Gilbert had never felt this kind of pain.
General Washington's physician deduced that the bullet struck his calf and was lodged there at least half of an hour before he noticed it. And then, even when he had, Gilbert had kept riding and fighting, pushing the pain down, shoving it aside. Perhaps that had multiplied it, for now it slammed into him, as though someone had taken the bayonet of a gun and was running it through his flesh. Again. And again. And again.
Through the haze surrounding his mind, he remembered a time in France after he had tripped before the Queen and bruised his shin. It barely hurt, (his pride was wounded far more greatly) but his wife, Adrienne, laid her hand over his once they were home, and tried to take the pain from him anyway. Nothing had happened.
He had thought that the humiliation would be the worst thing he would ever suffer. Now, he would gladly trade this agony for a bruised ego.
The physician tried to remove the bullet again, and Gilbert flinched, pulling back. The man sighed heavily. "Monsieur le Marquis," he said patiently, (mispronouncing it, but that didn't matter much now), "if you would please lie still for one moment. As I have told you before, I cannot remove the -"
"Just do it quickly, please," Gilbert hissed through gritted teeth. The physician drew a deep breath and let it out slowly before picking up his utensil again. Gilbert stared up at the ceiling, biting his tongue to try to keep back the scream building in his throat.
A searing pain, followed by a sharp ripping feeling, tore across his leg. He cried out and collapsed back onto the table, sweat beading under his wig.
"There, was that so bad?" clucked the physician. Gilbert was about to reply that, yes, it was so bad, when the door swung open.
He heard two voices exclaiming something, but by that point he was so weak he could barely tell what it was they were saying, or who the voices belonged to. There was a haze before his eyes (probably a late effect of the small dose of laudanum they had given him), and his forehead just below the wig was slick with sweat. Dimly, he was aware of a hand coming to rest on that spot, and then a soft voice saying words he couldn't make out. Another hand gently squeezed his, and then a set of arms slipped underneath him and lifted him off the table - one around his shoulders, another under his knees, carefully angled away from his hurt calf. He blinked a few times and managed to look up into the blue eyes of his friend John Laurens, who gave him a reassuring smile. Turning his head to the side, he caught a brief glimpse of his other best friend, Alexander Hamilton, arguing with the physician. That glimpse was broken as John turned and carried him out of the kitchen and up the stairs. He walked slowly, but Gilbert began to feel dizzy all the same.
John whispered something that might have been "It's alright", and that was the last thing Gilbert heard before he lost consciousness.
Alexander held on tight to Gilbert's hand as the boy hid in his pillow. John, sitting on the newly-appointed general's other side, looked over at Alexander with concern written all over his face. Alexander squeezed the slender hand in his and leaned closer to the Marquis.
Gilbert lifted his head out of the pillow, where he was pretending to be tired - though Alexander, of course, knew better. Sure enough, those hazel eyes were full of tears, with tracks running down Gilbert's flushed face.
"Does it truly hurt so much?" Alexander asked sympathetically - in French, which all three of them spoke.
Gilbert nodded and tried to sit up, suddenly urgent - but John gently caught him and lowered him back down. "No, my dear Marquis," he chided. "You need to rest."
"Rest?" The boy slapped away the tears running down his face and shook his head. "No, I do not need to rest. General Washington shall need an account of the battle and I -" He struggled to sit up, but Alexander and John held him down.
"Gilbert," said Alexander firmly. "You can give the General an account tomorrow when he comes to see you. Tonight you must rest."
Defeated, the young marquis sank into the nest of blankets and pillows that had been provided for him. "I apologize," he said suddenly.
"For what?" Alexander and John asked together.
"For displaying this weakness." He buried his face in the pillow again. "It is just... I have never been shot before, and the pain is very - very -"
"Ah, no," sighed John as Gilbert started crying again. "Gil, come here." He wrapped the boy up in his arms and held him close while Gil cried and cried.
"You must get some sleep," urged Alexander. "You're getting yourself worked up, and thus making it all much worse."
"Will you both -"
"We'll stay right here. All night."
Gil nodded and accepted the blanket that John spread over him. "Thank you," he whispered through chapped lips. Alexander watched as he slowly slid out of consciousness again, wondering at the poor boy's pain. How great must it truly be - and how had he possibly endured it so long during the battle?
"He's very brave," John murmured, as if answering Alexander's thoughts.
"He is." Alexander stroked the hand still tightly wrapped in his. "And he does not deserve this pain."
At that, an idea came to Alexander. A foolish idea, he realized as soon as it came - but now that he had it in his head, he struggled to get it out. He sat in silence for a few more moments, watching the Marquis in fitful slumber. His forehead creased at some nightmare neither John nor Alexander could see, and Alexander pressed his lips to that concentrated brow in an attempt to soothe him. Gil's fever was much worse, he noted.
"He'll wake up and the pain will start all over again," John whispered.
At that, deciding that his idea could not hurt, Alexander closed his eyes and tightened his hold on Gilbert's hand.
I do not know how to do this, he realized. Nor did he even know if it would work... but if somehow it did - if the Marquis de Lafayette was his soulmate -
Pain tore suddenly across his calf, and Alexander flinched. He waited for it to intensify, but after that brief pang, nothing stronger came. It hurt, true, but not as much as he would have thought...
He looked over at John, and was surprised to see a sweat had broken out on the other man's forehead. John shifted, favoring his other leg, as if the one he had been putting weight on was now in pain. That was when Alexander noticed that John was holding Gilbert's right hand.
"You, too?" he asked, amused and touched and in pain, all at once.
John leaned back against the headboard, his eyes closed and a smile playing across his lips. "Did the scratch you received in the battle heal well, Alexander?" he asked. It was a sudden question, that seemed to have no relation to the matter they had been on - yet when Alexander pushed back his sleeve, he saw that the scrape on his arm had indeed vanished. He turned over to John, who held out a scratched arm.
Through Gilbert's pain, throbbing in his leg, Alexander smiled. "I had not known that three men could be soulmates," he said.
"Then it would seem you have much to learn," John mumbled, settling next to Gil and closing his eyes.
Alexander shook his head, unable and unwanting to take the smile off of his face. He smoothed out the Marquis's hair, and was pleased to note that his face had relaxed - he now slept soundly. Curling up, he pulled the blanket over all three of them and fell asleep quickly, letting his dreams silence the pain he had stolen.
They were soulmates.
John had found his soulmates - and he had not only one, but two.
After Gilbert was wounded, he was unable to move about too much or spend time anywhere outside of his room. When they could, John and Alexander brought the work they had to do into his room to keep him company. Many of their days were long and lazy, spent reading and writing and working. But they were spent together, and that was now what mattered most. And with every minute that passed; every touch of Alexander's hand, every kiss Gil planted on his cheek, John felt a part of him light up.
Love was a fall. It was just a much faster and sweeter one than John had expected.
Currently he was copying out a letter for General Washington, Gil's head resting drowsy against his shoulder. John could hardly keep his eyes open. Alexander looked over at him from where he was working and smiled briefly, violet-blue eyes flashing. John smiled back and then Alexander ducked his head, breaking the contact.
John yawned again, and Gilbert looked up at him. "Are you tired?"
"Exhausted," John yawned.
"I'm not tired," said Alexander, and then proceeded to yawn as well. Gilbert giggled.
"You're both tired, aren't you?"
"Perhaps," Alexander admitted.
"Hmm." Gilbert leaned further into John's shoulder, though he also reached out and took Alexander's hand. John kept working, running his free hand through the Marquis's hair. He yawned once more and then stopped, mouth still open. Suddenly he realized that he wasn't tired anymore.
At that moment, Gilbert dropped to the side, his head in John's lap. Sound asleep. John smiled, pulled a blanket over his sleeping soulmate, and continued his work.
Alexander set down his pen as he finished a letter for the General, and sighed as he looked at the remaining sheets of paper stacked on his desk. There was still much left to be done.
"It's getting dark," observed John, coming into the room. "Are you certain you wish to continue working?"
Alexander glanced over his shoulder at his soulmate, leaning on the doorframe. "I am," he replied. "Should I not have these letters done by the morning, the other officers may grow uncertain of what they are to do. The fate of the revolution could hinge on these letters."
"At least allow me to help you," suggested John. "The General should not have heaped so much upon you."
"No, you should go to bed."
"So should you." John pulled up a chair and caught his soulmate's hands in his. He ran his thumb over the calluses on Alexander's palm. "Look at you," he said. "You're worked to the bone."
"I still have bones with which to work, and so will not stop."
John smiled and shook his head, brushing back a lock of auburn hair from in front of Alexander's eyes. "What am I going to do with you?" he murmured gently - his hand on Alexander's cheek was soft and warm, and the aide leaned into his touch for a brief moment, before returning to the business he had here.
"You may help me." Alexander slid a sheet of paper off of his stack and handed it over to John. "Since you want to stay so much."
"Lovely." John rolled up his sleeves and dipped Alexander's extra pen into the inkwell. "To whom am I writing, and what am I writing about?"
"You are writing to Ambassador Franklin, telling him we are grateful for his efforts, but please to obtain more money from the French. He is so fond of them he does not pester them enough."
"The French," John mused. "I'm quite fond of them myself."
"That's bad. We want him to drive them crazy."
"Have you ever driven a Frenchman crazy, Alexander? It's harder than one would think."
"No, it is quite simple. All you have to do is heal his pain, say you love him a few times, promise to share your stash of Madeira, and he's practically mad." He propped his hand on his face, looking over at John. "Is he asleep?"
"He was when I told him I came to check on you. The physician said he may be back on his feet soon."
"Thank God, it's been weeks already." Alexander pulled one of the desk drawers open. "Is it too dark in here for you? I think I'll light a candle." He flicked a match, but in the dim light of the room missed his mark. The flame sparked onto the side of his hand, and he dropped the match in surprise - which John quickly stomped out on the floor, before laying his hand over Alexander's. Instantly the pain faded from the site of the burn.
Alexander looked over at his soulmate, exasperated. "Really, John, you don't have to do that all the time."
John smiled. "Sorry. It's just a reflex now."
Gilbert found Alexander lying on his side on the bed in their tent, gasping as though he were out of breath, seemingly struggling to breathe. He unslung his bag quickly and rushed into the room.
"Alexander? Mon cheri, what is the matter?" He sat down next to his soulmate and helped him into a sitting position. "Alexander?"
His soulmate had rode out last night to deliver a message in the next town over (against everyone's suggestions, as usual). They had not expected him back for quite some time... and yet here he was, early. Had he ridden through the night? It had been raining last night. Gilbert pushed back Alexander's bangs to check him for a fever or cold, and noticed a small cut against his forehead, where a tree branch hanging over the road may have caught him.
"Don't," said Alexander, pulling sharply out of Gil's arms. "I'm - fine."
"Just tell me what happened, oui?"
Alexander pushed his hair back, gasping. "I rode - too much - and I ran - too fast." He gestured towards the desk in the corner. "I came to get - something - for the General -" He broke off. "I ran - the whole - way here."
"You're out of breath and overtired," said Gilbert in French. "And you're hyperventilating. Just come here and -"
"No," said Alexander firmly. "It will - pass - in a few - minutes. I don't need - you - to -"
"Alright, alright, cheri. Just let me do something about that cut." He leaned over and kissed Alexander's forehead. At that touch he let all the pain and weariness from his soulmate's body slip into his own. Instantly his head felt sore, dizzy, like when he first went under laudanum all that while back. A small invisible knife flicked across his forehead, and his lungs felt like they had caved in. He rubbed his temples and blinked.
"Oh, Alexander," he sighed. "Why... why do you do this to yourself?"
"I told you to let me handle it," said Alexander, now well and back to normal. "I could have handled it. You ought to have let me -"
Gilbert held up a hand, silencing him. Alexander watched as Gilbert looked over at him sadly.
"I do not know why you think your body is expendable -" he said slowly. "Why you - why you think you can just - push it and push it - and nothing will ever happen..." Gil winced and sat up straighter, catching his breath before going on. "But Alexander - someday you will fall too ill - and you won't..." He shook his head. "You're sickly - as it is."
"And that's why you need to let me handle it," Alexander urged. "You need not take all this pain on yourself."
"If you didn't put it - if you didn't incur it on to begin with I wouldn't have to take it away!" Gilbert stopped, not wanting to fight with his soulmate. Alexander watched him helplessly.
"I'm sorry," he said softly.
"Ha." Gil shook his head. "I hope you are sorry... because here is what's going to happen from now on." He tilted Alexander's head towards his, forcing him to make eye contact. "Whenever you do this -" he began, "whenever you - push yourself or - get sick when you could - have avoided it. Whenever you put this pain on yourself - I swear that I will take it." Violet-blue eyes stared up into hazel ones as Gilbert drove his point home to Alexander. "So go on - and wreck your body. Do anything - you want. You can come home - and you can watch me take it. So it won't be you - that you do this to. It will be me." He smiled sadly. Do you want - to hurt me, Alexander?"
"You know I don't," whispered Alexander, tears starting in his eyes.
"Then stop this." Gil gestured towards the desk. "Get what you need - for the General. I'm going to rest."
Alexander nodded and scurried over to the corner, turning away from what he had done to his soulmate. They were small hurts, true, but he was used to them, and Gil was not. And now he had to suffer them instead. Alexander gathered up his papers and started out.
He was at the door when Gil called his name. Alexander turned back around, and Gilbert smiled.
"I love you, Alexander. You know that... don't you?"
"I know." Alexander smiled. "I love you, too. And Gil?"
"Mmm?" Gilbert mumbled.
The Battle of Monmouth was both brutal and discouraging. After a disastrous command by Charles Lee, hundreds were left dead on both sides. Many more passed from the sweltering heat.
John had a horse shot out from under him during the battle, and had received the graze of a bullet across his shoulder.
Alexander also had fallen from a horse, in addition to having sprained his arm and hit his head.
But the worst pain was that neither of them had seen Gilbert since the battle began.
In an upstairs room of the temporary headquarters, they patched each other up and tried to reassure themselves and one another that the Marquis was fine. That he would be back soon, that someone had surely seen him and would report so. That neither of them had seen General Washington either, and they had heard nothing of his death. This was unrelated, but somehow comforting.
"Perhaps he has been seen, and we do not know of it because we are up here," Alexander suggested as he washed dried blood of off John's arm.
"Perhaps," John mused. Alexander set the wet cloth back in the bowl he had dampened it in, and then placed his fingertips on the wound across John's skin. Just below it, across his arms, were the scars of other battles, with even more across his back and chest.
"So many," Alexander mused. "Why didn't you tell me and let me take them?"
John smiled a little. "I didn't know you when I got them."
Alexander looked up at him through his messy hair; John gently smoothed it back into place.
"You need to get the bandages now," he said gently.
"Oh." Alexander looked away and picked up the bandages from the mess of supplies spread across the bed. "Right. Er... how do I do this?"
"What, you've never bandaged a man's arm before?"
"We have not all been trained in Geneva, my dear."
"I was not trained in medicine. I only had an interest."
Alexander shoved the roll of bandages into his hand. "Do this yourself, then, why don't you?"
"I can't," John laughed. "That is why I brought you up here."
"Very well, I'll try. But if you bleed to death -"
"I shan't blame you."
They fell into a comfortable silence. John watched as Alexander snipped off a section of bandage with the scissors lying by his hand, and gently tied it around John's arm, over the wound on his shoulder.
"Tighter," John advised. Alexander blew back a lock of his hair, unwrapped the bandage, and tied it on again more tightly. John felt some of the pain from the spot slip away as Alexander's fingers brushed the finished bandage.
"Better?" he asked.
"Much better." John picked up his shirt and pulled it back on. Then he slid his hand onto Alexander's cheek. "Now your turn. Tell me where it hurts."
"I don't need you to -"
"I let you take some of my pain, now I must take some of yours. We'll split it evenly, is that fair?"
Alexander sighed. "Very well. Mainly it is my leg and my ribs. I landed on them after I fell."
"Leg and ribs. That sounds tolerable." John wrapped an arm around him, pulling him close and pressing a kiss onto the top of his head. He felt his own ribs groan in protest as he took the pain away into his own body. But he ignored the slight sting to comfort his soulmate.
"What if Gilbert is dead?" asked Alexander quietly.
John shook his head. "No, he cannot be. We would know by now."
Alexander looked up at him. "Do you truly think so?"
"I am sure of it." John ran his hand through Alexander's hair. "If not by a messenger, then in our hearts. We would know if he were gone."
"This is the problem with having two soulmates," Alexander whispered. "I always have to be afraid."
Somehow, John understood completely what he meant. He himself was often afraid. Afraid that one of the two people who had become the most important to him - his soulmates, his best friends, his missing pieces - would fall in battle after taking on a pain too great for him to shoulder. His father had always taught that people with two soulmates were cursed. Perhaps, in some ways, they were.
For one thing, no one knew that they were soulmates. They felt the need to keep it a secret, and thus could not heal each other where other eyes were watching. John was unsure why he told no one else. Would anyone truly mind, if these were the people he had been given? And yet, two soulmates - two male soulmates - were surely not something anyone would accept. They didn't understand. They couldn't understand - they would only see something they perceived as wrong without bothering to listen to any explanation of the truth about how John loved Alexander and Gilbert.
"Is there anything I can to do remedy your fear, Alexander?" asked John gently.
"Yes." Alexander rested his head against John's shoulder. "Hold me."
So John tightened his arms around Alexander and cradled him close.
At that moment the door burst open. John looked over at it, wondering if it was another aide - but it was not. It was Gilbert, wig askew, face smudged with dirt, eyes bloodshot and dim.
"Gil!" Alexander exclaimed.
"Hello, Alexander. Hello, John." Gilbert gave a slight smile. "It is good to see you. No, don't get up - especially not when you look so adorable like that." He walked over and sat down near them. "How are you?"
"Where were you?" asked Alexander, grabbing Gil's arm. "We were so worried."
"I apologize. I was talking to the General about the battle and I sort of fell asleep."
"You slept next to General Washington?" asked John, lifting an eyebrow. "This has been an eventful day.
Alexander and John glanced at each other, then back to their soulmate. "Alright," said John, sitting up. "Something is wrong. Tell us what it is."
"Nothing's wrong," said Gil quickly. "I am tired and a little hurt, but nothing is wrong."
"Something is," said Alexander. "I can tell."
Gilbert looked over at him, some of his usual playfullness appearing in his eyes. "Oh? And how can you tell?"
"Well, let's see." Alexander slid an arm around his waist. "For one thing, you have not tried your French nonsense on either of us."
Gilbert rolled his eyes and kissed Alexander on both cheeks. "There. Better?"
"No, something is still amiss."
"As I said before, how can -"
"Because the spark is missing," Alexander interrupted, and Gil fell silent. "The Gilbert that I know has fire in his eyes. Now that's gone."
Gilbert sighed and rested his hand on his forehead. "Do you expect me to retain a fire after I have killed so many people, Alexander?"
"What do you mean?" asked John.
Gilbert looked up, tears starting in his eyes. "I let Lee have his way. I let him take the command, and look what happened. I could not protect the troops or give them proper orders. I did not see where the British were moving and because of me, we failed." He buried his face in his hands. "I couldn't save them. I tried but it was not enough. Because of me, hundreds are dead!"
"That's not true," said John. "You saved so many."
"No, I didn't!" Gilbert was sobbing now, and though both of them wrapped their arms around him, it seemed little comfort. "I may as well have killed those men myself. I am just as responsible as if I had."
"This is not your fault, Gilbert," murmured Alexander, holding his soulmate closer. "You are entirely blameless in this."
"It is, it's all my fault," the young general wailed. "Everything always is."
John and Alexander both tried to soothe him, to no avail. Eventually they both drained whatever pain was left in him from the battle, but he was still distraught - eventually just curling up in Alexander's arms and crying into the front of his shirt. John noticed that the writer had tears running down his face as well.
Finally Gilbert fell into a fitful sleep. John looked over at Alexander over the top of the Marquis's head.
"Lee is scheduled for a court martial, is he not?" he asked.
Alexander nodded absently as he gently slid off Gil's wig and finger-combed his hair. "I believe so. Why?"
"Because if he isn't - or if he gets off..." John looked down at Gilbert, at the tear tracks still running down his soulmate's face. "If Lee does not pay in full for what he has done," John vowed, "I am going to kill him."
The fate of General Lee was still not determined. Undecided. Unfinished. Tempers were high around camp, especially with the nonsense Lee continued to spout about being unjustly treated, about Washington having made some sort of mistake. Gil was recovered but still unhappy. Washington was either generous or oblivious regarding what the man said about him.
Anger and tension were up in the air... but so were the signs of the coming fall season.
And for the fifth time that evening, John was obliged to reach for a handkerchief to dry his watering eyes. I hate this, I hate it when this happens...
"Are you feeling well?" asked Alexander. "If not, you can go rest and I will -"
"I am fine," said John firmly. He swept his eyes over the troops scattered out before them, drilling under Von Steuben. "The baron requires a translator, and I shall not shirk my duties due to a seasonal illness."
"Allergies," said Alexander, sounding amused. "You have allergies?"
"Yes, perhaps I do. What of it?"
Alexander turned away, smiling. "The great John Laurens, deadly on the battlefield, reduced to a sneezing mess."
"I am not a mess," John protested. "And I am not - am not -"
He sneezed, and Alexander strode ahead, chuckling. John shook his head and chased after his soulmate.
"So what are you going to do?" asked Alexander when John caught up to him. "You cannot very well remain out here."
"I can, and I will," said John firmly. "Then tonight I will go back to our tent, and tomorrow I will go to General Washington for an assignment, as I have always done." He straightened his jacket. "I'll just be sick and hate it as I do all that."
"Oh, you hate being sick?" Alexander teased. "Poor little Jacky, you must be so miserable."
"Would you like a blanket to snuggle up in? A hot bowl of soup?"
Alexander punched John's arm and ran off before he could retaliate. John followed, grinning like a fool. I love him.
The aides arrived to do their work at the same time as they had every day before. Even with things as uncertain and tense as they were now, Washington insisted upon punctuality and adherence to schedule.
Strangely, John felt much better than he had yesterday. He wasn't sure whether or not to attribute that to a good night of sleep; surely that could not cure what was simply a side effect of the season. It was strange, but he wasn't complaining.
"As you can see, gentlemen," General Washington was saying, "the date of the court martial-"
Alexander sneezed suddenly, interrupting. Washington turned cooly to him.
"Would you mind, Colonel Hamilton?"
"I'm sorry, Your Excellency," said Alexander. He glanced over at John and winked. "Allergies."
Gilbert looked up as Alexander limped into their tent in the middle of the night. Right away it was clear that he had somehow hurt his leg. His hair was slick with rain, and he was once again out of breath. Coupled with the fact that his face with flushed and his eyes watered from an obvious cold, he looked a mess. Gilbert also noticed that his cheek seemed to be scraped.
"When you said you had to deliver a message to General Putnam, several days ride from here..." said John dryly.
"I promised Washington I would come back today, and I have done so."
"God give me patience with this man," John mumbled, and turning away, pulled a blanket over his head.
Gilbert climbed off of his cot and walked over to Alexander, who was in the process of removing his soggy coat. "Are you tired, Alexander?" he asked.
"Exhausted," muttered Alexander. He tossed the coat aside, and it splashed onto the back of a chair.
"You must be sore from riding."
"Yes, yes," he said absently, taking his hair out from where it was tied back at the nape of his neck.
"And you have a cold."
"In short, you are in pain."
Alexander's hands froze, and he looked up at Gil. His eyes flashed as he processed this, and then he reached out. "Gilbert, wait -"
"What did I tell you would happen if you pushed yourself too much, Alexander?"
"What's going on?" asked John, sitting up in his bed.
"Gilbert, it doesn't hurt, really, a night's rest and I'll be good as new."
"I shall let a night's rest determine that." He laid his hand on Alexander's cheek softly. "I told you that if you hurt yourself again, I would take the pain from you," he said quietly. "And I still stand by that."
"Wait - hold on a moment," said John. "What did you tell him?"
Gilbert turned towards him, though he kept an arm around Alexander as he spoke. "A while back, you may recall, our Alexander decided to ride through the night to deliver a message."
"Well, I informed him that I would no longer tolerate the way that he disregards his own body, so -"
"Gilbert, please listen to me," said Alexander. "I do not want you to be hurt. I..." He glanced away. "I fell off of my horse, alright?" he said quietly. "I skidded across the gravel road. That's why my face is harmed... and I bruised my arm and leg, as well. Yes, it hurts. Very much." He stepped away, one of his legs dragging a little. "I thought you would both be asleep when I came, or I would have stayed out longer."
"And contracted pneumonia? See, this is the problem we keep having." Gilbert stepped closer to where his soulmate had retreated.
"Rules are rules, Alexander. Now give me your hand."
"Colonel Laurens, sir?" asked the young soldier from the door of John's tent. "There's a letter for you."
"Leave it on the table," said John without looking up. "Who is it from?"
"Alexander Hamilton, sir."
John felt a smile cross his lips unbidden. "Thank you. And you need not call me sir, Jedidiah. I am only a lieutenant-colonel."
John looked over his shoulder at the young boy. Jedidiah was only fifteen years old, but he idolized John and all the other members of Washington's staff. Especially here in the southern campaign, where they were so scarce. He smiled, showing his gapped teeth, and then with a salute, turned and scampered off.
John pushed aside the letter from General Washington and picked up the one from Alexander. Glancing around to confirm that no one else was here - though why would they be? This is my tent - he gently tore the envelope open and set it aside. He unfolded the letter, leaned back in his chair, and read.
"Cold in my professions, warm in my friendships, I wish, my dear Laurens, it might be in my power, by action rather than words, to convince you that I love you."
A broad grin spread across John's face, and he ran his fingertips over those few words from his soulmate. Alexander could always produce that effect from him where so few else could; in less than a sentence, drive all the weariness and worry from his mind replacing it with light. Driving away the shadows in his mind.
"I shall only tell you that 'till you bade us adieu, I hardly knew that value you had taught my heart to set upon you. Indeed my friend, it was not well done."
John couldn't help it - he was laughing. He pressed a hand onto his forehead; read and re-read the lines, let the love in these words wash over him. More, he needed more. He clutched the letter tightly and read on, every word another spark in his heart.
Eventually Alexander's letter turned to matters of business; John's promotion, changing commands, rants against Congress. But then the letter suddenly took on a concerned tone, and John leaned forward. As if Alexander were sitting in front of them and they were having a conversation. He mentioned a Mrs. Moore, and then added, "She speaks of a daughter of yours."
The pages slipped out of John's hand, and he slumped in his chair. So Alexander knew. He couldn't have hidden it forever, could he? But if he knew about Frances, he must know about Martha...
He knew. John bent his head onto his hand.
Alexander knew the dark, shameful secret that John had tried so hard to keep hidden. He knew that John was married.
But he didn't know that they had never been in love, that John had been forced to marry her because he made such an enormous mistake once in his life and has been living the consequences ever since...
No wonder the letter started out sounding so desperate.
John bent down and picked up the sheets of paper again, but his eyes were burning with suppressed tears - the tears he had been pushing down for over three years now. Tears of sorrow and of shame. There was so much pain in him, stored up in his heart and in his cells. Burning him from the inside out. Consuming him. He was a disaster, a wreck of a person locked inside the body of a soldier. When really so many of his battles were hidden. As hard as it was, he had wanted them to remain hidden.
Alexander and Gilbert were both perfect, beautiful people without a care, save for him. He closed his eyes and pressed a hand to his temples, struggling and struggling not to cry. Finally, he swallowed hard, slapped at his eyes, and unfolded the paper again.
He finished the letter and set it aside. The one person he loved more than anything in the world had found out the worst, most humiliating secret about him. Was he worth anything to anyone?
Alexander closed the door to the office and threw his arms around John, hugging him close. "I missed you," he mumbled. "Why didn't you write to me?"
John pulled back, away from his friend's embrace. "I'm sorry."
Alexander blinked, then smiled. "Well no matter, I'm not angry." He took John's bag for him and carried it to the corner of the tent. "How was the South?"
"As it always is. Muggy, hot." John turned towards the desk, where his work for the week lay spread out. "We should start this -"
"And I'm to be denied a proper greeting after your return?" Alexander asked, sounding slightly irked. John sighed, then went over to his soulmate and wrapped his arms around him.
"I'm sorry," he said again.
"That does not explain why you haven't once looked at me."
John shook his head unsure of what to say. Alexander rested a hand on his arm, and they stood there for a moment, before John realized what his soulmate was trying to do and smiled a little. This was one of the many things he loved about Alexander. The way that he cared for John and Gil, sometimes above himself or at his own expense.
"Let me be, Alexander," he said gently. "This pain isn't the kind you can take away."
"Don't you have work to do?"
His soulmate's violet eyes were defiant and filled with hurt as John stared into them. "I don't know what is the matter with you," said Alexander softly. "I assume, though, that you are feeling remorse about my discovery."
John winced. His soulmate could have slapped him.
"I am deeply ashamed of my past," he said quietly. "I had hoped to conceal it from all I met... especially from you and Gilbert."
"Gilbert does not know. You may tell him yourself."
"No, I cannot, don't you see?" John turned around. "I can't tell him. I don't want this - I do not want you, either of you, to look at me differently." He stared at the floor. "I made a horrible mistake, and I have paid so many times over for it, and that is why I did not want you two to know." He shook his head. "I love you, do you not see that?"
"Of course I do," said Alexander. "I understand your pain, John. I see why you would not want us to find out. But if you think I will somehow look at you differently because... because you had one fling years ago, you clearly have a poor understanding of me."
"Perhaps we do not understand each other as well as we both hoped," John replied quietly.
Alexander stared at him for a moment, before turning on his heel and heading towards the door. It opened before he set his hand on the knob, and Gil flew in. His eyes lit up as he saw John. "Cheri, you are home!" The sweet smile faded as he looked between the two and noticed their expressions. "Oh... is something wrong?"
"Nothing," said Alexander curtly. "I just need to go work for a while."
He left, closing the door softly behind him.
Two Years Later
"So, I hear you somehow got malaria?" asked Alexander.
Gilbert groaned and flopped down onto the grass. "Unfortunately."
They were lying outside at the crest of a small hill, away from the rest of the camp. Years had passed since the first time they had first learned they were soulmates... all that time ago when Gilbert had woken up without any pain and realized that they had taken it. He smiled now at the memory, which brought a smile to Alexander's face as well. They'd all been separated for a while completing their missions. Now, on the edge of what General Washington thought would be the end of the war, they were finally together again. And both of his soulmates were here, as they had not both been for quite some time.
Of course everything had not been perfect. There had been pain, and sometimes disagreements (they'd all had spats sometimes, but they got over them quickly), and naturally there had been the separations.
The most recent had been the hardest. Gilbert had been counting down the days until they would all be together again.
"I missed you," he said quietly.
Alexander grinned and leaned back, his hands behind his head, and stared up into the sky. "I missed you, as well." He glanced over at their other soulmate. "And you, John."
"I certainly hope you missed me," John said, amused. He looked back over at Gilbert. "One of the soldier told me that you were hurt as you marched to this site.
Gilbert sighed. "Yes, a bit. It was a hard crossing for all of us. I'm worn out." He closed his eyes. A moment later, he felt John's arms wrap around him and pull him up from where he had been lying down, drawing him close. Gilbert giggled as John buried his face in his shoulder. Alexander came over and embraced them both as well.
"So, are you still in pain, Gil?" mumbled Alexander.
"A little bit."
"Ah, only a little bit." John kissed his cheek. "You have malaria, Gil. There's no way this is tolerable to you."
Gilbert turned to look at him. "Very well, a lot of pain, then. What is it to you?"
"Hmm." John looked over at Alexander. "What is it to us, Alexander?"
"Perhaps we should do something about this," the writer suggested. "After all, it's been quite some time since we had the chance to heal him."
"Oh no." Gilbert tried to wriggle away from their arms. "No, I do not need you to take this on. It's too much for one of you to have to bear."
"Then why should you bear it?" murmured Alexander.
"And besides," added John, "one of us will not bear it. You are lucky enough to have two soulmates."
Gilbert sighed and leaned back in their arms. "That I am. So..." They both watched him expectantly. With a sigh, he surrendered . "Very well, since you insist, you can take it."
John smiled, satisfied, as did Alexander. Gilbert smiled as well.
"I love both of you," he mumbled. "So much. You know that, right?"
"Of course we know, Gil," Alexander said gently. "Now close your eyes, and let us take it away."