

“No other option.”

<<Right. Well->> A beeping noise interrupted his train of thought. <<That’s Marta, I’m sure. Hang on.>>

A few more beeps rang out. <<Mr. Washington?>> A feminine voice came through the speaker.

<<Marta. I have Alex in the call too.>>

“Uh, hi?” Alexander tried. John cocked his head to the side, tapping Alexander’s leg again.

<<Alex? Your son?>> She gasped, <<Is Jacky there? Can you put him on?>>

George coughed. Alexander glanced at John, the freckled teen staring intently at his face. Alexander felt heat rise to his cheeks. “John, uh. Here. It’s your sister,” Alexander all but forced the phone into the other boy’s hand. He ran his fingers through his hair, pulling it free from the hair tie when it refused to let his fingers pass.

“Marta?” John asked cautiously. Alexander tried to avert his eyes, but found himself unable to, his gaze settling on the almost-completely-faded bruise poking through his shirt collar. Every now and then, he’d flicker his gaze up to John’s face, gauging the conversation by his facial expressions. His eyes were wide, his mouth forming a small ‘o’ shape. “Marta, Marta. Marta. It’s okay. Alex told me everything. Marta. It’s fine. I don’t hate you.” Words tumbled from John’s lips. He made eye contact with Alexander, rolling his eyes. “Be thankful you don’t have younger siblings,” he joked, his smile more relief than jest.

The smile fell suddenly, his gaze serious. “The camp is already a ghost town, Wash. Everyone’s holed up in their cabins, the whole place is already dark.” John looked to Alexander again. “An hour? We can do an hour. I’ll see you soon, Marta. Try not to forget me this time.” John winked at Alexander as he spoke. Alexander’s gaze dropped to the ground, listening to the muffled screeching through the phone. “I’m kidding! Marta it was a joke! I’ll see you soon. I love you. Both of you. Oh, George did you want to talk to Alex?” Alexander perked up, “I mean, you’re going to talk to him in an hour anyway.” John smirked, passing the phone back to Alexander.

“Yeah?”

<<I hope you were serious about the conversation before we left,>> George said, his voice brimming with excitement and affection. <<You have some paperwork waiting for you at home.>>

Laughter erupted from Alexander without warning. The change in sound made John jump, the other teen smacking his arm. “Yeah. I was serious. You’re my family, George.” John dramatically held his hands over his heart, his lips pursed in a pout. Alexander rolled his eyes. “We should probably finalize some things on our end, so I should let you go. I’ll see you soon.”

<<See you soon. Be safe.>>

“Serious about what?” John asked.

“Oh, uh,” Alexander stumbled, suddenly embarrassed. “Uh, adoption.”

“Really?” John’s face erupted into one of the largest smiles Alexander had ever seen. “Alexander Washington, huh?”

“Ugh. No. No offense to the Washingtons, but Alexander Hamilton just has a better ring to it.”

“Hyphenate?” John suggested.

Alexander chuckled. “Herc said the same thing. But Alexander Washington-Hamilton is just… it’s a mile long.”

John shrugged. “Not as long as Laf’s.”

Alexander laughed louder. “Herc said that too.”

“Ha.” John paused. “So, we have an hour.” He hands tapped against the floor.

“Yep.”

An uneasy silence settled between the two of them, neither of them entirely sure what to do to pass the time. Alexander watched John fidget for a while. “What’s-“

“Do you have a crush on Eliza?” John spit out. Alexander blinked slowly, watching John’s face burn every shade of red imaginable, and some Alexander didn’t even know existed.

“What?” Alexander managed.

John stared, wide-eyed, at nothing, his lips pressed into a thin line. “Never mind, forget it. I-“

“No, no,” Alexander said quickly. “It’s fine. I mean…” he paused, thinking back to their few encounters. “I might? I mean, she’s gorgeous, and the sweetest girl I’ve ever met, but she’s not weak, you know? She could kick ass if she wanted to, for sure. But she chooses not to because she’s too beautiful a soul for this piece of shit world.”

John screwed up his face. “Ah.”

Alexander frowned. “Is something wrong?”

John shook his head. “Nah. Nothing’s wrong. You and Liza would be good together. She’d balance you out.” He tried to smile, but it fell flat.

“I appreciate that. But she’s too good for me,” Alexander shook his head. “I’m a hurricane. A walking disaster. Eliza’s a daffodil on a rainy day. The first ray of sunshine to break through the clouds. She’s everything I’d need and want, but nothing that I deserve.”  He shrugged. There was no emotion behind the statement, he was just stating facts.

John made a noncommittal noise as he stared at the floor. “If Eliza wanted to date you, would you?”

Alexander quirked a brow, a smirk playing on his lips. “Of course. You really think I’d reject Elizabeth Schuyler?”

“But you just said—“

“She’s too good for me, I know. I’m selfless enough to avoid actively pursuing her, but if she came to me? I don’t think I’d be able to say no.” Alexander had a bad feeling balling up in his stomach. Something about their conversation wasn’t right. Alexander opted to flip the conversation in hopes of keeping it light. “Well, what about you? Any guy earn your affection?”

John huffed, “Stole it maybe.” His eyes darted to the floor again.

“Oh??” Alexander raised a brow, sliding closer. “And how’d he manage to do that?”

John looked out the window, angling his face as far from Alexander’s as possible. “Hell if I know. But he did.”

Alexander scowled. It didn’t look like John was planning on saying more, so he pushed. “Well, what’s his name?”

John shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. I don’t think I have a chance, anyway.”

“You don’t know that.” He put his hand on John’s knee. John flinched. “I mean, it’s not like it’s Burr.” Alexander paused. “Right?”

“What?!” John knocked his head back, laughter erupting from his chest. Relief hit Alexander like a tidal wave. “God no! Me and Burr? Are you crazy? We’d kill each other!”

Alexander found himself laughing along, the lightened mood a much-appreciated change of pace. He glanced at the phone, his laughter fading. “Hey, it’s been almost an hour. Do you think we should…?”

John faced him, determination coloring his features. “Right. Let’s go.” He kicked open the fire door. As an afterthought, he grabbed his suitcase, almost leaving it behind in his eagerness to leave. “Yo, give me the camp bag.”

Alexander shot him a look. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I know you’ve made a startlingly fast recovery, but just a few days ago you couldn’t even stand. Should we really be bogging you down with the added weight?” What if we have to run?

“You already have a backpack, and we don’t have time to argue. I’ll be fine,” John said, gesturing again for the bag. Alexander wasn’t convinced. “Look, if it gets to be a problem, I’ll give you my suitcase, okay?”

“Or I can just take your suitcase now.”

Alex.”

“Fine, fine,” Alexander said, passing the muddled bag through the door, “but the second you’re in pain or feeling fatigued, I get the suitcase, deal?”

John rolled his eyes, “Deal.” He paused, before extending his hand, “Now, let’s get out of here.”

Alexander took John’s hand in his, squeezing it as he hopped from the fire door, “Yeah.”

 

Alexander tried to force himself to breathe, nerves rippling through him like electricity with each step. “This way,” John whispered. He maneuvered through the dark camp with ease; Alexander marveled at the way he traipsed through the forest without snapping a single twig. John was like a deer—no, deer are much too noisy. John moved like a fox through the forest, each step calculated and perfectly executed. A few steps behind, Alexander lumbered through like a wounded bear, snapping sticks and making far too much noise.

“How do you do that?”

John looked over his shoulder, a smirk illuminated by the sliver of moonlight shimmering through the trees. “Practice,” he said simply.

“Yeah, but I’ve done my fair share of sneaking around too,” Alexander grimaced. “That sounds…ugh.”

John snickered, covering his mouth with his free hand. “Jesus Alex. We’re trying to be sneaky. Don’t make me laugh.”

“You know that wasn’t what I meant.”

“I know, I know.” John stopped, his hand reaching out to stop Alexander. “Shh. Hang on. Get down.”

“What?”

Down!” he hissed, crouching down. Alexander mimicked him, still confused as to what was happening but too worried to ask. He studied John for a moment, trying to follow his gaze. Sure enough, a form could be seen in the distance, walking through the forest. How did he see them?

The form got closer. Alexander and John tried to lower themselves closer to the ground, the forest floor seeped the heat from Alexander’s body. He held his breath. Whoever that was, they were far too close. “Alex? John?”

“Aaron?” Alexander hissed.

“Guys! I found you! Oh, thank God!”

“How did you know when we were leaving?”

“I didn’t,” Aaron admitted. “It was just a feeling.” He glanced over his shoulder, “I can’t stay long, obviously. I don’t want to draw attention to you, but I couldn’t let you leave without saying goodbye. I’m sorry. I probably put you in a lot of danger.”

John mumbled something Alexander couldn’t quite hear.

“It’s okay. I didn’t feel right leaving without saying goodbye either.” Alexander stood, embracing the boy. Aaron hugged him back, his arms struggling to find purchase around his backpack. Alexander could feel the other boy crying into his shoulder. “I wish we could take you with us.”

“I know,” Aaron sniffled.

“I promise, as soon as I can, I’m getting you out of here, okay?”

“Uh huh.” Aaron nuzzled into Alexander’s shoulder. “Okay. Okay,” he pulled away, wiping his eyes. “You need to go, and I need to head back to the cabin before they get too suspicious.” He took a deep breath, “Goodbye, Alex. Bye, John.”

“Bye Aaron,” John said with a nod, having had stood at some point during their talk.

“It’s not ‘bye’, it’s ‘see you soon,’ okay? I promise,” Alexander said, pulling Aaron back in for another quick embrace.

Aaron laughed quietly. “Okay. See you soon.” He pulled himself away, heading back in the direction he had come from. He risked one glance over his shoulder, the tears in his eyes catching the light, and he was gone.

The other two teens watched him walk away. “C’mon,” John whispered, grabbing Alexander’s wrist.

“Yeah.”

They began walking again, pausing every few moments with John’s hand signals. “That was stupid.” John whispered. “He should’ve stayed in the cabin. He knew how dangerous that was, for us and him.”

Alexander stayed quiet, unsure if John was looking for a response or just mumbling to himself.

Turned out, it was the latter. “This is by far the strangest experience I’ve ever had at Acolyte. You know that, right?” he turned to Alexander.

“But, strange good, right?”

John considered it for a moment, looking at the ground to calculate his next step, “I mean, I guess. Who would’ve thought I’d ever actually consider Aaron Burr my friend? Like a real friend, not like a ‘hey-we’re-both-stuck-at-a-hell-camp’ friend.”

“That’s what’s got you all hung up on this?” Alexander snickered, “A stronger relationship with Burr?”

“No, it’s you, mostly,” John admitted. “I mean, other than the terrible Skype call, you were a total stranger. Now, you’re like, one of the most important people in my life, you know? I can’t explain it.”

Alexander felt a warm glow bloom within him, his heart thudding happily in his chest. “You don’t have to,” he reached out and grabbed John’s hand, squeezing it reassuringly, “I know exactly what you mean.”

“No, I-“

Alexander could see the gate in the distance. “John,” Alexander interrupted. “The gate’s already open.”

“What?”

It’s already open.

John followed his gaze, his mouth dropping open. “They never open the gate like that. Ever. What happened?”

“What do we do? We can’t just stroll through the already-open gate. They’re watching it, for sure.”

“Definitely. But why?”

Alexander’s head snapped up, “You think maybe we aren’t the only escape tonight?”

John stared at him, “You don’t think…?”

Their question quickly answered itself, the two boys ducking deeper into the bushes as lights appeared in the distance. Red, white and blue bounced across the trees as emergency vehicles pealed down the driveway, slamming on their brakes as they pulled through the gates.

“Cops?! What are they doing here?!” John’s voice was drenched in worry. “You don’t think they’ve already reported us missing, right? No. No way. They would’ve sounded alarms or something. They always do.”

“Ambulance too,” Alexander noted. “Theo.”

No.” John said firmly. “They don’t call 911 for the Room.”

“Never?”

“Not that I...” John trailed off. “The lifeguard? No. No no no no no no no.”

“Shh, John. John, we can’t. I know. I know.” Alexander watched the lifeguard greet the paramedics, gesturing for them to follow him as they sprinted deeper into the camp. The police followed, albeit at a slower pace. “Now John. They’re gone. We have to go now.

“But Theo.”

“It’s not Theo,” Alexander tried.

“It has to be.” Alexander scowled. He knew John was right. No matter how he looked at it, it had to be Theo.

The police suddenly returned, the paramedics coming back a few steps behind. They weren’t gone long enough to have gone to the Room. The two police whispered to each other. Alexander glanced around, no red coat in sight. He heard John gasp when he saw the stretcher between the paramedics, the person on it wrapped in plastic. Dead. John was inconsolable, subtly rocking back and forth in an effort to comfort himself. “John. I’m going to do something stupid.”

John had a vice-like grip on Alexander’s wrist. “Alexander, please. I can’t lose you.”

“You won’t,” he promised. “Hey,” he tapped his forehead to John’s. “You’re not going to lose me, okay? I’ll be right back, I swear.” John whined. Alexander pulled him close, “I’m talking to law enforcement and emergency services. Red coats show up, I’ll tell the police what’s going on here. They can’t leave minors in situations that might be dangerous. We’ll be out of here, no problem. It’d be more high profile than we wanted, but we’re leaving together regardless, okay?”

John was hyperventilating, but each breath seemed to be deeper. “Please. Let’s just go. Please.”

Alexander looked back on the paramedics. The body they were lifting into the ambulance. Please, don’t be Theo. “Okay. I won’t approach. Let’s get out before they shut the gate.” 

“Thank you.” Alexander took John’s hand in his; John managed a smile.

 They snuck through as quietly as they could, skirting the outer ring of bushes in an effort to go unseen. Alexander tried to mimic John’s steps exactly, but eventually miss-stepped, a loud crack! echoed through the forest.

“Hey!” one cop called out, drawing her weapon and pointing in their direction.

“Baldwin! It’s probably just a deer or some shit. Come on!” Her partner called out.

“No way, sir. That was no deer,” she responded. “Out with your hands up!”

Alexander and John stared at each other, wide-eyed and filled to the brim with fear. “Go,” Alexander whispered. “I’ll distract them, you keep going. Tell George I’ll be a little late.”

  “Absolutely not.” John hissed. “Together or not at all, remember? You’re not going to do this alone. He shrugged off the counsellor bag, abandoning it with his suitcase and slowly lifted his hands above the bushes.

Alexander did the same. “Okay, we’re coming out,” he called out. To John, he whispered, “let me handle this, though, okay? I have a plan.” John gave an uncertain nod in response.

Jesus, Lola! They’re a couple ‘a kids! Put your gun down!” the other cop called out when they approached.

“Why were you hiding in the bushes like that?” She, Lola, commanded.

“We’re out past curfew. We’d get in trouble if we got caught, but…” Alexander started, his ‘weak little Caribbean boy’ act back in place, “can you please put the gun down? We didn’t mean to scare you.”

Uncertainly, Lola did as requested, lowering her weapon. She did, however, leave it in her hands. “Why are you guys out past curfew?” the other cop asked, his voice gentler. Alexander could see the gray hair dotting his temples, he was a seasoned officer, for sure. The male cop’s eyes flickered over to John’s face, before widening in surprise. “Wait a second, you’re Senator Laurens’s boy!”

John’s shoulders drooped. “Yes!” Alexander chirped. “You see, he was telling me that his little brother liked the stars, and, since I’m from Nevis, I was wondering if we called the constellations the same thing, so we were looking for a good stargazing spot when we saw the lights,” he tried his best to look sheepish, “then curiosity caught the better of me, and I dragged him along to investigate.” He caught John scowl from the corner of his eye.

The older cop chuckled. “I was the same way at your age; it’s what made me be a cop in the first place. But this really is no place for you, you should really go back to your cabins.”

“Well, you see, sir. There was this staff friend of ours that we haven’t seen in a while. They said Theo was sick…” he trailed off. “Theo’s not under there, right?” he gestured to the body.

The cop looked conflicted. “You know, we really aren’t supposed to show these things to kids.”

“We’re almost adults,” John said. “And Alex has been through a lot. He can handle it.”

“Can you?” Lola asked.

John glared at her. “I’ll be fine.”

One of the paramedics poked his head out, “I know it’s a little unorthodox, but it could help us get an ID. Lord knows that asshole wasn’t helpful.” The paramedic mumbled under his breath, “what kind of asshole doesn’t know the names of his own employees?”

The older cop stared at them for a while in silent contemplation.     

“Well, we’re kinda witnesses, right? Can’t you just say a witness helped identify the body? You don’t have to mention we were teenagers, right?”

“Sir, are you really thinking about this?” Lola asked, finally holstering her gun.

“We need that ID, Lola. Religious camps like this one are under fire right now, the press finds out someone died here? They’re gonna have a field day,” he scowled. “I hate to do this to you boys, but if you could help with the investigation…” he trailed off. “I know death is scary, and if you really don’t think you can handle this, there is absolutely no shame in refusing to do so, okay?”

Alexander laughed. “Sir, with all due respect, death doesn’t scare me.”

“No?” the cop quirked a brow.

“The hurricane didn’t ask if I could handle death before it wiped out my island, did it?” Alexander watched as the policeman’s face went pale. “It’s okay. I’ve accepted it. I want to help you.”

The cop gave a gruff nod. “You’re a brave kid.” He turned to the paramedic. “Show him.”

Alexander and John approached the ambulance, the paramedics helping them up. Lola stayed by the car, but the other officer sat in the ambulance with them, on the other side.

“You’re sure about this?” one of the other paramedics asked.

“Yeah,” John and Alexander answered. John’s hand found Alexander’s on the bench, nerves making it tremble.

“Okay,” the paramedic spoke again, slowly opening the bag to reveal the victim’s face.

Alexander and John simultaneously burst into tears.

“Woah, hey, boys, I know,” the cop consoled. “Is it your friend Theo?”

Alexander wiped at his eyes, “No,” he said with a smile. “Theo’s a woman.” The face surrounded by plastic was definitely male, with sandy brown hair sweeping over his closed eyes.

“Do you have any idea who this is?” The policeman asked, the two paramedics who have spoken to them watching intently.

Alexander and John shared a relieved smile before scanning the face again. “I know this man,” Alexander said, looking to John. “Is this who I think it is?”

“Yeah,” John confirmed. “Sir, this isn’t Theo. This man’s name is Nathan Hale.”

Chapter Text

Alexander studied the man’s features. His eyes lingered mostly on his hair, the sandy brown was only a shade or two lighter than Martha’s. Martha. Once he and John could get away from the ambulance they were sitting in, they could get to George and Marta. They could go home.

For a moment, Alexander wondered if she’d greet them with hot chocolate.

“You’re sure?” the police officer asked, pushing the image of Martha from Alexander’s mind. “Nathan Hale? H-A-L-E?” He had a strange expression on his face, he almost looked green.

“Yessir.” John confirmed, his head tilting slightly to the left. He sent a confused look to Alexander.

“Christ on a bike,” the cop muttered. “Please just be a coincidence.”

“Pardon me, but who exactly is Nathan Hale?” Alexander quipped. “You seem more concerned now than you did a second ago.”

The police officer shook his head. “Listen boys, thank you for your help, you’ve just made my job a lot easier. But with this incident going on in your camp, you might want to go be with the other campers. We have this under control now.”

“No way, who is he?” Alexander pressed. Pain flared in his ribs as John jammed him with his elbow.

“No, Alex, he’s right. We should get out of here,” John said as nonchalantly as possible. “I’m glad we could help,” he shook the police officer’s hand before working his way out of the ambulance. 

Begrudgingly, Alexander followed with a nod.

“Sorry we startled you earlier,” John apologized to Lola.

She nodded gruffly, “Sorry I pulled a gun on you.”

“Thanks for not shooting it,” Alexander added when he made it to John’s side, only half-joking.

She narrowed her eyes. “Just go back to your cabin, kid.”

“Will do.” Alexander grabbed John’s elbow and steered him away from the ambulance, walking in the opposite direction of where their packs were laying.

Once they were out of earshot, John squeezed Alexander’s hand, which was still wrapped around his elbow. “Where are we going?” he hissed. “The gate is that way! We’re so close!”

“Uh-huh, but we told them we’d head back. We’ll just turn a corner and go back to the treeline,” Alexander felt his face flush, “I’ll… try to be quieter this time.”

He watched John fight a smile, “Well, you’ve got more practice this time, so there’s hope for you yet.” He took a deep breath, closing his eyes. “Hopefully you don’t get used to this like I have.”

“Hey.” Alexander stopped him, both sufficiently away from emergency services and the impossible to ignore need to make John smile again. “This is it, okay? Never again.”

John looked at Alexander, something in his face made Alexander’s face heat up. There was this, Alexander could only find the word passion, in his gaze, something that hardened his hazel eyes and completely transfixed the other teen. “You’re right. Acolyte’s done after this.” His eyes flickered toward the trees, “this way.”

By the time they had looped back around—Alexander snapping twigs less frequently this time—the paramedics had left. The police officers, however, still lingered. The older officer was in the car, mumbling something into the radio. His face was partially obscured by the dashboard, but Alexander could still see his furrowed brow. The other officer leaned against the hood of the car, her eyes scanning the area around her. To their relief, she wasn’t focusing on the area in which their bags were placed, she instead focused on the path. Specifically, where they had walked to receive Nathan Hale’s body.

Alexander frowned, his distracted mind causing him to step on another twig. He had to be more careful if he wanted to get John out of here, but his mind kept lingering back to the sandy brown haired man he had just met for the first and only time. How did he die? And if he was the person in the Room, did that mean Theo was okay? Was Theo in there with him? Did Theo see him die?

John and Alexander approached their bags, gathering them as quietly as physically possible. The two boys had their gaze locked on the police officer. She said something—whether it be to herself or the man in the car, Alexander couldn’t tell. The male officer looked up, beckoning her to get back in the car. Alexander didn’t dare move. He held his breath.

Lola glanced around, turning toward the cluster of bushes the teens were once again hiding in. From the corner of his eye, Alexander could see John staring at him with wide eyes. Alexander didn’t turn his head. She stood there for a few moments, just staring. Alexander felt his muscles tense. Did she see him?

The male officer tapped on the windshield on the car, making her jump. “C’mon!” he called out. Lola glanced at the bushes again before obeying, getting in the car.

The engine started. The car pulled away.

They were alone.

Alexander heard John sigh in relief. He felt his own muscles relaxing. “Not yet.” He steeled himself once more.

John huffed through his nose, nodding his head. “Right.” They waited a moment. Then another. John nodded again, “Let’s go.”

They continued through the trees in silence; adrenaline pumped through Alexander’s veins with an intensity so great that his hands were trembling. He refused to admit that it was fear, fear was too dangerous— it was definitely adrenaline.

Judging by John’s wobbling grip on his suitcase, he felt it too.

“Hey, you got that?” Alexander whispered, gesturing with his head to the leather suitcase.

“Yeah, I—“ John paused, glancing down. The suitcase danced in his grip, his shaking hand the choreographer. “Actually no, I don’t think I—can you?” John stumbled over his words, holding it out for Alexander to take.

“Of course,” he tried to smile reassuringly, but judging by John’s expression, it didn’t work. The handle of the suitcase was smoother than Alexander had expected. He idly rubbed his thumb over its subtle pattern. Casually switching hands, Alexander reached with his now-free hand to take John’s. His own trembling seemed to calm John’s a little, “I’m scared too,” he whispered, admitting what he had only moments ago had been trying to repress. “But we’re almost done.”

John smiled—closed-lipped and not entirely genuine, but a smile nonetheless—and squeezed Alexander’s hand. “Let’s keep moving,” he murmured, before leading Alexander toward the gate, their hands still entwined.

A quiet whirring noise got Alexander’s attention. He almost pulled his hand away from John’s out of reflex, however John’s tightened grip kept his in place. “What is that?”

“What?”

“That noise. You don’t hear that?” Alexander hissed, glancing around. It was mechanical, of that Alexander was certain. But where was it coming from?

“No?” John replied.

Alexander’s eyes flickered around the seemingly abandoned campground, looking for anything that might explain the noise. His gaze locked on to the center of the area.

The gate was closing.

“Shit. The gate!” Alexander exclaimed, a little louder than he wanted.

“Go!” John took off at a full sprint. Alexander kept pace, his legs screaming in protest.

They tore across the clearing, abandoning the shelter of the trees for the sake of moving faster. The gate was closing at a slow pace. They could make it.

The lights turned on, blinding them both. Alexander squeezed his eyes shut, half-opening one for the sake of staying on course.

An alarm ripped through the previously quiet camp. “They’re onto us!” John screeched.

“We’re almost there, John! Just keep going!” Alexander’s legs continued to howl in protest, his muscles burning. He ignored it, pushing through as adrenaline (actual adrenaline this time) pumped through him. John released his hand; the two boys put every ounce of energy they had into their escape. The gate was in reach, its speed had increased, but not nearly as quickly as he was sure the camp wanted it to be. They could still make it. He forced his legs to move faster, his left knee popping with each step.

The gate loomed in front of them, half closed. John dashed through the opening, “Alex, the suitcase!” Like a professional relay team, Alexander seamlessly passed the suitcase through the gate as he ran, their synchronous movement so perfect that neither teen had to even change their stride, let alone stop running. “Go! Go! Go!” John yelled over his shoulder.

The path to the gate seemed miles longer than he knew it was. George was waiting at the end of the trees. He just had to make it to the end of the trees. His chest ached with each breath, his heart beating faster than it ever had. Alexander could hear dogs barking behind him. “They sent dogs?!” The barking was soft; they were still deep within Acolyte’s walls. If they were lucky, the gate will have shut before the dogs made it there. Alexander wasn’t even sure if the camp could see them at that point, but he didn’t dare turn to look. Focus on the task at hand. Focus on John.

The other teen’s gait was uneven, the suitcase slapping against his leg as he ran. The muddy backpack bounced on his shoulder blades, but it didn’t seem like that was fazing the boy in the slightest. “I see Marta’s car! And George’s! Alex!” John cried out, somehow managing to speed up again.

The dogs were louder now, not nipping at their heels, but gaining on them, and quickly. Alexander tried to follow John’s lead, pumping his legs as quickly as he physically could, and then forcing them to go even faster. Every joint and muscle in his body screamed in pain. He could see George’s car; the passenger door was already open. The car behind his opened its door too, the dark door catching the moonlight as it opened. A yellowed light illuminated curly hair, a face he couldn’t see leaning over and watching them. Alexander looked toward the other car.

The engines started. Alexander could see George’s face. George made eye contact; his determined expression spurred Alexander on.

John hurled the suitcase into his sister’s car, the other teen a few feet ahead of Alexander. John slammed unceremoniously into the car, turning at looking at Alexander for the first time in a while. His chest was heaving, the light in the car casting shadows on his reddened and sweaty face.

He was still beautiful. Alexander stumbled slightly, distracted.

“Alex, what are you doing?! The dogs!” John screeched.

Shit. The dogs were loud.  They were close. Too close. Alexander made a break for George’s car again, fear forcing his heavy legs to move faster, faster. He practically leaped into the passenger seat, his backpack forcing his spine to bend at an odd angle, and slammed the door shut.

George floored it, pealing down the road and away from the path as quickly as possible. Marta’s headlights shone through the back window. Alexander couldn’t breathe; his chest heaved as it searched for air. His left knee sent spikes of pain up his leg. He put his hand on the joint, pressing down slightly. As he had feared, it was puffy and inflamed.

The two sat in silence, the only sound was Alexander’s ragged breathing. George continuously glanced at the back mirror, looking over Marta’s car.

Fifteen minutes passed. George looked over Marta’s car again. He looked at Alexander, reaching over with one hand to grab the boy’s shoulder. “Welcome back, Alex.”

Alexander felt tears well up in his eyes as he smiled. He turned around to look out the back window. At that moment, John’s gaze locked with his through the windshield of his sister’s car. John was beaming, and although Alexander could only just see his facial features, he couldn’t help but smile back, laughing in disbelief when John flashed a thumbs-up. “We did it,” he said, as though John could hear him.

“You did it,” George affirmed.

The tears that had welled had finally spilled down Alexander’s face. They were free.

 

As much as he wanted to, Alexander couldn’t relax. Every bump in the road made him jump, every new pair of headlights made his skin crawl. He couldn’t shake it. “It’s alright,” George murmured, trying to comfort the teen. “Here.” His hand drifted to the console in the middle and pressed the button to turn the radio on.

Good evening everyone, it is currently 10:30 pm,” the radio personality said, their voice heavily accented, “doesn’t look like we’re going to get that rain tonight after all. I hope you haven’t cancelled your plans yet,” they chuckled. “Now, let’s get back to the music, this is Energy 92.1FM Number One for New Music,”  The voice faded out, a pop song taking its place.

“That…actually does help a little, thanks.”

George’s face twisted into a tight smile. “Do you want to talk about it?”

Alexander felt the blood drain from his face. “Not yet, George. Not—“ he stopped.

“Not without John?” George prompted.

“Yeah.” Alexander couldn’t imagine ever feeling comfortable enough to have that conversation without John by his side.

He nodded. “Alright.”

It was only then that Alexander noticed George’s arms. A myriad of colors mottled his skin, messages from Martha overlaying each other in an indecipherable mess of lettering.

One message caught Alexander’s eye. It was in bright pink, written down the side of his right hand, extending just slightly into his pinky. The handwriting was sloppy, but legible, and written in all capital letters: BRING OUR SON HOME. Alexander felt the warm glow of affection fill his chest, taking space away from the weight of dread that was currently residing in his stomach.  “Is Martha ambidextrous?” he asked.

George laughed. “No. She’s right-handed. Like I told you the other day, she ran out of skin.” He took the wheel with his right hand so he could show Alexander his left. Alexander’s eyebrows shot toward the sky; he couldn’t see George’s skin tone at all.

“Does she know that I’m in the car?” Alexander didn’t remember George calling Martha.

George’s smile fell. “Uh, no. But, I think we should wait until John’s in the car for that too. Let her know you’re both okay.”

“Yeah. That’s probably a good plan.”

The two drifted into silence once more. George obviously had a million questions on the tip of his tongue, but was withholding them for Alexander’s comfort. One question, however, slipped through. “Why was the ambulance there? The police?” George asked, looking guilty. “I know you don’t want to talk about it yet… but when I saw them there, I…”

“I understand. Remember that guy I told you about? The one that was our supposed counsellor?”

“Yes? Nathan Hale,” George replied. “Did you find out who he is? The name sounds familiar, I just, can’t quite place him, and I was a little too stressed about this to even think about looking him up.” George sounded sheepish, as though Alexander had expected him to Google a name when he was due to be a getaway driver in an hour.

“Yeah. Well, no. But it turns out that he might’ve been in the Room.”

“So your friend wasn’t?”

“We…” Alexander sighed, “we don’t know.”

“So how do you know Nathan Hale was?”

“Because he’s dead, George. I don’t know how. But he died at Acolyte.”

George’s grip on the wheel tightened, “My God.”

“Yeah.”

George stayed silent for a few minutes, glancing at the signs along the road. “We’re almost there.” He pointed at the sign. “Ten more miles until the border.”

“Ten more miles,” Alexander repeated, watching the mile markers along the road with sudden interest.

Ten.

Nine.

Eight. The radio station crackled and faded out. George switched channels.

Seven.

Six.

Five. Another sign for South of the Border. You Missed Us! the sign said, as though that would convince someone to turn around.

Four.

Three. George switched lanes, their exit nearing.

Two. A sign for the rest stop pointed to their destination.

One.

Welcome to North Carolina. George parked the car in the rest stop’s parking lot, killing the engine.

Marta was nowhere to be found.

“George? Where’s John and Marta?” Hadn’t they been behind them? Where did they go? Where was John? Did he get caught? Was he—

“It’s alright, son. Marta had to take a detour so we wouldn’t be seen together. We had to do what we could to make this whole situation look as unrelated as possible.”

“But John—“

“John’s fine, Alex. He’s with his sister, and is on his way here, alright? He’ll be here in a few minutes. She had to take the town roads, so she probably got caught—“ Alexander inhaled sharply. “Wrong choice of words,” George relented. “She probably had to wait at a few red lights.” He pivoted in his seat to fully face Alexander, reaching his hands out to cup the boy’s face. “I’m so sorry I put you through that. I’ll never be able to express how badly I wished I could have gotten you out. I—“

 “Your hands were tied, George. It’s okay. Besides, against Angelica’s advice, I made a few friends that can help us out.” Alexander blanched. “I only know Aaron’s last name though.”

“Burr?”

“No not—well yeah. That one too, but I meant the other Aaron.” He stopped as he watched another car pull into the rest stop, immediately perking up to see if it was John.

The car parked next to them. The door opened. Yellow light shined on two heads of curly hair.

“John,” Alexander whispered, immediately unlocking and opening his door.  

“Alex!” John leaped out of the car and raced around to meet him. Alexander was barely able to hobble out of George’s car before he got swept up into John’s embrace, John’s laughter too-loud in his ear. Alexander clung onto the back of the other boy’s shirt. “We did it! We actually did it!”

“We did!” Alexander echoed, his heart pounding erratically in his chest.

“We outran dogs!” John was still laughing in disbelief.

Alexander only nodded, nuzzling against John’s neck. He absolutely did not want to let go. And judging by the tension in the back of his shirt, neither did John.

They stayed like that for what felt like ages. Eventually, Marta spoke, her hand daintily placed on her brother’s shoulder. The two teens separated to look to her, their shoulders still touching, as though the complete loss of contact was still too much. Upon studying Marta’s features, it truly was amazing to Alexander how similar she looked to her brother. She had a rounder face, and her eyes were greener than John’s, but other than those little details, they were practically identical.  “I should go,” she said, glancing at her phone. “It’s getting late. Dad thinks I’m at a friend’s house, but it’s only a matter of time before he gets suspicious. You know how he is.”

John frowned. “Yeah.” He stepped away from Alexander to embrace his younger sister; Alexander almost whined as the cool breeze stole the heat from his arm upon the loss of contact. “Thanks for breaking me out,” John mumbled into his sister’s shoulder.

“Of course. I’m sorry I couldn’t do it earlier.” Marta looked over John’s shoulder, jade green irises burned into Alexander’s. There was a silent message in her gaze—the translation didn’t come to Alexander as easily as it did with John, but the intent was still clear—take care of him. Alexander nodded. Marta’s eyes closed.

John chuckled, his hand lovingly stroking her shoulder. “Hey, it’s alright. You came through. That’s what matters.” He broke off the hug, his hands placed on his sister’s shoulders. “Take care of the little guys, okay?”

She huffed, a smile playing on her lips and conflicting with the rest of her expression. “Yeah, okay. I’ll be lucky if they don’t kill me before I’m in college.” The smile fell; she moved her hands to cover John’s. “Hey, I know it won’t be for a while, but once you turn 18, Dad can’t send you anywhere. He can’t touch you—“

“I’ll come visit. It’s only a year away. It’s December, right?  Less than a year now.” He said with a smile.

“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” She sniffled, finally allowing her true emotion to show on her face. “This sucks. I just got my brother back, and now—“

“I know. I’m sorry. But you know—“

“—you can’t go back home, I know.” She turned back to her car. “You’ve gotta get your stuff out of my car, loser.” Marta managed a smile at the end.

John answered with an overdramatic scoff, “Whatever, nerd.

Alexander watched Marta playfully shove her brother as he passed her to get to the car. Was that how siblings were supposed to act? He and James had never been particularly close, and Lord knows they never joked around like that. He tried to ignore the pang of envy in his chest. What was done was done. James wasn’t the older brother to Alexander that John was to Marta. That was just what it was.

Upon his approach, Alexander grabbed the suitcase from John’s hand. John shot him an inquisitive look. “Last hug?” He said, angling his head to Marta. “I’ve got this.”

“Thanks Alex.” John smiled, turning back to his sister and enveloping her into an embrace once more. “I love you. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Stay strong for the little guys. And for your own sake,” he leaned back to look at her face and pulled an arm away to tap her forehead with his finger, “try not to roll your eyes when Dad gives speeches. Believe me, I know it’s hard, but the cameras are probably going to be on you now.”

“No promises,” Marta frowned. “I love you too Jacky.” She wiggled out of his embrace, stepping to her car and opening the door. “I miss you already,” she leaned over to look through the still-ajar door of George’s car. “And thank you, Mr. Washington, for helping my brother. It really means the world to me.”

Alexander watched Marta’s face don a soft smile, assumedly caused by a nod or something similar from George. When he looked back to John’s face, the freckled teen’s eyes were glassy, “I really hate when you smile like that.” John said to his sister, taking a small half-step toward George’s car.

“What?” Marta asked, flabbergasted, “why?”

John smiled, letting one large tear roll down his face. “You look like Mom.”

That had been the last straw, apparently, as the floodgates had opened. Marta’s eyes quickly welled with tears, and she launched herself into John’s arms again. “You. Can’t. Just—“ she started, her sentence chopped up by her sobs, “Say that. We’re supposed to be—saying, goodbye.” 

“Well, stop looking like Mom then!” John was crying too, but his voice still kept its teasing tone.

“The alternative would be looking like Dad.” Marta pulled back to look at her brother, the two donning equally disgusted faces.

“Gross,” they both mutter simultaneously, before continuing the strange melody caused by laughing and crying.

“Okay. You really need to get going. And I have to go home. I—“ she tightened her embrace for a split second before releasing him. “I love you. So much. And Alex?” Alexander perked up at the sound of his name, “Don’t let him get into any fights. He’s going to get himself killed.”

“He can’t promise that,” John interrupted, slinging his arm over Alexander’s shoulders, “He’s just as bad as I am. Maybe worse. I’ve never attacked a Reverend.”

“How dare you! The gall to sling such slander!” Alexander said, throwing his hand to his chest for dramatic effect in an attempt to lighten the mood.

“It’s not slander if it’s true, my dear boy,” John teased. Alexander felt his face flush.

Marta stared at them, one leg in her car. “Sweet Jesus.”

“We’ll have Hercules, remember? We’ll be fine.”

Marta rolled her eyes. “If you say so.” She sent one more smile their way, her face full of as much love as she could muster, before she ducked into her car and started the engine.

With one final wave, she was gone.

“We should go.” John said, “You want shotgun?” He tilted his head, inspecting Alexander for a moment.

Alexander felt his skin crawl under the scrutiny of John’s gaze, “What?”

“You’re leaning. You good?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Alexander waved him off. “My knee popped when we were running. It hasn’t bounced back yet.” John’s brows furrowed together. “I’m fine,” Alexander stressed. It was a flare-up of an old injury, one he had received back on the island. But John didn’t need to know that yet. “It doesn’t even really hurt anymore,” he lied, ignoring the burning sensation as the joint continued to swell.

“Maybe you should sit in the back then, get it elevated?” John prompted, seeing through Alexander’s deception.

“Just get in the car, Laurens.” Alexander muttered, his pride squashing down the rush of affection that came with John’s concern.

“Sure thing, Hamilton.”

The moment Alexander had slid back into the passenger seat, he felt a phone drop into his lap. George started the engine of the car and pulled away, his eyes trained to the road. “It looks like Martha’s still awake, do me a favor and video chat with her? I tried telling her it’d be fruitless, but, well, you know Martha.”

“Yeah. We know Martha,” John snickered, reaching up to the front seat and clapping his hand on George’s shoulder. “Boy is it good to see you, G-Wash.”

“Likewise. I’d apologize for making you wait, but it seems your sister did that for me.”

“True. She really beat herself up about it,” John’s jovial tone dimmed, “They almost broke me in there,” he whispered. “They had me convinced that Marta abandoned me. That you—“ he stopped. “If it wasn’t for Alex, they might have succeeded.” He leaned against the side of Alexander’s seat, his arms resting on the center console. “I really can’t thank you enough for getting me out. For pulling me out of the hole Acolyte had shoved me in. Metaphorically.” It was an awkward angle, surely, but John bent his arm in a way that he could knock the back of his hand into Alexander’s. “I owe you my life. I really, really do.”

“H-Hey,” Alexander stuttered. “How about we save this for later, yeah? Martha’s gonna have an aneurysm if we don’t call her.” He fumbled with the phone in his other hand, his heart aching and his ears hot.

“True. Sorry, got too real for a second.” John tried to smile, “we can save all that for the therapy we’re probably going to need.” The too-real joke fell flat, but Alexander laughed anyway. Morbid humor might be the best humor at that point. “I’m good. Call her.”

“’Kay.” Alexander clicked the screen, Martha illuminating as the artificial phone sound rang through the car.

“Did you get—“ the question was immediate. No greeting, no nothing. Storm clouds surrounded her eyes, the obvious lack of sleep dimming their sky blue. She was exhausted.

“Hey Martha,” Alexander greeted. “It’s a few days late, but we’re on our way.” He paused. Martha said nothing. “Martha? Can you see me at all? The lighting is garbage, but I don’t want to turn a light on while George is driving—“

“Alex!” She cried, “Alex, are you alright?! Did they hurt you?! Is John--?” Martha’s head snapped up, a loud noise coming from somewhere behind her phone. The thundering continued, until five familiar faces crowded around the screen. Angelica, Eliza, Peggy, Lafayette, and Hercules squeezed into frame, their faces a combination of excitement, anxiety, and exhaustion. Each and every one of them had dark circles and eyebags that competed with Alexander’s own.

“Christ, guys. You all look like hell. Did you sleep at all?”

“Of course not!” Angelica snapped. “We were worried sick! Especially when Martha told us your gear backfired?! What happened in there?!”

“Angie,” Eliza warned, “You can interrogate him later, after he’s back home.” She turned back to send a thousand-watt smile Alexander’s way. “We’re glad to hear your voice again, Alex.”

Alexander felt his cheeks warm. “Y-Yeah. Yours too.”

“You have no idea what it was like not having you around to talk our ears off.” Hercules joked. “Guess we’re too used to you.”

“And John?” Lafayette asked hopefully.

John grinned, grabbing Alexander’s wrist to angle the phone his way. “Thank you. Glad to know somebody missed me.”

“John!” Peggy shrieked. The others cried out in kind.

“When do you get back?”

“We’re going to get as far as we can tonight.” George answered. “If all goes well, we’ll be home in time for dinner tomorrow.”

“Oh! I’ll have to prepare a big ‘Welcome Home’ feast then!” Martha responded, squeezing through the group of friends to be seen again. “Any requests?”

Alexander looked at John. “Anything?”

John went to say something, but stopped. “I don’t know…”

Alexander narrowed his eyes. “It looks like you did,” he whispered.

“Well, yeah, but I. I don’t know.”

“Martha?” Lafayette spoke, “It was…odd, having Thanksgiving without our dearest John.”

Martha nodded. “Too true, and our first Thanksgiving with Alexander too. Well, how would you feel about another Thanksgiving? With all of us?”

“Friends-giving?” Hercules supplied.  

She smiled. “Yes. Friends-giving. Sound like a plan?”

Even in the terrible lighting, Alexander could see John’s eyes glistening. “Definitely.”

“It’s settled! Don’t eat too much on the way home, okay? You’ve got a big meal waiting for you!” she smiled. “Now, it’s getting late, and I’m sure you’re tired, and I know we are. It’s time for bed. Goodnight boys. I love you all so much.”

“Love you too,” George, Alexander and John said simultaneously.  “Goodnight!”

The phone went black.

“Try to get some sleep, if you can,” George said, glancing at the boys before fixing his gaze back to the road. “We can’t stop until we’re at least in Virginia. It’s, well, it’s a drive.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Of course, neither teen slept. Each mile was one mile farther from Acolyte, and one mile closer to New York. To Albany. Where Alexander’s family waited for him. The battle was far from over; this was only the beginning.

Now the work at home begins.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Alex!” Alexander heard the scream of anguish from behind him. He was back at Acolyte, in front of King George’s cabin. He whipped around, but saw nothing but the forest around him.

“Where are you?!” he called to the voice. “What’s going on?!”

“Alex! They found me! Alex!!” the voice called again, before releasing an ear-piercing scream. “Alex!! Help me! They’re going to kill me!”

“I can’t find you!” Alexander was in the forest by the cabin area.

“Alex!” the voice grew desperate. “Alex!!!”

“Alex!” Alexander woke with a jolt. John was leaning over him, having sat on the edge of the couch Alexander had claimed as a bed for the night. “Jeez, man. I’ve been calling you for five minutes. We’ve gotta head out.”

He took in his surroundings, boring beige walls, dreadful looking blankets thrown on the beds. They were in the hotel in Virginia. The ache in his back was from sleeping on the couch, not from the flattened cushions of Acolyte cots. “Yeah,” he mumbled, groaning in discomfort as he rose from his makeshift bed, his back popping in protest.

“Acolyte?” John asked.

“Huh?”

“You were… mumbling, in your sleep. Was it Acolyte?”

“Oh,” Alexander paused, “Uh, yeah, it was. But it’s no big deal!” he said quickly, “Not the first trauma -induced nightmare I’ve had, you know?” he forced a laugh, but it cut off as he watched John’s face.

“I feel you,” John murmured. “I get them too. What happened? Do you want to talk about it?”

Alexander shook his head.  “Not yet.”

John mumbled under his breath, but nodded his head. “Okay. Later, then.”

With some hurrying from George, the two teens were back in the car, beginning the last leg of their journey. They hadn’t gotten as far as George would’ve liked; as it was, he didn’t seem happy to be in his home state. “Almost there.” Alexander heard George mumble under his breath.

“Almost where?” Alexander asked.

“Oh, uh. Pennsylvania. We went the long way to avoid DC traffic, but it did take us out of our way a bit.”

“Gotcha.”

“G-Wash, are you okay? You seem off.” John asked, vocalizing the question that had been eating at Alexander’s mind as well.

George snorted, “You were the ones in that hell-camp, and you’re asking if I’m okay?” Both teens nodded vehemently. “Alright. To be honest, I’ll be better when we’re back home.”

“Yeah.” Both boys echoed, the conversation fizzling out.

They crossed into Pennsylvania when the first announcement came through. “Tragedy struck South Carolina last night, as a death has been reported at Camp Acolyte, a religious retreat camp in Central South Carolina. Not much has been released as to the identity of the deceased, however law enforcement confirmed the death was that of a staff member, not a camper. This is the second death within the fences of the camp, nineteen-year-old Philip-“ the mountains interrupted the signal as they drove, “—only a few years ago. The camp has no comment at this time.”

“Wow,” the other radio host commented, “who would’ve thought a church camp would see so much tragedy.”

“Truly,” the first one remarked. “I didn’t even think those places were open year-round.”

Alexander and John looked at each other—John having had leaned forward in order to listen to the radio—waiting for the other shoe to drop. They had spoken briefly about what Nathan Hale’s death could mean for their escape. Camp Acolyte essentially had a spotlight trained on it now, so news of missing campers would hit the press much faster than it would have without Nathan Hale.

“On a happier note, a ten-year-old from Carlisle discovered a litter of puppies behind his elementary schoo—“Alexander switched stations.

No news of missing campers.

“They haven’t released it yet?” John asked.

“I don’t think they saw us drive off. They’re probably looking for you in the area first. Maybe they’ve announced it on local news.” George said.

“Marta would’ve told us,” Alexander refuted. “And look,” he glanced at George’s dark phone in the cup holder, “no messages.” 

“Yeah. Especially since it’d be my face. Oh.” John went silent for a moment, leaning back in his seat, escaping Alexander’s peripheral vision.

“That’s why. So, hey, this is the one time your dad’s political profile comes in handy, right?” Alexander tried.

“I… I wonder if they told him. Or if he even cares.”

“John,” George started.

“You’re right. I just… I can’t help but feel like my disappearance would only be more convenient.”

“John…” Alexander twisted in his seat, ignoring the popping in his spine, and rested his hand on John’s knee. His face was uncomfortably blank, his eyes completely empty. Alexander squeezed the boy’s knee. No reaction.

“I mean, think about it,” John said finally, “he continued to send me to Acolyte for being who I am. He has the entire state of South Carolina thinking I’m some kind of delinquent.” His voice was just as distant. Alexander frowned. He was still trying to be strong, to hold himself together for their sake. Alexander wanted desperately to tell John to break down. As much as the idea of John upset shattered his heart, the empty shell sitting in the backseat of George’s car was almost too much to bear. “And now I’m missing. He can use that for his platform. I’m simultaneously another Laurens family tragedy and no longer his problem. It’s a dream come true.”

“Except you’re not actually missing, John,” Alexander started “Soon enough, you’ll be everywhere, preaching against your father and against his camps. You’re going to be the biggest thorn in the side of the Republican party. And every other conservative out there.”

“And,” George added in, “while he doesn’t show it well—and believe me, I have some choice words for him when I see him next—your father cares about you more than you realize. He does,” George repeated when John went to interrupt. “He’s done bad things, he’s treated you horrifically, and frankly, he’s not a good parent, but he cares. You have to know that he does. At least a little bit.”

John sighed, resting his hand on top of Alexander’s. “Yeah. I know. I just wish he was better at it.” He leaned forward again, effectively knocking Alexander’s hand off his lap (Alexander tried not to let it bother him. He failed.) “Actually, G-Wash, since you’ve already got the paperwork to adopt Alexander, what’s another son, right?” he joked.

“No way, man!” Alexander laughed, “get your own New York politician! Maybe you can wriggle your way into the Schuyler family circus,” he teased. “Peggy likes you enough, right?”

“Oh, I see how it is,” John countered. “You want Martha’s cooking all to yourself, is that it? Leave me out to dry with the Schuyler hoard. Man, he’s already got a dozen kids, it’s a wonder they all still fit in that house.” 

“I’m not hoarding Martha’s cooking, we already have Laf.”

I was here first.” John lamented, giggles breaking through his complaint.

“I’m pretty sure Laf was here first.” Alexander managed to keep his laughter in check, his tone just casual enough to make John laugh harder. “And he’s not officially adopted either. Third time’s the charm, I guess.” He winked at his freckled companion.

George said nothing, his chuckles reverberating through the car as he listened.

 

They were more than halfway through the state when the second announcement came through.

More details on the tragedy at Camp Acolyte, the religion-based rehabilitation camp in South Carolina,” the news reporter echoed through the radio.

“Rehabilitation camp?” John sputtered, his laughter dying immediately. “is that what they’re calling that nightmare now?”

“They don’t know any better,” George soothed, his voice hard. He continued to glance down to the radio.

The camp still will not comment, but police have released details about the deceased. The victim is a white male, in his early-twenties. A name has still not been released. Foul play has not been ruled out.”

“Could you imagine? Murder at a church camp?”

“Tim, we don’t know enough to make that kind of assumption. But still,” the other announcer paused, “it would be wild to think about.”

“Why are they withholding his identity?” Alexander asked.

“Could be trying to notify his family,” George answered, “Or, they’re avoiding a…” George paused, contemplating his word choice.

“A shit show,” John finished.

“I was going to say incident, but yours is probably more accurate.”

“Do we have any idea who he is? Why would they hide his identity unless he was a big deal?” Alexander prompted. “Wait.” He reached for the cup holder, grabbing George’s phone. “This is the digital age. Oh my god.” He held the button at the bottom of the screen.

The screen was black.  

“George, did you forget to charge your phone?” Alexander’s frustration was palpable.

“Did it die? That video call last night took more out of it than I thought.”

“Oh my god.” Alexander groaned. “I was going to do the thing. And our only phone is dead. Unreal.”

John snorted. “No charger?”

George sheepishly glanced at the rearview mirror. “It’s in the bag. And isn’t meant for the car.”

Alexander and John both dramatically leaned back into their seats. “George.

“They might release his identity. If they know any other details about him, they’ll release that too,” George tried.

Somehow, Alexander wasn’t convinced. He glanced back to John. John’s eyes were trained to the back of George’s head, his lips squeezed into a thin line.

Good. At least they were on the same page.

 

It took a single road sign to put Acolyte in the backs of their minds. Hidden in the list of cities: Albany, in white letters. “We’re almost home,” John whispered. Alexander said nothing. He didn’t have to. John leaned forward again, his face once again appearing in his periphery. “We’re almost home,” he said louder. “Yooo… We’re almost at Thanksgiving.

Alexander and George broke their silence, the two men in the front seat laughing once more. Alexander could practically see the cartoon-esque stars in John’s eyes.

“Seriously though. Being at Acolyte on Thanksgiving is the most depressing thing—okay, maybe not the most depressing, but still pretty damn upsetting. You know what they fed us?”

“Oatmeal?” Alexander guessed.

“You thought that stuff was oatmeal?”

Wasn’t it?!”

“But no,” John continued, ignoring Alexander’s question. He smirked at the horrified expression Alexander was certain to be on his face, but pressed on. “No, we got bread and what they claimed to be bologna but was definitely not bologna,” John made a face, “So, what was your first Thanksgiving with the Washington’s like?” John focused on Alexander, his gaze expectant, “I don’t think we actually talked about it.”

“Awkward,” Alexander answered honestly. “I uh, made a pretty bad first impression with Martha’s son, then kinda freaked out.” George started to say something, but Alexander continued, “So I get a second shot at Thanksgiving now, so that’s cool.”

“Don’t worry about Jack. He’s kind of a hard-ass,” John snickered, “But I’m glad I get to be there this time. You think Martha’s going to go hardcore on the pies? Even though she’s already kinda done this?”

“I’m sure she’s got even more this time,” George answered with a small smile, “All our kids are back. The family’s together again.” The last half of the sentence was quiet, more for himself than the teens.

“Oh? Is Jack coming over again?”

“Uh, no. But…the sentiment stands.” John gasped dramatically, slapping George’s shoulder. “Hey now, don’t misunderstand. I love that boy like he’s my own, but there are days where he,” he took a deep breath, “you know. You were there, Alexander.”

“I think I do.” Alexander bit his tongue to keep himself from saying more, although, if he was being honest, Jack’s moodiness didn’t seem so bad anymore. “Oh! John, when I met the Schuylers, we went to that little café?”

“The Riddle and Blueskin?” John asked. “Yeah, that’s a normal hangout. One of Eliza’s friends got a job there a few months before I got sent back to Acolyte, so she usually slips us the employee discount.” He paused, “well, technically, she gives Eliza the discount, then Eliza puppy-eyes her way into getting the discount for the rest of us, ‘cuz nobody can refuse Eliza.” John’s tone dipped, but remained chipper. “Oh, so wait, which did you pick? The horses.”

Alexander smiled, “So they do do that to everyone?”

“Yeah. Who do you think started asking?” John jutted his thumb into his chest. “You find out a lot about a person that way. Wait! Let me guess. Look at me.” John grabbed Alexander’s chin and tilted his face to look at him; Alexander twisted his shoulders to oblige.

“I could just tell you--“John’s gaze was intense, to say the least, like looking directly into the Sun. Alexander fought the urge to turn away.

“No! Don’t take the fun out of this, man. I’m good at this. Just. hang on.” Alexander watched John’s eyes dance. They were examining his face, checking every detail, but consistently bouncing back to his eyes. Without warning, John’s other hand poked at his cheek, squishing his face up. “You have a birthmark here. I hadn’t noticed,” John said absently. His hand moved, brushing the other side of his face, toward his chin. The gesture was much gentler than the original jab. “There’s another one.” John leaned forward slightly, squeezing himself between the seats. That couldn’t be comfortable, what was John doing? “What’re these scars from?” He was talking to himself at this point, dragging his thumb under Alexander’s chin, the muted webbing of scars in question sparking into flame.

“What does- What does this have to do with the horses?” Alexander managed, his face getting warm under John’s calculating gaze and exploratory hands.

“Riddle,” John said simply, leaning back but only slightly.

“Yeah,” Alexander whispered, slightly dazed. “How’d you know?”

John smiled, “Easy. Riddle’s got a story to tell, and an interesting story is much better than a perfect paint job.”  

Alexander’s heart thudded in his chest. “I—“

“Boys,” George interrupted, making both teens jump. “Look where we are.”

They both turned to look out the window, John opting to wedge himself further rather than the easier route of looking through his own window, but Alexander didn’t mind. The familiar expanse of property, now white with snow, smiled at them, welcoming them home. John shrieked, his joy unable to be contained. George had barely been able to stop the car before John had gotten out, literally throwing himself onto the circular lawn in front of the house. He sank down into the snowy pile—it was deeper than John had expected, Alexander thought—laughing giddily. “Alex!”

Alexander had gotten out, the cold already nipping at his face. South Carolina December and New York December were two totally different monsters, for sure. “John, you’re insane. You’re going to get yourself sick.” The mental image of John, too weak to move, flashed in his mind’s eye.

John popped out of the pile of snow, the white powder clinging to his hair in clumps, and reached out. “I’m stuck,” he said between giggles.

“Oh my god,” Alexander mumbled, his voice full of affection. “C’mon, you nerd.” He reached down to grab John’s hand, instantly being knocked off-balance and landing into the snow, half on top of John. ”I should’ve expected that,” Alexander deadpanned, rolling over to stare at the sky.

“Yeah, you should’ve. I’m kinda an asshole,” John snickered.

“I’m not meant for this,” Alexander whined, the cold already too much to bear. “It’s too cold. I’m too cold. I can’t even think straight anymore.”

“Yeah, I have the same problem.” John rolled on his side to look at Alexander, his grin wide. “Although, to be honest, I don’t think I ever could.”

“Oh my god.”  

“Boys,” George sighed, “Martha’ll murder me if you get sick. C’mon.” He grabbed their hands—John with his right, Alexander with his left—and yanked them to their feet. He affectionately ruffled their hair, effectively knocking most of the snow from their heads. “For the record, presentation is important too. Sometimes you can’t show that you have a story,” he said as he walked past them. “Also, Blueskin reminds me of a horse I had back in the day, so maybe I’m a little biased,” he turned back with a smile. “Anyway. I don’t know about you two, but I’m starving.”

“We should probably get the bags out of the car first,” John gestured back to the vehicle. Alexander raised a brow. “The snow. It’s, uh. It’s starting to melt,” the shiver at the end punctuated his statement.

George raised a brow, “John, you speaking like you didn’t leave half your wardrobe here.”

John blushed, “oh, yeah. Right.”

“I’ve got your bags. Your family misses you.” George said, turning back toward the car.

It was as though John had forgotten about Martha and the Schuylers until that moment. Like they’re entire journey had led them only to tumble in the snow in the front yard. His eyes lit up like it Christmas lights, mouth springing open into the widest grin Alexander had ever seen.

He was beautiful.

The thought shocked Alexander less and less each time. ‘Beautiful’ described John as obviously as ‘warm’ described sunlight, it was clear to see, and yet, his heart still hiccupped each time.

John raced halfway up the pathway, before running back and snagging Alexander’s wrist. “Together! We have to go together!”

Alexander’s smile faltered as the yank from John made him stutter-step, his knee popping painfully at the motion.

John’s smile dropped, his eyes wide. “Your knee’s still bothering you. I totally forgot. I’m so sorry!” Alexander waved the apology off, trying to move forward and ineffectively ignoring the limp that hindered his gait. “Together,” John repeated, coaxing Alexander’s arm over his shoulder and supporting his weight, letting Alexander lift his pained leg off the ground.

Together, the two teens hobbled to the front door, Alexander pressed into John’s side. He was certain it wasn’t entirely necessary, but the warmth radiating into his side was too nice to pass up. It was poetic, in a way. Their experience at Acolyte started with Alexander half-carrying John into the cabin, and it was ending with John returning the favor.

Unexpected nerves creeped up on Alexander as he stood on the doorstep. He gripped his sleeves in his hands—when had he last done that? It had been quite some time, he realized—and stared at the doorbell. Should he ring the doorbell? Should he just walk in? In a weird, almost indescribable way, the house felt like home and a strange place simultaneously. He had only been gone for a few days, and yet, everything looked different. Everything was brighter, the snow having altered the dreary late-fall exterior he had left behind. Small bright lights in every color bowed across the roof and the windows, glittering delicately against the rapidly darkening sky. How had the short time he had been gone stripped him of all familiarity? How did Acolyte manage to take that away?

“Alex?” John asked, leaning into him (without toppling him over) reassuringly, “You ready?”

“Yeah.” Was he? Alexander wasn’t sure if he was. The nerves thrummed erratically through his body, his fingers fluttered against the pressure of he had applied to keep them balled into fists.

Slowly, too slowly, he reached for the door.  

Deep breath.

Three. The cold from the handle bit into his hand.

Two. John said something; Alexander didn’t hear. He had to focus.

One.

The pressure was unbearable; Alexander fought for each breath. It was too loud, too bright, too warm. He squeezed his eyes shut, restricting one sense to focus on the others. One by one, the noises cleared, singing into his heart with perfect clarity.

“Alexander!”

“Alex!”

“Hammy!”

“Welcome home!” The three said together.

“Guys! He hurt his leg, be careful!” John’s voice rang out, laughter mucking his cautionary tone.

“You did?” Alexander opened his eyes to stare into the doe-eyed gaze of Elizabeth Schuyler.

“Yeah, but it’s—“

“But nothing!” Angelica interrupted. “I told you to be careful!” She replaced her sister to stand in front of him.

“You can only be so careful when you’re running for your life,” he deadpanned.

“Running for your…” Angelica trailed off, her face softening into something Alexander couldn’t place. “Sit,” she tried to steel her voice again and she failed as she gently led him to the couch in the living room. Eliza floated to his other side. “Peggy, let go of John and go get Martha.”

Alexander turned back to look at John to see the other engulfed in a swath of yellow fabric, a wild tangle of brown hair blending into John’s curls as Peggy buried her face into John’s neck. John’s eyes were already trained on Alexander, wavering mildly.

“No need,” Martha’s soft voice cut through. Alexander looked over his shoulder to see Martha’s face. “Welcome home, sweetie,” she smiled, her bright blue eyes already glassy. By the time she crossed to the front of the couch, she was already crying. Angelica, begrudgingly, moved over for Martha to take her place. She immediately wrapped her arms around Alexander and pulled him to her. “I missed you so much. I’m so sorry we sent you there. I’m--” she stopped, looking up at Peggy and John, “Actually, Peggy, can you please—“ she didn’t need  to finish the sentence. Peggy released John, who immediately rushed over and squeezed onto the couch next to Martha, joining their embrace.

“Thank you for sending Alex,” John murmured. “Thank you for saving me.”

“Oh John,” Martha cooed, “We’d never let you stay there.”

They sat like that for a few moments, in a pile on the couch, unable to let the others go. Eventually, Alexander felt a tap on his shoulder—how they had managed to find his shoulder in the pile, he didn’t know—“Hey, guys?” Eliza murmured. They pulled apart to look at her, lingering hands still holding them loosely together, “I don’t want to cut this short, but dinner’s going to get cold if we don’t eat soon.” She made eye contact with Alexander and smiled, a pretty petal pink blush glistening on her cheeks.

“That’s right,” Martha agreed. “C’mon boys. Time for dinner.”

Alexander had only just stumbled into the dining room before he and John were engulfed in an embrace again. Lafayette was rambling entirely in French in his ear, hurried and incomprehensible, save for a collection of pet names. He could hear John coughing slightly, Hercules was probably squeezing him a little too tightly.

They switched suddenly; Lafayette flung himself at John as Hercules wrapped himself around Alexander. As expected, Hercules squeezed too tightly; Alexander felt his spine pop, a sensation he was grateful for after a night on the hotel couch. “Welcome home, man,” Hercules whispered.

He felt it. The smell of Thanksgiving dinner, the warm embrace of his friends, the radio playing softly in the background, the giddy laughter from the girls in the other room—something Alexander was certain he wasn’t supposed to hear—made Alexander’s heart swell. Turns out Angelica snorts when she laughs hard enough; Alexander smiled, it was cute. Judging by the shout of indignation and the overdramatic snorting noise, Peggy found it more hilarious than endearing. He could finally feel it again, what Acolyte tried to steal from him, what his friends and the Washingtons refused to let slip away.

He was home.

“Now, come on! We’ve been slaving over a hot stove all day for you two. So let’s eat!!” Hercules crowed after he pulled away.

“Woo!” John cheered.

The other three laughed together as John raced to the table and flopped down, excited as a small puppy as he sat at, expectantly, at the empty plate in front of him.

The Schuyler girls, Lafayette, and Hercules made quick work of setting the table—having denied any attempt of assistance from Alexander and John (“It’s your homecoming, silly!” Eliza had said, her two sisters nodding in agreement.)—and before long, they were all sitting around the table, Thanksgiving dinner in front of them. Alexander was wedged between John and Eliza, Angelica and Peggy sat across from them. Hercules and Lafayette sat to their right, with Martha at one end of the table, George on the other. No awkwardness, no tension, only relief and joy filled the air as they laughed and joked together.

“So, are we doing the thing again?” Alexander prompted.

“What thing?”  John asked.

“Oh, really?” George chuckled, his voice lilting in a teasing manner, “You don’t think it’s too lame this time?”

Alexander blushed.

“Oh, the thankful thing? I mean, it is pretty cheesy, but I wanna start.” John said. “No wait! I want to be last! Laf, you go!”

Everyone said more or less the same thing, but Alexander’s heart grew with each sentence. Finally, it fell to him, the eight sets of eyes around the table falling expectantly on him. “I’m thankful for my family,” Alexander started with a glance to George, who responded with a warm smile. “Not only the family that I’m a signature away from officially joining—,” the unconscious smile grew too large to speak around for a moment,“—but also the other people sitting here, and the family we left behind with Aaron, Red, Burr, Nora, Quincy, and Caleb. Sorry for disobeying you, Angelica, but man, am I happy I did.” Angelica pouted to hide her smile, “But also, I am so so grateful to have Martha’s cooking in front of me again.”

“Agreed.” John chirped.

Martha laughed quietly, a pink blush glowing on her face, “I had quite a few extra hands in the kitchen this time, but thank you.”

“I uh, I guess that’s it. Less eloquent this time. Sorry.” Alexander ducked his head. He heard Eliza’s giggle and John’s laugh blending together as they both placed their hands on his shoulders. His face burned.

“My turn. Although you kinda stole most of mine,” John laughed again. “I’m thankful for you all, for all you’ve done for me when my biological family didn’t care. I’m thankful for Peggy for being the only Schuyler to give me a hug when I got here—“ Peggy blew him a kiss across the table, making everyone erupt into raucous laughter again. “And for Alexander,” his voice grew more sincere, the joking tones fading away. “I’m not getting into it, but he really, truly, saved me in there.” He moved his hand to touch Alexander’s wrist, “You made me feel human in a place that turned me into a monster. I don’t think I’ll ever be ever to repay you.”

Alexander’s heart thudded in his chest, “You don’t have to.”

John smiled at him, “I knew you’d say that. But still. I—“

“News from the tragedy in South Carolina,” the radio crackled.

“Are you serious?” John squeaked.

Alexander reached for John’s hand out of reflex. The Schuylers reached out to them in silent comfort.

“We are saddened to say that police have released the identity of the man found dead in the grounds of Camp Acolyte as 21-year-old Connecticut native Nathan Hale. You may know him as the young man we had here a few months ago to discuss his blog, The Rebel Spy. He was one of, if not the greatest, independent investigators we had ever had the opportunity to interview. We will remember Nathan for his bright smile and desire for justice. He will be truly, sincerely missed by all of us here at--”

“—He was an investigative reporter.” Alexander spoke over the radio, Brewster’s words echoing back in his memory.

“He was only twenty-one,” John murmured.

“If they knew what he was doing there..” George started.

“What if they killed him on purpose?” Lafayette managed, the other boy looked sick.

“They wouldn’t kill on purpose, right? They aren’t that inhumane…right?” mumbled Hercules.

Alexander, John, and George all looked to each other.

They couldn’t answer.      

Chapter Text

The table was silent, their thoughts too loud to be spoken over. Alexander glanced at his and John’s hands, still entwined on the table. Did they kill Nathan Hale…intentionally? Alexander’s first thought was no. If they wanted Nathan dead, why would they have summoned the lifeguard to resuscitate him? Why would the Acolyte to retrieve him have looked so terrified?

But then again…

“Do you know how he…?” Aaron asked, having joined them in staring at the make-shift memorial.

“Died?” John finished. “Acolyte said suicide. But,” he trailed off, “I don’t know if I believe that either.”

Nathan Hale wasn’t the first suspicious death on that campground.

Alexander shuddered. John’s grip tightened.

“Well,” Peggy started slowly, glancing around the table. “The food’s going to get cold…” she mumbled.

“You’re right, Pegs,” Angelica added. “You’re home, and we’re going to celebrate.”

Lafayette made a noise of affirmation. “We can worry about the details later.”

“Let’s eat!” Hercules boomed, a goofy smile on his face in an attempt to alleviate the tension.

Alexander felt his lips tug up in to a smile as he watched everyone chuckle and begin piling food on their plates. Thank God for Hercules.

Alexander was halfway through his umpteenth serving of stuffing—there was something about the seasoned bread dish that Alexander could not get enough of, even if his stomach was beginning to rebel against him—as Hercules started to laugh to himself.

“Oh! So while you were away, Laf was completely inconsolable,” Hercules started, knocking his head back dramatically.

Lafayette groaned, “Hercules, please.

“Oh really?” John leaned forward, “And how did Mister Soulmate deal with that?” he teased.

“Well, to be honest, I was hoping Miss Soulmate would deal with it, but Adrienne was too busy or something. Anyway!” He continued, waving off Lafayette before he could interrupt, “I started giving him little jobs to do to distract him, right? So I was working on this gown for… someone,” he faltered. Curiosity nipped at Alexander’s tongue, but he said nothing. “And I needed a piece of fabric dyed. This is some pretty potent stuff, but I didn’t want it too dark, so I asked Laf to do a test swatch.” Hercules was already chuckling as he spoke. “And this asshole—sorry,” he added with a look to George and Martha “—managed to trip while he was trying to get the swatch out of the bucket he had used. And…” his laughter grew, “well, it doesn’t really matter for me, but Laf..?”

Lafayette was pouting, his eyes down. “Shush.”

“Show ‘em Laf.”

“No.”

Hercules laughter grew.

“C’mon, man. Show us!” John egged him on.

“Nnn..” Lafayette paused, glancing up at John. “Fine.” He tugged his sleeve up to reveal his arm, its pigment tinted a bright pink.

“Pffftt,” Alexander snickered. “Did that transfer over?”

Hercules nodded, laughing heartily, “Technically it was self-applied, so…. Poor, pale-skinned Adrienne.”

“Oh, no.” Eliza whispered, giggles bubbling over her words.  

“No way,” Angelica retorted. “I call bull. Peggy’s got things on her skin, and nothing’s happened to us. There’s no way that dyed Adrienne’s arm.”

Peggy blinked, “What have I done to my skin?” Her voice was slightly strained. Eliza looked uncomfortable.

“Unimportant,” Angelica said vaguely, her eyes wide. “How do you know it transferred to her?” She leaned forward.

“Well, I thought the same thing, so I didn’t say anything to her about it,” Lafayette ducked his head.

Martha clicked her tongue, “And how did that work out for you?” she teased.

“Not well, I’m afraid.” He tugged up his other sleeve. Thick black letters ripped through the doodles of flowers that decorated his skin.

“What does that say?” Peggy asked. “Guys, I took ASL. I don’t know what that is.” She pouted.

Alexander snickered. “What have you done?”

What? What did I do?”

“No, Peggy, that’s what it says.”

She blinked. “Wait, you speak French too?” Alexander nodded. “Man, come on. Who at this table speaks French?”

Lafayette (obviously), Alexander, John, Angelica and Eliza all lifted their hands. Alexander turned to see Hercules half-lift his hand into the air. Lafayette narrowed his eyes, “You do not.”

“I’m learning!” Hercules said indignantly.

“Say something then,” Lafayette challenged.

“I…uh.” Hercules slowly lowered his hand, “Never mind. You’re mean.”

The table erupted into laughter.

Eventually, they wandered into the living room, waiting for their stomachs to settle over cups of hot chocolate. The added twinge of cinnamon danced across Alexander’s tongue. He smiled, his eyes scanning the faces in the room. He, John, and Eliza had claimed the couch, Lafayette and Angelica sat on the loveseat, Peggy and Hercules leaning against its arms, and Martha and George stayed near the kitchen, love clear on their faces.

“So,” Hercules started, “I’m gonna address the elephant in the room—“

John cringed. Alexander leaned against him, tapping his shoulder against the freckled teen in comfort.

“Sorry, man. But we’re worried. What happened in there?”

Alexander rested his hand on John’s leg, Don’t speak if you don’t want to. John’s shoulders dipped, his head lowering. He gestured for Alexander to speak instead.

“It’s honestly terrifying in there,” Alexander started, “there were moments when I genuinely feared for my life. I—“ he sighed, his voice falling flat as familiar faces dancing across his vision. What was Acolyte doing to them now? And how would John feel? Reliving it even though he wasn’t the one speaking? He decided he wasn’t going to risk it. “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you. Not yet.” Not until everyone’s safe.

“Alex, please,” Peggy begged, leaving her perch on the loveseat to sit on the floor in front of him. “John hasn’t been the same since Acolyte. He always looks so tired,” her gaze flickered to the other teen, “he won’t tell us anything, and we just want to help. In any way we can.” She daintily placed  her hand over Alexander’s, her fingertips brushing John’s knee. “We love you, John.”

“I know.”

“So--!” Peggy started, but was interrupted.

“I have a question, John.” George murmured. “You said you had known Martha since you were kids, but you met at Acolyte…” his voice lowered to a whisper, barely audible from his position in the doorway, “how old were you…the first time?”

John tensed again. Alexander made the mistake of looking to his face. The look of betrayal was clear. You told him?

Alexander’s brows furrowed, his eyes widening, No! The spike of pain in Alexander’s heart was more excruciating than anything the hurricane could’ve thrown at him. He didn’t tell George that, did he? No! He was wearing the wire when Seabury said it. There was no betrayal, all of John’s secrets were safe. He prayed John would never look at him that way again.

“Ten, I think,” John finally answered. Alexander tilted his head. “No! Wait, I was eight. Or nine. Somewhere in there, it all blurs together.”

“Christ…” George mumbled under his breath.

“What could an eight-to-ten-year-old do that would cause your father to send you away?” Eliza managed, her voice tight.

John smiled sadly. “My first crush. Dad wasn’t too happy when he found out.” Alexander cringed, having heard this story already.

Martha piped up, “Alexander, how much of this do you know?”

“A lot of it,” Alexander admitted.

“Are you kidding me?!” Peggy leapt from the floor, standing directly in front of John with her hands dug into her hips. “Alex, we love you, but what the fuck, John?! We’ve been worried sick for years and you wouldn’t tell us shit; but you go and spill the beans to a guy you’ve just met?!

John, much like the rest of the room, sat there in awed silence, unable to defend himself. “Peggy-” Alexander started.

Don’t. Speak for him. John. Why wouldn’t you tell us what was going on?” Peggy continued, her voice desperate.

“I didn’t know how…”John managed, “you were already so worried, and if I told you what happened in there, you’d…” he sighed, “Alex gets it, you know? He’s been there, he’s been beaten down, you know? I just-“Peggy held up a hand, silencing him.

“You think I haven’t?” she retorted. “You think my life was perfect? I was alive a whole decade before I became a Schuyler. I lived through things too, you know. I could’ve handled anything you threw at me.”

“Peggy, it’s not--” John started again.

“Pegs,” Eliza interjected.

“No,” Peggy shook her head, “You don’t get it Liza. You don’t.” She turned back to Alexander and John, fire in her gaze, “My biological parents—well, let’s just say they weren’t the greatest. There was a reason I was in Mil Hersh. Actually,” she laughed, a grating, bitter sound, “I can show you! You want to know why I hide my arms?”

“Peggy. Don’t,” Angelica pleaded.

“Why? Are you ashamed of me too?”

Never. But Pegs, are you sure you want to tell them to prove a point?” Alexander’s blood ran cold. What had she been through that put that look on Angelica’s face?

“No,” Peggy wilted. “But, I’m always the afterthought, Ang. It’s always ‘and Peggy.’ You’re the smart one, Eliza’s the beautiful and kind one, and what am I? I’m just Peggy. At least I can prove that I’m stronger than that. That I’m more than that.” 

“We know you’re more than that, Peggy.” John tried.

“And yet you still block me out.” Peggy was unbuttoning the cardigan she had over the yellow dress, shrugging it off to reveal the dress’s cap sleeves. “Look. They’re hideous, aren’t they? That was my mother.” She angled her arm, revealing what she spoke about on the underside of her forearm, near her armpit.

Perfect circles dotted her arm, some of them fairly faded, some of them raised and bright. They were cigarette burns, Alexander realized.

“There were more,” Peggy noted. “Most of them healed. And you can’t see the ones in here,” she gestured to her scalp. “My hair hides those, if there are any left up there.” She sighed, before lifting her arm up higher, to show the lines that littered the adjacent areas to the burn scars. “I was weaker then.”

“You were eight then,” Angelica interjected.

Alexander blanched, his heart thudding painfully in his chest. The bloodstained mattress, Ledja crying. It was all right there in front of him again.

“You cut yourself?” It took Alexander a moment to realize that it was not his own voice, but John’s, that spoke. “At eight?”

Peggy shrugged, or at least, Alexander thought he saw a shrug, he was still trying to shake the Caribbean crime scene that had burned its way into his mind. He took deep breaths, focusing on the glisten of Peggy’s dress as the fabric danced with each movement. Peggy needed this. He wasn’t about to let his stupid flashbacks make him the center of attention. He felt John shift next to him. He prayed John wasn’t looking at him, this is about Peggy. He’d have to get through this alone, and quickly. He could do this, after all, it wasn’t the first time.

“—what it is,” Peggy said when Alexander had come back to New York in his consciousness. “I was in a dark place, after my mother somehow managed to win custody of me again, and I overheard some teenagers talking about how it made them feel better. I guess it did, in a way. But I knew that I was hurting myself, and while I was relieved to be at Milt Hersh, I just couldn’t stop. It took quite a bit of therapy and Ang to get me to stop considering it as a solution.”

Angelica was crying silently on the other side of the room, her eyes far away, no doubt back at Milton Hershey. Eliza stood from the couch and embraced her sister, avoiding her younger sister’s gaze and hiding her face into her older sister’s shoulder.

“Although sometimes…” Peggy trailed off, “it calls me back sometimes. It hasn’t succeeded, but it’s…it’s gotten close.”

A choked sob echoed from the other two sisters. Alexander couldn’t tell which one was the source of the sound. Or had the sound come from cousin’s wife as she lingered just out of sight. Alexander tried to ignore her.

“I get it.” John murmured. “I mean, I’ve never… I didn’t have to.” Alexander cringed at the double meaning. Acolyte had hurt him enough. There was no need for him to inflict more pain on himself. “Pain brings clarity, sometimes. It makes your issues seem…less.”

“Yes! Exactly!” Peggy chirped. “And you know it’s not healthy, but you just…can’t stop yourself.”

“I’m sorry I assumed you wouldn’t understand, Pegs,” John lowered his head.

“Hey, I overreacted, but just, don’t do it again, okay?” she tapped him on the top of his head. He lifted his face to look at her, smiling warmly as she pressed a kiss to his forehead.

“Shouldn’t I be comforting you? After all that?” John chuckled, not at its full mirth, but the previous tension was fading quickly.

“Nah. I’m good.” Peggy smirked. “I went through a lot of stuff by myself. I don’t need comforting.”

John blinked, “That only makes me want to comfort you more.”

Peggy tilted her head, “I wouldn’t be against a hug.”

John stood, and for a split, selfish moment, Alexander missed the warmth that John’s presence gave him. His arms wrapped around Peggy’s frame, the embrace finally diffusing the situation in totality.

“So, the things on Peggy’s skin that you mentioned. They were her scars, right?” John asked.

“Yes,” Angelica sniffled. “I suppose wounds don’t get transferred, self-inflicted or otherwise.”

“The skin-transfer is a finicky thing, isn’t it?” John mumbled.

“Yes,” Angelica managed a quiet laugh, “I suppose so.”

Martha had come behind the couch at some point, resting her hand on Alexander’s shoulder. She leaned down, whispering in the teen’s ear. “Are you alright?”

Alexander nodded, “I will be.”

 

With the situation diffused and a newfound respect for Peggy’s past (and hatred for her biological mother), another question lingered in the air. Angelica was the one to jump on it. “Sooo,” she started, stretching out the sound. “I know you two didn’t want to talk about Acolyte—and I’m not going to make you talk about anything that happened in there—but you mentioned quite a laundry list of friends. So, I was just wondering...about them,” she finished lamely, words having left her.

“Oh! That reminds me!” Alexander snapped to attention, disregarding Angelica’s inquiry for the moment. “George, has anyone found anything on Aaron’s cousin?”

Hercules cleared his throat, getting the teen’s attention, “He sent the name to me and my friends and I did some digging—“

“The secret friends?” Alexander interrupted.

Hercules’s facial expression was the only answer he needed.

“But this Roxana girl? Gone. No trace at all. I don’t know how she’s doing it, but she doesn’t have a digital fingerprint.”

“Nothing?” Alexander frowned. “What about the Dark Arms?”

Hercules’s face fell. “No way, man. We aren’t dipping our toes in that crazy. We mingle with the Dark Arms, we could get in a lot of trouble. I could lose my business. Laf could get deported.”

“Are you serious?!” Alexander turned to look at his French companion.

Lafayette’s face was uncharacteristically stoic. “We… we don’t know that. But it is possible.”

“Are they that bad?”

“No,” George answered, calling the room’s attention. “They’re not. But they… well they’re rebels. They’re attempting a revolution. And while their platform is actually quite good, the execution is what makes people worried. Rallies, riots, protests, the destruction of government property? Nothing is untouchable in their eyes. I’m putting myself at risk too. I could lose my platform for associating with them. But if it means getting camps like Acolyte closed for good…it might be worth it.”

“So then we get in contact,” John spoke. “But how?”

“Yeah, the only one I know is kinda behind the fence back at Acolyte,” Alexander scowled.

John stared. “What.”

George raised a brow, “There’s a Dark Arm inside Acolyte?”

Alexander nodded. “Two, technically. Unless Elizabeth backed out.”

“The kitchen girl?!” John gasped. “The ‘You’ll-catch-the-gay’ kitchen girl is one of them?”

“Excuse me?” Lafayette interrupted.

Alexander blushed. “Uh, that’s a story for later?” he turned back to John, rolling his eyes at the freckled teen’s snickering, “But yes. She’s a Dark-Arm. A new recruit. But remember the Beard-net in the kitchen?”

“The one that made you do… he didn’t make you do dishes, did he?”

Alexander shook his head.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” John asked lowly.

Alexander felt his heart attempt to pull itself apart. “I couldn’t. Brewster made me swear not to tell anyone until after we left.”

George perked up at the name, “Brewster? Caleb Brewster?”

Alexander’s eyebrows shot up toward his hairline, “Yeah? How’d you know that?”

He’s your Dark-Arm on the inside?”

Alexander nodded.

“Sweet Jesus,” George said, chuckles breaking up his words. “The biggest thorn in the side of Setauket is our eye on the inside.”

“You know him?” Alexander asked, surprise coloring his voice.

“I do, and I’m both happy and horrified about this new addition to the plan.” George’s chuckling grew into laughter, “We heard many a tale of Caleb Brewster, the terror of New Jersey. He’s a Dark-Arm now, huh? Well, at least he’s on our side.” 

A knock on the door interrupted their conversation. Martha crossed the living room quickly, standing on her toes to peer through the peephole, before opening the door to Philip Schuyler. The sisters all glanced at each other upon seeing their father, their expressions tense.

“We don’t have to leave right this second, but we shouldn’t be too long.” His dark eyes were cloudy and distant. “They’ve…well, see for yourself.” He crossed to the center of the room and grabbed the remote, the television on the other side of the room flickering to life. For a split second, the bright yellow parade balloon wiggled in the frame, the cute face and red cheeks more unsettling than adorable at that size. Before anyone could comment on the parade, Philip had switched channels to a different news station, one that didn’t replay the parade all day. The stone-faced news anchors were uncomfortable to look at, if Alexander was being honest. They had their professional poker faces on, listing off the series of negative stories without blinking, as though nothing leaving their mouths had bothered them in the slightest. Alexander had never been particularly fond of news anchors for that reason. The sheer lack of emotion on their faces wasn’t natural. If they could list off a series of murders and tragedies without even blinking, they couldn’t be trusted—at least, that was Alexander’s viewpoint. A person should be able to be an impartial journalist and still show compassion.

“More news from South Carolina.” One anchor said, “Camp Acolyte, a religious retreat for struggling kids—“

Alexander, John, and George all scoffed simultaneously.

—and also the scene of the death of 21-year-old Nathan Hale, has also just reported two campers missing.”

Alexander couldn’t breathe.

The South Carolinian State Police have stated that they are not releasing the identities of the teens across state lines as of this moment. They have reported that one of the campers in question is a South Carolina native, and it is quite likely that he is returning home. Camp Acolyte has reported that the other teen, quote, ‘has no home to go back to.’ They have also stated that the teens may still be together, as campers had stated that they were very close, and may possibly be in a relationship.” Alexander felt his face catch fire; he didn’t dare look at John.

Philip shut off the television.

“Shit,” he heard John whisper.

“But they haven’t said your name yet, so you’re okay,” Eliza tried.

“’Across state lines’,” John quoted. “Meaning they have probably released our identities in South Carolina. Meaning Dad knows.”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Alexander murmured, “Marta would’ve called George.”

John dropped his head, “Unless Marta’s in trouble. If Dad found out.”

“She isn’t… in danger, is she?” George asked, his fear implied.

“What?” John asked, before it clicked. “Oh God. No. No. Dad’s a dick, but he’d never-“

“Good,” George interrupted awkwardly.

The group was plunged into silence again. Alexander stared at the rainbow of mugs on the coffee table. His was orange, John’s, green. Hercules and Lafayette, red and purple. Pink, turquoise and yellow, Angelica, Eliza and Peggy. Surely what was left of the hot chocolate was cold now. If he was being honest with himself, Alexander wasn’t sure he could stomach it after everything that’s happened.

“There’s… one more thing, Alexander.” George spoke again. It took one look at the older man to shake Alexander to his core. The man had his head down, avoiding eye contact.

“Yeah?” Alexander asked, his voice cracking as his nerves seeped into his tone.

“Until this all blows over…” he took a breath, “Martha and I can’t adopt you.”

Martha and I can’t adopt you. Can’t adopt. Can’t adopt you. Alexander felt himself grow cold. He felt his heart hammer against his ribcage for a beat before he stopped feeling anything. His heart had vanished from his chest. Was he breathing?  “Did I…Did I do something wrong?” His voice sounded small, childlike. Similar to how he sounded when he was twelve, when he went to the priest and asked if God was punishing him by taking his mother away. When he began to question if there was anyone up there when he didn’t get an answer.

When he decided to write his own deliverance.

“Oh Alex, sweetie, no,” Martha jumped in, “It’s just, in order for it to be official, we have to stand in front of a judge.”

If,” George stressed, “If your identity has been revealed in South Carolina, and then it’s released that you’re my son…”

“…I lead them right to John.”

“Can’t you just do it in private?” John asked, his voice strained as he glanced between Alexander and the Washingtons. “Nobody’d need to know!”

The couple sighed, “Unfortunately not. My name is unfortunately swamped with the press right now. All it would take is a murmur of adoption from our house and the press would have a field day.”

“Don’t they already know then?” Alexander prompted, his soul still empty. “Now that I think about it, why weren’t they here when I got here?”

Lafayette jumped in, “You are not the first foster kid to come through here.”

Alexander blinked, “Where are the others?”

Lafayette frowned, “I don’t know.”

Martha sighed, “Foster care’s tricky sometimes. Sometimes, parents get their children back. Sometimes it’s because they got help, and are capable of having a child, but other times…” she trailed off. Alexander noticed Peggy idly rub at her arms. “Unfortunately, in most of those cases, the child… isn’t allowed to contact us anymore. We’ve raised a few, some for years, and then they are just ripped away.” Her gaze dropped to her socked feet.

“That’s why you were in such a hurry to adopt,” Philip murmured, glancing to his daughters.

“I know it’s not possible, but I’m always so scared that you’ll be taken away from us,” Martha whispered, her head up to make eye contact with Alexander. Her eyes were a stormy gray, as though the tumultuous battle of emotion and memory had sucked all the color from her eye.

Alexander could feel the flickering of his soul entering his body again. The sensation was strange, but far from foreign. It starts as a spark, a glimmer of light in the center of his chest, before life flows out, the spark of hope becoming a Sun for the garden growing inside him. He scrunched his face at his own analogy, but he genuinely couldn’t think of a better one. However, the dark shadows of doubt threatened the peace that was beginning to fill his soul again. A face he hadn’t seen in years filled his mind, the details blurry, but the identity was clear. His father was still out there, somewhere. He had never wanted him in the past, but who’s to say he wouldn’t appear just to destroy what Alexander was making for himself? What he said to John at Acolyte was true: he didn’t hate his father, but the man was so unreliable that it was entirely possible for him to reappear in Alexander’s life for the sole purpose of mooching off the life he had made.

He watched Philip Schuyler shift his weight, clearly wanting to leave. It was safer for John if he left. They shouldn’t be together. A sudden pang rushed through Alexander’s newly reappeared heart. He decided not to mention his father, that conversation had to wait. “You should probably get going, huh?” Alexander went for nonchalant, but missed it by a mile.

Philip nodded tensely, “Sorry.”

Alexander was acutely aware of John’s hand clamping down on his. This was it. “When do you think…” He felt John’s gaze burning into him; he couldn’t meet it. “When can I come out of hiding?”

George frowned. “We don’t know,” he and Philip said simultaneously.

“But, you guys can come over sometimes,” Eliza tried, “You can see John then.”

“But it’s probably smart to keep it spaced out. Especially when your names get out. They don’t have pictures of you, right?” It took Alexander a few moments to realize the question was directed at him.

“No, I don’t think so. I shouldn’t have given them my real name. It just rolled off my tongue and I-“

“Alexander, it’s alright. We asked a lot of you. But you might have to use a pseudonym for a while. At least the surname.”

Alexander nodded. “I think I can do that.”

Angelica laughed, “I mean, you have a last name waiting for you.”   

George smiled. “Alexander Washington.”

Alexander looked at his rag-tag family once more, his eyes flickering to every face. He felt his gaze settle on John for a beat too long, momentarily distracted by the encouraging smile on the other boy’s freckled face. “My name is Alexander Washington.”

Chapter Text

Alexander stared at the ceiling of his bedroom, his plush mattress feeling foreign to him. He wasn’t surprised that sleep was once again evading him, but the constant insufferable thoughts racing through his head were quickly getting to be too much. John was at the Schuyler’s. News channels might be plastering John’s identity out there. Alexander couldn’t help but think of John as Rapunzel, locked away in a tower, away from prying eyes. The constant threat of being caught, all it would take is one person seeing him in Albany and he’d be dragged back to South Carolina.

Back to Acolyte.

Alexander felt a chill run down his spine.

He knew they had to be apart. It was safer. Even though he was a no-name. Using a different last name.

Which still didn’t flow well.

“Alexander Washington,” Alexander whispered to himself, thumbing the seam of the quilt. Hercules’s quilt… the quilt he lent John.

He groaned, rolling over and watching the translucent curtains dance around his room like phantoms. His room was frozen. He hated the cold, but it was far too stuffy in the house without having the window open. He was used to the draftiness of the cabin.

Alexander groaned louder, smothering the noise behind a pillow.

A quiet knock interrupted his misery. “Alexander?” He heard Lafayette’s voice on the other side of the door. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, sorry.” Alexander answered.

“Can I come in?”

Alexander bit his tongue, he had gone to bed in only his boxers, although it wasn’t his chest that he was concerned with. “Uh, yeah, hang on!” He scrambled off his bed, racing over to the desk and snatching the hoodie he had haphazardly thrown on his desk chair. He pulled it over his head before crossing over to open the door. He was met with a clearly woken Lafayette; his frame was hidden behind an oversized hoodie (which probably belonged to Hercules), his hair a lion’s mane, stuck out in every direction, “Hey Laf, you uh, you look…rested.”

“Shut up.” Lafayette pushed into his room, flicking the desk lamp on. He mumbled something in French; Alexander caught a comment on the cold, but Lafayette spoke again before he could respond, “So, what’s going on?”

Alexander shrugged. “Nothing? I… Look Laf, the hair is really distracting.”

Lafayette scowled. “My hair is not the problem here. Is this an Acolyte thing?” he paused, “Or a John thing?” As he spoke, he brushed his hair back with his hand, attempting to flatten it as much as he could without a mirror or hair tie.

Alexander sputtered, “I don’t know what you mean.”

Lafayette didn’t justify it with a response.

“Yeah, okay,” Alexander sat back on his bed. “It’s a…both, thing.”

“So, Acolyte and John.” Lafayette echoed, sitting across from him, cross-legged, at the foot of the bed. “What about them?”

Alexander grumbled, leaning against the headboard. His head made contact with a quiet thunk. “I just, can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Acolyte or John?”

“Both.”

Lafayette grumbled, “What…happened in there? I know you didn’t want to talk about it, but…”

“It’s okay. It was more for John’s sake. I still can’t tell you what he’s gone through. But it was… so unhealthy. Aaron is—“ he paused. Was it okay to tell Lafayette? Surely he’d be accepting, but… “Wait, that might be a secret. I—“ another groan of frustration ripped through him as he dragged his hand down his face. “I don’t know what I can say and what I can’t.” He paused to contemplate his next sentence. “They say really damaging things, and the owner of the place is…criminally insane. I’m sure of it. His laugh is just… unsettling. His everything is unsettling. And the way they treat gay kids, they…” he shuddered. “Those few days were awful. We couldn’t look at each other without being stared at like zoo animals. After day one, everyone assumed we were together, just because we were the only two in that cabin. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m used to dirty looks and feeling ostracized, but this was something totally different. I couldn’t imagine being subjected to that for so long.”

Lafayette looked contemplative, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but are you sure it was simply your placement?”

Alexander’s brows furrowed, “What do you mean?”

“How do I say this?” Lafayette fell silent. “You and John… you have this…” his hands waved around, “this spark? Between the two of you. You sit next to each other and know what the other is thinking. You can talk without saying a word.”

“We’re friends, Laf. Friends that have gone through some shit together. You get pretty close, pretty quickly when you’re fighting through hell.” When you literally had to carry him home the first time you met him.

“That’s fair,” Lafayette relented, “but I don’t know Alexander.” He stood from the bed, the mattress shifting under Alexander with the loss of Lafayette’s weight. He crossed to the door. “That kind of connection, it’s rare. Even for soulmates. The fact that you aren’t soulmates makes me question…” he paused, “Are you sure it isn’t anything more?” With that, Lafayette vanished from the room, shuffling back to his own bedroom next door.

Alexander sat, stunned, for what felt like ages. Eventually, he stood, mechanically crossing to the window and pushing it closed. He crawled back into bed, pulling the quilt up before quickly shoving it away, down by his feet. Alexander rolled onto his side and tucked his knees to his chest, and stayed there for…well, he wasn’t entirely sure, before exhaustion finally overtook him.

 

Alexander was uncharacteristically quiet the next morning, his mind racing too quickly for his tongue to keep up. Not that he minded, of course. He preferred to suffer in silence for this battle. He numbly stabbed at his pancakes, commenting to Martha that they were delicious (especially after the food at Acolyte and the hotel), but couldn’t convince himself to say more for fear of spilling everything.

“Alexander? Are you alright sweetheart? Are you feeling okay?” Martha murmured.

“Hmm?” Alexander mumbled, a forkful of pancake in his mouth. He quickly washed it down with coffee before responding, “Yeah, just. A lot on my mind.” He couldn’t, wouldn’t look at Lafayette.

“Anything I can help with?” Martha watched his expression, frowning.

He shook his head. “I don’t think so, no.”

Her frown deepened. She pointed in the direction of the stairs. “Hmm… Anything George could help with?”

Alexander’s face burned. “No.”

He watched Martha’s eyes dart to his left, where Lafayette was seated. She squinted, then her eyes opened wide in sudden clarity, “Ahhh. Okay. Well, you can talk to me if you want to,” she said as she stood. She patted his shoulder, “You’ll be okay, Alexander, I’m sure of it.”

Lafayette scuffled next to him, “This is from our conversation last night, no?” he murmured as Martha’s footsteps faded from earshot.

“You think?” Alexander retorted. “You just dropped that bomb on me and took off. I—“ he paused.

“Have you… thought about it?”

He finally snapped around to face him, his face hot, “I’ve done nothing but think about it Laf! Nothing! I couldn’t write last night, I couldn’t do anything. I just sat there in bed. And thought. And thought more. And…”

“And?” Lafayette pressed.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I don’t know!” Alexander’s hands drifted to his hair, his fingers tugging at its roots. “I thought… I mean, I literally introduced myself with a pick-up line.”

“To John?!” Lafayette asked incredulously.

“No! Eliza!” Alexander practically screeched in frustration. “You were there.”

Lafayette tilted his head, “Except we were not talking about Eliza, we were talking about John.

“I know that.”

“Then why bring her up?”

Because I—“ Alexander stuttered. “I don’t know.”

Lafayette patted his shoulder sympathetically. “I know how this feels. I’ve done this too.”

Alexander dropped his left hand to look at him, his right still fully tangled in his hair.

Lafayette offered a small smile, “You can have feelings for two different people, Alexander. That’s okay.”

Alexander scoffed. “You don’t count. You were literally assigned two people.”

Lafayette’s smile morphed into a smirk. Alexander bit his lip to keep from talking; Lafayette was clearly annoyed with him. “That doesn’t change much.”

Alexander’s shoulders dipped. “I suppose it doesn’t. Who? Who did you fall for first? Adrienne or Hercules? If I can ask that.”

Lafayette took a sip of his coffee, a warm smile on his lips. “I’m not sure. Adrienne, I spent time with face to face, but… Hercules helped me learn English. He was so kind and caring, gentle with correcting my English mistakes,” his face turned wistful, “I can’t say which person I…” he leaned back in his chair, his expression quickly clouding in confusion…”I don’t… I’m not even sure when I..huh.”

Alexander smiled at his companion before his own embarrassment and doubt creeped into his head. “I mean, we don’t—we could just be friends, I—“

“Hamilton,” Lafayette deadpanned.

“What?! I mean…” Alexander stopped. “I don’t know.”

“I know John, Alex. He… he doesn’t normally do that. Open up like that. Like Peggy said, we’ve known him for years, and he never said a word. He’s known you for a few days, and he told you about—well, you were there but still.” He paused. “What else did he tell you? About him.”

Alexander thought about it. “He told me about Jem?”

Lafayette’s eyebrows darted upward faster than Alexander had thought possible.

Alexander felt himself backtrack, “Well I mean, tattoos came up, and we don’t have those on the island, so then we talked about that. And we uh, stargazed for a while?” He paused, “He said he would’ve liked me.”

“He said Jem would’ve liked you?”

The inferno in his cheeks blazed. “Yes?”

Lafayette clicked his tongue. “Damnnn.”

What?

Lafayette only shook his head. “I have to go if I want to get to school on time, little lion. But…John let you in on a very intimate part of his life. I don’t want you to forget that.” And again, Lafayette left without another word.

Alexander looked disdainfully at the remainder of his pancakes, before abandoning them and making his way back to the living room, his Acolyte backpack sitting in the middle of the floor. He rummaged through it until he found his journal, still wrapped in the bag given to him by Theodosia, through Elizabeth. He couldn’t help but think back to them, to the two Acolyte employees that risked everything to help him get out. He got his journal and fished out his blue and red pens.  Flipping to the increasingly embarrassing section, he stared at the amalgamation of thoughts about his friend. In blue, he added, spark?-Laf. In red, soulmate-like connection?-Laf. He and John were close, extremely close friends, of that Alexander was certain. But…

“Alexander?” Martha poked her head in the doorway, making him jump. His journal clamored to the floor, thankfully page-down. “Oops. Sorry, hun. But the phone’s for you.”

“What?” Did the phone ring? “…who is it?”

Martha quirked a brow, “John?” She finished with a look, Who else would it be?

Alexander couldn’t stop the smile on his face as he unceremoniously rolled off the couch. He closed the journal and tucked it under the coffee table before reaching over to take the phone from Martha.

She chuckled, “Here he is, John.”

“Hello?” Alexander put the phone up to his ear.

<<Hey! Alex! What’s up?>> John’s voice came through. Alexander grinned.

“What, bored already?” he teased.

<<I mean, yeah. Obviously,>> John answered. <<I don’t exactly have any of my things. All I’ve got is what I brought to Acolyte. So, you know. Clothes. That I can’t wear because it’s December and there’s snow outside.>> He coughed, the sound dimming as he pulled his mouth away from the phone. <<And I think Mrs. Schuyler is using me as a babysitter. I—Cornelia put that down! Sorry, she—oh God, hang on.>> The sound went muffled again, but Alexander could distinctly hear John’s voice and the keening whines of a child. Alexander tried to fight back laughter, but couldn’t keep it full repressed as the keening quickly turned to shrieking. Poor John. He couldn’t imagine how he was going to…. Was he singing?    

Alexander instinctually leaned into the phone, the receiver dug into his ear as he tried to hear more. He couldn’t quite understand the lyrics, but the tone was warm, its tenor timbre radiating through the quiet hum of dead air. It sounded like a lullaby, gentle and sweet. The shrieking had turned into a mumble, which turned to silence, John’s voice the only sound left. Alexander felt his heart jump, leaping into his throat before rapidly dropping into his stomach. Eventually it returned to its proper place, but it had taken a few leaps before it made it there. He reached under the coffee table for his journal, grabbing the blue pen from the table before abandoning it for the red pen, which had fallen on the ground. CAN SING? he wrote, underlining it.

He wasn’t sure why that mattered so much, but oh god did it matter... He quickly closed it again, John’s voice through the phone suddenly felt too close, as though his companion could see the notebook in front of him.

The singing faded too, and soon Alexander could hear the familiar static of a phone in motion. <<Hey sorry, she had gotten a hold of a permanent marker. She was going to ‘make her shirt pretty,’>> he quoted. <<She, uh… wasn’t thrilled when I took it away from her.>>

Alexander made a noise of acknowledgment. “I didn’t know you could sing,” he forced the words out, his voice strained.

<<Oh, uh… you—um. You heard that?>> Alexander could hear the blush in his words. <<It used to work on my siblings, so I thought—I’m not like a good singer or whatever, I just-->> John trailed off. He was probably covering his mouth with his hand. His face was bright red, of that, Alexander was certain.

“I don’t know, man. Sounded pretty good to me.“ His tone had morphed back to nonchalant, but the compliment was earnest.

<<Yeah, because you heard it through a phone on the other side of the room. That clears up a lot of the-- >>

Alexander laughed affectionately, “John, just take the compliment.”

<<Huh? Oh, right. Yeah, sorry. I’m bad at that.>>  He paused for a beat, <<So, how does it feel to be back at the Washingtons’?>>

“To be honest, kind of weird,” Alexander confessed, “I mean, I kinda miss your snoring.” Alexander’s face burned. It was meant as a joke, but the second he said it, he realized how true it was.

<<Do I snore that loudly?>> John squeaked, before quickly recovering, <<Well, you know, you’re a sleeptalker.>>

“Impossible.”

<<How so?>>

“I don’t sleep.”

<<You dork.>>John groaned in mock annoyance. <<But you do. In French and Spanish, mostly.>>

“Really?” Alexander lilted, “What did I say? Do you remember?” he felt anxiety claw at his stomach. He struggled to keep things from John whilst he was conscious. What did he say when he had no filter?

<<It’s hard to say. My French is better than my Spanish, believe it or not, and it was usually super early in the morning, so my brain wasn’t switching well, but it was a constant sound. Sometimes you talked about the Washingtons, sometimes it sounded like you were debating someone about equal rights—you were winning, I think. You sounded proud.>>

“Of course I was winning,” he puffed out his chest in mock-arrogance, momentarily forgetting that his friend couldn’t see him. “I may not be able to draw, but I can argue.”

<<You’d make a good lawyer.>> John commented, <<I’ll be your court artist.>>

Alexander beamed, “Sounds like a plan.”

He could hear John’s laughter through the phone. <<I can’t imagine that’s a super high paying job. I might have to mooch off you.>>

“Eh, it’s cool. I’ll take care of you.” Woah. Wait.” I mean, I’m not going to let my closest friend starve.” There. That was better.

<<Aw, I’m your closest friend? Do we get bracelets?>> John teased. Alexander’s face burned hotter.

His heart thudded when he heard John gasp. “What?!” he said quickly.

<<Who’s gonna tell Laf?>>

“Oh shut up.”

John laughed again, trailing off into small chuckles. <<I miss you.>> John said, each word hit Alexander like a ton of bricks. When he couldn’t respond, John cleared his throat, <<Is that weird? I mean, I just saw you. It hasn’t even been a full day yet.I just->> he sighed. <<I love the Schuylers, but.. I wish I could’ve stayed at the Washingtons,>> With you. Alexander blinked. Was that actually John’s thought, or his own…?

Damn Lafayette.

“Nah, it’s not weird. I get it.”

<<Yeah?>> John sounded relieved.

“Yeah.”

<<So, when can you come visit me? Save me from the wrath of the Schuyler children?>> John prompted. <<Seriously, I mean, I love kids, but these two are something else.>>

“I…I don’t know. We have to wait until it’s safe, until we aren’t connected by Acolyte anymore, but…I don’t know when that is.”

There was silence on the other end for a while <<Yeah.>>

“I hope Aaron and Red are okay.”

<<Yeah… I mean they should be. They’re strong, and they have each other. They’ll be fine.>> John murmured.

“They’re strong… but what if they’re… because of us, John. They could be in—“

<They’re not,>> John interrupted. <<Don’t think like that. They’re fine.>> He paused, <<Hey, uh, I hate to leave our conversation like this, but Mr. Schuyler needs the phone.>>

“Oh. Right. Okay.”

<<By—Talk to you later, Alex.>>

Yeah. See ya.” They ended the call.

They both refused to say goodbye.

Alexander rubbed at an ink stain on his thumb, the pen must’ve gotten him when Martha startled him earlier. He shrugged, looking back to his journal again. He flipped past the ‘John section’ and grabbed the pen again.

Eliza? Alexander’s pen lifted, seemingly unable to touch the paper again. He stared at the name. Eliza was safe. She was sweet, gentle, beautiful. And she was a Schuyler. Between the Schuylers and the Washingtons, they’d be unstoppable.

Eliza was the smart choice.

Alexander stopped. This wasn’t serious. They were seventeen. It’s not like he was planning on proposing, so why was he so uncomfortable? He flipped the page back.

John Laurens.

The name stuck out in the sea of blue and red ink. They had been through hell together. Of course they’d be close because of that.

But he and Ned survived the hurricane together. Ned was there after his mother died, after his cousin committed suicide. He and Ned had been so close that people began suspecting that he was Alexander’s brother, not James.

John was different.

John was different in a way he didn’t understand. John was different in a way that was indescribable. Something that a man of three languages had no words for.

He flipped the page.

Eliza.

He flipped back.

John.

Alexander’s head pounded. Migraine. He cradled the journal in his arms as he walked back up the stairs, grabbing the bag on his way. He tucked it in the bedside table of his room, using the bag to hide it, and placing a notebook on top of it for good measure. He used his free hand to squeeze at his temple, hoping the pressure would alleviate some of the pain in his skull.

For a teen who had gone through hell for the majority of his life, he really didn’t handle stress well.

Shutting the drawer, he leaned back onto his bed, once again staring at the ceiling. Both hands firmly pressed into the sides of his head, his eyes eventually fluttered closed.

‘Alex!’ the voice screeched again. ‘Alex please! They have me! They’re going to kill me!’

Alexander was back at Acolyte, once again sprinting through the paths in frustration. ‘Where are you?!’ He called out. ‘Who are you?!’

A scream of pure terror ripped through the trees, the tall pines unforgiving.

Alexander raced around a corner, a limp body in the middle of the path. A few feet away, a familiar floral hair clip sat in the dirt. Finally, the identity of the voice came through to Alexander.

‘Aaron! No!!’  

He woke with a jump, his face drenched in a cold sweat. “It’s just a dream,” he mumbled to himself. “It’s not real. Aaron’s fine. Red’s fine. Nora, Quincy, Caleb, Burr, Theo, they’re all fine.” Alexander ran his hands down his face, shaking his head. Something in his gut said that wasn’t true.

“Alex?” His door opened, George poking his head through the gap.

“Yeah?” Alexander tried to pretend that his heart wasn’t still racing, but George obviously wasn’t buying it.

“I hate to do this to you, but there’s someone I want you to talk to,” George continued.

Alexander quirked a brow, “You’re not like, sending me to therapy or something, are you?”

George frowned, but shook his head. “No. Although it could help with the—“

“No.”

George’s shoulders dipped, “Alright. But no, he’s not a therapist. Can you come to my office?”

Alexander stood from the bed, his balance wobbling for a moment, “Sure, lead the way.”

 

Alexander hadn’t had the chance to be in George’s office since he had gotten back. Nothing inside had changed, other than the desk having more papers on it than he remembered. However, the room failed to bring the comfort it used to. 

“Sorry about that,” George said, louder than his usual tone.

<<That’s alright,  take your time.>> A voice came through George’s laptop. Rather than sitting behind his desk, George pulled the chair to the front, gesturing for Alexander to sit in the other one.

“Alexander, I’d like you to meet John Jay.” George spun the laptop, and Alexander was face to face with a thin-haired man, his hooked nose and small eyes gave him a strangely intimidating aura.

“Good afternoon Alexander, I know it’s still fresh, but I was hoping we could discuss the goings on of Camp Acolyte.”

“Why?” Alexander asked.

“Because,” he drawled, “I’m going to help you shut it down.”

Chapter Text

Alexander left George’s office reeling. I’m going to help you shut it down. He had told Jay his story, keeping as many of his friend’s secrets out of it as possible. Jay tried to get him to expand on certain aspects. Sorry sir, that’s not my story to tell, he had said. George looked proud.  

“Alexander!” Lafayette called as he descended the stairs. Huh. Alexander hadn’t heard him come home. “Have you—“ he paused, “What? That smile is kind of creepy.”

Alexander couldn’t help it. “We have a lawyer, Laf. We’re fighting Acolyte.”

Lafayette beamed. “So, does that mean John can—“

“Not yet,” Alexander’s shoulders dipped. “We haven’t planned anything yet, we’re only just getting stories straight. John will probably have to speak with him, but I don’t know if he’s ready for that and I don’t want to rush him into anything.”  He paused, “John’s been through so much.”

Lafayette nodded.

“But, once we have a court date, we need witnesses,” his grin grew back. “We have a few ideas.”

“Your friends! Will we get to meet them?” Lafayette said excitedly, a glimmer in his eye.

“Probably. A lot of them anyway. After all, according to some of them, they might need a place to stay after this.”

Lafayette’s smile dipped. “Of course. Good thing we have an entire floor of extra rooms.”

“If we can house them, anyway. They might have to go on record first, so they can’t accuse us of conjuring up a story together,” Alexander explained, “I think,” he added on. He’d have to read George’s books again, his mind had been so preoccupied on other things, his legal knowledge had grown fuzzy.

“They could stay with Hercules.”

“Is Herc okay with that?” Alexander asked, imagining their friend’s home flooded by teenagers. “Does he have space?

Lafayette faltered. “Kind of? How many people are there?”

“Well, let’s see. Aaron, Red, Nora, Caleb, Quincy, Elizabeth—maybe, Burr and Theo—maybe. On top of anyone Aaron and Red may have spoken to,” Alexander listed each name, counting them out on his fingers. “So six? Eight? Give or take three?”

“We might have to split them up.” Lafayette chewed on his bottom lip. “Have you checked the news today?”

Alexander’s face fell, “No, why? Did they announce something?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I asked. Some people were giving me strange looks today. I just thought.”

Alexander flicked on the television.  After a few minutes of forgettable news stories, Camp Acolyte’s name appeared on the screen.”

“Still no sign of the missing campers from Camp Acolyte, the Christian rehabilitation camp in South Carolina. Camp officials and the South Carolina State Police have released the identities of the missing campers.”

“Shit,” Alexander gritted out.

Alexander Hamilton, fifteen, and John ‘Jack’ Laurens, seventeen, disappeared from the campground a few days ago. Camp officials claim that both boys have a history of acting out, but claim that the plan was probably the result of the younger teen. According to his file on Camp premises, Hamilton has no home to go back to, an orphan who applied for Acolyte himself. However, counsellors have reported that he was angry, violent, and out of control, and even reported an attack on the camp chaplain.”

Alexander snorted, “Are you serious.”

He is approximately 5’6”, Hispanic, long dark hair, and dark brown eyes. His companion, John Laurens, is approximately 5’8”, long curly hair, typically worn in a ponytail, with hazel eyes and freckles. Police urge you to call the number on the screen if you see them. DO NOT APPROACH. Hamilton is unpredictable and potentially violent. Senator Henry Laurens, John’s father and Senator of South Carolina, had this to say:”

The screen cut away from the anchor, and Henry Laurens filled the screen, John’s siblings standing in a line behind him. Marta looked like she was going to be sick, some of the younger children were crying. Guilt clawed at Alexander. The poor girl had to keep her brother’s location hidden from her family.

“Camp Acolyte has notified me that one of the missing campers is my eldest son.” A ripple of gasps echoed through the crowd, “You gasp, but personally, I am not surprised. Jack hasn’t been the same since the tragic death of our James.”

“Are you serious,” Alexander repeated, glaring at the man. He really didn’t look like John at all. Good.

That being said, Jack, if you hear this, how could you do this to your family? Your siblings miss you. Is this boy really worth the pain you’re inflicting on us? Right after losing Jem? Come home John. Where you belong.” Marta’s head dropped.

Are you fucking serious,” Alexander spat. “Who does this guy think he is? If he wanted John home he wouldn’t have sent him to that hell camp.”

Lafayette said nothing, his horrified gaze transfixed on the screen.

The clip ended, and the anchor once again appeared on the screen. “Unfortunately, we have no image of Alexander Hamilton, but the Senator has provided an image for his son. This, is Jack Laurens,” John’s image filled the screen. He was in a suit jacket, a black tie around his neck. His smile was forced, his eyes dim. It was a terrible picture. “Again, if you see this boy, especially if you see him with a boy that matches our earlier description, please call the number on the screen.

Alexander shut off the television.

The phone rang. Alexander answered, “Hello?”

<<Ah. Alexander. Is George home?>> Philip Schuyler. No courtesies, just straight to business.

“Yeah, hang on, let me—oh.” Like magic, George appeared behind him. How had he walked down the stairs so quietly?

“Philip. Yes. I—Yes, I saw that too. I—” George looked at Alexander. “Hang on, let me take this upstairs.”

Alexander looked at Lafayette. “Shit.”

“Why didn’t he call George’s cell phone?” Lafayette pondered.

“I don’t know. What if… what if he can’t keep John? What if he--”

“He’ll stay here then. We’ll figure something out.” Lafayette’s face was uncharacteristically stoic, “We’ll keep John safe, Alex. He’s never going to Acolyte again.” Lafayette reached out his hand, businesslike, mature, professional.

Certain.

Alexander took it.  

 

They sat in silence until George descended the stairs, waiting with baited breath. John will either stay at the Schuylers, or they’d find a way to keep him at the Washingtons. They’d stay in exile, Alexander and John would hide in the house and avoid the prying gaze of the public.

Somehow, that didn’t seem so bad.

George couldn’t help but chuckled awkwardly at the two boys. “This is. Super uncomfortable. You two never stop talking.”

Alexander went to contest it, his hand flying up before slowly lowering it. It was true. “What happens now?”

George frowned, “We were hoping for more time, but it seems you and John truly have to be put under lock and key,” his frown deepened, “They don’t normally release identities this far up, this quickly.”

“He’s the Senator’s son, George.” Alexander paused, feeling himself slipping into Crisis Mode, he shook his head to clear it. “You don’t think the hotel will…?”

George shook his head, “I don’t think so. I don’t think they got good enough looks at either of you. And we’re lucky enough that they don’t have a picture of you.”

“And that they have such a bad picture of John.”  Alexander bit his lip, “I should’ve used a pseudonym. Why did I give them my real name?”

George clapped him on the shoulder, “It’s alright, son. No need to dwell on it.”

“Besides, you needed to get John to recognize you, remember?” Lafayette chirped up, “If they were all calling you the wrong thing, how would he know?”

Alexander relented, thinking back to his first interaction with John. Pained, terrified, broken John. He had to keep John out of that infernal place. No matter what... “John is still at the Schuyler’s then?” Alexander asked curtly. He could feel himself slipping away, but couldn’t fight it again.

George’s eyes widened. Alexander ignored it. “Yes, for the time being. Why wouldn’t he be?”

Alexander shrugged, “I don’t know. Wondered if maybe Schuyler would get cold feet once the shit hit the fan.”

“Alex!” Lafayette stared. “Mr. Schuyler loves John, he’d never—“

“You’re right, the girls wouldn’t let him if he wanted to,” Alexander remarked, internally battling to get his emotion back into his words, but the tone wouldn’t change. He couldn’t stop himself, the words tumbled out. “So, when do we get the others out of Acolyte to talk to Jay?” Alexander asked, “They could be being tortured as we speak. Acolyte’s already got a body count, what are we waiting for?” A lightbulb went off in Alexander’s head, “Actually, yeah. What are we waiting for? We have a lawyer, we have the witnesses. We already have a case. What’s the holdup?”

George sputtered. “Things like this are delicate, Alexander. We don’t have all the case together yet, and we can’t start calling witnesses until—“

“Until we have everything else together, so let’s do that. When do we formally announce the strike against Acolyte?” Alexander prompted, “How do we get in contact with the Dark Arms? They’re a vital resource, if having Brewster recruiting in Acolyte is any indication. Do we have any idea how to get to them again?”

“Are we really going to? You heard what Herc said--”Lafayette started.

“I know. But you don’t have to interact with them, we’re not risking you,” Alexander interrupted. “George?”

“I…might,” George relented. “If Caleb Brewster is a Dark Arm, I might have a way to get in contact with his friends. Assuming they’re still friends.”

“Good. Let’s do that, then.”

Lafayette fidgeted uncomfortably, but said nothing.

 

Without warning, the front door swung open, causing the three men to jump. Standing in the doorway, clad in overalls and a mustard sweater, was Peggy Schuyler. Behind her stood a sheepish Eliza, an embarrassed blush coloring her features. “Peggy. Knock.”

Peggy turned, “Eliza, we lived here for a solid week. This is basically our house now.”

George chuckled, “Not exactly, but alright.”

“Anyway! Peggy Express! Doot doot!” she crowed. She pulled a piece of paper out of the pocket of the   front pocket of her overalls, and flung it in their direction.

The paper didn’t reach its destination; it flipped in the air once, before settling on the floor between them. Peggy pouted. “Alex, it’s yours,” she muttered, staring at the paper on the floor, clearly disappointed.  

“Mine?”

“Uh, yeah.”

Alexander raised a brow, but grabbed the paper anyway. Alexander, written in cursive in blue pen, was clearly visible. “Oh. Who-uh?” Alexander stopped. “John?”

Peggy snickered. “Obviously.”

“His handwriting is nicer than I expected,” Alexander commented. The snickering grew louder. “I mean, you know. He draws. I don’t know many artists with nice handwriting, is all.” He didn’t know any artists apart from John—well, Hercules, he supposed—but they didn’t need to know that.

“Uh-huh.” Peggy teased.

Shit.

“Whatever Peggy,” he said instead.

Eliza cleared her throat, stepping around her sister and into the room. She gently rested her hand on Alexander’s arm. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah? She’s just being a brat.” Peggy stuck out her tongue. “See?”

Eliza looked confused. “What? Oh, no, I mean. We’ve all focused on how John was doing in all this and we haven’t…” she blushed, looking away, “We don’t… I don’t, want you to feel like we used you to get John back. We were really worried about you, when you were there.”

Alexander smiled, “I know. You guys hugged me, remember?”

“Well, yes, but—“ Eliza stuttered. Cute. “Just know that you’re just as much family as John is.” She smiled sweetly. Alexander’s heart skipped a beat.

Shit.

Lafayette knowingly patted his other shoulder.

Shit.

“Where’s Angelica?” Lafayette asked, smoothly changing the subject and taking the spotlight off Alexander.

“College stuff,” Peggy answered. “I guess. I dunno. Maybe she’s with Thomas.”

Eliza shot her sister a look.

Lafayette clicked his tongue.

“Who?” Alexander asked.

The two sisters looked at Lafayette. He sighed. “Thomas. Remember how I said that I had a friend that I didn’t think you would… you know.”

“Like?” Eliza suggested.

“Tolerate?” said Peggy.

“Oh. Yeah. Vaguely. “

“Well, turns out Angelica and Thomas get along… surprisingly well.”

“I don’t like him,” said Peggy. “I don’t even speak French and I know that his French is terrible.”

“It’s not terrible,” half-heartedly defended Lafayette. “His pronunciation has gotten much better.”

“And he’s annoying.”

“Well, that… I suppose that’s true.”

Eliza turned to Alexander again, tapping his arm to get his attention. “ He’s not as bad as Peggy thinks, but he’s… ugh. He’s a lot.” Eliza scowled. “He and Angelica argue a lot, but I think they both just like the debate.”

“I overheard them arguing about whether coconut milk or almond milk was better in coffee. For forty-five minutes.” Peggy rolled her eyes.

Alexander scrunched his face. “Why not just milk?”

Thank you.

Eliza giggled as she glanced at her watch. “Pegs, we have to head out. Do you have anything to give John, Alex?”

“No? I didn’t know we were doing this?”

Eliza nodded, a small smile playing on her lips. “Alright, just tell Laf if you have something and we’ll come get it.”

“You don’t have to be our courier, Eliza.”

“It’s okay. It gives me an excuse to get out of the house.” Peggy shot her a look, which she gracefully waved off. “See you later, Alexander.”

“Yeah, uh. Bye, I guess. See ya Laf. Mr. Washington.” Peggy waved.

They shut the door behind them, and the room was silent again.

So, Alex,” George started, a glint in his eye. “Eliza, huh?” he teased. “I thought for sure it’d be Angelica, if any of the Schuylers.”

Alexander raked a hand down his face. “Oh my God. Leave me alone,” he whined. 

George’s gaze flickered to the letter in Alexander’s grip. He said nothing, but shot a look to Lafayette.

Lafayette nodded.

George clicked his tongue. “Ahh.”

Alexander bristled, “Is this what it’s like being in a room with—“

“You and John?” Lafayette finished.

“Yes,” they said simultaneously.

“Only you guys are worse,” clarified Lafayette with a grin.

Alexander felt his face catch fire.

“Are we done? Do we have a plan? Can I go?” Alexander asked, trying his damnedest to keep the desperation from his voice.

George fought a smile, losing the battle when Alexander puffed out his cheeks in a pout. “I believe so, you can—“

Alexander didn’t hear the rest of the sentence. He took the stairs two at a time and retreated to the safety of his room, doing his best to ignore the muffled laughter.

 

Alexander flopped on his bed, letter in hand. Thankfully, Peggy was the one who tossed him the letter, there was something uncomfortable about it being Eliza. He ran his thumb under the edge of the paper, peeling the tape and revealing the rest of John’s message.

Alex,

                Mr. Schuyler has been pacing the house with the phone in hand for a while now. To be honest, it’s kinda starting to freak me out. I know he wouldn’t kick me out, or whatever, but I’m starting to think I’m going to be under house arrest. And you might be too, if they release our names and stuff.

                I’m so sorry, Alex. This is my fault. If I had come up with you shouldn’t have had to risk yourself to get me. And now instead of starting school, you’re going to have to stay homeschooled. And to make things worse is I… I’m selfishly grateful that it was you. What if we hadn’t met? Where would I have been? Would I even be. I can’t stop thinking about where we’d be if we met under different circumstances. Would we still be this close if we had met at Thanksgiving? Or if you just appeared at school? (Which I haven’t totally explained the school thing. I will, eventually. Or, you know, you can always ask G-Wash.) In my head, I’m constantly thinking about the way things could’ve been different. If our lives weren’t these huge clusterfucks of chaos that they turned out to be. I hope you don’t resent me for messing up your life some more.

The next section of the letter was written in black pen, his handwriting messier, and not in cursive.

                I don’t know if you just saw the news, but my dad just said some things. I’m hurting my family. Marta has to lie to everyone. That’s so much for her. She’s just a kid and I’m expecting this much from her. That’s not fair. I know this is for the best, but I’m tearing my siblings apart. And that last sentence… do I really belong there? Because I don’t feel like I do. I feel like I belong here. With you, and Laf, and G-Wash. The Schuylers. You care about me for me. I don’t think Dad does. I’m so tired, and so grateful I have you.

Hopefully I’m wrong and you’ll never see this,
John.

Alexander stared, reading the note again. And again. He felt the paper, a few spots on the paper had a different texture, like it had been—

Like it had been wet.

John had been crying.

Alexander’s heart ached. Henry Laurens had made John cry. Alexander had to comfort him, he couldn’t let John blame himself for this situation. For any of it. He considered calling, but he quickly talked himself out of it. What if John didn’t answer?

What if he did? What if he was still crying? Could Alexander handle that? Listening to his best friend cry without being able to properly console him?

He couldn’t. He knew he couldn’t.

What he could do, though… he grabbed a notebook and a pen, no two. Blue and Red. For a moment, it felt weird to Alexander, using these pens for something other people would see, but it felt right. John needed to see.

He took a breath, before touching the blue pen down.

 John,

            Don’t think for a second that I regret anything that happened. I used to resent everything that had happened to me, I used to think that it wasn’t fair, that everything happened as the world’s way of punishing me for a crime I wasn’t aware I had committed. Or maybe for the crime that they had assigned to me.

            But now I have—he switched pens—you. He switched back. Meeting you has done nothing but prove to me that you can meet the best thing that’s ever happened to you in the worst situation. Martha had said that fate had led me here, to them. And while I didn’t believe her then, I’m starting to believe it now. We were destined to meet. And all the hurricanes and Acolyte and destruction in my life was just the universe’s way of lining that up. If things were different, I’d be trapped on my island. I doubt your family’d take a vacation to St. Croix. It’s beautiful, but there’s not much to do for someone like your father. All of the things we’ve gone through—separately or together—did nothing but align everything so we could know each other. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

            Could it have played out easier for us? Sure, but there’s something poetic in the catastrophic way we met. You’re a wildfire, John. Beautiful and powerful, fierce and strong. You can easily be engulfed by the flames if you’re not careful, and yet, I find myself only fanning the flame. Nothing peaceful can come from the meeting of a wildfire and a hurricane. It only makes sense for disaster to spur disaster.

             I only wish we could actually be around each other. Having Lafayette nearby helps, when he’s not teasing me relentlessly as brothers should. But I find myself comforted by your presence in a way that Lafayette cannot replicate.

             It was truly brilliant on your part to think of writing letters. I hadn’t even considered that as a possibility. It is unfortunate for the Schuylers to have to deliver them back and forth, but I suppose it’s the best we can do.

I could never be sorry for you.

Alex.

He quickly folded the letter before he could proofread it. Alexander bit his lip; he wasn’t entirely sure what he had written, but it was genuine. He didn’t want to second guess himself, so he put it in his pocket to keep himself from starting over. Walking back down the stairs, he looked sheepishly at Lafayette, who was watching television.

“Your reply?”

Alexander nodded.

“Is it a love note?” Lafayette teased.

“Just shut up.”

“I’ll take it to the Schuylers.”

Alexander scowled, pulling the note back toward himself. “No way. I don’t trust you.”

“It is a love note!”

“Is not!” Alexander refuted.

“Relax, Alexander. I’ll text Peggy.” He quirked a brow, “I’m assuming you don’t want Eliza, yes?”

“It doesn’t—“ Alexander faltered. “Yeah, get Peggy.”

“You….” Lafayette started, before shaking his head and pulling his phone from his pocket. “Okay.”

 

Within the half hour, Peggy was back. In lieu of knocking, she shouted. “Peggy express!! Doot doot!”

Alexander opened the door, “Are you going to do that every time?”

Peggy quirked a brow, “Do you want me to deliver your letters or not?”

“Yes?”

“Then yes.” She held her hand out expectantly. Alexander pulled it from his sweatshirt, gave it one last look, and pushed it in Peggy’s hand.

Peggy pocketed it, “Yo, this isn’t like a love letter or something right?” she teased. Lafayette guffawed behind him.

No. Why do you guys keep saying that?!” Alexander fumed. “We’re just friends!

Peggy frowned. “You’re sure?” She kicked a foot behind herself, using it to spin back toward the door. “If you say so—“ she stopped dead in her tracks, pivoting to face him again. “Hey Ham, just… be careful. John and Eliza are precious to me. Don’t make me hate you.”

“What?” Alexander asked incredulously. Peggy didn’t answer, she simply walked out the door, shutting it slightly harsher than necessary. He turned to Lafayette, mind reeling. “Did… I do something wrong?”

Lafayette shook his head, “Not yet, my friend. But she’s right. If you’re only going to pursue one of them, I’d choose quickly, before either one gets too attached. It’s not fair to them. Of course, you could always be with both of them, but if that’s the case, you have to be sure they’re both okay with that.”

“I wasn’t aware I was pursuing either of them?” Alexander exclaimed, his confusion only growing. “I’m not even sure what’s happening right now. Tackling Acolyte is my priority. I don’t need this.”

Lafayette frowned, patting the couch cushion next to him. Alexander sat down. “You need to think about yourself sometimes too. You deserve to be happy—“

Alexander scoffed.

Lafayette raised a brow, “You don’t agree?”

“I…” Alexander shook his head quickly, running his hand through his hair, “I don’t think happiness is a priority. Justice. Change. I could make a difference in so many people’s lives if I work harder. Happiness is great, but I could be helping people, I could be—“

“That is not a healthy way to exist you know.” Lafayette patted Alexander’s knee. “You’re already changing people’s lives. I haven’t seen John look so…” he paused, his eyes darting back and forth as he searched for the right words. “alive. Not for a long time.”

Alexander fought the smile tugging on his lips.

“And all of your friends still there. You’ve given them hope. They know you’re out here fighting for them, correct?”

“Well yeah, but—“

“but nothing! You’re already changing lives by being here, Alexander. You don’t have to save the world by yourself.” Lafayette sighed. “Close your eyes.”

“Why?”

“Just do it.”

With a huff, Alexander did as he was told.

“Now, imagine you’re on a date. You’re waiting outside—it’s actually quite helpful that they’re living together, huh?—you’re waiting outside Schuyler mansion. Who’s answering the door?”

Alexander tried to do as he was asked. “You know I’ve never been to their house, right?” he said, cracking one eye open.

“Whatever, any house, doesn’t matter, close your eyes.” Lafayette swatted him.

“Sorry, sorry. Uh,” Alexander tried to picture the house, but the only thing coming to his mind was a piece of paper, his own handwriting scrawled across the lines. It was his letter to John, he realized.

Did that…? The mental image zoomed in on one particular phrase.

You’re a wildfire, John. Beautiful and powerful, fierce and strong.

Oh my god.”

“Who is it?” Lafayette practically begged. “John? Eliza?”

“Not that. The letter.” His eyes snapped open. His ears burned, the heat quickly spreading across his face.

“What?”

“I was making a metaphor and I… I called John beautiful.”

Lafayette smiled. “Is that a new thought, Alexander?”

“No, of course not. I’m not blind. I—“ Alexander’s face fell. He wasn’t just stating the obvious, he was—he couldn’t finish the thought, his heart thudding painfully in his chest. “Oh no.”

Lafayette’s phone dinged. He checked the screen before laughing, setting the phone down on the table where Alexander could see. Curiosity got the better of him and he looked.

<<Pegs: Uh, Laf? I think Alex broke John. He won’t show me the letter. Any ideas?>>

Oh no.

Chapter Text

Alexander wasn’t the biggest fan of technology. He was a bit of an old soul, really. Maybe it was because he grew up with very limited technology at his disposal, maybe there was a part of him that wanted to show off his penmanship.  There was something so personal about taking the time to write something by hand. It was almost intimate.

Until he had to wait for a response.

It had been three days. Three days without a single Schuyler sister knocking on the door. Alexander couldn’t stop thinking about his letter, Peggy’s text. He broke John? What did that mean? He hadn’t written back in three days… did John push him out? No, Alexander shook his head, there was no way. John had said that he couldn’t imagine life without him. That he needed him… Or did Alexander write that? Should he reread the letter? His pen, blue, touched the paper.

John,

It’s been a few days since we had last spoken, and I can’t help but wonder if the content of my last letter is the reason. If I had made you uncomfortable in any way, I hope you know that that was not at all my intention. I never want you to be anything less than comfortable in my presence. I want nothing more than for you to be happy, ideally, alongside me—he scribbled the last section out—ideally, alongside me if I can be there to witness it, as a friend--he paused—as a friend, but if you prefer to not have me around, I understand. can respect that.

Alex.

Alexander stared at the note he had written, his eyes burning. He blinked away any attempts at tears and ran his hands down his face. His gaze darted across the page, rereading the letter this time. Was this too much? Too…suggestive? No, right? Alexander scrutinized one phrase that didn’t make the cut.

As a friend.

Should he have left that in? Would that quell John’s anxieties about speaking to him again? He groaned in frustration. The gentle knock on the door was recognizable at that point. He hid the letter under his pillow. “Yeah, Laf? What is it?”

Lafayette opened the door and peered into Alexander’s bedroom. “How are you doing today, Alex?”

“Fine?” his voice lilted.

Lafayette frowned. “You don’t look like it.”

Alexander shrugged, “how was school?” he asked.

It was Lafayette’s turn to shrug. “Same as always. Boring without John. Or you. People keep staring at me like I’m some kind of freak. One girl randomly asked me if I knew where John was.”

Alexander’s eyes widened, “What…did you say?”

“Thankfully I didn’t have to,” he said as he sat on the edge of Alexander’s bed, a pretty common place for the Frenchman as of late, “her friend called her insensitive and slapped her.”

“Ah,” Alexander remarked.

“I would’ve lied, you know.”

“Of course, Laf,” Alexander affirmed, “but there’s been so much deception going on lately, it’s been… a lot.”

“I know.”

“Henry Laurens called George today,” Alexander gritted out.

What?!” Lafayette sat straight up, his ponytail bouncing with the quick movement, “Why didn’t you start with that? What did he want? What did he say?”

Alexander frowned. “He asked if we knew. He genuinely sounded upset.”

                “George… John trusts you, more than he trusts me, at times. Do you have any idea where he might be?” Henry’s voice echoed through the laptop. Alexander stared at George from the other side of the desk.

                “Why did you send him there again, Henry?” was all George said.

                There was a noise of indignation from the monitor. “You act like I have a choice. If you were a father, you would do the sa—“

“Don’t you ever accuse me of sending my son there for being who he is. Especially after how he came here the last time,” George said coldly; a shiver ran down Alexander’s spine. He tried shooting George a confused look, to see if he’d elaborate, but George ignored him. “You had a choice. You made the wrong one.”

“So he’s not there this time?” Henry asked instead.

“No. He’s not here,” George stated. Not technically a lie, but George still looked uncomfortable. He glanced up at Alexander.

“Who are you looking at? You keep glancing up! Who’s there with you?”

“You called me during a meeting. Henry, you got the answer you were looking for, I’m truly sorry it’s not the one you wanted.”

“If you find anything out, you’ll tell me, right? My daughter won’t even look at me. She’s blaming me for all this,” Henry’s tone turned sad, “I think she’s turning the other kids against me too.”

George shook his head, “I think you did that when you gave the press conference the other night. Your words… they were impersonal, you sounded like you were commanding him to come home. You didn’t even tell him you loved him. When was the last time you did that?” George practically spat. The silence on the other end gave him and Alexander the answer.

“I’m trying my best. I…John and I, we have our differences, but don’t you try to tell me I don’t love my son.”

George’s eyes narrowed. “Then show it.” He shut the laptop, ending the call.

“I’ve never seen George like that,” Alexander shuddered. “There was no compassion in him at all. And like, I get it, I don’t like the guy either, but he just shut him down. George is usually so impartial.”

“Not with us,” Lafayette responded. “George has been around to see John at his worst. He’s had to… you know. Pick up the pieces? John wasn’t this… okay after Acolyte the last time.”

“How bad was it?”

“I..don’t know,” Lafayette relented. “George had him hidden somewhere for the first few days. I didn’t know he was back, and we were living in the same house.”

“Shit…”

“Yeah.”  Lafayette looked up to the ceiling. “So, was that what was bothering you?”

“Some of it.” Alexander murmured, “Hey, have the Schuylers mentioned, um, John, at all?”

A knowing smirk appeared on Lafayette’s face.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Alexander pouted.

“What’s the matter, Alexander?” Lafayette teased.

“It’s been three days, Laf. Three days since I ruined the best friendship I’ve ever had.” Alexander lamented. “If he hates me now, couldn’t he just write a letter to tell me never to write him again? Or just send me a picture of a middle finger or something.”

Lafayette laughed, leaning as he threw his head back. “Oh Alexander, always so dramatic. Do you really think John hates you now? It’s only been three days.”

“Only?” Alexander whined.

“Oh my god,” Lafayette snickered. “Are you at least willing to admit you like John now?” He leaned in now, staring Alexander down. Alexander tried to meet his gaze.

Alexander felt his face grow warm. “I…” Eventually he sighed, and slowly dipped his head. He felt himself nod. No use denying it now. “I never thought I’d… I mean I didn’t think I was…”

“What, Bi?” Lafayette supplied. “Really? Never? There was no one before…?”

Alexander shook his head. “No…? No.” His mind flashed Ned for a brief moment, before he scoffed. Ned was definitely more of a brother to him than anything else. And other than Ned… he really didn’t have many friends. No one close enough, anyway.

Lafayette made a curious noise, “You know, Alexander. I’ve told you my soulmate story, but have you told yours..?”

Alexander froze. “Oh, uh. There’s not really a story there.” He tried to wave him off; it wasn’t a lie.  There quite literally wasn’t a story there, seeing as his soulmate didn’t exist.

Lafayette quirked a brow, “Don’t want to talk about it?”

“Not particularly. But seriously Laf, there’s no story there.”

“None?” Laf pressed. He looked away for a second, before his gaze met Alexander’s again. “Does John know?”

Alexander nodded.

“Ah.” He stood from the bed, “Well, dinner should be ready soon. I’ll ask Peggy if John’s got anything for you. You have anything for him?”

Alexander’s eyes darted to the side, where the edge of his pillow danced in his field of vision. “Not yet.”

Lafayette nodded, walking to the doorframe.

“Laf?” Alexander called out.

“Yes?” Lafayette turned, his expression inquisitive. Alexander analyzed his friend’s face for a moment before speaking again.

“You’re not, mad at me for the soulmate thing, are you?”

Lafayette chuckled, “Of course not. It would take a lot more than that to make me mad at you.” He flashed a grin, “John too. Just breathe Alexander, you’re alright.”

When Lafayette left, Alexander grabbed the letter and stuffed it in his nightstand, where fourteen other drafts of letters to John were held, ideally never to be read.

 

Soon enough, Alexander hopped down the stairs, doing his damnedest to keep his pestering anxieties at bay. “There you are, Alex!” Martha called, “we’ve been waiting for you!”

“Yeah, sorry, I was just, uh…” He trailed off. Sitting at the end of the table, a burgundy cardigan thrown over her charcoal color T-shirt, was Peggy Schuyler.

“Doot doot,” she chimed, reaching into the cardigan and pulling out a piece of paper.

Alexander forced his legs to slow, his amble rigid and uncomfortable. He wanted nothing more than to snatch the letter out of Peggy’s grip, but he was determined to maintain what little pride he felt he had left.

However, if everyone’s facial expressions were any indication, they knew exactly what he was doing; he focused on the paper, refusing to look anyone in the eye.

“Anything to take back?” Peggy prompted. Alexander shook his head.

“It’s pretty hard to write a response to a letter I haven’t read.” The fifteen letters in his room weren’t good enough, anyway. “Thank you for doing this, Pegs.”

“No problem,” Peggy shrugged. “Gives me something to do.” She leaned forward, “But seriously, what did you write last time? John was…not okay.”

Alexander felt his blood run cold. “No?”

Peggy shook her head. “He wouldn’t show me, and he ran into the guest room without another word.” She leaned back, staring blankly at the staircase behind them before continuing, “Eliza tried, I tried, hell, even Angie tried, but nope. Nothing. I don’t even think he ate dinner that night.”

“He…didn’t?”

Peggy shook her head again, her ponytail dancing with the motion. “Nope. Sooooo, what did you say?”

Alexander scratched at his cheek in embarrassment. “I honestly don’t remember? I didn’t actually reread it before I handed it over.”

Peggy scowled, “You don’t remember? Nothing?”

Alexander flickered his eyes away, unable to look at her, “Not really, no…” The only line he remembered glowed in his mind’s eye. He couldn’t tell Peggy. She’d never let him live it down. He glanced over at Martha, her expression unreadable.

Martha smiled when their eyes met, “Well, let’s eat, Peggy, you’re more than welcome to stay for dinner if you—“

Peggy beamed, “yes please!”

George eventually came down from his office, his eyes clouded in exhaustion. He smiled and greeted Peggy, but the sentiment fell flat as Peggy could only give him a concerned look in return. They ate for a while in silence; Peggy’s stare dug into George until he spoke.  “I’m fine.”

“Are you?” Peggy asked.

George tilted his head and let out a sigh. “I will be.” He turned to Alexander, “Alex, I have gotten a hold of Brewster’s friend.”

“You did! Who is it? What did they say?” Alexander perked up instantly, all thought of the conversation with Peggy shoved into the back corner of his mind.

“He’d prefer to keep his real name out of it for now, but he… has spoken of sending a…representative.”

“So Brewster’s friend is a Dark Arm too then?”

Peggy cringed, “So we’re still going to… interact with the Dark Arms?” Her gaze shifted to Lafayette.

“They’re our best bet. They can rally and do things that George and your dad can’t do for political reasons,” Alexander smiled, “I know it’s not ideal, but we’ll need rebel forces to orchestrate the point. Change doesn’t happen quietly.”

“That’s…true,” Peggy relented.

“And Laf won’t have any interaction with them,” Alexander promised. “I’m going. Can you organize the meeting?” George looked uncomfortable.

“I don’t know who they’ll send,” George tried.

“I know.”

“I can’t be there,” he tried again.

“I know.”

“Alex, just think about what you’re volunteering to do,” Martha’s voice filled with worry.

“I already survived Acolyte, what could a Dark Arm do?”

Peggy coughed, “Can I go?” She tugged at her ponytail, tightening it against her head.

“What?” George said incredulously. “Peggy, you’re too familiar a face, all it would take—“

“I’m the least recognizable Schuyler.”

“You know that’s not—“

“I don’t want Alex to go alone. Not again. Let me do this.” She steeled her expression, the determination that normally filled Angelica’s gaze now echoed through Peggy’s. There was no denying her then, and she knew it. She truly was a Schuyler.

George fidgeted uncomfortably. “You’d have to clear it with your father.”

“Done,” Peggy said simply, leaning forward. “I’ll change my look, use a pseudonym, they’ll have no idea it’s me. When’s the meeting?”

George leaned back in his chair, looking to Martha for a moment before sighing and running his hand over his head. “Soon. It can be as soon as tomorrow, I just have to let B-“ he stopped, “him know, and he’ll set everything up.”

Peggy looked to Alexander, “Tomorrow?”

“You sure you’re down to go with me?” Alexander prompted. Peggy stretched her arm out, opening her hand for Alexander to shake.

“I’m ready if you’re ready.”

Alexander shook Peggy’s hand, a smile on his face, “Glad to have you by my side.”

Peggy beamed.

Peggy excused herself after dinner, “I have to convince my father. And mother, and my sisters. But I’ll be here as soon as I can tomorrow.”

Martha’s expression dipped, but her voice was sweet nonetheless. “Come over for breakfast before you two go, okay?”

Peggy smiled, hugging Martha, “Sure thing. I’ll see you tomorrow!” She waved, and walked out the door.

As soon as she was gone, Martha’s face clouded with worry, she walked to George and leaned into him, seeking comfort. “I don’t like this.”

“I know,” murmured George as he leaned down to place a kiss the top of Martha’s head, “But Peggy’s right. Alexander shouldn’t be alone.”

“I’d go,” Lafayette mumbled, flopping on the couch.

“It’s too dangerous,” Alexander refuted. He sat next to Laf and rested his hand on the other boy’s shoulder. “I appreciate that you want to help, but this isn’t your fight, Laf. There’s no reason for you to put yourself in a bad situation.”

Lafayette scoffed, “And you’re one to talk?”

Alexander shriveled, “I know.”

George cleared his throat. “I should go set this up. Alex, I think you have a letter to read?” He raised his brow.

“Oh! Right! I should, um, do that. Yeah,” Alexander sputtered.

“You could just read it here,” Lafayette suggested. He was already leaning over Alexander’s shoulder, ready to infringe on the his and John’s privacy.

“No,” he said, standing. “I don’t need a nosy Frenchman telling his soulmates everything he sees.”

Lafayette raised a brow, “is there something that has to be hidden, Alexander?” As if Lafayette’s relentless teasing wasn’t enough to embarrass him, Martha and George’s laughter succeeded and then some. Alexander was positively mortified.

“No! No, I… no. I’m just going to go, now. Yeah.” Alexander’s hand ran through his hair as he made a break for the stairs. He could still hear their laughter as he skipped steps and escaped to his room.

He pulled the letter from his sweatshirt, the pen ink black this time. There’s something about the way his name was penned that threw him for a loop. “Who…?” When he unfolded the letter, it revealed itself to be two pieces of paper; the second one fluttered to the floor as he focused on the first. Alexander stood just inside his room, leaning against the door as he absorbed the contents of the mystery letter.

Alexander,

John is still holed up in his room after reading your letter. I don’t know what you said, or what he said before, but it had some kind of impact on him. He sounds confused, I think he’s talking to himself as I write this, but through the door I can’t make anything out. You’ve got to remember that your words have weight, Alexander. Before you do something stupid or reckless, for the love of God, take a moment to think.  

Angelica

Alexander stared at the letter in his grip. This was not the letter he wanted. Why was Angelica writing him when she could’ve just come over to say it to his face?  And John. What had he done to John? He was confused, but about what? Immediately, Alexander’s brain jumped to the most upsetting conclusion. He had been right, and John wasn’t writing because he wasn’t sure he wanted to. Alexander glanced to his bedside table. Should he write another letter? Convince John that he belonged in his life? That being without John was worse than death?

Alexander shook his head. Woah there. Too much.  He stared back at the bedside table. He hadn’t written anything that dramatic in the letter he gave John, did he? Alexander cursed at himself for not proof-reading it. He had taken a moment to think of the metaphor, so that had retained, but everything else had been written off the cuff—completely improvised and from the heart.

From the heart.

Oh no.

Had he said something?! “There’s no way, right?” Alexander paced back and forth, tying up and pulling down his hair multiple times in the process. Each time, he tugged his hair a little harder than the time before—not enough to hurt too badly, but as he stressed, the tugging got more relentless. “What did I say?” he mumbled aloud. “I wasn’t even sure that I—I’m still not sure that I—“ he stopped himself. He was lying to himself. Again. If he looked at it objectively, there was no denying that he had some kind of more-than-platonic feeling for John. His mere presence was magnetic, and Alexander had latched on without even blinking. The whole camp knew it, Lafayette knew it, and yet, blinded by his own mentality, he refused to face what was right in front of him. He should’ve realized the moment he admitted that he could fall in—he stopped the thought—be interested in a boy. He had said it then, so what had changed?

The second letter forgotten, he sat on his bed and reached for his journal. He tried to skip the section about John, and opened to a fresh page, blue and red pens in hand. Acolyte vs. Here.

Acolyte: Campers thought I was, maybe made it easier to be—he bit his lip.

Here: Knows about faux-pas with Eliza, assumes I’m straight?

George thinks “Esperanza” story is real.

Alexander frowned. George, Lafayette—Hercules must’ve kept his word and not said anything, he’d have to thank Hercules for that later—the Schuylers, they didn’t know the truth. “More lies.” He hated lying to people he cared about, but was he ready to face that?

Tell them I’m bare-armed? Red ink. Could he do that? Hercules knows, John knows—but they don’t know about John. Could he tell them he was bare-armed without pressuring John into anything?

Would telling them that he had no soulmate be easier than telling them that he—

Alexander stopped, his pen too tight in his grip.

Some people don’t have soulmates, m’ijo, but don’t let that keep you from falling in love, his mother’s words echoed through his head. Her voice was fuzzy, but her face shone through clear as a bell. He’d never forget his mother’s face. Never forget the way her hands clasped around his. It hit him with sudden clarity.

Eliza had been physical. She was beautiful, graceful, perfect. I was attracted to Eliza. My first meeting of Eliza was face-to-face.

I met John through a fuzzy Skype call, only putting a face to the voice after he had taken over my thoughts for so long.

How had he been so blind? Eliza caught his attention with her looks, her personality came later. Eliza popped into his mind occasionally, but fleetingly.

John was different. John plagued him. John had convinced him to dive into a dangerous situation solely from a Skype call and stories from friends. John had pulled him in before he ever saw him.

But don’t let that keep you from falling in love.

That was exactly what he had done. He had become so bitter, so jaded about his lack of celestial soulmate that he was missing what was in front of him. “I’m sorry, Mamá,” he whispered, a sad smile on his face, “I didn’t take your advice.”

He looked up, his eyes falling out of focus as he pictured his mother. “Not what you expected, huh Mamá? Me neither,” he admitted.  He sighed and looked down, the white paper on the floor finally catching his attention.

Blue ink.  He took a breath, opening the letter.

Alexander,

I’m sorry for the delayed reply to your letter, but to be honest, I really wasn’t sure how to go about responding to that. You’re a very honest person, Alex, so I know that you genuinely believe the things you wrote down, but I’m afraid it’s only left me more confused than anything. What…exactly did you mean by what you said?

Sorry this letter kinda sucks,

John.

Alexander took a deep breath. His fingers itched to write a response, but his brain had come up empty for the words. He decided to put that away for now, much to his heart’s discontent. His response to John had to wait, after all.

He was meeting the Dark Arms in the morning.

Chapter Text

Alexander’s eyes snapped open without warning, his eyes only able to pick out the curtains along the window. He grumbled, rubbing his eyes in an act of futility, as the stars dancing across in the inside of his eyelids did nothing to help him when he again opened his eyes. Should he get up to get a drink? What time was it? Alexander didn’t know.

For a brief moment, he considered trying to sleep again, but he knew better than to think that he could. His sleep had become a combination of dead space and nightmares, a consequence of the stress, he was sure. That night had been different, both worse and better than it had been. He reached over to the bedside table and fished out his journal, before crossing to the desk to flick on the light. He let out a hiss as the cool air hit his bare legs, the dip in temperature momentarily making him consider abandoning his quest in lieu of the warmth of his bed.

Instead he pressed on, detouring to the dresser for a pair of sweatpants. He felt around until he found them, tugging them on quickly and smiling as the article of clothing quickly adjusted to his body temperature.

Finally, he made it too his original destination, and slid into his desk chair, placing his journal on the wood before feeling around for the lamp’s switch. Light illuminated the room, it’s warm hue causing him to squint, but not harsh enough to make him turn away. He turned to a new page and touched his pen, blue as always, to the paper.

1) Acolyte nightmare came back. Ran through the woods to screaming, Aaron an unconscious lump on the forest floor. This time, I saw him take his last breath.

Alexander shuddered.

2)Acolyte. Red finds me, covered in blood. She has a gash on her forehead, and dog bites on her ankles. Asked me why I abandoned them.

3) Not Acolyte. John and I are in something akin to a meadow. Yellow, purple and white flowers fill our field of vision. Everything’s quiet. All’s at peace. He switched pens. Strange occurrence. Will probably not repeat.

Nothing else. Woke up early. Meeting the Dark Arms with Peggy today. Did she tell John? Is he okay? Is Peggy actually coming or am I going in there alone?

He bit his lip, skipping a line.

I don’t want to be alone.

Alexander heard the floor creak as someone else stirred. It was probably Martha, Alexander figured. She seemed to be a relatively early riser—maybe it wasn’t as early as Alexander had thought it to be?

Making his decision, he walked to the door, grabbing his hoodie off the back of his desk chair and tugging it on as he went. Descending the stairs, Alexander perked up in surprise at the realization that it was George, not Martha, that was wandering sleepily around the kitchen. His shoulders were slumped, and judging by the shaky manner at which his hands were moving, he hadn’t slept well, if at all. “George?” Alexander whispered softly.

George jumped and whipped his head around to face Alexander. In the soft glow of the small light in the corner of the kitchen, Alexander could see the dark circles marking George’s face. “Ah, Alex. You scared me. What are you doing up so late?”

“I could ask you the same thing,” Alexander shrugged, “and for me, it’s early. I’ve already slept. Have you?” he accused.

The sheepish grin and aversion of eyes contact was all Alexander needed to know that he hadn’t. “George!” Alexander scolded. “Have you slept at all this past week?” If he wasn’t so concerned, he’d crack a joke about the role reversal, Alexander the doting parent somehow both fit him perfectly and didn’t fit him at all.

“I…have.” Alexander’s frown deepened at his answer. George sighed, “this whole thing, the court case, I mean. I know what has to be done.” His broad shoulders drooped, and at that moment, George Washington looked terribly small. “But there are things that I haven’t… I haven’t said. Things I’ve never told.”

“You’re really going to testify?” Alexander gasped. He had mentioned it before, but Alexander didn’t think he would, especially when they had gathered so many other people. “George, we have so much against Acolyte, you don’t—“

“It’s unfair to John.” George admitted. He turned to pull two mugs down from the cabinet and switched the coffeemaker on. Before long, its scent wafted through the kitchen, that alone seemed to have perked George up a bit. “Or you. I’m forcing you to relive recent events when I can’t even talk about something that happened years ago.” He sighed again. “But I don’t want to. Christ, I still don’t want to.”

Alexander’s heart tugged painfully in his chest. George was scared. “Did you tell Martha?”

George ducked his head.

“No, huh.”

After a beat or two, George shook his head. “I don’t know how to. Or if I can.” He poured the two cups of coffee and passed one to Alexander without a word.

Alexander cradled the cup in his hands, “Why?”

George looked past Alexander to the stairwell. “She’s going to be hurt either way.”

Alexander sipped at the coffee, still too hot, but he didn’t care. “But it could make it easier. Martha would understand. She didn’t make me talk about the hurricane. She knows that trauma is difficult to talk about.” He pressed his lips together in thought, “I think she’d be more hurt if you told the world before you told your soulmate.”

George set him a defeated smile. “You are truly wise beyond your years, Alexander.”

“I have something to tell you too,” Alexander blurted, his eyes widening at his own words. What was he doing?

“You don’t have to say anything yet, Alexander. Let’s save it until after your meeting today.”

“But-“ he jumped in again, seemingly out of control, “if I don’t tell you now I’m won’t be able to!”

“Later, Alexander,” George repeated. “I don’t want you to tell me something personal just to make me feel better. Or out of impulse. What you’re going to say, are you one hundred percent ready to do so?”

“Of course! I—“Alexander stumbled. “No. I’m not. You’re right. But I’ll never be.” He took a deep breath, his fingers gripping his coffee. “and it’s something I have to tell you. Before the trial.”

George raised a brow, but sipped at his coffee in lieu of response.

 

All too quickly, the sun creeped over the horizon; the reminder of the meeting knocked the air from Alexander’s lungs. He looked back to George, the older man already polishing off his third cup of coffee. “You should’ve probably tried sleeping.”

George shot him a look.

Alexander shrugged. “Fair point.” He sipped his second cup of coffee, “so, where is this meeting?”

George grimaced. “The coffee shop up by the college.”

“That far?”

George nodded. “It couldn’t be at the Riddle and Blue, especially if Peggy’s going with you.”

Ah. “That’s true.” He paused. “But wait. The college like Angelica’s college?”

George’s eyes widened for a moment before he shook his head. “No, no. Not that one. The other college. There are quite a few colleges here. The bigger one.”

Alexander’s lips pressed into a flat line.

“Peggy’ll know.”

“How will I know? Who I’m meeting, I mean?” Alexander ignored the tremor in his voice. “It’s not like their arms are going to be out, right?”

George shrugged. “They might be. The Dark Arms are getting more proud lately,” his face dipped into a scowl, “I hope they’re more subtle than that, for your sake.”

“Yeah.” The creaking of the stairs alerted Alexander to a new person in the room. He turned to see Martha descending the stairs, her hair disheveled from the night’s rest.

She finally glanced up, her blue eyes squinting at the light in the corner. “you’re up early,” she remarked to Alexander.

Alexander shrugged, sipping his coffee again. “Nice pajamas.”

She pouted. “They’re comfortable. Leave me alone.” She had one of George’s shirts on, her pajama pants peeking from below it, black and white kittens played across the pink fabric. She stepped to George, pressing a light kiss to his cheek. “You didn’t come to bed again. Did you sleep at all?” Alexander wondered if he should leave the room.

George shrugged, pulling her back in to kiss the top of her head. “A little.” He paused, holding her tight.

“George?” Martha questioned, her voice muffled against her husband’s chest.

George looked at Alexander before he spoke. “There’s something I have to tell you.”

Alexander definitely should leave the room.

“What’s that?” Martha murmured. “George, your tone is scaring me. What’s going on? Is this why you haven’t been coming to bed?”

“No, no, that’s..” George faltered. “That’s part of it.” As the scene unfolded, Alexander carefully began toeing his way out of the room. He hadn’t expected George to tell her right that second.

“George. You’re not… you know. You’re not cheating—“ Martha took a step away.

“Of course not!” George stared incredulously. His hands clasped Martha’s shoulders, “Martha I love you. I always have. I always will. I would never even think about anyone else in that way.”

Alexander couldn’t see her face, but he could hear the relief in her laugh, “Then what is it? Nothing else you can say can hurt me. As long as you’re still mine.”

“Always and forever,” George smiled. Alexander screwed up his face. Gross. He took another step.

“Then what is it?” Martha prompted.

“We should sit.” George sighed. “Alexander.”

Alexander froze, “Yes?”

“Can you pour Martha some coffee?” George asked. He doesn’t want to face this conversation alone. It was obvious. George smiled apologetically.

“Yeah. No problem.”

In the few minutes it took to pour and bring in the coffee—having poured himself another cup as well—Martha and George had settled on the couch. She took the lavender mug with a smile, a silent thank you on her lips. Alexander lingered awkwardly, uncertain as to how to get out of the situation while still being there as moral support. He opted to lean against the stairwell, still in George’s field of view but obscured from Martha’s. He shrugged; he didn’t want to be here, but he felt he had no choice. George was always there for him. Time for him to return the favor.

“So?” Martha prompted.

George took a deep breath. “You know that I’ve been fighting against camps like Acolyte for most of my career.”

“Of course.” Martha shot him a look, “What is this about?”

George looked away from her, “There’s a reason I’m so adamant for the destruction of these camps. Of Aco-of Acolyte.” He forced the word out, as though each time he repeated it it only got harder to say.

“Of course there is. John—“

“Before John. Shutting down Acolyte was why I got into politics.”

“Before John?” Martha tilted her head. “Did one of our friends go to Acolyte?”

“No,” George managed. He looked like he was going to be sick. “I did.”

You?!” Martha exclaimed, “When? Why?!

“I couldn’t—my folks didn’t—“ he started. “When you got engaged,” he relented.

Martha’s hands slapped to her mouth. “They sent you to Acolyte?”

“I couldn’t get over you. You were happy but I couldn’t.” George suddenly looked much younger. Alexander looked away.

“You think I was happy?” Martha started. “I mean, don’t get me wrong. I loved him. But having to tell you goodbye was the most painful thing I’ve ever done.” Martha whimpered. “I never wanted to say goodbye. Surely you know that.”

George nodded. “I do.”

Martha wiped at her face. Alexander couldn’t see her expression, but she was trying not to cry. At least, that’s what he thought. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

George glanced down, “You asked me not to write you.”

“George!” Martha’s volume doubled, making both George and Alexander jump. “You were in danger! You could’ve written me! You could’ve—“ she hiccupped.

“I’m sorry.”

Martha smacked his shoulder, “Don’t apologize! My god, George! You were at Acolyte for…how long?”

George’s gaze grew distant. He was no longer focused on his wife, nor was he looking at Alexander. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

He shook his head, minutely. “They… The days all blur together in there.”

Martha fell completely silent, “In… where?” she whispered.

George’s shoulders curled in, his broad form shrinking again. “The… The Room.”

“You went to the Room,” Martha managed.

George nodded.

“What happened to you?”

George shrugged, “It was so long ago. It’s not importa—“

“Yes it is!” Martha interrupted, her tone desperate, “Please George, I need to know.”

George shook his head. “Alex. You should… get ready for Peggy.”

“Okay.” Alexander started back up the stairs, intentionally tuning out George’s sad whisper. He had heard a lot of it in the car on the way to Acolyte, and John’s story as well. This telling was for Martha’s ears only; Alexander would respect that.  

 

Lafayette had poked his head in to tell him that Peggy was on her way, and to be waiting at the door for her. Alexander’s eyes widened. “Already?”

Lafayette’s only response was a shrug before vanishing back to his room again. He was moping, Alexander realized. “Laf!” Alexander called through their shared wall. It wasn’t as though the walls were extremely thin, but if they shouted loud enough, they could hear each other.

“What?” Lafayette shouted back.

“Come here!”

He could hear Lafayette groan in frustration and stomp the ten steps it took from his bed to Alexander’s door. “What.”

“I know you wanted to come with me.”

“I do.” Lafayette admitted, “But I know I can’t.”

“Yeah. I wish you could. It’d be nice to have you at my side during this.”

Lafayette shrugged, “You have Peggy.”

“I wouldn’t have turned down both of you. You both want to help John, I get it,” he paused, “believe me.”

Lafayette chuckled. “No, I think you’re desire to help John is far greater than anything I could muster,” he said with a wink.

“Shut up.”

“Never. It’s not in my nature,” Lafayette teased. “Now get downstairs. Peggy doesn’t like to wait.”

“Fine, fine.” Alexander wandered down the stairs, leaving Lafayette to flee back to his room again.

As if on cue, there was a knock on the door the moment his foot hit the bottom step. “I got it!” Alexander called out to no one in particular. He swung open the door, his eyes widening.

“Hey, Alex. I’m here for breakfast, as promised,” she had a smirk on her red-painted lips. Her curly hair short, in a black leather jacket and winged eyeliner that’d put Lafayette’s to shame, Peggy Schuyler put her hand on her hips when Alexander didn’t respond. “Well? You gonna let me in or just stand there?” She prompted.

“Your hair,” Alexander said.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t be recognized, right? I figured this would work. Like my outfit?” she chuckled, “It’s Eliza’s.” She watched his face for a beat or two before frowning. “Alex. It’s cold as balls out here. Let me in.”

“Right, sorry.” Alexander shook his head and stepped aside.

Peggy stepped through the door, a shiver rippling through her. “This is why I wear sweaters all the time. Leather is not warm, man.”

“I think there’s still coffee if you want it,” Alexander offered.

“What do you mean still? It’s only 7am,” Peggy narrowed her eyes.

Was it really only seven in the morning? He felt he had enough activity for the day already, but it was truly only the beginning. Alexander shrugged, “Had an early start?”

How early?” Peggy pressed.

“Early. I don’t know.”

“Alex.”

“I know, I know. I need more sleep. That’s not the problem at hand.”

Martha poked her head in from the kitchen, startling Alexander. Had she been in there the whole time? Now that he thought about it, the smell of eggs drifted through the room, the sizzle of bacon the ambient noise he had ignored. “Good morning Peg—ooohhh! I love your hair!” Martha cooed. “It looks so good!”

Peggy smiled, “Thank you! Now…about breakfast.”

 

Their plates empty, Peggy and Alexander started preparing for their meeting. Lafayette—previously animated—gave them a sad look and retreated back up the stairs.

Peggy frowned, “Has he been like this all morning?”

“Since yesterday,” Alexander answered.

“Hm,” Peggy pulled out her phone, her nails clicking against the screen as she typed. “I’m texting Herc. Have him keep an eye on Laf.”

Alexander nodded. “good plan.”   

“Okay, so have we figured out what this person’ll look like?”

George shook his head, a frown on his face. His eyes were still puffy from earlier, but Alexander pretended not to notice. “No, they’ve decided on a code.”

“A code?” Alexander raised a brow.

“Yes. When you walk in there, you need to talk about a missing dog.”

Alexander scrunched his brow, “a lost…dog.”

George shrugged, “The Dark Arm will ask you to describe the dog, to which you’ll respond by saying he’s red and white, with blue eyes and his tail constantly between his legs. His name is King.”

“King?” Peggy snickered. “Why?”

“Red and white with blue eyes and his…. It’s King George, isn’t it. The dog.” Alexander took the grin on George’s face as his answer.

“Not bad, right?”

“Then what?” Peggy interrupted.

“The Dark Arm will claim they saw the dog and lead you out of the coffee shop.”

What?!” Peggy exclaimed. “To go where?!”

George jumped at the sudden change in demeanor. “There’s a secluded area nearby, on the outskirts of the college campus. You two are old enough to pass as college students, so nobody should question it.”

“You don’t think that’s risky?”

“Of course it’s risky!” George shot back, “But that was the only way to get the Dark Arm to agree to this. The one meeting you doesn’t know who I am, but the one I called obviously does. They don’t trust politicians, and for valid reason. Compromises had to be made.” His head dipped, “I had no other choice.”

“It’s fine, we’ll still be in public so it’s not like we’re in that much more danger anyway. It’ll work out. I’m sure of it,” Alexander placated.

George glanced at the wall clock, “You guys should go. You’ll have to take the bus in order to avoid suspicion, so you’re looking at an hour-long ride.”

“Yeah. Let’s go.”

 

Alexander hated the bus. A lot of the people on the bus were obviously college kids, if the stressed expressions, rapid clicking of keyboards and pouring over textbooks were any indication. For whatever reason, they continued to pack people on the bus long after the bus had been filled, and now Alexander had a strange man’s hip touching his arm, and every time he turned—which was often—his backpack would hit Alexander in the side of the face. He leaned into Peggy as much as he could to escape the wrath of the black backpack, but he couldn’t seem to escape the full brunt of the school bag.

“Hey baby,” he heard the man in front of them coo. He was creepy—forty-five at least—with missing teeth and an odor cloud almost visibly surrounding him. “No ring? Huh. Well you gotta be making somebody happy. How old are you, beautiful?” His gaze was directed at Peggy.

Peggy sat frozen, her eyes wide.

Alexander glared at the man. Who did this asshole think he was? He had to do something, he had to protect Peggy. “I’m eighteen,” Alexander said, “But you’re not my type, sorry.”

“Aw man, what the fuck!? I’m not talking to you, goddamn queer!” The man leapt from his seat, forcing his way through the sea of college kids to get to the door of the bus and rushing off, his repulsion propelling him out.

Peggy took a deep breath, “Thanks.”

Alexander shrugged. “No problem.”

“Hey are you okay?” the girl that took the man’s place tapped his shoulder, “It was really cool, what you did. But the look on your face when he called you that…” she trailed off, “don’t let it get to you.” She smiled, her red hair in a braid, thick framed glasses framing hazel eyes. “I don’t mean to imply that you’re… “ she glanced around, gesturing with her hand for him to fill in the blanks, ”but in case you are, you get used to it.” The bus slowed to a stop again, “Oh! This is my stop! Gotta go! Sorry!”

Alexander smiled at the girl’s kindness. Maybe the bus wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

“This one,” Peggy said, gesturing for Alexander to follow her. The coffee shop was a block from the bus stop.

Alexander frowned, “This place looks like crap.” The coffee shop was in the middle of a strip mall, the storefront gray. No character, no color, the shop in front of him was as far from welcoming as it could get.

“It fits its coffee. We’ll go to the Riddle and Blue later, okay?” Peggy smiled, “after I get this makeup off.”

“Sure Pegs.”

“Don’t call me that,” Peggy shot him a look. “I’m not her, remember?”

How had he been so careless? “Oh, right. What’s your name then?”

Peggy frowned, “We’ll see.”

“You don’t know?!”

“I couldn’t think of one, okay?” Peggy shrugged, “I’ll improvise. Don’t worry about it, let’s just go.” She went into the coffee shop, holding the door open for him to follow.

This inside of the coffee shop was just as depressing as the outside. Everything was shades of beige and gray, with ugly looking wooden chairs and stained tile floor. Behind the counter stood a tired looking teenager—their blond hair was slicked back onto their head with grease, their expression one of true apathy.

“Man, this is why we’re not supposed to have dogs on campus,” Peggy said loudly, her voice lower than normal. Alexander nodded, she was changing her voice.

“I know,” Alexander went along with the plan, “We have to find him! My roommate’s going to kill me if I can’t find his damn dog.” He stepped out of the line he had no interest being in and gestured to the small cluster of people in the grubby chairs. “Excuse me! Has anyone seen a dog run around here?”

Everyone shook their heads.

“Nobody?” he tried again. “Shit. Look guys, it’s my roommate’s dog. He’s going to skin me alive if I don’t get him back.”

“Shouldn’t have taken him outside then,” A guy around Alexander’s age smirked, sipping at his coffee—even their paper cups were brown, how upsetting—“you wouldn’t have lost him.” Alexander saw Peggy tense from the corner of his eye.

“You think I did? I opened the door to get into the damn place and the little shit just ran out!”

The other man took another sip from his coffee “I don’t know man, sounds like a you problem.”

Alexander bristled, “If you think so, why’d you even open your mouth?”  He stared down the other boy: his sweater was a bright purple, his hair wild—it almost looked like Lafayette’s bedhead, Alexander realized.

He shrugged, “Because I could? But you’re annoying me, and I’m set to meet someone in a few, so I must bid you adieu.” Alexander cringed. Yikes. One word and Alexander could tell his French was atrocious.

“what does your dog look like?” A new voice asked once Purple Sweater had left.

Alexander turned to the source of the voice. The person sat in one of the armchairs in the corner of the room, laptop open in their lap. Their hair—short and buzzed on the one side—and eyes were the same inky black, their nose-ring glinting in the poor lighting as they stared with a bored expression.

“Red and white. Blue eyes. Tail constantly between his legs,” Alexander repeated the line fed to him by George earlier that morning, throwing a sarcastic tone over it for believability. “His name is King.”

Recognition flashed in the other person’s gaze. “I think I saw him on the college campus a few minutes ago, actually. Maybe he’s still there?” They stood, stuffing their laptop in their bag and slinging it over their shoulder. “I’ll show you.”

“That be amazing thank you!” Alexander grinned. It worked! His heart was in his throat. Peggy followed them out, her head low, eyes constantly flickering.

 

As they neared the college—its gray towers looming in the distance—the Dark Arm spoke, “So, are you the real one? Alex?”

Alexander nodded. “Yeah.”

“So who are you?” They turned to look at Peggy, they were quite a bit taller, which only helped their intimidating gaze.

“Me?” Peggy pointed to herself. “My name’s Maria. Maria Reynolds.” She held out her hand.

The Dark Arm didn’t take it, nor did they give their name. “Friend? Girlfriend?”

Peggy curled into herself as she laughed, “Nah. Just friends. No offense Alex, but you’re not exactly my type.”

Alexander only shrugged. He stared at the towers poking their ugly heads high above the tree line. They truly were terribly dull to look at, gray and beige, the same color scheme as the coffee shop they had left. What a horribly unhappy atmosphere. Were the students happy to be there? Alexander had a hard time thinking that they were.

His gaze flickered back to the Dark Arm. He had been hoping that they’d lead the conversation so he wouldn’t have to, but it doesn’t look like George’s compatriot had sent one of their more talkative members to meet them.

The Dark Arm put their hand on their hip. “So you want to shut down Acolyte, right?” They asked, their voice steeled, but the intrigue was real, “You’ve been there?”

“Yeah. You—You just asked if I was the real one, wasn’t that what you meant?”

“I know what I said,” The Dark Arm responded coolly, “and what makes you think we’re going to help you do that?”

“uh. Brewster?” Alexander tried.

The Dark Arm bristled. “That dumbass? He gave you his last—oh my god,” they pinched the bridge of their nose. “Who were you with when he told you that name?” they demanded.

“We were alone.”

“You’re sure?”

“Positive.”

His answer seemed to have calmed them down, “What do you know? What goes on in there? How did Nathan Hale die?”

Alexander felt himself lower his guard slightly, “Did you know him?”

They shrugged, “I knew of him. But that’s beside the point. He gave us a lot of good information.” Alexander couldn’t help but to think there was more to it than that, but he didn’t press it.

“Another question,” he said instead.

The Dark Arm huffed, “Look, if you want us to help you, you have to help us. What. Do you. Know?”

“Do you know a Roxana Kryskowski?”

“How do you know that name,” The Dark Arm’s voice went frigid, what small remnant of warmth remaining totally frozen over. Alexander’s eyes widened, they knew her! He could give Aaron the answers he needed! He couldn’t help the smile on his face, Aaron. Even if it’s not the answer he wanted, the Dark Arm can at least tell him what happened to her—why she disappeared. “Stop fucking smiling!” Before Alexander could react, the Dark Arm had their hands on his shirt collar, lifting him from the ground. They stepped off the path to pin him against a tree, not hard enough to cause any real pain, but with enough force to knock the wind from his lungs. “Tell me how you know that name!”

“Hey! Stop!” Peggy screeched. She leaped onto the Dark Arm’s back, pulling at their arms in an attempt to loosen their hold on Alexander.

“Maria!” Alexander called, the pseudonym feeling strange on his lips, “It’s alright! It’s alright! Let go!” He swallowed the panic bubbling within him to speak. He blinked the snow from his eyes—it must have fallen from the tree when they pinned him—to look back to the Dark Arm. They were scared, he could see it in their face, “I know her cousin Aaron! He asked me to look for her!”

“Aaron?” The Dark Arm’s face screwed up in confusion, “How?”

“He’s in Acolyte! I met him at Acolyte!” The Dark Arm’s grip loosened, and he fell to the ground, his legs unprepared to catch himself. Peggy was at his side in an instant, helping him back up.

The Dark Arm’s frown deepened, something behind their gaze weakened. “Aaron’s in Acolyte? You left him there?” They tried to be as harsh as before, but their tone was softer than before.

“I didn’t want to. Aaron’s a really good friend of mine, it killed me to leave him behind. But I told him I’d get him out, and I will. Before I left, he asked me to look for Roxana. I’ve searched everywhere and I can’t find a trace, so I was hoping maybe she was with you.” Alexander’s face burned, his nightmares about Aaron and Acolyte looming in his mind.

“Roxana Kryskowski doesn’t exist anymore.” There was something sad in their tone that made Peggy flinch.

“Like dead?” Peggy asked. Alexander held his breath. Aaron’s last supportive family member couldn’t be dead. He didn’t deserve that. She had to be alive.

The Dark Arm shrugged, “In a sense.” They kicked a pebble from the path into the snow. “Sorry for uh, roughing you up earlier.”

Alexander quirked a brow. Were they embarrassed?  “Don’t worry about it. No damage done other than some wet clothes,” he gestured to his snow-covered outfit, the cold seeping into him now that he pointed it out.

“Yeah, but that’s no way to introduce myself to Aaron’s friend,” they smiled sheepishly. The expression unnerved Alexander; his eyes flickered questioningly at the hand being extended out to him in truce.

“That’s fair,” the Dark Arm commented, withdrawing their hand and shoving it into their box. “From now on though, just call me ‘Ox’,” they shifted their weight, resting their other hand on their hip, “so what’s your plan to get my cousin out of Acolyte?”

What.

Chapter Text

The realization sat heavy in Alexander’s stomach. This was Aaron’s cousin, standing right in front of him. A Dark Arm. “Where did you go?” Alexander snipped, “You were Aaron’s only lifeline and you left him. He was so distraught when he talked about you. ‘I haven’t heard from her in months, I don’t know what happened to her’,” he quoted, his voice conveying the pain he remembered in Aaron’s.

Ox bristled, “You think I had a choice? I either join the Dark Arms and disappear or I would’ve been in Acolyte too.”

“You’re an adult. Adults don’t go to Acolyte.”

“Don’t they? Didn’t you see some Acolyte employees that looked like they didn’t want to be there?” they accused. Theo, the girl who got the lifeguard, and a few other Acolytes flashed through his mind. “Not only would I go, but they’d make me one of them. This was the only thing I could do.” They were practically snarling the words, “I wanted to tell him where I was going, but I couldn’t. You cut off your ties to be a Dark Arm. All of them. They’re my family now.”

“He needed you and you weren’t there,” the words tumbled from Alexander’s lips.

“Says the guy who left him at Acolyte,” they retorted.

“With the full intention of getting him out! Were you planning on ever seeing him again?” Alexander’s frustration only grew with each shift in facial expression.

“Of course I was!”

“To recruit him for the Dark Arms, right?”

They faltered. He was right. “It was the only way I could.” They dropped their head, “So he settled on Aaron, huh?” they said, their voice softer. “That’s the one I was hoping he’d pick.”

“So you weren’t there for that?” Peggy spoke up, “How did you know Alex was talking about your Aaron then?”

“You knew my full name. And he’s my only cousin Aaron.” They shrugged, “I was hoping that it was, so I took a shot.” They perked up, digging through their pockets and pulling out a phone. “Hang on, this is a new development. I have to call my boss.”

“Your boss?” Alexander tilted his head, “I didn’t realize the Dark Arms was a business model,” he said, sarcasm palpable in his tone.  

“It’s not,” they said with a laugh, “I mean my partner. But to be fair, if there were bosses in the Dark Arms, they’d be one of them.” They held their phone up to their ear in silence for a moment as it rang. “Hey. It’s me. Yeah, I am. They still are. But remember my cousin? The one I mentioned as a possible recruit when the time came? Yeah. They—yeah,” their voice dipped. “They put him in Acolyte. My cousin’s in Acolyte and it’s my fault. I left him there, Kana. I shouldn’t have left him there.”

 Guilt gnawed at Alexander for their conversation a few moments before. Of course they didn’t want to leave Aaron behind. Just like he didn’t want to leave him at Acolyte. Alexander took his own frustration out on Ox, and that wasn’t fair. He should apologize.

“We are?! Ugh, you are the greatest and I love you.” Ox grinned, their expression so full of affection Alexander couldn’t help but smile himself. “Okay, bye. Yeah, I love you too, bye.” Ox pulled the phone from their face and put it back in their pocket. “So, interesting addition, we’re planning to raid Acolyte.”

“You’re planning to what now?” Alexander asked incredulously. “We’re already bringing them to court! Why would you risk—“

“What if something happens? What if you get arrested?” chirped Peggy, her eyes wide.

“What if Acolyte catches you and puts you in the Room?” Alexander added.

Ox snorted, covering their face as they laughed, “What, all of us?” Their laughter died down, Ox lowering their hand as it faded, “they’d need more than a Room to take us all down.”

“How many of you are there?” Alexander asked.

Ox shrugged. “Dunno. A lot. You think this is an Upstate New York thing? C’mon Alex, be serious.”

Alexander shrugged in return, “so, dumb question, but your partner… are they…?”

“My soulmate?” Ox sneered the word, “Of course not. Not in the magical universe way anyway. My soulmate was some guy from Alabama or something. We never bonded, so saying goodbye to him wasn’t that hard.”

Peggy frowned, “You really don’t think soulmates matter?”

“No,” Ox shot her a look, “that’s kind of the point of being a Dark Arm. I get to fall in love with whoever I want. I never would’ve met Kana if I listened to the magical handwriting on my arm,” they rolled their eyes. “Why, Maria, you love your soulmate?”

“Soulmates,” Peggy clarified, “And yes. With all my heart.”

“Huh.” Ox clicked their tongue. “That’s cool, I guess. But I didn’t. And I don’t think the universe has the right to tell me who I’m supposed to be with. Or if I should be with anyone at all.”

Alexander’s heart soared. “Do you have any bare-arms in your ranks?” he asked, unable to help himself.

“Alex, come on.” Ox stripped their coat off. They had a tank top on underneath, their solid black arms starkly contrasted against the white fabric. “Do you see any handwriting?” they smirked, “We’re all bare-armed now.”

He couldn’t help it. Alexander beamed.    

Ox grinned back, slipping their coat back onto their shoulders. “So, unless you’re going to tell me more information about Acolyte, I think we’re done here.”

“Wait. What do you need? I mean, you’ve got Brewster.”

Ox shrugged, “Dunno. What can you give me?”

“His friend. Her name’s…”Alexander blanked. “Christ.”

Ox snickered,  “Christ? I know she’s at a Jesus camp, but—“

“Shut up that’s not what I meant. I always forget her name. I just call her Red.”

“Red?”

“She’s a redhead.”

Peggy smirked, “Creative.”

Alexander narrowed his eyes at Peggy, but continued. “It starts with a J…. Jodie! Her name’s Jodie!” He snapped his fingers, “Please don’t tell her I forgot again.” His tone turned more serious, “if you can get her out too, I think it’d be better for both of them. They’re really close.” He dropped down to a whisper, “Red’s got a crush on him, I’m sure of it. I couldn’t imagine what it would do to her to not have Aaron at her side.”

Ox nodded, “I’ll make a note of it. No promises though. Aaron’s our priority.”

Alexander bristled, “I understand that. Which is why I’m not giving you the laundry list of other people that I’d like out. But to take Aaron away from Red… look, I wouldn’t’ve brought it up if I didn’t think it was important. Red and Aaron are each other’s strength. To have one without the other could break them. Either of them.”

Ox frowned, but answered with a shrug, “Again, I’ll keep it in mind. But unless they’re together—“

“—they’re always together,” Alexander interrupted.

Ox narrowed their eyes, “unless they’re together,” they repeated, “I’m not going to look for her.”

Alexander stood on his toes to get as close to standing eye-to-eye as possible, “You think Aaron’s going to leave her behind? You really think he’s that selfish?”

Ox’s frown deepened. “Look Alex, I get that this girl’s your friend too, but I’m not risking my life for someone I don’t know.”

“Why not?” Alexander leaned back, a smug look on his face, “I did.”

“Because I’m not stupid,” Ox retorted.

Alexander huffed, taking a step toward them again, “Are you calling me stupid? I’m not stupid.”

Peggy stepped in, pulling Alexander back, “You’re not stupid,” she reassured, “but you’re being stupid. They’re getting Aaron out, remember?”

 “Well, if they’re raiding Acolyte like they say they are I don’t see why they can’t get more than one person out! I’m not asking for all of them. Burr, Theo, Nora, Caleb, Quincy! Nora’s friend! There are more! There are so many more! I’m asking for two! And they’re blowing me off like a child,” he glanced back to Ox, “I know that tone. I know you’re not going to try for Red. That you don’t care about Red. I get it. But I do. And you damn well know that I’m going to fight for her too!”

Ox bristled, standing back and running a hand through the longer section of their hair. “You are a pain in the ass, you know that right?”

“I’m aware,” Alexander answered, deadpan.

“I’ll talk to them. But there’s not promise that—“

“Stop,” Alexander refuted, “enough. I know a way that guarantees Red and Aaron both get out of Acolyte.”

“Oh yeah?” Ox quirked a brow, a black eyebrow piercing he hadn’t previously noticed glimmered with the motion, “And what’s that?”

“Alex,” Peggy warned.

“I’m going too,” Alexander said matter-of-factly.

“Like hell!” Peggy shrieked. “You think we’re letting you go back?!

“Maria’s right,” Ox affirmed, “If you think you’re joining us on this raid, you’ve got another thing coming.”

“I wasn’t asking for permission. I left Aaron behind last time, promising I’d come back for him. I know the layout of this camp better than you do. I can tell you where they are. And this way, I know they’re both getting out.”

He’s not going to let you,” Peggy warned. She didn’t need to be more specific. He knew she meant John.

“I know. Which is why I’m not telling him. And neither are you.

“Like hell,” she repeated. “I’m not keeping secrets from him. Not anymore.”

“oh? Did you tell him about this?” he asked.

“I—“ Peggy stopped, “well, no. but.”

“But nothing. Don’t tell him. It’ll only cause him more pain.”

“More pain than him losing you in there?”

Ox snorted, “Listen whatever issues your boyfriend has with this isn’t relevant, because you’re not going anyway.”

Alexander’s cheeks burned, “he’s not my boyfriend.”

Peggy rolled her eyes.

“Whatever,” Ox deadpanned. “I’m leaving. We’re going to Acolyte, you are not. It’ll draw more attention to us to have a fugitive in our ranks and cause us more trouble.”

“You vanished. You really don’t think your parents have a missing person’s report filed on you? You think no one is looking for you?” Alexander gritted his teeth, “Oh wait, I can already refute that. Aaron was. They don’t even have a picture of me. I bet they have one of you though. So in a way, it’s actually better for me to go. As long as I don’t have John, I’m just a random ‘Hispanic boy,’” he quoted, “A nobody. No family, no nothing. I’m invisible.”

Ox stomped their foot. He had them cornered.

“And like I said. I have more info on Acolyte than you do. I’ve been there.

“Fine. I’ll talk to the Dark Arms and ask—“

“Not ask,” Alexander interrupted, “Tell.”

They grumbled, but corrected their error, “tell them that you’re talking about coming with. But if they decide it’s a bad idea, we’re leaving without you.”

“And if not?”

“Be ready to go at any time. We’ll use your other contact.”

Alexander squirmed, “actually, I’d prefer if you didn’t. I’d rather you contact me directly.”

“Why?”

Peggy stared. “You don’t want him to know either?! No way. I’m not letting you do this. You’d destroy them.”

Alexander relented. “You’re right. I’ll talk to them. The old contact is fine.”

“Good. Nice to meet you Maria,” Ox nodded to Peggy, “Alex? Get away from me.”

Alexander barked out a laugh, “ Fair enough. I’ll be hearing from you.”

 

Peggy waited until Ox had walked out of sight before she rounded on Alexander. “Are you kidding me Alex!?” Peggy shrieked, smacking the other teen on the back of his head with her hand. “Are you kidding me?! You think George is going to let you on a Dark Arm raid? You think Martha’s going to let you head down to South Carolina again?! You think John--!’

“I know!” Alexander retorted, before his voice dropped to a quieter volume, “I know, Pegs. But..”

“You don’t have to be the hero, Alexander.”

“I know. But you know as well as I do that Ox’ll charge into Acolyte, grab Aaron and never look back. If Red has a chance of getting out, it’s gotta be me. No one else knows her. Ox won’t even give her a second thought.”

“But John—“

“I know. But John will understand why I had to go.”

“He’d want to go—“

“I know. But he can’t. He’s not ready to see that camp again.”

“And you are?” Peggy shot back.

Alexander shrugged. “No. But I need to get Aaron and Red, so I’m going anyway. You’re not convincing me otherwise, Pegs. Or should I say, Maria.” He began walking back the way they came, “C’mon, let’s get the bus home.”

Alexander hated the bus. It was even worse the second time around. It was a strange time of day, he supposed, as the bus was much less populated than the earlier trip in. This time, Peggy didn’t sit directly next to him. Instead, she sat on the other side of the bus and stared out the window.

“C’mon, talk to me.” Alexander said.

Peggy shot him a look.

“Who was that guy at the café? The guy I argued with? You seemed to know him.”

Peggy stiffened, but said nothing.

“Are you really giving me the silent treatment now? You know I don’t have a choice.”

Peggy glared at him again before turning back to the window. A girl sat next to Peggy, blocking her from Alexander’s view. The girl whispered to her. Peggy responded louder. “No, I know him. He’s about to break a boy’s heart because he’s too stubborn for his own damn good.” She directed the last part directly at Alexander.

“He’ll be fine.” Alexander bit his tongue with the last word, his body punishing him for the lie he told. “I mean, I’m not going to break his heart. We aren’t even—we’re just friends.”

“Are you?” Peggy stood, crossing over the girl to look at Alexander again, “Last time I checked, exchanging love notes to each other doesn’t mean friendship, Alexander!” She gripped the bar in her hand, using it to lean toward him without losing her footing.

“It wasn’t a love note!” Alexander responded indignantly. He looked away from her for a beat, accidentally making eye contact with the man behind them. He was older, with a red baseball cap on his head. If Alexander had to guess, he had been watching them for a while.

“That was a pretty romantic note of friendship then.” She spat. “Remember that thing I said about not hurting John and Eliza with your indecision? It looks like you’ve decided, right?”

Alexander’s eyes widened.

“And it’s not my sister.”

“You read the note,” was all Alexander could muster.

“Just admit you picked John!”

“You read the note,” Alexander’s tone turned accusatory. “You swore you wouldn’t read it and you read it. I can’t believe—“

“I didn’t read it until after John locked himself in a room for half a day. I was worried. I thought you hurt him and he wouldn’t tell me.” Peggy clicked her tongue, “I didn’t expect the ‘the universe aligned for us to meet, I believe in fate because of you’ bullshit.”

“I cannot believe you—“  Alexander stopped. “I’m sorry what?”

Peggy crossed to the front of the bus, they were at their stop already. “What do you mean, what. That’s what you wrote.” She talked over her shoulder at him as they walked off the bus.

Alexander’s cheeks flared. Had he really? “Oh god…. That’s so much worse than I…”

“What do you mean?” Peggy narrowed her eyes.

“I couldn’t remember,” Alexander admitted. “ I had written it as…” he paused as he considered the word, “organically as I could. I didn’t—“ he stopped short at Peggy’s startled laugh.

“You’re telling me,” Peggy managed through her laughter, “You wrote what was by far the cheesiest letter I’ve ever seen, and you didn’t even remember it?”

Alexander shook his head, his embarrassment growing by the second.

“Do you ever think when you do things?” Peggy asked.

“Sometimes,” Alexander answered honestly. “But I remember thinking about this. He was talking so poorly of himself, I thought that if I wrote something genuine it would help.”

“So you confessed your love?”

“I did not.” Alexander bit his lip.

“You’re right. You didn’t say the word. But it’s implied,” Peggy nodded.

Alexander thought back to John’s response, what exactly did you mean… John had asked because he thought… I’m afraid it’s left me more confused than anything. The earlier section of the letter flashed into his mind. “He said he was confused though,” Alexander mumbled, not realizing that he had said it aloud.

Peggy shot him a look, “Well, yeah. You didn’t say it flat out. John doesn’t take subtlety well with relationships. If you want something with John, you’ll have to tell him. In simple, concise words that can’t be misconstrued.” Peggy leaned back as she walked, her eyes looking up at the silver colored sky. “John can’t imagine that anyone’d feel anything like that for him. He’s never experienced it. Not romantically, anyway. But do you admit it? That you like John?”

“Weren’t you mad at me a few seconds ago?” Alexander tried to change the subject.

Peggy whipped her head to face him, stopping in her tracks and putting her hand on her hip, “Uh-huh. And I will be again if you try to change the subject again, Ha—“ she stopped, glancing around. “Alex,” she corrected.

“What was th—“ Alexander followed her gaze to the cluster of people at the bus stop who were staring at him strangely. He made eye contact with the older man in the baseball cap again. The man stiffened before mumbling something to the rest of the cluster. Alexander felt a chill run down his spine.

“You’re that boy from the news, aren’t you?” The man accused, the group around him stared, cell phones in hand.

“What are you talking about?” Alexander tried, ignoring the increasing speed of his heartbeat. “What boy?”

“That ‘Alexander Hamilton.’ The one who kidnapped the senator’s son,” the man spit his name out like it was a poison.

Alexander steeled himself to avoid reacting to his words, “Look, man. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I heard you talking about a boy named John! Your friend there said you had feelings for him,” the man snarled, his tone growing much darker.

“You think he’s the only Latino boy named Alex with a friend named John?” Peggy cocked out her hip, her arms crossed. “In fact, how dare you! You’re profiling my friend! Who do you think you are?! Who many other Latinos have you accused today?” The group around the man looked sheepish, slowly lowering their cell phones. She turned back to Alexander, “Let’s go Alex. I’ll call my Mom to come pick us up. We don’t need this.” She grabbed Alexander by the wrist and pulled him down the street.

“I’m actually going to get Herc to pick us up. That was too close,” she murmured.

 “Yeah,” Alexander sighed, “Quick thinking, Pegs.”

“Thanks.” Peggy murmured something, “you know. Maybe we should just walk back to my house.”

Alexander blanched, “Is that a good idea? After what just happened?”

Peggy looked at him, “What, don’t want to face John right now?”

“It’s not that.” It was partially that. “But you’ll be recognized as a Schuyler, and then if anyone who saw us at the coffee shop can put two and two together.”

She clicked her tongue. “True.”

“Like the guy in the hideous purple sweater,” Alexander tried again, “I know you knew him, Peggy. Who was that asshole?”

Peggy looked uncomfortable. “That was… uh. That was Thomas. Jefferson. Laf and Angie’s friend.”

That was Thomas?!” Alexander asked incredulously. “Why?”

Peggy shrugged, “I don’t really get it either. Just be thankful you weren’t around for his Laf copying phase.” She pulled out her phone to text someone, presumably Hercules.

“His what.”

“Oh yeah. The boy’s a total France-freak.”

“A Francophile?”

Peggy rolled her eyes, “Ew, now you sound like him.” Alexander looked at her, scandalized. “Anyway, yeah. Once he met Laf he tried to be him. Went by his last name, wore his hair in a ponytail, the whole nine yards. It was really uncomfortable, especially since they actually look kinda similar.”

“They do not,” Alexander retorted, ignoring the fact that he had compared his hair to Lafayette’s earlier.

“They do. Get them together, have Thomas put his hair up and Laf take his makeup off? They’re practically twins.” Peggy made a face, “To be honest, I’m surprised he didn’t try telling people that.”  

“Gross.”

“Uh-huh. We told you that you wouldn’t like Thomas. Do you see why we never introduced you two?”

Alexander nodded. “It’s probably for the best.”

“Yeah. He’s even worse around James. I don’t know if he’s trying to show off for him or if James backs him up enough that it inflates his ego. You’d probably get along with him if Thomas isn’t around though.”

“Huh.” Alexander didn’t know how to respond.

As they walked down the street, a car pulled up alongside them, its black paint sleek and somehow not speckled in the salt that littered the street. The window rolled down and Hercules peered back at them. “Get in,” he said. They obeyed. Peggy took the passenger side, leaving Alexander to sit in the back. The interior of the car was a luxurious brown leather, the seats themselves warm to the touch.

“This isn’t your car,” Peggy commented. “It’s too nice.”

“Gee thanks,” Hercules deadpanned, “But you’re right. It’s a friend of mine’s car.”

“The secret friends?” Alexander chirped.

Hercules shot him a look through the rearview mirror. “Figured you wanted a car that wasn’t familiar. One that’s never seen the driveway of the Washington’s or the Schuyler’s.” Suspicions confirmed. The secret friends. “So, how was your meeting?”

“Okay.” Alexander said vaguely.

“Alexander’s planning to sneak to South Carolina,” Peggy blurted.

Peggy, goddammit,” Alexander whined.

“You’re what.” Hercules’s voice dropped as he spoke. Alexander felt himself squirm.

“The Dark Arms are raiding Acolyte. I’m going with them.”

Hercules shook his head, “You know that’s crazy. Martha would never let you—“

“He wasn’t going to tell John.”

Peggy.”

“Dude.” Alexander had never thought that the word ‘dude’ could have a reprimanding connotation, and yet, here they were. “That’d destroy him. If you just up and left without knowing why? He’s already nervous with Peggy gone and no response from you.”

Alexander perked up, “What?”

“Yeah. That’s why I was looking for you. Peggy left without telling John why. He assumed she was heading to your house to get your response. Then she didn’t come back. So he called me.”

“Oh god.” Peggy sighed, “I should’ve told him something. I knew he’d worry if I just took off.” She turned in her seat to face Alexander, “See? Imagine what you’d do to him if you vanished for a week.”

“I know.” Alexander hung his head.

“Also, Eliza wants her jacket back,” Hercules interrupted.

“That’s fair,” replied Peggy. “It’s not my style anyway.”

“Now,” Hercules glanced back in the rearview mirror to look at Alexander, we can either take you back home, or, we can take you back to the Schuyler’s so you can talk to John and sort everything out.”

“Take him to my house so he can confess to John and end this stupidity once and for all.”

Hercules barked out a laugh before looking back at Alexander sympathetically, “You ready for that?”

“No,” Alexander answered quickly.

“Okay. Then back home so you can tell George your plan of throwing yourself back into the torture chamber,” quipped Peggy.   

Alexander wasn’t ready for that either.

“Your choice, Alex,” Hercules said. “What are we doing?”

The question sat heavy with Alexander, its inquiry expanding across multiple facets of his life. What was he doing with John? What was he doing with Acolyte? With his secret of being bare-armed? With the rescue mission? The court case? Aaron? Red? Burr? What was he doing?

Alexander couldn’t answer any of them.