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2020

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Alexander squirmed with discomfort. In all the years he and Washington had spent working together, he’d never once had to endure this.

The stern glint of anger in his eyes would have made a lesser man tremble, but it was the brow creased with disappointment that unsettled Alexander the most. He knew he could be frustrating, but this was something new. Washington had called him on one of his precious few days off, insisting he come to his hotel suite immediately. It was not impossible that something had happened requiring his immediate attention: election campaigns were tricky things at the best of times, let alone in the modern era. But given how sternly Washington had ordered him to to take the day off and visit his friends and family in the first place - it was not something he would have done lightly.

Alexander had rushed to the hotel Washington was staying in, frantically checking social media and news websites for some sign of whatever disaster had occurred. Finding nothing had almost been worse than accusatory headlines. At least with a front-page scandal, he would have known what to expect walking into the building. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but one thing was certain: this was worse. For the first time in his life, Alexander had the full force of Washington’s disapproval focused on him. He felt a bead of sweat form on his forehead.

“Son. Why didn’t you tell me?”

The question put Alexander off-guard. He watched with wary eyes as Washington dropped himself into his seat across the desk from Hamilton. The anger in his expression faded, but the disappointment and betrayal that was left stung far, far worse than words ever could have. Alexander couldn’t help but try and defend himself.

“Sir, I don’t know what you heard, but - “

He cut his words as Washington held up a hand to stop him. Without a word, he pushed a file across the desk to Alexander. It was closed, but Alexander could see his own name on the file. Fingers shaking a little, he opened the document. The formal logo of the Department of Immigration immediately jumped out at him. A frown tugged at the corners of Alexander’s lips, and his brow pulled together in confusion as he read. He read the document three times before looking back up.

“What is this?” Alexander asked, and winced at the tone of his own voice. He hadn’t meant to sound so defensive, but the waver of fear in his voice was almost worse. He swallowed, his tongue feeling thick and heavy in his throat. “Why does it - sir, I’m a citizen! I swear.”

Something in Washington’s expression softened. “You didn’t know.”

“I filled in the forms!” Alexander protested, gesturing with one hand. “All of them! I sent them off to the Department the same day you offered me a job.”

“And the response?”

Alexander was quiet for a moment, struggling to remember. His expression fell. “We were so busy. I was moving out of college, and - so much mail got misplaced, I thought... shit.”

Washington leaned forward, reaching across the desk and placing one large hand on Alexander’s shoulder. “Son -”

“I’m not your son,” Alexander spat. It was an old, tired argument. “If I was, I wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“No,” Washington admitted. “You wouldn’t. Unfortunately, as a twenty-seven year old man, adoption is not a potential solution to our problem. But there will be a solution.”

Alexander nodded dumbly. He looked back down at the formal document resting in his hands, still not quite believing what he was seeing. He wasn't a US citizen. How he’d managed to survive nearly a decade without realizing was beyond him. It was a miracle he hadn’t been deported. The last four years in particular had not been kind to immigrants - they had seen unprecedented hostility towards anyone born on foreign soil. Citizenship restrictions had tightened so much as to be almost impossible to meet. Thanks in part to Washington’s offer of employment, Alexander had been eligible for citizenship when his student visa had expired upon graduation. He’d sent off the application and assumed everything had been handled.

He would not be eligible now.

The realization hit him hard. The new regulations on immigration enacted over the course of the current administration would affect him. Mere evidence of employment would not be enough to earn his citizenship now. The citizenship test itself would be no challenge; Alexander delighted in the intricacies of civics, had near encyclopedic knowledge of political history and could recount details of the revolutionary war as though he’d been there. The proof of patriotism would be a little harder. Alexander’s public social media accounts were filled with criticism of the current administration. If the wrong immigration agent was tasked with examining it, it could be the end for him. Never mind that he was tipped to be the next Secretary of the Treasury, he -

His heart sank further. Oh. “The campaign -”

“The campaign will continue. But I cannot be seen to help you with this. You have to fix it before anyone else finds out.”

Alexander nodded slowly. Of course. The Washington Campaign had, to date, been the most successful presidential campaign in US history. Washington would not throw that away for Hamilton. It was a testament to how close their relationship was that Alexander was even being given a chance. A more prudent course of action would have been to loudly and publicly condemn Alexander, withdrawing all support and demanding his immediate deportation. Alexander himself would have done that to nearly anyone he knew without hesitation. As grateful as he was, the burden sat heavy on his shoulders.

“I won’t let you down.”

He could only hope he was telling the truth. Washington pressed himself to his feet, walking around the large desk and coming to stand behind Alexander. He d put one large hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently.

“You never have.”

The pride and affection in Washington’s voice was even harder to bear than the praise itself. Alexander pulled away and started sorting through the piles of paper on Washington’s desk. Just as he had suspected, the stacks of paper consisted of immigration law and legal matter from pertinent cases. Without a word, Alexander pulled up a chair and hunched over the desk, grabbing a file that looked useful and immediately scanning it for details. He heard a soft sigh followed by footsteps as Washington walked around the desk and took his seat once more. He, too, picked up one of the files on immigration and started to read.

The light streaming in through the window passed from the mellow light of day to the bright flashes of streetlights and neon signs at night. They rarely spoke. The pair had spent many days and nights working like this on less personal issues, and by now they had their routine down to an art form. It was not until they had read nearly two thirds of the documents that Alexander let out a huff of frustration. He dropped his papers and let his forehead hit the desk with a sharp thud.

“There’s no other option. I’m going to have to get married.”

The slightly prolonged exhale was enough to tell Alexander that Washington had rolled his eyes (a rare indulgence, and one he often desired).

“Don’t be ridiculous, son. You’re not going to have to get married.”

It took a few minutes for Alexander to gather his spirits and return to the paperwork, but he did so with renewed hope. Washington had steered them through much worse situations than this. If he said there would be a solution, then Alexander trusted there would be a solution. The hours slipped past, and it wasn’t until they were nearly out of papers that Washington sighed and rubbed at his forehead in frustration.

“Alexander. You have to get married.”

Alexander groaned. He tilted his chair back onto the two rear legs and let his head hang backwards so he could stare at the ceiling. “I fucking knew it.”

********
He left the hotel in the early hours of the morning and and flagged down a cab. At this hour, the traffic was scarce, making the drive to his Harlem apartment blissfully quick. The first light of dawn filtered through the blinds, which Alexander quickly shut. He barely remembered to toe off his shoes before collapsing face-first onto his bed and falling fast asleep. The pale morning sunlight had changed to the warm orange glow of the afternoon by the time he woke with a crick in his neck. Alexander groaned and stretched before forcing himself to sit up. He spent a few minutes sitting staring at his phone, considering his options, before firing off a quick text to Angelica. If he had to get married, the Schuyler sisters would surely be his best bet. Plans fell into place quickly. He would meet Angelica in a bar in the lower east side, and if he had any luck he would be married by this time tomorrow.

Ugh. He shuddered at the very thought and stumbled through to the shower. He tripped more than once on his way there over stray shoes and books that had been abandoned on the ground. Months ago he could have navigated the chaos blindfolded, but months on the campaign trail with Washington had eroded the muscle memory. The bathroom was no cleaner than it had been when he had left it, so he kept his shower as quick as possible. The rest of the afternoon was spent in uncharacteristically quiet reflection. Perhaps if he’d been more organized... he frowned at the very thought. No. Blaming his past self would do no good. Still, knowing that didn’t calm the itch in the back of his mind, and he found himself tidying and cleaning the apartment until it was spotless.

He caught sight of himself in the mirror and couldn’t hold back a disdainful snort of laughter. His apartment was spotless and he’d deliberately picked out a shirt he knew Angelica approved of for the evening.

“You’re being ridiculous,” Alexander told his reflection sternly. “You’re getting engaged, not getting laid.”

The thought was not an appealing one. The campaign had been a long dry spell - Washington had specifically asked him to keep his affairs quiet, discreet and ideally non-existent. He might have been offended that none of his colleagues had been asked the same, but (as John had pointed out when he tried to complain) he had earned something of a reputation. The last thing they needed was one of Alexander’s scandals destroying the campaign.

Well. That had been the plan, at least.

Alexander felt a tight coil of anxiety building in his gut. Their plan was risky at best. The stakes were high and the probability of success was vanishingly low. The thought hung over him as he went to the local cafe and still as he boarded the train downtown.

A warm breeze blew through the city even as the sun started to set between the skyscrapers. Even the street was a relief after choking on the heavy subway heat, although Alexander could still feel the heat radiating from the concrete.

The rooftop bar he had chosen was as crowded as he had hoped. If the hum and chatter of the crowd did not disguise his conversation, the music blasting from the speakers would. This was far more private than a more discreet venue, possibly even more private than Alexander’s apartment would have been. The table Angelica had found was perfect - in the corner, surrounded by plants and not too much light. It was as private as he could hope for.

But first - alcohol. He ordered a bottle of wine to start off with, as well as a shot of tequila. He took the shot quickly, grimaced, and then took the bottle and two glasses over to Angelica. She had an eyebrow raised and her arms crossed over her chest.

“What was that about?”

“Angelica. You’re looking radiant this evening.”

“And you’re avoiding something,” Angelica said, watching as he carefully set out the glasses. “Out with it.”

Alexander winced, squirming in his seat before leaning forward a little, reaching for her hand. “Marry me. Please.”

Angelica’s eyes hardened. Her chair scraped across the floor as she got to her feet and turned from the table. Desperate, Alexander reached out and grasped her arm.

“I’ve made a mistake, but not the one you think. Just listen. Please.”

“You have two minutes to explain yourself,” Angelica allowed. Alexander shifted his weight uncomfortably, feeling naked under the weight of her gaze. He spoke quickly, but left no detail out. Two minutes turned into ten, then twenty. The bottle of wine on the table grew steadily less and less full. When he finally finished, Angelica simply stared at him, thinking it over.

“I want to help. But I can’t. My girlfriend wouldn’t understand, and my divorce is still being processed.”

Alexander slumped in his chair. “I’m ruined.”

“Nonsense. Don’t try to tell me you didn’t have a back-up plan.”

“Well... I did have a list...” Alexander admitted sheepishly. Angelica gave him an encouraging nod, so he pulled out his phone and opened his writing app. Even from across the table, Angelica could see the list was long. She sighed and shook her head before getting to her feet. Alexander didn’t even notice her go, too busy chewing on his thumbnail and frowning at the list. He started when she returned with a bottle of tequila and two shot glasses.

“Something tells me we’re going to need this. If you get rejected, take a shot. At least then your standards will be lowered by the time you need to ask your boss for help.”

Alexander shuddered at the very idea. The last thing he wanted was Washington trying to matchmake for him. With any luck, he’d get alcohol poisoning before they got that far.

“It’s not going to come to that. I’ll call Eliza, she - “

The anger in Angelica’s expression was enough to make even Alexander cut himself short. She held up a hand and took a shot before warning,

“If you suggest marrying me or any of my family again, you’ll wish you’d taken your chances with the Immigration Department. Do you really think you’d stand a chance with Eliza after what you did?”

Alexander took the shot. The liquor burned on its way down, but it was easier than trying to look Angelica in the eyes. Thank God Peggy wasn’t near the top of the list, or else he suspected Angelica may well have murdered him. An awkward silence settled over the table as Alexander tried to figure out if he should apologize before continuing. Before he could make up his mind, Angelica made an impatient noise and gestured for him to get a move on.
Alexander perked up when he saw the next name on the list.

“John! Of course! We can get married as soon as he gets back,” Alexander said happily. It seemed so obvious now he said it. John should have been his very first thought. The two of them had been near inseparable since they met in college. Even Angelica’s long-suffering sigh couldn’t kill Alexander’s good cheer.

“Gets back from where?”

“He’s in the Dominican Republic, didn’t he tell you?” Alexander replied. That didn’t seem to satisfy Angelica, so he continued. “He’s on his honeymoon. He says his - oh, shit.”

“‘Oh, shit’ indeed,” Angelica said dryly, shaking her head. “You have got to be the worst best man I’ve ever seen. The wedding was barely a week ago. You cried giving the best man’s speech.”

“You were crying too!”

They’d both been crying, as a matter of fact. Most people had been. John had never looked happier, and Alexander hadn’t missed the way his new husband had been unable to take his eyes off John for even a second. Alexander wasn’t sure if he’d ever seen a more thoroughly besotted couple.

The scrape of glass against wood alerted him to his next shot being pushed across the table. He took it quickly and tried hard not to think about what a dreadful situation he appeared to be in.

Hercules came next, and was the topic of debate for the next few minutes. It was a difficult decision, but in the end they had to sadly reject the idea. Whether or not he would have agreed was a mystery, but no one would have believed them. If Hercules’ already precarious position as a political spy had not interfered, his public mooning over the French ambassador would have done it.

“What about Maria?” Alexander asked. “It’s complicated, but -”

“Eliza would never forgive you.”

From the warning note in Angelica’s voice, it was clear Eliza wouldn’t be the only one. That at least was unsurprising. It was well known that anyone who ended up on Eliza’s bad side also wound up with Angelica’s disapproval. Nevertheless, Alexander felt he was being hard done by and protested.

“Eliza broke up with me. I don’t see why she should get to decide if I can get married.”

“Alexander, don’t be so full of yourself. Eliza won’t give a damn you’re getting married. But she will be mad if you propose to her girlfriend.”

Alexander gaped. “You mean - Maria? And Eliza?”

Angelica nodded, looking almost smug. There were a million things Alexander wanted to say to that, mostly complaints or questions. Knowing better than to push Angelica further on this, he swallowed them all and put the matter out of is mind as he took his shot. This could be investigated when he was safe from the looming spectre of deportation hanging over him.

Next came Lafayette, which was enough for Angelica to threaten to leave Alexander to deal with the problem on his own. He had to concede she was not entirely unjustified. There were any number of reasons Lafayette may have been a bad choice - his political position, his existing relationships - but by far the most obvious one was inescapable: he was French. Marrying a French citizen would not get Alexander one bit closer to his goal.

The list continued with failure after failure until finally Alexander slumped against the table and made a low groan of frustration.

“I’m ruined,” Alexander said morosely. “No one will marry me.”

Angelica patted him on the head, although Alexander couldn’t tell if it was a gesture of sympathy or an impatient prompt for him to get up off the table. He decided to treat it as the latter.

“It’s no use. Who do I even go to next? Jefferson? Adams?”

Movement behind Angelica caught his eye. A man in dark clothing weaved through the crowd effortlessly with a smile so genuine it took Alexander a moment to recognize him.

“Burr?”

“Aaron Burr? I suppose he’s more tolerable than Jefferson, but something tells me you wouldn’t get very far,” Angelica said in a dry tone.

Alexander shook his head, still staring at Burr. He had taken a seat on the other side of the bar, sitting opposite another man who looked vaguely familiar. Whoever he was, the two of them seemed to be close. He could count the number of times he’d seen Burr so relaxed on one hand. Relaxation suited him. Alexander watched the two of them converse for a few minutes before the stranger pulled a face, gestured to his phone and got to his feet. He rushed past Alexander to leave, and Alexander made a snap decision. Once the stranger was gone, he took his shot and crossed the crowded bar so that he could take the seat opposite Burr.

“Do you come here often?”

“Hamilton. I didn’t expect to run into you tonight. I apologize for not yet replying to your last email - I have not yet had the opportunity to read it in it’s entirety.”

“Email? Forget it,” Alexander told him. “But I need a favour.”

“Of course.”

“Marry me.”

A long silence stretched out between them. Not for the first time, Alexander cursed Burr’s ability to be completely inscrutable. Burr was smiling, but that said nothing. It was very rare for him not to have a polite smile on his face. Alexander prided himself on being one of the few people who could unsettle the man enough to provoke a reaction. This time, he was sorely disappointed. As time passed, Alexander realized he wasn’t going to get so much as a raised eyebrow out of him without more information. Desperate, he leaned across the table and clasped his hands together in supplication.

“Please,” Alexander croaked, his voice cracking. He cursed his complete inability to hide his fear, especially compared to Burr’s unfailing calm. “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”

That earned him a small sigh, and Burr took a sip of his beer. “Hamilton. You’re drunk.”

“No! Well, yes, but you don’t understand. I need to get married. Need, Burr. The Schuyler’s can’t and John can’t and Herc can’t and -”

“I get the picture,” Burr said, holding up a hand to cut Alexander off. “I don’t need you to list every one of your acquaintances.”

“Please, Burr. This is serious, I swear, it’s not - “ (Alexander hiccuped before continuing) “ - it’s not whatever you think it is. Please. I’ll be a good husband.”

Burr shook his head, and Alexander’s heart dropped. He watched Burr drain his beer before speaking in his usual steady, deliberate manner, apparently unmoved by Alexander’s pleas. “No. Whatever hare-brained scheme this is, I want no part of it.”

“Just let me explain myself.”

There was a long pause, before Burr said: “Very well. If you are so committed to this idea, you can attempt to explain yourself in the morning.”

Alexander beamed at him. “You won’t regret this.”

“I already do,” Burr replied, his smile widening a little. Alexander decided to take the expression at face value and count it as a victory. To celebrate, he swaggered up to the bar and purchased them each a pint. While he was kept occupied at the bar, the stranger from before had returned to his seat. Alexander took a deep breath, adjusting his hair before walking back over to Burr. He put the beer in front of Burr and put his hand on Burr’s shoulder.

“So,” he purred, leaning in close. “If we are to discuss our union in the morning, I’m going to need your number.”

“You already have my number, Hamilton. Now if you will excuse me, Jon and I have places to be.”

“We do?” the stranger - Jon - asked, but Burr had already started shepherding him out the door. He didn’t look back once as he exited, making Alexander’s show of pouting and sulking go entirely unappreciated. After a few moments, he heard Angelica approaching. She patted Alexander on the shoulder gently and said,

“If it makes you feel any better, that’s not the worst flirting I’ve seen from you.”

“It doesn’t. And I wasn’t flirting,” Alexander grumbled. He reached for the beer he had bought for Burr, but Angelica reached over and pushed it out of his reach.

“Of course you weren’t. Come on, Romeo. Get some sleep, and we can find you your Juliet tomorrow.”

Alexander groaned. The trip home passed in something of a blur, with only vague memories of sitting in a cab as they sped past central park towards his apartment. The next thing he knew he was home, with all the luxuries of a place that had been abandoned for months on end.

The next morning, Alexander woke up to two missed calls, five messages and a blinding headache. It was going to be a long day.

Chapter Text

It was a little after eleven when Alexander showed up on Burr’s doorstep. He’d sent Alexander a message earlier that morning enquiring after his health and why he had seemed so desperate the night before. After nearly an hour of staring at the text over a mug of coffee, Alexander had decided his only option was to tell the truth. Burr was many things, but a fool wasn’t one of them. With any luck, he’d keep his mouth shut. So Burr had sent him his address and Alexander had made his way down to one of the nicer streets in Chelsea.

Burr answered the door in neatly pressed slacks and a button-down shirt with sleeves rolled up in deference to the heat. If Alexander hadn’t known, he never would have guessed he’d been out drinking the night before. It was more than could be said for Alexander: the dark bags under his eyes were even deeper than usual, and he’d congratulated himself for being able to find a clean tshirt in his apartment. But despite Alexander looking closer to a zombie than a human, Burr had invited him in with a smile and made coffee.

The silence that followed was surprisingly comfortable. Silence normally sat uncomfortably with Alexander, but for once he found it a relief to have a few extra moments of dignity.

Burr’s apartment was larger than Alexander had expected. It sprawled over the entire floor, and Alexander could swear he saw the bottom of a staircase peeking out from behind a half-open door. The other three doors in the apartment were shut tight, although Alexander couldn’t imagine what was behind them. Aside from a bedroom and a bathroom, what else could Burr possibly need? The main room comprised both living and dining areas in a large, open space, filled with warm golden sun spilling in through the skylight.

The more Alexander looked, the more he found himself forced to revise his mental picture of Burr. His apartment was nothing like Alexander might have imagined for him. It was far too homey, for one: instead of sleek modern furniture or classy vintage pieces, the furniture appeared to be chosen for maximum comfort. The fabric on the overstuffed sofas was worn in places and clashed with the brightly patterned cushions and blankets scattered over them. Despite the way they looked, Alexander suspected if he sat down he’d be too comfortable to ever get up again. A keyboard was tucked away in one corner, and though he hadn’t known Burr had any musical talent, Alexander still found room to be surprised he deigned to play anything less than a grand piano. But then, the room was full of surprises.

The decor made no more sense to Alexander than the furniture. The large astronomy book on the coffee table was perhaps in character for Burr, but he wouldn’t have picked Burr as the kind of person to have a wonky ceramic vase with fresh flowers to go right beside it. He certainly wouldn’t have expected fairy lights to be draped around the room. Rather than explain himself, Alexander asked about the incongruities when Burr handed him his coffee.

“The lights grow on you. I put them up for Christmas; when January came, Theo begged me not to take them down.”

The last part was delivered with a small shrug, as if to ask ‘what can you do?’

Alexander’s mouth hung open a little as he processed that. Theo. Right. He snapped his jaw shut a little too hard, bit his tongue, and winced. “I forgot you were a father.”

“I thought you might have,” Burr said. Was that laughter in his voice? He looked up, stared Burr down - and yes, well concealed as it was, there was definitely amusement there. Burr was laughing at him. “I have to say, I’ve received more romantic proposals.”

“Fuck,” Alexander groaned, letting his forehead rest in his hands. He was quiet for a moment before managing to say, “I stand by it, though.”

“Stand by what?”

“The proposal.” Alexander swallowed heavily and looked up at Burr. “I don’t have a choice. I need this. I can’t go back, this is my home, this is my life. If they come for me, I’ll, I’ll -”

“Slow down, Hamilton.”

The tightness in Alexander’s chest eased a little at that. He exhaled slowly and unclenched the tight fists he had balled his hands into. Burr was right. This level of anxiety wasn’t helping. He watched as Aaron walked around the bench and took the seat next to Alexander.

“Start from the beginning.”

So he did.

It was a lot less painful than he had expected. Whatever else Alexander may have thought of Burr, he couldn’t deny the other man was a good listener. He ended up sharing far, far more than he intended. Alexander found himself telling Burr about the student visa he’d originally earned, how proud he’d been to make it out of the tiny island he’d grown up on. When he’d graduated, he’d filled out the forms for citizenship the day he was eligible. With Washington’s support and guarantee of employment, he’d had no reason to suspect anything could go wrong. A week after sending off the forms, he moved from his dorm to the apartment he still rented. Little did he know that that his forms had been misplaced at the Department of Immigration and Border Control. The confirmation letter that he had assumed was lost in the mail was never sent, and his application file had remained open and ignored until Washington had uncovered it.

When he finished, they sat in silence for a minute. Alexander did his best not to squirm in his seat, and he kept glancing over at Burr to try and figure out what he was thinking. He was as unreadable as always, of course. It was one of the things Alexander hated most about Burr - he could never understand or predict what he was thinking. The fact that Alexander was here at all showed some promise, but it was no guarantee. Burr could just as well be plotting to call Kleinhande's hotline for undocumented immigrants.

It wasn’t until Burr had finished his tea and carefully set down his mug that he spoke. “Theodosia comes first. Always.”

Alexander’s heart sank. He shouldn’t be so disappointed, or so he told himself. It had been a long shot, and it had been foolish to get his hopes up. After all, they didn’t exactly see eye to eye. He nodded a little, eyes downcast, and that earned him a small smile.

“Hamilton, don’t look so miserable. You must have known I would have conditions.”

“Conditions? You’re - oh my God. You’re not rejecting me?”

“Not yet,” Burr said, shaking his head. “I am open to negotiation.”

“What do you want?” Alexander asked, his eyes narrowing. As desperate as his situation was, he didn’t want to be taken advantage of. He couldn’t expose the campaign to any more scandal than he already had. His mind raced as he tried to wonder what Burr could be after. Money? Surely it’s couldn’t be something as simple as that: the trust fund Burr’s parents had left him was famously immense. Certainly he didn’t look like he was hurting for money. Political connection? Power? Both plausible, but both were a gamble. If Washington lost the election, Burr would be far better off if he stayed away from Hamilton. As far as Alexander was concerned, Burr wasn’t the type to be either convinced or brave enough to take such a risk.

“As I said, Theodosia must come first. If she needs me, I will go to her. She’s already having to grow up without her mother; I’m not going to make her grow up without her father, too.”

“That can’t be all,” Alexander said suspiciously. “You’re a smart man, Burr, you wouldn’t drop everything to help me if you didn’t see some advantage in it.”

“I’m not allowed to be altruistic?” Burr asked.

“You’re about as altruistic as President Kleinhande.”

Silence followed. It grew awkward quickly, and Alexander fretted that he may have just destroyed the one chance he had at marriage. As insults went, comparing someone to the incumbent president was cruel. But the smile on Burr’s face didn’t disappear, and Alexander let himself begin to breathe again.

“Since you are so concerned with my motives, let me assure you that you have nothing to fear. I want to leave my daughter a world worth living in. I believe Washington is the best route to that - so long as your scandals do not sink the entire campaign. .”

Alexander stared at him. “That’s an opinion.” He thought for a few moments, before adding: “That’s a strong opinion.”

“I never said I didn’t have opinions.”

“Bullshit, you told me to calm down and respect my opposition at the debating contest in college even though my opponent was a fucking nazi.”

“You told him to meet you in the parking lot out back of the hotel at 3 AM.”

“Actually, I think you’ll find I told him to stop wasting the oxygen in the room by breathing and that I was happy to help him with that if he showed up in the parking lot at 3 AM. Which he didn’t. Coward.”

Burr sighed, shaking his head a little. He may have only been talking to Hamilton for a few minutes, but he seemed as exhausted as if they had been bickering for hours. “Hamilton, he didn’t show up because I sent him and his friends to the wrong car park. And before you say whatever it is you’re thinking, remember what you’re asking of me.”

Alexander had taken a deep breath and opened his mouth to begin complaining Burr had ruined his fun, but shut his jaw with an audible click of his teeth at the reminder of what was at stake. However angry he was about the situation, he needed this. He needed Burr to say yes. The thought was enough to stop him from arguing, but not enough to stop him from sulking. “You never want me to have any fun.”

“No. Especially not if I am to associate my family with you. It’s one thing to take risks with your own safety: it is another entirely if you would paint a target on our backs. I am aware there is some inherent risk, but you must promise me not to aggravate your enemies further.”

“Boring,” Alexander sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. Burr raised an eyebrow, so he added quickly, “I’ll do it! No picking fights that aren’t necessary.”

“Necessary by my standards, or yours?”

Alexander pulled a face and stuck his tongue out childishly. This was sounding less and less appealing by the minute. “What else?”

“Nothing that is not obvious. We shall both have to abstain from romantic pursuits for the duration of the marriage, and we must at least attempt to maintain an amiable relationship. And...” Burr stopped, taking a moment to mull over his choice of words before speaking. Nothing in his face gave away his thought process, no matter how closely Alexander watched. It was enough to make Alexander chew at his nails in frustration and tense anxiety. Even for someone as careful and measured at Burr, this seemed to be something that required extra thought.

“And?”

“Theodosia is too young to understand the urgency of the situation. It may be best if she believes our bond to be genuine.”

“So?”

In a rare moment of open emotion, Burr grimaced and pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. “You will need to be a good step-father. If you hurt her, deportation will be the least of your worries.”

“I’m doomed,” Alexander declared, slumping over the counter and resting his forehead on his arms. “Doomed, Burr. I’ll fuck up and you’ll lure me out in the middle of the night and shoot me.”

“It’s a possibility. But I will not compromise on my daughter’s happiness and safety.”

A grunt was the most Alexander could manage in response to that. There was too much to say, and he didn’t even know where to begin. He had no choice. Burr could have asked him for very nearly anything at this point, and Alexander would have had no choice but to agree. And yet, a part of Alexander couldn’t deny that Burr at least appeared to be to be downright charitable with his terms. Even Alexander couldn’t fault the man for worrying about his daughter. It was a ruse, Alexander was sure, but it was one he would have to deal with later. He lifted his head up and muttered,

“I suppose I would be the same if things hadn’t gone to shit back in - how old is your kid again?”

“Seven. And she has a name.” A pause, then: “I was sorry to hear what happened. I can’t imagine how awful it must have been.”

Alexander let out a bitter laugh, running his hand over his face. “Sorry. Yeah. So was I. Eliza never forgave me for not getting to the hospital in time. I’m surprised she still talks to me at all, sometimes, so, I guess ‘Eliza Hamilton’ sounds more like a bad joke than a possibility these days.”

Silence. Alexander couldn’t really blame Burr for that. What could he even say? Everyone (Alexander included) knew exactly how badly he’d behaved by betraying Eliza’s trust not once, but twice, in two separate ways. It was hardly surprising Eliza had broken their engagement. It was a miracle the Schuylers would speak to him at all.

“She’s doing better now. I run into her sometimes, at work, and we have some mutual friends.”

It took a moment for Alexander’s brain to catch up with the shift in conversation. Seeing Alexander baffled, Burr clarified: “Occasionally I take on cases involving traumatised children. Eliza is undoubtedly the best child psychologist in the city.”

“So you’re back to being a lawyer,” Alexander said. Anxiety started clawing at the inside of his chest, creeping up his throat. For all he and Burr talked often enough, he was beginning to realize he knew virtually nothing about him. Despite that, here they were, discussing marriage.

“Only for the past three years,” Burr said dryly. “As soon as Theo was old enough for kindergarten, I started taking what work I could get.”

“Right,” Alexander nodded. He squirmed in his seat, tucking both his hands into his pockets. “Y’know, if we’re going to marry, that’s the kind of thing I should know. Especially if we want this to fool anyone we know.”

“Is anyone to know the truth?”

“Washington, of course. We’ll have to talk to him before we tie the knot. Tallmadge, probably. Creepy fucker knows everything.”

Burr nodded, and proposed some exceptions on his own side, but Alexander refused on the grounds it was too risky. It took nearly an hour for them to reach an agreement. The rest of the day vanished into similar debate surrounding the terms of their engagement. Burr’s standards were frustratingly high: he refused to agree to anything which may damage his reputation, and when he was willing to negotiate, Alexander paid a high price. He would have been impressed, if he had not been the one on the receiving end of it.

Lunch came and went. Despite the high-stakes negotiations, Alexander found himself enjoying the discussions. Burr had always been one of his preferred partners for verbal sparring matches, in part because he was one of the few who could keep up with Alexander. His patient and steady manner was infuriating, but on the rare occasion Alexander could goad him into taking a firm position, he always expressed himself eloquently. Though complete opposites, he and Burr were equally matched in debate.

By late afternoon, they had reached an agreement. Burr had carefully written up the terms of their contract in what looked to be nothing more than an ordinary prenuptial agreement. Their marriage still required a great deal of faith on either side: there was no question of committing their real motivations to paper. But it was a sensible precaution, and one Burr insisted on. There had, in fact, been a great deal he insisted on, likely the reason he had wanted the agreement written down.

Once agreement had been reached, all that was left was the formal process. To Alexander’s dismay, the state of New York required a couple to register for a marriage licence a full day before they could be wed. The two of them shared another cup of coffee as they huddled over Burr’s tablet and filled in the marriage licence form online. It was a long and tedious process, and Alexander complained at nearly every step. Burr was, as usual, silent on the matter. Without vocal disagreement, Alexander took his silence as tacit approval. It was dark by the time the forms were completed, and Alexander left the apartment with a spring in his step.

**********

They met the next morning in a small cafe near Washington’s hotel. Burr was already waiting for Alexander when he arrived, seated quietly in the corner with a small leather journal. He greeted Alexander with a smile, but he was quiet as he followed Alexander across the road and into the lobby of the hotel. Security was tight: they passed through three separate checkpoints before even being allowed into the elevator.

“Is there anything to be aware of, prior to meeting Washington?”

Alexander considered the question for a moment. “Don’t get on his bad side.”

Burr didn’t dignify the response with even a sarcastic thanks. He said nothing more until he and Alexander were escorted into Washington’s temporary office. Alexander thought he saw Burr’s eyes widen a little bit, but he couldn’t be sure. The strictly organized madness of Washington’s central command no longer brought any awe to Alexander. He had been in the middle of it too many times in too many cities for it to seem anything other than almost comforting. The papers burdening Washington’s desk were organized according to both category and urgency. There was Tallmadge and his hand-picked team lurking in the corner as always, providing security. Washington himself was standing by the window.

“Alexander. I understand you have found a solution to your problem.”

Alexander nodded. “May I present to you Aaron Burr, sir.”

“Sir,” Burr said, standing at attention. “May I say, sir, I have been following your campaign with interest. I admire how you have maintained - “

“Why are you doing this?”

For a moment, Burr floundered. He clearly hadn’t been anticipating Washington interrupting him so quickly. “I was under the impression Alexander had discussed the situation with you, sir.”

“I’m not talking about Alexander’s motivations. I’m talking about yours.”

Washington crossed the room, walking over to stand across from Burr. Anxious, Alexander found himself worrying his lip and shifting his weight from foot to foot. He couldn’t deny sharing Washington’s concerns, but Alexander wondered if Washington realized just how dire his situation was. He couldn’t afford to be aggravating Burr.

Again, Burr took a moment to consider his options before replying. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean, sir.”

“You have a lot to lose. Reputation, finances, a family.”

“Yes. Alexander and I have discussed the risks. It’s part of the reason I insisted on such a strict prenuptial agreement.”

“You are a risk.”

“I’m a risk you have to take. I’m Hamilton’s best chance,” Burr said steadily. “We have long established correspondence, and I am not currently engaged in any romantic partnership. It would not be difficult to claim we had been involved for some months.”

“The girl may help here.”

Alexander jumped when Tallmadge spoke. He had forgotten he was even there, as most people did. Despite knowing it was Tallmadge’s job to be as forgettable as possible, something about his ability to fade away had always unnerved Alexander. It seemed he got under Burr’s skin, too: the smile on his face became strained, and when he spoke, his tone was hard.

“I would greatly appreciate it if you would speak less callously of my daughter. I don’t appreciate her being treated as a political pawn..”

“And I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t scare my fiance away,” Alexander piped up. He’d done his best to keep quiet until now, but if Burr had made one thing clear to him it was that Theodosia was his limit. The last thing he needed was for Tallmadge to cross that line and alienate Alexander’s best chance at getting out of this mess.

Washington held up a hand, effectively silencing all three of them. “I am sure Benjamin was proposing nothing so concerning: merely observing that your daughter Theodosia provides a convenient explanation as to why you have not been prominent in the public eye previously.”

“That, and my own reputation,” Burr conceded. “Those who know me well enough to question this facade can be trusted not to speculate in public; most of my acquaintances will not find it at all surprising that I kept my private business private.”

As Burr spoke, Washington made eye contact with Alexander. In response to the unvoiced question, Alexander gave a tiny nod.

“Then there may be hope for Alexander yet,” Washington said. “Welcome to the campaign.”

“It’s a pleasure to be here, sir,” Burr smiled widely and shook Washington’s hand. Not for the last time, Alexander wished he could read Burr more easily. Was that the sleazy smirk of a man calculating how to push the sudden political advantage that had fallen into his lap? Or was it simply relief that Washington’s interrogation seemed to be over? If there was any way to tell, Alexander couldn’t see it. He’d have to pay close attention if he had any hope of deciphering Burr’s moods. The prospect seemed daunting: Alexander only hoped he’d stumble across some obvious tell, so he wasn’t forever wondering what Burr was thinking. And he’d need to know, if there was any hope of their marriage lasting more than a week.

Burr spent the morning being briefed on various aspects of the campaign he would need to be familiar with if he was to be a public figure by Alexander’s side. To maintain appearances, he would need to live with Alexander. For the moment, that meant joining Washington and his entourage on the campaign trail. It didn’t escape Alexander’s notice that Washington was careful not to give Burr any more information than was absolutely necessary. If Burr noticed he was being kept in the dark, he gave no sign of it.

As Alexander watched, he felt some of the tension churning in his gut ease for the first time since Washington had told him of the problem. A solution was in sight. For all Alexander felt he should be horrified at the prospect of marrying Burr, perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad as he had feared in the lonely darkness of his apartment the night before. Yes, he and Burr always bickered, but they were rivals, not enemies. He had no awkward history with Burr as he did with most of his friends (and even acquaintances). And if nothing else, Alexander couldn’t deny the man looked good in a suit.

The sound of his name snapped Alexander out of his reverie. He blinked. When had Burr stood up? Washington had retreated to his own desk, and Burr was looking at Alexander expectantly. After a few moments, he sighed and shook his head,

“You didn’t hear a word I just said, did you?”

“Was it something about my irresistible charm and impeccable taste? Because if not, I-”

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’. If you don’t care enough to protest, I’m going to assume you agree with everything I said. Come now, we have things to do before the ceremony tomorrow.”

Alexander hesitated. He glanced back at Washington, who gestured to the door.

“Go. And remember Alexander, don’t let your guard down for even a moment. Be convincing.”

With one last nod to his boss, Alexander followed Burr out the room. He harassed him in the hallway and in the lift. His incessant questioning (“What did I miss? C’mon, just tell me, even you wouldn’t have said anything too bad in front of my boss.”) didn’t stop in the lobby, either, or on the pavement outside. The entire time, Burr gave him nothing. They walked two entire blocks before he finally asked quietly,

“Don’t you ever run out of steam?”

“Never. So where are we going?”

Chapter Text

Alexander stared at the shop they had halted in front of. Even after years in the glitz and glamour of politics, there were still a few signs of opulence that gave him hives. Someone had managed to pull all those tiny things together into a single jewellery shop. This was the kind of place that didn’t need advertisements or signage: either you knew about the shop, or you were not part of the target audience.

“I know,” Burr said, which just brought a scowl to Alexander’s face.

“You know? Then why did you - ow!”

“You didn’t protest when Washington gave us directions, but if you had a different jeweller in mind, we can go there instead.”

Alexander shook his head quickly. Shit. They weren’t even married yet, and Burr was already proving to be a better at this than him.

“Rings, right? We’ve got to have rings,” Alexander said. He took a deliberate step towards the shop, tugging Burr after him. “We’ve been doing rings for - what, 4000 years now? The Egyptians started it, you know, for all we like to pretend marriage is a Christian institution. But Christianity picked it up from the Romans who got it from the Greeks who were just copying Egypt, so we’ve being copying them all along.”

Alexander paused for breath, which Burr seemed to take as an opportunity to interrupt: “I know, Alexander. I remember our first debate all too well.”

“What do you mean? We didn’t get to work on the same team until that time in Chicago in second year.”

“Not our first debate together, Hamilton. Our very first debate.”

Just outside the shop, Alexander froze. He slowly turned back to face Burr, scowling at him. “I remember. You were on the negative team, you argued against same sex marriage. How could you? You’re about to be gay married!”

“The teams were randomly assigned. That’s part of the point of professional debating: sometimes, you have to argue for things you don’t believe in.”

“It’s amoral. The entire principle of formal debate is a dangerous disgrace, encouraging people to give weight to arguments that no one should listen to. That kind of thinking is how we ended up with the political mess we’ve got today.”

Alexander was animated as he talked, pacing back and forth and gesticulating with his hands. Passers-by paused to watch before scurrying on when it looked like they might risk engaging Alexander. He couldn't help it. He was passionate about the topic, and Alexander had never been able to give anything less than his full opinion on any topic however small. In contrast, Burr simply stood still and watched with a smile that was closer to a smirk. “You’re still mad that I won, aren’t you?”

“Of course not!” Alexander huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. After a moment, he conceded, “Fine, I am, but I was right, damn it.”

“Yes. You were. But you were never a good debater. You always had too much to say.”

As much as Alexander hated to admit it, Burr had a point. In an honest argument, Alexander would win every time: his passion and intelligence meant he inevitably outwitted (or else outlasted) his opponent. But in debating competition, where he was assigned a topic and meant to follow strict rules and guidelines restricting how he could speak on it? At that, Alexander was doomed before he even began.

But more importantly, Burr had just admitted Alexander was right. He grinned, smug. “You agree with me, though. Same sex marriage isn’t just essential to a free society, it’s actually a social good.”

“Yes,” Burr said with a curt nod. Alexander’s smug expression only grew, so Burr added, “Obviously I support marriage equality. I am, after all, engaged to the single most irritating man in New York.”

“Asshole,” Alexander huffed. He stared at Burr for a moment before reminding himself how important it was to keep Burr on his good side. He grabbed Burr’s hand and stepped boldly through the door of the jewellers. Burr’s hand was stiff and rigid and awkward, but Alexander pretended not to notice as he lead him towards the nearest glass case.

A sales assistant drifted over, unsure what to make of the pair. Good customers rarely came in the form of two bickering men, but then, Alexander had always suspected sales associates in certain high-end stores could smell money. He could hardly blame them for it: he’d be the same if he was in retail. That didn’t make him any more comfortable with the way the woman was peering at them over the top of her glasses.

“Good afternoon, gentleman. Can I help you?”

“Rings,” Alexander said, holding up his hand and dragging Burr’s up with him. “I like it, therefore I must put a ring on it. It, in this case, being my fiance right here.”

“He proposed,” Burr added, flashing the woman behind the desk a grin that showed every one of his teeth. The cheerful, friendly tone was enough to make Alexander hide a wince. He had never been quite able to put his finger on why, but seeing Burr so aggressively cheerful had always made his skin crawl. “Just yesterday! We couldn’t bear to wait another day to get the rings.”

“Well, allow me to be the first from the Schroeder family to congratulate you. Had you given any thought to the design?”

“Um. Wedding rings?”

“As I mentioned, it’s a sudden engagement. We haven’t had much time to discuss it, although I did have some ideas,” Burr said, stepping forward. Baffled, Alexander let him as he tried to figure out what could be so complicated about wedding rings.

The answer turned out to be ‘a lot’.

There was the material (“gold” apparently not being specific enough) and the width, not to mention the opportunity for gems or engravings to be added. To Alexander’s relief, Burr seemed to know how to navigate the minefield of options. He steered clear of any embellishments or gems and politely declined the chance to upgrade to purer forms of gold or platinum. The selection of hundreds was narrowed down to just five potential rings. All five were gold with uniform shine, cut flat with clear angles. The only variation was in the width of the band. Alexander had expected conservative options from Burr, but he’d expected more options than this. A combination of curiosity and his usual contentious attitude pushed him to ask, “Why none of the curved ones?”

In response, Burr held up his left hand. Sitting snugly at the base of his ring finger was a flat-cut platinum ring engraved with the Greek symbol Θ. “It has to sit well against this. I never took it off after - after. I never will.”

“That’s... shit,” Alexander sighed. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the sales assistant retreat to the relative safety of the breakroom. Bickering fiances were one thing, grieving widows were another. “Shit. I didn’t even think of that before I asked you, I just wanted - you know what I wanted.”

“It’s nearly four years since Theodosia died,” Burr said, his voice soft. “Four years is a long time.”

“But you still love her.”

Alexander wasn’t sure why he was pushing so much. It certainly wouldn’t be helping his case. But Alexander couldn’t quite move past an uncomfortable little squirm of guilt in his gut whenever he caught sight of the ring on Burr’s hand. He found himself watching as Burr pushed the ring around his finger, taking a moment to rub at the small engraving with his thumb.

“Yes. She changed my life, she made my life worthwhile. And she’s gone. If I can learn to live with that, then I expect you can too.”

“You’re still...” Alexander cut himself off, wincing a little. Burr’s voice had broken on the word ‘gone’ and he looked lost. It made Alexander squirm with discomfort. The last thing he wanted was for Burr to pull out of this arrangement, but he didn’t think he’d ever forget those few moments where Burr’s grief had been strong enough to overwhelm his infamously controlled facade.

Burr appeared to have pulled himself under control enough to raise an eyebrow. “You need to learn to think before you open your mouth. Talk less, Hamilton.”

He cast a critical eye over the rings and picked up one of the flat gold bands. It was a little shorter than the ring he already wore, and when he tried it on it sat snugly against the platinum band.

“It looks good,” Alexander offered. Awkward as the compliment was, it was enough to coax a smile back to Burr’s face.

“It will do. And for you?”

“Aren’t we meant to match? Please tell me we’re meant to match. I don’t think I can handle hearing another word about ring curvature or stones.”

“I suppose if we are breaking every other tradition associated with weddings, it would be wise to keep this one,” Burr mused. He took the ring off and caught the eye of the sales assistant. There was nearly half an hour of haggling, but eventually the two of them were leaving the shop with rings in hand.

The trip had left Alexander almost shaken. Burr’s control was one of the few fundamental constants in Alexander’s life. It could be relied upon like the movements of the stars and the pull of the tides. But here Alexander had blundered through and torn it down without stopping to think of the damage he might cause. How many other times had people done the same and never even realized?

“I don’t know why you’re doing this,” he said abruptly. He stopped at the lights and pressed the button a few times.

“I thought we’d covered my alleged ulterior motives?”

“No. I mean, yes, but I don’t know why you’re here. If we lose the election, I’m out of a job. I won’t have a dollar to my name. All I have going for me is my brain which, to be honest, causes as many problems as it solves, because being smarter than everyone else is tiring. And you - you’ve got a job, you’ve got your kid, you’re clearly still in love with your wife. This can’t be easy for you. I don’t understand why you’d put yourself through this.”

Aaron sighed. He pulled a packet of chewing gum out of his pocket and offered Alexander a piece before taking one for himself. As he carefully unwrapped it, he said, “You seem intent on driving me away. Despite our differences, Alexander, I’ve always counted you as a friend.”

The awkward silence was filled with the hum of traffic and the sound of Alexander anxiously chewing his gum. “And that’s enough for you?”

“There are perks,” Burr shrugged a little, flashing Alexander a smile. “At least my sister will stop trying to set me up with her coworkers.”

It was a transparent attempt to change the topic, but Alexander could take a hint - at least when he felt like it. “Does that happen a lot?”

“She means well. She’s going to be furious when I tell her I’m married.”

“I don’t know how I’m going to convince some people,” Alexander admitted, chewing his lower lip. “I mean, there’s so many details we haven’t worked out.”

Burr checked the time on his phone before saying, “I have to go pick Theodosia up from the museum, but we can talk this evening. Or we can go together if you’re heading uptown.”

“Subway?”

“If we want privacy? We should walk.”

Alexander’s heart sunk as he mentally calculated the distance from the jeweller to the Museum of Natural History but nodded dutifully. For a while they walked in companionable silence. After some time, Burr said,

“You really weren’t listening when we were speaking with your boss, were you?”

“How would you know?” Alexander asked suspiciously, looking at Burr sideways. His companion let out a quiet chuckle.

“He expressed concerns that we would be adequately capable of public intimacy.”

After taking a moment to decipher that, Alexander froze in the street. “Wait. Washington was worried we weren’t going to go hard enough on PDAs?”

“To his credit, it would be wise to discuss boundaries. You yourself said that we would need to be convincing in public, and we will need to hoodwink our friends and families.”

“Right. Boundaries,” Alexander said. With great effort, he started walking again. “But what did Washington say exactly?”

The smile on Burr’s face was enough to tell Alexander he wasn’t going to get an answer. Burr was far too amused by Alexander’s torment. No matter how much Alexander wheedled and cajoled and outright bribed, there was no convincing Burr once he had made up his mind. Instead, he made a game of it, deliberately provoking and silently cataloguing the most extreme reactions he could pull from his companion. It was hard work, but if they were to be spending so much time together, he wanted to understand Burr.

The bickering continued all the way to the museum. Arguing was a comfortable rhythm to fall into. There was something natural about arguing with Burr. His centrist, fluid stance on most issues drove Alexander mad, but he couldn’t deny Burr argued his points well. More importantly, he listened to the points Alexander made and rarely held a grudge. Given Alexander’s tendency to inadvertently insult even the people he was closest too, it was refreshing not to have to worry about hurt feelings. It was enough to make arguing with Burr downright relaxing.

 

***********************

Alexander had a headache.

It had settled in behind his eyes within moments of setting foot inside the museum. The delighted shrieks of children weaving through the crowd echoed in the great entrance hall. Alexander was used to crowds, but he was used to crowds with order. At political rallies and demonstrations, he was in his element. But in the museum, there were too many individuals and small groups, all moving in patterns that may as well be random. Burr seemed entirely unaffected, weaving through the crowd and into a separate room. Alexander breathed a sigh of relief as the door shut behind them.

“At least it’s quiet in here.”

“I’ve never known you to complain about noise,” Burr said dryly. Alexander huffed, about to explain how things were quite different when he was the one being loud, when the door creaked open again. A horde of shrieking children were ushered into the room by a tired-looking staff member. The children spread out quickly, and Alexander wondered how parents were meant to find their children in the endless chorus of calls for Mom and Dad. Perhaps parents had some kind of sixth sense for identifying their own squealing child.

His theory was validated when Burr suddenly turned at one of the calls, but Alexander was too busy staring to celebrate being proved right. Burr’s face had completely transformed, and Alexander was left wondering if he had ever truly seen the man smile before. Everyone knew Burr had an almost permanent upward curl to his lips, and everyone thought he smiled a lot, but if those expressions were smiles, then Alexander didn’t know how to begin to describe his expression in that moment. Joy was not a strong enough word for it.

Burr dropped to one knee just in time to be tackled into a hug by a short girl in a bright pink coat. He was still beaming as he moved to sit on the floor with crossed legs, listening patiently as Theodosia talked about her weekend at a hundred miles an hour. Alexander didn’t know how he could understand a word of it. After a few minutes of listening patiently and nodding, Burr gently took her hands and squeezed gently. “Theo, sweetheart, can I interrupt?”

The girl nodded, pouting a little but saying nothing. Burr glanced up at Alexander and beckoned him to come over.

“I would love to hear all about your night in the planetarium on the way home, but first, Theo, I’d like you to meet someone very special to me. This is Ham- Alexander. Alexander, this is my daughter, Theodosia.”

“Alexander,” Theodosia echoed solemnly, looking up at him with curiosity and some suspicion. Alexander suspected she must take after her mother, although it was possible Burr had shared her rounder features when he was a child. The idea was somehow strange to Alexander: he could barely comprehend the idea of Burr having a childhood, let alone that he might have been anything other than a miniature version of his adult self.

In response to the greeting, Alexander offered an awkward little wave. “Hey, kiddo. Looks like we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other soon.”

“Oh. That kind of special. Aunt Sally said that might happen,” Theodosia said with a firm nod. She seemed much happier now she felt she understood things. Beside her, Burr looked startled, and she laughed a little. “Dad, don’t look so surprised. I’m not a little kid anymore. I go to school. Of course Aunt Sally tells me things.”

“Right,” Burr croaked out.

“Maybe we should check we’re all on the same page,” Alexander suggested. “There’s a lot to cover, after all.”

“Can we get milkshakes?” Theodosia asked hopefully.

“Sure, why not?” Alexander shrugged. That was apparently the wrong thing to say, as Burr let out a soft groan. He nodded his head in reluctant agreement when Theodosia turned to him expectantly. Theodosia bounced with excitement, grabbing Burr by the hand and bouncing towards the exit. Alexander trailed after them, tuning out from the conversation as she started babbling again about her weekend. The Burrs seemed to know where they were going, leading the way down back streets and quiet alleys to a small cafe tucked away at the end of a lane.

Burr went inside to order, leaving Alexander and Theodosia to pick a table. Alexander chose one in the corner and immediately grabbed the salt and pepper shakers in the middle, fiddling restlessly. What did you even say to kids, anyway? “So.”

“Dad likes flowers.”

“Okay,” Alexander said slowly, drawing the word out over several syllables. Did children drop non-sequiters like this all the time, or was there a reason behind her statement? Theodosia seemed much more at ease than he did. There was something unnerving about how calmly she was watching him, as though her tiny seven year old brain was cataloguing his every weakness. Perhaps she was more like her father than he had thought: her eyes were dark, shrewd and calculating. If nothing else, she had her father's eyes. “Why are you telling me this?”

“He didn’t want to say ‘yes’ to milkshakes, but you convinced him otherwise. So it’s a trade.” Her eyes narrowed a little, and she added, “Don’t think I actually like you.”

Shit. How had he managed to earn her enmity already? Normally Alexander wouldn’t care, but if she complained to her father, his marriage would fall to pieces before it even began. He wondered if there was anything he could do to buy her approval. Kids liked bribery, right?

While he was panicking, Burr came over with a coffee and a large pink milkshake. Alexander used the opportunity to slip away to the bathroom. He paced back and forth in the tiny cubicle, chewing another piece of gum frantically. After a minute of this, he realized he could hear conversation from the little cafe. After glancing around the solitary cubicle, he shuffled close to the wall and started to deliberately eavesdrop. Sure enough, he could hear Burr.

“Theo, I don’t know what Aunt Sally told you, so I’m going to start from the start. I know it’s just been the two of us for a long time now, and I’ve loved that. I love you, and I love that I’ve been able to dedicate so much time for you. And I want you to know that no matter what happens next, you will always come first.

“But most families have two adults, not just one. We need someone to help us with some of the difficult adult things. I haven’t had anyone like that since we lost your mother, Theodosia. Not a day goes by when I don’t miss her, and that’s not going to change, but now I have a chance to have something new. I’m not asking you to love him or see him as a step-father, but I’d really like it if we could make Alexander part of our family. Can you give him a chance, sweetheart?”

Damn. Alexander was surprised any one person could express that much emotion, let alone someone as smooth and detached as Burr. If the engagement had been anything other than a sham, that would have been enough to move Alexander to tears. As it was, all it brought was a sense of relief. Burr was a good liar, he always had been - and if he was willing and able to lie that convincingly to his own daughter, fooling the government and media would be no challenge.

The sound of the hand dryer roaring to life startled Alexander and drowned out any trace of Theodosia’s response. Only feeling somewhat guilty, Alexander washed his hands and shuffled back out to the cafe. He took a seat next to Burr, fidgeting and squirming in his seat immediately.

“What do you think of space?” Theodosia asked, examining Alexander closely. Baffled by yet another apparent non-sequitur, Alexander shrugged. Theodosia huffed, sounding quite annoyed. “You’re not marrying my dad if you’re boring. He deserves better than that.”

“Space is cool, I guess? I’m not an expert but, hey, we need experts. You could be an astronaut one day.”

“Of course I’m going to be an astronaut,” Theodosia said, rolling her eyes as though it were something blatantly obvious. “I’m already top of my class, and I’m going to learn everything there is to know about space.”

The next half hour was passed with Theodosia interrogating Alexander on assorted topics, although they inevitably turned into Theodosia sharing some of her favourite facts about the topic at hand. Alexander’s relative ignorance surrounding the dinosaurs had her tutting and shaking her head, but he redeemed himself by displaying outstanding knowledge of Disney films. The entire time, Burr watched silently with a faint smirk and sparkle of amusement in his dark eyes. Eventually, Theodosia turned to him and asked,

“Dad, you’re sure this is the one you want?”

“He is,” Burr said quietly. “I wouldn’t be suggesting this if I didn’t think it was for the best.”

Theodosia let out a long sigh. “I suppose we can teach him about space. We taught Uncle Jon.” Turning to Alexander, she added in an exasperated voice, “Uncle Jon thought Pluto was a planet.”

That Pluto was not a planet was news to Alexander, a fact which he wisely kept to himself. Theodosia’s pop quiz had been more intense than the most grueling press interrogation Alexander had yet to experience, and the last thing he wanted to do was invite more questions.

It wasn’t until they were putting on their jackets and preparing to leave that he realized he and Burr had hardly been acting like a smitten couple. He stepped a little closer to him and bumped their elbows together.

“So. Uh. She’s a sharp kid. She knows what couples act like, too.”

“So?” Burr wanted to know. Alexander sighed and took a moment to consider his options before leaning in to press a quick peck against Burr’s cheek. The skin felt soft beneath the rough scrape of Burr’s stubble, although Alexander tried to keep from thinking about it too much. When he pulled back, Burr was staring at him. For a moment, Alexander stared back, before skipping back a couple of paces. The entire gesture looked awkward and forced, and Alexander found himself very glad that they’d tried this with no one to judge but a seven year old. He cleared his throat awkwardly before speaking.

“So. Ten AM tomorrow?”

“We’ll need witnesses. I can get Jon to come. It will seem more authentic if we can organize one witness each.”

“I’ll call Angelica.”

Burr nodded, and Alexander and the Burr’s parted for the day. With less than twenty-four hours to the wedding, both men would have plenty to keep them busy. Alexander only hoped it would all work out.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOUR - OATHS

By 8:55 AM, Alexander was waiting outside the City Clerk’s office in his best suit and tie. He was quickly reminded of why he hated being punctual: waiting was hell. He paced back and forth on the pavement, chewing his nails anxiously. What if Burr didn’t show up? What if Burr’s friend figured out it was all a ruse? There were too many variables, too many factors that could go wrong, and by being punctual, Alexander had given himself plenty of time to consider each and every one of them in exquisite detail.

Angelica arrived shortly after him, dragging him inside the building to wait. For a full minute, Alexander sat and stayed still before jumping to his feet and pacing again. Each time the door opened, he stopped and stared. It earned him more than a few strange looks, which he tried to shrug off with a smile and a flippant comment about waiting for his fiance. That usually satisfied the passers-by: the combination of his fine suit and anxious manner made the story believable enough. Maybe he should have brought flowers to support his case.

At 9:00 on the dot, Burr walked through the door with his daughter and his friend. Something about the sight made Alexander’s stomach twist uncomfortably. They looked like a family. The three of them walked in a row, Theodosia in the middle and holding their hands. Burr was on her left, and a handsome man with dark hair was on her right. This must be the ‘Uncle Jon’ who had been so wrong about Pluto, Alexander realized. It was the same man Alexander had seen Burr with the night he proposed. Alexander watched the way Burr occasionally turned to grin at him, and very quickly Alexander was left wondering how well-founded Burr’s claims of being single had been.

“So, you’re the famous Alexander Hamilton,” Jon said, shaking Alexander’s hand. His grip was firm, but Alexander could swear his smile was strained. Alexander’s heart sank.“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Aaron talks about you enough. I’m Jon Bellamy. I’ve been Aaron’s friend since...”

“Forever,” Burr supplied, stepping forward. Alexander was glad for the rescue, having been halfway to asking ‘Aaron who?’ It was a change he would have to get used to. They would be hard-pressed to convince the world they were in love if they weren’t even on a first name basis. The thought was accompanied by a spike of anxiety at the idea he and Burr may not be convincing, so he reached for Burr’s hand and squeezed it tightly. Burr looked down at their joined hands, then up at Alexander with a very deliberate and calculated smile.

Angelica joined them, introducing herself to Jon and shaking his hand. Theodosia received a similar introduction. But when Angelica turned to Burr, she pursed her lips and set her hands on her hips. “From what I’ve heard, you’ve improved. I certainly hope that’s the case.”

Bemused, Alexander turned to look a Burr and was shocked to find he looked almost sheepish. He glanced at the ground and shifted his weight. If they hadn’t been holding hands, Alexander would have missed the way Burr tensed. When he spoke, his tone was even and measured, giving away nothing of the apparent uncertainty and discomfort he was hiding. “I believe I owe you an apology - or perhaps my thanks. Losing that debate was the best thing that could have happened to me.”

“Oh, you’re that Angelica!” Jon said, his eyes lighting up with mischievous glee. “From the college debating circuit?”

“Wait, I never saw you at any debating tournaments,” Alexander frowned. He’d joined the debating team the minute he had arrived on campus. It had not been everything he had hoped (debates were to structured, too formal, and too short) but he had remained an active participant throughout his degree. He was certain he would have remembered if Angelica had been a member.

“I quit after my first year. There were better things to do with my time, and it wasn’t an environment I was happy in. Too many spoilt rich boys with trust funds chasing any woman who made the mistake of being in the same room as them. One in particular who came onto me in the middle of a debate on sexual harassment.”

Burr hung his head and stared at the ground. Alexander gaped, staring at Burr in amazement. Like Alexander, he had once had quite the reputation for being an incorrigible flirt - and, of course, the size of his trust fund had been legendary. But as slippery and inconstant as Burr was, Alexander had never seen him act inappropriately. He’d also never seen him look so ashamed as he did then.

“I did a lot of reading after that, and I like to think I’ve improved. As much as I relish being the subject of this discussion, perhaps it could wait for another time? Until after the wedding at least?”

Angelica took the hint and changed the topic, but Alexander was left with a burning curiosity. Conversation flowed easily as their party joined the long queue before the front desk. Burr was laughing and smiling the whole time, but Alexander found himself fascinated by how easily he could feel Burr’s tension through their joined hands. Just as Burr started to relax, Theodosia tugged on Angelica’s sleeve and piped up,

“That boy, did you punch him? Dad says if a boy does that I’m allowed to punch him.”

Angelica informed her that she hadn’t punched him, struggling to keep a straight face. This was met with all the stern disapproval a seven year old could muster. It was important (Theodosia said, clearly reciting a lesson that had been drilled into her many times) that people had boundaries and felt comfortable enforcing them. If someone didn’t respect her boundaries, she was entitled to use whatever means were necessary to keep herself safe and comfortable.

“This is not what I was expecting a wedding to be like,” Alexander admitted, talking over the sound of Theodosia enthusiastically trying to teach Angelica karate.

“Well, it’s not what most weddings are like,” Jon said. “You didn’t see Aaron’s first wedding. It was like something out of a fairy-tale.”

Despite having only met him earlier that day, Alexander was learning to resent how he had to tilt his head up to make eye contact with the other man. Or maybe it was the man’s tone he didn’t like. There was something judgemental in his voice and mannerisms, lurking under a thin veneer of friendliness.

Burr said nothing in response to Bellamy’s comments, but Alexander felt his hand twitch a little. A now-familiar guilt swelled up inside Alexander, and he squeezed Burr’s hand in what he hoped was a comforting gesture. He knew how much Burr missed his wife. The reminder of his real wedding undoubtedly brought up a flood of bittersweet memories for him, even if Burr kept his response clamped down and hidden. There was nothing Alexander could say to fix things, but he could only hope acknowledging what Burr had lost would bring some measure of comfort.

“I’m not surprised. I know he loved her very much.”

To Alexander’s relief, that seemed to be the right thing to say: he got a small nod of approval from Jon and felt Burr relax a fraction beside him. It was everything Alexander could do not to breathe a sigh of relief.

The vows they read were provided by the registrar behind the desk. The words felt clumsy and awkward on Alexander’s tongue, and when he made eye contact with Burr he had to look away quickly so he wouldn’t laugh. The language was so stiff and overly formal that Alexander would have struggled to take it seriously even if he had been in love with his partner.

Once the vows were read, each of them had to sign the certificate: Burr and Alexander as new partners, and Bellamy and Angelica as witnesses to their union. Alexander squirmed uncomfortably as he watched the man behind the counter enter their details into the computer.

“So that’s it?”

“That’s what you get when you decide to rush and have these things done at the council office,” Jon said. There was something about his tone that seemed off to Alexander, and he didn’t miss the way Burr sent him a quelling look. Alexander wondered if he should be worried. Would Jon cause problems for them? But then, Alexander reassured himself, it wouldn’t matter if he did. He’d promised to keep Theodosia happy, but he had made no such promises about Burr’s asshole friends.

“We can always have an elaborate celebration later,” Burr pointed out, his smile a little strained. “I know it may have been wisest to wait, but you didn’t hear him propose. I couldn’t have said ‘no’ if I tried.”

When he mentioned the proposal, Burr turned his smile on Alexander, and for a moment, Alexander forgot all about the scheme. He had always been confident in Burr’s acting ability, sharing none of Washington’s worries they wouldn’t be able to fool the public. But Alexander hadn’t been prepared to be fooled himself. Burr was grinning like a love-struck idiot, looking at Alexander like he was the centre of his world; worse, for a few seconds Alexander found himself wishing he could be. It was a heady feeling, having someone looking at you like that, and Alexander wasn’t prepared for it. He wasn’t prepared for Burr to lean in and brush a soft kiss against his lips. Alexander stared at him, his lips tingling.

The illusion was broken when the man behind the counter returned, looking troubled.

“Mr Hamilton? I’m afraid there’s a problem.”

“What kind of problem?” Alexander asked. His voice was tense with anxiety and fear. This was it. He was suddenly flooded with the fear that this was a mistake: that allowing his citizenship problem to come to light was only accelerating his own doom. There would be no solution. He would be fired, or deported, or imprisoned, or forced endure any number of indignities, all because of one mistake. He started when he felt someone touch him. Burr had wrapped an arm around Alexander’s middle, all traces of good-humour in his expression gone.

“The citizenship details you provided appear to be incorrect, sir. It says here you never attended the final citizenship ceremony.”

“What ceremony?” Alexander asked. His voice was defensive and high-pitched. A faint tingling started to settle into his fingers and hands before he lost all sense of feeling in his extremities. His was rapid and shallow and utterly useless: barely enough to fill his lungs, let alone provide oxygen to his blood. He felt lightheaded. He didn’t even realize he’d missed a ceremony. Was this entire situation his own fault?

“The oath? According the files, the court summons was sent out in May 2010 to your address in Brooklyn?”

“Brooklyn? But I was only there for a month,” Alexander protested. “They knocked it down to build new apartments, I moved in with Eliza - God, did they really not think to email me? Or call me? Why did they take all my contact details if they’re not even going to use them?”

“Alexander,” Burr said. His tone was stern, but there was a hint of sympathy in his voice. It took Alexander a moment to realize Burr’s thumb was rubbing small, soothing circles on the back of his hand. He watched as Burr smiled, leaning forward and adopting an appropriately ingratiating tone. “Please, sir, you have to help us. I can’t lose Alexander. I want to build a life with him, build a family with him. He did all the right things, he didn’t even know he’d missed his date. There has to be a way we can fix this.”

If Burr was one thing, it was persuasive. The man behind the desk sighed, shaking his head ruefully. “I can’t promise anything, but I do have a friend at USCIS I can talk to. The fact that you’re now legally married (congratulations, by the way) well, that might help. I’ll see what I can do.”

“That’s all we can ask,” Burr said. He put his hands on Alexander’s hips and kissed his forehead. It took Alexander a moment to remember how important their relationship was to the plan, but when he did he sighed and leaned against Burr. His heart was hammering in his chest. His mind swirled with the possible outcomes, and he could swear he wasn’t getting enough air.

Alexander turned his head to watch the man behind the desk as he spoke on the phone. Hearing only half the conversation was agonizing. Alexander watched the man on the phone like a hawk, trying to interpret every pause, every sigh and every move he made. Each time he frowned Alexander saw his life flash before his eyes. Finally, he put the phone down and made an expression that approximated a smile.

“Well, it’s not bad news. Technically, we should be following proper process, but...”

“But?” Alexander echoed hopefully.

“I pulled a few strings, called in a few favours. I got your name on the list for tomorrow’s court session and this afternoon’s assessment center, but you’ve got to get your N-400 in by midday. I can get it on the system if you bring it here. If not, you’ll have to go through the official process, and for an undocumented immigrant... well, the odds aren’t in your favour.”

“Midday,” Alexander said. The word sounded flat and hollow. It was past ten o’clock, and Alexander had no idea how long it would take to fill the form in.

“Thank you,” Burr said, his voice warm with gratitude. The man behind the counter handed over a stack of forms and gestured to a corner where they could work. Alexander worked in anxious silence, only speaking up when he needed people to officially validate his identity or for Burr to sign as his husband. When he came to the end of the form, he signed with a flourish and dashed back to the front of the queue.

“Pardon me, I - sorry, ma’am, I didn’t mean to interrupt your vows - I just, I’ve got the form!”

He waved the papers triumphantly in the air and passed them across the desk to the man behind the counter. Alexander’s teeth dug into his lower lip as he made eye contact with the man. It was 11:47. Was he too late?

“If we ever meet again, you owe me one,” the man sighed, taking the papers from him. “I’ll upload these now. If your name is on the list by the time you get to the assessment center, it means I got them in on time.”

Alexander nodded, blurting another quick thanks before bolting for the door. The rest of his party (Angelica, the Burrs, and Bellamy) had no choice but to follow. He raced down the steps, flagging a taxi and climbing into the back seat. The door refused to shut when he pulled on it. A scowl appeared on Alexander’s face and he tugged harder, then looked up to see what was blocking it. Burr was holding the door open, about to join him in the cab. He could hear fragments of the conversation outside:

“Of course I’m going with him, I’m not going to make Alexander face this alone. He might need me. I promise I’ll keep you up to date – we can get brunch after the ceremony tomorrow.”

The words “he might need me” stuck in Alexander’s mind. For all Burr had just said it with the intent of calming his friend, he was right. He might need Burr. He was being considered on the grounds of his marriage, not his own merit - and as much as the idea stung, he didn’t have the luxury of doing it any differently. If nothing else, having Burr along would lend credence to their claim of marriage. The alternative: that they made it this far, only to be rejected because a clerk refused to believe he and Burr were in love; well, the alternative was simply too awful to bear thinking of.

Both Burr and little Theodosia squeezed into the back seat of the cab with Alexander. Theodosia looked between the two of them before saying in a small voice, “I don’t understand what’s happening. I thought marriage was supposed to be happy.”

“It is,” Burr said quickly. “It is, sweetheart. But Alexander and I have run into a bit of a problem, and we need to fix it before we can celebrate. Do you remember what citizenship means?”

Theodosia nodded, and Alexander jumped in.

“I wasn’t born here, like you and your dad. I was born in Charlestown. They let me come here for school because, let’s face it, I’m a genius. I applied to become a citizen once I had a couple of months employment under my belt, and I thought it had worked, but something went wrong.”

“So you have to leave?” Theodosia asked, frowning. Her face pinched together in displeasure when Alexander shrugged and said he would have to wait and see. Wherever Burr’s unlimited well of patience came from, it apparently wasn’t genetic. For the rest of the ride, she made sure her opinions (that he shouldn’t have to wait, that the system was stupid, unfair, and should just let her dad keep Alexander if that was what he really wanted) were well-broadcasted through the cab. It was enough to make Alexander wonder. If Burr was so reluctant to voice opinions, where was Theodosia getting all these ideas from?

The question was pushed out of his mind when the cab pulled up outside the assessment center. He left Burr to handle the payment. Burr could afford it, and if he took issue with paying - well. They were married now. It wasn’t like Burr couldn’t track him down and ask for a refund. Once inside, Alexander made his way to the front desk and began to explain his situation. Burr ambled over a couple of minutes later. He stepped up beside Alexander and wrapped an arm around his waist.

“So what happens now?”

“Mr Hamilton will have to pass a series of assessments - U.S. history and civics, English literacy, and an interview. We’ll also need to assess your relationship.” At the look on their faces, the woman behind the desk smiled apologetically. “I know you just came from the council offices, but it’s part of the process. We’ve had so much visa and citizenship fraud lately we really can’t afford to skip it.”

“Of course. We understand completely,” Burr said with a smile. His hand twitched a little where it rested against Alexander’s side. “Is there somewhere our daughter and I can wait while Alexander takes the tests?”

The woman gave Burr directions to a local cafe, while Alexander was led into a small room to take the first test. He exhaled slowly. He could do this. There was no reason he couldn’t do this, and there was no reason whatsoever to be stressed.

Good thing Alexander wasn’t stressed. He was terrified.

*****************
The tests of Alexander’s English, civics knowledge and character went without a hitch. It was to be expected, of course, but Alexander still felt like cheering when he was told he had passed all the tests.

The examination of his relationship with Burr did not go so flawlessly. It was a 90-minute long nerve-wracking experience that very nearly sent the whole plan falling apart. The only thing that spared them was the duration of their nebulous relationship. They had known each other (either as friends, or as rivals, Alexander still wasn’t sure) for over a decade. Burr had a keen mind and an eye for detail, and Alexander had managed to pick up just enough information about Burr that he could bluff his way through the questions. He may not have known Burr’s birthday, but he could provide exquisite detail as to what presents he had allegedly bought him for the past ten years. He may not know Theodosia’s middle name, but he knew plenty about what subjects she loved the best. And while he may not have been able to name Burr’s parents, they were both orphans. This last fact was delivered with an upbeat grin that caused the man behind the desk to recoil.

“Please excuse Alexander. His mouth runs faster than his brain.”

“Which, let me tell you, is saying a lot, and however annoyed he acts, I can guarantee he loves it. Damn useful in the bedroom, too,” Alexander tacked on with a wink. Both Burr and the interviewer let out a long sigh.

“I’ve heard enough. You may not have passed every question, but you know each other well enough, and you’re clearly still in the honeymoon period. Congratulations.”

“Oh, thank God.”

Alexander slumped against Burr in relief. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought Aaron kissed his hair, or at least touched his lips there in the semblance of a kiss. He barely heard a word that the man said from that point onward. He listened long enough to note down when and where he needed to be to complete the process, then tuned out completely. It took Burr gently shaking his shoulder to get Alexander to stand up and leave.

He let Burr steer him back to his apartment, too exhausted to even protest that he wanted to go home. He was told to sit on the couch and rest while Burr ordered a meal to be delivered, but by the time the food arrived, Alexander was fast asleep. He spent the night there, not stirring until bright sunlight started to filter through the tall windows of Burr’s apartment.

It took Alexander a moment to orient himself after waking up. He flailed and nearly fell off the couch, only spared by the pillows and blankets tucked around him to keep him stable. Eyes heavy, he spent a few moments blinding dumbly before he yawned, stretched and got to his feet. His head was pounding from a lack of caffeine. Had he really gone a whole day yesterday without a single cup of coffee? He could scarcely imagine how. His heart was pounding and his nerves were buzzing and anxious, but he’d be damned if he walked out Burr’s door without at least one coffee.

An hour passed before Burr rose, and Theodosia was up and about an hour after that. Alexander did his best to keep himself out of the way while they prepared for the day. As such, he was surprised when Burr stopped beside him and asked if he was ready to go.

“I didn’t think you’d want to come.”

“I’m your husband,” Burr reminded him, like that was that. Maybe that was what husbands were supposed to be: if either of them knew, it certainly wouldn’t be Alexander. Alexander grimaced at the thought and drained the last of his coffee in one long gulp.

“Let’s go. I don’t want to be late.”

The drive to the courtroom was tense. Alexander fidgeted restlessly in the passenger seat, alternating between chewing his nails and counting the number of cars they’d passed aloud. Once parked, Burr insisted on holding Alexander’s hand as they walked into the courtroom. Alexander wondered idly if this was a ruse, or a sign he was being treated like a child. Theodosia was holding Burr’s other hand, looking around curiously and occasionally tugging on her father’s arm to get attention.

Taking the oath itself was extraordinarily anticlimactic. Having thought himself a loyal citizen for a decade, Alexander didn’t think twice about swearing his loyalty to the United States. It was his home. Everything and everyone he valued lived there: his life in high-school and before was a hazy memory he did his best to forget. Nevertheless, his heart hammered in his chest as he spoke. When the judge declared him a citizen, Alexander almost didn’t react. He was still processing what had happened.

It had worked.

He let out a cheer, pumping the air with his fist. So much had been riding on this one moment and now, victory: Alexander was safe. The campaign was safe. Grinning, he turned to Burr, put his hands on his cheeks and kissed him (partly from sheer elation, mostly for show). Burr’s lips were dry but soft and warm against his own. It felt surprisingly good, but Alexander didn’t give himself time to dwell on that. So long as it looked convincing to the outside world, Alexander didn’t care.

He was practically bouncing with excitement as he led the way out of the courts. The rest of the day would be spent spreading word of the wedding - starting with an all-important public announcement. At Alexander’s pleading, Burr agreed to pose for a belated wedding photo.

It wasn’t a perfect wedding photo. The city skyscrapers cast shadows despite the heat of the July sun, and city clerk’s office was hardly picturesque. There were more pigeons than doves in the shot, and the closest thing they had to guests were the impatient pedestrians passing by. Nevertheless, Alexander thought it was a convincing photo. Despite all the incongruities, he and Burr looked happy. If the joy was simply the leftover exhilaration from their scheme working, well, no one else needed to know that.

Alexander posted the photo on Twitter with a grin, relishing in the chaos he was about to cause.  He always loved being the center of attention. And if he had to take someone along for the ride, well, he could have done a lot worse than Aaron Burr.

***************************************************************************

In less than twenty four hours, Alexander almost regretted getting married. And if he had to get married, then he should have found anyone other than Aaron Burr.

The first few hours hadn’t been so bad. The problem had come after Alexander’s citizenship ceremony, when he and Burr joined up with their friends again for a celebratory lunch. Both Alexander and Theodosia had made themselves sick on an elaborate dish consisting of more waffles, ice cream and Nutella than Alexander had thought would fit on a single plate while Angelica celebrated with one too many grapefruit mimosas.

As for Burr’s friend, Jon Bellamy? He spent the entire meal watching Alexander like a hawk, just waiting for him to put one toe out of line. The only time he spoke to Alexander was to ask questions about their relationship - how he and Burr had started dating, how long had they been together, where did he see them in five years? More than once, Alexander had found himself floundering and forced to rely on Burr to fill in the blanks. He was almost tempted to refer Bellamy to USCIS. If they were worried about people faking relationships, they could ask for no better interrogator than Bellamy.

By the time they had eaten, Alexander’s frustration had shifted from targeted irritation to a general disapproval of life itself. His phone had exploded with notifications. He had expected a flood of comments, questions and retweets when he tweeted the wedding photo, but he’d forgotten to factor in how his actual friends and acquaintances would respond.

The messages were equal parts congratulations and disbelief. Washington’s message was curt and included an order to visit him in the afternoon to discuss strategy. The Schuylers had all sent their congratulations, and even some of his coworkers were wishing him well. From his closest friends, he had a little more trouble. Lafayette was preoccupied with whom he had chosen to marry: the long chain of messages from him started off with a simple “Burr? Really?”

By far the worst came from Hercules: “Laurens is going to kill you.”

Alexander’s heart sank when he read it. Hercules was right. John Laurens should have been the first one to know. But with John away on his honeymoon, there was no way he would hear the news for at least a week. Even if he managed to draw his attention from his new husband for long enough to check his phone (doubtful), it was unlikely their remote beach-side paradise would have any reception. In that long week, Alexander would have plenty of time to fret over his reaction.

By the time he parted from the group to visit Washington, his elation at their success had dwindled away to nothing. He held on to his one piece of good news: people were falling for his ruse hook, line and sinker. His citizenship was approved, and Alexander had already submitted a passport application. Washington congratulated Alexander on his successful ceremony and the subsequent media meltdown. They had already received a flood of requests for interviews and media appearances, and Hamilton’s name was once again trending on Twitter. In short, the operation had been a huge success.

Now only one challenge remained: maintaining the ruse through election, inauguration and Washington’s planned immigration amnesty. The more he learned about what would be necessary to maintain cover, the more Alexander wondered if he should have taken his chances with an employment-based application. The slew of public appearances, party balls and charity events that would require his presence was unending.

“You will, of course, need to go on honeymoon. I’ve arranged for you to take a few days off from the campaign.”

“Sir!” Alexander protested. Something lurched in his chest. He stepped forward into Washington’s personal space, looking up at him in wounded betrayal. “I don’t understand. I did everything right, I did everything you said. I fixed it.”

“Son - “

“I know Burr’s not what you had in mind, but I’ve always considered him a friend, and he did say yes, so -”

“Son,” Washington said sternly. The words ‘don’t call me son’ bubbled up inside Alexander, but he just barely managed to bite them back as he remembered the consequences of last time he had made that argument. “This isn’t a punishment. But it is necessary.”

“I don’t see how,” Alexander grumbled.

“Yes. You do. You know what’s at stake, Alexander.”

Washington didn’t need to point out what they both knew was true: if Alexander had truly disagreed, he’d still be arguing. But Alexander knew perfectly well he had to have a picture-perfect relationship with Burr to avoid casting doubt on his marriage - and by extension, his citizenship, his reputation and Washington’s reputation. If he didn’t take even a brief honeymoon, people would ask questions. Nevertheless, the idea disturbed him, so he tried a new tactic.

“I don’t know how I’m meant to convince Burr. He’s not going to want to leave his kid.”

“It’s already sorted. We discussed it when he visited two days ago - which you would know, if you had paid more attention. Managing him will be up to you next time, Alexander. It’s not my job to manage your relationship.”

“Yes, sir,” Alexander said reluctantly. This marriage was quickly turning out to be the most challenging piece of work Alexander had ever been assigned. He only hoped November would come quickly.

Chapter Text

“I really wish my boss hadn’t planned our honeymoon.”

“Would you have organized one yourself?”

Burr sounded exhausted. The reason wasn’t hard to guess: since leaving Theodosia with Burr’s sister an hour ago, they had had this exact conversation three times. Alexander couldn’t seem to decide what part of the situation outraged him more. The very idea of Washington having a hand in organizing his honeymoon (even a fake one) was enough to make Alexander’s skin crawl. And if forcing Alexander to take time off hadn’t been bad enough, he’d chosen to send them to the mountains.

“Mountains! Who goes to the mountains in the summer?” Alexander wanted to know.

“No one, Hamilton. Alexander.  That’s meant to be the point.”

Their destination was a luxury cabin purpose-built for couples looking for time away from the rush of modern life. It was two hours to the nearest town, and two more to the nearest city (although if Burr kept obeying the speed limit, Alexander feared the drive would be a lot longer). Everything they would need for their week’s visit was waiting for them, so once there Alexander would have no excuse to leave. It would be a week of no work, no people, and worst of all: no cell reception.

Alexander could scarcely imagine a worse fate.

“It’s going to be boring. What are we even supposed to do?”

An awkward silence descended on the pair as Alexander considered exactly what people would assume they were doing. It was all too easy to forget that this was supposed to be his honeymoon. People would expect him to be happy about the isolation. He drummed his fingers on the dashboard and let out a thoughtful little hum.

“Speaking of honeymoons, what’s your favourite position?”

It took a moment for Burr to realize precisely what Alexander was asking about. His hand twitched in the steering wheel. Alexander watched as he took three deliberate, slow breaths, fascinated by the process Burr used to keep himself under control. Was he imagining it, or was Burr carrying a little more tension in his shoulders than before? If he watched very, very closely, Alexander could swear he could see Burr swallow before replying.

“I’m not discussing sex with you, Alexander.”

“Aww, c’mon. I’m your husband. I’m supposed to know these things. What if someone asks me what you’re like in bed and I say something ridiculous?”

“You couldn’t just decline to answer?”

Alexander hummed, made a show of thinking it over. “Too unrealistic. I’ve never kept anything quiet, ever. Look, if you’re not going to answer, let’s build up to that. Tell me something any partner you’ve had would know, and I’ll tell you something about me.”

“That doesn’t make me want to share.”

“Fine, I’ll go first. I’m allergic to like, half the major brands of lube. And all of the flavoured ones.”

Even if Burr didn’t provide his own answer, the groan of frustration was worth it. Alexander grinned. He’d nearly forgotten how much fun he used to have teasing Burr in college. It had been one of his favourite hobbies. With any luck, it would continue to prove entertaining enough to keep Alexander entertained during the all-too-long holiday.  He spent the rest of the car ride pestering Burr with questions. When the sexual questions stopped getting any kind of response, he switched to more mundane topics. Those were ignored too, so Alexander redefined his goal: get Burr to tell him something new. This was not an easy task. Alexander tried all manner of topics from politics to pop music. It took over an hour before he finally found something trivial enough for Burr to answer.

Burr’s favourite colour was yellow.

Once he had secured one piece of information, Alexander found himself hungry for more. To his delight, Burr seemed to loosen up a little after that and provided Alexander with a wealth of information. He liked mushrooms on his pizza. His favourite season was spring and he absolutely hated the cold; he’d seen all the new Star Wars films the day they were released; he spoke fluent French but not one word of Spanish. By the time they reached the mountains, Alexander had learnt more about Burr than he had in the entirety of their previous correspondence.

It wasn’t until after they’d unpacked that Alexander walked into the kitchen and felt an icy chill of dread creep down his spine. He opened the fridge and found it full of fresh meat, fruits and vegetables. The pantry was much the same, stocked with dried pasta and rice and assorted spices. His heart sank. “We’re going to starve.”

Burr stuck his head into the kitchen, baffled when he saw the abundance of food available. “What’s wrong with what’s here?”

“I can’t cook.”

The words came out sheepish and guilty. It wasn’t a skill Alexander had ever felt bad for not learning, but something about the way Burr looked at him made him squirm with discomfort. He could feel excuses bubbling up inside him, but he swallowed the urge to explain he’d been busy with more important things. He’d wait Burr out and force him to break the silence. The wait very nearly killed him, and Alexander wondered at the wisdom of trying to outlast Burr on patience. After what felt like an age, Burr sighed and told him,

“You’re doing the dishes.”

If that meant Burr would handle the cooking, Alexander would take the deal with minimal grumbling. He knew he had no grounds to argue. In truth, Alexander was hardly any better at washing dishes than cooking; there wasn’t a single plate in his kitchen that wasn’t paper. For a moment, he let himself indulge in the mental image of Burr’s expression if he mentioned that, but made sure to keep it only a fantasy. As entertaining as it would be, he knew he’d never hear the end of it.

The afternoon passed peacefully enough. Burr busied himself in the kitchen, and Alexander set up his laptop on the dining table and did his best to work without an internet connection. It was agonizing. There were advantages to being disconnected and undistracted, but given running a campaign was largely about being visible and organizing things, there was only so much he could do. By the time dinner rolled around, his head was pounding with frustration.

“I can’t handle a week of this. Just kill me now,” he said plaintively. Burr just shook his head and pushed a large bowl of noodles across the table to him. For a few moments, Alexander stared at the bowl intently. Burr may claim to know how to cook, but Alexander remembered all too well what college had been like. It was a miracle none of them had gotten scurvy. To this day, Alexander suspected the only thing that had spared them were the dehydrated vegetables in instant noodles.

Hunger slowly overcame Alexander’s suspicion and he took a cautious bite. His eyes widened in shock. It wasn’t just decent, it was good: the perfect blend of spicy and garlicky and a sharp tang of spices he couldn’t place. It was the best thing Alexander had eaten in months. He looked up at Burr, staring at him. “Burr. Marry me.”

“Very funny, Hamilton.”

“No, Burr, seriously, holy shit, where did you learn to cook like this? You gave yourself food poisoning twice in your senior year!”

“I taught myself,” Burr said with a small shrug. “Neither Theodosia or I could cook, and when we moved to France, she was so busy with her work - it made sense I should be the one to learn.”

Alexander tried to imagine a world where he had learnt to cook (for any reason, let alone one that was so domestic). After a few tries, he just shuddered and returned to his meal. It didn’t bear thinking about. “Well, I for one am glad you did.”

There was a long measure of silence before Burr said quietly, “You’re welcome.”

“So! While we’re here, we might as well plan how we’re going to handle the rest of the campaign,” Alexander said. The swift change of topic was a deliberate choice: Alexander didn’t want to spend too long lingering on the faint smile tracing Burr’s lips. He certainly didn’t want to consider why it made his stomach flip. At least when talking about work, he was in familiar territory.

If Burr found the change in topic jarring, he gave no sign of it. Together they worked out a backstory that would satisfy even the most curious of their acquaintances. Burr provided structure to the story, focusing on important milestones, the terms of the relationship and internal consistency of the story. It was just as well one of them was inclined to do so. Alexander jumped from extreme to extreme, determined to plot out everything from their sex lives to their arguments to inside jokes.

“C’mon, Burr, I’m working on the things that make a relationship real,” he wheedled over a large mug of cocoa, hoping to get Burr to engage with his wild ideas at least once.

“You could start by using my name,” Burr said. He stared into his mug of cocoa, watching the marshmallow he’d added slowly melt. “No one is going to believe you filled my apartment with balloons for my birthday if you don’t know when my birthday is or what my given name is.”

“Well, Aaron Burr, if you’re so good at this, when was my birthday?”

“January 11th. Every year you get drunk and send multiple messages about ‘burr-thdays’, which only reinforces my suspicion you’re incapable of referring to me without using my surname.”

Alexander snickered. Even sober, the pun sounded pretty good to him. “‘Aaron’ sounds weird. I could call you sweetheart?”

A muscle twitched in Burr’s face. He quickly schooled his expression and shook his head, but it was too late: a wicked grin was already spreading its way across Alexander’s face. “Sugar?”

“No.”

“Snookums?”

“No.”

“Pookie?”

“Alexander, I swear to God, I’ll - “ Burr cut himself off mid sentence. His hand clenched and unclenched into a fist before he put it flat on the table. The entire scene lasted just a second, too quick to be ordinarily caught, but Alexander, watching like a hawk, was fascinated. He’d always wondered about how Burr kept himself so tightly controlled. It was only now he deliberately examined the other man that he realized the entire facade took effort.

Burr had emotions.

It should not have been a revelation, but it was. Alexander had spent entirely too much of his college years trying to determine if Burr felt anything beneath his calm and affable facade. In his senior year, he had forfeited his bet with Laurens on the matter and conceded Burr must be a robot. He chewed his lip, wondering. Had these signs been there then? Had Burr’s control slipped over the years, or had Hamilton’s ability to read people simply improved?

“Hamilton. You’re staring.”

Shit. Alexander needed to distract Burr, and distract him quickly. If a lifetime of being a pain in the ass had taught him anything, it was that frustration was more effective than apologies when it came to distracting someone. With this in mind, Alexander let out a deliberately theatrical sigh and rested his chin in his hands. He batted his eyelashes at Burr and said, “Sorry, babe, I got lost in your eyes.”

His hunch paid off. Burr shook his head in disapproval but changed the topic: Alexander was safe, and would live to tease Burr another day. The conversation flowed easily until both of them were yawning widely. It was only after they had both brushed their teeth that they were forced to confront the obvious problem. The cabin had only one bed. It was a large bed, left covered in rose petals by the staff who had prepared the cabin for their arrival. But it was still only one bed.

“Well,” Burr said at length. “There’s no getting around it. I’m sure we can both agree to be mature about this.”

Alexander said, “I didn’t pack pyjamas.”

He almost felt bad for the long, drawn-out sigh that prompted. After a few minutes of rummaging through his bag, he found a tshirt and a pair of tracksuit pants that would serve the purpose. By the time he emerged from the bathroom, Burr had already changed into a matching flannel pyjama set and claimed his place on the left side of the bed. Alexander took the right, rolling onto his back and staring blankly at the ceiling. There was no rush of traffic to lull him to sleep. None of the familiar sounds of the city were there to soothe him. Instead, the room was eerily quiet in a way which drew attention to what sounds were there: the buzz of insects, the click of the ceiling fan cooling the room, the steady, predictable pace of Burr’s breathing. Sleep took Alexander slowly and dreams haunted his rest.

Alexander woke alone. It took him some time to remember why this was surprising: Burr was missing. As tempting as it was to lounge around in bed and drift back to sleep, the pounding in Alexander’s head told him he was already an hour or two past his usual morning coffee. Groaning, he dragged himself out of bed and trudged his way through to the kitchen.

What he found was almost enough to turn him into a morning person. Burr stood in front of the stove making pancakes and humming to himself. He’d clearly been up for a while: the mud on his shoes and sweat-stained shirt suggested a vigorous morning run. The clothes he’d worn for his cardio were tight enough that Alexander found himself wondering about the ethics of leering at one’s fake husband (after all, they were married). But as distracting as Burr was, he didn’t hold a candle towards the true object of affection in Alexander’s heart.

A pot of coffee sat on the bench.

He gulped the first mug down in seconds, ignoring the way the scalding liquid burned his throat. The second mug he took time to savour. He wrapped his hands around the mug, appreciating the warmth, and took a deep breath of the steam rising from the mug. If marriage meant waking up to coffee and pancakes, Alexander had made the best decision of his life. Lost in his thoughts, it took him some time to realize Burr was speaking to him. He squinted at the other man and hoped a grunt would suffice as an answer.

“God, you’re a mess in the mornings,” Burr chuckled. Alexander pouted, but any arguments he might have made were swept away when Burr emptied the coffee pot into his own mug and immediately refilled it. Alexander stared in awe. The sight of someone actually refilling the coffee pot forced Alexander to re-examine his entire belief structure surrounding the morality of humans and caffeine.  He hadn’t realized refilling the coffee pot was something people actually did.

Conversation started to flow once the caffeine started to move from Alexander’s gut to his blood. His assumption earlier had been right: Burr had risen early and gone for a morning run through the forest. Running alone through the forest seemed an excellent way to get murdered, and Alexander told Burr so, but his concerns were brushed off with a smooth laugh.

They parted again after breakfast - Alexander to do the dishes, and Burr to shower. By the time Burr emerged an hour later, Alexander had claimed half the kitchen table for his laptop and papers. Burr claimed the other end of the table to do the same. The day passed peacefully, mostly silent but for the occasional work-related conversation. Burr had always been an excellent sounding board for ideas, willing to poke holes in Alexander’s grandiose plans without preaching his own beliefs. It was a skill Alexander was pleased to see he had kept through the years. In return, Alexander was able to help Burr move through the curse of writer’s block, providing an endless fountain of ideas and challenges to help him flesh out his thoughts.

Evening came before Alexander even realized it was past noon. It took the sudden absence of his conversation partner to break Alexander from his reverie long enough to look up and realize it was dark outside. With Burr in the kitchen cooking, Alexander would need something else to occupy him. He spent a few minutes drifting around the cabin in search of amusement, but inevitably returned to his favourite form of internet-free entertainment: pestering Burr.

“So,” he said, pulling a bottle of champagne from the fridge and pouring them both a glass. “I propose a toast. To a ruse well-executed.”

Burr took the glass, but hesitated a moment before raising it in a toast. After they drank, he said, “I should tell you, there may be a slight hiccup.”

Alexander felt his heart drop through his feet. “What kind of hiccup?”

It took Burr a moment to answer. First he took another sip of his champagne, then let out a long exhale. If Alexander didn’t know better, he would have thought Burr was trying to hide something. “Jon - my Jon, not your John, Bellamy - knows me too well. He doesn’t believe I’m in love with you.”

“Shit.” There went their successful ruse. Alexander took a gulp of champagne and immediately refilled his glass. If he had to deal with this, he’d be damned if he was doing it sober. “So what does he think is up?”

There was another pregnant pause. Burr busied himself cutting vegetables and studiously avoiding looking anywhere near Alexander. “He thinks you forced me into it.”

“Well, I did kind of show up on your doorstep and gave you a pretty extreme choice, I mean - “

“No, Alexander.” There was a strange note in Burr’s voice. Alexander couldn’t decide if it sounded more like frustration, amusement, or deep embarrassment. In truth, it was a combination of all three. “Not like that. He gave me the number for an abuse hotline after the ceremony.”

Alexander nearly dropped his glass. “What the fuck?”

The answering hum of agreement from Burr didn’t come close to satisfying Alexander’s outrage, so he repeated himself. “No, seriously, what the fuck? Your friend meets me for, what, one hour, and he thinks I’m some kind of twisted asshole?”

“Alexander, be reasonable. Jon knows only two things: that you did something to compel me to marry you with less than 48 hours notice, and your history with Maria. You must know what that looks like. If our positions were reversed, I would do the same.”

“Be reasonable?” Alexander echoed, flabbergasted, but he winced when Burr went on to further explain himself. “What I did with Maria is no one’s business but my own.”

“Actually, it’s also her business,” Burr said mildly. He was frowning at Alexander, an expression that gave Alexander chills. It took a great deal to get Burr to stop smiling, and even more to frown. Alexander had seen him destroy debating opponents without the friendly mask dropping for even a second. It made the open displeasure uncomfortable, even alarming. “As her friend, I must point out that what you did was unambiguously reprehensible. If it had come to a choice between your friendship and hers, I would certainly have chosen to stand by her. The only reason I am standing here right now is because she decided to forgive you and encouraged me to do the same.”

The blood rushed from Alexander’s face. He spent a long moment staring at his champagne hoping it would turn to vodka before draining the glass anyway. The alcohol may not have made anything better, but it did help to numb his emotions. Anger roiled in his gut, but for now shock took precedence.  He looked at Burr, then to the bottle on the bench, then back to Burr and croaked out, “You know Maria?”

“I was her divorce lawyer. We became good friends during the proceedings. I offered to cut off all contact with you over your actions, but Maria persuaded me not to.”

“You were going to cut me off? I’ve always considered you a friend,” Alexander said. The pout he wore was only somewhat exaggerated. Although they had not been especially close since college, he had always valued Burr’s presence in his life. The idea that he had nearly been denied that hurt more than even Alexander had been expecting. It was more than mere indignant anger at the insult. There was a persistent anxiety bubbling away below the surface, demanding his attention when all Alexander wanted to do was ignore it. It continued to tug at his insides as he watched Burr sigh, lean against the bench and pinch the bridge of his nose in frustration.

“Alexander. Maria came to you for help because her husband was abusing her, and not only did you not help, you took further advantage of her. To this day she insists she was an active and willing participant, which is why I’m simply calling your actions immoral and not illegal.”

A tense silence descended on the room. Alexander glared at Burr, ready to start a fight, but found himself unprepared for the steady, calm gaze that met his eyes. It was Alexander who looked away first, turning his eyes to the ground. “She courted me. Not the other way around. I just didn’t say ‘no’. So maybe think twice before accusing me of anything – though I don’t know why you’re even here if you’re convinced I’m such a monster.”

“She was also alone, friendless and entirely dependent on the promise of help from others,” Burr pointed out. He picked up Alexander’s glass and paused for a moment, staring at it. He refilled the delicate flute and held it out to Alexander. A truce. “She forgave you. That’s enough for me. And she approves of our so-called relationship.”

Alexander took the glass. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. “You told her, then?”

“I did. She said we would be good for each other.”

Alexander looked back at Burr and took in the carefully neutral expression that had returned to his face. “You’re hiding something. What did she say?”

Burr’s nervous little laugh confirmed Alexander was right. Not only was Burr hiding something, it was something he was anxious about. That was enough to make Alexander’s heart sink.“If you must know, she sent me a box of condoms and told me to - she gave me advice.”

It was Burr’s obvious discomfort that gave his meaning away. Alexander groaned and shook his head. “More or less detailed than that Twitter thread?”

“More.”

Alexander winced. In unison, he and Burr drained their glasses, both apparently determined to forget as much of this as possible.

The greatest scandal in Alexander’s career had been a series of tweets dubbed “The Reynolds Thread” by the media. It had been a candid and at times grossly personal account of Alexander’s torrid affair with Maria that had very nearly cost him his job. It had cost him both personal and professional relationshipsIf Maria’s advice to Burr had contained more detail than that thread, Alexander knew enough to guess at what she had said. It was a wonder Burr could even look at him without blushing.

“We’re off topic. You were just about to apologize for your friend being a jerk.”

“He’s acting the way any friend would,” Burr said with a shake of his head. “I won’t apologize for him. I’m sure plenty of your friends will be suspicious of my motives. So long as they don’t act on or share those suspicions with anyone other than you, I can endure Laurens insinuating I’m manipulative or cold or otherwise a poor husband for you.”

With any luck, Laurens would make such a claim about Burr’s motives, as none of Alexander’s other friends apparently would. The reaction had Alexander baffled. Once the initial shock had passed, not a single one of his friends had questioned the idea that Burr and Alexander had been secretly in love for over a year. Lafayette had gone so far as to claim that it explained a great deal of their behaviour; what behaviour had convinced him of this was a question Alexander wasn’t sure he wanted answers to.

As far as Alexander was concerned, the universal acceptance of their story was nothing less than an outrage. He’d expected disbelief. He’d expected laughter. At the very least, he’d expected some level of uncertainty or doubt from his friends. But no: each and every one of his friends had found their story completely plausible. What this said of Alexander’s own behaviour, he shuddered to think.

(The question of what it said of Burr’s was a point he didn’t have the courage to consider).

The universal acceptance from his friends had been disconcerting. Laurens disapproving was the only hope left for Alexander’s sanity. If Laurens accepted Burr’s apparent adoration of Alexander without question, Alexander was going to be furious. “He’ll definitely say something.”

That was apparently the wrong thing to say, as it set off another round of bickering. The argument continued while Burr cooked and Alexander pulled out the dishes. There was a momentary pause as Burr checked how much food Alexander wanted before the debate was back on. It wasn’t until they had both scraped their plates clean that a comfortable silence descended over the pair. After a moment, Alexander suggested, “Do you wanna watch a movie?”

That day set the routine for the rest of the honeymoon. Burr would rise first, venturing out into the woods for morning exercise. Alexander would emerge later in a caffeine-deprived haze and devour whatever breakfast was available. The day would be split between working and reading for leisure, with the pair only occasionally breaking the silence to share an interesting thought. As evening fell arguments and debate broke out over dinner. No matter how much they bickered, they somehow managed to avoid mortally offending the other. The arguments felt like sport rather than fights. Without fail, they managed to resolve any fights they had by evening.

In fact, the week went so smoothly that Alexander didn’t realize it had passed until he found Burr packing his bags. “It’s Friday already?”

“It is,” Burr nodded. He seemed pleased with the situation, humming to himself as he packed. “As nice as it has been to unplug for the week, I am looking forward to getting back to Theo.”

“Yeah, Theo, sure,” Alexander said distractedly. He dashed around the cabin, collecting all his belongings and tossing them haphazardly in his bag. “Do you think we missed much? I hope Washington didn’t listen to Jefferson too much while I was gone, the man’s insufferable. I’m sure Kleinhande has caused a few scandals - maybe we’re under martial law and we just don’t know it. Maybe those treason charges came through and Dimes’ in charge now. Do you think that would make the campaign easier, or harder?”

Alexander’s hypothesizing didn’t stop for the rest of the morning. He babbled on as they packed and loaded the car, not stopping even after they’d locked up the cabin for the last time. As soon as they were in the car, Burr turned the radio on. When Alexander kept talking, he turned the volume up.

(It still didn’t stop Alexander).

Chapter Text

Alexander had twelve missed calls, 37 texts, five Facebook messages and two emails from John Laurens. Then, of course, there were the texts, tweets, and emails from the rest of his friends and coworkers. His phone had started buzzing halfway down the mountain and hadn’t stopped for a full ten minutes. Burr was faring little better, although he had had the foresight to put his phone on vibrate first. The low hum of vibration combined with the incessant chirps coming from Alexander’s phone were an obnoxious soundtrack, interrupting casual conversation and drowning out the radio. It made the drive back to civilization far more tense and awkward than it had any right to be.

“I don’t know why we’re worrying. We just need to convince everyone we spent the week fucking instead of arguing,” Alexander reasoned over lunch. “It shouldn’t be hard. No one is going to suspect we’re lying. It’s not like anyone is going ask me what your dick looks like.”

Burr looked around, as though there were any risk of being overheard at a roadside rest stop in the middle of nowhere. Whether he was concerned about being caught in a lie or overhearing them discussing sex, Alexander wasn’t sure. In lieu of answering, Burr took a long sip from his thermos of tea before delicately setting the cheap plastic mug down on the picnic table. When it became clear Alexander had no intentions of letting the matter drop, he sighed and shook his head.

“Alexander. Relax. People will be content to draw their own conclusions from what we tell them.”

“But what do we tell them?”

“It’s not obvious?” Burr asked. His eyebrows lifted upwards in surprise at the same time as a small smile started to wipe out the remaining traces of irritation on his face. It left Alexander with the uncomfortable impression he’d just been caught, although caught doing what was something he wasn’t entirely sure of. “We tell them we came into the mountains to disconnect from the rush of the modern world. You needed a place you couldn’t be tempted to work, and I was adamant I would have you all to myself for a week.”

“Oh,” Alexander heard himself say. He stared at Burr. Was his apparent skill at relationships innate, or was he applying things he had learnt from his previous marriage? Alexander was about to ask when he caught himself. For all Alexander may be crude and tactless at times, even he knew there were some issues best left alone. But he still had one nagging question. “What if they ask what we did?”

“Say nothing. Smile. Tell them to use their imagination,” Burr said. The suggestion was accompanied by a nonchalant little shrug, as though it really were that simple. Maybe for Burr it was.

“No one’s going to believe me if I keep quiet about it.”

“Then use me as an excuse. You don’t want to be relegated to the couch less than a month after convincing me to marry you.”

“Wait, who says I proposed?”

“You did. You literally proposed, Alexander. This whole marriage was your idea,” Burr pointed out. Alexander scowled. He wished he could tell what Burr was thinking. Was he laughing at Alexander, or was he actually annoyed? Whatever it was, it was hidden behind that damn smile like usual. Alexander would have given anything to be able to read Burr’s expressions. “And it’s the only way to make the story plausible. What would you have said if you’d heard I’d turned around and married someone so abruptly?”

“That you were drunk,” Alexander said promptly. “Or blackmailed. Or that you were an alien just disguised as you and the real you had been abducted and being used as a test subject on Mars.”

“All perfectly logical suggestions, I’m sure.”

Alexander pulled a face. “You’re a jerk. Asshole.”

Insults didn’t get Alexander the reaction he wanted, so he pulled out the big guns. If he had gained one thing from his honeymoon, it was a sure way to irritate his husband. “Darling. Beloved. Sunshine.”

Burr groaned. “I hate you.”

“I love you too, sweetie pie.”

The rest of the drive home was filled with petty bickering and disagreements. Despite their arguing, Alexander still bought Burr a donut when they stopped for gas, and Burr’s long list of complaints included nothing about how frequently Alexander insisted they pulled over to use the bathroom or stop for coffee.

By the time they were driving through New Jersey, both of them had argued and mocked and bickered their way into thoroughly cheerful moods. It helped that Burr was excited to be heading home: Alexander didn’t think there was anything he could have done to crush his excitement about being reunited with Theodosia. Not even the prospect of being teased and questioned by his sister could dim his mood, although it certainly did no favours for Alexander’s spirits. Meeting her once had been daunting enough. Family members were intimidating at the best of times, but Alexander had been prepared for someone ad quiet and reticent as Aaron. Though there was a physical resemblance between the siblings, that was where the resemblance ended. Sally was open, welcoming and downright friendly. Once they stepped through her front door, Alexander’s worst fears were confirmed. She invited them to stay for a cup of tea, and before Alexander could protest, Burr had accepted.

“Be patient,” Burr told him, as though that helped anything. Alexander had little enough patience for his close friends: he had next to none for strangers. He did his best, but what little patience he had was eroded by the time she said,

“Honestly, I don’t know why Aaron didn’t say anything about you sooner, it’s so nice to welcome you to the family. We could have done it earlier, but you know how Aaron is about sharing things. I do wish you’d open up more, Aaron. We had no idea you were even seeing someone, let alone this in love.”

“Completely and utterly besotted,” Burr said, through gritted teeth. He shifted uneasily in his seat, visibly uncomfortable with the conversation topic. “Sally, enough.”

“Alright, alright. I just want you to be happy.”

The words were genuine, well-intentioned and hung heavy and awkward in the air. Burr mumbled something that may have been reciprocation before abruptly changing the topic. However much the two siblings may have loved each other, the stark differences in their personalities made communication difficult. It was the most tense conversation Alexander had been a part of all week. Even Theodosia sighed with relief once she was packed into the car to leave.

“Is everything alright, sweetie?” Burr asked, his eyes immediately moving to the rear view mirror to watch her reaction. Theodosia seemed to hesitate for a few seconds before deciding it was safe to share her opinion.

“Aunt Sally is nice, but she is... a lot.”

Alexander started to laugh. He couldn’t help it. He had only met Sally twice, but that was possibly the most concise explanation that could be offered for her. If Theodosia was more used to Aaron’s reserved manner, Sally’s enthusiasm must have been exhausting.

“Dad, why is Alexander laughing?”

“Alexander has a strange sense of humour, Theo. I don’t always understand why he laughs, but I don’t need to. What’s important to me is that he’s happy.”

Theodosia huffed. “Sally says you have to say things like that, ‘cause you’re his husband and you think he’s pretty.”

Before Aaron had a chance to answer, Alexander jumped in with a grin, “Yes, yes, he absolutely does, your aunt was right, he thinks I’m very pretty.”

He grinned when his husband just groaned and poked his tongue out at Burr. Teasing Burr had always been fun, but now that they were married it was proving to be even better sport. Burr was trapped. He couldn’t slip away into a crowd, he couldn’t shut the door in Alexander’s face - he couldn’t even tell him to be quiet. No. Burr had to be nice, because husbands were nice to each other.

(The obvious caveat that Alexander should be nice to Burr was strategically ignored).

Alexander kept up the teasing until Burr pulled over outside his apartment. His heart sank. Belatedly Alexander realized that he was stuck, too: at least for the time being, he would have to move in with Burr. Anything less would be deeply suspicious to anyone inclined to question their bond. He stepped out of the car and looked up at the building with a forlorn expression. It was a nice place, but it wasn’t home. His own apartment had leaky taps and creaky floorboards, but it also had a cafe below. There was no cafe here, no roasting coffee or the sound of an espresso machine to welcome him home. Just the quiet hum of traffic and people on the street.

The three of them carried the bags up to Burr’s apartment, Theodosia proudly bearing a backpack that should have sent her toppling over backwards. While the Burrs started methodically putting everything away, Alexander let himself investigate the apartment. Burr’s apartment was nice. Speaking objectively, it was much nicer than his own: larger, well lit, cleaner, and decorated, not just furnished. An entire wall was dedicated to a tasteful arrangement of photographs. Curious, Alexander let himself examine the collection. There were more than a few familiar faces there. Little Theo by far dominated the display, with her family or alone: here she was peering out from a box fort as a baby, here dressed as a princess, here standing beside a telescope with a great beaming grin. There were other familiar faces, too: there were more than a few of Bellamy, and he jumped the first time he saw Maria staring back at him (behind an enormous stack of pancakes with a huge grin on her face). He lingered over a photo of a younger Burr and Bellamy together in a desert location, holding hands. Had Alexander disrupted something special, he wondered, or was Burr just unusually tactile with close friends? Alexander had never seen Burr respond with anything more than begrudging tolerance of casual contact, but surely he had to be different with the people closest to him.

It wasn’t until he saw the wedding photo that his heart sank. No wonder Burr’s close friends were suspicious. Alexander had thought Burr was a good actor, but it was a wonder anyone had fallen for their ruse. He’d never before seen a photo of someone so painfully, obviously, utterly in love as Burr in his wedding photo. A shower of rose petals surrounded the happy couple, and Burr appeared to be laughing at something Theodosia Sr had said. It looked like something out of a fairytale, too picturesque and idyllic to ever be real.

It made Alexander sick to his stomach.

He thought of Burr’s smile when they had exchanged their vows, of how hollow and empty it looked compared to this. Then he thought of all the other times he had seen Burr smile like that, and somehow that was even worse. He’d always taken those smiles at face value. How many other people had done the same? Not that he expected to compare to Burr’s wife, of course: but now he understood a little of why Burr’s friends may be suspicious of him. In their position, he’d be suspicious, too. Compared to this, Burr must have looked utterly miserable.

“That’s my favourite photo, too,” Theodosia said. Alexander jumped, looking around before remembering to look down to child height to find her. She beamed at him and pointed at the wedding photo. “They look so happy, and Mommy has such a nice dress.”

“Yeah. It’s, uh, happy.”

“Dad says this wall is only for happy pictures,” Theodosia agreed with a firm nod. “We keep the sad ones elsewhere, for when it’s time to be sad.”

Alexander didn’t know what to say to that, so he returned to studying the photographs on the wall. Now that he had seen the wedding photo and heard Theodosia’s explanation, he was a little uncomfortable. It felt personal, almost intrusive to be peering back across all the important moments in Burr’s life. He went to move away, but Theodosia grabbed his arm and pointed at one of the photos. “Look! There’s only one of you. We have to get more.”

She was right about one thing - there was a photograph of Alexander. In the photo, Alexander stood side-by-side with Burr, both of them grinning proudly and holding a certificate declaring them the best college debating team of 2009. It had been the one and only time Alexander and Burr had been placed on the same debating team, and Alexander had been delighted to find that once they moved past arguing, they made a formidable pair. Their competition hadn’t stood a chance. A smile tugged at the corners of his lips as he looked at the photo. They’d been a good team. Maybe they could be a good team in marriage: not forever, but at least for the year or so before they divorced.

“We put up a new photo every month. Next month can be you and Dad,” Theodosia decided. She tugged his arm and started walking off away from the photos. “C’mon, I’ll give you a tour.”

Helpless, Alexander let himself be pulled this way and that around the apartment as Burr opened his laptop and started tapping away at the keyboard. He made no move to rescue Alexander. If anything, when he glanced up he seemed almost amused. Alexander didn’t see what was so funny about the situation. Dealing with Theodosia was exhausting. It wasn’t that she was misbehaving or especially difficult: but Alexander had exactly zero experience with children and had no idea how to interact with them. Panic started to rise in his chest. The public would be expecting him to act like a father. Worse, Burr was expecting him to treat Theodosia well, and Alexander had no idea what that meant. He did the best he could. He smiled and laughed in all the right places; he asked questions when he could; he complimented anything Theodosia claimed credit for and did his best to listen to her stories. Every now and then, he glanced over at Burr, who was studiously ignoring them. Even if he wasn’t amused, Alexander strongly suspected he was taking advantage of Theodosia’s distraction to get some work done before dinner. It seemed like every time they drifted past, Burr was working on a different legal document.

“I thought my husband was meant to help me,” Alexander complained, once he was finally allowed to sit down. He didn’t just sit: he swooned, bringing the back of his hand up to his forehead in a dramatic gesture of distress. One of the corners of Burr’s mouth twitched. Was it amusement? The only other thing approximating a response he got from Burr was a distracted hum. Pouting, Alexander pulled out his own tablet and flinched when he saw the size of his inbox. He tried complaining to Burr (“This is why I never go on holiday!”), but the other man was completely lost in his work. It wasn’t until he checked his calendar that he grimaced and tapped Burr on the shoulder. “Hey. Burr. Aaron. Angel.”

“Yes, Alexander?” Burr asked with a long-suffering sigh.

“There’s a fundraising benefit next week in Virginia.” Burr raised an eyebrow, unimpressed, so Alexander continued. “We’re expected to attend.”

“So?”

“There’s going to be dancing. Formal dancing,” Alexander said, and waited for the penny to drop. It took a moment, then Burr sighed and sat back in his chair. Alexander preempted Burr’s questions and protests by adding quickly, “Washington specifically pointed it out in the invite.”

“Do you even know how to dance?” Burr wanted to know, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Of course!” Alexander protested, indignant. “Washington made me take lessons before he let me anywhere near these fundraising balls, I’m not about to embarrass him by tripping over my own feet. Do you even know how to dance? Is asking me just a big cover-up for the fact that you don’t know?”

“I had lessons as a child, and in college. It’s been a while, but that’s not my concern. I assume you learnt to lead?”

Alexander opened his mouth to reply, then nodded and winced. “You too?”

Burr nodded, staring at the invite. After a few moments, he sighed. “You can dance, and I can dance. I’m sure we can figure it out between us.”

“Right,” Alexander said, swallowing his skepticism. There were video tutorials for everything from quantum field theory to turning on an oven: there had to be one for dancing. The two of them huddled around Burr’s screen, watching video after video until each one blended together into an endless, mind-numbing drone in the back of Alexander’s head. After fifteen minutes, he started squirming. At thirty, he had started chewing on his nails from sheer boredom, shifting position every few minutes. By the time an hour rolled around, he had given up on watching the video entirely and taken to staring at Burr in the hopes of figuring out what was going through his head. The only thing Alexander could discern from watching him was his apparently keen focus on the tutorials. Whether he was enjoying them or not was impossible to tell from the carefully blank expression.

When Burr finally finished the last tutorial, Alexander nearly let out a cheer. “So we’re done?”

“Could you dance after that?”

There was a pause before Alexander said in a small voice, “Please don’t make me watch more videos.”

That startled a laugh from Burr, and he shook his head. “I’m not masochistic enough to do that. I was going to propose we practice.”

“Practice?” Alexander echoed. If Burr heard, he gave no sign of it. He simply kept fiddling with his phone, not looking up until he had music filling the room. A smile spread slowly over his face as jazz played from the speakers placed periodically on bookshelves around the room. He got to his feet and held a hand out for Alexander.

“Shall we?”

Alexander placed his hand gently in Burr’s and stood, staring at him. “Just so you know, I’m about 80% sure this is some kind of hallucination.”

Burr didn’t laugh, but his smile widened, and they were close enough that Alexander could see his chest shake as he swallowed down his amusement. When he placed one hand on Alexander’s waist, Alexander could feel the warmth of his hand emanating through the thin fabric of his t-shirt. In return, Alexander took the hint and rested his own hand on Burr’s forearm.

As Burr guided them through the basic steps, he couldn’t help but notice Burr’s arms felt more toned than his otherwise lean figure may have suggested. His morning exercise routine must be paying off. For a brief moment Alexander considered trying something of the sort himself, before deciding planning on waking up early for anything (let alone exercise) was too unrealistic.

“You do well when you’re distracted.”

“What do you mean?” Alexander wanted to know, narrowing his eyes and glaring at Burr. When that didn’t get a response, he bit his lip and looked down at his feet. Each step had to be just right, perfectly timed and aligned to Burr’s rhythm. It was tricker than it had any right to be. Learning to dance once had been difficult enough, but learning how to do the entire thing in reverse was proving to be even worse.

“You’re trying too hard. You’ve overthinking it. Just relax and - ow!”

“Sorry,” Alexander said sheepishly, watching Burr hop around the room in pain. In other circumstances, it might have been amusing to watch the normally stoic man react so strongly to something as small as Alexander stepping on his toes. As it was, Alexander stood by and chewed on his lower lip anxiously. “Should we try the other way?”

“Because you’ve given me every reason to trust your ability to lead,” Burr groused, but he let Alexander place his hand on his waist and steer him back into the open space between the dining table and the couch. This, Alexander quickly decided, was much easier. Dancing was not one of his hobbies. He turned to it with the same single-minded determination he faced everything else, but he had never enjoyed it. It turned out the missing key to his enjoyment was Burr. Or, to be precise, leading Burr. He watched in rapt fascination as Burr moved in response to the cues Alexander gave, following every instruction. As far as Alexander was concerned, he belonged in charge in any and all situations. Even better, he was in charge of Burr, a rare and precious occasion. They were unquestionably equal in debate and intelligence, and Alexander relished their frequent arguments, but there was something deeply satisfying about having the normally immovable man move where he willed.

“Stop that,” Burr tells him, his tone firm.

“Stop what?”

“You’ve got that one look on your face. There’s only three times I’ve seen you you get that look.”

“Is that so?” Alexander asked. A firm push set Burr spinning away from him before he regained his balance and gracefully twirled back. They made eye contact as they returned to the closed position. “What three times?”

“When you’re working, or when you’re in an argument.”

“And the third?”

Burr didn’t answer. His gaze dropped to the floor, and he let go of Alexander at took one deliberate step back. Alexander watched as he walked in a circle around Alexander and kept going straight past him. “I should be working.”

“C’mon, Burr, you were the one that wanted to practice,” Alexander complained. Burr said nothing, but a moment later Alexander’s phone buzzed. He looked at the screen and scowled. Instead of just talking to him, the bastard had sent him a calendar invite to practice every night before the fundraising ball. Alexander was halfway through sending a multi-paragraph reply when he received a message from John Laurens. It was a group photo of John, Hercules and Lafayette outside Alexander’s apartment with the caption “where are you you asshole”. A surge of guilt hit Alexander. Apart from one quick text welcoming him back to the country, he hadn’t actually contacted John since his wedding. Not wanting to have to try and explain himself via text, he called.

“Ham! Where the hell are you?” John demanded by way of greeting. Despite the brusque words, his tone was cheerful and filled with laughter. “These assholes  - no, Laff, fuck off, I’m talking. They are trying to convince me you married Burr . I said bullshit, but they’re standing by it. I don’t know why they didn’t pick a more believable lie to feed me. Where are you anyway?”

Alexander swallowed heavily. “I’m at Burr’s. Um, Aaron’s.”

The resulting din came through so loud over the phone that even Burr looked up from his laptop. There was evidently some kind of scuffle, and after a few moments Hercules had control of the phone. “We’re taking you out. Burr can spare you for one night, right?”

“He can spare me.”

It only took a few minutes for Alexander to get ready once he was off the phone. It wasn’t until he was on the way out the door that Burr called his name. He stuck his head back into the apartment. “What?”

“You’ll need these,” Burr said, tossing a pair of keys at him. “You don’t want to raise suspicions by staying out all night. Keep the noise down when you come back in, try not to wake Theo up.”

Alexander cursed. Burr was right. Even if he was finally home, there would be no escaping sharing a bed with Burr. The other man was a decent sleeping partner: he mostly kept to his side of the bed, and the snoring was minimal. He didn’t hog the blankets too much and he didn’t complain about Alexander’s own restless tossing and turning. Nevertheless, Alexander would have preferred going to sleep alone - or even better, with someone he could do more than just sleep with.

There was no escaping it. Alexander would simply have to drink enough to ensure going to bed with Burr seemed like an appealing prospect. He closed the front door to the apartment with a soft click and ventured out into the New York night.

Chapter Text

Alexander barely made it through the door before John grabbed his hand and pulled it to his face. He looked from Alexander’s hand to his face with an accusing glare.

“You’ve got a ring.”

Alexander gulped. All three of his friends were staring at him, but John in particular seemed suspicious and almost hurt.

“I have a ring. I’m married. To Burr. Aaron. Aaron Burr.”

It sounded unconvincing even to Alexander. Even now, he fumbled over referring to his husband as “Aaron”. Burr needed a name as slow and melodic as his way of speaking, or else something short and blunt to match his stubborn nature. Aaron just didn’t seem to fit. Or maybe it was just how unfamiliar the word felt. Alexander very nearly winced when he heard himself speak, certain there was no way the trio wouldn’t immediately see through his entire plan.

The trio cheered, and John thumped him on the back.

“You should have told us, Alex. Why did you keep it a secret so long?” Hercules wanted to know.

“I was meant to be your best man, asshole. Best! Man!” John complained. “We had a deal!”

“If you had told us, I may not have called him the worst. Your Burr must have some redeeming qualities, if you wed him,” Lafayette said. He managed to sound almost rueful about what he’d said, although Alexander would have bet his last dollar he didn’t regret it one bit.

“Slow down, slow down. At least buy me a drink before you interrogate me!” Alexander said, mostly to buy time. It worked, and he was whisked away to a table while Lafayette and Hercules went up to the bar. John took the seat opposite him, and for a while they just stared at each other. Married life seemed to suit John. Despite the crease in his forehead as he examined Alexander, he looked more relaxed and well-rested than anyone Alexander knew had been for years. The dark bags were gone from under his eyes, and the warm Caribbean sun had turned his skin a shade darker and warmer than usual.

After a long silence, the worry smoothed from John’s expression and he sat back in his chair. “I never would’ve believed it, I thought it was all a prank, but you look good, Ham.”

“I do?”

John laughed. “Don’t sound so surprised. We both know you needed a break. I am glad he got you to take some time off - even if I still haven’t forgiven you for not telling me about this.”

It took all of Alexander’s control not to scream in frustration. After all they’d been through together, John actually believed him? But at John’s last comment, guilt overcame the frustration. Alexander wasn’t sure what he felt guiltiest about: that he hadn’t been able to wait for John, or that the break John was so pleased he’d taken had been in itself a political move. He wondered how John would react if he mentioned Washington had planned his honeymoon. As entertaining as John’s reaction would surely be, Alexander suspected revealing that would come back to bite him. John had enough ammunition on him. Alexander shrugged. He couldn’t tell the whole truth, but he could at least soothe John’s wounded pride.

“We didn’t plan on getting married. Burr wanted to take things slow. But then...” Alexander bit his lip, searching for inspiration. John gestured for him to go on. The bright lights of the bar reflected off his ring, and Alexander jumped on the first idea that popped into his head. “You looked so happy at your wedding. And the way your husband kept looking at you - I wanted that.”

“So you went and got married,” John said, his voice warm with amusement. “That’s bloody typical of you. And you couldn’t even wait two weeks?”

“Couldn’t risk Burr changing his mind,” Alexander said. He pasted a grin on his face and rubbed his hands together. “Wouldn’t want to be left standing at the altar.”

Before John could respond to that, both Hercules and Lafayette appeared, each carrying two pints. “A toast! To the happy couples!”

“To our husbands!” John cried in response. Alexander tried not to look too guilty or miserable as he clinked his glass against his friends’. There was a moment of silence as they drank. It wasn’t until all four glasses were returned to the table that Alexander felt the pressure of his friends staring at him.

“You’ve got a lot of explaining to do,” Hercules told him.

Lafayette nodded emphatically, and said, “Burr? Really?”

“I didn’t have any choice! Who else could I marry?” Alexander snapped. His blood ran cold as he realized what he’d said and scrambled to cover his tracks. Convincing, he had to be convincing. “He lets me wake him up in the middle of the night to talk. He can keep up with me when I go off on tangents. He doesn’t mind that I’m a mess and addicted to my work, he can cook, and holy shit, his ass is -”

“Alexander, if you say one more word about Burr’s ass, I shall make sure it is the last word you ever say.”

“Lafayette is right. I had to hear enough of this in freshman year,” Hercules grumbled, to general agreement and a round of laughter from the table.

The distraction had worked, even if it had come at a high price. It normally took a great deal to embarrass Alexander, but his cheeks burned red at the reminder of his first year in college. He’d completely forgotten his youthful crush. Like most people at college, he’d been completely and utterly charmed by Burr when they first met. He’d been everything Alexander had wanted to be: charming, intelligent, handsome, rich, and most importantly of all, successful. Alexander had spent the first week at college following him around like a lost puppy. As his roommate, Hercules had been unable to escape his constant mooning and had earned every right to complain; but Alexander hadn’t counted on it coming back to bite him now.

“All right, all right, I’ll keep it PG. Besides, I want to hear about John.”

“That’s too bad, because John still has questions,” John told him. “Like exactly how long you’ve been dating Burr without telling us - without telling us, Ham! Jesus Christ, we’re meant to be your friends.”

“You are,” Alexander said, but it sounded weak even to him. “I wanted to tell you, I really did. But you know Burr.”

The others nodded in sage agreement. In their opinion, Burr being Burr did explain a great deal. With the others waiting for answers, Alexander fell back on the lie he and Aaron had practiced.

“We never really stopped talking after college, but we only started dating last year. He picked up my coffee at Starbucks by mistake. I told him since I’d bought him coffee, he owed me a date. He said no, but I persuaded him.”

Hercules snorted. “You mean you harassed him until he said yes.”

“I don’t know, Ham can be very persuasive when he wants to be.”

“Of course I’m persuasive. He thinks I’m irresistable,” Alexander grinned. If he had to give them a story, he might as well have some fun while he did it. “How do you think I got him to marry me?”

Hours passed as Alexander was interrogated by his friends. Even with a week to prepare, he and Burr hadn’t managed to cover every scenario, and Alexander found himself having to improvise. He wanted to wince every time he did. Not only would he not remember half of what he said, Burr would doubtlessly give him hell for some of the things that came tumbling out of his mouth. He might have been forgiven for implying Burr cried at Disney films, but there would be no pardon for claiming they’d had a quickie in Burr’s office. In Alexander’s defence, there hadn’t been much he could say to “Tell us something we wouldn’t expect”, and as for the most outrageous thing they’d done together - well. There was only so far Burr’s tendency towards peace and stability could plausibly counteract Alexander’s own chaotic nature.

After one lie earned a particularly loud chorus of laughter and brotherly teasing, Alexander excused himself to go and buy another round for the table. When he returned, his heart sank. The three of them were huddled around his phone, snickering.

“What is this?”

“Alex, relax. We all saw your wedding photo. There’s not much you could do to make that man give up on you. A few texts won’t change that,” Hercules said soothingly. Alexander bit back a hysterical laugh. The photo he’d shared online did look convincing, but Alexander knew better now. He’d seen Burr’s real wedding photo. If Burr had had more than one close long-term friend, their fake relationship certainly would have been outed by now.

“C’mon, Ham,” John grinned at him, expression mischievous. “It’s only fair. I didn’t get to embarrass you with a best man speech, so I’ve got to make do with what I’ve got.”

“We told Burr what you said about his cooking, and his dancing.”

“And his ass.”

Alexander winced. Maybe, if he was very, very lucky, he’d die tragically and heroically some time between now and having to face Burr again. “I hate you all.”

“That’s okay, we already knew that,” John told him. He slid the phone back across the table when Alexander took his seat. “Consider this revenge for telling my husband about the time with the lube and – well, any college stories involving lube. We weren’t even married then, what if he’d left? At least Burr’s stuck with you now. C’mon, surely he’s really not going to be mad at you about this?”

For a moment, Alexander considered telling the truth. He wanted them to realize just how awkward they’d just made his already uncomfortable and unwanted marriage, which they would never do if they believed he and Burr were happily in love. But the hot flash of impatience passed, and all he did was sigh. He trusted his friends, but even the best people could make mistakes. His entire situation was proof of that. Instead, he pointed out,

“You know how B- how Aaron likes his privacy. If I have to get a divorce after this, I’m blaming you. And I’m telling your husband about the time you handcuffed yourself and lost the keys.”

“We were in college, it was a costume party,” John protested, but it was too late. Hercules and Lafayette latched onto the new target, and Alexander was able to spend the rest of the night on the safe side of their good-natured teasing. The rest of the night passed quickly in a warm haze of alcohol and laughter. As they finally separated for the night, John pulled Alexander into a hug and told him,

“I’m happy for you, Ham. Burr may be a stuck-up, spineless jerk, but I always liked him. And he’s your spineless jerk.”

“Gee, thanks,” Alexander rolled his eyes. They were soon both shepherded into separate cabs by their friends under firm instructions not to alienate their husbands by staying out all night.

Alexander was as quiet as possible as he let himself in to Burr’s apartment. Even knowing he was expected there, it still felt sneaky and underhanded to be letting himself into Burr’s space under cover of darkness.

The lights in the kitchen were on. Alexander paused in the doorway when he saw that, somewhat surprised. He’d expected to be fumbling around the unfamiliar apartment in the dark. That Burr might be considerate enough to leave a light on for him was something that Alexander hadn’t even considered. Alexander leaned against the closed door and slipped his shoes off so that he could walk across the polished wooden floorboards.

He made it halfway across the room before he realized he wasn’t alone.

Burr was still awake. The clock had struck midnight over half an hour ago, but Burr was still seated at the kitchen table with his laptop and a notepad. He didn’t look up when Alexander comes in, but Alexander recognized his expression. It was the same look that Alexander has seen reflected in the screen of his laptop during the countless late nights he spent awake working. He wondered if Burr knew what time it was.

A flashing light caught his eye. Burr’s phone sat on the table beside him, flashing an insistent notification. For one wild moment, Alexander considered making a grab for it: stealing the phone, erasing his friends messages and sparing himself embarrassment. The idea passed as quickly as it came. Even if Alexander could somehow get the phone without noticing, he had no idea what Burr’s password would be.

“Oh, Alexander. It’s...” Burr blinked at the clock. “It’s the middle of the night?”

“You should be asleep,” Alexander told him. For a moment they stared at each other in silence. Alexander didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when Burr shook his head and gestured to his laptop. This was karma. It was payback for every time someone had begged Alexander to get some rest. “You know. Set a good standard for the little munchkin, get your beauty sleep, whatever.”

“I suppose I should,” Burr sighed. He looked at his screen and frowned before carefully deleting the last line he’d written. “I’m clearly too tired to be productive.”

Alexander breathed a sigh of relief as Burr closed his laptop and stretched before getting to his feet. It wasn’t that he was worried, he told himself. His only concern was what people would say if they saw his husband so tired and drained.

It was past two a.m. by the time both of them had brushed their teeth and changed into pyjamas. Burr yawned widely as he crawled into bed. Within minutes he was snoring gently, and Alexander let the sound soothe him into gentle sleep.

**********

There was coffee waiting for Alexander when he woke up in the morning. Less appealing was the sight of Burr sitting at the kitchen table, scrolling through his phone. Alexander watched closely as he took the coffee, hoping it was a sign he wasn’t in too much trouble. Burr’s expression did nothing to reassure him. It was as stern and unreadable as ever. Just as Alexander started to grow uncomfortable, Burr looked up and spoke.

“I see you had an eventful night.”

Alexander winced. “They stole my phone. John’s mad he didn’t get to be best man. Do I want to know what they said?”

“I don’t think you do,” Burr said. A smile started to spread over his face, and there was a warm note of laughter hiding in his voice. “Though I might suggest considering what you might do to Laurens in return.”

Alexander breathed a sigh of relief. That was as close as he could expect Burr to get to laughing aloud at the situation. He’d count it as a victory. “It was Laff who said the stuff about your ass - which, by the way, totally not my fault.”

There was a pause as Aaron considered that. “I don’t think that makes it any better.”

“Much worse, probably,” Alexander agreed in a cheerful tone. “Thanks for the coffee, by the way. I thought you were going to kill me, or at least get revenge in some way.”

“I wanted a coherent explanation for these texts. I wasn’t going to get that if you didn’t have coffee.”

He had a point. “Speaking of, I’m going to need to get some stuff from my apartment. Like the coffee machine, it’s much better than yours. And clean clothes.”

“I’ll lend you a key so you can get back in. Theo and I were going to go to the park after her piano lesson, or maybe the museum.”

“Right,” Alexander nodded. “And don’t forget we’ve got that interview this afternoon.”

Burr sighed and shook his head a little. “Remind me again why this has to be such a media event?”

It was a question driven by frustration, not a lack of understanding. They had covered the topic more than enough on their honeymoon. It was an inescapable fact that Alexander was a key figure in Washington’s presidential campaign.

The Washington campaign broke the usual rules of politics in many ways. The no-party structure and open endorsement of staff before the campaign was won was unheard of. Washington was deliberately as transparent as possible, promising stability and predictability in place of turmoil and conspiracy. Not only would the people know who was going to be president, they’d also have the comfort of knowing who Washington intended key cabinet members to be. But for all the campaign structure was revolutionary, the media had an unrelenting focus on one trivial detail: the presidential candidate had no family.

Washington was the first single man to run for presidency in decades. The media was at a loss, having spent the last four years chasing the stories and scandals of the incumbent president’s family. So when their attention wandered, or whispers spread doubting Washington’s ability to stand for American families, Washington did the only thing he could do: he directed attention to the families close to him. For most of the campaign, the focus had been on his running partner’s family (her husband and eight-year-old daughter), but now the limelight would be on Alexander. They had tried to come up with a way to avoid it. Drawing attention to the fraudulent marriage was risky, especially in front of the media in election season. If there was even the slightest hint of discord between Alexander and Burr, the media would be whipped into a frenzy. But the alternative would be too suspicious. Alexander was notoriously public with his personal affairs, and people would wonder why Washington seemed to be ignoring them.

So Burr and Alexander were to be trotted out in front of the media as proof that the campaign understood families. Their first task was an advertisement designed by Washington’s political team.

“We want to see the real, authentic you,” the director told them. “Of course, we’re most interested in how your relationship shapes Mr Hamilton’s political position, but let us handle that.”

If Burr was anxious, he didn’t show it. He smiled widely and nodded at what the director was saying, occasionally chiming in with a question. As far as Alexander was concerned, watching Burr was far more interesting than listening. A week ago he would have fallen for the routine, but now he wondered. He knew Burr was a good liar. Their entire relationship was a lie, and everyone but Burr’s best friend seemed to have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. If that much was a lie, what else?

He was pulled from his reverie by Burr squeezing his hand tight. “I said, I’m sure Alexander would rather get the interview portion done first. Am I right?”

There was a pause as Alexander processed the words. He then nodded and said, “Of course, of course. It’s going to be fun.”

It was not fun. Ten minutes into the interview, Alexander considered walking out. By the time an hour rolled around, he had begun to plot how to fake his own death in order to escape. He had plenty of time to consider his options, as the questions were not hard-hitting or complicated. No, they were much, much worse than that. They were personal. The interviewer wanted to know everything about their relationship, from how they met to what morning routine was.

There was no relief when the interrogation was complete. They moved straight from the interview to the photography and filming in such a variety of cutesy poses and scenes that Alexander’s head spun. One minute they were walking hand and hand through the set, and the next they had Alexander leaning against a tree with Burr’s head in his lap, looking up at the sky.

If there was one silver lining to the ordeal, it was Burr’s constant presence. Alexander was amazed to find Burr’s company helped ease the pressure of the production. When Alexander’s temper flared, Burr would squeeze his hand and murmur his name softly. When he needed distracting, Burr was somehow able to get him back on topic without Alexander feeling like the ground had shifted under him.

Most of all, Alexander was delighted by Burr’s subtle dry wit. More than once he found himself choking back laughter at completely inappropriate times while Burr looked on, straight-faced and silently smug. Burr never gave any sign of acknowledgement. Each time, he made his comment and continued talking like Alexander hadn’t just snorted or smirked. It was different to Alexander’s usual style of humour, but he found himself feeding off it nonetheless.

And if a joke fell flat, or Alexander found himself bored - well, he could always find refuge in his old hobby of needling Burr. He delighted in the microscopic cracks he caused in Burr’s careful composure. A twitch here, a prolonged pause there, or best of all a long exhale just short of being a sigh. It was even better now they were in public. In the privacy of Burr’s apartment, he might scowl and snap at names like “sweetheart” and “honeybunch”, but here he could do nothing but smile on in adoration as Alexander shamelessly called him “pookie” and “sugar”. After one particularly creative name, Burr sighed.

“If you call me one more ridiculous name, I swear I’ll...”

“You’ll what? Hog the blankets again?”

Burr’s eyes flashed with irritation and he went for the jugular.  “I’ll get rid of your coffee maker.”

With a threat like that on the table, Alexander did his best to behave for the rest of the afternoon. By the time they were wrapping up the final shots, even Burr’s patience seemed to be fraying at the edges. The very minute they could, they bolted from the studio.

“That,” Alexander said, “was absolute hell.”

Burr hummed in agreement. “I will be glad to get home.”

Alexander spared a moment to think of his apartment, silent and empty. “Yeah. Home.”

Chapter Text

It took three days for Alexander to regret agreeing to play happy families for the public. The media reaction to the commercial was almost painful to watch: it was all most media organizations seemed to care about until they found a scandal to chase. The family-centric campaign video featuring Burr and Alexander was an unprecedented success. Burr and Alexander looked like a model couple: laughing together, struggling together and supporting each other. If Alexander ever had a real relationship like that, he’d consider himself lucky. They were not the sole focus of the video, but the message was clear: that they were a model couple committed to the Washington campaign. Hardcore supporters of the current president slammed them for “angling for diversity points” and “upending family values”, but more moderate agencies ate it up.

“The candid shots were particularly popular,” the media manager told the room with a bright smile. Alexander squirmed as three pairs of eyes turned to focus on him. The media manager herself was beaming, delighted that Alexander was for once solving more problems than he was causing. Washington looked skeptical. For one wild moment, Alexander wished he didn’t know the relationship was fake, if only so Alexander would be safe from the deep suspicion in Washington’s gaze.

Alexander had to admit, the candid shots looked authentic. The crew had caught Alexander and Burr off guard during a break. Alexander had been regaling Burr with tales from college by the coffee machine, and Burr had been laughing at his grandiose statements. Put like that, it sounded so simple, but Alexander had to admit: if he’d seen the same footage of any two other people, he would have believed they were in love. Perhaps that was why Washington’s running partner was giving him such an encouraging smile.

“I think it’s sweet,” she told him.

“You’re just glad the spotlight is off your family for now,” Alexander shot back. “But it won’t last. It’s the Washington-Rosario candidacy, not Washington-Hamilton.”

Nina Rosario laughed. “Still upset you’re not going to be VP? Even after you’ve gotten a taste of the less exciting side of dealing with the media?”

“I have to slug it through the media hype without a chance of ever getting my own presidency.”

“Is Treasury Secretary really not enough for you, Alexander?” Washington asked. There was a note of steel in his tone, and Alexander gulped and nodded quickly. Whatever disapproval he had earned passed quickly, as Washington returned to the matter at hand. “Regarding the video, I think we can consider it a resounding success. I’ll leave it to the marketing team to schedule future engagements, but I think we should keep your husband around as leverage for the next time our opponents try to claim we don’t understand American families.”

“Alexander, how’s your daughter with cameras?”

For a moment, Alexander floundered. Daughter? He was about to protest he had no daughter when he saw Burr’s face flash on the TV screen as the commercial looped again. An image of those same dark eyes surrounded by braids and a toothy grin flashed through his mind. Theo. He recovered quickly once he realized who Nina was talking about. “I don’t know if Aaron’s trained Theodosia for that yet.”

“She’ll have to learn sooner or later. Talk to him about it.”

“I’ll try. Aaron can be a little overprotective.” There was an uncomfortable squirm of discomfort in Alexander’s stomach at the idea of putting Theodosia through the strain of professional media. It seemed a poor way to thank her for giving him a chance with her father. He may not be comfortable interacting with her, but she was a good kid. Besides, Aaron would kill him if he did anything to upset Theodosia. That (or so he told himself) was the real source of his concern.

“I’m sure,” Nina laughed. “Fathers can be like that. Talk to him sooner rather than later.”

Alexander nodded in agreement before saying in a plaintive voice, “Can we get back to business?”

The topic changed, and Alexander breathed a sigh of relief. They moved on to more urgent and intriguing matters, like how to counteract their opposition’s propaganda and what their official line was on current hot issues. By the time Alexander left, his head was buzzing with at least six different ways to advance the campaign through Twitter. He posted two of them on the subway and spent the rest of the trip home snickering at the various responses he got.

It was second nature for Alexander to return to Burr’s apartment. He breezed through the door and dumped his belongings on the kitchen bench.

“Hey, honeybunch,” he said absentmindedly. He glanced up from his phone, intending to look down again immediately, but then stopped and stared. Burr looked exhausted. His usually impeccable posture was gone, replaced by a halfhearted slump as he stared at his computer screen. He didn’t even seem to notice or care that Alexander had spoken, so Alexander tried again. “Burr. You look like shit. What’s up?”

“Language. I don’t -”

“Don’t want Theodosia picking up my foul mouth, yeah, I know, but judging from the volume of music coming from her room I doubt she’s gonna hear a word either of us say, so. What’s up?”

There was a pained expression on Burr’s face. “Do you know how many clients have emailed me to congratulate me today?”

Alexander grinned, taking a seat opposite him. “Are we trading war stories? Because I’m pretty sure nothing you got can top Nina giving us babysitter recommendations in case we ever need a night to ourselves on the campaign trail. The future Vice President cares about our sex life, Burr.”

In response, Burr tapped something on his laptop and turned the screen around to face Alexander. Alexander’s eyebrows shot up as he skimmed through the inbox. There were dozens of emails, all of them seemingly professional save for the fact that they were all to congratulate Burr on his new marriage. They came from all kinds of sources: clients, colleagues, professional associations and even competitors.

“Well,” Alexander said at length. “You win on quantity.”

“That’s not counting the personal messages. I got lunch with Maria.”

Alexander winced. “I think my life just flashed before my eyes.”

“One of my best friends now thinks I’m an idiot, thanks to you,” Burr grumbled. “And I’m not entirely sure she’s wrong.”

“She’s not,” Alexander agreed cheerfully. Ignoring Burr’s sour expression, he started to list the reasons Maria was correct in her assessment of Burr’s intelligence. Each and every reason related to Alexander himself. Paradoxically, the list included both Burr’s decision to marry him and his unfathomable and apparently infinite patience for Alexander’s behaviour. If Burr was listening, he gave no sign of it. He took his laptop back and pulled up a word document, only occasionally looking up from the screen to mull something over before he started typing again.

The alarm on Burr’s phone blared to life and startled them both. Burr flinched, while Alexander jumped and dropped his phone on the ground. Once he had collected himself, Alexander leaned over to peer at the notification and groaned.

“Do we have to?”

“If we don’t learn, what will people say?” Burr asked. He stood and pushed his chair in before walking around the table and offering Alexander his hand. With a long suffering sigh, Alexander accepted the gesture and stepped into place, resting his hand against Burr’s arm. Burr moved as the music began to play, and the next thing Alexander knew he was being whisked around the room.

Their dancing lessons were becoming a regular feature in the evenings, and Alexander had to (begrudgingly) admit they weren’t as bad as he had feared. Giving up the lead was hard, but following had its perks. All Alexander had to do was watch Burr and try to interpret his actions. In that sense, it was good practice for day to day life. Less useful for daily life were the other things Alexander noticed, like the warmth of Burr’s hand on his back; the solid strength of his arm under Alexander’s hand; the warm amber scent of his soap. Taken together it all added up to Burr being exceedingly distracting.

They switched roles. The spike of satisfaction at moving Burr around was still there, but there was something off about Burr’s movements Alexander hadn’t noticed before. Burr’s movements were awkward and out of time, rushing through the first part of the move, then going too slow to compensate. His arms moved as an afterthought, and at one point he nearly elbowed Alexander in the face. Alexander watched this with deep suspicion. Was Burr deliberately getting it wrong so Alexander would give up on the idea of leading? The question was half-formed on his tongue when Burr spoke.

“You’re too forceful.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“You’re meant to guide me, not push me,” Burr said, gesturing to Alexander.

“I’ve never had any complaints before.”

“It’s a wonder you can get anyone to dance with you twice.”

Alexander took a moment to reconsider his experiences through this new lens, his expression falling as the links between past experiences clicked into place. He came to the only possible conclusion he could reach: “Dancing is stupid, anyway. It’s only any good when there’s no one worth talking to.”

There was an odd expression on Aaron’s face as he stared at Alexander. Alexander shifted his weight from foot to foot, feeling rather like a bug under a microscope. At length Burr asked him, “Did you do that on purpose?”

“Do what on purpose?”

It was only the amount of practice reading Burr that Alexander has had since marrying him that let him notice the laugh Aaron just barely held back. His eyebrows shot up at the same time as a smirk settled over his face. Had they been playing chess, Alexander would have guessed Burr was about to check him. “Nothing. I don’t suppose you have a property at Pemberly, by any chance? You must certainly have an income of over ten thousand pounds a year.”

“Is this pop culture?” Alexander asked suspiciously. “I don’t have time for that nonsense, and I wouldn’t have thought you would, either.”

“I’d hardly call Pride and Prejudice pop culture. I suppose you never did have much mastery of literature.”

“No. I didn’t,” Alexander said, his words short and curt. “I was too busy working, Burr, unlike you. Maybe if you’d wasted less time dallying with romance novels you’d be further along in your career today.”

“Alexander. Think before you speak. You’re calling me lazy, foolish - what exactly do you think my reaction is going to be?”

All traces of good humour had vanished from Burr's expression. His expression was ice cold, without any of his usual pretense of polite warmth or engagement. Aaron's mouth was set into a hard line, and his gaze held judgement and contempt. Had Alexander been prone to feeling lesser, it would have had him feeling like a bug under a microscope. Even as it was, it dug under his skin and pricked his pride. Alexander’s temper flared. He drew himself up to his full height and opened his mouth to unleash hell upon Burr, but he didn’t get more than a word or two out before a small voice came from behind him.

“Um. Dad?”

The music from Theodosia’s room had stopped. Burr and Alexander made eye-contact, silently communicating the same thing: we fucked up. Burr was the first to break the silence, turning to Theodosia and giving her an encouraging smile.

“Yes, Theo?”

When Theodosia spoke, the words were slow and measured. She paused for a long time between sentences and even words as if she doubted she should be speaking at all.

“Is something wrong? Are you fighting? Do you hate each other now?”

“I’m sorry we disturbed you, sweetheart. We didn’t mean to upset you. I think it we might need to have a talk about what it means to argue with someone. Do you remember what your mother taught us to do for difficult conversations?”

Alexander’s heart twisted at her words. He had no idea how Burr managed to respond so calmly and reasonably to Theodosia’s questions. She did an admirable job of staying calm: much like her father, Theodosia closed down when under stress, and Alexander couldn’t read a single expression on her face. But as careful as she was, she was still a child. Her face might have been blank, but Alexander could hear the faintest tremor of fear in her voice. He watched her nod in response to Burr’s words, and she said,

“Liquorice. And the rug.”

Burr nodded as though this made perfect sense and walked over to the kitchen. Theodosia went in the opposite direction and sat cross-legged on the thick, plush rug near the television. After a few minutes, Burr walked over to Theodosia with three large mugs of tea. Alexander watched as Burr carefully put the mugs on the coffee table and sat on the floor opposite his daughter. He lifted a hand and beckoned: reluctantly, Alexander wandered over and perched on a nearby armchair. Theodosia looked up at him and shook her head.

“No. We’re sitting on the rug.”

“But -” Alexander started to protest. Before he could say another word, Aaron cleared his throat. He had a face like a thundercloud. Alexander hesitated for a moment before reluctantly slipping onto the floor. It was uncomfortable and undignified, but he suspected saying “no” to Theodosia at this point would be like deliberately hurting bear cubs while the mother stood by.

Theodosia gave him a nod of approval. Whatever bizarre ritual this was, he had apparently passed the initiation. What came next, Alexander could only guess at. Maybe this was how the Burrs cleansed themselves of emotions. Alexander spared a moment to imagine himself like Burr: detached, aloof, and riddled with insufferable impartiality. A shudder ran down his spine.

“Good. Now, let’s check in. I’m feeling guilty and worried I’ve upset my favourite daughter, and I’m still annoyed at my husband. Theo?”

“I’m scared and confused and upset,” Theodosia said. She paused to take a sip of her tea and let out a big sigh. “But I like the tea. Alexander?”

Alexander floundered. The last thing Alexander wanted to do was participate in the creepy feelings-talk. Judging from the pained expression on Burr’s face, he found it just as uncomfortable as Alexander did. But there was no way out. Burr had clearly decided this was good for Theodosia’s emotional well-being, and not even his own tendency to avoid emotions at all costs could stand in the way of that. Alexander was trapped.

“I’m as confused as f - as heck. You know this is super weird, right? The floor, the tea, the feelings - Burr, do you even have emotions?”

“It’s important that we talk openly about our feelings so we can take care of each other,” Theodosia told Alexander. From her tone, it was something she had been told many times. Alexander nodded dumbly. Burr, being open about feelings? Even if it was possible, Alexander couldn’t see why he might be involved in this. It seemed like a deeply personal thing to be intruding upon.

“That was a very good explanation, Theo, thank you,” Aaron said. “Alexander is new to this, so we’re going to have to teach him, just like your mom taught us, and we taught Uncle Jon. Alexander - I’m sure you can appreciate emotional conversations are difficult. Theodosia thought it was important to have a system in place that would make us be honest about these things. Some things are to make us feel safe, like choosing a special drink or letting one person choose where we talk. Others are to make sure we’re open. That’s why we start by saying how we feel. After that, we can talk about the problem rationally. If at any point it’s too much, you can leave for a few minutes. Today we’re going to talk about arguing.”

“Right. We do a lot of that,” Alexander pointed out. He went to take a sip of his tea but stopped and crinkled his nose in disgust. A strong scent of aniseed drifted up from the mug. Liquorice. He put the mug down, pouting a little. Theodosia might be a sharp kid, but she had terrible taste in tea. He watched Burr take a deep breath, then begin to talk.

“That’s a good point, but there’s something more important I need to say first. Theo, you did the right thing telling me about this. If Alexander or I are ever behaving in a way that you find upsetting or frightening, I need you to talk to someone. I’d like it best if you could talk to me, but if you’re ever not comfortable with that, I know Uncle Jon or Maria would be happy to help you. That’s the single most important thing to me, Theo: that you’re okay. I need you to always remember that.

“You were right earlier that Alexander and I were arguing. As Alexander said, we do that: but I know that afterwards, he and I will be fine. What worries me is that we scared you. Can you tell us why?”

Theodosia hesitated for a moment, glancing from her father to Alexander and back again. “At school, they said arguing was bad. They said it makes us bad if we do it. And they said grown ups who argue a lot are angry and mean and hurt people.”

“That’s ridiculous! You can’t just expect people to never disagree,” Alexander protested. He was going to say more, but part way through his outburst Burr held up a hand to silence him.

“Calmly, Alexander - but Theo, he does have a point. Everyone argues some of the time. It’s normal to be upset or frustrated by other people at times. It becomes a problem when people argue all the time, or if it’s over something very, very serious, or if the people arguing affect others around them.”

As reasonable as Burr’s words sounded, they made Alexander squirm uncomfortably. He argued a lot. There was no denying it: he relished every chance to debate and disagree and advance his opinions. For the first time, he found himself wondering if that said something about him. The introspection was uncomfortable, so Alexander squashed it down and did his best to ignore the rolling feeling in his gut.

“So it wasn’t a real argument?” Theodosia wanted to know.

“It was a real argument,” Burr said hesitantly. “But Alexander and I can work through it. You caught us when we were very emotional, and both of us said things that were rude. Now that we’ve calmed down, we can be reasonable.”

Theodosia nodded slowly. “I have a lot to think about.”

“You and me both, kiddo,” Alexander muttered.

“Now, if everyone is feeling okay, we should start preparing dinner. Theo? Did you want to choose something?”

“Pizza! Please, Dad?”

Burr sighed, but Alexander strongly suspected it was at least partly for show. “All right, but we’re making it ourselves.”

Theodosia bounced to her feet, taking her father’s hand and tugging until he stood up. She stopped for a second and looked back at Alexander, considering. After a moment of staring at him, she turned and pulled Aaron into the kitchen. Alexander stayed where he was, watching the pair move around the kitchen.

The Burrs were clearly well accustomed to cooking together. Theodosia was still a couple of inches too short to comfortably reach the counter, but she had a small stool that let her work alongside her father. While Aaron handled chopping the vegetables alone, he encouraged Theodosia to help with everything else from kneading the dough to grating the cheese. By the time Alexander shuffled across the room, the pair had made quite a mess. There was a smear of tomato paste across Theodosia’s cheek, and Aaron’s shirt was covered in flour. It would doubtless take hours to properly clean the shirt, but Aaron had just laughed when Theodosia had spilt the flour and helped her clean up the mess and try again. By the time they were rolling out the dough, Alexander had shuffled over to watch.

“Do you need my help?”

“You can help Dad chop the things that need the big knife,” Theodosia told him, pointing to the vegetables in question. Alexander hesitated, looking at Burr. For a moment the two of them held eye-contact, and although Alexander couldn’t fathom what Burr was thinking he had an awful suspicion he was being weighed up and judged. After what felt like an age, Burr smiled.

“I suppose we can trust Alexander with the knife.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll tell you how to do it right,” Theodosia assured him. “I’m only allowed the small knife, but I can supervise.”

Alexander wanted to protest that he didn’t need supervision, but two things stopped him: fear of Burr’s reaction if he upset Theodosia, and the awareness that he had no idea what he was doing. Fortunately, Theodosia seemed determined to be a patient teacher. She pulled her stool over so she could stand beside Alexander and encouraged him through even the most simple steps (whether he needed it or not). It might have been frustrating, if not for the fact that she was trying so hard. The careful, patient teaching manner was something Alexander had seen before. There was no doubt she was copying the way Aaron taught her things. Every now and then, he caught Aaron staring at them with such obvious pride that Alexander couldn’t help but grin. If it made the Burrs so happy, he could endure Theodosia’s teaching just this once.

Once the pizzas were in the oven, Aaron poured Theodosia a glass of juice and opened a bottle of wine for Alexander and himself. The rest of the evening passed in pleasant conversation and playful debate. Once again, Alexander found himself surprised by just how comfortable he was with the Burrs. He’d never imagined himself as someone who would cope with having a child around - but then, if someone had told him Aaron Burr would be such a doting father, he would have laughed in their face. He found himself mulling the thought over as he lay in bed. Perhaps it was the relative safety of darkness that made him bold, but before he could stop himself he heard himself ask,

“Hey, Burr? Can I ask you something? You’re a pretty good dad, right?”

Burr was silent long enough that Alexander almost convinced himself he was already asleep. “I try to be. What’s on your mind?”

“I never would’ve pictured you as, you know, a family man. But this life, it suits you.”

“I made the same mistake, once,” Burr chuckled. The words were slow and heavy. It was enough to make Alexander realize with a guilty jolt that the other man must have already been asleep, or at least very nearly so. “I didn’t think domestic life was quite my style. But Theo changed all that.”

“How quickly did it change? Was it instant? Were you - when she was born, were you there?”

The words came out quickly, all in a rush. He stumbled over the last sentence, even as regret made the words stick in his throat. It would have been all too easy for Burr to take advantage of Alexander’s momentary vulnerability, but Burr didn’t say “of course”. Instead, he said,

“I knew from the very second I saw her. When she was born, she started crying, and I panicked, Alexander. I forgot that it was normal for newborn babies to cry. All I knew was that my little girl was upset, and I didn’t have any idea how to fix it. Her mother never let me forget it.”

There was a note of wonder in Burr’s voice when he spoke, as if he still couldn’t quite believe it. Alexander let out a quiet huff of laughter. The mental image of Burr dashing around a hospital room in frantic disarray was entertaining enough to distract him from the bittersweet ache that had settled in his chest, at least for a few moments. But then some cruel corner of Alexander’s brain prompted him to imagine himself in the same position. The bittersweet ache crumbled away into bottomless, gnawing regret.

“The doctors said Phillip didn’t cry. Not once in the ten hours - nothing,” Alexander said. He swallowed around the lump in his throat. Tears pricked in the corners of his eye, and he was horrified to hear himself sniffle in the darkness. He told himself it had to be the wine, as though one glass with a meal would be enough to do this to him. But it was easier to lie to himself than face the yawning, hollow emptiness that came with remembering his mistakes. He heard himself croak out: “Not that I’d know. I wasn’t there.”

The sheets rustled together as Burr moved in the darkness beside him. Burr’s elbow bumped into Alexander’s side, then his hand found his arm. Having oriented himself in the darkness, Burr reached across and very deliberately patted Alexander on the shoulder. It took a moment for Alexander to register the gesture as an attempt at comfort. Burr’s emotional literacy clearly began and ended with Theodosia. After three deliberate pats, the hand withdrew. As pathetic as the entire situation was, Alexander found himself grateful for the sympathy. Burr may not be a person who could give him forgiveness, but at least for now he seemed able to offer acceptance.

Alexander could learn to live with that.

Chapter Text

Alexander was in trouble.

He’d spent a lot of time preparing for the Virginia fundraising gala. He’d had a new tailor-made suit delivered to his hotel room the same morning he and the Burrs had flown in. He’d practiced greetings and polite conversation in the mirror and he’d even endured all those dance practices with Burr.  But there was one thing Alexander hadn’t been prepared for: Aaron Burr in formal wear. He’d seen Aaron in a suit before, of course, and that had been fine. He looked good in a suit, and Alexander may have appreciated the sight more than was strictly appropriate for friends and colleagues, but it was still just a suit.

The same could not be said of Burr dressed for the fundraising event. He’d dressed to the nines, and Alexander    wondered how much longer it would be before he was caught staring. It was, technically, still just a suit. But describing it as a suit did nothing to capture the crisp lines or the way the deep navy material clung to his skin. Goggling at men in suits wasn’t normally a practice Alexander indulged in, but damn if he couldn’t suddenly see the appeal.

“Alexander. We’re going to be late.”

Burr’s words pulled Alexander out of his reverie with a jolt. “Late. Right. Wouldn’t want to miss it for the world.”

“I’m sure it’s not going to be as bad as you’re expecting,” Burr said. He scrunched his nose for just a second after saying it, as if he realized (belatedly) he’d said the wrong thing. Burr’s expression of doubt was enough to send Alexander into a long-winded explanation of exactly why the ball would be the single most boring and frustrating experience either of them had ever endured.

“It looks even worse than I expected,” Alexander said glumly when the limo finally pulled up outside the opulent ballroom. “Is that much marble really necessary?”

“Are you ready to go in?” Burr asked with a small sigh. When Alexander nodded, a smile spread over his face. He stepped out the car and waited by the door, offering Alexander his arm as he exited. They walked in linked arm-in-am. Some news outlets were there, taking photographs and shouting questions from the sidelines. Alexander ground his teeth together, resisting the urge to go and give them every answer they could possibly want. A particularly insensitive question about immigration made him halt, his posture tense and stiff. Burr looked at him, his expression unreadable, before leaning over and kissing his cheek. He spoke in a low murmur, the words so soft Alexander could barely hear them.

“Don’t play into their hands. You’re better than this.”

As much as he hated to admit it, Burr had a point. Being too vocal would only bring attention to himself. Maybe that was why didn’t protest when Burr rushed them along the rest of the path to get inside. They paused once inside to look around: Aaron in curiosity, Alexander in disgust. There was a small entrance hall where butlers stood in attendance to take people’s coats and bags. Past the entrance hall lay a sweeping set of white marble stairs that led down to the main ballroom. The ballroom was a gigantic room with hard cherry floors and that looked at least twice the size it actually was due to the enormous mirrors lining the walls. At the far end of the hall, ornate glass doors were propped open to let in the warm summer breeze. A seven-piece band filled the room with sweet music, but Alexander had his mind set on one thing and one thing only: the bar. Champagne was the secret to a successful formal event.

“We should mingle,” Alexander said, once he had a drink in hand. He scanned the room, looking for a likely target. Maybe he would be lucky and find someone from John’s anti-slavery lobby, or perhaps some foreign dignitaries eager to discuss trade deals and taxes. Instead his face fell when he caught sight of a familiar figure cutting his way through the crowd. “New plan, we pretend to make out in the closet, let’s just go before - “

“Aaron! I was wondering if I’d see you here tonight. We’ve all heard the rumours of course. You have my congratulations, or commiserations – whichever of the two is appropriate.”

“Thomas, it’s been too long,” Burr said warmly. The smile on his face was easy and genuine as he set his drink aside and pulled Thomas into the half-handshake, half-hug greeting that was so common amongst men with power. It was enough to make Alexander’s stomach churn with disgust. It was bad enough that they had to talk to Jefferson, worse still that Alexander had just been snubbed by his own colleague in favour of his husband. No, the worst thing of all was that Burr was genuinely happy to see Thomas. It perpetually baffled Alexander how Aaron could be both cautious and fiercely intelligent while also being capable of misjudgements that rivalled even Alexander’s mistakes.

“It has been far, far too long. James and I couldn’t believe it when we heard the news. We’re all happy for you of course - everyone here is - but we did wonder. You and Hamilton? Really?”

Alexander bristled at the implication that he might not be good enough for Burr. “What about me and B - me and my beautiful husband, huh?”

“Yes, really,” Burr said. There was a now-familiar hum of amusement in his voice, but Alexander could swear Aaron was embarrassed from the way his eyes skittered off to the side for a moment, and his grip on Alexander’s hand grew tight. “It surprised me, too, but Alexander can be very persuasive when he puts his mind to it.”

“Ugh, please, don’t, you’ll only encourage him,” Thomas said, waving a hand dismissively. “I don’t envy you, but if it makes you happy, then I’m on your side. Just don’t expect me not to say ‘I told you so’ if you ever come to me for help”

“Thomas, I can promise you, the day I come to you for relationship advice will be the day you listen to my advice to you.”

The words were perfectly polite, but there was a note of steel to Burr’s voice. Alexander watched Jefferson’s response in fascination. He coughed and looked away quickly, and Alexander would swear his cheeks flushed red. Contrary to what Alexander would have thought possible, Thomas was embarrassed. Curiosity roared through Alexander. What could Burr possibly be referring to that would prompt such a reaction? It didn’t seem like blackmail: Thomas was embarrassed, yes, but not angry or frightened or upset.

“Yes, well, that’s neither here nor there.”

“What advice?” Alexander interjected. Thomas’ eyes narrowed as he glared at Alexander.

“Nothing that involves you, Hamilton - or should I be calling you ‘Burr’ now?”

“No!” Both Alexander and Aaron said at once, with the same urgency. It took Alexander a moment to put together the laughter in Thomas’ voice with the grin he wore on his face. It wasn’t the usual predatory grin that sent a crawl of disgust down Alexander’s spine whenever he had the misfortune to see it. He was teasing them, or mocking them: which, Alexander wasn’t exactly sure. But even if it was mockery, it lacked the sharp, venomous edge Thomas’ humour normally had. While Alexander tried to decipher his opponent’s thoughts, Burr recovered enough to say,

“We decided to keep our own names. Alexander’s name is attached to his career, and you know my thoughts on family and legacy.”

“Besides. Aaron Hamilton,” Alexander said, disgust in his voice. An even worse thought occurred to him and he shuddered. “ Alexander Burr.

The smile on Aaron’s face never faltered, but Alexander felt a slight twitch in his hand. He watched as Aaron took a sip of champagne that was a little larger than strictly necessary and felt a sense of smug satisfaction. Burr was just as horrified by the idea as he was. Even Thomas grimaced at the names Alexander suggested.

“As much as I hate to agree with Hamilton on anything, he has a point. I’d be happier if I’d never heard those names, but at least now I know how I’m meant to introduce you before the dance.”

“Introduce us?”

“Didn’t Washington tell you? He wants a toast to the happy couple, and as the host, that honor falls to me.”

There was a mischievous grin on Thomas’ face that made Alexander’s heart sink. “You’re going to publicly humiliate us.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Burr said, shaking his head. “Thomas wouldn’t do such a thing, we’ve always been good friends.”

“I’d never humiliate Aaron,” Thomas agreed. “Not unless we were in direct competition, at least.”

Alexander scowled. Even if he trusted Thomas enough to take him at his word, he didn’t miss the fact that the guarantee wasn’t extended to him.  He watched with an expression that could only be called a pout as Aaron and Thomas started to talk about other matters. It wasn’t until Thomas left that Alexander grumbled,

“I can’t believe you’re friends with Jefferson. I can’t believe I’m married to someone who likes Jefferson.”

It wasn’t meant as a joke, but Alexander watched the way Aaron’s lips twitched and the corners of his eyes crinkled for just a moment with great satisfaction. From what he’d learnt since marrying the man, that as close as he was likely to get to open laughter. Alexander resolved to do whatever he could to get that reaction as many times as possible throughout the night. If nothing else, teasing and tormenting Aaron would be more entertaining than actually listening to any of the rich donors present in the crowd.

It took less than an hour for Alexander to learn that having a partner at events such as this was invaluable. Not only did he have the added amusement of observing Aaron, he had someone to fall back on when the conversation turned awkward. Polite conversation was not Alexander’s strong point. He was too quick to speak and too slow to listen. He never remembered personal details about people, whether it was about their family or their last holiday or what college they went to. Worst of all, there was no safe topic of conversation. Either they were safe (and therefore, in Alexander’s estimation, dull and boring) or too controversial, too risky. Aaron, on the other hand, was a craftsman. He managed to weave elegant and intricate conversations: laughing here, nodding in sympathy there, and always asking questions like he actually cared about what the other person had to say.

Alexander didn’t know how he did it.

He had no doubt that Aaron was as disinterested as he was in the conversations. Aaron was intelligent, an excellent partner for debate, and just selfish enough that Alexander sometimes felt like he was looking into a mirror. If Alexander was bored out of his mind, he had no doubt Aaron would be, too. The only thing sparing him from the same frustrations as Alexander appeared to be his infinite well of patience. Not for the first time, Alexander couldn’t decide if he was jealous or relieved he didn’t share the same virtue. It certainly had its advantages, but Alexander couldn’t imagine what it took to maintain.

After two hours of mingling and drinking and grazing on canapes, a hush fell over the crowd. Thomas had taken center stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome you tonight to the Washington Campaign fundraiser. It’s going to be an extra special celebration for Mr Washington and I tonight, because for the first time in too long we’re both home sweet home here in Virginia. We have some excellent speakers here tonight (if I do say so myself), but before we get started, it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge the most important person in the room: you. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, without good folk like you willing to open your hearts and minds to our vision for a truly united United States, our campaign would not be where it is today.

“And where it is today is an achievement that astounds me even now. When my close personal friend George Washington told me of his plan for a presidential campaign that transcended party lines, that would be accountable to no one but the American people and the ideals of this nation, I must admit I was cynical. No matter what hopes I had, I knew the odds were not in our favour. But of George had taught me one thing, it is that liberty and justice are ideals that cannot die. His tireless work on this campaign has kept that dream of liberty alive, I am honoured to have him here tonight to share that dream with you. Ladies and gentlemen, could you please give a warm welcome to presidential candidate George Washington.”

“It was a good speech,” Aaron murmured. Even with the words said right into Alexander’s ear, he could barely hear them over the roar of applause as Washington stepped up onto the stage. Alexander huffed and shook his head.

“Pretentious. Like everything Jefferson does.”

Aaron let out a little puff of breath that might have been a laugh, or possibly frustration. There was no opportunity for Alexander to ask: Washington’s talk began immediately. Alexander always took great pleasure in watching Washington talk; no small part of that pleasure came from the fact that Alexander wrote the majority of Washington’s speeches, and watching his words work on crowds was an almost intoxicating pleasure. Washington was followed by two more speakers before Jefferson took the stage again to great applause.

“Thank you for your attention ladies and gentlemen. Before I let you return to your conversations, I’d like to take this moment to acknowledge a very special couple we have here tonight. Many of you already know my colleague, Alexander Hamilton, who has been a constant presence on the campaign trail since day one. You might not know Aaron Burr. Now, Aaron isn’t a major part of the campaign. He’s a father and a lawyer, as well as a friend of many of us here, including myself. And I am delighted to announce that Alexander and Aaron married last week at the New York City Council offices.”

Polite applause filled the room, and a spotlight found the pair in the audience and locked on them. Aaron and Alexander exchanged a look, silently grateful they’d had the sense to hold hands throughout the speeches.

“As happy as I am for them, folks, having been to the City Council offices, I can tell you that is not the wedding the happy couple deserve. I propose a toast to the happy couple. I think it’s only fair we let them open up the dance floor. What do you think, folks?”

The answering applause was filled with cheers and the occasional wolf-whistle. The only compensation was watching Aaron’s smile shift from loose and relaxed to stiff but picture-perfect. Alexander’s response was less subtle: as frustrated as he was by the situation, his grin when he saw Aaron’s reaction could only be called smug. Maybe Burr would think twice before supporting Jefferson again.

Sweet music began to play. Setting their drinks aside, Aaron and Alexander walked out onto the dance floor. Alexander’s heart hammered in his chest as he looked at Aaron. He couldn’t help but remember their last, disastrous attempt at dancing. Swallowing his nerves, he stepped forward to step into the lead position. Opposite him, Aaron did the same. They froze. They made eye contact, and Alexander found himself holding his breath as he stared unblinking into Aaron’s eyes. Finally, Aaron looked away and pulled a coin out of his pocket. He held it up and quirked an eyebrow in a silent question.

“Heads,” Alexander croaked.

Aaron inclined his head in a subtle nod. He flipped the coin. Alexander chewed his lower lip, watching along with the rest of the room as the coin rose and gracefully fell back down between them. Burr caught it and checked what side had come up.

“Heads.”

A very pretty smile spread over Aaron’s lips, but Alexander could see resignation in his eyes. Nevertheless, he gave no sign of protesting as he adjusted his posture to step into the follower’s position with Alexander. His left hand came to rest on Alexander’s biceps, and he gently placed his right hand on top of Alexander’s left. Alexander could feel the tension in his body as they move through the basic steps. He thought of the last time they had danced and the argument that had come after. Aaron had insisted Alexander was too forceful. The idea was ridiculous, of course – but if Aaron was willing to compromise, maybe Alexander could try to listen. Trying not to look as cynical as he felt, he gave Burr a gentle push to start a more complicated twirling step.

To Alexander’s eternal surprise, it worked.

Curiosity got the better of Alexander, so he tried again. And again. Each time he tried, it worked: Aaron would follow the direction with none of the graceless fumbling he’d shown while they practiced. This was elegant. Even if neither of them spoke, it was a conversation; for the first time, Alexander realized his usual style was more akin to an argument.

The dance floor slowly filled around them. They stayed for two more dances, switching places between songs, before retiring to the edge of the room. A comfortable silence settled between them. After a few minutes, Alexander was stolen away by some colleagues to help settle a debate. When he looked back to check on Aaron, he saw him surrounded by a group of smiling and laughing guests and decided to leave him be. Aaron seemed to be fine alone, and unless Alexander was very much mistaken, he was more likely to secure campaign donations than Alexander was himself.

Alexander lost track of time after that. Both words and wine flowed liberally as he moved from conversation to conversation. The more wine flowed, the less restrained Alexander was in expressing his (many) opinions. It caused more than a few hiccups, and Alexander found he went through conversation partners faster than he had done with Aaron by his side.

Late in the evening, Alexander found himself speaking alone with a woman in a red dress. It took fifteen minutes of talking to her for Alexander to realize three things. First of all, she was very, very beautiful. The second thing was that she was flirting with him: leaning in and touching his arm, murmuring things in his ear and otherwise taking any excuse to get close. The third and final thing he realized was that he was definitely flirting back. Before Alexander could decide what to do with this information, he heard a voice.

“I’m sorry, Aaron. Even I would have expected better than this. If there’s anything James or I can do...”

The rest of Thomas’ words were lost in the hum of the crowd. Worry started to churn in the pit of Alexander’s stomach. He was halfway through devising a plan to fix the situation when he felt a hand reach around his middle and slide into the pocket of his slacks. Another hand appeared on his waist, and Alexander was pulled inexorably back against the solid warmth of Aaron’s body.

“If you would excuse us, ma’am, I think I need to have some words with my husband.”

Alexander winced at Aaron’s tone. The words were ice cold and without empathy, and Alexander didn’t have to turn around to know that Aaron’s trademark smile would be nowhere to be seen. He didn’t make a sound of process when Burr pulled him outside and shut the glass door firmly behind them. Once he was released, Alexander turned and leaned back against the stone balcony railing. He took a moment to examine Aaron, trying to get his bearings before the argument started. Aaron was physically tense: Alexander could see it in the set of his shoulders and the way he walked. His expression almost managed to be neutral, but the set of his jaw betrayed his anger.

“I will not be made a fool of.”

“Okay?” Alexander said uncertainly. Aaron exhaled heavily through his nose.

“Do you know how many people tonight asked if I was sure I could trust someone with your history?”

The words felt like a slap in the face. Alexander’s confusion was swept away by a wave of bitter rage.

“I wouldn’t have thought you were in any place to judge someone for cheating. Or did you forget Theodosia was married when you met her?”

“Which is exactly what I said. Each and every time. I stood up for you, Alexander. I simpered and fawned about how much I adore you, how much I trust you. Meanwhile, you were so obviously enamoured with your conversation partner that Thomas pulled me aside to tell me what was happening and offered to help me in whatever way he could. How do you think that makes me look, Alexander?”

As calm as Aaron started off, by the time he finished speaking his voice was dripping with anger and disdain. He paced from one end of the balcony to the other, then turned back to face Alexander. For his part, Alexander spread his hands helplessly in front of him in a shrug.

“What can I say? The marriage is what it is, and I’m not going to lie about what happened. You can’t seriously care enough about this to care that I was interested in someone.”

“It’s disrespectful. It makes me look like a fool, and it explicitly breaks the agreement we made,” Aaron told him. He took three deliberate paces towards Alexander. “Give me one good reason not to walk out of this arrangement right now.”

Alexander’s blood ran cold. “You wouldn’t.”

Aaron raised an eyebrow, and Alexander found himself quickly revising his opinion of what he might or might not do in response to this. After some mental gymnastics, he reached at a response he hoped would satisfy Burr.

“Look. I fucked up. I can admit that. But I won’t make the same mistake twice.”

Aaron looked at him, considering. Behind him, Alexander caught a flurry of movement. He could only risk the occasional glance with Aaron examining him like that, but from what he could tell, Thomas was having a furious discussion with someone. After gesturing his arms towards the balcony a few times, he straightened and started to stride towards the glass door. At the same time, Aaron started to speak.

“I suppose you do have a good reason not to repeat your mistake. But I warn you, Alexander, if you continue to humiliate me, to show no respect for what I’ve sacrificed for this little scheme of yours, then your citiz-”

In that moment, Alexander could see two critical events unfolding. First of all, Aaron’s statement was about to make it abundantly clear their marriage was a scam. Secondly, he saw Thomas’s hand on the silver handle of the balcony door. Within seconds, he would open the door, step out onto the balcony and overhear Burr’s words. Thomas would know. Alexander had no doubt that if Thomas knew, his entire scandal would be splashed across news headlines in less than a day. He would do anything to stop that happen, and so Alexander did the only thing he could.

He crossed the balcony and pulled Burr into a kiss.

It was nothing like the almost chaste, PG-kisses they had shared for the cameras up until that point. This was a kiss with force, with intent. They met with enough momentum that Aaron stumbled back against the balcony railing. Alexander took ruthless advantage of this, boxing him in with one hand on his hip and another caressing his face. When the door squeaked open behind them, Alexander made a point of sucking Aaron’s lower lip into his mouth and drawing back slowly, letting his teeth pull it out just far enough to be noticeable by an observer.

For his part, Aaron took a moment to respond to Alexander’s touch. He was still and quiet, but not tense or unhappy: just processing exactly what was happening. Once he had processed it, he brought his palms up to Alexander’s chest, ready to shove him away, but froze when he heard the door open. And then – God bless him – Aaron moved his hands to Alexander’s hips and leaned into the kiss. They didn’t part until they heard Thomas’ voice.

“I – oh, Jesus fuck, how did you go from fighting to that so fast? You know the doors are glass, right?”

“Blame Alexander,” Aaron said, but his eyes still glittered with anger. “He thinks I’m that easy to distract.”

“He is,” Alexander said. Was it his imagination, or was Aaron’s voice a notch lower than usual? It had to be his imagination, Alexander concluded, or perhaps wishful thinking. Aaron was doubtlessly angry at him over the kiss, and Alexander was clearly desperate for any suggestion they might avoid another argument.

Aaron let out a sigh that was a touch more theatrical than his usual style. “I suppose I did tell you to ask for my attention next time instead of trying to make me jealous.”

“Right. That is absolutely what I was doing, and it backfired,” Alexander said quickly, nodding for emphasis. Thomas looked at them suspiciously, crossing his arms over his chest.

“And he won’t be doing it again,” Aaron concluded, his voice cold and unsympathetic. Alexander nodded meekly. After the disaster of tonight, he certainly wouldn’t be making the same mistake twice.

“Whatever, just keep it to your hotel room. I don’t want to know.”

“You’re the one that came out here,” Alexander snapped. Aaron’s hand came to rest on his shoulder, as if holding him back.

“I came out here because a friend of mine had just caught his husband flirting with a stranger when they’d been married less than a month. You’ll have to excuse me for being concerned.”

“Thomas, I appreciate the concern, but I have it under control,” Aaron said with a smile. “Alexander made a mistake. I trust him when he says he won’t make the same mistake twice. Now if you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I still haven’t had a chance to talk to James all evening.”

Alexander watched mournfully as Burr slipped away, leaving Alexander alone with Thomas. Once the glass door shut behind them, Thomas took one deliberate step towards Alexander. It was a calculated move: his cane clicked sharply as it hit the ground, and he stopped just close enough that Alexander had to tilt his head up to see him.

“Remember, Hamilton, I’ve got my eye on you.”

“Is that a threat?”

Silence was his only answer. He walked away and shut the door behind him, leaving Alexander alone on the balcony. He put his hands on the railings and lifted himself up so he was seated on the barrier and sat in silence. Inside, he could see people laughing and talking and dancing. Out here, alone, he was left with nothing but a baffling maelstrom of emotions for company. There were some things he was certain of: he was angry at Thomas, annoyed by Burr, and perhaps a little guilty now that he thought about his actions. But the rest - the lightness in his chest when Burr had leaned into the kiss, the churning in his gut when he thought of the risks they were taking, the heavy regret settling in and tying it all together -  the rest Alexander didn’t want to think about.

He swallowed down his emotions and returned to the ball. For the rest of the evening, Alexander hung close by Aaron at all times, hoping the easy partnership from earlier that night would click back into place.

It didn’t.

Chapter Text

Brunch with Aaron Burr was a cursed meal.

That was the only explanation Alexander could think of to explain why each and every time he had brunch with Aaron, disaster struck. For their first brunch, after Alexander’s citizenship ceremony, that disaster had come been Bellamy’s (correct) decision that Aaron and Alexander were not in love. Ever since then, the man had been a thorn in Alexander’s side. He was endlessly protective of Aaron, and it seemed there was nothing Alexander could do to avoid that. But this time, it was worse.

This time, the disaster came in the form of Thomas Jefferson.

It was not that he had done anything spectacularly awful, but as far as Alexander was concerned, his mere presence was offense enough. The endeavour was doomed from the start.

Aaron’s suggestion of brunch with Jefferson and Madison should have sent Alexander running for the hills. It very nearly did. But, as Alexander was about to refuse, he considered the potential implications of his refusal. To begin with, there was Aaron’s already foul mood. Ever since their argument the previous night, Alexander had been walking on eggshells around him. In public, Aaron’s behaviour hadn’t changed. He smiled and laughed and freely indulged in all kinds of affection with Alexander - until they were alone. The very moment the door shut behind them, Aaron dropped Alexander’s hand and stepped away. The glowing smile he wore was wiped away by a stern, flat line. He had blatantly ignored all of Alexander’s attempts to engage him in conversation and gone directly to bed. So when Aaron invited him the next morning, after hours of being ignored, Alexander hadn’t been able to say ‘no’. He hoped it was the olive branch he had been waiting for, but he had a sneaking suspicion the situation was worse than that. Aaron was not the type to resolve a situation so quickly. Alexander would be expected to wait for forgiveness.

Alexander hated waiting.

Even if it was a genuine attempt at reconciliation, Alexander still had one thing to worry about: what kind of things Thomas may say to Aaron. Thomas made no secret of how much he despised Alexander. He took each and every opportunity he could to discourage, discredit or destroy him, and Alexander had no doubt he would not hesitate to attack his marriage. If Alexander left him alone with Aaron, especially if Aaron was not in a charitable mood to begin with, then Alexander would be a bachelor again by sundown. There was no knowing what kinds of ideas Thomas might put in his head.

That was how Alexander found himself in a trendy cafe with Aaron, Theodosia, and two of his least favourite people, stewing with rage. He wasn’t sure what infuriated him more: the way he was completely ignored, or just how well Aaron seemed get on with Thomas and James. It was one thing to know Aaron was a social chameleon, but it was quite another to see it in action. His smile was as slick and charismatic as ever, and he was welcomed by the two Virginians as a kindred spirit.

More insidious was the way his personality seemed to change. Alexander’s stomach churned with discomfort as he watched Aaron tacitly endorsed sentiments he had previously opposed with an easy smile and nod of agreement. Each time Thomas made some cruel witticism, Aaron would laugh in a way that made Alexander’s skin crawl. Each time Alexander tried to weigh in, Aaron interrupted and changed the topic to silence him.

It was only after an hour of biting his tongue and swallowing back blinding hot rage that Alexander noticed Aaron was not blindingly agreeing to every statement Thomas made. Aaron had a thousand and one little ways of introducing competing ideas without risking his own social capital on outright disagreement.

“You’re right, of course, but as dear Alexander was telling me the other night...”

“I’ve heard some novel approaches to solving the problem that hold our ideals to heart while letting our opponents feel as though their concerns are being addressed - let me send you some of the literature.”

“I agree completely, but I’m not quite sure we’ve considered all our options here. I’d like to see more care given to how the matter interacts with...”

Once he spotted the pattern, Alexander couldn’t help watching in open fascination. Yes, Aaron gave ground on a thousand issues Alexander would die before he compromised on. Yes, he accepted views that should have been incompatible with his own beliefs. But on the rare occasion he chose to protest, Thomas and James actually stopped to consider his points. Alexander hadn’t thought they were capable of that. It was some of the most elegant manipulation Alexander had seen in a long time. Thomas and James fell for the bait hook, line and sinker. Aaron had turned manipulation into an art form.

The longer Alexander watched, the more familiar the routine seemed, until it hit him. It wasn’t just Thomas and James that were the target of such subtle persuasion: Alexander himself had been on the receiving end of Aaron’s sensible words and charming smile more often than he could count. Now that he knew what to look for, he reflected on the past and found half a dozen times in the last week alone that he had fallen prey to Aaron’s easy, appeasing manner. The thought rattled him. How much had Aaron shaped his thoughts and opinions over the years?

Before the idea could unsettle him too deeply, Alexander realized Aaron was not the only master manipulator at the table. Theodosia had everyone wrapped around her finger. Thomas and James cooed over her, praising any achievement Aaron mentioned and absolutely insisting on buying her countless sweet treats. It was the most human side Alexander had ever seen of either of them. Alexander wondered how long it had taken Theodosia to learn she could get whatever she wanted from them, and made a mental note to encourage her to do this to them whenever possible. It was for the best that she learnt how to deal with assholes young.

When Alexander pointed her behaviour out to Aaron after they left, Aaron shrugged dismissively. “I know. They know, too. Thomas is convinced it’s good for her to learn how to get what she wants. I’d disapprove if the same skill hadn’t helped me so much, and this is a much better way to learn it.”

“How did you learn it?” Alexander wanted to know. Something closed off in Aaron’s expression and he shrugged. Alexander scrambled to recover the situation. “Right, tragic orphan backstories, I should know better than to go poking around with those. Sometimes interviewers ask me about mine and I just start making shit up, just to see if they’ll believe it.”

As Alexander rambled on with the ridiculous lies he had told, he watched the tension ease out of Aaron’s shoulders and the slight crinkle in his brow smooth out. Progress. Alexander may not be forgiven, but Aaron couldn’t be actively angry if he was relaxed by Alexander’s stories. He continued to talk. When he got a heavy exhale combined with a twitch on the right side of Aaron’s mouth, he knew his attempt to distract him was working.

“You’re ridiculous,” Aaron told him. Alexander grinned unrepentantly. The words were not warm and affectionate, but they were not quite as cold and cutting as they would have been earlier that same morning. Aaron was amused by Alexander’s antics, even if he didn’t want to admit it.

“What, like you’ve never told a lie just for the hell of it?”

There was a long pause, and Alexander wondered if he’d said the wrong thing again. But then, in a very even and measured tone, Aaron said: “Alexander, I’m a lawyer.”

At that, Alexander couldn’t help but laugh.

They spent the remainder of the morning exploring the city on foot. It was slow going: as well behaved as she may be, Theodosia was still a seven-year-old, with all the distractibility and complaints of being tired that entailed. They parted in the afternoon: Alexander for the local campaign offices, and the Burrs for the aquarium.

Darkness had fallen by the time Alexander returned to the hotel suite. He was greeted by a sight that would have melted even the hardest of hearts: the Burrs sprawled out on the couch, fast asleep, illuminated only by the flickering light of the television. Aaron was stretched out along the length of the couch. As peaceful as he looked, Alexander couldn’t help but wince at the position he was in: his neck was twisted to allow his head to fit on the couch, and one leg dangled off the end. Theodosia had managed to wedge herself into a tiny gap between Aaron and the back of the couch. Even though she was fast asleep, her head was still propped up against Aaron’s chest so she could see the television screen.

Alexander shut the hotel door behind him as quietly as he could. When neither Aaron or Theodosia stirred, he risked a few steps across the soft carpet. He had very nearly made it across to the bedroom when he heard Aaron’s voice.

“Alexander? Is that you?”

“Go back to sleep. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

From where he stood, the back of the couch blocked his view of the pair, but Alexander didn’t need to see Aaron to know he was shaking his head. Sure enough, after a few moments he saw Aaron’s head appear over the back of the couch.  He watched Aaron yawn, too tired to even cover his mouth with his hand. When Aaron spoke, the words were soft and slow from sleep.

“I should move to bed. Can you open Theo’s door for me?”

An unfamiliar something tugged at Alexander’s heart as he watched Aaron carry Theodosia through to her bedroom. This was something special: something precious and fragile and far, far beyond Alexander’s understanding. No matter how he grappled with it, Alexander couldn’t even put a name to the feeling, let alone begin to comprehend it. His thoughts kept him awake late into the night. It was only as he drifted off to sleep that it occurred to him that maybe he didn’t want to know the answer.

***************************************************

Alexander was woken early the next morning to the news that he and Aaron had been booked on a local breakfast radio show. He let out a loud sigh and rolled over onto his side to stare at Aaron. Even knowing Aaron was asleep, it was strange seeing him without the polite smile he wore every minute of his waking life. For the first time, it occurred to Alexander that it must take effort for Aaron to maintain his polite facade and infuriating impartiality. If that was the case, it just raised more questions: most importantly, why?

“I will never understand you,” he told him.

Aaron didn’t so much as twitch.

Typical, Alexander thought. Aaron was an early riser, but he slept like a log, and disturbing him before the time his usual alarm went off was near impossible. As much as Alexander would have preferred to let him sleep, both of them were required for the interview, so he leaned over and poked Aaron in the shoulder. No response. Alexander let out a huff, and tried again. When that failed, Alexander tried poking Aaron in the ribs. That earned him a low groan and a rude hand gesture.

“Five more minutes.”

“Nope. Interview time,” Alexander told him. He poked Aaron in the ribs again to make a point, but this time Aaron did more than just groan at him. Aaron jerked: not away from his touch, but as a reflexive, automatic reaction accompanied by a poorly hidden pant of laughter. Tension grew as the two men made eye contact.

Silence stretched out between them. Neither man wanted to be the first to move, but Alexander burned with curiosity. Unless he saw it happen again, he couldn't let himself believe what he'd seen. There was only one thing for it. Alexander reached out and poked him again, getting the same reaction. He tried a third time, and again Aaron laughed. A wicked grin spread over Alexander’s face.

“You’re ticklish.”

“No, I’m not, I -”

Whatever Aaron had been about to say was lost in a squeal of laughter. Alexander poked Aaron in the ribs once more, then tackled him. It wasn’t hard to gain the upper hand: all Alexander had to do was wriggle his fingers against Aaron’s ribs and the man was useless, to busy laughing and squirming to resist. Alexander was entranced by Aaron’s reactions. He’d never seen such ludicrous and expressive grimaces on his face. To say nothing of the way he was moving! There was a special rush of pleasure that accompanied the way Aaron was squirming and writhing beneath him, a kind of pleasure Alexander was determined not to question or indulge.

The end came when Aaron’s elbow came up and hit Alexander in the side with enough force that he was knocked backwards. He lay perfectly still, staring at the ceiling and trying to catch his breath. Off to the side, he heard Aaron get up and walk through to the shower. Alexander pulled himself up with a groan. This was not how he'd expected his day to begin.

“You gave me a bruise,” Alexander complained when Aaron returned. He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it aside. A black bruise was blossoming between two ribs, exactly where Aaron’s elbow had hit. “What will people say?”

“That you should put your shirt back on?”

Alexander pouted. “You’re going to tell me it’s my own fault for tickling you, aren’t you?”

The smile that spread over Aaron’s face was too wide and perfect for Alexander to believe. “And you always say you can never guess what I’m thinking. Now that we’re both up, I assume you woke me for a reason?”

“There’s a family-friendly radio interview that needs us.”

“Well, then, we had best not keep them waiting,” Aaron said. “I’ll handle Theo while you get ready.”

It was a clear dismissal, but one Alexander was happy to follow. If he couldn’t have a coffee waiting for him when he woke up, the next best thing was a boiling hot shower. Even with the bathroom fan whirring, the room filled with steam and Alexander’s skin turned red and blotchy. He caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror and stared. The dark bags under his eyes had retreated since the last time he had really looked at himself. It was not that he had broken the habit of a lifetime and started sleeping properly, but rather that he had started sleeping well. It was an unsettling observation. Alexander was not in the habit of examining his appearance, but whenever he had he'd taken comfort in a few reliable constants: intelligent eyes, dark hair, stubborn mouth, and perpetually dark bags signalling his exhaustion. Without those, he looked like a stranger. The idea that Alexander had changed (had been changed) without realizing it was disconcerting. At least, he assured himself, this morning's interview was a radio piece. There would be no expectation for him to stare into a mirror while someone did his make-up.

In the living area, he found the Burrs still getting ready for the day. Aaron sat cross-legged on the floor, Theodosia in front of him with her back to her father. Over half of Theodosia's hair had been pulled back into delicate braids. It would only take a few minutes before her whole head was done: Aaron's fingers moved with speed and grace as he moved down each braid. He barely looked up when Alexander walked over to the pair, but Theodosia bounced in place with excitement.

“Alexander! Alexander, is it true we're going to a radio studio? I've never been to a radio studio before. Do you think they'll let me play with the sound mixer? Will we get to see the radio dish?”

“Theo, stay still,” Aaron scolded gently. Neither Alexander nor Theodosia were fooled by the disapproval in Aaron's voice. It was hard to imagine Aaron actually annoyed or angry with Theodosia over being overly excited. Theodosia clearly knew this perfectly well, and although she did sit still, she didn't stop pelting Alexander with questions.

“Woah, woah, slow down you little munchkin. One question at a time,” Alexander laughed.

Theodosia pulled a face at him. “Why do you hate names? You never call me my name, and you're always calling Dad sugar or honey or something gross like that. I like my name.”

“I can use your name if you want, kid – Theo. Theo. Theodosia.”

He could hear Aaron's sigh even over the sound of Theodosia giggling. Guilt tugged at his heart when he considered the idea that he could have upset Theodosia by not using her name.

Names were not Alexander's strong point. Remembering a person's name required remembering what they looked like, and the simple truth was for the vast majority of people he met, Alexander didn't care enough to bother. Of the people who were important in his life, many of them chose to go by their surname or a nominated nickname. The end result was that Alexander had never gotten into the habit of using names. He pulled himself out of his reverie when he realized Theodosia was speaking again.

“Dad's right. You're funny.”

“I am, am I?” Alexander's eyebrows shot up. He tried to make eye contact with Aaron, but Aaron refused to look up from his task. A grin spread over Alexander's face. He liked the idea that Aaron enjoyed his sense of humour. The alternative, that Aaron was laughing at what a mess Alexander was, he chose to ignore.

Aaron finished the last of Theodosia's braids and pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “All right, Theo, all done.”

Theodosia bounced to her feet. Aaron stood at a much more sedate pace, stretching his arms high over his head when he stood up. Now that Theodosia was ready, it took the trio only a minute to make it out the door and into the elevator. They were joined in the hotel foyer by a member of Washington’s PR team: a tall, harried looking man with the unfortunate task of keeping Alexander Hamilton's image campaign-friendly.

“Please, Mr. Hamilton, stay on message this time. We can’t afford a repeat of last time.”

“What happened last time?” Theodosia wanted to know. The man looked pained, shaking his head.

“It’s not child appropriate.”

“Of course it wasn’t,” Aaron said dryly. Under ordinary circumstances, Alexander would have assumed the words were judgemental and mocking, but he could have sworn the smile tugging at Aaron’s lips was genuine. For a heartbeat, they made eye contact, and the expression grew a little. Alexander’s head spun as he realized he was right: Aaron was amused. Even more exciting, Alexander was forgiven. Like Alexander, Aaron was excellent a holding a grudge (for all he tried to deny it): if he was still angry at Alexander, it would show. If he was laughing at Alexander, things had to be okay between them. The PR agent apparently didn’t realize this, as he began backpedalling furiously.

“That’s not to say anything bad about Mr. Hamilton, of course, and I’d hate to cause problems between the two of you.”

Rather than responding in words, Aaron raised one elegant eyebrow. Alexander stared in amazement. By Aaron’s standards, that counted as standing up for Alexander. Even if it was not as vocal or obvious as Alexander would have preferred, he was surprised Aaron was willing to go as far as he had. Alexander grinned, smug.

“Luckily you never could. We’re married, and for a good reason. You would not believe how much my sugar cube loves me. Right, babe?”

“Alexander,” Aaron said warningly, but Alexander didn’t stop. He kept talking for the entire drive to the radio studio, sharing all the reasons Aaron was allegedly in love with him. Some of the reasons were serious (they shared similar values, they were on the same level when they debated) while others Alexander invented for the fun of it to see how ridiculous he could get without being questioned. The entire time, Aaron sat silently opposite him with his arms crossed over his chest, watching Alexander. At first glance, his expression seemed unreadable, but Alexander had a hunch. There was no tightness around Aaron’s eyes; there was no tension in his jaw or shoulders; and Alexander would have sworn the occasional sigh he let out was in fact laughter. Stone-faced as he may have seemed, Aaron was happy.

Alexander’s good mood vanished as soon as they stepped into the studio. He had a long-standing dislike of radio hosts. They were too loud, too brash, and entirely too polished. It grated on Alexander, and he found himself grinding his teeth before the interview had even begun. His unspoken suspicions were confirmed when the interview officially started.

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Matt and Michelle’s Morning Radio show. We have some very special guests here for our political segment today, folks. Straight from Washington’s campaign rooms, we have Alexander Hamilton and his new husband, Aaron Hamilton. I have to say, when we asked for someone who could share the campaign view on families, we weren’t expecting anyone as counter-traditionalism as Mr Hamilton.”

Alexander inhaled and leaned forward, ready to tell the interviewer exactly what he thought of ‘tradition’ and ‘families’ combined as a concept. Outside the recording booth, he saw the PR agent’s expression turn to despair. But before Alexander could say anything, he heard a polite laugh from his left.

“Of course, I understand we don’t necessarily look like a traditional family at first glance. We both work, we didn’t have a fancy wedding, we kept our own names - it’s Aaron Burr, not Hamilton. But when it comes to the values that tie families together, I like to think we’re as traditional as it gets. I couldn’t ask for a more dedicated husband, or a better step father for my daughter.”

By the time Aaron finished speaking, Alexander had remembered exactly how much trouble he would be in with Washington if he slammed traditional family values live on the radio. He sucked the side of his mouth in between his teeth and bit down until he tasted blood. It wasn’t worth it, he reminded himself. He managed to refrain from rejoining the conversation until he had calmed down enough to have a moderate response.

Twice more throughout the hour Aaron had to intervene and diffuse the situation, but they managed to navigate the interview without Alexander causing any new scandals. When they left, the PR agent was looking at Aaron like he was his own personal saviour.

“How did you keep him on topic?”

Aaron shrugged with the sly, smug smile of a man with a secret. For what felt like the first time, Aaron’s tendency to keep quiet was working out in Alexander’s favour. Alexander grinned, wrapping both his arms around Aaron’s middle from behind and resting his chin on his shoulder. After a moment of hesitation, one of Burr’s hands moved to rest gently on top of Alexander’s. The smug expression on Alexander’s face grew.  “Hah! He’ll never tell. He’s my husband, so he’s on my side.”

“He’s right,” Aaron said. “That’s what I signed up for when I married him.”

To Alexander’s delight, there was no trace of frustration or exhaustion in Aaron’s voice when he spoke. The warm affection there was doubtlessly part of the act, but he liked to tell himself the lack of distress in Aaron’s voice was authentic. He grinned and kissed Aaron’s cheek. Maybe, just maybe, marriage wasn’t as bad as Alexander had feared it would be.

Chapter Text

The 17:43 flight from New York LGA to Raleigh landed five minutes ahead of schedule.

Alexander Hamilton knew this because the minute the plane touched down he received five texts from Aaron. The notifications brought a smug grin to his face. Upon closer inspection, four of the messages were photographs taken by Theodosia to share her excitement that her family would soon be reunited. The fifth was from Aaron himself, apologizing for letting Theodosia distract him from his work. He was about to send a message assuring him it was fine when Washington cleared his throat.

“Alexander, I can’t believe I have to say this, but if you could direct your attention to the task at hand?”

“Yes, sir,” Alexander said. He tossed his phone aside without a second thought and returned to his work with renewed vigor. There were other people who could write Washington’s speeches for him, but none of them could do the task with the skill and artistry Alexander managed. He could take Washington’s intent and craft it into a speech that could inspire even the hardest of hearts. It was a task Alexander relished. But as much as he enjoyed his work, Alexander’s mind ran faster than Washington’s. Under ordinary circumstances, he used the extra time to prepare for counter-arguments, but sometimes his mind wandered.

This time, it wandered to the Burrs. Aaron and Theodosia had departed Virginia on Sunday evening. Three days later, Alexander, Washington and the rest of the campaign had left for North Carolina. While Alexander had the campaign to tend to, Aaron had his legal clients and (most importantly to Aaron) Theodosia had school. Since none of them could avoid their duties entirely, they had reached a compromise: the Burrs would spend three days a week at home and the rest of the time with Alexander.

With his husband and step-daughter gone, Alexander had expected to return to his old routine like a duck to water. He was horrified to learn that instead, something felt off. He never quite managed to put his finger on what was wrong, but Alexander spent the three days haunted by the vague, unsettling feeling something was out of place. And now, to top it all off, he was excited at the prospect of having Aaron back. It took the threat of Washington’s disappointment in him to force Alexander to focus again, but not once that evening did he forget that the Burrs were in town.

It was past eight when Alexander was finally able to return to his rooms. He barely made it two steps into the hotel suite before a fast-moving blur slammed into his side. Alexander stumbled and caught his weight against the door frame. When he looked down, he saw Theodosia beaming up at him.

“We’re back! Did you miss us? Dad missed you.”

“Did he now?” Alexander asked. His eyebrows shot up, and he looked over at Aaron. For his part, Aaron seemed determined to pretend he hadn’t heard Theodosia’s comment. His eyes stayed fixed on his computer screen with an expression of intense focus. Theodosia let out a huff.

“He won’t admit it because he’s a grump and - Dad, what is it Uncle Jon calls you whenever you won’t tell him why you’re sad?”

Aaron didn’t look up from his screen. He took a moment to type a few words before he said absently, “‘Emotionally constipated’, sweetie. It’s not a nice thing to say.”

“True, though,” Alexander chimed in. He watched as Aaron froze, then turned slowly to look at Alexander. They held eye contact for four seconds before Alexander burst out laughing. He doubled over with giggles until he caught his breath and pushed himself up with his hands on his thighs. It took more willpower than Alexander had thought he possessed not to resume laughing when he saw Aaron’s disapproving frown. Instead, he grinned and waved. “Hi, honey. I’d ask if you missed me, but Theo tells me you did.”

“Of course I missed my husband.”

The words were smooth and and even-toned, delivered with a winning smile that made Alexander’s stomach clench in dismay. That was Aaron’s public face. For the first time, Alexander found himself on the receiving end of the act while knowing exactly what it was: an act. In the past it might not have bothered him, but having recently been privy to greater confidence he found the impersonal manner cold, even insulting.

“Well, I didn’t miss you. I got to have the whole bed to myself, and no cold feet brushed against me in the middle of the night.”

Aaron’s lips pressed a little tighter together. For one moment, Alexander felt the conversation teetering on the edge of disaster. Was Aaron annoyed, or just holding back laughter? Alexander couldn’t tell. Frustration and anxiety swirled together in his gut, so Alexander fell back on old habits and started to talk. He paced back and forth across the hotel room as he spoke, his hands flying back and forth as he gesticulated for emphasis. The words came quick and without pause. For all he talked about nothing more serious than complaints about his day-to-day life, he delivered them with the passion and fervour better suited for a campaign speech.

Whenever Alexander stopped and changed direction, he was treated to a glimpse of Aaron’s face. The smile on his face was smaller than the one he had worn to greet Alexander, but there was a new warmth in it that made Alexander’s chest feel light. It egged Alexander on (as nearly any encouragement would) to more and more dramatic tales. At one story, Aaron let out a quick “ha!”. When Alexander turned, he saw that Aaron had leaned forward with one elbow on the table. He rested his face against his hand, conveniently hiding his mouth with the palm of his hand. There was no way to be certain, but Alexander was convinced that beneath that gesture, Aaron was hiding a bright grin. One day, Alexander promised himself: one day, he would make Aaron laugh so hard there would be no hiding it.

They ate dinner in their room, sitting on the bed and swapping stories about the past three days. Aaron had brought with him well-wishes from their friends and acquaintances, as well as a stack of mail collected from Alexander’s apartment. Anxiety caught in Alexander’s throat at the stack of envelopes. He abandoned his meal and started systematically working through the paperwork. He’d narrowly avoided catastrophic consequences for not checking his mail in the past. He refused to make the same mistake twice. His heart accelerated with each letter he picked up, only to calm again as he confirmed all was well.

Most of the letters were bills, advertising or junk, but one in particular caught Alexander’s attention. It was a little heavier than the rest, stamped with the coat of arms for the U.S. government. His hands shook as he opened it. He tilted the opened envelope towards his lap and two things fell out. One was an ordinary letter, but Alexander barely noticed it. His eyes were fixed on the small navy booklet, only a little larger than his hands. A passport. It wasn’t until Alexander opened it up to the first page and saw his own photograph staring back at him that his brain processed what he was seeing. When he did, he pumped his fist in the air and let out a victorious “ha!”. He fell back onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling, grinning.

“I have a passport.”

“You have a passport,” Aaron agreed. There was a warm smile on his face, and he sounded unusually earnest when he said, “Congratulations, Alexander.”

“I have a passport,” Alexander repeated. He lay there a second longer before jumping to his feet and grabbing the document. “I should photocopy it! That’s what they say to do, right? And I should tell Washington, he’ll want to know – it worked! It really worked!”

He bolted out the room. Halfway down the hall, Alexander froze and turn back. He stuck his head in the door and grinned at his husband. “Hey. Burr. Aaron. Thanks.”

**

A scream broke the silent night air. Alexander sat bolt upright in bed, flailing and tangled in the sheets. By the time he managed to stabilize himself and turn a light on, Aaron was on his feet and rubbing his eyes.

“Theo’s been having nightmares. I’ll handle it. Go back to sleep, Alexander.”

Alexander nodded, lying back down with a wide yawn. The last thing he saw before drifting back off to sleep was Aaron leaving the room.

The next morning, Alexander woke up alone. He furrowed his brow, looking around in sleepy confusion. There was no sound of rushing water from the shower, and Aaron was nowhere to be seen. Still half asleep, he stumbled out of his room and started searching the hotel suite. When he found Aaron, he couldn’t help but wince. Aaron was kneeling beside Theodosia’s bed, his chest and head sprawled over the bed itself. One hand was stretched out towards the center of the bed where Theodosia lay. Even in her sleep, her grasp on his hand looked to be uncomfortably tight, and she had curled her entire body around that point of contact.

Alexander was left with a conundrum. He knew Aaron needed wake up and prepare for the day, but he had no idea how to wake the pair without risking upsetting Theodosia. In the end, he settled on creeping over to Aaron’s side and shaking his shoulder. Aaron lifted his head and yawned, rubbing the sleep from his eyes with his free hand.

“What time is it?”

“Six. We gotta get going, we’ve got an interview. Local news program,” Alexander said. Aaron let out a sigh and nodded.

“All right. I’ll get Theo organized.”

Aaron stood slowly and winced when he tried to roll his head. He reached back and rubbed at the back of his neck with a grimace. Alexander winced in sympathy. A stiff neck was unpleasant to wake up with at the best of times, let alone when one was operating on very little sleep. He had no doubt that Aaron had been awake most of the night, comforting his daughter.

“A good breakfast will help,” Alexander said when they met again. Aaron looked scarcely any better for having showered, but his expression lifted a little at the mention of breakfast.  

The elevator door opened onto the lobby - and chaos. Police tape roped off the hotel restaurant and front desk from the rest of the lobby.  Shattered glass covered the ground where the windows had been shattered inwards, and Alexander spotted a smear of red on the carpet. Sirens wailed. Two women occupied the couch where guests waited to be checked in, both shell-shocked and crying. As he looked around, Alexander saw clues as to what had happened. Graffiti covered the walls outside. The messages were varied, but universally vile: calling Washington a traitor, calling for Alexander to be deported, calling for all kinds of horrendous crimes.

Beside Alexander, the Burrs stood in silent shock. Alexander grimaced. He had seen this kind of scene all too often on the campaign trail. Extremists had been part of politics for too long now to evade it entirely, and he had reconciled danger and trauma as the cost of political activism. For the Burrs, it was likely a first. A spike of guilt ran through Alexander, and he stepped between Theodosia and the horrific scene. If not for him, she would be safe at home in New York, free from the risks of modern political life. Alexander would never forgive himself if she saw something that traumatised her. He ushered the Burrs back towards the stairs and down to the car park. “We should go. We can get breakfast on the way there.”

They did not get breakfast on the way there. Even at this early hour, the streets were clogged with traffic, and despite their early start they made it to the television studio with mere seconds to spare. They were rushed into their dressing rooms without delay or even a word of welcome from the show hosts. Theodosia watched the makeup process with wide-eyed awe; living with only her father had not provided much exposure to the world of makeup artistry, so it was a novel experience for her. When she started to grow bored, Alexander entertained her by pulling ridiculous faces whenever he had the chance.

In a matter of minutes, Alexander and Aaron had been ushered from the dressing rooms to the stage. The crowd cheered when they walked out, both of them wearing matching fake smiles. Alexander could see nothing amiss with the situation, but for reasons he couldn’t quite fathom he felt discomfort prickling the back of his neck. He examined the host with suspicion as he shook his hand. Something was wrong, Alexander was certain - but he had no idea what. The host introduced both of them to the camera and then turned to Aaron.

“Now, Aaron - it’s my understanding you’re a father, is that correct?”

“That is correct, yes,” Aaron said levelly. If they had not been holding hands, Alexander never would have noticed the way he tensed at the question.

“Marvelous. Aaron, those of us here at the network care about American families. We care about American children, and we stand by Vice President Dimes’ recent statement that children deserve a mother and a father. Given you’re denying your own child that so you can indulge in homosexuality, how would you respond to that statement?”

Alexander took a deep breath and leaned in, ready to demolish the arguments presented. The warmth of Aaron’s hand on his elbow stopped him. He turned around, incredulous - surely Aaron wasn’t going to protest him picking a fight now?

The protest died on his lips at the sight of Aaron’s expression. There was no smile on Aaron’s lips, none of the polite, patient tolerance that defined so many of Aaron’s interactions. The only thing there was cold unbridled rage. Knowing how slow Aaron was to anger somehow made the expression all the more alarming. He watched in awe as Aaron leaned forward and made eye contact with the host.

“Let me make one thing clear: if Dimes wants to take my daughter, he’ll do it over my dead body. There is not a shred of reputable evidence suggesting heterosexual couples are better at raising children than the rest of us.

“If I thought for even a second that Alexander could or would bring any harm to my daughter, I would not have let him set foot in my home, let alone married him. Theo is the single most important thing in my life. It bothers you that Alexander and I could be in a happy relationship, I understand that. I can’t stop that. And you can’t stop me loving whomever I chose, not when our relationship harms no one. It might make you uncomfortable, but  you don’t have the right to say that it’s wrong. You crossed a line when you insulted my family. You crossed a line by insinuating I’m somehow doing my daughter harm by letting my family grow, and I’m not going to sit here and let you spew the same vile, dull, repetitive drivel I’ve heard from your sort before. We’re done here.”

Without waiting for a response, Aaron stood up, straightened his jacket and walked off stage. The crowd was silent. Alexander stared after him, shocked and confused and honestly impressed by what he had just seen. Was it wrong of him to think Aaron defending his opinions so openly and aggressively was attractive? Because whether or not he wanted to admit it, Alexander definitely found it attractive.

“Well,” the host said. He raised his eyebrows at the camera as if sharing a secret moment with the audience. ‘I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised someone associated with Alexander Hamilton is such a relentless agitator.”

Alexander snorted. “Aaron hates that kind of thing. You’re just a dick.”

The rest of the interview did not go well.

Less than an hour passed before Alexander was escorted off-premises by network security. He found the Burrs waiting in the limo: Aaron sitting in the back with his eyes closed, Theodosia resting quietly by his side. Alexander took his seat beside them with a grin.

“I got kicked out,” he said, proudly. There was no response from Aaron. The thumbs up from Theodosia mollified Alexander’s irritation somewhat, but didn’t stop a frown from spreading over Alexander’s face. After the performance he’d seen from Aaron, he’d expected praise for being kicked out. There was no doubt the other man was awake: he had flinched a little at the sound of the car door shutting, and winced when Alexander spoke. Irritated, Alexander continued to speak, providing exquisite detail as to what he had done to warrant being kicked out. After a few minutes of this, Aaron groaned and brought his hand up to cover his eyes.

“Hamilton. For the love of God, just shut up.”

The words were slow and pained. Alexander took a closer look at Aaron and frowned at what he saw. Aaron’s skin seemed duller and less lifelike than usual, and there was a thin sheen of sweat covering his skin. Now that he stopped to look, Alexander realized Aaron looked terrible.

“Shit, are you alright? Are you having a heart attack because you expressed an opinion? Holy shit, you’re having a heart attack over an opinion, I should call an ambulance, I - “

Aaron’s arm shot out and caught Alexander’s wrist before he could reach his phone. “Talk. Less.”

“But -”

Before Alexander could get another word out, Theodosia shushed him with a glare more venomous than a seven year old should have been able to muster. Alexander fell into an uneasy silence. Whatever was wrong, he was certain Theodosia would not be so quiet if Aaron was in any danger; she must know what was happening, even if Alexander didn’t. He spent the rest of the car ride in a silent, sullen sulk. When they reached the hotel, Alexander watched as Aaron staggered towards the elevator. Staggered was the only word for it: his shoulders were rounded and hunched, and his direction could only be called a straight line by the most generous of definitions. He slumped against the elevator wall as soon as the doors shut behind them.

Once they reached their rooms, Aaron headed straight for his suitcase and pulled out a small box. He counted out four different kinds of pills into the palm of his hand. Then, without a single sip of water, he swallowed them down in one gulp. With that done, he stumbled across to the bed and collapsed face-first into the mattress. After a few moments of stillness, he remembered to toe off his shoes, but seemed perfectly content to leave them lying haphazardly on the bed.

Alexander watched all of this in bemused silence. Once Aaron had been still for almost a minute, Theodosia walked up to Alexander and took his hand. Without a word she led him outside the room and towards the elevator. Panicked, Alexander looked back to the hotel room.

“Uh, kid - Theo - where are we going? Shouldn’t we keep an eye on your dad or something?”

“It’s a migraine. He needs quiet.” Theodosia pursed her lips and added, “You’re not quiet.”

“That’s rude, but it’s also very true,” Alexander conceded. “So what do we do?”

“We wait,” Theodosia told him with a shrug. She snagged a tourist map from the hotel desk and stared at it. Despite his attempts to peer over her shoulder, Alexander didn’t get more than a quick glance at the map before Theodosia nodded decisively and folded it back up. Without looking back, she marched out onto the street. Alexander was helpless to do anything but follow, so follow he did. His pleas and bargains to get her to return to the hotel were thoroughly ignored, and Alexander started to wonder how Aaron had convinced her to listen to him at all.

After a long march, they came to a stop outside a small cafe filled with flowers and the scent of freshly ground coffee. Theodosia spent a minute staring at the menu before walking up to the counter and ordering the most obscenely elaborate milkshake they had on offer. When asked to pay, she shrugged and pointed at Alexander.

“Of course,” Alexander rolled his eyes, but he pulled out his wallet and added a coffee to the order. The two of them took a seat by the window. For a long time, they sat in silence. Silence was not Alexander’s normal state, but he still had no clue how to talk to Theodosia outside of a few very specific topics. Should he bring up space? Disney films? Her father? He examined her closely, trying to decide what the best plan of attack would be. For her part, Theodosia was uncharacteristically quiet. She stared at the table with a solemn expression, not even seeming excited by the fact that her milkshake came with an entire slice of cheesecake as decoration. After a moment of internal conflict, Alexander said,

“You’re upset about something.”

Theodosia looked up at him, her face anxious, before she nodded. Both relief and disappointment rushed through Alexander. He had not misread the situation, but he found himself wishing he had. Theodosia stared intently at Alexander, weighing him up and judging him before she said in a small voice,

“Mom used to get stomach aches. She got them a lot, and they were really bad. The doctors said not to worry, and that she was okay.”

The words made Alexander’s heart wrench with sympathy. He did not remember much from when his mother had passed away: his own fever had been too high. But he did remember the smell of antiseptic and the flap of white coats and the burning rage that had come every time someone had told him things would be okay. They hadn’t been okay. Even now, Alexander sometimes found himself wondering if she might have lived if the doctors had listened to her complaints with proper care. Before he could share any of this with Theodosia, she bit her lower lip and tightened her grasp on the milkshake.

“Dad... Dad gets headaches.”

After a moment, Alexander’s stomach dropped as he realized what Theodosia was worried about. “Shit, kid, no, I’m sure it’s not like that. I’ll ask him, he -”

“No! No, I don’t want to worry him. I’m a big kid now. I need to start being responsible, calmer - like Dad is!”

Theodosia’s lower lip trembled, but she held back tears with the same determination as her father. Alexander sighed. Why she had chosen to share this with him instead of another adult in her life, he had no idea. But now that she had, he couldn’t deny feeling responsible for her.

“Okay, okay, let’s figure this out together. I won’t tell him if you don’t want me to, I promise, but just so you know, when he finds out I knew you were upset and didn’t tell him, he is absolutely gonna kick my ass. I’ll be sleeping on the couch for a month, at least. He’d want to know.”

They spent over an hour in the little cafe discussing their options. It took every single one of Alexander’s extensive persuasive skills, but by the time they finished their drinks, Theodosia had tentatively agreed to talk to Aaron about her fears when he was better. The agreement did not come without conditions: Alexander would be held fully responsible if the discussion did upset Aaron, and Theodosia promised he would pay dearly for his mistake. Alexander was to be there the entire time, and if Aaron was sick, Alexander had to stay and help him heal. The only silver lining Alexander could see was that the discussion would not come for several hours. Migraines, Theodosia explained, took hours or even days to pass, and there was nothing they could do but wait.

Since Aaron would apparently be useless for the rest of the day, Alexander took it upon himself to keep Theodosia entertained. First he found a nearby park filled with children enjoying the end of summer. While Theodosia played, Alexander pulled out his phone and frantically searched for ideas on how to keep her busy. Their second stop was another coffee shop so Alexander could refuel, but after that he took Theodosia to the local Natural History museum. Even if he thought the museum was dull, Theodosia’s excitement was contagious. She bounced from exhibit to exhibit, explaining everything she could and asking a million questions whenever she encountered something she didn’t. Alexander trailed after her with a grin. He couldn’t resist snapping a few photos along the way: Aaron would no doubt be disappointed he missed out.

To Alexander’s surprise, Theodosia insisted they stop in the gift store on the way out. “We have to buy a magnet. Whenever we go some place new, we always buy a magnet.”

At this point, Alexander knew better than to argue with her. Traditions were traditions. He waited patiently as Theodosia examined each and every available souvenir magnet, ignoring the strange looks they were getting from the shop assistant for taking so long. Finally, she held up two magnets for Alexander to choose between. After a great show of thought, he pointed to the one shaped like a cross-sectioned slab of amethyst. Beaming, Theodosia put the rejected magnet back and took the crystal magnet up to the counter. Alexander trailed after her, resigned to his position as a walking, talking wallet.

On the way back to the hotel, Alexander insisted on making one last stop. He pulled over outside a pharmacy and spent a full fifteen minutes walking up and down the aisles, searching for anything labelled ‘migraine relief’. He left the chemist with four kinds of painkillers and advice from the pharmacist as to how to help relieve a headache. The idea of Aaron’s migraine continuing a second day was alarming. Alexander missed having someone to argue with, and spending the day running around after Theodosia had exhausted him. There had to be something he could do to help Aaron recover.

The hotel room was pitch black. The curtains had been pulled tightly shut, and at some point Aaron had gathered up the strength to throw clothes over the blinking lights from the hotel alarm clock and his own phone. Even the standby light on the television had been covered by a towel. Theodosia walked to her private bedroom and shut the door before turning on the light. Her route, at least, was short and easy. Alexander fumbled blindly across the entire length of the living area before he reached the master bedroom. Aaron lay stomach down on the bed, his face pressed into a pillow. Not wanting to wake Aaron, Alexander tiptoed as quietly as he could across the room and took a seat on the bed next to him. He reached out with both hands and pressed two fingers against each side of Aaron’s head. When that earned no obvious signs of protest, he started to gently massage Aaron’s temples.

After a few moments, Aaron stirred. He shifted his weight and lifted his head a little - not quite looking at Alexander, but slightly tilting his face in his direction. That combined with a quiet grunt appeared to be all the greeting he could manage. Alexander kept up the massage the entire time.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty. So the pharmacist said this might help,” he whispered to Aaron, keeping his voice low to minimize the risk of aggravating Aaron’s illness. “I’ll stop if you move away.”

There was a long pause. Alexander held his breath. Then, just when Alexander thought he should stop, Aaron sighed and pressed his head forward into Alexander’s touch. It was as strong a sign of approval as Alexander could hope to get. He kept the massage going even after Aaron’s breathing evened out into the smooth, familiar patterns of sleep. It was not, he told himself firmly, out of any misguided worry for Aaron. Truth be told, Alexander was stuck: Aaron’s movement had placed his head squarely in Alexander’s lap, and Alexander didn’t have the heart to make him move. So if he was stuck (or so he reasoned) he may as well do what he could to help Aaron’s migraine pass.

Two hours passed before Aaron started to move again. He lifted his head and looked up at Alexander with wide-dilated pupils and a confused little frown. Alexander greeted him with a sheepish smile and a wave. “Feeling better?”

Aaron nodded. He pushed himself up with both arms and pulled his legs under him so he was sitting facing Alexander on the bed. Even if he was apparently feeling better, Alexander didn’t miss the way his arms trembled with the effort of pushing him up. For a long time, Aaron was silent, leaving Alexander wondering what was going through his mind. Aaron’s brain seemed to be processing at a fraction of its normal speed. The very idea terrified Alexander: how dreadful it must feel to be stuck with sluggish and slow thoughts, especially for someone as intelligent as Aaron.

“How long?”

“It’s evening now. Theo said we should let you sleep.”

“Thank you,” Aaron said quietly. He stretched, and his back made a cracking noise that brought a wince to Alexander’s face.

“Damn, Burr, no wonder you got a headache, even I can tell that much tension isn’t good for you. When was the last time you relaxed?”

“Hypocrite,” Aaron snorted. Without another word, he got to his feet and padded over to the bathroom, leaving Alexander alone with his thoughts. Had Aaron left so abruptly because he was annoyed, or was this just another symptom of how out of it he was? Whatever the answer was, Alexander found he was quickly growing to hate Aaron being sick. It was not that Aaron was an especially poor patient, but Alexander was no nurse. Aaron was not the quick-witted dry friend Alexander had come to rely upon, and that left Alexander unsettled and unhappy.

Aaron returned a few minutes later, looking a lot more human for having showered and washed his face. “Did I say ‘thank you’ already? You must have found someone to look after Theo for the day. And I remember you helping.”

To emphasize exactly how Alexander had helped, he tapped the temple on the left side of his head with his hand. Alexander felt a smile return to his face. Aaron still seemed a little sluggish, but now that he could manage full sentences it was positively adorable. His face pinched and pulled in an open array of expressions that had Alexander enchanted. Perhaps it was wrong of him to take pleasure in Aaron’s vulnerability, but it was so rare to have a chance to study his expressions like this. He watched Aaron’s face like a hawk and said,

“I took Theo out for the day. Or she took me, I’m not sure which.”

Alexander relished the surprise that spread over Aaron’s face, quickly followed by a smile so warm it took his breath away. “I’m glad you two are getting along.”

“She thinks you’re dying.”

As soon as he said it, Alexander winced with regret. The smile he had been enjoying disappeared: Aaron’s brow creased as his eyebrows pulled together, and when he spoke he didn’t manage to hide his distress. “She what?”

“You heard me,” Alexander muttered. “She thinks your headaches are a sign something is wrong. Easy mistake for a kid to make after...”

“After Theodosia,” Aaron realized. Alexander nodded, his expression miserable. He felt like he’d kicked a puppy. He’d never seen Aaron look so lost before. After a moment of standing there, speechless, Aaron sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Can I...” Aaron cut himself off and rubbed his face with his hands. After a heavy swallow he tried again. “I’m not good at this, Alexander.”

“Good at what?” Alexander asked. He watched Aaron with open fascination. This was the first time he had heard Aaron admit to not being good at something. Worse, there was something open and vulnerable about the admission. Alexander wasn’t sure what thought was more disturbing: that Aaron might trust him enough to share his emotions, or that Aaron was still affected by his medication and would regret this later.

“Emotions,” Aaron said, with enough venom in his voice that Alexander had to suppress a giggle. “They’re messy, inconvenient, uncomfortable - Theodosia was good at these things. She’d know what to do. I don’t. I don’t know how to assure Theo I’m not sick. I don’t know how to convince her there’s no need to be afraid. I don’t even know why I’m telling you this.”

Aaron let himself fall back into the bed with a sigh, staring up at the ceiling. “That’s a lie. I know why. I can’t think straight with this damn headache.”

“Look,” Alexander sighed, scooting over on the bed. “I don’t know either. We both know I’m the last person who should give parenting advice. But Theo’s a smart kid. You’re a good dad. You’ll figure it out. She’ll know you’re telling the truth.”

It took far longer for Aaron to mull that over than Alexander was comfortable with. He started squirming restlessly before finally blurting, “It is the truth, right? You’re not dying?”

Aaron snorted. “No, Alexander, I’m not dying. I wouldn’t have married you if I was. It would complicate too many things - I know we outlined it all in the prenuptial agreement, but it’s still something I would rather not gamble on.”

“Oh. Good.” Alexander fidgeted for a few moments before confessing, “Hey, Aaron? Just so you know. I, uh, I don’t want you to die.”

The words ‘I’d miss you’ were on the tip of Alexander’s tongue, but he bit them back. That was heading into dangerous emotional territory that neither of them were equipped to deal with. Best keep it simple. Aaron seemed to agree, nodding and pulling himself up with a great deal of effort. “I promise, Alexander, I will try not to die. I expect the same from you.”

Alexander gave him a firm nod in response. It was nice agreeing with Aaron for once. Perhaps there was something to be said for conversations that weren’t arguments. And for all ‘I don’t want you to die’ was a low bar to clear, the idea that Aaron might care about him brought a smile to Alexander’s face. He shifted a little closer to Aaron and let their knees bump together. For a while the two of them sat silent in the dark, appreciating the rare moment of peace and agreement they had stumbled across.

At Aaron’s cue, the two of them stood up and made their way to Theodosia’s room. The idea of being included in a serious family discussion was a daunting one, but there was no escaping it. Theodosia had chosen to open up to him. She wanted him there. He’d be a coward if he didn’t at least stand by when she worked through it. Alexander considered explaining this to Aaron instead of simply following him to Theodosia’s room, but the air already hung thick and heavy with emotional words. The last thing Alexander needed to do was add more to the atmosphere. Besides, Aaron gave him a small nod of approval when he saw him following. That had to be good enough.

Theodosia was sitting on her bed with a book when the two men entered. She immediately tossed her book aside when she saw the two of them and watched with wide, anxious eyes. To Alexander, she said, “You told him?”

“He did,” Aaron confirmed, before Alexander could say anything. “And I’m very grateful he did.”

“I didn’t want to worry you,” Theodosia muttered, looking down at the sheets in shame. Aaron smiled, putting a hand on her shoulder and taking a seat at the edge of the bed.

“Theo, sweetheart, I’m your father. It’s my job to worry about you. And now that I know something is wrong, we can work on a solution together.”

Theodosia still looked doubtful, but she nodded. She listened attentively to Aaron’s long explanation about what exactly was wrong with him and why it wasn’t dangerous. As he spoke, she edged closer and closer to her father until she was securely tucked under one arm and cuddled up against him. For the most part, Alexander kept his distance, but here and there he chimed in with support for Aaron’s arguments. When Aaron’s medical knowledge started to fail in the face of Theodosia’s persistent questions, Alexander pulled out his phone to look up anything that might help. It took over an hour, but by the end Theodosia was reassured that her father’s life was not in danger. Both the Burrs looked exhausted, and Alexander’s stomach was rumbling.

“Can we get pizza?” Theo asked.

“After how helpful he’s been, I think it’s Alexander’s turn to choose dinner, don’t you?”

“Let’s go out. We can decide on the way,” Alexander suggested. It took a few minutes to get everyone organized, but soon all three of them had piled into the lift. Despite the heavy emotional work they’d just been through, Theodosia was in high spirits. To Alexander’s relief and disappointment, Aaron had recovered enough to hide his emotions deep below the surface once more. If Alexander wanted to know what he was thinking, he’d have to guess.

It was only as the elevator doors slid shut that Alexander realized he’d taken hold of Aaron’s hand before they even left their hotel room.

Chapter Text

The second time the Burrs left to visit New York, Alexander completely forgot they were scheduled to leave. He breezed into the hotel room and made a beeline for the coffee pot, complaining all the while.

“You would not believe what Jefferson did today, I swear - Aaron? Babe?”

He stopped and looked around the room slowly. His heart skipped a beat in panic when he saw the master bedroom. That morning, there had been two suitcases at the foot of the bed. Aaron’s suit jacket had been hanging in the closet, and his watch sitting on the bedside table. All were gone now. Alexander’s suitcase sat alone. For the next three days, Aaron would be in New York, busy with school and work and the rest of his life. Alexander was left in a bind. Without Aaron to talk to, what would he do? He had so many thoughts whirling in his head, ideas and complaints and biting retorts all swirling together. Once he would have let them flow without hesitating, but now he found himself holding back. He had always known his thoughts were brilliant, but he had not been prepared for how much better he could be when Aaron pushed him to refine them. Anything less now seemed like a disservice to himself.

After a few moments of thought, Alexander came to the solution to his dilemma. He pulled out his phone and sent three texts to Aaron. Within two minutes, he had a response. Alexander grinned to himself and replied mere seconds later. He could work with this.

The weekly flow of the Burrs in and out of his life became part of Alexander’s schedule. August melted into September. The campaign continued. Tensions grew as the debates grew less and less civilized. There was a riot in Boston, and a week later another in Virginia. Increased police presence became the norm, and Alexander found himself wondering when he’d last gone a day without seeing a police officer with an assault rifle.

If there was a silver lining to the situation, it was Alexander’s daily correspondence with Aaron. He learned to hate the days Aaron was absent from his life. Alexander had never truly understood the concept of a life outside of work, but for the first time he started to understand the appeal. No matter where they were or how hard Alexander worked, Aaron was there: patient, quiet, stubborn Aaron. They matched each other in ways Alexander hadn’t thought were possible. Since their July wedding, Aaron had gone from a casual friend to one of the most important people in Alexander’s life. They still argued often, but they learnt how to do so without jeopardizing their entire relationship.

It was in September that they hit their first major challenge. Copies of Alexander’s citizenship details were uncovered by a political spy, and conservative media jumped to the (for once accurate) conclusion that Alexander’s marriage was an elaborate case of citizenship fraud. Alexander watched the news in horror as story after story played. His head whirled, and he could have sworn the room was spinning.

“Breathe.”

Aaron’s voice in his ear startled him, but after a moment Alexander took his meaning. His breath was coming in fast, shallow pants. Consciously, he swallowed and inhaled, letting his lungs fill completely before he exhaled. That earned a soft murmur of approval from Aaron, and he squeezed his hand where their fingers were entwined. Alexander offered him a weak smile. Even if it did nothing to fix the problem, it did help.

“I’m so sorry they’re saying all of this, Alexander, it’s obvious how in love you two are.”

It took all of Alexander’s self control not to laugh at that. When Washington had called an emergency meeting to discuss the situation, he hadn’t expected anyone else to be there. But no, the situation was serious enough that he had pulled together his core advisory team. Washington’s running mate, Nina Rosario, had been the one to speak. It was comforting to know there was at least one friendly voice in the room who did not know the truth of the matter. Both Aaron and Washington could be relied on to back Alexander up, but both of them knew the marriage was a ruse. The fact that they had convinced someone as sharp as Nina could only indicate their performance had not been entirely unbelievable.

The remainder of the people in the room Alexander could only assume would be indifferent or hostile: Tallmadge (Washington’s near-permanent shadow) and Thomas Jefferson occupied one side of the table, and two members of Washington’s press team were explaining the negative effects this could have on undecided voters. Tallmadge gave nothing away, but Thomas made no effort to hide his suspicion as he stared at Alexander and Aaron. Largely out of spite, Alexander made eye contact with him and shuffled closer until he was all but in Aaron’s lap. There was only so much he could do to reporters, but he’d be damned if he let Jefferson look at him like that.

“The media is having a field day. The president wants you either deported or imprisoned - from what we can tell, he hasn’t made up his mind.”

“Alexander is a citizen now. I’ve seen his passport myself,” Washington pointed out.

“Since Alexander was granted citizenship through marriage, they will likely attempt to discredit the marriage. We need to give a statement, of course, but the rest of our response will need to be handled delicately.”

“Delicately. So we do nothing?” Alexander asked.

“Nothing openly until the worst has died down. Openly responding to your detractors will only draw attention to the problem. It’s best if you stay off Twitter for a few days.”

Alexander groaned. Surely they didn’t expect him to avoid conflict? Alexander would be damned if he let his enemies slander his name without retaliating. Before he could complain, Aaron spoke up:

“So we need to be strategic. It’s not about what we say, it’s about being seen in the right place by the right people.”

“Exactly. We can make sure the right people see you in the right place at the right time. Look at it as a chance to spend time together. Go on family outings, romantic dates, the whole shebang. We want to give the impression that the accusations are so laughable they haven’t affected your behaviour at all. If people ask questions, either refer to the statement or bring it back to the strength of the relationship.”

“Meaning...?” Alexander wanted to know. Beside him, Aaron grinned and brushed his lips against Alexander’s cheek. It was a hollow grin, but by now Alexander had learnt there were very few people who could tell that with Aaron.

“Meaning I get to take you out for dinner tonight.“

Aaron’s suggestion was met with praise and nods of approval from the PR experts. Barring Aaron’s one explosion on-air, he had become a fast favourite with Washington’s media team. He was eloquent, patient, and quickly gained a reputation as being able to reign in Alexander’s more extreme traits. He was everything they might have hoped the partner of a politician might be.

Discussion continued around Alexander as they worked out the details of their media plan, but Alexander couldn’t focus. Was this really the best plan they had? Pretend nothing had happened? Refusing to dignify ridiculous ideals with a response had not been a successful tactic for nearly half a decade now. Could they really expect Alexander to entrust his life to that? Or maybe they were simply biding their time, waiting for some cue Alexander didn’t know to look for.

An entire hour passed before the meeting finally came to an end. The topic changed to campaign matters, and Aaron returned to their room to focus on his own work. One by one, the rest of the people present were dismissed or retired for the day. Thomas was the last to depart in the late afternoon, leaving Alexander and Washington alone. The pile of completed documents (including letters, speeches and all kinds of formal announcements) grew as time ticked by and the pair worked in companionable efficiency. After some time, awareness slowly dawned on Alexander that Washington had stopped working. He had put down his pen and paper in favour of fixing Alexander with a shrewd look. When Alexander looked up, he finally spoke,

“Are you alright, son?”

“Sir? Is my work not satisfactory?”

“You know it is. That’s not my concern. These past few weeks can’t have been easy on you.”

Alexander’s response was an instant, reflexive decision. He smiled widely, spreading his hands wide. “It’s been wonderful, I cou  - wait, damn it.”

A grimace stole over Alexander’s face. That had been the response he would have given public: here, in the campaign room, with no one but Washington to hear, he could speak the truth. “Sorry, sir. It’s not often I get a chance to speak frankly.”

“I can tell. You sounded like your husband just then.”

From what Alexander knew of Washington’s opinions on Aaron, that wasn’t a compliment. He was surprised by how much the thought discomforted him. It was not a surprise that he was affected by the gentle rebuke: Alexander knew all too well that he placed high value on Washington’s opinion. No, the surprise came from the fact that he disliked the reminder Washington was not fond of Aaron. Once there, the treacherous little squirm of discomfort would not leave Alexander alone.

“He’s not as bad as you think. I like having him around.”

“We still do not know his motives,” Washington reminded Alexander. Alexander sighed and shook his head. What could he say to that? It was true. The fact that Alexander had come to trust Aaron was irrelevant (or at very least, it should be). The fact that Aaron had ceaselessly, tirelessly endured the trivial dramas and thrills that came along with Alexander would only be taken as a sign of his skills as an actor.

“Sir, we may not know his motives, but we have no special reason to believe they are malicious. Whatever else he is, Aaron has always been a friend of mine.”

Washington leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. The expression on his face made Alexander squirm. He felt rather like an open book, but he had no idea what Washington might be reading from him.

“You’re calling him Aaron. It’s not that long ago he was Burr.”

“So?”

“Just be careful, Alexander,” Washington sighed. It occurred to Alexander that Washington wasn’t worried about the campaign. He was worried about Alexander. The idea was unsettling. Worrying Aaron had some political motive that could affect their campaign was another thing, but it was quite another to fret about him hurting Alexander. Before Alexander could protest further, Washington added, “Don’t do anything stupid.”

“Sir,” Alexander said. It was a testament to how much control he had learnt that he left it at that, rather than continuing to protest his intelligence. He left a few minutes later, still reeling from the realization that Washington was worried about him. It was not entirely fair on Aaron, but Alexander couldn’t deny there was a selfish enjoyment that came from the idea that someone was concerned for his wellbeing. It had been too long since he had known that feeling for him to flinch from it now.

A gaggle of children whooping and playing in the halls nearly bowled Alexander over when he stepped out of the lift. Most of them kept running, but one (Theodosia, with long braids and a happy grin) turned around and crashed into him for a hug.

“Hey, Alex. Can I call you Alex? I don’t like long names.”

“Your name is long,” Alexander pointed out.

“Yeah, but Dad only calls me Theodosia if I’m in trouble or he’s missing Mom. Is that a ‘no’?”

Alexander shrugged helplessly. “Sure, kid. Knock yourself out. Does Aaron know you’re here?”

“He’s talking to Thomas,” Theodosia said with a nod. She laughed at Alexander’s grimace when she mentioned Thomas. “You’re funny. You always show what you’re thinking. Didn’t anyone ever teach you not to?”

The question made something uncomfortable pull in Alexander’s chest. It wasn’t his place to worry, he told himself, and Theodosia clearly thought it was an innocent enough question. It was delivered with nothing more than curiosity and a beaming bright smile. He saw Theodosia nearly every day, and he’d seen first hand how careful Aaron was with her. But still, he couldn’t stop himself from asking,

“Did someone teach you not to talk about your emotions?”

Theodosia gave a snort of laughter. “See, now you’re worrying. You’re so obvious. You know it’s not like that, silly. You’ve heard Dad talk about healthy communication. But not everyone is nice, so sometimes we have to hide things around other people. Dad’s so good at it sometimes he forgets to stop, but you never do it.”

Alexander groaned. Typical. “You know, one of the first things your father ever said to me was that I needed to smile more.”

“Yeah, but that’s because he likes it when you smile,” Theodosia said. She rolled her eyes at Alexander’s skeptical expression. “Like I said, he forgets to stop pretending and hiding things. But you help him forget. He laughs more when you’re around.”

There was nothing Alexander could say to that. Where would he even begin, when he couldn’t even comprehend what Theodosia was telling him? He was certain there had to be a mistake. Poor Theodosia had been hoodwinked by their ruse. They’d expected it, of course, but Alexander found himself wondering if he and Aaron had really considered what that meant. He chewed his lower lip in worry. What if she ended up thinking this was what a healthy relationship looked like? If he could do so delicately, he decided, he would have to bring it up with Aaron.

The children reappeared at the end of the hall calling for Theodosia, and she scarpered off with a bright grin. Alexander stood in the hallway, mulling over what Theodosia had said. Once he realized he had been standing in the hall for several minutes, he shook his head and walked briskly down the hall to his apartment.

As Theodosia had warned him, Thomas Jefferson was in his hotel room. He and Aaron sat on the balcony, soaking up the last few rays of fall sun before the night. It was petty of him, but Alexander was pleased to see Aaron looked none too pleased with his guest. It wasn’t obvious - Aaron was, after all, good at pretending. But there were a few telltale signs Alexander could pick out that Thomas had apparently missed. Aaron’s smile was too pretty and picture-perfect. His real smile was a little smaller and not quite as straight and lit up his entire face, especially his eyes. There were faint lines at the corners of Aaron’s eyes that could have been mistaken for his eyes crinkling from the size of his smile, or even for laugh lines in the right light, but Alexander was confident they were signs of tension. He’d both seen and caused them too often to mistake them for anything else.

Inch by inch, Alexander crept towards the balcony. Neither of the pair were watching him, too deeply absorbed in conversation to even notice he was there. Now that Alexander was closer, he could see frustration in Thomas’ face. Not for the first time in his life, Alexander wished he could read lips. He knew enough to recognize his own surname on Thomas’ lips, accompanied by an angry gesture; Thomas then gestured to Aaron, and his expression morphed from anger to something Alexander couldn’t place. On a better man, Alexander might have called it concern. Try as he might to eavesdrop, Alexander couldn’t make out any words through the thick glass doors.

Well. If they were talking about him, they couldn’t complain if they were interrupted. With any luck, Alexander could rescue Aaron from a doubtlessly insufferable conversation and chase Thomas away at the same time. If his plan was likely to annoy Aaron as well - well, Alexander had never shied from a chance to frustrate him. Alexander slid the glass door open without otherwise announcing his presence. Both men jumped at the sound. Before either of them could react further, Alexander swaggered over and sat himself squarely in Aaron’s lap, hooking his legs over the arms of Aaron’s chair. The expression on his face was pure mischief as he wrapped his arms around Aaron’s neck  Even a week ago, Alexander would have hesitated over this, but now he was confident with what he could get away with. Aaron’s tolerance for his antics grew day by day.

“Hello beautiful,” Alexander said, pitching his voice to a sultry purr. “Theo’s out playing. We can have the place to ourselves. Just the two of us.”

Alexander’s ploy was less successful than he had hoped. Aaron’s hand came up and covered his mouth. Not even the tried-and-true tactic of licking his palm dislodged him. Alexander pouted, for all the good that would do him with his lips covered by Aaron’s palm.

Thomas cleared his throat. “Well, I can see myself out. Aaron - do think about what I said. Look him in the eyes, and you’ll see the truth.”

“I appreciate the concern, Thomas, but I can’t lend any credence to what you’re saying.”

It wasn’t until after Thomas had left that Aaron deigned to remove his hand from Alexander’s mouth. He wiped the spit on his hand off on Alexander’s shirt and made a disgusted noise in the back of his throat. “Alexander, get off.”

A truly wicked grin spread across Alexander’s face. “Get off, hm? Is that something my husband can help with?”

The way Aaron’s eyebrows shot up would have been reward enough, but this close Alexander could catch the way his breath caught for a moment. Alexander grinned, silently praising himself for a job well done. He was not prepared for Aaron’s lips to curl into a smirk. Alexander’s eyes met Aaron’s intense stare, and it was Alexander’s turn to gasp and stutter. Aaron’s arms wound around him, one sliding under his knees and the other supporting his back. “Maybe it is.”

When Aaron stood, he lifted Alexander with him, ignoring the undignified yelp Alexander let out. “Aaron, what the hell, this isn’t how - “

Before Alexander could finish his question, he was dumped without ceremony on the ground. Without a word, Aaron turned around and walked away. Alexander was still grumbling and rubbing his back when he heard the balcony door slide and click shut. Not only had Aaron dropped him, he’d gone back inside. Alexander pouted. He must have misjudged Aaron’s mood. With a groan, Alexander pulled himself to his feet. There would be a bruise on his rear, and at least one on his elbow. He followed Aaron inside and flopped down on the sofa next to him.

“What was that all about?”

Aaron gave him a bland look. “I asked you to get off my lap. You asked for help.”

“I crossed a line, didn’t I?” Alexander asked. He sighed when Aaron nodded. “Fuck. I just wanted to piss Jefferson off.”

“I’d appreciate it if you’d stop using me for that. Don’t think I haven’t noticed this is a recurring theme with you, Alexander - the party in Virginia, today, and a hundred other times. I want no part in your exhibitionism.”

“I’m not an exhibitionist!” Alexander protested. It was true, but judging from the bland look Aaron gave in response, he’d have his work cut out convincing Aaron so. As tempting as it was to do so, Alexander had more urgent questions. “Look, it worked, didn’t it? I saved you from Jefferson.”

Aaron barely stifled a snort of laughter. “Meanwhile, he is trying to save me from you. First Jon, now this.”

It took Alexander a moment to figure out exactly what was being said. When he did, he groaned and fell back against the couch. Was he that bad an actor? The obvious answer was yes: Theodosia had said as much in the hall. Still, it bothered him. Why did all of his friends accept the story, while Aaron’s were so suspicious? There were a million possible reasons: Alexander was more impulsive, Alexander had tried to flirt with Aaron in college, Alexander had a history of rushing into things. But Alexander was convinced there had to be something more to it.

“What exactly did he say?”

“He thinks we got married just so you could become a U.S. citizen.”

Alexander frowned, tilting his head and squinting at Aaron. “But that’s true.”

“Yes. But he thinks I don’t know that.”

It took Alexander a moment to decipher that. When he did, he sat bolt upright in a fit of outrage. “He thinks I tricked you?”

Aaron nodded. The media coverage (Aaron explained) had successfully convinced Thomas that Alexander had known about his citizenship situation before proposing. Aaron (or so Thomas believed) had not. It was unclear if Thomas held this belief as a result of Aaron’s acting prowess or simply because he respected him, but both led to the same result. If those two things were true, there was only one possible conclusion: that Alexander and Aaron had been dating, Aaron was deeply in love, and Alexander had taken ruthless advantage of him.

“So,” Alexander concluded. “We need to convince him I’m in love with you.”

“It certainly seems that way,” Aaron said.

They spent the next hour brainstorming solutions. Aaron adamantly opposed anything sexual. Not only was it inappropriate, but taunting Thomas as Alexander had been would only strengthen his conclusions. Alexander suggested leaving love letters lying about for people to discover, but the idea was dismissed. It was too obvious, and everyone knew Alexander’s strength was words. They both played with the idea of gifts, but that, too, was dismissed. As time wore on, Alexander’s suggestions became less and less sensible and more and more irreverent. The two of them had nearly given up hope when Aaron had one last idea:

“You need to ask him for help.”

“Very funny, Aaron.”

“I’m serious, Alexander. Everyone knows the two of you hate each other. I won’t pretend that Thomas is any kinder about you than you are about him, but you both have more in common than you think.”

“Name one thing I have in common with Jefferson,” Alexander grumbled.

“You’re both intelligent. You’re both charismatic, arrogant and stubborn, not to mention adamant that your opinion is the only right or moral position a person could take.”

Alexander took a moment to consider that. He wanted desperately to protest, but what could he say? He was a genius, he was charismatic, and he was certain his opinions were correct – because they were. Perhaps he would have taken issue with ‘arrogant’, but he knew Aaron would only laugh in his face. There was not a single person in Alexander’s life who had not called him arrogant at some point. It was easier to embrace the label than protest. As for Jefferson, the only point Alexander took issue with was his intelligence; even then, Alexander knew his standards for intelligence were skewed. He considered himself intelligent, along with Aaron, Angelica and a couple of members of Washington’s campaign. The rest of his friends, no matter how dearly he loved them, simply couldn’t work on the same level.

While Alexander was lost in thought, Aaron continued: “You are also both friends of mine. That, Alexander, is where you have your opportunity. Thomas and I converse on many topics you have no interest in – music, art, literature. We can use that. It would look convincing if you sought his advice on an issue regarding my interests.”

“So I ask him about those so I can get you a surprise gift,” Alexander said. Aaron nodded his approval.

“If I might make a suggestion? Our next stop is Chicago. The jazz scene is famous. Tell him you want to plan a night out.”

Alexander nodded thoughtfully. The plan was humiliating (asking Jefferson for help!) and would no doubt be uncomfortable, but it just might work. At the very least, it would take the urgency out of Thomas’ suspicions. There was very likely nothing that could entirely reassure him, but if they could introduce doubt into his suspicions, that bought him time. No matter how much he hated Alexander, Thomas was unlikely to act publicly while he still held doubts. There were too many factors against him. Without an aggrieved victim or concrete evidence, Washington would take Alexander’s side and Thomas’ reputation would suffer. With any luck, that would be enough to keep him from acting rashly.

All Alexander could do was bide his time and hope his greatest political rival would do the same.

Chapter Text

They started simple.

With rumours swirling, there was no time to wait for Alexander to figure out how to approach Thomas. There was no waiting for Chicago: they had to be seen together as soon as possible, before the rumours grew to a stage where they would have to make an official statement. Aaron took responsibility for organizing their first date. He cornered Alexander after an interview, backing him into a corner and putting a hand on his hip. Both of them were very aware of the bustle of journalists, technical assistants and sound experts around them, but it looked for all the word like they thought they were in a world of their own. Aaron’s eyes fixed on a mark on the wall above Alexander’s left shoulder, but he tilted his head slowly down then back up as though he were dragging his eyes over Alexander’s body. He reached up and adjusted the lapel of Alexander’s suit and let one hand linger against his chest. When he spoke, his voice was just loud enough to carry.

“I can’t wait to get you alone tonight. I got us a table at Vin de Set at eight. It’s just going to be you, me, and a bottle of champagne. Just like I promised.”

And, if they were lucky, a reporter or two. They may not normally be famous enough to warrant paparazzi, but as rumours swirled surrounding the legitimacy of their relationship, there were more eyes on them than ever. Alexander found this new attention very inconvenient, as he was undergoing a minor crisis of his own. The name of that crisis was Aaron Burr. When Aaron finally made eye contact Alexander could have sworn the air vanished from the room. He could feel himself flush, and Alexander found himself unable to tear his gaze away. For the first time, he understood how Aaron had ended up with a reputation as a flirt that rivalled even Alexander’s own.

It was only after Aaron had kissed his cheek and walked away with a swagger that Alexander felt the air rush back in. He was left staring after Aaron in confusion. Why had he reacted like that? Alexander’s heart was hammering. His breath had caught in his chest, and he was left in shock. It felt almost like fear, but that made no sense: Alexander was not frightened of Aaron, and that didn’t explain why Alexander was disappointed he had left. A full minute passed before Alexander remembered himself and followed Aaron out to the car. Aaron gave him a strange look as he slid into the back seat, undoubtedly wondering what had taken Alexander so long to join him.

“Is everything alright?”

“Fine,” Alexander choked out, his voice cracking on the word. He tried again. “I’m fine, really. I mean it.”

Alexander could feel Aaron’s eyes on him, although he continued staring out the window. At length, Aaron spoke again, this time with regret in his tone.

“If I made you uncomfortable, it’s my fault, not yours.”

“No! No, you did nothing wrong,” Alexander said quickly, and he was surprised by how much conviction there was in his voice. He saw Aaron nod out of the corner of his eye, apparently satisfied with Alexander’s explanation. A sigh of relief slipped out of Alexander before he could stop it. He barely understood his reaction himself, let alone well enough to explain it to Aaron. But Alexander was very sure he did not want Aaron knowing what affect he had on Alexander.

That night, the two of them left the comfort and privacy of their hotel for the brisk September night. It had taken the better part of the day to plan a picture-perfect date, but Alexander was confident the end result was convincing. He’d even managed to talk Aaron into complementary outfits: a challenging task, given the differences in their wardrobe. Aaron tended to prefer more muted colours. Purple, blue and maroon all featured heavily in his wardrobe, but never in the vibrant tones Alexander favoured. More outlandish colours like green and yellow were entirely absent, so Alexander had crowed with delight when he had managed to talk Aaron into wearing a tie and cufflinks that matched his own favourite emerald green suit. The combination of charcoal grey and the deep green suited him. Throughout the evening, Alexander found his eyes lingering on the green accents. They were flattering, yes, but even better, it made it clear the two of them were a matched set.

If Alexander were given to introspection, he might have wondered why that made his chest fill with a gloating sort of glee. The idea that he was feeling possessive of Aaron did cross his mind, but he quashed the idea without mercy. Not only was the idea ludicrous (he had no right, he knew perfectly well), but it didn’t explain why he was just as happy that he clearly belonged to Aaron as Aaron to him.

“Green suits you, you know,” Alexander said, when he realized Aaron had caught him staring on their way down the street. “You should wear brighter colours more often.”

“Not all of us are as fond of showing off as you,” Aaron said. Not that long ago, the words might have been judgemental, but there was nothing but amusement and a hint of warm affection in Aaron’s voice. Perhaps that was why instead of getting defensive, Alexander simply beamed at him.

“Yes, but you and I have reasons to show off.”

“Is that so?” Aaron asked with a small huff of laughter. As far as Alexander was concerned, that was an invitation. He launched into an explanation of all the virtues he and Aaron had in common: they were both successful, they were both geniuses, they were both persuasive, they were both lucky and driven enough to be part of political change. He easily could have kept going, but he was distracted as they passed a late night florist. Excusing himself, he ducked inside and had a quick word with the woman behind the desk. He returned to Aaron’s side a few minutes later, two hundred dollars poorer and not holding a single flower, but feeling very pleased with himself.

“Act surprised,” Alexander told his husband.

“By what?”

“Exactly.”

They took their seats at the restaurant with little fanfare. As soon as they were seated, Alexander shuffled his chair around the table so he could lean against Aaron’s side as they perused the menu. He fully intended to stay plastered to Aaron’s side the entire night. Not only did the casual contact send the right message, but Aaron was warm and comfortable. He even smelled good, Alexander realized, good enough even to distract Alexander from the heady scents wafting through from the kitchen. It was not a useful thought, so Alexander tried to push it aside. Instead he focused on the menu and drinks list. Aaron ordered them a bottle of champagne, and they clinked their glasses together in a toast. A few minutes after they ordered their meals, Aaron dipped his head so he could murmur low and private in Alexander’s ear.

“I recognize the couple at the table next to us. They’re part of the team that broke the news about our scheme.”

Alexander tensed. Before he could do anything, Aaron’s hand was on his thigh. “Don’t do anything stupid. Remember why we’re here.”

Right. The best revenge would not be to pick a fight (but oh, how Alexander longed to pick a fight). The best thing they could do was convince them that the marriage was legitimate - that was, after all, the entire point to the evening. Alexander sighed, resting his head on Aaron’s shoulder.

“I hate being patient,” he grumbled. He felt Aaron’s laughter shaking in his chest before he heard the soft chuckle Aaron gave in response to that. The quiet laughter sounded disproportionate to the scale of the shaking he had felt, so Alexander set himself a challenge to distract himself from his anxiety. He would make Aaron laugh, really laugh, before the night was out. It would not be easy. But if anyone could, Alexander was confident it would be him. After all, he was an expert in breaking through Aaron’s control to irritate or annoy him. Surely those skills would translate to making him laugh. But Alexander had made no progress by the end of the appetiser, and little more by the time the plates were cleared away and replaced with their second course. Alexander’s stories grew more and more outrageous as the meal wore on. Finally, he heard an undignified snort. Alexander grinned and pushed a little further. After a second, there was another short, staccato burst of noise before Aaron let out a choking sound. It took Alexander a moment to realize the sound was Aaron laughing.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t heard Aaron laugh before. The laugh he’d seen previously had been a smooth and dignified thing: a quick and charming “ha-ha!” to acknowledge his companions wit. It certainly didn’t involve Aaron snorting and giggling uncontrollably. But that was exactly Aaron’s response to Alexander’s theatrics. Alexander pulled back a little so he could stare. The laughter shook Aaron’s entire body, leaving him no space for the quiet dignity he normally cultivated. Just as Aaron started to pull himself under control, the two made eye contact and the two of them were overwhelmed with laughter a second time. Even as he laughed with him, Alexander reeled from the realization that Aaron laughing was adorable.

A comfortable quiet settled over the pair as they exhausted their energy for laughter. Aaron’s grin was wide and bright and not at all subtle, but Alexander would have sworn it was meant for him and only him. It was intoxicating. In that moment Alexander made a resolution. He would make it his mission each day to coax that laughter out of Aaron. It would do Aaron good to let go and relax.

“You’re staring at me,” Aaron observed. The words might have worried Alexander had it not been for the grin still lingering on Aaron’s face.

“You’re staring back, sweetcheeks.”

The words weren’t meant as a challenge, but they came out as one. Alexander’s heart sank. His brain scrambled to recover, looking for a way he could save the situation. The next course arrived before he could say anything, and Aaron made some passing comment about the food. It wasn’t an interesting remark, but Alexander jumped on it as a chance to recover and steer the conversation towards something less tense. By the time their plates were cleared and dessert was ordered, he’d managed to coax Aaron (and himself) into relaxing once more.

A man in a cheap suit appeared in the doorway. He made his way to Alexander directly. As he approached, Alexander pulled his weight off Aaron and sat up straight. The stranger leaned in to murmur softly to Alexander. At Alexander’s nod, he stood and walked out. A minute later he returned at the head of a procession of eight people, each of them carrying a bunch of a dozen red roses. A smug grin spread over Alexander’s face as the flowers were placed on the table in front of a bewildered Aaron. The last bundle was handed to Aaron directly, accompanied by an envelope addressed ‘To My Beloved’ in Alexander’s largest, loopiest handwriting.

It was only when Aaron turned to Alexander with a look of wonder that Alexander remembered Theodosia’s first piece of advice to him, all the way back when they had gotten milkshakes outside the Museum of Natural History. Aaron loved flowers. Maybe that explained the warm smile on Aaron’s face, or the tender, fragile something in his eyes Alexander couldn’t name.

“I thought we agreed no gifts.”

“Spur of the moment,” Alexander explained with a shrug. Aaron let out a soft laugh.

“I never would have guessed.”

Aaron’s eyes flickered to the right, towards the couple they suspected were reporters. That should have been a warning to Alexander, but he wasn’t prepared for the heat in Aaron’s voice when he said, “I should thank you.”

He certainly wasn’t prepared for the kiss. For once, Alexander’s body moved faster than his brain, and he pulled Aaron closer before he even remembered they needed to put on a show. He might have worried about that, but something about the warmth of Aaron’s mouth against his own was enough to drive all but one thought from Alexander’s brain. The one thought left was a burn of desire. It frightened Alexander: not just in its intensity, but in the realization that this was not the first time Aaron had made him feel this way. When Aaron pulled back, Alexander took a deep breath and tried to pull himself under control.

There was no denying Aaron was attractive. Even before they even married, Alexander would freely admit Aaron was easy on the eyes, and would challenge anyone attracted to men to disagree with him. But proximity, a little flirting and a single kiss from an attractive person would not normally have affected Alexander like this. His heart was racing. He could feel the blood thrumming through his veins as a voice in the back of his mind demanded more. This, Alexander thought glumly, was the worst part of the whole affair: the campaign, his marriage, all the things in his life that required him to be respectable. His dry spell had lasted months. For Alexander, addicted to the thrill of flirtation almost as much as the sex itself, it felt like years. That (he told himself) was the reason he was having such a strong reaction to Aaron. Doubtless he would be just as flustered by any pretty thing looking at him with such intent.

“That was one hell of a thank you,” Alexander said. He nearly winced at how low and rough his voice sounded. There was no way anyone could have overheard him. It made the pretence for their contact feel flimsy and insufficient, and he could only hope Aaron didn’t question him.

“It was one hell of a gift,” Aaron said, before adding, “Impractical, though. Did you put any thought into how we’d get them home.”

Alexander hadn’t. “We could get a cab?”

Aaron’s fingers drummed along the table, and he let out a thoughtful hum. After a moment of thought, he shook his head. “Let’s just take one bunch back to the hotel. There’s no way we’d manage this many roses on tomorrow’s flight.”

It was a sensible suggestion, but it left Alexander somewhat disappointed. A part of him liked the idea of Aaron surrounded by Alexander’s gifts, especially now he had remembered Aaron liked flowers. Next time, Alexander thought, he’d have to do it when they were in New York. A few moments later, he remembered there likely wouldn’t be a next time. The entire reason he had bought the roses was because they were ostentatious and attention-grabbing, increasing the odds that the two of them would be noticed. There would be no reason to do it at home.

The idea left a hollow feeling in Alexander’s chest he couldn’t understand. It lingered until time came for dessert. Having both eaten too much, they decided to share a single serving of creme brulee. They had not expected the portion to come with a single spoon. Alexander grabbed it on instinct, having learnt the lessons of defensive eating from his time sharing a house with Hercules. Upon realizing he had the only spoon, Alexander hesitated. He could keep it all to himself. He could be chivalrous, and offer Aaron the spoon. Or he could embarrass Aaron and make them look like idiots in love. Was there even a question of what he should do? Not once had Alexander ever passed up a chance to tease Aaron, and he wasn’t about to start now. Beaming, Alexander scooped up a spoonful of the dessert and held it up to Aaron’s mouth.

“All for you, darling.”

Aaron smiled. From a distance, it might have looked convincing, but Alexander could see the rage smouldering in Aaron’s eyes. But they were in public. More importantly, they had come out to look like a couple still stuck in the honeymoon phase. Aaron had no choice but to accept the morsel. He pulled back a moment later.

“You’re too sweet. Let me return the favour.”

Panic spiked in Alexander’s chest. Whatever Aaron had planned was bound to be at least as awful as Alexander’s own behaviour. He flagged down a waiter in record time and requested another spoon, before loudly lamenting the inefficiencies of feeding one’s lover. It was transparent. Aaron knew exactly what Alexander was doing and why, but he seemed content to let it go. Alexander was not convinced. With Aaron’s patience and ability to hold a grudge, Alexander knew he could expect revenge days or weeks from now. If he was honest with himself, that was half the fun.

They left the restaurant hand in hand an hour later. Aaron carried one of the bunches of roses, holding it close to his chest. Every now and then, Alexander saw his eyes slide down to the flowers before turning back to the footpath in front of them. They kept the conversation lighthearted and casual until they were safely back in their hotel room. Aaron dropped Alexander’s hand and set the roses on the bedside table.

“I think it worked,” Aaron said. “What do you think?”

For the first time that night, Alexander checked Twitter. He grinned at what he saw and held his phone up for Aaron to read. Three photos from them at the restaurant had appeared online while they were out. The responses were split: some people had guessed it was a calculated display of affection, some declared it fake news, but just as many had fallen for it hook, line and sinker. One in particular caught Alexander’s attention: a photograph of Aaron’s face as the flowers piled up around him (tagged with the phrase #relationshipgoals). Grinning to himself, Alexander retweeted it with a sappy line about love and a few heart emojis before putting his phone away. As first dates went, Alexander thought they had been remarkably successful.

Chapter Text

It took Alexander a full day of effort to get the courage to approach Thomas. In the end, it was chance that forced Alexander to act. Both he and Thomas bumped into each other outside Washington’s hotel door early one evening, apparently both planning on using their scheduled downtime to work. The two of them stood in the hallway, staring each other down. The air felt thick and heavy with tension, and Alexander felt a familiar hatred settle in his gut. All Alexander wanted to do was pick a fight, but instead he forced himself to adopt a pleading, ingratiating tone.

“Thomas, I need your help. I don’t know who else to ask. Please.”

Thomas’ eyebrows shot up. The smug, almost predatory smile crept over his face was so disturbing that Alexander couldn’t stop a shudder of disgust running down his spine. Why so many people in Alexander’s life tolerated (let alone welcomed) Thomas’ presence, he would never understand. The mere sight of him revolted Alexander. That would not be helped now he knew exactly what Thomas looked like when he thought he had the upper hand: like a spider, catching people in a web to be poisoned and consumed by his plans.

“I would love to help you, Alexander, but I’m late for meeting James at the hotel bar – unless you’d like to come along?”

Drinks with Thomas and James Madison sounded like Hell on Earth. Alexander nodded anyway. He tried to reminded himself that Madison being there would be a good thing. An additional witness to his ploy could only work in his favour. It would be that much harder for Thomas to lie about their conversation, and someone else would witness how far he was willing to go for the apparent love of his life. Even knowing that, a part of Alexander rebelled: not just at the idea of spending time with them, but with the knowledge that Thomas wanted Alexander’s humiliation public. Thomas thought he could smell blood in the water, and he was going to torment Alexander for as long as he could.

Alexander followed Thomas downstairs like a man going to his own execution. There was no way he could convince himself this would be anything other than torture, but he did try to disconnect from the situation. He took a deep breath as he had often seen his husband do and tried to emulate the stillness Aaron so often achieved. He could almost hear Aaron’s voice in his mind as he reminded himself: Relax. Don’t let them know what you’re thinking. Talk less, smile more, be agreeable. The end result was nothing like the smooth, confident facade Aaron managed to cultivate, but it was a step closer to calm than Alexander would ordinarily have achieved. With any luck, it would be enough for him to get through this meeting without telling Thomas exactly what he thought of him.

“Thomas,” James greeted him with a warm smile, but his expression quickly fell. “And… Hamilton?”

Under different circumstances, Alexander might have been amused by the combination of surprise and dismay that spread over James’ face. He’d never been so pleased to be unwanted and unwelcome before in his life. It was enough to inject a hint of sincerity into the smile he forced for Madison, but there would be no mistaking the expression for anything but fake. The expression hurt his cheeks, and he had no doubt his eyes gave away his anger. Alexander unabashedly loathed both the men before him. Thomas was his enemy and a man he had despised from their very first meeting. The righteous hatred he felt when he looked at James was, in many ways, much more personal, because they had not always hated each other. They had been friends. The betrayal was something Alexander did not understand, but he would never forget and never forgive. It took all his willpower to keep a straight face as Thomas addressed Madison and explained the situation.

“James, Alexander here needs a favour,” Thomas drawled. “I know you hate him, but I want to  hear what he has to say. It could prove enlightening.”

“A favour. So that’s why he’s here,” James said, realization dawning on his face. He seemed pleased at the prospect of having the upper hand, and Alexander made a mental note to exact revenge later.

Thomas’ smile spread further, “I suppose.”

“I didn’t come here to be insulted,” Alexander protested, crossing his arms over his chest. Thomas only laughed at him.

“No, you came here because you needed my help. With what, I can’t imagine, but I have always been a charitable soul. I’m all ears, Hamilton.”

Alexander swallowed heavily. The words tangled in the back of his throat, but he forced himself to say them anyway. “I know you’re friends with Aaron. I know you talk a lot. And there are things he and I don’t talk about that you do. I want to do something special for him, surprise him with a night out. We’re going to Chicago soon, and I thought I could take him out to one of the jazz venues. But I don’t know the first thing about jazz. I don’t know where to start, or what he likes. I could look on Google, but I don’t want to take him somewhere popular. I want to take him somewhere he’ll love.”

The words tasted sick and sour on his lips. Admitting there was something he didn’t know was agonizing. The idea that Jefferson might be better equipped than he was in any field was an unsettling one, and it was even worse when Alexander applied it to the idea of making Aaron happy. There was no situation in which Thomas should be able to make Aaron happier than he could. If Alexander had his way, Aaron would loathe Thomas with the same intensity Alexander himself did. Even knowing full well the entire request was an elaborate lie, Alexander was still uncomfortable with the situation. His discomfort may have had something to do with the sneer on Thomas’ face.

“My, my, my such a model husband. You don’t have any idea what he likes, do you?”

“No. I just said that,” Alexander said through grit teeth.

“Oh, I don’t just mean about music. You don’t know the first thing about him, do you? How you pulled wool over his eyes I’ll never know, but I do know this: Burr isn’t stupid. One day he’ll wake up and realize you’re still the smug, selfish little prick you always have been.”

Alexander saw red. The only thing that kept him from exploding at Thomas then and there was the prospect of telling Aaron his plan had failed because Alexander hadn’t been able to control his temper. He bit his tongue until he tasted blood. Thomas would pay for this. James, too: even if he had kept quiet, Alexander hadn’t missed the way he’d nodded along with everything Thomas had said, all the while looking at Alexander like he was something unpleasant to be scraped off the bottom of his shoe. Later, when his position was not so precarious, Alexander would make them both pay. In the meantime, Alexander took a deep breath and gathered himself. He may not be able to react with the open hatred he felt, but there was no reason to avoid being petty and passive-aggressive.

“Is that a no? Then I’ll leave you two to your little date.”

Panic flickered across Thomas’ face, while at the exact same time James winced. What that meant, Alexander had no idea. It took Thomas’ angry “We’re not dating” for Alexander to connect the dots. A smirk spread across Alexander’s face. He could work with this.

“So that’s why Aaron won’t take your dating advice, you wo-”

“I’ll do it,” Thomas interrupted, far louder than was necessary in the quiet hotel bar. James was staring at Thomas in complete confusion. Clearly, he’d missed the memo. It made Alexander choke back a laugh: how could someone be that oblivious to their friend wanting to date them? To think he’d once considered someone as slow-witted as James a friend. Spending so much time with Thomas must have addled his brain if he was so blind. Even Alexander was amazed he’d missed it before now, and he had no particular reason to pay attention to what Thomas thought or felt.

Thomas continued: “Shut your mouth, you’re giving me a headache. I’ll send you a list tomorrow, just get out of my sight. Deal?”

For once, Alexander said nothing, choosing to keep his words to himself. Instead, he smiled.

“Your plan was a success,” he told Aaron later that evening. He waltzed into the hotel room with a swagger, pleased with how the day had gone. His work was going well, he had the upper hand on Jefferson, and Aaron was around to hear him boast. He ruffled Theodosia’s hair as he passed her working on her homework at the small table and plopped himself down on the sofa next to Aaron. He swung his legs up on the couch so his feet were resting in Aaron’s lap and lay back. He crossed his arms behind his head and looked up at Aaron with a grin. “Jefferson even offered to take care of Theo for the night. I said I’d be damned before I trusted him with Theo, but they say it’s the thought that counts. Why didn’t you tell me about him and James?”

“Alexander,” Aaron said, but Alexander ignored him and continued talking. Twice more Aaron tried to interrupt him, but Alexander pressed on regardless. It was only when he heard the toilet flush that Alexander froze. He stayed very still and hissed at Aaron, “Why didn’t you tell me you had someone here?”

Aaron’s lips pressed tighter together and he raised one eyebrow, but that was his only response. Alexander sat frozen in fear. Had he said anything suspicious? Alexander found his mind suddenly blank: he couldn’t remember if he’d mentioned the fact that their marriage was fake or not. His heart pounded when he heard the door open. It wasn’t until he heard Washington’s familiar voice that Alexander let out a sigh of relief.

“I much appreciate your hospitality. I am unused to having to wait for Alexander to attend to his duties.”

“Yes, Alexander has always been very devoted to his work,” Aaron replied. His tone was very bland, and Alexander found himself wondering why Aaron disapproved of his work ethic. Even more baffling, the disapproval didn’t appear to be directed at Alexander himself, but more towards Washington. His hand still rested warm and comfortable on Alexander’s ankle. Not only did he not push Alexander’s feet out of his lap, he had chosen to return the casual contact. The thought made a warm sense of pleasure settle in Alexander’s chest, part genuine happiness and part smug satisfaction. After enduring Jefferson’s claims, all Alexander wanted to do was bask in the casual touch. Instead, he cleared his throat and said,

“I am here, you know. You don’t have to talk about me like I’m not.”

“Alexander. I didn’t realize you’d returned,” Washington said. He took a seat in the armchair by the couch. His eyes lingered for a moment on the casual contact between Aaron and Alexander before flicking up to Alexander’s face. “Before we begin, I wanted to congratulate you, son. You’ve been doing an excellent job.”

“Have I done something wrong, sir?” Alexander asked suspiciously. Conversations starting out with so many compliments rarely went well. Washington shook his head.

“On the contrary. Your performance has been exemplary. That’s why I’m sending you to deal with a situation brewing in New York.”

Alexander could have sworn his heart stopped. “You’re kicking me out.”

“No, son,” Washington said. There was conviction in his voice, and Alexander felt Aaron rub his ankle reassuringly. “But the protests and riots in the north are getting out of hand. We need a presence there. Someone local to the area.”

“Nina,” Alexander suggested desperately. “She’s from New York, too.”

“Nina is remarkably talented, but she is just one woman. She will need support.”

Washington spent the next hour debriefing them on the situation. The longer he spoke, the more Alexander’s heart sank. His logic made perfect sense. The campaign badly needed a stronger presence in the north to effectively harness the discontent and anger that had been brewing for four long years. Left unchecked, it would grow without shape or direction. Nina could handle deals with business and political leaders, but she would need help. That help had to be persuasive, passionate and unafraid to get their hands dirty. They had to be willing to work tirelessly and, most importantly, match Nina’s own formidable intellect. There was only one person on the campaign who matched those criteria.

“I’ll do it,” Alexander said glumly. Washington gave him an encouraging smile.

“I’m counting on you, son. I’ll have an assistant book flights for you as soon as possible. Were there any more questions?”

“I have a question,” Theodosia piped up. All three men started. Alexander wasn’t sure when she had finished her homework and walked over to join them, but from how comfortably she was sprawled out across the floor, she had to have been there for a while. She shifted so she was sitting cross-legged on the ground and stared up at Washington.

“You keep calling Alexander ‘son’. If he’s your son, does that make you my grandpa?”

In all his years of knowing Washington, Alexander had never seen him melt quite like he did then. Although initially taken aback, Alexander recognized the smile that spread over his face. Washington had no children of his own. It had never been confirmed, but Alexander suspected Washington’s disagreements with and ultimate divorce from his ex-wife had been related to their apparent inability to have children. Despite that, Washington carried a great deal of paternal affection that had the unfortunate tendency of spilling over into his relationships with younger friends - in particular, Alexander. Being adopted as a grandfather would undoubtedly delight him.

That was not enough stop Alexander jumping in quickly with, “I’m not his son. He’s a friend.”

“Oh,” Theodosia said. The little sigh she let out was filled with disappointment. “Okay. Having grandparents sounded fun, that’s all.”

Aaron and Alexander exchanged a hopeless look. What could they say? What could anyone say to that? It was only natural that Theodosia would wonder what more ordinary family structures would look like. Her mother was dead, her grandparents were dead and she had no other family members her own age. She had Aaron, who would move heaven and earth for her; she had Aaron’s friends, who treated her like family; and now, she had Alexander. But an ordinary family was one thing they couldn’t give her, no matter how hard either of them tried. Even Washington seemed dismayed by her response.

“I’m afraid Alexander is right. He is not my son, as he is so fond of telling me, but he is a close personal friend.”

Theodosia looked thoughtful. “Could you teach him son stuff? He used to be real bad at dad stuff, but he’s learning. And I bet we could figure grandpa stuff out.”

“Theodosia, enough,” Aaron said. “Go pack your bags. We have another flight tomorrow.”

It was only after Theodosia had left and slammed her bedroom door shut behind her that Aaron said, “I’m sorry, sir. She’s only seven, there are some things she’s still learning.”

“It’s no trouble. It can’t be easy for the poor girl,” Washington said. He excused himself and took his leave, leaving Aaron and Alexander alone with each other.

Alexander would have given a small fortune to be swallowed whole by the ground in that moment. Failing that, he would have accepted being struck by lightning, shot, or otherwise swiftly eliminated so he would not have to face the dawning realization that Theodosia was thinking and referring to him as a dad. Not ‘Dad’, yet (he was still ‘Alex’, thank God), but ‘a dad’. Alexander’s head spun. Of all the people Theodosia knew, he had to be the least equipped to deal with being a father.

“You’re hyperventilating,” Aaron’s voice said.

That explained the dizziness. Alexander looked up to see Aaron peering at him in concern. Concern, not anger, and there was a relief. This was going to be hard enough to deal with without Aaron holding him accountable for his actions. Alexander tried to speak, but the words caught in his throat. When he did manage to speak, his voice cracked and broke. The words came out in one great rush.

“I can’t do this, Aaron. I can’t. I’m not dad material, you know that, you said it yourself, all I care about is my work. I worked and I worked and I worked and fuck, Aaron, I wasn’t even there when my son was born, because I had work. I never even met him. All I ever got to do was hold his body and shit, Aaron, how can you even let me near Theo? I’ll fuck up. I’ll do something stupid and hurt her and she’ll be traumatised for life because you were too stupid to keep me away. God, you’re dumb.”

Despite the patient concern with which Aaron had been listening, he snorted at that. “Of course you insult me when you’re upset.”

“You deserve it, you fucking moron,” Alexander said petulantly. His chest felt tight and his stomach churned with nausea. “It’s your job to protect Theo.”

“Yes, it is. But this isn’t a threat to her. You aren’t a threat to her. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well you two seem to get along. This is more than we expected, but you knew this was a risk when we got married, Alexander. You promised you would be able to handle it.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t think it would actually happen. She’s a smart kid, she has to know I’m hopeless.”

“Oh, she does,” Aaron said. There was warmth and amusement in his voice, which Alexander thought was entirely unfair. How could he be laughing at a time like this? This was serious.“You know what your problem is, Alexander? This isn’t about you or your mistakes. You’re scared. You’ve grown attached.”

Alexander’s silence said everything. For once, he was speechless. There was no defense he could make, and even he wouldn’t be convinced by any protests he made to the contrary. Aaron was right, and Alexander didn’t have a clue what to do about it. Aaron continued:

“This isn’t a situation I was prepared for, but this can only be good for the both of you. But I should warn you, she’s not impressed by your intellect. In fact, she thinks you’re stupid.”

That got a reaction. Alexander sat bolt upright, his mouth hanging open in shock as he stared at Aaron. There was mischief in Aaron’s expression. Alexander could read it in the way his lips curled slightly up on one side and his eyes danced with a familiar teasing light. But one thing Alexander could not find in his expression of any sign of a lie. The thought rankled. If there was one thing Alexander hated, it was being called stupid.

“She’s been trying to teach you - and this is a quote - ‘Dad Stuff’ for a couple of weeks now. Apparently, you are an exceedingly poor student.”

Aaron was definitely laughing at him, but Alexander was certain he was telling the truth. “Why?”

“You’re part of the family. She might think you’re strange and slow to learn, but she does like you. And you’re better with kids than you think you are.”

Part of the family. Alexander took a few moments to absorb Aaron’s words. The thought terrified him, but he could not deny it also brought with it a warm glow. “So what does this mean?”

“It doesn’t have to mean anything. Nothing has changed,” Aaron pointed out. Alexander wanted to argue, but instead he nodded. At least in the short term, very little had changed. The fact that Theodosia was treating him as part of the family was a revelation, but it was not the first time the concept had crossed Alexander’s mind. The line between simply saying ‘our daughter’ and actually thinking it had been blurred for longer than Alexander wanted to admit. It would have been dishonest for Alexander to pretend he hadn’t sometimes thought of her that way. In the long term, it would be a problem. Sooner or later, Aaron and Alexander would separate, and then what? Poor Theodosia would be crushed. But they would cross that bridge when they came to it. In the meantime, Alexander had to adjust to the idea of being part of a family. He would have to be a responsible parent and partner. The thought made his heart pound with anxiety.

How was he going to get out of this?

Chapter Text

From the minute Alexander set foot in New York, he found himself wishing he was anywhere else.

To begin with, moving in with the Burrs highlighted just how far Alexander was out of his depth. He was welcomed home as if he belonged there. Aaron had made space for him in his own bedroom, and Theodosia had made him a welcome home card printed on A4 paper and weighed down by glitter glue and stickers. He was treated as part of the family and worse still: he loved every minute of it. He was trapped by his own design, and Alexander could see no way out. It made Alexander jumpy and desperate to escape. He had learnt the hard way that he was not a family man, and the last thing he wanted was for his problems to hurt Aaron - or worse, Theodosia.

Alexander’s day went downhill when Aaron shared told him they had plans that evening. Although he heard Aaron speak, Alexander’s brain refused to process the words. After staring at Aaron for a few seconds, he asked,

“What do you mean, bachelor party?”

Aaron sighed. He sounded tired, and Alexander felt a little stab of guilt when he thought of the ire with which he’d responded to the news. This wouldn’t be Aaron’s idea. If Alexander knew Aaron at all, he would have fought this ridiculous idea tooth and nail. Perhaps that was a good thing. He could hardly imagine Aaron struggling to say ‘no’ to any of Alexander’s friends, so this might not be Alexander’s fault. Aaron had rejected wild schemes from John, Hercules and Lafayette often enough in college to earn their disdain, and Alexander could see no reason why that should have changed.

“You heard me. A joint bachelor party, if you can believe it - I tried pointing out that was simply an ordinary party, but you can imagine how much attention was paid to that argument. Never mind the fact that we’re already married for more than two months.”

 

“Who’s idea was it?” Alexander wanted to know. Aaron shook his head and rubbed his face with one hand. Dread settled into the pit of Alexander’s stomach at the familiar look of discomfort on Aaron’s face.

 

“Jon and I bumped into your friends the other day. He got talking with Laurens and they came up with this idea. It looks like our next date night will have to wait.”

 

That explained it. Laurens, at least, would have earnest intentions. He was still grumbling about not being best man, and likely saw this as a chance to make up for lost time. Aaron’s friend Jon Bellamy was a different case. Given his apparent suspicion and hatred of Alexander, it seemed strange he would be supporting this endeavour. But perhaps that was the point. This would get Aaron and Alexander out for the night, instead of being home alone; it would let him watch Alexander’s behaviour; and, by going along with it, Jon would get more time with Aaron.

 

“Can we reschedule?” Alexander wanted to know. Maybe they could still escape this.

 

“No. Tonight.”

 

Alexander let out a dramatic groan. The last thing he wanted to hear after stepping off a long flight was that he had to go out. “Fuck. There’s no escape.”

 

“Laurens said he’d be here at six to help you prepare. Don’t ask me what you’re preparing for, they wouldn’t tell me. I’ll be dropping Theo off with her aunt when he arrives. Jon and I will meet you at whatever rendezvous point they agreed on.”

 

If there was any silver lining to the situation, it was that Aaron sounded as exhausted and frustrated at the idea as Alexander felt. That could work in their favour. At worst, they could isolate themselves in a corner and use Aaron’s quiet demeanor as an excuse. If whatever was planned was too dreadful, they could doubtlessly construct an escape plot of some kind. Alexander’s head spun with possibilities. Aaron was too much of a prude to play up being newlyweds still in their honeymoon period, but he did get migraines - perhaps they could work with that. As an added bonus, playing the role of worried husband might earn him some reprieve from Bellamy’s scorn.

 

Aaron and Theodosia left shortly before six o’clock in the evening. Alexander tried not to show his dismay, but there was a definite pout on his face as he watched them leave. Despite his best attempts, Alexander had been unable to persuade Aaron to avoid the whole childish situation entirely. Alexander was left to wallow in dread for a full fifteen minutes before he heard the doorbell ring. Groaning, Alexander dragged himself over to the intercom and slammed the button to open the door.

 

“Top floor, first door on the right.”

 

John let out a low whistle when he stepped in. “Damn, looks like all those jokes you made about marrying rich were true. This is bigger than my place”

 

“Aaron likes his privacy, and Theo needs her space,” Alexander pointed out with a shrug. Even knowing John was joking, the thought he might be taking advantage of Aaron’s money made his skin crawl.

 

“Right, right, you’re going to be living with a teenager in a few years. I don’t envy you.”

 

“Theo’s a good kid,” Alexander protested. He walked over to the fridge and pulled out two beers, watching as John explored the spacious apartment.

 

While Alexander had been away, Aaron had found the time to incorporate his belongings into the apartment as though they belonged there. Alexander’s coffee machine had replaced Aaron’s own. Beside it were three tins containing freshly ground beans from some of the best brewhouses in the city. Alexander’s books had been placed on the shelves and the closet in the master bedroom had been divided neatly in half. One side held Aaron’s clothes: mostly suits, dominated by navy and grey but with generous lashings of purple and maroon. The other side held Alexander’s clothes in all their varied shapes, sizes and colours.

 

Most importantly to Alexander, the small study at the back of the house had been split in two. Aaron had managed to squeeze a second desk into the room and set it up with everything Alexander would need to do his work. More than anything else, having somewhere he could work made Alexander feel like he was at home.

 

John, meanwhile, was most interested in the wall of photos. Two months had passed since Alexander had last seen it, and two new photos had been added. One was their wedding photo. Alexander supposed that made sense: if Aaron ever had people over, they would doubtlessly wonder why that particular image was missing. The second image was a photograph Alexander didn’t remember posing for. It showed Alexander, Aaron and Theodosia silhouetted against a golden autumn sunset. Theodosia was in the middle, holding hands with both of them. Aaron’s head was tilted down towards Theodosia, but Alexander himself was staring at Aaron with a soft expression on his face. Even knowing it was himself in the photo, Alexander couldn’t fathom what he must have been thinking.

 

“There aren’t many of you,” John observed. For a moment, Alexander panicked. He opened his mouth, about to justify himself, before John laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Well, we’ll just have to get some new photos tonight.”

 

“What are we doing tonight?” Alexander asked. His heart sank when John just grinned at him.

 

An hour later, Alexander was showered, dressed and slightly tipsy. At John’s insistence, he had poured himself into one of the outfits he had worn back when he had time for pleasures such flirting and romance. The waist of his pants may have clung a little tighter than Alexander remembered or would have liked, but they still did wonderful things for his thighs. It was almost a shame the effort would be wasted on the intended audience.

 

The bar John led him to was on the Lower East Side. How John had found the place, Alexander would never know: it was behind an unsigned, unmarked door down one of the dingiest alleys Alexander had seen in his life. Behind the door there was the steady thump of lively music and a large open venue. John made a beeline for a familiar cluster of faces seated near the back of the venue.

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, the man of the hour, Alexander Hamilton.”

 

They were greeted with a series of cheers and hoots from the assembled crowd. All three Schuyler sisters were present. Angelica was curious about how the marriage was going, but Eliza was too wound up in her girlfriend to pay Alexander much attention. Hercules and Lafayette greeted Alexander and John with much enthusiasm which Alexander couldn’t help but return. Despite his misgivings about the evening, Alexander couldn’t help but relax in the presence of his closest friends. He looked over to Aaron, hoping that he was feeling the same, but what he saw made Alexander’s heart sink. The only person Aaron had brought was Jon Bellamy. Jon stared Alexander in the eyes as they shook hands, but Alexander found himself distracted by an uncomfortable twist of worry in his gut. Was Jon the only close friend Aaron had? Did that say anything about Jon, or Aaron? And, perhaps most importantly: if Jon was Aaron’s only friend, how much damage must Alexander be doing by putting strain on their relationship? Alexander surprised himself with the way the thought pulled uncomfortably in his chest. There was no way the situation ended well for Aaron, and for perhaps the first time in his life, Alexander caught himself hoping he was wrong about something.

 

Several tables had been pulled together to accommodate the whole group. There was something deeply uncomfortable about being on display in front of their closest friends, and Alexander found himself hanging close to Aaron for comfort. Given their alleged relationship, the behaviour was unremarkable to the assembled crowd, with one notable exception. Angelica’s eyebrows shot up when she saw how close Alexander insisted on staying to Aaron. They exchanged a meaningful look, and Alexander shuddered. With the exception of Aaron and himself, Angelica was the only person there who knew the full situation of their relationship. Alexander had no doubt that with a single look, she had taken full measure his complicated tangle of emotions towards Aaron. Whenever she edged closer to talk to him, he would drain his drink and call for another round for the table or blatantly changed the topic.

 

“I’m surprised Eliza brought Maria,” he said at one point. It had been dwelling on his mind all evening. He and Eliza were not as close as they once had been, but she had always been kind and empathetic. Bringing Maria along to an event like this seemed out of character for her. But when he spoke, Angelica stared at him incredulously.

 

“They’re not here for you, you ass. Maria brought Eliza, and Maria came for Burr.”

 

Once Angelica said it, it made a certain sort sense. He had known Maria and Aaron were friends. It was something he chose to forget most of the time: thinking too long about Maria made him uncomfortable, especially after Aaron had told him he would take her side in any dispute. For once, Alexander did not know what to say, so he turned his back on Angelica and found another conversation to join.

 

Angelica was not the only difficult guest Alexander had to contend with. Jon Bellamy had claimed a seat opposite Aaron at the table, and Alexander would swear he spent the entire night keeping one eye on Alexander. It was agonizing. There was no doubt that he isolated Alexander for the suspicious treatment. Maria and Eliza were both treated like old friends, and he was friendly and welcoming to Alexander’s friends. He was charming, witty, and willing to patiently listen to even the most obscure topics. In any other situation, Alexander would have loved him. But in his defense, Alexander challenged anyone to like a man who was constantly waiting for him to make a mistake.

 

Once the rest of the table was adequately distracted, Alexander decided to face the situation head on. He intended to be entirely antagonistic, but at the very last moment, he decided to change tactics. If this went sour, Aaron would never forgive him. Maybe he could address this without blowing his cover.

 

“Jon, can we talk?”

 

“I suppose,” Jon said slowly, not bothering to hide his suspicion. Or maybe he was: after weeks of trying to interpret subtle cues from Aaron, Alexander had found himself much better equipped for interpreting people’s emotions. It would explain why no one else had picked up on the hatred in Jon’s gaze whenever he looked at Alexander.

 

“I know you don’t like me. I don’t know what I did, but this thing we’ve got going, where you wait for me to fuck up? It stops now.”

 

“I never said I don’t like you.”

 

Alexander snorted. “Please, I’m married to the most excessively private man on the planet. Seeing through your act isn’t exactly difficult.”

 

“Aaron’s not excessively private,” Jon protested, straightening in his seat and glaring daggers at Alexander. “Just because you don’t care-”

 

Jon might have continued, but Alexander couldn’t help bursting into laughter at that. The very idea that someone could try and claim Aaron was anything less than reserved and downright secretive about his emotions was ludicrous.

 

“You’re kidding me, right? Or are you really going to look me in the eyes and tell me he’s open and forthcoming?”

There was a tense pause.

“Maybe not open,” Jon conceded with great reluctance. Alexander nodded with satisfaction and leaned back in his chair. The movement pressed the side of his body against Aaron. Without pausing his (entirely separate) conversation, Aaron shifted and wrapped his arm around Alexander’s shoulders. Jon’s eyes traced the line of contact between them, and Alexander wondered.

 

“Are you jealous?”

 

The surprise on Jon’s face was earnest, earnest enough that Alexander breathed a sigh of relief before John even had a chance to speak. It was not the guilty surprise of someone who had been caught red-handed. No, Jon looked utterly baffled, and took more than a few moments to piece together a response.

 

“It’s not like that. We’ve known each other since we were children. I promised Theodosia I’d look out for him, and even if I hadn’t, I’d still want him happy.”

 

“Why would Theo ask - oh.”

Not Theo. Theodosia. That complicated things. Aaron’s wife may have been dead for over four years now, but Alexander had learnt quickly that Aaron’s grief was still a raw and potent thing. He had loved her more than anything else in his life. The fact that she was gone was a testament to the horror of decay and disease, the memory of which still took its toll on Aaron every day. Alexander took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I can’t replace Theodosia. I don’t want to.”

 

“What do you want, Hamilton? Why Aaron?”

 

Coming from anyone else, those words would have been an incredulous expression that someone as chaotic and energetic as Alexander could fall for the reasonable, level-headed Aaron Burr. From Jon, it sounded more like a plea. Alexander was cast as some nameless, senseless affliction, and Aaron as his victim. The words brought an old and buried guilt roaring back to life. Was it even an exaggeration? It had been pure chance that had caused Alexander to latch onto Aaron, and there was no denying his life had been disturbed by Alexander’s presence. But they were stuck now, both of them. Even if Alexander could safely leave, there would be no way of safely extracting himself from his new family without hurting them.

 

“I want the same thing as you,” Alexander said slowly, surprised by how true the words were. “I want him happy. I don’t know if I can do that, but I do know one thing. He’s not going to be happy if we’re always arguing.”

 

At long last, Jon hesitated. Alexander pressed his advantage:

 

“I’m not asking you to like me. I’m not even asking you to trust me. I’m just asking you not to be a dick, at least not until I fuck up and give you a good reason for it.”

 

Jon was silent for long enough that Alexander started to wonder if he’d even been heard. Finally, he made eye contact and nodded slightly. Rather than verbally agreeing, he turned his chair and joined the conversation with the Schuyler sisters. Alexander let out a sigh of relief. And here he thought he’d left difficult politics with Washington.

 

When not fending off Jon’s skepticism and Angelica’s probing questions, Alexander found himself fascinated by watching Aaron interact with Alexander’s friends. College had turned Alexander, John, Hercules and Lafayette into inseparable friends. Despite having known them just as long, Aaron had somehow never been drawn into the rowdy group. It was Aaron’s fault, they had always said: he was dismissive, standoffish and too slippery by far. He must dislike them. But watching them interact now, Alexander wondered. Aaron was not one for big gestures or loud debates, but he let John throw a brotherly arm around his shoulders and pull him into a conversation. He may not have joined in on the group’s playful teasing and insults, but he tolerated it, and Alexander realized with a jolt that this was Aaron engaging with the group. It may not be the kind of engagement they knew how to recognize, but it was undoubtedly Aaron doing his best to connect with them. The idea filled Alexander with a warm glow. This was the only family Alexander had ever known. After the welcome Aaron’s family had made for him, he was grateful to be able able to return the favour.

 

Once the party was merrily drunk, John got to his feet and called a toast. “Raise a glass! To our friends’ happy union. May they be more open with each other than they were with us.”

 

There were cheers and clapping from around the table. Maybe it was the alcohol making him bold, but Alexander couldn’t resist using the moment as an excuse to lean forward and steal a kiss from Aaron. He kept it soft and sweet, revelling in the warmth of Aaron’s lips against his own. When he pulled back, Aaron’s eyes were wide with surprise, his mouth hanging open slightly. He recovered almost instantly, schooling his expression, but Alexander wondered if the flicker of a smile he saw was real, or simply his own imagination. Surely it had to be his imagination. He heard John continue:

 

“When I first heard our Ham had married Burr, I’ll admit I thought it was a joke. But when I heard Ham talking about him, I realized it was something special. They’re a good match. You won’t find a more stubborn, argumentative pair of jerks anywhere in the country, but I’m proud to call Hamilton my friend; I trust that, with time, Burr will let me say the same about him.

 

“We might have missed the bachelor party, and the wedding, and the reception, but we have tonight. Tonight is meant as a combination of all three - but most importantly, it’s a chance to celebrate before Washington wins the election and whisks you both down to D.C for good. Tonight, we’re going to drink enough for all three celebrations combined. We’re going to laugh and drink and dance, but right now, we’re going to give these two their long-overdue wedding gifts.”

 

Aaron and Alexander exchanged looks of dismay. They could hardly refuse, but Alexander had no doubt that he was not alone in being deeply uncomfortable with taking advantage of their friends in such a way. But there was no escaping it. The gifts were bought, wrapped and presented to the couple with great fanfare. Despite the shadow of guilt lurking in the back of Alexander’s mind, he had to admit the many gifts presented were thoughtful and would be well appreciated. Jon Bellamy’s gift of matching travel kits was surprisingly personal, and Alexander rifled through his with glee. It was clearly tailored to Aaron’s tastes, not his own, but Alexander didn’t mind. It gave him surprising insight into his husband’s habits. He’d known Aaron had a preference for straight razors (Alexander had been using his razor secretly for the past month), but he’d remained blissfully oblivious to Aaron’s tendency to use handkerchiefs in place of tissues. Lafayette had bought them each a new suitcase, and Eliza and Maria had managed to pull together an entire photo album of the two of them. How the pair had managed it, Alexander would never know. The photographs dated all the way back to Alexander’s first day of college, the day he had scrambled up to Aaron in his excitement to meet someone rumoured to be on his own level. He found himself staring at that photo for longer than the others. Many things had changed since that day, but Alexander was glad he had met Aaron.

 

It wasn’t until John Laurens pushed a large box in front of them that Alexander saw the risk in gift giving. He made eye contact with John and dread trickled down his spine. Without opening the lid, Alexander knew what was in the box. Alexander lunged forward, intending to snatch the gift away, but it was too late. Aaron lifted the lid with innocent curiosity. Inside lay everything Alexander had feared: an exact mirror of the gift he had given John at his bachelor party. A large purple dildo was the centerpiece of the arrangement, and it was surrounded by an array of condoms, lube and smaller sex toys. In the long silence that stretched out after Aaron opened the box, Alexander found himself thinking wistfully of sudden and immediate death. No matter how he tried, he couldn’t bring himself to look at Aaron’s face. Instead, he watched Aaron reach out and carefully pick up a slender tube of lube.

 

“Espresso lubricant. Powered by caffeine,” he read out. The words were delivered in an even, level tone that gave nothing away. “I’m not sure how useful this is going to be. Alexander is allergic to most flavoured lubricants.”

The table burst into uproarious laughter. Even Aaron laughed, but it was the smooth laughter he always used in public, not the bright sound Alexander had learnt to listen for. Still, Aaron’s voice sounded calm and level, so Alexander chanced a quick glance up. He winced when he saw Aaron’s face. He wore a smile, but it was that awful, false smile that he hid behind at every opportunity. Experience had taught Alexander to read the cold anger in his eyes, not to mention the slightest hint of hesitation before he spoke - a telltale sign of embarrassment. That was the source of the anger, then: Aaron’s pride rivalled even Alexander’s own, and Alexander had learnt the hard way that the quickest way to upset Aaron was to embarrass him.

 

To Alexander’s amazement, no one else seemed to notice Aaron’s distress. The laughter from the rest of the table was warm and earnest. John went so far as to tackle Aaron into one of the enthusiastic hugs he favoured his friends with, complete with a vigorous noogie. There was no way John could have missed the way Aaron tensed, but the only move Aaron made was to pat John’s back in half-hearted reciprocation.

 

“He’s grown a sense of humour!” John exclaimed.

 

Scanning the table, Alexander realized there was one other person with an inkling of how uncomfortable Aaron must be. Jon Bellamy was watching the scene with a small frown. Alexander’s heart sank. He could only hope he wouldn’t be blamed for this.

 

“Allergies aside, I’d rather put these things away,” Alexander said, before anyone could find another excuse to tease them. “I’m not allowed to talk about our sex life, not unless I want to be relegated to the couch.”

 

That earned another round of laughter. It was only as he put the lid on the box and moved it aside that he realized: Aaron knew about his allergies. He wracked his brain, trying to think of how Aaron could have figured it out. When he came to the solution, he groaned and covered his face with his hands. The honeymoon. Alexander had spent the entire ride up there sharing uncomfortably personal things in an attempt to draw information out of Aaron. It had never occurred to him that Aaron might have been listening.

 

The noise of dismay he made drew Aaron’s attention, and Alexander felt an arm settle around his shoulders and pull him close. Show or not, Alexander let out a sigh and cuddled up against Aaron’s side. There was no salvaging Alexander’s pride. If Aaron remembered even half of what Alexander had said, he had enough blackmail material for life.

 

The next few hours passed comfortably. No more of the gifts were inappropriate, and conversation and alcohol flowed freely. Aaron was drawn into a conversation with the Schuyler sisters, while Alexander took the opportunity to reconnect with his friends after a long absence. It was past midnight when he stopped to look around and found himself missing one husband. His first thought was concern. They’d been drinking heavily all night, and he knew at some point Maria and Eliza had pulled half the table into at several rounds of shots. Even without knowing that, the warm buzz in Alexander’s mind was enough to tell him he was very drunk. If he was drunk, he had no doubt Aaron was in a similar state.

 

“Where did Aaron go?” Alexander asked, directing the question at Jon Bellamy. If anyone had managed to keep track of Aaron, it would surely be him.

 

Jon didn’t reply verbally, but he did raise an eyebrow and nod towards the dance floor. Alexander turned and stared at the crowd. This was not the dignified, elegant dancing they had seen at charity ball. Alexander could hardly imagine Aaron in the midst of all those seething, swaying bodies, at least not without a great deal of discomfort. He froze when his eyes fell on a figure all in red.

 

Even after all these years, Maria was still beautiful.

 

Maria had always loved dancing, and it seemed to be a hobby she had kept. The bends and twists she moved through were almost hypnotic, and Alexander had no doubt he was not the only man in the room watching her. Whoever she was dancing with was a lucky man. Or perhaps not a man, Alexander corrected himself quickly, not if the rumours were true. It could well be Eliza. That would explain why Alexander couldn’t see anything of Maria’s partner behind her, not even the tip of a head - Maria was a tall woman with a fondness for heels. Except Maria moved to the side with a particularly alluring sway of her hips, and Alexander made a sound like he’d been punched in the gut. For once in his life, Alexander was speechless, because Maria was not dancing with Eliza.

Maria was dancing with Aaron.

 

Alexander had not been the slightest bit prepared for how good Aaron would look dancing. For the first time that night, Alexander noticed how flattering his outfit was. Those pants should have been enough to distract Alexander at the best of times, but no, it was much worse than that, because Aaron was moving. He was no idle bystander in Maria’s dance. No, Aaron was dancing with the smooth confidence of someone who knew he could dance and knew he looked good doing it. The raw intent of the desire that flooded through Alexander took his breath away. He had long come to terms with the fact that Aaron was attractive, but for the first time he couldn’t deny the urge to do something about it.

 

A laugh came from behind him. Eliza took one look at his poleaxed expression and said, “You too, huh?”

 

“Surprised you’re okay with this. After.” After Maria, after him, after how thoroughly he had betrayed Eliza’s trust. The words tasted like dust in his mouth.

 

“They’re good friends. Burr knows how to behave himself, and men are less likely to approach us if he’s around. And I trust Maria.”

 

There was nothing Alexander could say to that. That did sound like Aaron. As for trusting Maria - well. Alexander could only hope that Eliza’s judgement had improved with time, and that Maria was a better person than he was. He stood silently beside Eliza and watched as their partners danced. After a particularly sinful roll of Aaron’s hips, Alexander couldn’t stand it any longer. He drained his drink in one go and set it down on the table.

 

“If you’ll excuse me, I need to, uh...”

 

There was no point in finishing the sentence. Alexander prowled over to the dance floor, eyes fixed on his target. He stepped up behind Aaron and put his hands on Aaron’s hips, invading his personal space and murmuring a low greeting. To Alexander’s eternal delight, Aaron leaned back against him, adjusting his rhythm to match Alexander’s own. God, how had Alexander got so lucky? His husband was gorgeous, and even if he couldn’t take what he wanted, he could at least content himself with the knowledge that he could get away with more than anyone else. The thought made him bold, and Alexander’s dancing turned downright lewd. He couldn’t say how long they danced together: Aaron’s movements were too hypnotic, Alexander’s mind too clouded with alcohol. The more time passed, the less appropriate Alexander became. He let his hands wander along Aaron’s side, his eyes fixed on Aaron’s lips, his -

 

Ice cold water poured down his back. Alexander let out a high-pitched yelped and jumped away, narrowly avoiding hitting Aaron in the face with his elbow. A roar of laughter came from behind him. He wheeled around and came face to face with John Laurens’ unrepentant grin.

 

“You were giving him that look. That focused one, the one you get when you’re working, or about to start a fight, or take someone to bed.”

 

There was a series of nods from people around them. Most people who knew Alexander were intimately familiar with at least one of those situations, and an alarmingly large proportion of those present also knew the other. More importantly, Alexander knew himself too well to try and defend himself. Instead, he tried a different tack.

 

“He’s my husband, if there’s anyone I can give that look to it’s him.”

 

“Not in public,” Aaron said firmly. Alexander sent him a sidelong look, concerned he had managed to upset him. But no, Alexander was safe: Aaron’s posture was still relaxed, and the look on his face betrayed more uncertainty than anger. Not, Alexander realized, that anyone else seemed to be able to tell. John winced at Aaron’s words, mouthing an apology to Alexander behind Aaron’s back as they walked back to the table. Alexander shrugged in response. John could worry all he liked, but Alexander knew he was in no trouble. The knowledge made him bold, and he grinned impishly and said,

 

“Fine. Later.”

 

The breath was knocked out of him by the heated look Aaron sent him in response.

 

“Is that a promise?” Aaron murmured to him. All Alexander could think of was how low and inviting Aaron’s voice was - far, far too low for anyone to have overheard this words. The thought threw fuel on the low fire of attraction he had been keeping down. There was only one thing Alexander could say or do in response to that, so he did it. He pulled Aaron into a hungry kiss.

 

Time seemed to grind almost to a halt in the few seconds it took Aaron to respond. When it did, Aaron let out a low purr and pulled Alexander closer. It was nice, even if it was all for show, and Alexander took shameless advantage of the situation to run his hands over Aaron’s body. He knew it was immoral. There were countless reasons he should keep his hands to himself: they were drunk, this was all for show, they were tied together for the foreseeable future. But when Alexander grabbed a double handful of Aaron’s ass, he couldn’t bring himself to care. He would have been content to enjoy his handful, but fate was not on the side of morals that night. Aaron shifted against him and Alexander felt his groin press briefly against his thigh. Something about the movement felt strange, so Alexander pressed his hips forward to reconnect them, paying keen attention to Aaron’s response. The movement drew a soft gasp out of Aaron, and there was no mistaking the firm pressure against his thigh.

 

The thought sent a dizzying wave of lust through Alexander. For the first time, it occurred to him he might be able to have what he wanted. Yes, they were drunk, and yes, they would doubtlessly regret it tomorrow when they had to navigate the fallout, but in that moment Alexander didn’t care. All he knew was that the contact he had been craving for weeks was suddenly within his reach. He leaned in close, bit Aaron’s ear and took a moment to suckle on the lobe before he purred,

 

“Please tell me you’re going to let me take you home.”

 

Aaron pulled back, looked at Alexander closely. There was still an edge of sharp focus in Aaron’s eyes, the look he got when he was weighing people up. Alexander took comfort in that, used it to quash any lingering moral objections he had.

 

“You’re certain about this?”

 

Alexander should say no.

 

“Fuck yes.”

In that moment, Alexander realized he had never learnt his lesson from past relationships. If Aaron had seemed in any way reluctant, he would have stopped, but Aaron wanted him. And Alexander wanted Aaron. And if one thing defined Alexander’s love life, it was his inability to say ‘no’ to things he wanted.

Chapter Text

The apartment door closed behind them with a thud.

Every sense Alexander had was on high alert, the air thick with tension. Alexander couldn’t quite remember the last time he had wanted something or someone so badly. The low fire that had ignited in his belly had settled into a pleasant, steady burn of anticipation. There was only one question on his mind. What would Aaron’s next move be?

After the dancing at the club and the hungry looks exchanged in the back of the cab, Alexander’s mind raced with possibilities. Maybe Aaron would push him up against the door, crowding close out of desperation, his control finally undone; or maybe bend him over the kitchen table and pound into him, leave bruises on Alexander’s thighs; or even lead him to bed and lie back and spread his legs, sweet and inviting and all Alexander’s for the taking. Any of it, all of it, Alexander wasn’t picky. Alexander held his breath as Aaron walked through the apartment, through the bedroom, then through to the en-suite bathroom. The door shut and locked behind him.

Alexander’s heart sank. After all that, was Aaron really going to brush his teeth and go to sleep?

It was for the best, Alexander tried to tell himself. He repeated all the arguments he had given at the club: they were drunk, they were finally friends, and did he really want to jeopardize that friendship when he had no choice but to face Aaron in the morning? But as valid as his reasoning was, it did nothing to ease the sinking disappointment in Alexander’s chest, nor the ache between his legs. Bad idea or not, Alexander wanted this, and he had never taken well to not getting what he wanted.

The bathroom door opened, but Alexander continued to sulk and stare at the ground from his place at the end of the bed. He felt the mattress dip downwards beside him. It was Aaron lying down to sleep, Alexander told himself, and he should do the same.

Then came the hand on his thigh.

Alexander’s head shot up. The quick movement earned him a quick glance at Aaron’s face before he was distracted by Aaron’s hand on his cheek guiding him in for a kiss. Heat and triumph flooded through Alexander. Yes. This was what he wanted, what he had been craving and denying for weeks. Alexander crawled straight into Aaron’s lap, not waiting for any further cues. Aaron’s mouth was warm and soft against his own, still tasting slightly of peppermint. Alexander felt a rush of irrational fondness: of course Aaron had stopped to brush his teeth first. He pulled Aaron’s lower lip into his mouth, sucking and releasing it only when it was satisfyingly plump. Aaron made a soft sound against his mouth. Whether it was surprise or pleasure Alexander didn’t know, but he promised himself he soon would. He would learn everything. This was just another puzzle about Aaron to solve, just like he’d learnt to read Aaron’s emotions in spite of his ironclad control, only far, far better. Instead of teasing and needling Aaron, Alexander got to kiss and bite and touch to his heart’s content.

The pair broke off. Despite Aaron’s apparent enthusiasm, Alexander took advantage of the moment to check Aaron for any signs of distress. Aaron’s pupils were dilated, and his eyes raked over Alexander’s body with open hunger. His lips were slightly parted, still looking pleasingly swollen from kissing. They curled up a little at one side into an inviting smile. Most tellingly of all, Alexander was not given long to appreciate the picture Aaron made before Aaron leaned in to start trailing kisses along Alexander’s jaw. Alexander let out a small huff of laughter.

“Never would’ve figured you to be so impatient.”

“I’ve been patient,” Aaron muttered. Alexander’s heart pounded - did that mean Aaron had been wanting this for a while? He gave himself a moment to indulge in thoughts of Aaron fantasizing about him while stroking himself off, maybe even pressing those slender fingers inside himself. The mere thought sent a flood of heat through Alexander, and he pulled Aaron into a searing kiss. Later, he told himself he would question what Aaron meant, but for now, all Alexander cared about was that they now had this.

Alexander rolled his hips down. The pressure of Aaron pressing back was enough to draw a broken moan from Alexander’s mouth, and Aaron’s hands tightened on Alexander’s hips. Aaron’s fingers slipped under the hem of Alexander’s shirt, skimming over bare skin. With a grin, Alexander pulled back enough to pull his jumper and shirt over his head in one smooth movement. Aaron stared up at him in awe bordering on reverence, his hands running over Alexander’s skin slowly. It was enough to make Alexander wonder. He had no doubt that he was attractive, but it had been some time since anyone had looked at him with such open desire and wonder. From Aaron’s face, Alexander never would have guessed he was looking at Alexander’s own hairy chest.

Upon introspection, the look made him uncomfortable, so he started unbuttoning Aaron’s shirt. His lips followed his hands downwards until his spine would bend no more, and he straightened up to admire the bare skin newly exposed. A curse slipped past his lips.

Aaron was gorgeous.

There was no other word for it. Such an enticing expanse of dark brown skin, so warm and receptive to Alexander’s touch. Aaron’s belly was firm under his skin, and Alexander suddenly understood the point of all those morning workouts. He took his time sweeping his eyes over Aaron’s body, determined to commit every inch to memory.

Aaron, it seemed, had other ideas. While Alexander stared, Aaron leaned in and fixed his mouth to one of Alexander’s nipples. The warm, wet heat of his mouth was enough to make Alexander gasp. He was entirely unprepared for the scrape of teeth that followed. His hips jerked roughly forward, and a low, hungry moan slipped from Alexander’s mouth. Alexander opened his eyes just as soon as he realized he had closed them to find Aaron staring up at him with a hungry expression.

“Shh,” Alexander murmured, even though Aaron hadn’t said anything. He touched Aaron’s cheek with one hand. “Shh, beautiful, I’m going to give you everything you need. Let’s lie down.”

Without waiting for a response, Alexander kissed Aaron again. He leaned his weight into the kiss, gently pressing down until finally Aaron was lying back against the bed. Alexander grinned to himself. Yes, this was exactly what he had wanted. He ran his hands over Aaron’s chest at the same time as he leaned down to trace hot, open-mouthed kisses against his partner’s neck. Once he reached Aaron’s collarbone he introduced his teeth, biting and sucking until a small mark appeared on his skin.

“There are so many things I want to do to you,” Alexander purred. He slid his hands behind Aaron, scraping along the bed until he could grope Aaron’s ass. A moment later he felt an answering hand on his own ass, and he grinned against Aaron’s skin. “I want to take you apart. I want to learn how to drive you wild, make sure you never feel anything but pleasure. Will you let me do that, babe? Are you going to let me make you feel so good?”

The sound Aaron made in response is faint, but it was confirmation enough for Alexander to ask, “Can I take your pants off?”

If he weren’t so desperate himself, the speed Aaron’s answering nod would have been enough to make Alexander laugh. Instead, lust spiked within him. There was nothing more intoxicating than the feeling of being wanted. He rolled to the side, and there was an awkward moment as they both focused on the mechanics of getting their pants off as quickly as possible. Alexander didn’t pay much attention to his clothes once they were off his body. His underwear he tossed mindlessly across the room, and he kicked his dress pants until they fell off the end of the bed.

Resuming his place pressed against Aaron’s side was exhilarating. Nakedness introduced all kinds of skin-on-skin contact that made Alexander’s head spin. At every point of contact, he could feel the warmth of Aaron’s bare skin against his own: their ankles twining together, Aaron’s hand on his rear, their shoulders touching, the thigh pressing against his firm arousal. For once, Alexander couldn’t find the words to describe all he was feeling. He did the next best thing and kissed Aaron.

Alexander was still reeling from Aaron’s mouth and bare skin when he felt Aaron’s fingers brush against his stiff cock. A low groan slipped from his lips. When Aaron’s hand wrapped around his length, his mind went blank with pleasure. It took considerable effort for Alexander to return the favour, licking his palm first to make sure everything was wet and smooth. Lube would have been better, but neither of them had the patience for that. There was no penetration, so they could make do for now with spit and precum. It didn’t take long to find a rhythm that suited them both: just a touch slower than Alexander was used to, but that only built his anticipation until his mind buzzed with pleasure. Occasionally Alexander would swipe his thumb across the head of Aaron’s cock, smearing precum over his length and earning a delightfully breathless gasp.

As Alexander so often did, he started to babble when he was close to orgasm. He only had a distant awareness of what he was saying, but he knew it would be pure filth: praise for what Aaron was doing, or perhaps promises of what Alexander wanted to do in the future. Both of them were too far gone for anything elaborate, but Alexander was determined that next time he would get his mouth on Aaron’s cock.

They ground against each other in uncoordinated desperation. It was clumsy and uncoordinated, but the sounds Aaron made were so sweet - Alexander didn’t think he could be blamed for being desperate for more.

Alexander was the first to come. He might have worried about that had Aaron not been looking at him with such open desire. He spilled himself over Aaron’s hand and pressed his forehead against Aaron’s shoulder, gasping roughly.

He had only one regret: that he was still recovering when Aaron came a moment later. The low, almost wounded sound he made was enough to send warmth flooding through Alexander’s belly. Despite the biological impossibility, he caught himself thinking wistfully of round two. Instead, he contented himself with the memory of that sound and the promise that next time, he would have the presence of mind to watch.

“Next time,” he promised Aaron, as if saying it to himself wasn’t enough. “Next time, we’ll take it slow, I’ll treat you the way you deserve. Give you everything you ever dreamed.”

Aaron let out a happy sounding hum, curling up against Alexander’s back and pulling the sheets over their shoulders. Going to sleep immediately was not the greatest idea Aaron had ever had - at the very least, Alexander should have insisted on getting a cloth to wipe up the cum smeared across their skin.

“Next time,” Alexander promised instead, and fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Alexander woke the next morning with a pounding headache and the lax-limbed relaxation that only comes after the release of a great deal of tension. For a moment he stared blankly at the ceiling, trying to remember what had happened the previous night. His memory told him he’d finally broken his dry streak with some beautiful person, but that couldn’t be right: there was too much riding on his marriage being successful, and he was alone in Aaron’s bed. Memories of dark brown eyes and warm skin had to have been a dream. He sat up. The linen sheets scraped against the skin of his bare ass, and Alexander’s blood turned to ice. He had had sex last night.

He’d slept with Aaron.

Now that he knew it wasn’t a dream, the memories came flooding back. Drunk as he had been, he remembered everything in exquisite detail. He groaned and ran a hand through his hair. It was not that sex with Aaron was automatically a bad thing, but he was not enough of an optimist to believe there would be no consequences. At the very least, there would be talking. Perhaps, if Alexander was very lucky, they would come to an arrangement where this could be a regular occurrence. But far more likely, Alexander thought glumly, he was going to be kicked out and divorced. He remembered all too well Aaron’s reaction to his dalliance with Maria. Aaron had very firm ideas about what kind of sex was acceptable and what was not. Anything clouded by alcohol and uncertainty would fall in at the ‘not’ end of the spectrum.

Alexander took his time in the shower, delaying having to face Aaron and look him in the eyes. He stared at the clean white tile, feeling numb. Why did he keep doing this to himself? Alexander’s life would be much, much simpler if he had learnt how to say ‘no’ to brown eyes and the promise of a warm bed.

When he could delay the inevitable no longer, he stepped into the kitchen. Aaron sat at the kitchen table, looking scarcely better than Alexander felt. His head shot up when Alexander stepped into the room. There was tension in his shoulders and a frown on his face, but Alexander cared only for the mug of coffee waiting for him on the kitchen bench. Surely if Aaron had made him coffee, he couldn’t be too mad. He wrapped his fingers around the mug, trying to take comfort in its warmth. Rather than look at Aaron, he leaned his back against the bench and stared at the bedroom door.

“Alexander. We should talk.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” Alexander said. He took a long sip of his coffee, refusing to turn around. “About last night, I - “

“I acted inappropriately.”

Of all the things Aaron could have interrupted with, Alexander hadn’t expected that. His head shot up and he turned to face him. Aaron was watching him, his expression closed and unreadable. Was this a trap? Cautiously, Alexander pointed out,

“So did I.”

“You were drunk.”

“So were you.”

“That doesn’t excuse my actions.”

Alexander put his mug down with far more force than was necessary. It was sheer luck that kept the coffee from spilling over the wooden table. This evasiveness was getting them nowhere. God, this was why he hated Burr.

“If you have a problem with my actions, come out and say it. But don’t try and place your regrets on me out of some misguided moral sense of responsibility. In case you forgot, I was an active and willing participant. I thought you were, too, or I wouldn’t have done it.”

There was a long silence as Aaron stared at him. For the first time in several days, Alexander found himself entirely unable to read Aaron’s expression. There was something jarring about being set back to square one. Was Aaron angry? Relieved? Heartbroken? Alexander had no idea, and the thought of being shut out like this permanently brought an unexpected swell of anxiety. When Aaron spoke, he clung to every word, desperate to squeeze some extra meaning out of it.

“So that’s it then. A mistake. We were drunk, we got carried away, and we made a mistake. We’re not the first people to have done this. It’s not going to be comfortable, but we’re both responsible adults. We can work past this.”

“A mistake. Right.”

The words stuck in Alexander’s throat. He should be happy, he told himself. Returning to normal was as good an outcome as he could have hoped for. No matter how much Aaron had seemed to enjoy things the previous night - no matter how much he had said he wanted it - there was nothing he could say or do if Aaron thought it was a mistake.

It was just as well his attraction was purely physical. If Alexander didn’t know better, he would have thought the hollow feeling expanding in his chest went beyond disappointment.

“This is going to be awkward, but we can manage it. If anyone asks, we’ll tell them we had an argument.”

That drew a snort of laughter from Alexander. “We’re always arguing.”

Hope kindled in Alexander’s heart when that earned him a tiny smile. Maybe Aaron was right. Maybe they would get through this in one piece.

“I don’t disagree, but I don’t see why a serious argument isn’t a plausible scenario. It would explain any awkwardness that may remain between us, and also why we may seem to be secretive.”

Alexander nodded reluctantly. It was a perfectly reasonable proposition: he would simply have to deal with his own distaste for the situation on his own. The lie sounded false and bitter, but perhaps that was because Alexander was too emotionally invested in the situation. The lie was to cover something that Alexander didn’t want to be ashamed of, and that made it much harder to buy into. But Alexander would do it.  So long as he got to keep Aaron as a friend, he would go along with whatever lie it took. Even if it meant lying to himself.

Even if it meant lying to Aaron.

A few minutes later Aaron left to collect Theodosia from her aunt’s house, and Alexander was left alone with his thoughts. He spent the better part of an hour staring into his cereal. When that got him nowhere, he pulled himself together enough to try helping out around the house. The first and most obvious step was to wash the sheets. It took some time for Alexander to manage the washing machine, and once it started he pulled a chair in front of it to sit and watch. He told himself he was watching for flooding or an electrical fault, but he knew better. The first fifteen minutes of the machine’s cycle were comfortingly loud, drowning out the violent whirlwind of thoughts in Alexander’s mind.

The next step, Alexander decided, was to put clean sheets on the bed. He found the linen cupboard on his third try and was promptly embroiled in a battle with the fitted sheet. It had been too long since he had made his own bed, and he found the task even more of a nightmare than he remembered. This, too, kept his mind busy: so long as he was focused on the task at hand, he could pretend fitted sheets were the worst of his troubles.

By the time Aaron returned with Theodosia, Alexander had not just changed the sheets but washed the dishes, mopped the floors and started rearranging the bookshelf. He froze when he heard the door creak open. Was it intrusive to be rearranging Aaron’s books? Almost certainly, although the thought had not so much as crossed Alexander’s mind until he began his task. He stood by the bookshelf with a guilty expression, waiting for Aaron to say something. There was a long moment as Aaron stared at him before turning away and walking through to the small home office at the back of the apartment. Not only did he not say a word, he didn’t nod or so much as glance at Alexander on the way past.

Theodosia, on the other hand, bounced up to him with a beaming grin. “Alex! Hey, Alex! Dad says you get to stay with us for a while instead of visiting all those boring hotels.  Is that true?”

Alexander could only hope his answering grin didn’t look as painfully fake as it felt. To think that just the day before he’d been excited to be spending some time in New York. “Sure is, kiddo.”

“Does that mean you can come to my school play? I get to be a princess!”

He should say ‘no’. Getting the time off work would be all but impossible, and as far as Aaron was concerned he almost certainly wouldn’t be welcome. Alexander was an interloper. He wasn’t part of this family, and he definitely shouldn’t be invited along as if he was. He should keep his distance.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

In his defense, Alexander challenged anyone with a heart to say ‘no’ to Theodosia looking at them with such pleading eyes. She had no idea he didn’t belong. Rejecting her invitation would have hurt her feelings, and Alexander would take awkward conversations and cringe-worthy school performances over the guilt of doing that. What kind of fake step-father would he be if he didn’t support her?

He explained his reasoning to Aaron that night after Theodosia had gone to bed. The entire time, he watched Aaron’s expression like a hawk. Anxiety wound tight in his chest. He had no idea what Aaron was thinking. The sight of Aaron’s polite, friendly smile was going to drive Alexander insane. Over the past few weeks, he had grown accustomed to being able to read the little tells that gave away Aaron’s true mood, even if the rest of the world seemed blind to them. But now it seemed Aaron had committed to not letting any clue slip past his facade, and Alexander was flying blind.

“You’re going to be bored,” Aaron warned him. “You’ll have to stay for the whole show.”

“Theo will be disappointed if I back out now,” Alexander pointed out, and that was really the crux of it. For all Alexander knew, Aaron was sick to the stomach at the mere sight of him: but if Theo wanted Alexander there, Aaron would die before he let his distaste show.

The conversation about the performance set the tone for the next two weeks. While in public or in front of Theodosia, Aaron was as affectionate as ever. Alexander relished every point of contact between them, whether it was a scripted kiss or simply holding hands while they walked down the street. It was enough to make Alexander long for time in the public eye, because once they were alone, Aaron gave him nothing. The warm affection vanished. Aaron retreated back into his carefully constructed shell, polite and friendly and bland to the core. Getting an opinion out of him was like drawing blood from a stone, even when Alexander knew without a trace of doubt that Aaron had strong convictions regarding the issue at hand.

There was another side to Aaron’s sudden refusal to indulge in casual contact that bothered Alexander. Now that Alexander had lost it, he was realizing how very much he had once had. Aaron was not a tactile person. Even with his friends, he rarely allowed contact. Alexander could count the number of people he had seen Aaron be openly affectionate with on one hand, and somehow, he had been one of them. He couldn’t pinpoint when it had started. When they had first married, Aaron would tense at so much as Alexander patting him on the back. By late August, he’d been quite content to hug Alexander with or without an audience. By now, Alexander realized, they’d been all but glued together whenever they had been in the same room. Yes, they had usually found a pretence - but was “Theodosia might wake up” really justification for sharing a blanket when watching movies late at night? It was barely a step above showering together to save water.

The habit of casual contact had built so slowly Alexander hadn’t noticed it - but now that was gone, it left a void in his life. It confused him. Confusion never sat well with Alexander, so when a full week passed and he still could not decipher his own emotions, he grew angry and snappish. It did nothing to help his case.

When he let his rage turn to Aaron, he was met with equal unflinching stubbornness. Their arguments built and built until one of them inevitably stormed out of the room, and within one week they’d tallied up more than enough fights to make up for the past months of peace. Both of them were guilty, Alexander would freely admit. Half the time, it was Aaron who started things, snide and cold and attacking him for being hot-headed, dishonest, and crooked. The words cut deep. They cut deeper still when Alexander realized he had heard the same mocking words from Jefferson.

Just as often, it was Alexander’s fault. He missed the warm tones of Aaron’s laughter, but he would make do with what he could have. He had the flash of anger in Aaron’s eyes whenever Alexander interrupted him and the muscle that worked in his jaw each time Alexander dismissed one of his achievements. It was not what he wanted, but it was something, and Alexander would take it all. It was dangerous, Alexander knew, to become addicted to such things, but that was not enough to stop him. He would drink his fill of poisonous hatred before he resigned himself to Aaron’s bland, polite smiles. Anything was better than that smile. He had seen too many people swayed by it, none of the poor fools realizing how cold and malicious the expression really was. Alexander was not some naive stranger to be won over so easily, and he refused to be treated like one. He was not some pawn to be manipulated.

And there was the heart of the problem: Aaron was his equal, in every way. When they worked together, they were unstoppable, but now they were at loggerheads once more, and it threatened to be disastrous. Alexander’s temper was starting to run short.

“I just want my husband not to be an asshole,” Alexander complained to Angelica over coffee one rainy morning. “Is that too much to ask?”

“You married Aaron Burr,” Angelica reminded him, as though that explained everything. Much to Alexander’s dismay, he heard himself defending Aaron before he even thought it through.

“He’s not as bad as you think. Eliza likes having him around.”

Angelica pursed her lips. “Eliza is the most kind, trusting person you will ever meet.”

But, as they both knew all too well, her judgement could be flawed. She had trusted Alexander. Alexander had let her down not once, but twice; even Eliza had not waited around for him to do it a third time.

“She’s right about him, though. Yes, he’s a spineless know-it-all snob, but beneath it all there’s a real person. And I want him back.”

The words sounded petulant and childish, even to Alexander’s own ears, but they were true. He missed Aaron. Angelica leaned back in her chair and looked at him, examining his face and slumped posture with a critical eye. He was sure the thought would win him no favours, but he was reminded of Aaron’s shrewd way of weighing people up. Both of them were fiercely intelligent, both of them knew Alexander well, and most importantly, neither of them would be fooled by any attempt of Alexander’s to hide his thoughts. At length, Angelica asked,

“Is there something you want to tell me?”

The bafflement on Alexander’s face was anything but fake. He shook his head. “Like what?”

“You don’t know,” Angelica realized, and let out a quick burst of laughter. “Oh, Alexander, you really are hopeless.”

The affectionate warmth in her voice did little to ease the sting of the words. “Am not.”

“Are too. Spineless know-it-all, indeed. You two deserve each other.”

Despite Alexander cajoling, begging and threatening her, Angelica refused to say what it was Alexander didn’t know. Alexander left the cafe with his mind tangled up in a maze of frustration. He had no idea what Angelica was talking about. No matter how many times he re-examined their conversation, no matter how many different angles he looked at it from, he  what had amused her so much. Once she had figured something out, whatever that something was, she had refused to say another word on the matter.

“That’s your problem to fix, not mine,” she had told him.

The problem stayed on his mind for the rest of the day as he tried to work. It haunted his dreams and disturbed his sleep, and Alexander was half convinced he would go insane if she did not tell him what was so entertaining. The thought distracted him all evening, and even his input into that night’s fight was half-hearted at best.

And that was another thing that worried him him. They were fights, now, not arguments. Even when things had been good, he and Aaron had argued a lot, but the arguments had been different. It was one thing to squabble over over petty issues or goad Aaron into embarrassment. It was another thing entirely when they waged war over serious topics. Very few conversations seemed to pass peacefully between them, whether they were discussing additional security measures to take or political policies. The venomous fights made Alexander miss their old bickering. No matter how heated the debate got, he had never doubted that things would be resolved in the end.

Now, though. Now Alexander wondered if the two of them would ever be friends again.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t that Alexander had been trying to eavesdrop.

If anything, he told himself, he’d done the opposite. He had stayed at work as late as possible: past dinner, past Theodosia’s bed time and past even his own usual bedtime until late in the night. It took his computer deciding to update the operating system to force Alexander out of the office and back to Aaron’s apartment.

Even expecting to find the Burrs asleep, Alexander was filled with dread at the thought of returning. The situation with Aaron grew worse and worse by the hour. Barely ten minutes could pass without them being at each other’s throats, and it took a concerted effort on both their parts to keep the arguments from spilling into the public eye or into Theodosia’s life. Even then, they were not without slip-ups. Alexander struggled to keep his mouth shut, and it was only a matter of time before someone noticed the way Aaron flinched whenever Alexander touched him without warning.

And now, it seemed, someone had. Despite the late hour, the light was on in Aaron’s office. The door was ajar, open just enough to let light and Aaron’s voice spill through into the darkened living area.

“Thomas, please. Whether we have been arguing or not is irrelevant. My marriage is my private business, and I’d prefer to keep it that way.”

Aaron sounded exhausted. It was a tone Alexander recognized: this couldn’t be the first time Aaron had had this conversation. He only sounded this tired when he had repeated himself ad nauseum. Curiosity burned through Alexander’s mind, chasing any signs of tiredness from his mind and his body. Inch by inch, he shut the front door behind him. He was careful to turn the handle at the last possible moment, making sure the latch made no sound as it closed behind him. He waited a beat. When it seemed he had thus far gone undetected, he began to creep across the darkened room towards the office.

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t do that,” Aaron said into the phone. “I don’t expect you to care about him, but you must realize your plan would make my life very difficult.”

Alexander’s lips thinned. It didn’t take a genius to work out who they were talking about. On the bright side, he reasoned, if they wanted to talk about him, he at least had a right to eavesdrop. He leaned closer and pressed his ear to the door.  Much to Alexander’s disappointment, what came next was far harder to decipher than the hints thus far.  “Yes, I did marry him,” was almost immediately followed by a huff of laughter and “Yes, he certainly is that.”

The long pause that followed gave Alexander plenty of time to speculate. What, exactly, had Aaron agreed Alexander was? Whatever it was, it was undoubtedly insulting. He would expect no less from Jefferson. The thought that Aaron might agree with Jefferson’s opinion of him set a hollow feeling ringing in his chest. Even after everything, he loathed the idea of Aaron hating him. The only thing worse than the idea of Aaron hating him was the idea that Jefferson might persuade him to do so and drive them apart. Alexander’s mind flooded with questions. Aside from the details of the conversation, he found himself wondering why Aaron was talking to Jefferson in the first place. They were friends, yes, but Jefferson would not have been Aaron’s first choice to turn to for comfort or validation. Before Alexander could dwell too long on the puzzle, Aaron spoke again. This time, his words were softer and more hesitant.

“Yes, I do.”

The sound of Aaron’s laughter that followed the words sounded almost out of place in the serious conversation. It took Alexander a moment to realize why it was not completely jarring. The laughter was not because Aaron was happy or amused. He was laughing at himself. Mockery and despair mingled in equal tones, and even though Alexander was quite certain he hated Aaron, the sound made his heart ache.

“I never said it was my best idea. It’s probably the worst decision I ever made, but I can see no way out of it. What can I do?”

The marriage. Certainty reinforced the idea in Alexander’s mind. What else could Aaron have done that he would regret so much? There was no way out of it now: they were both too deeply committed to the scheme for either of them to be able to back out. But of course Aaron would regret it, especially in the light of the past few days. A heavy weight of despair settled into Alexander’s stomach. There were no good options. If they stayed wed, Aaron would continue to be miserable; if they parted, their fraud would come to light and they would likely both face legal consequences.

Alexander was so caught up in his melancholy he nearly missed Aaron’s dry tone when he said: “Yes, because denial has worked out so well for you.”

That, Alexander thought, made zero sense. Jefferson had no marriage to deny. But he must have had something to be defensive about, because Aaron told him,

“You were the one who chose to bring up personal matters. You wanted to know if I shared your suspicions regarding my husband, and I do not. You wanted me to endorse your scheme, and I will not. I am asking you, as a friend, to let my family be; and I am telling you, as a father and a husband, that I will not permit my family to be harmed or separated. You will drop this matter, Thomas.”

There was another pause as Jefferson responded, and then: “Yes, that is acceptable. And if you could go so far as to warn us if others are asking questions, Alexander and I would be in your debt.”

A scowl slipped over Alexander’s face. He’d be damned if he’d be in debt for Jefferson, no matter what the deal was. As if Aaron had read his mind, he said in a sly tone:

“Of course he’d never admit to it, but give me some credit. If I cannot persuade my husband to do something for me, then I truly have lost my touch.”

The conversation wound down. The tension and anxiety eased out of Aaron’s voice, and Alexander felt himself relax. Jefferson may have been trying to drive them apart, but he had not succeeded. Alexander relaxed too much: he missed the sound of Aaron’s chair scraping against the wooden floor. It wasn’t until he heard Aaron bid Jefferson a good night that he realized the danger he was in. There was no good reason for him to be lurking in the dark by Aaron’s office. He scrambled away, but froze when the lights clicked on above his head. Alexander turned to face Aaron, gearing up for another fight.

He found Aaron frozen in the doorway to his office, looking like a deer caught in the headlights. He stared him down. For once, Alexander managed to display greater patience. After just a few moments Aaron broke eye contact. He stepped further into the room and closed the office door behind him.

“You were listening.”

“You were talking about me,” Alexander shot back. Aaron didn’t try to deny it. He shrugged, holding his palms outwards as if to indicate the matter was out of his hands. When Aaron didn’t say anything, Alexander crossed his arms over his chest and glared. “Or is this the part where you can convince me of whatever you need?”

Aaron let out a sigh. He reached up with one hand to rub his forehead and a frown tugged at the corners of his lips. “Of all - that’s the part you take issue with?”

The reaction was so far from what Alexander had anticipated he found himself only managing a tentative nod. Aaron snorted, and something that might have been relief flickered across his face.

“Of course it is. Hamilton, for once in your life, be reasonable. You know Thomas suspects the marriage is a scam. He can’t credibly use that against you without my support, not without looking paranoid and divisive. He told me out dreadful you are, and I told him what he needed to hear to put this nonsense aside and leave us be. If you have any problems with that, we can argue in the morning, but right now, it’s 3 AM. I have been awake since five this morning and I am too tired to deal with you and your ridiculous pride. Good night, Alexander.”

With that, Aaron breezed past Alexander to the bedroom without so much as a backwards glance. He flicked the light out on his way past, leaving Alexander alone in the dark.

They did not talk the next morning, nor the following afternoon. Two days had passed before Alexander realized they had not spoken more than two words to each other since that night. The icy silence was almost worse than arguing. Every night, Alexander lay awake in the dark and stared at the ceiling. Aaron lay just across the bed, sleeping peacefully, but it felt as if there was an ocean between them. The width of the gap terrified Alexander. What frightened him even more was how badly he wanted to close the gap and put their fighting behind them.

By the time Theodosia’s school play rolled around, Alexander had nearly forgotten his promise to attend. The reminder he had put in his calendar alerted him at the last possible minute, and he bolted from his office with barely a word of explanation. He did not think he had the strength to endure Theodosia’s disappointment if he did not show. Even if he did, he had no doubt letting her down was one crime Aaron would never forgive him for.

When he arrived, Alexander stared up at the wrought iron gates of Theodosia’s primary school with wide eyes. He’d known Aaron was rich. But until he had seen the ostentatious luxury that was Theodosia’s primary school, he hadn’t quite realized how rich. The school was huge. It had grounds, somehow, despite being in New York: a sign at the front gate advertised the special sporting campus further out of the city. The tuition would undoubtedly be more than the annual income of some families. It would certainly be more than the money Alexander had received each year when he was Theodosia’s age.

The performance was to be held in the Great Hall. Parents and other assorted family members mingled while the children were rushed about by harried-looking teachers. They managed to catch a brief glimpse of Theodosia before she was roughly shoved aside by an older boy with sandy blonde hair. Alexander felt more than saw a surge of movement beside him, and his arm shot out to catch Aaron before he could do anything he regretted.

“You can talk to her after. If you do anything now, you’ll get kicked out.”

Aaron hesitated. After a moment, he straightened and turned to Alexander. His expression was emotionless and his tone cold when he spoke. “You’re a hypocrite of the worst sort. You’re normally the first in line to start a fight, but you’d tell me to keep calm?”

“Does it look like Theo wants you involved?” Alexander asked, nodding in the direction of the children. It was hard to see Theodosia properly, but he could just make out frantically waving arms and her voice rang loud and clear with rapid-fire insults. Alexander watched Aaron’s expression waiver before he sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. It took a great deal to get such an open display of emotion from Aaron, and Alexander’s heart ached with sympathy. He couldn’t blame Aaron for wanting better. He wanted better, or at the very least to be able to do something to help Theodosia - anything was better than simply waiting. But he knew getting involved would be embarrassing for Theodosia at best, so he held his tongue for now. They could talk after the play, and formulate a plan.

Not long after the commotion the adults were asked to take their seats. Alexander and Aaron squeezed into the front row, determined not to miss a single second of Theodosia’s performance. The lights went down and the curtain drew up. Alexander held his breath.

A single child stepped out onto the center of the stage. It was not Theodosia, and Alexander let out the breath he’d been holding into a sigh. It was too late to do anything about it, but Aaron had been right: Alexander was going to be bored out of his mind. He slid a hand into his pocket, reaching for his phone, only for Aaron to grab his wrist. Alexander let out another sigh, louder this time. Of course Aaron would expect him to behave. He risked a glance at his partner. Apart from the hand around Alexander’s wrist, Aaron looked like a perfectly attentive audience member. Anyone watching him would have thought he was watching an interesting and engaging performance.

Alexander’s sulk broke the minute Theodosia stepped out as part of a five-piece ensemble. His expression brightened and he sat up a little straighter. There was no doubt in his mind that she was the most talented child up there. He made a mental note to tweet something about the performance later. The world needed to know just how brilliant she was. He beamed at the little sketch the children performed, watching avidly as Theodosia climbed to the top row of a stand to sing.

Movement to the side of the stage caught Alexander’s eye. He frowned. The blonde child from before was standing beside the stand, fiddling with something, and -

To the end of his days, Alexander would be haunted by the sound of Theodosia’s scream. The entire stand came crashing down in a heap, taking the children with it. In the chaos, the blonde boy slipped away and out of the room, but Alexander didn’t waste any time thinking about him. By the time he realized what had happened he was on his feet. A moment later, he was helping Aaron lift one of the heavy metal planks that made up the stands. Two children wriggled free as soon as the weight was gone, but Theodosia lay frozen, staring at her leg. Alexander followed her gaze. His heart nearly stopped at what he saw: Theodosia’s leg, twisted at an unnatural angle, a long gash dripping blood from her knee to her ankle.

“Alexander, can you hold it?” Aaron asked urgently. Without thinking, Alexander nodded. The full weight of the plank fell on him and he let out a low grunt, straining with all his might to hold it up. His arms trembled as Aaron scrambled beneath the beam to Theodosia’s side. Alexander wondered if Aaron had thought about what would happen if Alexander wasn’t strong enough. If he did, he didn’t seem to care. He took his time once he reached Theodosia’s side, careful not to hurt her or frighten her as he carried her to safety. Seconds after he was clear, Alexander’s arms gave out. The metal plank crashed to the ground with a loud clang that made everyone around them flinch.

The rest of the afternoon passed in a fog of panic and confusion.Theodosia and Aaron were whisked away to the hospital, and Alexander found himself cornered by some journalists. He could only hope whatever he was saying made sense, because his mouth was running entirely on autopilot. It wasn’t until someone linked arms with him and steered him back into the school yard that he realized precisely how much the scene had affected him.

“I should be with Aaron,” he realized.

“I know. That’s why I’m here,” the person leading him said. Alexander stopped in the middle of the corridor and stared. Brown curls, red lipstick, leather jacket and the scent of cloves. He knew this person.

“Maria? What are you doing here?”

“Aaron called, he knew today was my day off. He didn’t trust you to make it home alone.”

“Is Theo alright?” Alexander asked anxiously. Maria patted his shoulder reassuringly.

“She’ll bounce back. She’s not the first child to have a broken leg.”

“A broken leg,” Alexander echoed, leaning back against the wall. It should have been obvious after what he’d seen, but it still came as a shock. He rubbed his face with his hands. “Fuck, I’m the worst step-father ever, how could I let her get a broken leg?”

Maria sighed, crossing her arms over her chest and fixing Alexander with a stern look. “Aaron sent me to get you. He didn’t say anything about playing counsellor. Save it for when you get home.”

Alexander nodded meekly. He kept his mouth shut after that. If he opened it, the words would come as a deluge, and there would be no appeasing Maria then. She led him through the school and to a red motorbike in the car park. She pulled out two helmets from the storage compartment, throwing one to Alexander. He caught it with both hands and stared. It would fit, but it was built for a smaller head than his, and there was something familiar about the delicate white and blue patterns. When he turned it to pull it over his head, he caught sight of Eliza’s handwriting marking it as her own.

There was a time when being pressed close to Maria on a motorbike would have excited Alexander for all the wrong reasons. Now, he felt nothing. The usual cacophony in his head settled down to a single frequency buzzing in the back of his skull. He should be with Theodosia and Aaron. Until that was put right - until he knew Theodosia was safe, until he had the two of them comfortably by his side - Alexander would not be content. It didn’t matter that he and Aaron had been arguing that morning. It didn’t matter that Alexander wasn’t really part of the family. Alexander was emotionally attached, and there was no going back now.

Neither Aaron nor Theodosia were waiting when Alexander stepped into the apartment. He stood in the living space and stared at the empty room. Now what?

He jumped at the sound of Maria letting herself in behind him. While Alexander paced restlessly, she made a beeline for the kitchen and put the kettle on. The confidence with which she moved suggested familiarity with the space. She knew exactly where to look to find the mugs and the tea, and she had no qualms about rooting through the pantry until she found an unopened packet of biscuits. It wasn’t until the tea was brewing that she pulled out her phone. The sight made Alexander start.

For the first time since before the performance had started, he checked his phone. In what was becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence, he had been flooded with messages. A video of the incident had made its way to the media. The public relations team of the campaign had reached out to discuss a strategy for managing the situation, but Alexander suspected they were responding too late. His Twitter app had crashed from the sheer volume of notifications. Nearly everyone he knew had sent him some form of message inquiring about Theodosia’s safety and his own mental state, and those closest to him had messaged twice. Time and time again, the question flashed before his eyes. Was Theodosia going to be okay?

Alexander wished he knew.

Chapter Text

“Alex! Alex, look, it’s broken in three places!”

Theodosia didn’t bother with ‘hello’ or anything so ordinary by way of greeting. Her first priority was apparently ensuring Alexander had a minor heart attack. She seemed almost proud at the announcement of her injury. A big smile was on her face, but her eyes were unfocused and her pupils dilated. When she gestured to her leg, her movements were slower and clumsier than usual, and it took Alexander longer than he would have liked to realize she must have taken powerful painkillers. In his defence, he had a lot to process. Theodosia herself was in a wheelchair, her leg splinted and set out straight in front of her. In addition to her leg, there was a bruise rising on her left cheek, and a bandage was wrapped around her hand.

When Alexander’s response lacked the enthusiasm Theodosia was looking for, she sighed. “Three places, Alex! Dad, show him the x-rays!”

Not even the sigh Aaron let out prepared Alexander for how exhausted Aaron looked. There was a rounded slump to his shoulders, and he rested his weight slightly against the back of Theodosia’s chair. A slim folder of papers was tucked under one arm. Alexander felt a sudden pull of anxiety in his gut. A broken leg couldn’t be cheap. He could only hope Aaron was as responsible as he seemed and had the savings or insurance to cover the cost of the treatment.

Alexander ushered the pair inside and convinced Aaron to take a seat at the kitchen table. He himself didn’t rest: he rushed around the apartment, searching for anything that would make the situation better. He took the tea from Maria, and then fetched anything else he could think of that might comfort the pair. It was cold enough to warrant a blanket for Theodosia, he decided, and she would surely want something to entertain herself, so he brought over a stack of books and Aaron’s laptop.

“I see you’ve got plenty of help here,” Maria said, patting Aaron on the shoulder. There was laughter in her voice, although Alexander couldn’t begin to comprehend why.

“Help. Right.”

“Well, I’m sure that’s what it’s meant to be,” Maria laughed. She gave a quick peck to the top of his head and added, “Eliza says ‘hi’. If you or Theo need to talk to someone after this, she has colleagues who would be able to help.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it,” Aaron said. Goodbyes were exchanged, but Alexander didn’t listen to a word of it. He had frozen in place the second Maria had kissed Aaron’s forehead. Something ugly and vicious raged inside him. It wasn’t until he had watched Maria shut the front door behind her that he felt his brain kick back into gear. In an instant he crossed the room and stood behind Aaron’s chair, wondering if he would get away with hugging him. It had been a long day. For all he knew the hug would be appreciated - although given their recent disagreements, it was unlikely.

Aaron tilted his head backwards so he could look up at Alexander. “You’re hovering.”

“You’re upside down,” Alexander countered. He watched Aaron’s lips curl into a crooked little smile. Inch by inch, Alexander moved his hand towards Aaron’s face before jerking it back roughly. Whatever half-formed impulse he’d been acting on, it surely wouldn’t have ended well. Aaron’s eyes followed the movement of his hand, and Alexander scrambled to distract him.  “Weren’t you going to show me Theo’s x-rays?”

Ten minutes later, Alexander regretted reminding them about the x-rays. Medical problems unnerved Alexander at the best of times, but there was something particularly nauseating about seeing a damaged bone and knowing it was mere feet away. Bile rose in the back of his throat and he swallowed heavily. It could be much, much worse he told himself. A broken bone was just an injury, and injuries healed. Injuries he could handle; in Alexander’s mind injuries were preferable to being sick.

“I just hope the school has a good explanation for it. I can’t imagine how they let something like this happen,” Aaron said, shaking his head with a small frown.

“You mean you didn’t see the snot-nosed brat pull the whole thing down?”

Aaron looked confused, but Theodosia sat up straighter in her chair. “George Eacker!”

The name was spat with all the venom a child could have for their nemesis - which is to say, a great deal. But when faced with two pairs of curious eyes, Theodosia shrunk back into herself. She ducked her head and pulled her good knee up and hugged it against her chest. “I mean, probably. He’s a butthead.”

“Theo? Is there something you’re not telling us?” Aaron asked. He stroked Theodosia’s hair before shifting closer to wrap an arm around her shoulders. Theodosia peered up at him, biting her lip and searching his expression - for what, Alexander didn’t know. There was nothing but love and tender concern in Aaron’s face. It was enough to soothe Theodosia’s concerns, and she slumped against her father and hid her face against his chest.

Not for the first time, Alexander found himself impressed by Aaron’s self control. Even Alexander had felt a spike of fear and regret at the idea Theodosia might have enough of a problem with someone to suspect them of causing her injury. If it was enough to make Alexander clench his fist and choke back fear and rage, he could scarcely imagine the scale of emotions Aaron must be feeling. But no: when he spoke, his words were perfectly level and calm.

“Whatever it is, sweetheart, I promise I won’t be angry at you. Please, can we talk about this?”

There was a long silence before Theodosia said quietly, “Peppermint.”

Aaron and Alexander exchanged a look of bewilderment before Aaron caught on. “Of course. Alexander, could you make some peppermint tea for us?”

“Right! The creepy feelings circle,” Alexander realized. The look Aaron sent him was venomous enough to make Alexander flinch, and he made a mental note not to insult any ideas originating from Theodosia Snr ever again. He slipped away quickly, taking refuge in the safety of the kitchen.

An entire cupboard was dedicated to the Burrs’ tea collection, and it took him some time to search through all the neatly labelled tins to find the one marked ‘peppermint’. While the tea brewed, he listened to Aaron and Theodosia outline how they were feeling with the same clinical detachment one might use to discuss a crime scene. How they managed to sound so calm, Alexander would never understand. He felt his heart break a little when Theodosia admitted that she was scared and hurting, and he had no doubt Aaron would be coping little better. Why Aaron subjected himself to this remained a mystery. Alexander had hoped time might have shed light with the practice, but he still found it as deeply unsettling as before. Emotions were tricky at the best of times. Laying them out so plainly in times of vulnerability was just asking for trouble.

Despite his personal feelings on the matter, Alexander was not allowed to escape the ritual. Once he returned to the table with three mugs of peppermint tea, two pairs of expectant eyes turned to him. He sighed. “Please don’t make me.”

“Could you write something down?” Aaron suggested. Alexander bit his lip. If he had had more patience, he might have tried to wait Aaron out, but he knew that route was doomed from the start. But there were advantages to Aaron’s patience. There was no sign of any judgement in his expression, so Alexander found himself nodding reluctantly. Theodosia pushed a pad of paper across the table to him. There was no need to pass him a pen: Alexander always had at least one on his person. He wrote quickly, scrawling something about being worried and angry before shoving the pad back to the others. With any luck, his writing would be too messy for them to read.

“Thank you,” Aaron said, and Alexander flinched at how earnest the words were. It was the kindest Aaron had been to him in days. “Now, Theo, you had something to tell us?”

Theodosia nodded. Her lower lip trembled a little and her face was filled with reluctance, but she forced herself to speak nonetheless. “The boy Alex saw, it would’ve been George. He’s a snot-brain and he’s mean and dumb and I hate him. He’s been picking on me for ages but the teacher never does anything, even when I complain.”

“Hm. I’ll be having words with your teacher about that,” Aaron said, a frown tugging at the corners of his lips. “How long has this been going on?”

“Ever since I yelled at him,” Theodosia said promptly. “He was talking sh- saying mean things about...”

The bubble of laughter that had swelled in Alexander’s chest at Theodosia’s barely averted cursing popped, leaving him frozen and hollow. There was something about the way Theodosia trailed off that made Alexander’s heart sink. She sent a guilty look in Alexander’s direction, miserable despite Aaron’s patient reassurances that things would be alright. Dread settled into the pit of Alexander’s stomach.

“He was being mean about Alex.”

Silence settled over the room. Confused, Alexander gestured to himself in a silent question. Theodosia nodded.

“What could a brat like that be saying about me?” Alexander blurted. Almost immediately, he regretted asking.

“He - we were talking about the news and all the fighting and how people that got hurt and the election and he said you were a bad man and you didn’t belong here and they were going to send you away so I said he shouldn’t talk like that about my dad and they weren’t going to send you anywhere so he said you’re not really my dad because Dad’s my dad and you only get one dad and he said if you were they’d get rid of all of us so I put a spider in his lunchbox and now none of the other girls will talk to him so he got mad and he, and he...” Theodosia’s words came in a rush. Before she could finish, her eyes filled with tears and she let out a wail. “They can’t take you away, they just can’t.”

“Shit, kid,” Alexander said, staring at her in horror. For once, words abandoned him. What could he even say to that? He’d never even considered that the rumours swirling around him could ever reach Theodosia, much less through the channel of a schoolyard bully. But they had, and that could only mean one thing. This was his fault. Theodosia had stood up for him as her step father, and as a result of defending him she’d been hurt. The guilt swirled through his mind, spiralling out of control until it threatened to drown him. He should have seen this coming. He should have done something - anything - to prevent this.

“Theo, listen to me. It’s all right. No one is going to take Alexander away from us, I promise. There are people who don’t like Alexander, so they spread misinformation to make his life more difficult and to try and make him look bad. This George you’re dealing with has been listening to them.”

Theodosia sniffled. “So they can’t send him away? Or us?”

“They can’t. You and I were born here, so no one can make us leave. Alexander wasn’t born here, but when he and I got married, he became part of our family. That means he gets to stay with us.”

“What about people who aren’t born here and don’t marry?” Theodosia wanted to know, staring at the ring on her father’s hand. Alexander watched Aaron’s eyes dart away, and he took a moment to respond.

“That’s a complicated question, sweetheart. There are a lot of people who disagree with each other, and a lot of them are very angry about the issue.”

“Only one side that has a right to be, though,” Alexander chimed in. Aaron raised an eyebrow, but Alexander stared right back. “What? You can’t seriously expect me to have sympathy for the racist dickheads who want to see every immigrant deported.”

“No,” Aaron said, after a long and tense pause. “I don’t expect you to do that. But I would appreciate it if you would mind your language. We don’t talk like that in this house.”

Alexander’s mouth ran faster than his brain.“The swearing, or standing up for what’s right?”

There was a flash of anger in Aaron’s eyes. Alexander braced himself for a full argument. There were few people who could counter him once he hit his stride in a debate, and Aaron was one of them. It made the arguments as enjoyable as they were terrifying. But, before Aaron said anything, Theodosia piped up with a stern order to stop fighting.

“I’m sick of it. You keep fighting when you think I’m not listening but I am, I’m not stupid. I don’t know why you don’t just talk,” she advised. Both Alexander and Aaron did everything they could to avoid eye-contact. Shame welled up inside Alexander. He’d never even considered their actions could be affecting her, not when both he and Aaron had gone to great lengths to hide their conflict from her. He did not look up, but Alexander knew Aaron had been caught when he heard a sigh.

“You’re right. I’m angry at Alexander, but I’m also sorry we upset you, Theo. That’s not what this is meant to be about.”

After much squirming, Alexander caved. “I...”

He didn’t get further than that before he had to stop. What was he feeling? His mind swirled like a hurricane. Amid the tempest of insults and comebacks and what-ifs, Alexander was left with the abrupt realization he couldn’t name any of the turbulent emotions that flooded his mind. He had opinions on the matter they were debating that he would stand by to the death, but outside of that conviction was uncharted territory. Something of his panic must have shown in his face, as Aaron’s expression softened when he looked at him.

“You’re defensive, understandably so. Your conviction in your beliefs is admirable, if not necessarily practical.”

Disillusionment. That was what he was feeling. Disillusionment and despair - no, not despair, Alexander realized. Despair was a heavy weight that dragged you down. Rather than despair, Aaron’s words brought with them the hot sting of betrayal. As mild as the disapproval was, the implication that Alexander’s belief in his fundamental rights could be a bad thing rankled.

“Come on, Aaron. You can’t really agree with them,” Alexander said, wounded. He watched Aaron’s response closely. There was the faintest suggestion of a nod, but Alexander could discern no signs of his thought process.

“Of course not. For what it’s worth, I agree with you on the matter, but that is no reason for me to cause a ruckus. Not all of us have the luxury of being able to indulge in such brash opinions.”

That startled a bitter laugh out of Alexander. “And here I would have said not all of us have the luxury of apathy. It’s easy to be impartial when something doesn’t affect you.”

They both fell silent after that, each pondering what the other had said. Theodosia watched the two of them anxiously, her head flipping back and forth between them. He spared a moment of pity for her, suddenly stuck in the middle of one of Aaron and Alexander’s famous arguments. It was a relief it seemed to be a milder form of argument than usual. The debate felt like chess, not war. They may have disagreed, but their words were missing the sharp edge of anger that usually characterized their arguments. As it was, Alexander for once did not find Aaron’s reticence to be a personal attack; at least, not after Aaron had explained himself. He did not think Aaron’s reasoning justified his silence, but it did explain it. Aaron was and always would be cautious to a fault. Alexander considered his obsession with consequences his greatest failing, but he couldn’t deny it served him well. And since marrying him, Alexander had reluctantly found himself taking many of the same considerations into account. No longer was Alexander and Alexander alone accountable for his actions. There was the campaign, although Washington’s reputation had shielded that from most of Alexander’s scandals thus far, and more importantly there was Aaron and Theodosia.

His heart wrenched as he looked at Theodosia again, and he understood Aaron’s perspective in sudden, startling clarity. If Alexander had handled his citizenship properly - or if he had married someone else, or even been less of a divisive public figure - had he done any of that, Theodosia would not have a broken leg.

This was his fault.

“You might have a point,” he conceded. Something in his face must have shown his distress, as Aaron patted him gently on the shoulder.

“Yes. But you have a point, too. I do not disagree with you on the issue at hand. I just think that there’s more than one way to win a war. I’ve found patience and reason to be more powerful weapons than passionate debate. Nevertheless, your willingness to stand up for what you believe in is one of your most admirable (if frustrating) qualities.”

Alexander looked at him. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought the smile on Aaron’s lips might be genuine. The idea soothed his wounded pride, but it did nothing to ease the guilt he felt.

“This is still my fault, though,” he pointed out. Aaron’s eyebrows shot up, but that was nothing compared to the sheer frustration Theodosia managed to pack into a single sigh.

“Alex, why are you so dumb? You didn’t do this, George did, and when I get back to school I’m going to kick his snobby butt.”

“Theo, sweetheart, I know you’re angry, but violence is never the answer. I don’t want you to get into trouble,” Aaron said coaxingly. It was just as well he responded promptly, because Alexander was frozen, caught between affection and pride and a rush of indignant outrage at being called dumb. Theodosia snorted with all the contempt a seven-year-old girl could muster and rolled her eyes at her father.

“Don’t you start, Aunt Sally told me about all the trouble you used to get into.”

The smile on Aaron’s face couldn’t have shrunk more than a millimetre, but Alexander didn’t miss the tightness around his eyes. Alexander spared a moment of pity for Sally: her next conversation with her brother would not be a pleasant one. It wasn’t his business, and he should stay out of it, but Alexander found himself wondering if he should interfere. If he distracted Aaron, he might be able to get some of those stories out of her as thanks.

“I can’t deny that. I made a lot of mistakes in my youth. But they were mistakes. I faced consequences for those, and I learnt from them. Some of those consequences were harsh. I want share what I learnt so you don’t have to face the same problems I did.”

Theodosia looked at her father, unconvinced. “But he’s a jerk.”

“He is,” Aaron agreed without hesitation. “I’m not saying it’s bad that you want to, but it would be bad to do it. It’s not nice to hurt people. You would upset him, and his family, and his friends. They would be worried about him and angry at you - and other people would be angry, too.”

Looking reluctant, Theodosia nodded. “That’s why I pretended I’d tripped when I spilled coke all over his things, so I wouldn’t get in trouble. They can’t be angry if I don’t get caught, right?”

Much to Aaron’s obvious disapproval, Alexander let out a snort of laughter. “I wonder if that would work with Jefferson.”

“You don’t like Thomas?” Theodosia asked. She looked at Alexander on confusion, struggling to understand. He couldn’t blame her for being confused. Jefferson seemed to treat Aaron well enough, and Alexander had never seen him be anything other than kind to Theodosia. It was not enough to redeem him, but it did explain Theodosia’s misunderstanding. Alexander looked from Theodosia to Aaron for support. How could he even begin to explain it to Theodosia?

Instead of the disapproval or discomfort he had expected, Aaron smiled. “That’s actually a very good example. No, Alexander and Thomas are not friends. They don’t like each other, and they argue a lot, but they still work together. They’re both smart enough to know that sometimes you have to work with people you don’t like. And even though they don’t like each other, they would never, ever hurt each other.”

A lie, but it was a lie Alexander could live with. This was a lesson Theodosia needed to learn, and he was willing to put his own thoughts on the matter aside if it meant setting a good example. And if Aaron was determined to believe the best of him, Alexander wasn’t going to interfere with that. He put the most angelic smile he could muster on his face as Theodosia looked at him. There was skepticism in her eyes. For once, he found himself wishing Theodosia was not so smart, because there was surely no way she could fall for such a blatant lie. But luck was on his side: after a long time staring at him, Theodosia nodded reluctantly.

“Fine, I won’t start anything. But I don’t like it.”

“You don’t have to like it. As long as you do it, I’ll be proud of you,” Aaron promised. Both he and Theodosia looked exhausted by the day’s events. Neither of them deserved this. The serious conversation had left them both dejected and drained.

The next two hours seemed to crawl by to Alexander. He made it his personal mission to distract and entertain the Burrs until they were both in a good mood once more. Theodosia at least was a good audience member: she was quickly distracted by his tales of his escapades, and it wasn’t until her head started to nod that he realized how tired she was. He had less luck with Aaron. Aaron couldn’t have heard more than two words Alexander said. He kept his face turned towards Alexander the entire time, but frozen in that empty smile Alexander hated so much. The warmth and empathy that had started to bleed through was retreating back behind that icy shell, leaving Alexander alone in the cold once more.

Chapter Text

It was not until Aaron decided it was time to put Theodosia to bed that Alexander realized he could sense something between them had changed. Alexander watched as Aaron helped Theodosia through her usual bedroom routine and helped her navigate the chair through the narrow entrance to her bedroom. When he returned, he stood by the table opposite Alexander. After a long contemplative silence, he spoke.

“We need to talk.”

The words did not surprise Alexander as much as he would have expected. The fights between Aaron and Alexander had spiralled out of control, and now they had crossed a line Aaron would never tolerate: they were affecting Theodosia. Right from the start, that had been Aaron’s one non-negotiable condition. Alexander could not fault him for standing by it, especially in the light of the injury and pain he had inflicted on this small family.

A part of him had hoped they could hold things together until Washington’s election and inauguration (because he had to win; in Alexander’s mind, there was no alternative), but that was clearly not to be. They would have to separate and divorce. He stared at the smooth surface of the table, tracing his eyes over the minute patterns in the grain of the wood. There was one thing he was certain of: whatever came next could only be bad news.

Alexander started at the sound of a mug being set on the table in front of him. He looked up, surprised to realize Aaron had brought him a warm drink before taking his seat at the table. It was more empathy than his husband had shown for days, and Alexander couldn’t decide if he was suspicious or grateful. Instead of his feelings, he focused on the warmth of the mug when he wrapped his hands around it. The drink was a milky brown, too pale to be coffee. Not even Aaron was petty enough to deliberately make coffee that Alexander would dislike. He took a cautious sip. Hot chocolate, he realized with a small jolt of surprise, not one of the bizarre teas Aaron was so fond of.

When he looked up, Aaron was watching him. No matter how he tried, Alexander couldn’t read any emotions on his face, but at very least there was no trace of a smile. Alexander never could have forgiven Aaron for smiling at a time like this.

“This has to come to an end,” Aaron said.

Alexander nodded. The words drifted past him, still distant and abstract enough that their full impact had not settled in. That would come later, after the talking and the paperwork. “So this is it, then?”

“If we let this go on, one of us will go too far,” Aaron said, with a shake of his head. “I understand you’re uncomfortable, but I’ve read the relevant legislation. There’s no way out of this without risking everything we have worked for. We have to move past this. Both of us are better than this.”

“That doesn’t sound like you’re asking for divorce,” Alexander said slowly. Aaron gave him an odd look over the rim of his mug and set the ceramic down on the table.

“Of course I’m not asking for a divorce. We both know what the consequences of that would be.”

Alexander stared at him. “But you hate me.”

Dismay. At last, something Alexander recognized, and in the current context it was enough to give him a spark of hope. If Aaron was so upset at the idea Alexander thought he hated him, then he must still feel some level of affection for him. He watched doubt flicker over Aaron’s face, then resolution in the firm set of his jaw. The bastard was going to try and deny he hadn’t been acting like Alexander was the scum of the earth, Alexander realized with a jolt. Before Aaron could get so much as a word out, Alexander pointed out,

“You called me an arrogant loud-mouthed bastard.”

“I did. And you called me amoral, selfish, a dangerous disgrace. Both of us have been acting poorly, but I would hope it is not a reflection of your true opinions. I would be offended if it were.”

For once, Alexander was silent. He stared at Aaron, waiting for the other shoe to drop, but nothing came. It was possible, just possible, that Aaron actually meant it. Alexander took a sip of his hot chocolate. If Aaron wasn’t lying to him, there could be a way out of this Alexander hadn’t considered. A truce. Tentatively, Alexander admitted,

“I liked having you as my friend.”

Aaron smiled, the expression fragile and uncertain. “I don’t see why that has to end. We can work past this if we both put in the effort.”

“No more fighting might be a bit unrealistic for us,” Alexander pointed out. The words earned him a weak little smile, and he hastened to add, “Not that I don’t want to, but -”

“Are you really going to try and convince me you see no difference between the past week and our usual behaviour?”

With a dramatic sigh, Alexander slumped over the table. “Damn it, why do you always have to be right?”

For the first time in days, he heard Aaron laugh. The heavy, empty feeling in his chest lifted, and Alexander found himself grinning against the wooden surface. God help him, but he’d missed the sound of Aaron laughing. He’d missed having Aaron to back him up whenever Alexander found himself in need of help. He’d missed their late nights and morning coffees and - when Alexander stopped to think about it, it was easiest to say he had missed everything about Aaron. But not now, he thought to himself with a smug sense of satisfaction. Now he had Aaron back.

Despite the peace treaty between them, Aaron remained closed off and cold the next day. It was enough to make Alexander want to scream in frustration. He had thought they were past this. Aaron was polite now, but he seemed determined to deny Alexander the friendship he craved. It was not until he tried to look past the bland smile that Alexander realized the truth: Aaron was miserable. He hid it well, but now that Alexander could see it, he could not let it go. Instead of anger, worry started to churn in his gut. It had not occurred to him that Aaron might be holding back out of some misguided sense of protecting him. Pride would certainly be part of it, but it was not enough to explain Aaron’s behaviour. Now that he understood it, Alexander had had enough. He waited until Theodosia had been sent to bed for the night before pulling Aaron aside.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”

That damn smile was still there. Alexander felt a wild and unwelcome urge to slap it off Aaron’s face. Anything would be better than having to watch that damn neutral expression staring blankly back at him. He’d take hate and contempt any day over this. He gestured at Aaron in a quick, almost violent motion.

“You know what I mean. You’re miserable, and it’s obvious. You have every reason to be - Theo, me, everything - but I’m not going to let you dwell on it.”

“Oh,” Aaron said. There was a flicker of surprise over his face, but it vanished to be replaced by an even wider empty smile. “I’m sorry. Is that better?”

Alexander made no attempt to hide his shudder. “Sugar, pumpkin, sweetie, that is terrifying. You can stop pretending to be okay now, Theo’s not around to upset.”

“I’m fine,” Aaron insisted. Alexander sighed. He crossed the room to stand in front of Aaron and put his hands on Aaron’s arms, looking him straight in the eyes.

“Aaron. Listen to me. I know I’m a mess, I know I fucked everything up, but I want to help. Just tell me what you need. If you need me to be a distraction, I can do that. If you need to get some herbal tea and cry it out on the floor, we can do that. Fuck, I’ll call your asshole friends if you want me to. But you’ve got to give me a break here. Give me something to work with.”

The entire time, Aaron was silent, but Alexander took hope from the fact that he didn’t look away. He watched Aaron consider what he had said. The smile on Aaron’s face faded a little as he mulled it over, but given the situation, Alexander considered that a victory.

“There isn’t anything - I don’t want to talk,” Aaron said. The change part way through was small, but it was enough to lift Alexander’s spirits. There was a level of honesty to ‘I don’t want to talk’ that he hadn’t expected to see from Aaron tonight. He gave Aaron an encouraging smile and said,

“Then we don’t talk about it,” Alexander said firmly. There was a flicker of surprise in Aaron’s eyes at that. It made something tug uncomfortably in Alexander’s chest: was the surprise because of what he thought of Alexander, or was it something that ran deeper than that? Either that, having had one victory, Alexander plowed on. “We’ve tried your family tradition, now we’re doing mine. Sofa. Now.”

For a moment, it looked like Aaron was going to protest. Alexander squeezed his arms and gave him the winsome smile he usually reserved for pretty strangers he was trying to dazzle, and apparently that was enough. Aaron nodded and stepped away from Alexander. While Aaron settled himself on the couch, Alexander raided the pantry. It took some effort, but Alexander managed to find a box of popcorn hidden away amongst the healthy snacks and spices.

While the popcorn was in the microwave, Alexander slipped through to the bedroom and took the blankets from the bed. By the time he returned, Aaron had removed his shoes and tucked his feet under him on the sofa. Alexander took a moment to appreciate the peaceful sight. He could not remember the last time he had seen Aaron so relaxed, and it warmed his heart to think his plan might be working already. He wrapped the blankets around him with a grin while Aaron looked on, baffled. It wasn’t kind of Alexander to be amused by Aaron’s reaction, but in his defence, he couldn’t help himself. The only word he could think of to describe Aaron in that moment was adorable.

“Is this necessary?” Aaron wanted to know. Alexander didn’t hesitate to tell him,

“Absolutely.”

After a brief trip to the kitchen to collect the popcorn and two bottles of beer, Alexander joined Aaron on the sofa. He sat as close to him as he dared, still keenly aware of everything that had passed between them. For a while they sat in silence as they scrolled through the list of movies available to watch.

“This is what Herc made us do in college whenever John or I were upset. I don’t know where he got the idea he needed to take care of us, he’s only a year older than John, but once he made up his mind there was no stopping him,” Alexander explained.

For a moment Aaron looked surprised, before his expression softened. For the first time since the incident at the school, Aaron treated him to a small but genuine smile. “Jon’s the same with me. He never grew out of those overprotective habits.”

“Huh. I pegged him as more the jealous ex than an overprotective brother type.”

As soon as the words left his mouth, Alexander regretted it. He and Aaron were both tired and emotionally drained after the events of the day. Alexander’s comment would have been prying and invasive at the best of times; he could only imagine what his reaction would be after the day they had had.

To Alexander’s surprise, Aaron laughed. “We tried once or twice, but it always ended in complete disaster. It was a terrible idea. I love Jon, but he’s not what I look for in a partner.”

“What do you look for?” Alexander asked. If his last question had been invasive, this new one was even worse, but Alexander did not have the mental energy to regret it. He was too consumed by a surge of uncomfortable rage. His mind flooded with images of Aaron’s bare skin, but under someone else’s hands, someone who was wanted and welcome and not a drunken mistake. What he didn’t expect was for Aaron to laugh again and flash Alexander a grin.

“I’m a married man, Alexander. I’m not in a position to be looking for anything.”

He had no doubt the words were meant as a joke, but Alexander’s heart sank. The more he thought about it, the more he was faced with the dawning realization of just how much he had asked of Aaron. He’d swept into Aaron’s life and married him without sparing a thought for the life he was interrupting. Alexander chewed at his nails before he said,

“You shouldn’t have said ‘yes’.”

He felt the sofa shift beneath him as Aaron turned to look at him. Alexander considered turning to make eye contact, but decided against it and kept his eyes fixed on the television. He would be a coward to the end. It spared him from the humiliation of letting Aaron see his expression.

“What’s prompted this?”

“C’mon, Aaron, I know I’m an asshole, but I’m not dumb. I had to notice sooner or later. I fucked up your entire life.”

“That’s either the kindest or most arrogant thing you’ve said all night. It would take more than you to ruin my life.”

“We argue. Your friends hate me, and they’ll be treating you differently because of it. You’re working every chance you get because my schedule keeps you from your job so often, not to mention you have to fly around the country with me. You can’t date, and even if you found someone you wanted to be with, you’re already married. And Theo. Fuck, Aaron, Theo wouldn’t be injured now if it wasn’t for me, and -”

Alexander was cut off by Aaron’s hand covering his mouth. He stared at Aaron with raised eyebrows and gestured to the hand covering his mouth.

“No, I’m not moving it,” Aaron said, a hum of amusement in his voice. “Not until you promise to be reasonable. What that boy did to Theodosia was not your fault, and I assure you he and his parents are going to pay dearly for his actions. As for the rest, your concerns are ludicrous. What did you think marriage would be like?”

For one moment, Aaron’s hand moved to gently touch Alexander’s cheek before withdrawing entirely. The gesture was fleeting, but not so fleeting Alexander didn’t suspect it was intentional. It wasn’t until Aaron reclaimed his hand that Alexander responded.

“Not like this. I didn’t know how much I was asking.”

“That much was obvious from the start. Even the best marriage has problems, Alexander. That includes fake ones. Can you please just pick a film and stop fretting?”

Alexander hesitated. He looked between Aaron and the screen several times before one of the films caught his eye. There was no guarantee Aaron would enjoy the movie as much as he had enjoyed the book, but perhaps Alexander would get some credit for choosing something Aaron had once talked about. And if nothing else, his discussions (and arguments) about the book had left him curious. Decision made, he hit play. Pride and Prejudice began, and Alexander leaned against Aaron despite having no excuse to do so and tried to ignore the bittersweet ache that settled into his chest.

To Alexander’s relief, things began to improve after that. The first few days were filled with a different kind of tension as both Aaron and Alexander took pains not to reignite the war that had raged between them. Alexander stopped taking every bland smile as a challenge, and Aaron seemed to remember how to flow with the extremes of Alexander’s opinionated rants instead of standing in stark opposition.

It helped that they now shared a common goal: destroying the family and future of the boy who had hurt Theodosia. Alexander saw red at the very mention of the name ‘George Eacker’, and he saw no reason to hold back from his instinctual rage. He dragged the family through the mud as publically as possible. For once, he did so with the full support of Washington’s PR department: a novel experience, as they usually begged him to be quiet. The PR team was determined to take full advantage of the situation.

It was, to Alexander’s horror, a situation to be taken advantage of. Within minutes of the incident, six different videos had been uploaded to the internet. By that evening, the major news networks picked it up, and Alexander could not turn on the television without being subjected to the sound of Theodosia’s screams. With the exception of the most conservative networks, all of them were running the same story:

Local Hero Alexander Hamilton Rescues School Children.

The fact that children had been hurt did not seem to matter to them. The fact that Theodosia had been hurt did not matter to them. The public eye was instead fixed on how Aaron and Alexander had rushed to save the children, as though they could have done anything else when Theodosia had been in trouble. The constant media fixation drained Alexander. Deep down, he loathed the fact that his career was getting a boost from this. But if he could not avoid it, he could at least use his position to get revenge. He took comfort in that. Between Alexander’s public condemnation and Aaron suing the family for every last penny they had, they would have their revenge on George Eacker.

They may have been in agreement about how to proceed with exacting vengeance, but Aaron and Alexander continued on uneasy terms. They had stopped fighting, a fact for which Alexander was grateful. But he still felt himself dancing on eggshells to avoid conflict. Meanwhile, Aaron seemed committed to being friendly, but never anything like the close bond they had shared before. Every time Alexander thought he had broken through Aaron’s walls and won him back, Aaron would pull back and reassemble his defences.

It was undoubtedly an improvement, but Alexander was not satisfied. He did not want this uneasy peace. He wanted things to return to the comfortable companionship he had grown to expect from Aaron. So, after a great deal of thought, Alexander came up with a plan. It was not the best plan he had ever conceived: in terms of ‘bad ideas’, it ranked somewhere between sharing details of his love life on Twitter and marrying a friend for a passport. But it was the only plan he had.

Alexander was going to annoy Aaron into liking him.

Put plainly, it sounded ludicrous. But Alexander was confident it was an idea with potential. As far as he could tell, it had already worked once. Somehow, between their wedding and their argument, he had managed to convince Aaron to think of him as a friend. He had no idea how. Alexander knew perfectly well he was annoying (many people liked to remind him of this). He was loud and obnoxious and brash and everything he would have guessed Aaron would hate. He had come barging into Aaron’s life and teased him mercilessly at every opportunity for his own amusement, and somehow Aaron had decided he liked him. And if it had worked once, maybe Alexander would be lucky enough for it to work twice.

He started small. He waited until Aaron disagreed with him on some trivial matter, then dug his heels in and refused to give an inch. Disagreement turned to bickering, and Alexander found himself grinning as Aaron deliberately and methodically pulled every single one of Alexander’s arguments to pieces. This was what he had missed. The argument unleashed the tension that had been building between them and returned them to equilibrium. It was a fight without the danger. It was everything Alexander had always loved about arguing with Aaron. Even if it hadn’t been, the look on Aaron’s face when he realized he had spent an hour arguing about pineapple on pizza would have made it worth it.

The day after their play argument, he tried using pet names again. He called Aaron ‘babe’ over pancakes the next morning, then ‘sweetheart’ and ‘pookie’ in quick succession. He paid close attention to Aaron’s reaction, but Alexander wondered if Aaron even noticed. There was no obvious response, not even the slightest twitch in his expression. Had Aaron grown so accustomed to Alexander’s teasing before that he now accepted it as a matter of course? Alexander chewed on his lower lip. Perhaps he needed to be more obvious. He leaned over the table, waggled his eyebrows and said,

“Can you pass the sugar, sugar?”

A muscle twitched in Aaron’s jaw. His shoulders shook, and Alexander began to panic. He’d miscalculated. He’d crossed a line he hadn’t even known was there, and now he’d completely ruined things. Before he could say anything, Aaron pulled himself under control, making himself the very image of calm and reason. He reached across the table for the sugar, picking it up and placing it squarely in front of Alexander.

“Anything for you, honey.”

Alexander’s jaw dropped. There was a placid smile on Aaron’s face, and it wasn’t until Alexander had stared at him for nearly a full minute that the calm facade gave way to laughter. The sound sent a warm glow spreading from Alexander’s chest to the very tips of his toes. This was what he had wanted, this was perfect. If Aaron was teasing him back, things had to be okay.

Chapter Text

Of the three of them, Theodosia was the least perturbed by her injury.

For the first day after her injury, she cried and cried until she had no tears left. Aaron had spent the entire day with her, treating her to whatever comforts she desired and helping her process what had happened. By the end of that day, she had come to terms with it. It frustrated her that she was unable to do everything she was used to, and the pain meant she tired quickly, but she seemed determined to not let it interfere with her life any more than she had to. Alexander suspected Aaron’s little ritual of checking in with her feelings had something to do with her success at that. He was determined to be whatever emotional support she needed, and for the most part it worked. But she was a child, and she was hurt, and of course there were days when she was upset or angry or frightened. Whenever those days came, Aaron took them in stride. She was given as much time as she needed to cry and or scream or express her frustration in any way she saw fit.

Unsurprisingly, Aaron did not extend the same courtesy to himself. It was not until he had earned back Aaron’s friendship that Alexander thought to look for the signs. Aaron hid it well, but Alexander knew better than to fall for his act now. There were a thousand tiny cracks in his calm facade. He was fraying around the edges, and Alexander was helpless to do anything but watch. Even if Alexander knew how to help, he knew Aaron would die before he admitted he was struggling. Any attempts to reach out would be seen as condescending at best, and a mockery at worst. All Alexander could do was stand by his side and not add any further stress to his husbands life.

That second condition was the challenge, as Alexander was barely coping any better than Aaron. He blamed himself for Theodosia’s injuries. He may not have been the one to pull the stands down, but the boy Eacker had been harassing Theodosia out of hatred for him. As the election campaign drew on, the media coverage grew less and less principled, and Alexander’s name was never far from the front page. He had made himself a burden on his family. Any harm they suffered as a result was his fault. If Theodosia had never felt the need to defend him, the ongoing fight between her and Eacker never would have happened, much less culminated in such a disaster.

There was one silver lining to the situation. As tense and snappish as they both were, Alexander was delighted to find his fights with Aaron had disappeared. They argued, but not once did they get into a real fight. Instead, the few minutes they shared alone at the end of each day became a rare moment of peace. Between his guilt over Theodosia and his work on the campaign, Alexander quickly learnt to cherish those moments. He suspected Aaron did, too. Somehow, despite all his mistakes, despite everything there was between them, Alexander had managed to become a welcome and appreciated presence in Aaron’s life once again. Alexander could scarcely wrap his head about it.

As Alexander had noted before, Aaron was not a tactile or affectionate person. He endured contact for the benefit of others: he now returned the enthusiastic one-armed hug that was Laurens’ standard form of greeting, and Alexander had seen him exchanging more restrained contact with various friends and acquaintances. He had also seen how much such interactions exhausted Aaron. It had taken Alexander months to learn to recognize the signs, but he had no doubt Aaron found each and every encounter draining. There were only a handful of people Aaron allowed close to him. Somehow, Alexander was one of them.

For reasons Alexander couldn’t fathom, Aaron seemed willing to let him get away with as much contact as he pleased. In public, it made sense. Neither of them could reject the other in front of an audience, and Alexander was a moral enough man to feel shame over how he preyed on that advantage. He all but glued himself to Aaron’s side whenever they were out together, holding his hand and stealing kisses whenever he thought he would get away with it. He delighted in every bit of contact he was allowed. Unlike Aaron, Alexander was accustomed to physical contact between close friends, and he had no friend closer in the world than Aaron. And if a part of Alexander knew it had just as much to do with how handsome Aaron was - well. What Aaron didn't know couldn't hurt him.

If Aaron had told him to stop the constant contact, he would have. That was the only excuse Alexander had to ease the guilt he felt about the liberties he took. But Aaron did not tell him to stop. Aaron seemed unperturbed by Alexander’s behaviour, oblivious to his true intentions. If anything, Alexander’s behaviour seemed to increase his tolerance for affection. It was the only explanation Alexander had to explain why even alone, Aaron seemed to welcome contact. Alexander had yet to find a boundary Aaron would enforce. He rarely initiated contact, but Aaron would accept everything from high-fives to full-body hugs from Alexander without any sign of hesitation. When Alexander invited himself to curl up against Aaron's side on the couch, Aaron would not so much as look up from his work. Before long, Alexander noticed there was always space left for him wherever Aaron sat. It may just have been courtesy, but Alexander took it as a silent invitation. There were other signs that Aaron appreciated the contact that Alexander could not have been imagining. It was rare, but Alexander treasured fleeting touches initiated by Aaron himself. A hand on his elbow or the sudden warmth of Aaron's weight against his side may not have been much from anyone else, but from Aaron it spoke volumes.

It was not what Alexander wanted, and it was more than he had any right to expect. It confused him. More than that, it frightened him. Alexander did not know what he was longing for, nor why he was receiving special treatment. Not knowing why Aaron was favouring him as much as he did introduced the risk that Aaron could withdraw that favour at any moment, and Alexander would never know why. The very idea terrified Alexander. Once again, he tried complaining about the situation to Angelica, but there was no sympathy to be found on that front.

“You got yourself into this mess,” she told him, “and you can get yourself out of it.”

No matter how he begged, pleaded, cajoled or whined, Angelica wouldn’t budge. Alexander’s love life - fake or not - was his own problem, and she refused to play any part of it. In Alexander’s opinion, the entire situation was unfair. There was no one else he could talk to. Given the risks involved with disclosing the truth behind his marital status, he could only talk to a handful of people. Anyone who did not already know the truth had to remain ignorant. That limited him to Angelica, Washington and Aaron himself, none of whom were appealing options. It led Alexander to one conclusion.

There was no one Alexander could turn to but himself.

This was not a comforting thought. Not only was it a lonely one, but Alexander knew from experience that he did not do well without someone to lean on. His mind raced too quickly, and without someone to steady him he found himself justifying ludicrous decisions. He knew his friendship with Aaron could not survive another of those. His anxiety grew as time trickled by without incident. Theodosia moved from a wheelchair to crutches, and returned to school shortly after. The campaign rolled on, with all the terrifying highs and lows that politics brought. The tense political situation grew fraught with danger, to the point that Alexander found himself with a security team from Washington. He did not care much about his own safety, but Alexander was quick to organize protection for Aaron and Theodosia. And all the time, Alexander kept his anxiety about Aaron bubbling away in the back of his mind. If only he understood it, he could avoid disaster - but Alexander did not understand. His only comfort lay in the strength of his friendship with Aaron. Even with his anxieties about their relationship, seeing Aaron was undoubtedly the high point of Alexander’s day. All he could do was hope Aaron did not notice how fraught with tension Alexander was.

His concerns came up one chilly Tuesday morning over breakfast. Alexander had thought everything was fine, but Aaron let out a loud sigh and put down his paper.

“Alexander, could you stop that?”

“Stop what?” Alexander asked defensively, although he could list at least six things Aaron could be referring to. Stop fidgeting, stop biting your nails, stop slurping your coffee, stop existing. He risked a glance at Aaron’s face. Maybe the last one was a little harsh, he conceded to himself. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought Aaron was concerned about him.

“You’re worrying about something.”

“Am not.”

Aaron raised an eyebrow. Alexander winced: he had a point. But there was no way Alexander could tell Aaron the truth, not when the truth cut so close to both of them. Even if he had felt inclined to share, his pride would not have let him. Alexander may not have known what he wanted, but he knew that begging for more attention was childish at best. So Alexander did the only thing he could think of. He lied.

“Fine. It’s that talk show tonight. It’s the first thing I’ve done that’s not exclusively political since Theo got hurt.”

Both of them looked over to where Theodosia was seated on the couch. Her bruises had faded and her leg was healing, but Alexander still felt a guilty little tug at his heart whenever he was reminded of the incident. Regardless of what the Burrs thought, it was his fault. Worse, he had no idea how to prevent something of the sort happening again. His reputation was what it was, and if Theodosia did not tell him when he was causing problems for her, how could he fix it?

As if reading his mind, Aaron said, “You can’t blame yourself forever, Alexander. You need to relax.”

“That’s not the point,” Alexander snapped, before adding hurriedly, “I’m angry at myself, not you, I just...”

Aaron let out a thoughtful hum. He pushed his chair back from the table a little and stared at Alexander. As much as Alexander appreciated having learnt to read Aaron’s expressions, there were times like this when it was supremely uncomfortable. Alexander was being dissected. Every word he said, each movement he made, everything was weighed and measured and analyzed in Aaron’s steady, reliable mind.

“Whatever you’re hiding from me, I will find out eventually.”

At Alexander’s panicked look, Aaron smiled a little.

“I won’t pry. You can keep your secrets. But whatever it is will come out in time, and we’ll deal with it then.”

“That’s very... zen of you,” Alexander said. The words came out slowly, and he couldn’t hide the suspicion in his voice. He’d given Aaron no reason to place so much trust in him. If he thought Alexander was hiding something, he had every reason to be irritated, or at the very least curious. Did he just not care? The idea worried Alexander nearly as much as the idea that Aaron would be enraged. His anxiety surrounding the topic had reached such a state that no matter how he tried to approach the issue, he found a way to conclude the worst.

As for Aaron, he just shrugged at Alexander’s words. “Maybe it’s the yoga classes I’ve been doing with Maria.”

Alexander choked on his coffee. Under ordinary circumstances, mention of Aaron’s close friendship with Maria would have left him prickling with jealousy and discomfort, but his train of thought was derailed by the mental image of Aaron in yoga pants. He stared. There was a curl to one side of Aaron’s lips, and his eyes were dancing with mirth. He was teasing Alexander, yes, but what was worse: he was telling the truth.

“I didn’t know you did yoga.”

“I can tell,” Aaron said, deadpan.

There was no point trying to defend himself. There had been no point in their relationship that he would have been anything other than stunned by the idea of Aaron doing yoga. Once he would have been amazed at the idea Aaron might have the flexibility to reach his toes, let alone twist and turn his body through endless poses. Now, though, he could think of all too many ways Aaron might be able to bend that were far too interesting. He swallowed heavily. Aaron smirked at him from across the table and took a sip from his orange juice. Bastard. Alexander was certain that if he knew why Alexander was so flustered, he would not be half as smug. Thoughts of yoga pants and downward-facing-dog plagued Alexander all afternoon.

Later that same day, Alexander found himself in front of the stage lights and television cameras for a particularly popular television show. They started with the usual chatter: questions about the campaign, jokes about the current president, and discussions about a few hot-topic issues in the media. That much was simple, so simple Alexander started to relax. He was in his element. Not only was he free to speak persuasively and passionately, he put on a show while doing it. The audience loved it, the host loved it, and most importantly Alexander loved it.

Tension settled back into Alexander’s frame when the topics turned to more personal matters. Before they covered any questions, the host told him, they’d found a video from 2017 they wanted to share. His heart sank. 2017, what had happened in 2017? Had Alexander been in a relationship then? He didn’t think so: 2017 had been a busy year. His work had all seemed so urgent and drastic at the time, until it had become the status quo. The entire year had been lost to work and worry.

The video was of Alexander himself, of course, three years younger than he was now. The years had been kind to him. If not for the truly dreadful fashion sense pinpointing the time to 2017, it might have been taken yesterday. Nearly everything else was the same: the backdrop, the furniture, even the host hadn’t changed.

“Marriage, you know, it’s an important thing to a lot of people. It’s the 21st century, why the hell are we still allies with countries that won’t let their citizens marry who they want? And they're not even changing the law, all they're doing is opening the debate. There's no reason not to let people marry who they want,” video-Alexander said. The host nodded and asked a question about if he had ever thought about marriage himself. In the video, Alexander laughed. “God, no, can you imagine? I’m married to my work. Anything else is just a distraction. I don’t want anyone dragging me down.”

The video cut. For one moment, there was complete silence over the studio. Then the question came:

“So, what changed?”

“Well. I got married, for a start,” Alexander said. Laughter rippled through the audience. It was the truth, but more importantly, it bought him time to gather his thoughts. As he pieced his opinion together, words started to flow.

“And to Aaron. I still can’t believe that, sometimes. I’ll look over and see him working, or he’ll be laughing at something, and it hits me out of nowhere. I’m married to this man. Every day I get to go home and see him, and it never matters what we’re doing. Being around him makes everything seem easier, even when we're both tired and grumpy. I don’t even know how to describe it. I keep getting distracted by how pretty he is when he smiles, and it makes me so damn happy. I can't believe my luck. I get to go home tonight to my favourite person who just so happens to be my best friend, not to mention incredibly hot, and he’s - I’m in love with him. Holy shit, I love him.”

A shock of realization ran through Alexander, sending a shudder down his spine. He brought his hand to his mouth and covered it with the palm of his hand as he stared at the ground. The last few months played through his mind, every little interaction recontextualized in the face of this new knowledge.

He loved Aaron.

Of course he loved Aaron. Alexander had no idea when it had changed from attraction to full-blown adoration, but it had happened so gradually he had not even noticed. There was no escaping it now. Alexander was in far, far too deep, and he couldn’t even bring himself to regret it. There was no other explanation for how much comfort Aaron’s presence brought, or how much Alexander’s day was brightened by the sound of his laughter.

Around him, there was a mix of laughter and and coos at how sweet he was, but Alexander didn’t hear them. Later, he would find the space to be grateful that his exclamation had been taken as emphasis and not surprise: but in the moment, all he could do was wonder how he hadn’t noticed it before. It should have been obvious. It would have been obvious, he thought glumly, if he had even a scrap of self-awareness. No wonder Angelica had laughed at him. Thank God Aaron was clueless when it came to emotions, or Alexander would have been outed long ago.

Alexander finished the rest of the show in a daze. He didn’t bother to wait around for the wrap party: he made a beeline to the nearest bar and ordered himself a drink.

“I’m in love with Aaron Burr,” he told his beer. The words did not carry the weight he hoped, so he tried again. “I’m in love with Aaron Burr.”

He drank his beer. He ordered a drink. He drank his beer.

Three beers later, and Alexander was no closer to coming to terms with his emotions than he had been when he started. If anything, he felt worse. Alcohol brought with it both a pleasant haze and memories of the last time he had been drunk. His head spun with thoughts of Aaron dancing in the flashing lights of the club, of how beautiful he had looked spread out under Alexander’s hands.

The memories forced Alexander to face a second realization: he’d ruined things before they had even begun. By sleeping with Aaron, Alexander had assured that any future attempts at flirting would be viewed through the lens of that one drunken night. Any attempts to charm Aaron would fail before they even started. If that were true, then Alexander couldn’t have what he wanted. At any other challenge, he would not have balked, but this was a hurdle he had set himself. If Alexander had learnt one thing, it was that he was his own biggest threat. A melancholy mood settled over him. Drinking alone was getting him nowhere, Alexander realized. Luckily, he knew the solution to that. He pulled out his phone, scrolled through his contacts until he found the right number and hit call.

“Ham? You do realize it’s midnight, right?”

“I’m in love with Aaron Burr,” Alexander said, skipping straight to the important part. He bit his lip and waited for a response.

The line went dead.

Alexander pulled the phone from his ear and stared at it horror. Furious, he called again. “John, what the fuck? This is serious. I’m not joking around, I’m really in love with the asshole.”

“Ham, it’s midnight on a Tuesday and you called me to tell me how much you love your husband,” John said. He sounded exhausted, and Alexander could hear him yawn over the phone. Alexander huffed.

“Yes, but John, you don’t get it, this is an emergency, I - fuck it, I’m coming over.”

One hour later, Alexander stood on the doorstep of John Laurens’ apartment. He bounced on the balls of his feet as he pressed the buzzer repeatedly until the door opened. As soon as it did, he barged in and threw himself across the couch.

“I’m doomed, John. I love him so fucking much, you don’t even know.”

“You’re drunk,” John said. Alexander sat up enough to squint at him. His hair was hanging loose, and he had wrapped a huge, fluffy dressing gown over his pyjamas. Guilt tugged briefly at the back of Alexander’s mind, but it was too small and faint for Alexander to pay it any heed. John was his friend: he could survive one night of Alexander's theatrics. Alexander had a bigger crisis to deal with.

“I’m drunk and in love. In love, John. I’m in love with Aaron Burr.”

“Yes, you mentioned that. Is there any reason you’re telling me this and not your husband?”

Alexander stared at him for a moment. Right. John didn’t know. “The marriage is a scam. I only married him because I had to marry a U.S. citizen.”

“Shit,” John said. He sat on the other end of the couch, staring at Alexander. “Shit, Ham, that’s not good. Why him?”

Alexander shrugged. “Who else?”

“Who else? Me, you idiot! ”

“That’s what I said!” Alexander said, vindicated at last. “But you were off on your honeymoon.”

If nothing else, Alexander could take comfort in the fact that he hadn’t been the only one to forget John’s marital status in the midst of a crisis. John looked suitably guilty at the reminder. His eyes slid towards the closed bedroom door. In the silence that descended over the pair, they could both hear the sound of John’s husband snoring. It may have done nothing to ease the guilt John would undoubtedly be feeling, but at least he would not be relegated to the couch any time soon.

“That’s a good point, but Burr? Really?”

“Shut up. It made sense at the time,” Alexander groaned. He dragged his hand over his face slowly. “I didn’t know I was going to go and fall in love with him and his stupid face.”

“Hold on. I’m still stuck on the part where you needed to marry over citizenship. Tell me everything.”

So Alexander did. He started at the very start, talking about his visa and his job offer and the problems with his mail. He told John about the meeting where Washington had pulled him aside with a face like thunder. He told him about his desperate attempts to find someone, anyone who could help him out of the situation. He held no detail back.

Once Alexander had started talking, he found he couldn’t stop. It was only as the words spilled from his lips that Alexander realized how great a toll the past few months had taken on him. Alexander was a fundamentally honest man. Lying had never done anything but cause problems for him, and he had learnt to avoid it at all costs. Being forced to lie to everyone he knew had not been easy for him.

Worse, Alexander’s pride was wounded. He had not only needed to ask for help, but he had been wholly dependent on the charity and kindness of others. At no point had Alexander been able to stand for himself. His brilliance, wit and intelligence had counted for nothing. He had counted for nothing. He had been weighed and judged and accepted not on his own merits, but on the merits of someone else. It should have been enough to make him hate Aaron. If Aaron had been anyone else, it might have. But no, not only did Alexander not hate him, he’d fallen in love with him.

John let Alexander ramble for over an hour before he held up his hand. Although he was nowhere near finished, Alexander fell silent and watched him expectantly.

“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” John said. “What’s he getting out of this?”

Suspicion hung heavily in John’s voice. His eyes were narrowed, and when Alexander looked over his mouth was set into a grim, disapproving line. It was not an unfamiliar expression on John’s face, but for the first time Alexander felt an uncomfortable squirm of discomfort at the sight. He had been on the receiving end of that frown twice. The following arguments had threatened to destroy their entire friendship. The idea that there might be such a conflict between his new family and his dearest friend unsettled Alexander greatly.

“I don’t know. Washington asked the same thing, but I’m not convinced it’s that important now. Yes, Aaron would have had ulterior motives when he agreed to marry me, but things have changed.”

“They’ve changed for you. Have they changed for him?”

As gentle as John’s tone was, the words cut deep. A grimace stole over Alexander’s face. He wanted to dismiss the idea immediately, but he forced himself to give John’s words some thought. Was it possible Aaron’s feelings towards him had not changed at all? He thought of the warmth of Aaron’s smile, of how he never flinched away from Alexander’s hugs and how he laughed at all of Alexander’s ridiculous pet names for him. As loud and obnoxious as Alexander could be, Aaron only laughed at his theatrics. Alexander may not know the details of what Aaron was thinking, but he had no doubt they were, at very least, good friends.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

John gave him an odd look. “Ham, the only time I’ve had any clue what he’s thinking is when he’s been wrapped around you - and that turned out to be a lie.”

“You can’t tell what he’s thinking,” Alexander said, awed. “You really don’t - I thought he was just getting worse at acting, or letting the act drop around me, but I was wrong. It’s me. I speak fluent Burr. Holy shit, I’m brilliant, I didn’t even think it was possible to understand him, but look at me, I figured it out. I’m a genius.”

“So you’ve said,” John snorted. “All right, so let’s say you’re right and Burr isn’t playing you. Then what?”

And there was the crux of Alexander’s problem. He didn’t know.

He knew exactly what he wanted. He’d played out half a dozen fantasies in his mind on the train. The details had ranged from semi-realistic (a candlelit dinner, a bottle of champagne and a tipsy but heartfelt confession) to absurd (Aaron swooning into his arms, overwhelmed by the strength of his feelings for Alexander), but they had all revolved around the same theme. He wanted Aaron to love him. He wanted to be able to kiss Aaron and know it was real. He wanted everything they pretended to have in public and he wanted to be able to keep it.

In reality, the best he could hope for was awkward acceptance. His feelings would undoubtedly make Aaron uncomfortable. Worse, Aaron would not let his own discomfort get in the way of their work. He would work past it, and Alexander didn’t know what was worse: the idea that Aaron might reject him and turn stiff and awkward, or the knowledge that Aaron would spend every moment in public with Alexander miserable and resentful of their forced closeness.

(The third option, that Aaron would be so repulsed as to leave him altogether, Alexander did not dare contemplate. Surely Aaron wouldn’t. He couldn’t.)

By the time John and Alexander had talked through all his options, it was approaching four in the morning. As tempting as it was to spend the remainder of the night on the couch, Alexander forced himself out into the cold night air and into a cab. The streets were quiet. A few people had holed up in the convenience store across the road, but most people were sensible enough to be in bed at this hour. He felt a tug of guilt when he climbed the stairs up to Aaron’s apartment. With any luck, he wouldn’t wake anyone up.

The whole apartment was dark and silent when Alexander walked through the door. He took off his shoes and left them on the doormat, not wanting to wake anyone with the sounds of his shoes clicking against the hardwood floor. The darkness rendered him completely blind, so he made his way across the apartment by memory alone. For the first time, he found himself grateful for Aaron’s pedantic insistence that everything belonged in its place. Had Alexander been in his old apartment, he would never have been able to navigate through the chaos.

By the time Alexander was ready to crawl into bed, exhaustion had finally started to catch up with him. He could barely keep his eyes open as he slid under the covers. He was exhausted, it was dark, and he was cold. That, he told himself, was why he didn’t settle in his usual position near the edge of the bed. He pressed himself up against Aaron’s side and cuddled as close as he could. His lips curled into a smile against the soft fabric of Aaron’s pyjamas, and the raging storm of feelings in his chest settled down into a lazy contentment. This was what he had wanted. This was right. Maybe he would lose everything in the morning, but for the rest of the night, Aaron was his.

Chapter Text

Alexander’s phone had crashed overnight. When he managed to coax it back to life, the reason why was immediately apparent: it had received too many messages in too short a time for the operating system to cope. His heart sank. It was becoming an increasingly common occurrence as time went by. As the election continued and the frequency of the news cycle increased, more and more stories became sensations. It was something he was learning to dread. Alexander usually loved being the center of attention, but such explosive events rarely focused on his achievements or brilliance. He took his time in the shower, not wanting to go and face the world. He tried to convince himself it would be fine. There was no reason to be jumping to conclusions so quickly. Still, anxiety gnawed in his gut. Experience told him something was wrong.

When he stepped into the kitchen, the first thing he noticed was the frown on Aaron’s face. They made eye contact over the kitchen bench, silence stretching out between them. The tension grew. For once, it was Aaron who spoke first.

“This isn’t your fault.”

“That would be a lot more reassuring if I knew what it was I didn’t do,” Alexander said. Aaron raised an eyebrow and slid his tablet across the bench for Alexander. The screen was taken up by a blurry image of Alexander himself. It took him a moment to place the scene. The photograph had been taken outside John’s apartment in the early hours of the morning, just as Alexander had said goodbye. For a long moment, Alexander stared at the screen, baffled as to why such a photo would exist. He scrolled down. The words ‘lovers embrace’ jumped out of the caption. He scrolled back up and squitned. Technically, a hug was an embrace, and it was true that he and John were hugging in the picture, but he didn’t see what that had to do with lovers. He scrolled up to the headline.

Is Alexander Hamilton cheating again? The pictures speak for themselves

It took Aaron’s hand appearing on his shoulder to startle Alexander out of his horrified stare. He flinched at the touch, snapping his head around to look Aaron in the face. There was still a frown tugging on the corners of Aaron’s lips, but there was sympathy in his expression as he handed Alexander a large mug of coffee. It was not the reaction Alexander had expected. He found himself searching Aaron’s expression for any sign of disapproval or anger.

“I didn’t,” Alexander started, but then he stopped. What could he say? That he hadn’t been cheating on Aaron? It was impossible for him to cheat to begin with, given their entire relationship was fake. But even if that had been the case, to defend himself Alexander would have to say what he had been doing at John’s house so late. He considered the prospect of telling Aaron he had spent the night lamenting the state of their relationship like a melodramatic teenager. No, Alexander’s pride couldn’t take it.

To Alexander's relief, Aaron took his silence as worry rather than a confession of guilt. “Alexander, breathe. We’ll handle this together. Don't dignify them with a response. If we don't react, they'll let the matter drop soon enough.”

“You’re not mad at me?” Alexander asked, suspicious. “You were mad last time someone said I was flirting.”

“When was I - was that Virginia?” At Alexander’s tentative nod, Aaron let out a small huff of laughter. “I’d forgotten that, and I think you missed the point. We had an agreement. You broke it, and you broke it in a way that made me look like an idiot. What would you have done?”

Alexander gave himself a moment to consider it. The past months had brought with them a slew of fundraising balls and galas, none of them anywhere near as eventful as the first. Having Aaron on his arm had been an unexpected boon. No matter how dull and lifeless the guests were, Alexander was guaranteed at least one person who could work on his level. The fact that Aaron looked good while doing it was an added bonus. The very idea of having him stolen away grated on Alexander, and he had no doubts about how he would react should it actually happen. He could imagine the scene all too well: the glittering lights, the music, the sight of Aaron caught up in the arms of some pretty young thing who could coax him out of his shell. Aaron would laugh and look at his partner with one of his fond smiles, so bright it could have lit up the whole night sky. A swell of indignant rage filled Alexander’s chest. It was not an unfamiliar feeling, but for the first time Alexander was able to identify it as jealousy.

“I’d be mad,” he said, as if that was all it was. “I never thought about it that way.”

Aaron gave him a nod of approval. “This is different. This is not your fault. There is no situation in which I should have the right to feel slighted because you spent time with your friend. This is no different to me spending time with Jon or Maria.”

“Right,” Alexander said. He bit his lower lip, wondering if he should mention the squirm of discomfort he felt at the idea of Aaron spending the night with Jon or Maria. His mind provided him with a memory of Aaron and Maria dancing together, and he had to hide a grimace. It seemed his jealousy problem ran deeper than he thought. The very idea of Aaron being touched by someone else was enough to flood his mind with possessive rage. It was not a feeling he liked. After a moment of worrying, he realized Aaron was looking at him expectantly. A ‘but’ was hanging in the air after Alexander’s last sentence, held aloft by Alexander’s internal doubts.

“Except it is different. The media will talk. You hate that.”

“The media would have found something to talk about regardless.”

“But you’ll be unhappy,” Alexander protested. The words came out as almost a whine. The situation seemed entirely unfair. All Alexander wanted was a chance to persuade Aaron that Alexander could make him happy and sweep him off his feet. Instead, the universe seemed determined to give Aaron only negative things to associate Alexander with. If Alexander had been a religious man, he might have taken it as a sign; instead, he took it as a challenge.

As Alexander considered these things, Aaron did something entirely unforgivable. He smiled, the expression made earnest and sweet by surprise.

“You’re worried about me.”

“Of course I’m worried about you, you’re my...”

Husband? Friend? One-night stand? Alexander didn’t know how to end that sentence. Not that long ago, ‘rival’ would have fit as well as ‘friend’, but now Alexander could scarcely comprehend the idea of a world where he could not rely on Aaron to take his side. Whatever they were to one another, Alexander would be damned if he let Aaron be miserable.

“Whatever I am, I’m also not unhappy. Even if I was, it’s important that you maintain close relationships with your friends.”

Alexander squinted at him, tilting his head to one side. “You’ve been reading those books about emotional maturity again, haven’t you?”

“They’re educational,” Aaron protested. The words were so indignant and defensive that Alexander couldn’t help but laugh. It was typical of Aaron, he thought, to imagine he could learn about people and emotions from a book. Theodosia had apparently started it, wanting to make sure her husband was capable of raising an emotionally balanced child. Aaron had taken to the new reading material with a vigor neither of them had expected. Eight years on he still devoured new texts whenever he got the chance and seemed to relish any chance to learn more on the topic.

“You’re ridiculous,” Alexander told him. Warm affection seeped into his tone despite his efforts to keep things casual, and he could have sworn Aaron’s eyes flickered to his mouth for one moment. Alexander’s heart caught in his throat. He watched as Aaron’s lips curled up at one corner of his mouth, offering Alexander a glimpse of perfect white teeth.

“You bring it out in me.”

The two men made eye-contact, and silence dragged out between them. Tension hung heavy in the air. The moment was broken when Aaron’s phone rang, pulling them out of their silent contest. Aaron went through to the study to talk, while Alexander let his mind wander. The conversation may had started badly, but the last two minutes had Alexander’s head spinning with glee. His whole relationship with Aaron may have been a twisted mess, but Alexander could rely on one thing. Aaron thought he was attractive. There was no mistaking the spark that had been between them. Whether that attraction would be enough, or if it was a kind of attraction Alexander could mould into something viable in the long run, he didn’t know. But he knew how to find out.

The first step was to determine Aaron’s current opinion of Alexander. They were friends: of that much, Alexander was sure. Aaron was too welcoming of Alexander’s presence in his life for them to be anything less. That, combined with the knowledge Aaron thought he was handsome, gave Alexander a significant head start. That bolstered his spirits considerably. The boost was needed, because apart from that Alexander was flying blind. Did Aaron know how Alexander felt? It was possible Aaron had figured it out before Alexander and kept quiet, but Alexander had his doubts. Despite his best efforts to learn and improve, Aaron was scarcely more emotionally literate than Alexander himself. Nevertheless, Alexander wanted to be certain. Subtlety was not Alexander’s strong point, but he mustered what he could and asked probing questions throughout the day.

By dusk, he considered the matter settled. Aaron was oblivious. No matter what Alexander had said or done, Aaron had shown no signs of suspicion as to Alexander’s motives. It was not a surprising revelation. The only thing that might have outed Alexander was his revelation on television the previous night - a revelation which, it turned out, Aaron had entirely missed. He asked over lunch how the interview had gone, naming completely the wrong show in the process.

“You weren’t watching?”

Aaron laughed and shook his head. “I get to see you every day. I don’t need to turn on the television for that.”

He had a point. Aaron saw more of Alexander than anyone else. Even when they were separated, they spoke every day, leaving Aaron with little reason to chase down Alexander’s media spotlights. It was simultaneously a relief and a disappointment. Alexander’s secret was safe. He only hoped it was not too safe, and that he would be able to reveal himself to Aaron without frightening him away.

By the next morning, Alexander had a plan.

That in itself was unusual: Alexander preferred to live in the moment, letting his mood determine what action came next. He held that belief doubly so when it came to matters of sex and romance. Trying to plan for something as fluid and mysterious as love and attraction was doomed to failure, so he may as well embrace that and live in the moment. But now he had reached a challenge so immense that simple instinct would not pull him through. He was going to seduce Aaron Burr. Moreover, he was going to woo him so thoroughly he had no choice but to love Alexander. It was a high-risk operation. The consequences of failure would be disastrous, and Alexander was placing a great deal of faith in the idea Aaron would want to love him. It was a situation that required delicacy and caution, neither of which were things Alexander had a natural abundance of. Hence, a plan.

To run an effective operation, one required intelligence. Without detailed knowledge of Aaron’s habits and preferences, Alexander would be doomed to failure. Already, Alexander’s options were limited. He could only name a handful people who may know Aaron better than him, and neither Bellamy nor Maria would be inclined to help him. There was no way any of Aaron’s friends would ever take Alexander’s side. He sighed and stared at the Burr’s wall of photographs, hoping for inspiration. His eyes settled on the photograph of their wedding, and the answer hit him: whoever he enlisted for help didn’t need to know what they were doing. All they had to do was genuinely believe Alexander had a good reason to be asking them. Bellamy and Maria would never trust him enough to be of any use, but there was one person left who knew Aaron as well as anyone. Theodosia may be a child, but she knew her father well. She could not help him with everything he needed, but she knew enough. More to the point, she was kind, trusting, and saw Alexander as part of the family. She would not think twice about him asking about Aaron’s hobbies, or if he had a sweet tooth, or any one of a thousand things Alexander felt he should know already.

As he plotted and planned how to best extract the information he needed, Alexander realized that the things he did know already were enough. Whether or not she knew it, Theodosia had already given Alexander clues as to how to surprise Aaron. She had done so the first day they had met, sharing a precious piece of information as a sign she was willing to work with him. She told him Aaron liked flowers. It would be the second time he had used that fact: when Alexander closed his eyes, he could still see the look on Aaron’s face as bouquet after bouquet of red roses piled up around him. This time, though, there would be no restaurant. No audience. He would get to keep Aaron’s reaction all to himself.

Alexander put his plan into action the very next day. He stopped at a florist on his way home from work and presented them as soon as he stepped in the front door.

“I bought you flowers.”

“I can see that,” Aaron said. The words were slow, even and measured as Aaron’s eyes swept over the spectacle Alexander made. Alexander’s beaming grin wavered a little. He had thought flowers would be a safe place to start. Not only had he remembered Aaron liked flowers, but he had even remembered his favourite colour. His bouquet of twenty-four yellow roses was a careful, calculated move. It should have been a safe bet. Alexander had expected Aaron to be pleased and flattered at best, and confused at worst. But instead of being charmed – Aaron’s lips pressed together into a crooked line that quirked up at the edges, and a muscle below his left eye twitched. He was laughing, Alexander realized; or more accurately, he was trying very hard not to.

“What’s so funny?”

“It’s nothing,” Aaron said placidly. At last, he reached out and took the flowers from Alexander. Whatever strange thoughts were going through his mind, at very least Aaron did not seem displeased with the gift. There was a funny half-smile on Aaron’s face as he took the flowers through to the kitchen to prepare them for display. The smile helped to soothe Alexander's nerves. Whatever else his gift may have done, the flowers had made Aaron happy, and that was enough to set a warm hum of satisfaction going in Alexander’s chest.

While Aaron searched for a vase, Alexander pulled out his phone. There had to be something on the internet to help him decipher Aaron’s strange reaction. He tried several search terms, from ‘husband laughed at gift’ to ‘romantic flowers’. The latter suggested red roses for love, but cautioned other flowers might have different meanings attached. Alexander’s heart sank. For the last search, he tried ‘yellow roses meaning’.

There are two meanings commonly attributed to yellow roses, the website informed him. The first and most common meaning is ‘friendship’. Yellow roses are commonly used to symbolize love between friends. However, in some cultures and some contexts, they are known to symbolize insincerity or infidelity.

Alexander groaned. Of course they did. He felt a spike of anger towards the florist. What kind of person let a man buy friendship roses for his husband? Let alone the infidelity interpretation – the last thing Alexander needed to do was remind Aaron of his own sordid history. Any hopes Aaron may not know the second, less common interpretation were dashed before Alexander even had a chance to properly form them. It was the only explanation as to why Aaron had been laughing at him. The alternatives (that Aaron had been laughing at the very notion of being given flowers, or at the concept of friendship between them) were too dire to consider.

There was one silver lining to the situation. Despite Alexander’s miscalculation, Aaron put the flowers in the center of the dining table, on display for all the world to see. Next time, Alexander promised himself, he would do better research. In the meantime, he would have to be content with knowing Aaron would be reminded of him every time he walked into his apartment. It would do for a start.

Alexander planned his second scheme with more care and attention than the first. Rather than bring Aaron gifts, he would make sure Aaron knew how enjoyable time spent with Alexander could be. To do that, Alexander would rely on a second source of information, one less trustworthy than Theodosia but perhaps more reliable: Thomas Jefferson. The threat of being embarrassed in front of Madison had been enough to compel him to send Alexander the promised list of jazz performers Aaron was particularly fond of. To Alexander’s delight, one of the artists was scheduled to perform that very week in New York.

He put his new plan into action immediately. Acquiring tickets to the show was the easy part. The difficulty came in organizing the people. He cornered Aaron one night after dinner, buttering him up by doing the dishes without complaint while Aaron relaxed with a cup of tea.

“I was thinking, it’s been a while since we went out together,” Alexander said. He watched anxiously for Aaron’s response. Surprise flickered across his face, and then - was that suspicion? Aaron’s eyes narrowed a little and the smile on his face grew fixed. His voice was level and even when he replied.

“That’s true. Did you have a point?”

“I want to take you out this Friday.”

There was surprise again, and this time Alexander kept pushing before it had a chance to settle into anything else.

“I’ll do all the hard work. I’ll get a babysitter, I’ll organize what we’re doing, all you have to do is show up and look pretty.”

Aaron let out a thoughtful hum. He leaned back in his chair and examined Alexander with a critical eye. It was enough to make Alexander squirm. Under different circumstances, he’d have no complaints with Aaron staring at him with such intensity, but he felt more like he was going to be vivisected than devoured.

“Okay.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Alexander blurted. Aaron raised an eyebrow, a faint smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

“I said ‘okay’. Is that not what you wanted?”

“No, I mean, that’s fine. Great,” Alexander said, then winced at how eager and excited he sounded.

This was what months of an empty bed had reduced him to. Gone was the suave confidence with which he had sidled up to many a target: instead he was left with a pounding heart and the slowly dawning realization that he was in over his head. This anxiety was new. Flirting came to him as easily as breathing, and this should have been no different. Alexander had been in love before, and of course he had attempted to seduce people before. But there was one thing stymied him: he was starting from square one with someone he had already been invested in.

When he had flirted with strangers, there was no risk. His pride may be wounded, but at the end of the day he could throw in the towel and accept rejection with no real damage done. And when Alexander had previously flirted with people he had loved, they had already been thoroughly enamoured with him. All he’d had to do was beckon and he had had them in his bed. But this time, Alexander had no such luck. It would take more than a cheesy one-liner to win Aaron over, and if he failed, the consequences could be disastrous.

As terrifying as the realization was, Alexander turned the fear into fuel and redoubled his efforts to organize the perfect night for Aaron. He made reservations, planned every last detail and sent his most boring (and hence Aaron-friendly) suit to be dry cleaned. Finally, he tackled the task he’d been putting off no longer. The list of approved babysitters was short, and Alexander knew exactly who Aaron would want taking care of Theodosia for the night. He could only hope Jon Bellamy’s affection for the Burrs would win out over his distaste for Alexander.

“He’s done so much for me, I want to do something for him,” Alexander said, hoping the phone conveyed how earnest those words were. Yes, Alexander had an ulterior motive as well, but if all else failed, he would be content with knowing he had given Aaron a treat.

“So where do I come in?”

Jon’s voice was laden with suspicion and skepticism that Alexander’s motives could be as innocent as he claimed. Given they weren’t, Alexander couldn’t blame him.

“I’ve got tickets for us to go and see one of those boring jazz shows he likes, but we need someone to look after Theo for a night. I asked her, and she said you were her favourite babysitter, even if you don’t let her stay up late like Maria does.”

“That does sound like her,” Jon said, and Alexander could have sworn he could hear a smile in his voice. Had he finally managed to say something right? “Alright, I’ll do it. Drop her off at my place in the afternoon and I’ll bring her home in the morning.”

“Great,” Alexander said, wincing at the way his voice cracked on the word. “Great, that’s great, I’ll just - I’ve got things to do.”

He hung up the phone before there was any chance for Jon to respond. The conversation hadn’t gone well, but it had been better than Alexander had expected. Maybe this would be the way forward: keep conversations with Bellamy brief, so the other man didn’t have time to judge him. It could hardly make things worse than they already were. Jon’s mistrust of Alexander and his motives had not faded with time, despite what Alexander considered to be exemplary behaviour on his part. His relationship with Aaron grew stronger by the day. They talked and laughed and joked together, and when they bickered neither of them held a grudge. Not only did Aaron tolerate his presence, he seemed to appreciate it.

Alexander could only hope he was not reading too much into that appreciation.

Chapter Text

“Did you have to blindfold me?”

If it hadn’t been for the hum of amusement in Aaron’s voice, Alexander might have thought he was in trouble. Instead, he grinned and patted Aaron on the shoulder.

“It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if you could see where we were going, would it?”

Aaron grumbled, but the blindfold stayed in place. It was a good look for him, Alexander thought, admiring the strip of dark green fabric tied around Aaron’s head. The lighting in the back of the cab flickered and changed as they drove through the city, providing Alexander with an endless play of light and shadows over Aaron’s skin. He stared shamelessly, for once able to look as long as he wanted without risking being caught. It was wrong, Alexander knew. He could feel the strings of his conscience pulling at the back of his mind, reminding him he was crossing a line. Aaron hadn’t let him blindfold him so he could ogle him. But it was not enough to stop him from doing so. Aaron was beautiful, more beautiful than he had any right to be, and Alexander was transfixed.

As Alexander watched, Aaron’s hand groped blindly in the darkness. After a few attempts, he found Alexander’s knee. His fingers tightened around the joint as he oriented himself. Then, just as Alexander started to wonder what Aaron was hoping to achieve, he slid across the back seat of the cab and leaned against Alexander. Alexander’s breath caught in his throat. The thought of Aaron moving away was too much to bear, so, he wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him a little closer. He could only hope Aaron couldn’t hear his heart pounding in his chest. Why Aaron had chosen to lean against him Alexander could not begin to fathom, but he intended to take full advantage of it. The two of them stayed close for the rest of the ride.

Once at the venue, Alexander helped Aaron out of the car and led him to the venue entrance. Only when he had positioned Aaron directly in front of the sign did he reach up and remove the blindfold with a flourish. Anxiety churned in his gut. This could all be a mistake, it could be a trap by Jefferson to embarrass him, it could - but no, he knew that look on Aaron’s face. It was an expression he had seen only a handful of times. Aaron was happy, amazed to the point he could scarcely believe what he was seeing was true. It was not an obvious expression: Aaron’s lips were parted, but only the smallest amount, and his eyes were bright. His expression shifted fractionally from surprise to disbelief to tentative joy.

“You didn’t.”

“I did,” Alexander beamed, and let himself press a quick kiss to Aaron’s cheek. “Front row seats.”

The look on Aaron’s face was something beyond Alexander’s ability to describe. If he could get Aaron to look at him like that every day, Alexander would have everything he desired. He reached out and took Aaron’s hand, squeezing gently.

“Let’s head inside. We don’t want to miss the show, right?”

Inside, Alexander led them to a cozy table near the stage and ordered them each a glass of fine whiskey. Whiskey, he was confident, would be Aaron’s drink of choice. It was not Alexander’s preferred drink, but life was about appearances, and that was true across both flirting and politics.

The band began to play, but Alexander’s eyes were fixed on Aaron. Aaron was completely enraptured by the performance, leaning towards the stage and watching with the most open enjoyment Alexander had ever seen from him. Alexander felt his fingers itch for his phone. He would have given anything to get a photograph of that moment. Since taking a photograph would undoubtedly distract Aaron, he settled for memorising every last detail of Aaron’s appearance.

Three songs into the set, Aaron’s nose crinkled. The beautiful smile Alexander had been appreciating so much vanished. A few moments later he glanced over at Alexander. “Can you smell smoke?”

“Smoke?” Alexander frowned. “Of course not, I - “

Before Alexander could finish his sentence, he heard a roar from the kitchen. Screams and a wave of heat accompanied the sound, followed by the wail of sirens. The sprinklers switched on, dousing the room in water. As people fled around him, Alexander could only sit there in despair. He’d planned this night to be perfect. He’d put hours into crafting the perfect night, into making sure every aspect was tailored to Aaron’s preferences, only for it to literally go up in flames.

It was only when he stepped out into the cold night air that Alexander realized he’d moved. For a second he panicked, looking around frantically, but no - Aaron was right there beside him, shivering in the cold. The sprinklers had soaked his shirt through, and there was nothing standing between the wet fabric clinging to his skin and the icy cold wind. Alexander stepped closer to him, pressing his back against Aaron’s chest so that they could share some warmth. It wasn’t long before news of what had happened started to leak. A small gas fire had started in the kitchen, and in his panic one of the wait staff had thrown water on it. The resulting inferno had consumed the kitchen and started to spread to the rest of the venue. It was only when they were left alone again that Alexander’s guilt started to creep back. He’d wanted to spoil Aaron. He hadn’t wanted this.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

“Because you’re the one that threw water on a grease fire,” Aaron said dryly, and Alexander might have laughed if he hadn’t been too distracted by the way Aaron’s teeth chattered in the cold. He tilted his head back, looking up at Aaron with worried eyes. Even now, as fire trucks came screaming around the corner, Aaron was smiling. Perhaps Alexander’s plan had not been a complete loss. As Aaron said, he could hardly be blamed for a kitchen fire, and he had shown Aaron he cared enough to organize a night out for him. Maybe there was still part of the night that could be salvaged.

“We could go to my apartment,” Alexander blurted. Before Aaron could react, Alexander pressed on. “It’s only a few blocks away, and I paid my last gas bill - not that I've been there lately - but the heating should work.”

Aaron wavered, but it was the heating that did him in. He shrugged. For once, Alexander couldn’t read the expression on his face: was that resignation, or discomfort? It could be relief, for all Alexander could tell. Uncertainty started to swirl in Alexander’s gut, but before he could rescind the offer, Aaron gave his answer.

“Your place it is.”

The walk was short but bitterly cold. Almost worse than the cold was the anxiety swirling in Alexander’s mind. It took Alexander three tries to unlock his own front door. He hoped Aaron would chalk his shaking up to the cold (because it was freezing), but knowing Aaron, he had almost certainly picked up on how nervous Alexander was. He felt a rush of triumph when he opened the door, stepping in and flicking on the light. Aaron followed, staying one step behind him. Silence stretched out between them and Aaron came to a halt two steps into the apartment.

“Alexander, please don’t tell me you live like this.”

A nervous grin spread over Alexander’s face. As much as he hated to admit it, Aaron had a point. ‘Messy’ did not begin to describe his apartment. Unlike most people, Alexander’s sense of cleanliness and interior decor had not improved with age. The piles of unwashed laundry and half empty cups of coffee surrounding the large studio conjured to mind images of a particularly hapless college student, not a successful politician in his thirties. Alexander thought of Aaron’s apartment. Even with a seven-year-old child, Aaron somehow managed to keep his home spotless.

“I mean, technically, I live with you now. So.”

Beside him, Aaron groaned and rubbed at his forehead. Before he could say anything, Alexander babbled on.

“The shower should be clean - ish - if you want to clean up. You should. You’re soaked through and it’s freezing outside, you can warm up while I get the heater going.”

There was a moment where Alexander thought Aaron was going to refuse, before he nodded. It had not been a long walk from the jazz venue. If he looked out the window, Alexander could still see plumes of smoke reaching up into the sky. But both Alexander and Aaron had been soaked through from the sprinklers and drinks spilled in the rush to evacuate, and the wind outside had a cruel bite to it. The walk had been short, but that did not mean it had been easy.

While Aaron was in the shower, Alexander did what he could to make the apartment more presentable. He pulled the laundry together into one giant pile and corralled the dirty cups into one corner of the kitchen. Anything showing any signs of mold went straight in the bin. There was no time to strip the sheets off the bed, but he did straighten them and add a clean cover on top to contribute to the illusion of cleanliness. In the depths of his cupboard he found a scented candle, which he lit and put on the dining table. It did not quite pass for romantic, but it did help hide the musty smell. He was shuffling papers around on his desk when he heard the bathroom door open behind him. He thought nothing of it until he heard Aaron clear his throat.

“Alexander, do you have any clean clothes that I can borrow? Mine are still wet.”

Alexander turned. Stared. He tried to regroup enough to say something, but gave up and stared some more. Aaron stood in the bathroom doorway, wearing nothing but a towel tied around his hips. A drop of water trickled down the hollow of his throat and over his chest, and Alexander heard himself whimper. This was punishment for something, he was certain. That was the only explanation for having Aaron naked in his home and not being allowed to touch him.

“Alexander?”

The confusion in Aaron’s voice prompted Alexander to pull himself together enough to say something beyond ‘take me now’.

“Closet,” Alexander croaked out, pointing at the cheap Ikea wardrobes lining the wall. “Take whatever you want. I just need to - are you done with the bathroom?”

Aaron nodded and stepped to the side. There was a crooked smile on his face as he watched Alexander bolt for the safety of the bathroom. Once the door was shut behind him, Alexander leaned back against it and groaned. That had not gone well. Of all the ways he could have reacted to Aaron, staring and bolting for the bathroom had to be up there as one of the worst. The only way he could have been less subtle would have been pushing Aaron against the wall and divesting him of his towel. He could only imagine what Aaron thought of him.

With what felt like a tremendous amount of effort, Alexander forced himself to stop wallowing and stripped out of his ruined clothes. He spent a few minutes just standing under the hot spray of water, letting the heat scald his ice cold skin. Aaron would have had to use his soap, Alexander mused, and the thought sent a warm feeling glowing in his belly. Aaron probably smelled like him. The thought pleased Alexander’s possessive side, and he found himself wondering if there would be a way to orchestrate the situation on a regular basis. Maybe he should switch to using Aaron’s soap without saying anything. It would not quite be the same, but the idea had its merits.

When Alexander stepped out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist, he found Aaron sitting at the table, perusing the stack of take-out menus Alexander had left pinned to the fridge. Alexander was grateful for his distraction, because it gave Alexander himself plenty of time to appreciate Aaron’s outfit. He’d chosen Alexander’s favourite sweater. Why he had chosen that one, Alexander had no idea. The emerald green was not a colour Aaron usually favoured, and he was certain he had worn it himself at least once since it had been washed. Given how pedantic Aaron could be about laundry, it made no sense. Alexander could only conclude the universe was testing him.

He cleared his throat as he crossed the room to the closet, looking for something to wear himself. He watched Aaron look up, his gaze lingering for a moment before he turned his back on Alexander and returned his attention to the menus. A small sigh slipped past Alexander’s lips. He’d hoped to catch Aaron staring at him, but luck was not on his side. Even as his heart sank, Alexander told himself it was not a sign Aaron was not interested in him. Aaron possessed an overabundance of self-control, and his behaviour could well be a sign of that and not a reflection of his opinion on Alexander’s body. Still, Alexander remembered the way Aaron had looked at him the night they had slept together. It would have been nice to see that kind of appreciation again.

Once Alexander was dressed, he walked over to the table and dropped into the set opposite Aaron. “Nice sweater.”

“You don’t mind? I like this one. It’s soft, and...” Aaron seemed to hesitate for a moment before confessing, “It smells nice. The others all smell like mothballs.”

Under ordinary circumstances, Alexander might have taken offense at the implication his wardrobe smelled bad, but his attention had narrowed to focus on the fact Aaron thought the sweater (his sweater, that very definitely smelled like Alexander) smelled good. A smug grin made its way to Alexander’s face. As tempting as it was to gloat, he decided to keep that piece of knowledge to himself for now.

“It’s a good colour on you,” Alexander told him. “You should wear green more often.”

“You just like green,” Aaron chuckled. It was true, but Alexander was fairly sure his problem was that Aaron would look good in anything.

“At least I didn’t wear my green suit tonight.”

“It would be a shame if that one got ruined. I don’t think there’s going to be any saving the suit you wore tonight. It's soaked through.”

Alexander’s face fell. Without thinking, he blurted, “But it’s my most boring suit. What else am I supposed to wear when I’m told to look respectable?”

Warm laughter filled the apartment. Aaron shook his head, a bright grin on his face. “That’s what you chose for tonight? Your most boring suit?”

Alexander winced. There was no way of framing that to flatter Aaron. He could lie, and pretend he’d chosen his least favourite suit because he didn’t care what he looked like, but that would suggest he had no desire to impress Aaron. He did want to impress Aaron. That, in fact, was his entire problem. But after he had admitted to disliking this particular suit, he could hardly admit to that (never mind the affront such a confession would be to his pride). Any admission along those lines would be tantamount to implying he thought Aaron was boring, that Aaron liked boring things. It was true that Aaron did like boring things, but Alexander was adamant that he himself was not boring. When no obvious options occured to Alexander, he tried,

“It’s... it’s not really my colour.”

“It’s grey. It’s not that it doesn’t suit you, it’s that you hate it.”

“You look good in grey,” Alexander pointed out. He watched Aaron’s eyebrows raise in momentary surprise before his expression settled into a pleased smile. As innocuous as the comment sounded, Alexander had a sneaking suspicion he’d somehow revealed too much. There was something about the way Aaron was looking at him that left him feeling stripped bare and exposed. If it hadn’t so plainly pleased Aaron, he would have hated it. Instead, he sat there as Aaron looked him up and down and let out a thoughtful hum.

“Get black, next time. Or navy. You’d look good in navy.”

As if Alexander could have bought anything but a navy suit after a comment like that. “I’ll think about it.”

Aaron gave him a nod of approval. The conversation moved on from suits to what they were going to do for dinner. Outside, the weather had changed from bad to worse. The wind howled with enough force to make the windows rattle and rain poured through the streets. Even looking out the window was enough to make Alexander flinch. The storm put to rest any thoughts Alexander may have had about venturing outside for dinner, so they would be confined to Alexander’s apartment for the rest of the evening. They poured over Alexander’s collection of menus and bickered over whether they should get pizza or burritos or sushi.

Once Alexander had ordered dinner (dumplings, by mutual agreement), Aaron stood and strode across the room to Alexander’s bed. Alexander stared. He could think of a hundred different scenarios in which Aaron might make be interested in his bed, but he highly doubted any of them were relevant right now. Rather than sitting, Aaron ripped the top sheet off the bed. Alexander winced, knowing exactly what he would think of the mess of old sheets concealed beneath. When he dared look back, Aaron had stripped the bed bare. He stood at the foot of the bed, looking at Alexander expectantly.

“Are you going to help me?”

“Um,” Alexander said. “Help you with what?”

A lesser man would have rolled his eyes. Aaron did not, although Alexander suspected he was strongly tempted by the prospect.

“We’re not going anywhere until the storm passes. I’m not sleeping on the floor or on that revolting couch in the corner, and I refuse to sleep on sheets that crackle. Please tell me you have a second set of sheets.”

“They’re not that dirty,” Alexander said. Despite his weak protest, he made his way to the linen cupboard and prayed his past self had put the spare sheets away properly. He heard a quiet snort of laughter from Aaron at his words. After a moment of consideration, he elected to ignore it. An argument about Alexander’s hygiene habits was not one that would end well for him. Instead, he brought the clean sheets over to Aaron without complaint. Despite his efforts to help, Aaron shooed him away and insisted he wanted the job done right. Although Alexander would concede he had an unfortunate tendency to leave lumps and creases in the sheets, he thought that might have been going a bit far.

While Aaron made the bed, Alexander busied himself with small pieces of tidying he knew Aaron would find particularly irksome if left undone. Each time the windows rattled in the storm, Alexander jumped. His heart caught in his throat and his breath came tense and shallow until the moment passed and he managed to force himself to return to the task at hand.

By the time dinner arrived, Alexander’s apartment was looking cleaner than it had in years. To say it was spotless would be going too far, but Alexander had certainly never seen it looking so clean as a result of his own work before. He and Aaron took their seats at the (dusted and wiped) table with a well-earned hunger. They devoured the dumplings in minutes. Hunger was enough to silence them for once, and their usual dinner time debate did not start until they were down to their last box of dumplings.

Despite the cold outside, Alexander was warm enough and hungry enough that he dug a pint of ancient ice-cream out of the back of his freezer and brought it over with two spoons. Aaron hesitated twice: first at the idea of eating direct from the tub, then again when he saw the white freezer burn clinging to the surface of the ice cream. In the end, his sweet tooth won out. Alexander grinned, and they took turns digging out lumps of ice cream from the tub until the container had been scraped clean.

Pyjamas were not a garment that existed in Alexander’s wardrobe, but he did manage to locate two pairs of tracksuit pants and some old tshirts that would do the job. It was a far cry from the matched sets of cotton or silk Aaron usually favoured, but he accepted them without complaining and changed quickly. Alexander moved through his night-time rituals in a daze. Being in his own apartment was familiar; getting ready for bed with Aaron was familiar, but in a completely different sense. The two experiences combining disconcerted him.

Falling asleep took longer than Alexander would have liked. His mind raced, presenting him with an endless slideshow of everything that had gone wrong with his plan. He’d hoped to sweep Aaron off his feet with a night of music and fancy food. He hadn’t factored in fire or storms. He certainly hadn’t planned on giving Aaron an opportunity to judge his housekeeping standards. Even clean, Alexander was sure his furniture wouldn’t be up to Aaron’s standards. Alexander’s double bed was nowhere near as spacious as Aaron’s king, and he was keenly aware of the unfamiliar proximity between them.

“Hey. Aaron?”

The wordless mumble that came from Aaron could only mean he was asleep. Alexander sighed. Beside him, Aaron rolled over in his sleep and pressed the length of his body against Alexander’s side. Alexander froze. He held his breath, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. When it became clear that Aaron was too deeply asleep to realize what he had done, Alexander let out a long exhale. It was so close to what he wanted, but still so far. He closed his eyes and let himself wrap an arm around his husband. He would regret it in the morning, but he did not have the will to pull himself away that night.

The wind howled outside. The windows clattered and rattled in the gale, and when the thunder came it made the whole apartment shake. Rain fell not onto concrete but onto ever-expanding puddles and overflowing gutters.

The wind screamed and shrieked, and the water was rising, and Alexander could not see, could not feel, could not -

There was a hand on Alexander’s back. It was a warm, solid point of contact, rubbing in small circles. He focused on that. Terror still flooded through his veins, and he could hear the screams of the wind, but he could also hear a voice. His mind was sluggish with sleep despite the adrenaline spiking through him, but he recognized that voice, even if he could not quite put a name to it. It was a warm, comforting voice; a voice that made him think of autumn leaves and fresh coffee and clean linen. The voice said his name, and he nodded. The hand on his back disappeared, but before Alexander could complain it was replaced by an entire body of warmth. Alexander let out a slow exhale. The warm body beside him was nice, and it helped him notice other things. There was a bed beneath him, solid and dry, and he could feel the cotton of his tshirt scrape against his skin when he moved. The storm surge in his mind was in the past. Alexander rolled onto his side so he faced the person beside him and tucked his face against the hollow of their throat.

An especially loud and eerie wail of wind whistled by, and Alexander flinched. Hurricane, he thought, and his grip on the present faltered under the barrage of emotions and images that brought up in his mind. He whimpered. The hand appeared on his back again, and Alexander wrenched his mind out of the familiar pathways of fear and focused on pressing as much of his body against the solid warmth next to him as was physically possible. Each time the wind howled, Alexander jumped. Each time Alexander jumped, there was something to soothe him: the hand on his back, the comforting voice, once even the brush of dry lips against his forehead.

Eventually, the winds faded. The storm passed, and after an hour of lying and shaking and waiting for it to return, Alexander let himself drift off into sleep once more.

The next morning, Alexander woke slowly. His senses crept back in one by one. He was warm, and that was good, but his pillow was far harder than he was used to. The incongruity bothered him, and when he stopped to focus, he realized his pillow was moving, too: it rose and fell in a steady pattern. If he focused, he could even hear a rhythmic tha-thump, tha-thump, tha-thump of a heartbeat. Confused, Alexander lifted his head and found himself staring blearily up at Aaron’s smiling face. He made a sleepy sound of confusion and reached up to pat Aaron’s face.

“You were having nightmares. You seemed calmer when we touched, so - this.”

Nightmares. Alexander felt the curious sensation of two conflicting emotions: his face flushing warm with shame, even as icy dread spiked in his stomach.

“The storm.”

Aaron nodded. However kind and sympathetic his expression was, Alexander could only imagine what he must think of him. What kind of adult was afraid of storms? He pushed himself up, shifting over to the edge of the bed. He sat there for a few moment, staring at the ground and clutching the edge of the bed. The hurricane was there as always, lurking beneath the surface, ready to flood his mind at any moment. Even acknowledging its presence brought it welling up, catching in the back of his throat. Alexander scowled, shoving the thoughts aside.

A hand appeared on his back. “Alexander. Focus.”

“Fuck. This is pathetic,” Alexander groaned. He buried his face in his hands. After a moment, Aaron patted his back in what was almost certainly meant to be a reassuring gesture. Maybe he’d get lucky, Alexander thought glumly, and Aaron’s ego would be flattered by how needy and desperate Alexander was. That was likely the only hope he had of saving the last disastrous 24 hours.

“Everyone gets nightmares, Alexander,” Aaron said quietly. “From what I understand, you have even more reason to than most.”

Alexander hunched his shoulders. “The hurricane was years ago.”

“Yes. And it was awful,” Aaron said. “Of course you still have nightmares about it. I have nightmares about much lesser things.”

“You never wake up screaming,” Alexander grumbled.

“No. But I do sometimes wake up scared.”

The confession surprised Alexander, and he turned his head to look at Aaron. There was no sign of shame on his face: just patient concern for Alexander. No matter how hard Alexander looked, he could find no signs of judgement or disdain. It baffled Alexander enough that he found himself actually considering what Aaron was saying. Contrary to everything Alexander believed, Aaron seemed convinced nightmares were a perfectly ordinary thing. Perhaps for Aaron, they were. He kept his emotions battened down so tightly few people would ever notice if anything was wrong, and he woke before Alexander each morning. No one would know if he woke in a state of panic.

Aaron patted his back again. “You’re staring. Go wash your face. You’ll feel better once you’ve washed up.”

Alexander disagreed, but he did as he was told. He stared at his reflection in the mirror. After a long time of stillness, he did as Aaron had suggested and washed his face. The cold splash of water against his skin made him jump. As jarring as it was, he had to concede Aaron had had a point. He felt much more awake now that he had wiped away the worst of the sweat and tears from the night.

When he rejoined Aaron in the kitchen, Aaron had changed back into the clothes he had borrowed from Alexander the previous night. “You are of course welcome to stay, but I need to get going. I’m looking forward to my own shower, and I shudder to think of what Jon would say if I went to pick up Theo dressed like this.”

“What’s wrong with your outfit?”

The words came out more defensive than Alexander had intended. Those were his clothes they were talking about, and clothes he liked. His irritation only grew when Aaron laughed. Alexander crossed his arms over his chest and stared at Aaron expectantly, waiting for an explanation.

“It’s not really my style. I’m not sure I even own a pair of jeans.”

“Point taken,” Alexander said. If Aaron owned jeans, he had never seen him wear them. Alexander grabbed his coat and followed him to the door. “I’m done here. Let’s go home.”

Aaron gave him an odd look, but Alexander was too lost in thought to notice. The sight of Aaron in jeans should not have prompted introspection, but Alexander found his mind returning again and again to the point. Even on a lazy Sunday afternoon, Aaron wore his neatly-pressed slacks and button-down shirt. Once, Alexander would have laughed at the idea. It was all too easy to recall the caricature he’d labelled ‘Burr’ in his mind and how amused Alexander would have been by the idea of Aaron’s refusal to wear casual clothes. Alexander felt a little squirm of guilt at how badly he’d misunderstood Aaron. Yes, Aaron was reserved, evasive and manipulative. But he was also witty, patient, and more compassionate than Alexander ever could have suspected.

He was, in Alexander’s mind, one of the best things in Alexander’s life. The idea lit a warm glow in Alexander’s chest, but he could not entirely shake off the prickle of anxiety down the back of his neck. As things stood, their relationship had an expiration date. If Alexander didn’t win Aaron over, the day would come when he would be expected to pack his bags and leave Aaron’s life for good.

He only hoped he could win him over before that day came.

Chapter Text

Alexander Hamilton had not been prepared to fall in love.

His life, before Aaron Burr, had been perfectly pleasant. He had friends he loved dearly and a career he was passionate about. Out of election season, he had plenty of attractive people more than willing for a quick tumble before they each moved on with their lives. Romance was not a thing he thought about. Occasionally he wondered, after seeing how good a stable relationship had been for some of his friends, but for the most part Alexander congratulated on staying clear of anything so emotionally weighty. Romance and family were not things that happened to Alexander Hamilton, and that was the way he liked it.

Then came Burr. Aaron. Washington had been right: the day he had become ‘Aaron’ and not ‘Burr’ was the day Alexander should have run for the hills. Instead, he had stayed, sinking deeper and deeper into Aaron’s spell until he was so thoroughly enamoured he had no hope of ever disentangling himself. For a few days, Alexander toyed with the idea that it was deliberate. Surely, he thought, surely no one could be so intoxicating while being completely oblivious to what they were doing. Almost as soon as he had the thought, he felt a spike of guilt. This love was his responsibility. Whether for political advantage or out of the kindness of his heart, Aaron had agreed to marry Alexander; it was churlish of Alexander to cast such aspersions on him. Aaron had made no attempts to seduce him. Their agreement had made it very clear that sex and romance were off the table. When he had first sat in Aaron’s kitchen, Alexander had thought the very idea that romance was a risk was laughable. He’d agreed without second thought that their agreement was a business transaction. More fool him.

In Alexander’s defence, that agreement had come before. If Alexander had suspected for even a moment that he would fall in love with Aaron, he would have married someone else. He would have married his worst enemy before he bound himself to Aaron. When he thought about it (which he did, often), the idea tended to make him laugh. Alexander had not been prepared to fall in love, no, but he knew given the choice he would do it all over again. As inconvenient as the situation was, Alexander had no doubt Aaron had made him a better person.

Perhaps the thing that frustrated Alexander the most about love was how persistent it was. Love was not a thing he could set aside to focus on the moment. It followed him like a spectre, day and night, awake or asleep. He woke up in Aaron’s bed, wrapped up in blankets that smelled like him (of both of them, now, and that idea pleased Alexander more than he liked to admit). He showered in Aaron’s shower and spent breakfast staring across the table at him. Upon leaving the house, he should have escaped, but no. Outside waited a whole world of potential triggers. The press interrogated him endlessly about the legitimacy of his marriage, dragging Alexander's thoughts and feelings about Aaron to the surface again and again. At least such questions gave him good reason to dwell on thoughts of his husband. The same could not be said for his newfound inability to walk past a florist without thinking of Aaron. Nor could he listen to jazz or smell coconut or see any clothing in Aaron’s favourite shade of purple without being reminded of him. It was not always overwhelming, but those feelings were always there, lingering below the surface.

There was one silver lining to the situation. For the first time, Alexander had someone he could talk to about his predicament. Revealing his marriage was a sham to John Laurens had, in the strictest sense of the word, been a mistake; but it was a mistake Alexander was grateful for. He could have asked for no more steadfast friend and ally in the world. Laurens was not a patient man, but he had proven time and time again he was willing to stand by Alexander’s side through thick and thin. That included supporting him through his emotional turmoil. It was just as well he and Alexander were so close, because any lesser friend would have given up on him after three days. Alexander had never been one to pine quietly. And he was, to be blunt, pining. There was no other word for the shameless and downright pathetic behaviour Alexander found himself indulging in.

“I’m an adult,” he found himself telling John one night. “A god-damn adult, John, we’re in our thirties. I thought I was past this. I’d forgotten it could even be like this.”

“You’re an adult in one of the most complicated relationships I’ve seen. Of course you’re messed up,” John said consolingly, passing him another beer. Their late night talks had become a ritual. Twice a week, Alexander would find some excuse to visit John’s apartment. The two of them would sit and talk late into the night. They talked about everything from Alexander’s relationship troubles to the outcome of the latest sports matches. At the end of each night, Alexander returned to Aaron’s apartment with a renewed sense of determination. Aaron never said a word about his new habits. Alexander was content to take his silence at face value and cling to his last shreds of privacy.

There were perks, too, to returning home after Aaron had gone to sleep. Every night, Alexander told himself he would stay to his side of the bed. Every night, he gave into temptation and pressed himself against Aaron’s side, like he had any right to steal his body heat in the growing cold. He tried not to read too much into the fact that Aaron never pushed him away.

The weekly sessions with John were not enough to hide the truth from Alexander. No matter how much John reassured him otherwise, Alexander's pining was becoming a problem. In the past, longing had manifested in action and flirting. 'Pining' had covered the five minutes or so between Alexander spying his target and introducing himself. His past experience left him entirely unprepared for the current situation. The uncertainty surrounding the exact nature of his relationship with Aaron had robbed him of all confidence. Alexander had no idea if his advances were welcome. Worse, he had no idea if he had even been noticed at all. If Aaron had any idea about how Alexander felt, he did not let on, and Alexander was unable to decipher his thoughts. As sympathetic as John was, he was no help on that front. If Aaron’s intentions were hazy to Alexander, they were completely opaque to John. When it came to interpreting Aaron’s behaviour, Alexander was on his own.

While Alexander was flying blind, Aaron seemed to have no problems understanding Alexander. It seemed like whenever Alexander turned around, he was being watched. Under different circumstances, the attention would have bolstered Alexander’s confidence, but there was something about the look on Aaron’s face that made him feel like a bug under a microscope. Aaron was observing, not leering. What he hoped to learn, Alexander had no idea, but he had no doubt Aaron would figure him out in time. He could only hope that Aaron liked whatever he found. But when Aaron gave him that pensive look after Alexander had endured a particularly long day at work, Alexander’s patience broke.

“What?” he asked, his voice cracking and breaking on the word. Aaron tilted his head a little bit to one side before saying,

“We need to talk.”

Alexander could have sworn his heart stopped at those words. His mind filled with ever-branching scenarios, each more dreadful than the next. Aaron was angry. Alexander had done something wrong. Aaron was dying. Alexander was dying, and somehow Aaron knew before he did, and as implausible as that sounded it might just explain the tightness in his chest.

“Alexander, breathe. It’s nothing as bad as whatever you’re thinking. I promise.”

“You don’t know what I’m thinking,” Alexander said, but he walked over and took a seat on the couch when Aaron beckoned him closer.

“No, but I do know you. You haven’t been yourself lately.”

That made Alexander look at Aaron more carefully. His brows were pulled together, and he was wearing his most patient smile. There were two mugs of tea on the coffee table, and when Alexander picked his up he recognized the warm vanilla spice immediately. Of all the teas and tisanes Aaron kept on hand, this one was Alexander’s favourite. It wasn’t until he looked back at Aaron’s face that realization dawned.

“You’re worried about me.”

Aaron nodded. When he spoke next, it was slow and deliberate as he planned each and every word. “I am aware I can be reserved, especially when compared to your other friends, but I hope you know that I care about you. If you need to talk, if you need anything, I’m here for you.”

Alexander groaned. He let himself fall back against the sofa, hanging his head over the back to stare up at the ceiling. Of all the times for Aaron to try out healthy communication, it had to be the one time Alexander would have been happy denying emotions existed. There was no good way out of this conversation. Even if he dodged the gentle, probing concern, Alexander would be leaving with the knowledge that Aaron knew something was wrong. He would keep watching Alexander, and Alexander - well, Alexander had never been any good at lying.

“I fucked up,” he said. He stared at the ceiling, trying to adjust to the feeling of his heart pounding high in his chest. He wondered if it was too late to back out, but he pushed the thought aside. He would not take the coward’s way out. When Aaron didn’t reply, Alexander repeated himself.

“I fucked up. All those things you made me agree to when we got married, I didn’t think would be an issue, but one of them is.” Alexander swallowed heavily before spitting out the fateful words: “I’m in love.”

Alexander risked a glance at Aaron’s face. What he saw made his heart sink. He had been prepared for surprise or disbelief, and he had even braced himself for displeasure. None of that prepared him for how carefully devoid of emotion Aaron’s face was. Alexander felt as though the breath had been punched out of him in the worst way possible. He was used to Aaron trying to hide his emotions, but Alexander had only seen him go to this extreme twice. Once had been when Aaron was in deep despair and uttelry miserable; the other had been when they were fighting, and the very sight of Alexander must have been enough to turn his stomach. If Aaron looked like that now, Alexander could only imagine what he thought of him.

To his credit, Aaron tried to smile a moment later, but it was too late. Alexander was confident he knew the truth. The smile Aaron plastered on his face may have been convincing to others, but Alexander knew why it didn’t meet his eyes. It was a lie. As much as Alexander wanted to crawl away and salvage what was left of his dignity, he forced himself to sit up and look Aaron in the face.

“That is unfortunate,” Aaron said. A hot spike of anger flashed behind Alexander’s eyes. Typical, callous, selfish Burr, always expecting other people to be as emotionless and detached and cold as he was, and - Alexander’s thoughts derailed when Aaron continued speaking. The flatness left his tone, and he sounded almost frightened.

“May I ask with whom?”

Alexander shifted over on the sofa. He kept a close eye on Aaron’s face as he moved, watching his changing expression. There was something about that tone that made Alexander wonder. As Alexander moved closer, Aaron’s rigid smile dropped into uncertainty. Once they were close enough that their knees bumped together, Alexander put a hand on Aaron’s thigh. He still got no response. Alexander reached up with his free hand to curl around Aaron’s chin and pulled him in for a kiss.

It was not, of course, their first kiss. Alexander had been treated to the feel of Aaron’s lips against his own countless times before. His lips were as warm and soft as ever, and Alexander wondered at how normal kissing Aaron felt. Rather than making it easier, the familiarity only served to highlight what was different. There was no one to perform for. There was no risk of interruption and they were both stone-cold sober. In short: they had no excuses. Or, to be more precise, Alexander had no excuses. When Aaron did not respond, Alexander did not pull back. He squeezed Aaron’s leg with his hand and sucked Aaron’s lower lip with his mouth, before drawing back slowly, just the way he’d figured Aaron liked. If this was to be his only real kiss with Aaron, he might as well make it a good one.

When he pulled back, Aaron stared at him. There was no anger in his expression, but nor did he look happy. Doubt seized Alexander. He withdrew his hand to his own lap, looking away and picking up his tea. What if he’d misread things? God, he hadn’t even considered that. If he had, Alexander knew, his hopes of ever getting what he wanted were thoroughly quashed. Worse, he had managed to not only humiliate himself, but hurt Aaron in the process.

After a long silence, he risked looking back at Aaron. There was still no anger in his expression, but there was a small crease in his forehead. When they made eye contact, Aaron said,

“I think we need to start this conversation again.”

“I can’t apologize for what I said,” Alexander said stubbornly, crossing his arms over his chest. “It’s true. Every word of it. I love you. I lo - “

“Alexander,” Aaron said. His tone was so stern and disapproving that Alexander’s voice faltered. Before he could panic, Aaron repeated his name, this time softer and filled with warmth. “Alexander, I’m not asking for an apology. I’m asking for more information. I don’t understand.”

“What more is there to say? Are you interested, or not?”

“You haven’t thought this through. I know you haven’t, Alexander, the risks you're taking in even having this conversation - "

“That’s not a yes,” Alexander interrupted. His heart sank in his chest. Despite the despair rising in Alexander’s mind, Aaron smiled at him and squeezed his arm.

“It’s not a ‘no’, either. I can’t give an answer because I don’t know what the question is. Are you asking me for sex? Romance? I have no idea what you want, and until -"

Alexander’s ringtone trilled. He cursed under his breath and reached into his pocket. When he saw the number on the screen, he grimaced and poked his tongue out at his phone. Of all the times Jefferson could try to call him, he had to pick now. Without an ounce of regret, he hit the red ‘decline’ button and put his phone back down. He looked over at Aaron with a sheepish smile. An apology was on his lips, but before he could say a single word, his phone blared to life again. Alexander let out a groan of frustration. With more vigor than was strictly necessary, he rejected the call and slammed the phone face down on the coffee table. When it stayed silent for two whole seconds, Alexander turned towards Aaron with grim determination in his eyes.

“What do I want? I want you, Aaron. All of you. I don’t want what we’ve got to end, I want it to be real, and - “

For the third time, Alexander’s phone rang. Instead of the jaunty tune it usually played, this time it played a series of demanding beeps that could not be so easily ignored. Alexander’s face fell.

“I can’t, I have to take this, It’s Washington,” he explained in a rush. He grabbed the phone and fled to the safety of the small office in the rear of the apartment. Whether Aaron understood or not, Alexander didn’t know. He didn’t have the courage to look back and find out. Instead, he shut the door and leaned back against it with a low groan. “Sir.”

“Alexander. It’s about time you answered your phone. Pack your bags.”

“Sir, now’s really not the best time, can I -”

“Now, Alexander. Mulligan's new report on the opposition has me worried. I can't tell you what's happening, but I need the team together. The next flight to Wisconsin leaves in less than two hours, and I want you on that plane.”

“What about my husband?” Alexander heard himself ask. His body seemed to have switched to autopilot: he rushed over to his desk, sorting his papers and packing his briefcase. As he did so, he asked countless questions, trying to get as much information out of Washington as possible. Very little was revealed. All Washington would tell him was that he was to join the main campaign without delay. He could arrange for his family to follow him in the following days. The same demands had been made of the rest of the team in New York, and no matter what argument he used, Alexander could not get special treatment.

As Alexander packed, it occurred to him that Washington’s caution made sense. Halloween was fast approaching, and the election itself was less than a month away. If the current administration had any tricks left up their sleeve, they would soon be facing them. It would take some great disaster to dent Washington’s lead in the polls, but then, the polls had been wrong before. No matter how certain victory seemed, it would be foolish to let their guard down now. Personally, Alexander would not be relax until he had seen Washington safely inaugurated.

Within minutes, the conversation was done and Alexander stepped back out into the living room. Aaron had relocated to the kitchen table. He did not look up when Alexander stepped in, too busy staring at his left hand and twisting the two wedding rings on his finger. Despite what Alexander considered a lacklustre response to his confession, the rings were both still firmly in place. If Aaron had not taken off his ring, then at very least Aaron could not hate him. After a moment of hesitation, Alexander crossed the room and stood by Aaron’s side.

“Washington’s booked me on a flight that leaves in an hour. We’ll have to find a flight for you and Theo tomorrow.”

“I can’t.”

For a moment, Alexander could have sworn his heart stopped, before it started pounding rapidly. This was it. He’d finally crossed a line Aaron couldn’t forgive. Fear clenched in his stomach, and for all he could think of a hundred responses the words stuck in his throat. Aaron looked up at him. His expression was tight and closed off.

“Alexander, I can’t. I’m in the middle of two different cases, Theo’s still on crutches, she’s got school - we’re not going to be able to get away for at least a week.”

Alexander’s face pinched in confusion. If Aaron was being honest, his reluctance wasn’t about Alexander. “Then what about what we were talking about? About us?”

When Aaron’s face fell, Alexander almost regretted asking the question. Aaron stood up slowly and turned to face Alexander. He reached out and squeezed Alexander’s arm before tracing his hand down the length of his arm to lace their fingers together.

“Alexander. This is a big decision. To cover everything we need to talk about, it would take hours. Every time we've rushed into something, there's been unexpected consequences. I want to be careful with this.”

“And if I demanded an answer now?”

“Then we would both leave this conversation disappointed,” Aaron said, but he softened the words by rubbing his thumb against Alexander’s skin. “Don’t make me say ‘no’ to you. Please.”

For a moment, Alexander wanted to: not out of a desire to be rejected, but from the indignant rage at the fact he was being asked to wait. After baring his heart, baring his very soul, he was expected to be patient? His frustration must have shown on his face, because Aaron leaned in and kissed his cheek.

“You have a flight to catch. I need to think. But next time we're together, as soon as we’re able to talk properly, I’ll have an answer for you. I promise.”

That was as good a deal as he was likely to get. Alexander nodded. The passage of time felt strangely disjointed as he rushed around the apartment, packing his bag. In ten short minutes he was packed. A cab waited for him outside, and Aaron hovered near the front door. Alexander stopped in the doorway. For what seemed to be a long time, they stared at each other. Alexander could feel the tension hanging thick in the air, choking him. His mind was curiously blank. All he could think of was how overwhelmingly real and present Aaron was.

It was Aaron who broke the silence. “Next time?”

It was the uncertainty in Aaron’s voice that made Alexander throw caution to the wind. He stepped forward, inserting himself into Aaron’s space, and pulled him in for a kiss. There was a millisecond delay as Aaron processed what was happening, before (to Alexander’s delight) he was moving his lips against Alexander’s. Aaron’s hands settled on Alexander’s waist. The thick jumper Alexander wore masked the heat of Aaron’s hand, but Alexander could still feel the pressure from the contact. When Alexander pulled back, Aaron followed. He leaned forward, chasing Alexander’s mouth with his own. It was only when a smug grin started to spread across Alexander’s face that he remembered himself and pulled back. It took Aaron only a second to return to his usual flawless posture and dignified expression.

“You have a flight to catch,” Aaron reminded him. The grin on Alexander’s face faded. He found himself suddenly doubting the wisdom of what he had done. If Aaron had any doubts, accosting him in the doorway would not help convince him Alexander’s intentions were serious. He hovered in the doorway a moment longer. Should he say something?

Outside, the taxi horn beeped several times in quick succession. Alexander winced at the sound. “Well, until next time.”

Alexander had barely made it to the elevator when he heard the apartment door close behind him. It was good that Aaron was not going to watch him leave, Alexander told himself. That would have made leaving much harder. He only hoped it was not a sign that Aaron was angry at him. The last thing he needed to do was upset him before Aaron spent a week pondering if he felt like dating Alexander. The very thought was enough to make Alexander’s heart sink.

If.

Alexander had put all his cards on the table, and all Aaron had been able to give him was a ‘maybe’. That didn’t bode well for Alexander’s hopes of a future romance. Maybe it was just as well Washington had summoned him. Alexander had a full week to prepare for Aaron’s answer.

Maybe this way, he’d be ready if Aaron said ‘no’.

Chapter Text

For the first time in his life, Alexander Hamilton was distracted from his work.

It was not that there was any shortage of work to be done. The election campaign was in full swing, with the deadline of the election looming ever closer. The Washington campaign team was on high alert. Hercules had delivered dire warnings that something dreadful was afoot throughout right-wing circles, but he could not even pinpoint the source of the swirling rumours. Washington had refused to tell Alexander what the threat was, and Alexander’s mind ran wild with theories. It could not be his own scandal, or Washington would have told him. Alexander suspected it was not a scandal at all: no one had been expelled from Washington’s inner circle, and he could not imagine what their enemies could have against Washington himself. That led him to fear less subtle threats. While Washington had run a clean campaign, Kleinhande had not. The name-calling and mudslinging had started from day one, and the integrity of the campaign had dropped exponentially from there. There had been threats, blackmail and downright obstruction of due process. A wave of violent riots had spread across the nation as many far-right demagogues had denounced Washington as a traitor. Their supporters were hungry for blood, and they did not seem to particularly care whose it was. The president himself did nothing to stop the chaos, blathering about fault on both sides and the duties of patriotic Americans. It was enough to make Alexander wonder. There was every chance he was jumping to the worst possible conclusion with no basis, but he did not think he had fallen into that trap this time. Washington’s security team had doubled since the last time Alexander had been on the campaign. Something was afoot. Senior campaign staff (including Alexander) were no longer permitted to leave without an escort. The looming threat did nothing to help the morale of the team who did not even know what they were preparing for. They could only wonder what would happen next.

It should have consumed Alexander’s every waking moment. Instead, he found himself obsessed with thoughts of Aaron. He had grown accustomed to their separation grating on him: it was a recurring problem whenever they travelled. But Alexander had not been prepared for the added anxiety of not knowing what their future relationship might look like. The waiting Aaron was inflicting upon him was utterly intolerable. He said as much in a text to Aaron, and a great deal more besides. After one night sleeping alone, Alexander had come to the realization that he could not accept ‘no’ for an answer.

If Aaron would not give him an answer now, then Alexander would have to persuade him.

Their separation may even work to his advantage. When Aaron was close, Alexander was too easily distracted by his dark eyes and silver tongue. Alexander would try to be smooth and charming, and Aaron would cut through his bravado with a single raised eyebrow. It made the task of seducing Aaron harder than it needed to be. With him gone, Alexander could shift his entire focus to the task at hand: winning Aaron over with his words. If Alexander had one strength, it was his words. He would overwhelm Aaron's defenses through a combination of brilliance and sheer volume. By the time he was done, Aaron would be hanging on his every word. He explained, in exquisite detail, how much he missed his beloved husband and how eagerly he waited upon his response. He described his distraction, and his longing, and how very cold and dark the night was without the warmth of his body and the brightness in his smile. He sent compliment after compliment, drowning him in earnest praise. All in all, Alexander sent twenty seven text messages in the span of one day.

He received one in return.

The next day, he sent twenty more. When that, too, was ignored, Alexander changed tactics. Instead of complimenting Aaron or indicating how much he missed him, he lambasted him for his lack of response. How, Alexander wanted to know, was he supposed to focus when the man who had stolen his heart would not even acknowledge him? It was cruel. Alexander was in the very depths of despair at being spurned, but if Aaron would send him just one text, he would be elated. To Alexander’s delight, that got him something even better than a text. Aaron called him. He let the phone ring for a moment, letting himself revel in the knowledge that Aaron was at the other end of the line. Even if he had not answered the phone yet, that thought brought him great comfort. Alexander answered the phone with a bright grin and a slew of compliments. His elation faded when he heard the exhaustion and frustration in Aaron’s voice, and Alexander found himself wondering if he had pushed too far.

“You,” Aaron told him, the very word an accusation. “You are the most bothersome man I have ever had the misfortune of meeting. I am trying to be reasonable. I am trying to make this work. We cannot do anything without a plan, and instead of providing ideas you are confounding me with emotions.”

The weight of disgust on the word ‘emotions’ was enough to bring a grin to Alexander’s face. If Aaron was this frustrated, Alexander’s plan had to be working. “Darling, Aaron, what can I do? It’s not my fault I miss you so much. I know you’re frustrated, but yours is the prettiest voice I’ve heard all day. I could listen to you talk for hours. Say something for me.”

“I’m going to kill you,” Aaron groaned. Alexander laughed at the very notion.

“I would have believed it a year ago, but now? You’d miss me too much. You even said you didn’t want me to die, that first time you had a migraine. That proves you love me.”

“That was before you gave me another migraine with your incessant texting,” Aaron grumbled, but the sting was gone from his words. Somehow, as obnoxious as Alexander knew he was being, he had managed to coax Aaron’s mood from anger to mere irritation. The small victory made him bold enough to try to bargain.

“I’ll text you less if you reply more. Promise.”

“Define ‘less’.”

“Ten times a day?”

“Twice,” Aaron bargained. They bickered back and forth for fifteen minutes on the matter, before finally agreeing on a hard limit of five texts a day. In return, Aaron was to contact him at least three times a day. It was not an ideal outcome, but Alexander was confident he could find a way around the limitation. He may not be able to text Aaron as often as he would like, but he had said nothing of calling. And he had allies in New York. John would not hesitate to deliver messages or gifts on Alexander’s behalf, not now that he knew what was at stake. If Alexander desired, he could have Aaron’s entire apartment filled with flowers by sundown. He considered the idea for a few moments before reluctantly setting it aside. Given his last attempt had ended in such disaster, he was hesitant to risk another failure. He would rely on his strengths to win Aaron over.

As pleased as Alexander was with his progress with Aaron, his distraction did not go unnoticed. Thomas was the first to comment. He would take any opportunity to make Alexander’s life more difficult, and he had shown he was not above using personal matters to do just that. When he sensed a weakness, he attacked. His jabs and jibes grew less and less subtle as time passed, and without Aaron to vent to, Alexander’s patience ran thin. When Thomas questioned Alexander’s background, Alexander pointed out how he had worked with Washington long before it had become the comfortable and prestigious position Thomas had stepped into. When Thomas claimed Alexander’s values were out of line with American values, Alexander pointed out they seemed to align well enough with Washington’s. And when Thomas implied Alexander was not a loyal or loving husband, Alexander lost his temper. He pointed out that he, unlike Thomas, had a husband; that he had been honest with the one he wanted, instead of stalking and manipulating someone he claimed was a friend. Much to Alexander’s satisfaction, the last one crossed a line. Thomas had turned a peculiar shade of red and stormed from the room. That night, Alexander's evening message from Aaron included a plea not to aggravate Thomas about such personal issues. Alexander typed out a number of responses to that, ranging from inappropriate (“what will you do if I don’t ??? ;)”) to saccharine (“anything for you, beloved <3”) before deciding not to mention the matter. Even if he promised to behave, Alexander knew himself too well to think he would manage a whole week without taunting Thomas.

There was one thing Alexander considered more valuable than his scheduled texts from Aaron. Theodosia started to text him after just two days. She kept him updated on Aaron's daily business, complaining bitterly about how much he was sulking now Alexander was gone. Alexander was not sure sulking was the right word for it, but something seemed off. He had plenty of data to draw from. Whenever Aaron was too distracted to notice, Theodosia snapped a photograph and sent it to Alexander. It may have been wishful thinking, but Alexander could have sworn Aaron was spending more time on his phone. He had never been glued to his phone the way Alexander was, but it seemed like every second message from Theodosia showed Aaron staring at his screen. Best of all, his new habit seemed to correlate with Alexander's texts. Thanks to Theodosia's commentary, Alexander now knew it took Aaron fifteen minutes to craft each reply he sent. The idea that Aaron cared so much about his reply gave Alexander's ego a much appreciated boost. He would have to treat Theodosia to something special the next chance he got. Having a spy on the inside was proving to be an invaluable advantage, and Alexander would see her rewarded for her work.

It was not long before the situation escalated beyond anything Alexander could have anticipated. His bickering with Thomas was as venomous as ever, but that should have come as no surprise to anyone. What did surprise Alexander was being pulled aside by Washington after a particularly vicious fight. It was not unusual for Alexander and Washington of them to sequester themselves and work late into the night, but this event was abormal. The weather was as bright and sunny as it could get this time of year. There were countless aides and diplomats and reporters vying for Washington’s attention, and the media team was on constant alert. It made no sense for him to isolate Alexander. But he did, inviting Alexander into a quiet room. It was not an office: it was a private space, empty but for the security detail that followed Washington everywhere. While Washington took a seat in a large armchair, Alexander stood at attention in front of him. Washington took one look at him and shook his head.

“Alexander, relax. Take a seat.”

There was something hidden in Washington’s expression that made Alexander want to refuse. He took the seat despite his better judgement and stared at Washington. Washington himself looked uncomfortable, his arms crossed and his expression guarded. That alone was a bad sign. After a lengthy pause, Washington leaned forward a little.

“Son, I know I’m not the first person you would come to with personal problems. I’ve tried to respect that, even though I’ve been worried about you. But you’ve been distracted all day. Any other time I'd give you the space, but we both know I don't have that luxury right now. I need you at your best. If you can't focus, that’s a problem that’s going to affect all of us, Alexander.”

Alexander felt like his stomach had dropped through the floor. He’d known he’d been distracted, but this? The very idea that he might not have met his own standards (let alone Washington’s) made him cringe in shame. He dropped his eyes to the desk and hunched his shoulders. His work was the one thing he had always been able to take pride in. It defined him.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he said, his voice thick with regret. “It won’t happen again.”

“Alexander, I’m not angry. I’m worried about you,” Washington told him. Alexander’s head shot up and he stared at him in confusion.

“You should be. I’ve let you down, I’ve let the campaign down, it’s -.”

Washington held up a hand to cut Alexander off. “Son, if it was anyone else on my team sitting in front of me, I’d agree. But this is different. In all the years we’ve known each other, you’ve never once been anything less than attentive to your work, no matter what else has been happening in your life. You’ve earned the benefit of the doubt. If something is upsetting you this much, it's important.”

That, if anything, made Alexander feel even worse. He could only imagine how disappointed Washington would be if he learnt Alexander was caught up in missing his husband. He was undoubtedly picturing some great crisis that had overwhelmed Alexander's life. The last thing Alexander wanted to do was to confess he was pining, but he had to say something. Washington was looking at him expectantly, and Alexander knew he would not be permitted to leave without providing an explanation. Lying was not an option. It never was, with Washington, and Alexander hated it at the best of times. He would have to aim for the middle ground, then: misrepresenting the truth.

“It’s my husband,” Alexander said. He watched Washington’s eyes narrow in disapproval. Honesty may not have been as good an idea as Alexander had thought.

“What did he do?”

“Nothing! Aaron’s held up his end of the bargain. He’s not threatening me, he’s not pushing for anything in return, he hasn’t done anything wrong.”

“Yet,” Washington said, a small frown on his face. The words made Alexander’s heart clench in his chest. With a lurch, he realized the feeling was disappointment. Washington was a good friend and mentor. Alexander would die before he admitted it, but he was also the closest thing Alexander had to a father figure. The idea that he might disapprove of Alexander’s newfound family was enough to make Alexander's mood plummet. He would have to find a way to reconcile the two.

“He won’t. That’s not my concern. Am I dismissed, sir?”

Washington let out a sigh. “You’re not going to tell me a thing, are you?”

“Sir, in my position, would you?”

The look on Washington’s face told Alexander he had won. It was hard to imagine Washington confiding personal matters in anyone. If he did, Alexander could not begin to imagine who might hold such a position of confidence in Washington's life. When he turned his mind to the matter, Alexander suspected he may be higher up the list than he would have initially thought. The idea was alarming. It explained a little of why Washington was willing to talk to him about emotional matters, but it did not change Alexander's decision ont to share. Washington carried enough burdens of his own. It was just as well Alexander had chosen not to further worry him with his own problems.

From then on, Alexander returned to his work with twice his normal vigor. When he felt his mind wander, he permitted himself a moment to feel guilty for his wandering attention before returning to his work. He found himself grateful for his five-text maximum with Aaron. At least this way, he had an excuse for why his messages suddenly became less frequent. His texts became hurried affairs. Either it would be the last thing he did before sleep, or he would fire the messages out while shoveling food into his mouth at mealtimes. It was not what Aaron deserved, but at this point, it was all Alexander could give him. The thought made Alexander feel guilty, but he put the business out of his mind and congratulated himself on his restraint.

Two days later, Alexander received a screenshot of two plane tickets. Aaron and Theodosia would be joining the campaign in Virginia on October 31st.

Alexander considered it a stroke of great luck. He hated visiting Virginia. Thomas and James somehow conspired to be even more frustrating than usual when they were on their home ground, and Washington took anything less than appreciation for the state as a personal slight. Aaron, though, Aaron might make the entire situation tolerable.

Chapter Text

All was well until Alexander found himself forced to confront the fact that he would see Aaron in a matter of minutes. Anxiety flooded back into his mind as soon as he stepped out of the lift. There was, Alexander reminded himself, no guarantee Aaron would be happy to see him. Aaron could well be dreading the reunion. He could be planning on rejecting Alexander. It was all too easy for Alexander’s lightning-quick mind to cover all the reasons Aaron might not be happy to see him in exquisite detail. He walked down the hall in a daze.

Once outside his hotel room, Alexander came to a halt. He took a deep breath. He could do this; he had to do this. Without waiting a moment more, he swiped his keycard and stepped into the hotel room. It was a larger room than the ones he had been assigned in the past week. Having a family on the road with him had its perks, and one of those perks was being given a whole suite of rooms. There was a small living area in the main room, which broke off into two separate bedrooms. It was a perfectly pleasant room, but as he looked around, Alexander’s expression fell.

Aaron was there, but he was not alone.

Several of Aaron’s friends from the campaign were seated around the room, including none other than Thomas Jefferson. They had scattered themselves around the sofa, drinking champagne and talking amongst themselves. Alexander stood in the doorway, frozen in place. This was worse than Alexander had anticipated. Aaron (Alexander reasoned) must have been so desperate to avoid their conversation that he had invited people over to keep them from being alone. The fact that he had chosen to invite Thomas only added insult to injury. He knew how much Alexander hated Thomas. That Aaron had chosen to invite Thomas over in spite of that knowledge stung. It could not be a coincidence: it was a calculated insult.

“Hamilton, there you are,” Thomas drawled. “We were beginning to wonder if you’d bother to stop by before the party tonight.”

“Party, yeah, right,” Alexander said absently. He was too busy staring at Aaron to pay any attention to Thomas. Aaron’s head had shot up at the mention of Alexander’s name. The two of them made eye contact, and Aaron’s face spread into a warm smile. He patted the spot next to him on the couch. Alexander took a step towards him, then stopped. He hesitated for a moment. Why was Aaron being so welcoming when he’d gone to such lengths to ensure they wouldn’t be alone together? Alexander would likely never know the answer. The idea bothered him, but he hid that as best he could. He could hardly think of a worse crowd to appear emotionally vulnerable before. Instead, he plastered on a smile and took a seat next to Aaron. “Hi, honey. Theo.”

Theodosia looked up at him with her usual big grin. Her crutches were gone, Alexander was pleased to see, and any remaining bandages were hidden by her elaborate princess dress. With Aaron braiding her hair, she did not have a lot of room to move, but she still managed to stare at him for several moments. “Hi, Alex. Is that part of your costume?”

“What costume?” Alexander asked, suspicious. She gestured to her face before pulling down on the skin beneath her eyes, mimicking the deep black bags under Alexander’s own eyes.

“It’s weird and creepy. Are you a vampire?”

Under ordinary circumstances, Alexander wouldn’t have been bothered by the poorly suppressed snort of laughter that came from Aaron at the question. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have laughed too. But the laughter that filled the room around them instead held a cruel, mocking note as Thomas and his entourage agreed that ‘weird and creepy’ about summed Alexander up. Anger swelled inside Alexander. At first it was directed at Theodosia, but that passed as he saw genuine confusion and distress spreading over her face. She hadn’t known. How could she? There was no reason for Theodosia to suspect her innocent comment would be taken as an insult to Alexander. Aaron hadn’t expected the mockery, either: Alexander watched as his laughter faded the more the others mocked him. The disapproval that took its place was subtle and well hidden, but undeniably there.

In the time it took Alexander to process this, Aaron had recovered enough to come to Alexander’s defense. Without looking up from his work, he said, “Alexander is just tired, sweetheart. He has a lot of work to do, and he insists on staying on the phone with me when I can’t sleep. He’s been up with me every night for the past week.”

It was a blatant lie, but it cut off the laughter coming from Thomas. As confused as he was, Alexander felt a stab of satisfaction at that. It was a feeling he held on to. If Aaron was going to reject him, Alexander would need every scrap of strength he could muster to survive the rest of their fraudulent marriage. That was doubly true if Aaron was determined to put Thomas off the scent of their lies, as seemed to be the case. He was a good actor: it was certainly enough to fool Theodosia.

“You two are so gross,” she complained. “Being a vampire would be way cooler.”

“How do you know I’m not really a vampire?” Alexander asked her with a playful grin. Theodosia let out a huff and crossed her arms over her chest.

“Don’t be silly, you’re not cool enough, and I’ve seen you eat food and everything.”

“Wait, hold the phone. Who says I’m not cool?”

For the next hour, Theodosia and Alexander bickered over who and what passed as ‘cool’. Despite overhearing some snide remarks from Thomas and James, Alexander was more than happy with his choice of conversation partner. Any conversation with Aaron would be fraught with tension, and in Alexander’s opinion no one else present was worth acknowledging. Theodosia, meanwhile, had original ideas. There were perks, too. Talking to Theodosia kept her still while Aaron painstakingly braided and pinned her hair. It looked to be difficult work. He had a reference photograph open on his laptop beside him, which he referred to every time he went to pin a braid in place. It looked to be a lot more elaborate than anything he normally bothered with. It must have taken a lot longer, too, because Theodosia grew bored and restless before long. Keeping her distracted and still was enough to earn Alexander a smile from Aaron that was so earnest Alexander felt a warm glow settle into his chest.

After helping Theodosia with her costume, Aaron and Alexander had just fifteen minutes to prepare for the night out. There were no costumes on the cards for them: it may be a Halloween event, but the night’s festivities were still political. The campaign team would be stuck in suits, as usual. Alexander was under strict instructions to look as wholesome and family-oriented as possible. That wouldn’t be a problem, he thought, with Aaron and Theodosia by his side. Whatever tension there was between Alexander and Aaron, both of them had resigned themselves to Alexander being part of the family.

In the rush to prepare, Aaron and Alexander found themselves alone in the bedroom as they changed. They had this routine down to an art now, moving in harmony around each other as they showered and dressed and otherwise groomed themselves. Even a moment of delay would throw off the delicate balance. The rush and tension of the night left the routine feeling strange and unfamiliar. Their separation might have been enough to explain it, but Alexander was most unnerved by the eerie silence. He was used to mornings and evenings filled with petty bickering. Instead, the only voices he could hear were from their guests in the living area.

After a particularly loud burst of laughter from the living quarters, Aaron spoke. “Thomas invited himself over.”

Alexander fumbled with his laces and dropped his shoe onto the ground. “What?”

“Thomas. I didn’t invite him over. He showed up at the door with the others and a list of grievances to air.”

“I thought you were avoiding me,” Alexander admitted. He was gratified by how quickly Aaron shook his head, but before he could say anything there was a loud knock on the door and a call for them to hurry up. Aaron left immediately, leaving Alexander alone to think about what had just happened. Unless he had very much misinterpreted things, he might still have a chance. The idea cheered him a great deal. After indulging in an extra minute to fix his hair, Alexander strode out into the living area and draped an arm around Aaron’s shoulders. The smile on his face turned smug and satisfied when Aaron leaned back against him. Alexander would have his answer before the night was out, and he had begun to indulge in a renewed hope that it would be an answer he would very much enjoy.

A full security detail escorted them to the large park set aside for the rally. Temporary fences had been erected around the edges of the park to cordon off the event. A small army of security agents patrolled the park and the perimeter, and the neighbouring buildings had been emptied for the night. A band of counter protesters stood outside, and Alexander shuddered at the sight of pale angry faces watching their limo with open hatred. He made eye contact with a tall, blond man with ice cold eyes. There was something about those eyes that sent dread prickling down Alexander’s spine, and he looked away quickly. Beside him, he felt Aaron press a little closer to his side.

Inside, there were no signs of discontent. Families of all different shapes and sizes had come to see Washington speak and enjoy the lavish Halloween party. The park had been filled with family-friendly activities. A small market had popped up in the center selling pumpkin pies and slow-roasted pork. Several stalls had been set up to form a street for children to go trick-or-treating, and the large grass field set aside for sports had been filled with carnival games and rides. In the heart of it all was the central gazebo, raised up on a grassy knoll and decked in campaign banners and bright lights.

For an hour, Alexander, Aaron and Theodosia were free to roam the park and explore all that was on offer. Domestic, Alexander found himself thinking. He was not quite sure when, but somehow, he had become well suited to family events such as this. It was not so long ago that he would have laughed at the very idea of it, yet here he was. He had Aaron’s hand in his own, and the crisp fall air gave him an excuse to cuddle closer. Even if they did not have the privacy to talk, Alexander let himself enjoy the moment. Theodosia raced in front of them in excitement, eager to explore all the entertainment options available. In no time at all, Theodosia had been absorbed into a small mob of children roaming the site. Aaron and Alexander had no choice but to join the group of parents following them.

When they came to the haunted house, a murmur ran through the crowd. Alexander strained to stand on his tiptoes, and he caught a glimpse of men in the familiar uniform of Washington’s security team speaking to some of the parents. Photo opportunity, Alexander concluded. If Washington could get the children on his side, it would boost his reputation as a family-friendly figure. It remained his biggest weakness: as a single man with no family, he was a peculiar figure in US politics. A successful photo opportunity now would help secure his image. The photos would be shared and re-shared by the proud parents surrounding them, all the while reinforcing the idea that Washington understood families. But there was a gamble - if. Children were unpredictable, and if they refused to engage it could be awkward. He could hardly blame them if they did not want to approach a stranger. The risk worried Alexander. It was too close to election time for them to be taking any unnecessary risks, even one as small as this.

As it turned out, Alexander needn’t have worried. There was one brief moment when Washington stepped out where the children froze. All the children stood still, staring at him in wary uncertainty despite their parents urging them to say hello: all, that is, but one. As soon as Theodosia saw him, she beamed and dashed over. Despite Alexander’s best attempts, Theodosia could not be convinced that Washington ought to be adopted into the family. She had precedent on her side: neither Jon Bellamy nor Maria held any relation to her, but they had each been dubbed as uncle and aunt due to their close bond to Aaron. If it could happen to them, why not with Washington?

After greeting Washington with a hug, Theodosia led him over to meet her new friends. There was a bounce in her step as she walked, and the other children soon relaxed in the face of her cheerful smile. As much as the scene made Alexander’s heart melt, he was also bursting with pride. Theodosia may not have known it, but she had provided a neat little boost to Alexander’s career. His mind raced with possibilities for the future. If she was this skilled now, she would be a formidable politician as an adult. Maybe he could never be president, but his daughter could. The thought filled Alexander with giddy excitement until he remembered he had no guarantee that he would get to stay in Theodosia’s life. If Aaron did not want a relationship with him, he would be divorced and single within a year. The excitement dropped like a leaden weight through his stomach. He could only hope Aaron wanted to keep him around.

At 8 o’clock, the trio rejoined the rest of the campaign team at the central hub. While the adults clustered around the stage from which Washington was to speak, the children peeled off from the main crowd. In order to keep the children occupied while the politics of the night was conducted, the campaign team had arranged a trick-or-treating tour to keep them entertained. A bus would take them around to three separate areas before returning them to the park. Alexander watched Theodosia run off with a fond smile. Before the night was out, he had no doubt she’d have befriended half a dozen of the little monsters running around.

As the night wore on, Alexander found himself more and more jealous of the children trick-or-treating. The speakers leading up to Washington’s presentation were talented, but not talented enough to make up for the fact that Alexander had seen them all speak a hundred times before. He did his best to look attentive from where he stood to the side of the stage, but his attention wandered. Every now and then, Aaron would squeeze his hand and return his focus to the present.

When Washington stepped forward to present his speech, Alexander snapped to attention. He managed a full three minutes of listening attentively before he let his gaze wander once more. He still listened to what was said, but it was much more entertaining to examine the audience. The crowd was in awe. It was not an uncommon sight: Washington had a level of gravitas and charisma Alexander had yet to see in any other person. Even his enemies admitted he had a gift for holding command of a crowd.

Alexander scanned the crowd, but movement elsewhere caught his attention. There was a man in the window of one of the buildings that overlooked the park: one of those same buildings that had been ordered empty. He stared. Every instinct Alexander had told him something was wrong. The worry nagged at the back of Alexander’s mind until he saw the man lift something long and black and the puzzle pieces clicked into place. The dread from before surged, and Alexander was filled with sudden, terrible certainty. Washington was in danger. He stepped forward, crossing the stage in three long strides. Washington cut off mid sentence as Alexander approached, frowning at Alexander in confusion. Alexander’s heart pounded in his chest. If he was overreacting, he would gladly take responsibility for his actions, but in the moment all Alexander could think of was getting Washington away from the potential danger without causing a panic. He pushed at Washington’s shoulder. Washington did not budge, and when he saw a sudden movement to the side, Alexander did the only thing he could think of. He stepped in front of Washington and shouted a warning.

The air left Alexander’s lungs in a single breath. He stumbled backward two paces, and it was only then he registered the sound of a gunshot, though it must have come before. Screams filled the air. A trio of security guards surrounded Washington and whisked him away, leaving Alexander alone. The world spun before his eyes. He dropped to his knees and lifted a hand to his chest, just below his seventh rib. Both shirt and skin were torn. Shock kept the worst of the pain at bay, but Alexander could swear he could feel the bullet scrape against bone when he moved.

A sudden blur of movement at his side dragged Alexander’s focus from the damage to his body to his surroundings. Charcoal grey suit, green cufflinks, and Alexander knew those hands. Those were Aaron’s hands. He jerked his head up to check Aaron for injury, but the movement made his head spin. He would have collapsed, but Aaron’s arm was warm and solid around his back. The strength in Alexander’s thighs gave out. The sudden increase in weight forced Aaron to lower him to the ground, but Alexander wasn’t complaining: it was easier to see Aaron from this angle.

“Are you hurt?” he asked. In that moment, Aaron's safety was the only thing that mattered to Alexander. “Please tell me you’re not hurt, I can’t - it’s my fault, all my fault, I never wanted you to be hurt, Aaron, baby, please be okay.”

“It’s alright,” Aaron soothed. He brought one hand to Alexander’s face, cradling his cheek against his palm. Alexander leaned into the touch. He could feel Aaron trembling. “I promise, Alexander. Everything is going to -”

Another gunshot rang through the air. Aaron flinched, and for a moment Alexander was gripped by fear. It was only when Aaron relaxed that he breathed a shaky sigh of relief. Aaron was safe. Nothing else seemed important in that moment. Not the campaign, not their marriage, and certainly not Alexander’s own injuries. He watched Aaron lift Alexander’s hand from his side. Whatever he saw could not have been good: his face fell, and he covered his mouth with one hand. Aaron ripped his suit jacket away from his body, bundling it up and pressing the fabric against Alexander’s wound. Alexander winced. There was the pain he had been missing, radiating hot and unwelcome through every inch of his body.

“Hurts,” he complained. He pushed at Aaron’s wrist, but it seemed to Alexander that Aaron had the strength of ten men. No matter how he pressed, he could not force Aaron to remove the pressure against his wound.

“I know it’s not right, but we need to stop the bleeding. It’s the best we can do until an ambulance gets here,” Aaron told him. His voice was steady, but Alexander could see tears in his eyes. The sight alarmed him more than the sight of his own blood had. Not once had Alexander ever seen Aaron cry. Even with all they had been through, Aaron had always cultivated an impression of control. If he was crying now, it could mean only one thing.

Alexander was dying.

The idea alarmed him more than it would have a year ago. This, Alexander thought, was a good death. In one move, Alexander had protected his friend, saved the campaign and secured his own legacy as a martyr and savior of the soon-to-be-president. It was everything he could have hoped for in a death. Now, though, now the idea frightened him. He had so much left to do, so many people who would not want to see him go. There was Aaron, and Theo, and Alexander felt a tug of guilt in his heart. Aaron had been stupid to ever let Alexander so close to them. He had brought them nothing but stress and fear and pain, and now he was leaving them alone.

“Alexander. Alex, you’re babbling,” Aaron told him. “What do you want?”

What did Alexander want? He blinked up at Aaron, the thought crawling sluggishly through his brain. A tear trickled down Aaron’s cheek. The sight brought clarity, and Alexander realized exactly what he wanted. With great effort, he lifted one trembling hand to touch Aaron’s face. He wiped the tear away with his thumb. A dark smear remained on Aaron’s face, but Alexander was too tired to wonder why his tears had stained red.

“Smile,” Alexander said. “Aaron, please. You’re so pretty when you smile, I want - I want to see that one last time. Wanted to make you smile every day. I wanted.”

If Aaron smiled, Alexander did not see it. A rush of dizziness seized him, the sound wiping out the background noise of reality. The blackness did not fall abruptly, but rather crept in until it was all Alexander knew. And then, nothing.

Chapter Text

The scream left Aaron’s throat before he had processed what was happening.

As soon as Alexander stepped from his side, Aaron had known something was wrong. Time flowed by slow and honey-like, but Aaron was helpless to do anything but watch. There was Alexander, standing in front of Washington. There was a sudden movement in the crowd, and Aaron had a sudden, awful moment of foreboding.

The gunshot froze time. Or, more accurately, it froze Aaron. The difference was not immediately apparent to him, but the understanding came as he saw people running and screaming around him. They were terrified, all of them. A woman was crying. A man was yelling about assassination. They were all panicking, but Aaron could not move. He could not even breathe, until all in a rush it hit him: this was real. The gunshot, the screams, they were all real things, and Aaron was in the middle of it all. He looked back to where Alexander had been standing. Before he knew what he was doing, before he had even realized what he had seen, he started sprinting across the stage. The sensible thing would have been to bolt . It wasn’t until he was on his knees beside Alexander that he realized done the opposite and run towards the commotion for one very good reason. Alexander was hurt. Aaron wrapped an arm around Alexander’s back, ready to support his weight if his knees gave out. It was just as well he did: moments later, Alexander collapsed. Aaron lowered him onto his back slowly, trying his best not to hurt him.

With Alexander lying down, Aaron had a better view of the damage done. A small sound of distress escaped the back of his throat as he ran his eyes over Alexander’s prone form. His face was pale. There was blood on his shirt, Aaron noticed, blood on his shirt and his chest and his hands. Aaron’s head spun. He’d never been affected by blood before, but he’d never seen so much of it at once, not in real life. And it was Alexander’s blood. That made it so much worse.

“Are you hurt?” Alexander asked him, as if he was the one that was bleeding out on the ground. “Please tell me you’re not hurt, I can’t - it’s my fault, all my fault, I never wanted you to be hurt, Aaron, baby, please be okay.”

“It’s alright,” Aaron soothed. It was not alright, not one bit of it, but if he could do nothing else, Aaron could keep Alexander happy and calm. He reached one trembling hand up to tuck a strand of hair behind Alexander’s ear, then caressed his face. All the while, he kept murmuring the same nonsense reassurances. The longer he did so, the more panic started to swell in his chest. Where the hell were the paramedics? There should be people swarming over them right now, trying to help Alexander, but instead, there was only him.

There was only one thing he could do, Aaron realized. If there was no one else to take care of Alexander, then Aaron would have to handle things himself. He was no first responder, but he kept his first aid certificate up-to-date in case Theo (Theo! Thank God she was off trick-or-treating, away from all this and hopefully safe) ever needed it. Never mind that the first rule of first aid was to check for danger. Aaron would not be moved from Alexander’s side so long as he had hope left. Alexander was conscious, and he was breathing, and his heart was beating. Aaron could do this. He could save him. He shrugged his suit jacket up, balling it up and pressing the smoothest part of the fabric against the wound. Pressure to stop the bleeding, and fabric to soak up any blood that seeped past.

“Hurts,” Alexander whined. He repeated himself a few times, pushing ineffectively at Aaron’s wrist. Tears pricked in the corners of Aaron’s eyes, and he choked back a sob. Was that all the strength Alexander could muster? But he could not stop. It was not surprising it hurt, but the words still broke Aaron’s heart. Aaron would give anything not to have to hurt him, but he had to stop the bleeding. When the emotional strain of pushing against the wound grew too much, he tied the jacket as a makeshift bandage around Alexanders torso. He tried to explain what he was doing to Alexander, but Alexander would not or could not listen. He was talking. Of course he was talking, that was what Alexander did. Aaron could barely follow what he was saying, but he clung to each and every word, no matter how nonsensical it was. Talking was good. Talking meant Alexander was awake, and awake meant alive. It wasn’t until Alexander’s words turned to his own mortality that Aaron felt the need to interrupt.

“Alexander. Alex, you’re babbling. What do you want?”

Alexander stared up at Aaron with glazed eyes. The tears Aaron had been holding back built and fell. Could Alexander even understand him? Aaron had no idea. He watched as Alexander lifted his arm and cupped Aaron’s cheek with one bloody hand. He swiped his thumb over Aaron’s cheek, wiping away the tears but leaving behind a streak of blood. Alexander’s hand trembled as he moved it across the planes of Aaron’s face, tracing his fingers over Aaron’s lips.

“Smile,” Alexander said. “Aaron, please. You’re so pretty when you smile, I want - I want to see that one last time. Wanted to make you smile every day. I wanted.”

Aaron tried. God help him, he tried to smile, but Alexander had asked him for the one thing he couldn’t do. Alexander’s hand slipped from his face. In a panic, Aaron caught it and pressed his cheek against Alexander’s palm, waiting for his fingers to press back against his skin. Instead, Alexander’s hand stayed limp and lifeless. Aaron whimpered and turned his head to press a kiss to Alexander’s palm.

Still Alexander did not move.

His head fell to the side, and his eyes were shut. Aaron dropped his hand and reached out to touch Alexander’s face, his eyes wide with horror.

“Please. Please, Alexander, I can’t lose you, too. Don’t leave me. Please.”

No matter how Aaron pleaded, Alexander did not move or wake. Aaron did not know how long he spent there on his knees, begging and praying and openly sobbing. He did not move until he was forced. A security guard at least twice his size pulled him from the stage. Distantly, Aaron wondered if he should struggle and fight to get back to Alexander. Leaving Alexander’s side seemed wrong, even if there was nothing he could do. By the time he resolved to do so, he had already been ushered off the stage and halfway towards the nearest building. The next thing he knew, he was being unceremoniously shoved through the door. He stumbled and looked around.

What had been a haunted house had been turned into a place of refuge. The once-dark rooms were lit with large floodlights, and many of the alarming or frightening decorations had been taken down. One room held a desk: that room had been set aside for Washington and his team. Aaron staggered through in a daze. All eyes turned to look at him.

“Jesus Christ, Aaron, you’re covered in blood.”

Aaron tried to speak, but his lips were too dry. His tongue darted out to wet them, and he tasted the coppery tang of blood. Alexander’s blood. Blood from Alexander, who was bleeding out and still and dead and Aaron had just left him, he -

An arm wrapped around Aaron’s shoulders, and he found himself being pulled into a hug. He did not bother to look up and see who it was. From the height and slight tang of tobacco, it could only be Thomas, but more to the point, it didn’t matter. None of it did, not as far as Aaron was concerned. He let out a choked sob.

“There, there. I’m sure the arrogant little prick is all right, he won’t have stuck around long.”

“He’s,” Aaron said, but his voice broke. He tried again. “Alexander, he’s - I couldn’t, I’m not a paramedic, there was so much blood.”

There was a sharp intake of breath across the room. The hand patting his back stopped. “He’s dead?”

Aaron swallowed heavily. He thought of the blood staining his hands and the dreadful stillness and silence. The words would not come, but Aaron knew what he had seen. He nodded. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Washington leave the room. For a few moments, Aaron felt an overwhelming surge of rage and horror as his mind turned to cast blame on Washington. This would not have happened if not for him: he was the reason Alexander was dead. The thought was gone as quickly as it came. There was too much there for Aaron to process, so he didn’t. He cut himself off from the vast depths of his grief and disconnected from reality.

What happened after that, Aaron didn’t know. He faded out entirely. The world was empty, and none of the slow mournful movements around him meant anything. Someone encouraged him to sit down, so he sat. He felt a damp cloth being pressed to his forehead, and someone wiped the blood from his face. Aaron supposed he should be grateful for that, although he could not muster the will to do so.

A familiar voice roused him from his stupor.

“Let go of me! I don’t care if you do work for the president, I want to see my dads!”

Theo. Aaron bolted in the direction of her voice. He must have looked quite alarming when he burst in, as the other children recoiled in horror. It might have had something to do with the blood still staining his shirt, or perhaps the wild look in his eyes.

Even if the other children were frightened, Theodosia was not. She gave a shout and dashed to his side. They met in the middle of the corridor, Aaron dropping to his knees so they were the same height. He hugged her close, relieved to finally have Theodosia safe in his arms.

“Are you hurt?”

Theodosia shook her head. “We didn’t know anything was wrong until we got back and they brought us here and no one would say what was wrong and I couldn’t find you. Why weren’t you and Alex texting me back? You always text me back.”

Aaron nearly laughed. He was covered in blood and his husband was dead, but at least he had this. Theodosia was fine. She was frightened, yes, but she was unhurt, she was safe, and she was by his side. There would be no more loss today. He stared at his daughter, making sure to re-memorize every last inch of her precious face. God, if he’d lost her too, he didn’t know what he would have done. When he did not reply, Theodosia’s face grew worried.

“Dad? Dad, where’s Alex?”

The words echoed in Aaron’s mind. His hand started to shake. It took him a few tries to speak, and when he did, his voice was unsteady and rough. “Alexander, he... he’s gone. I couldn’t save him.”

Theodosia stared at him. Her lower lip trembled, and her eyes were wide with disbelief and horror. “No. No, that’s not true. Alex can’t die, he’s not allowed to die.”

When Aaron gave no response, Theodosia let out a scream of frustration and shoved him. He moved easily with the force, swaying lightly on the spot. When Aaron did not scold her or retract his words, she threw herself against his chest, openly sobbing. Aaron wrapped his arms around her, driven by pure instinct. He said nothing. What could he say? Once again, a vital part of their small family had been torn from them. Once again, they were alone. Aaron was alone.

The two of them sat in the corridor for some time. Theodosia cried and cried until she had no tears left, but Aaron could not even find the will to weep. He sat with his back to the wall, staring into space. Alexander was gone. He had seen it with his own eyes, but Aaron still had trouble believing it. Aaron had yet to meet a single person so loud, so passionate, so alive as Alexander. No matter how he tried, he could not comprehend the idea of that bright spark being gone.

After a while, Aaron coaxed Theodosia to her feet and started to walk around the house. She clung to his side, silent now but for the occasional sniffle. News started to trickle through. It had been an assassination attempt, targeting Washington. Once it became clear it had failed, the assassin had tried to escape. No one knew if he had been arrested or if he had escaped, but after three hours they were allowed outside once more. Aaron staggered out into the moonlight and walked up to the nearest person in uniform. He may not have been able to help Alexander, but he could at least say his goodbyes before returning to the dreadfully empty hotel room that awaited him. Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes. No matter how hard he tried, he could not forget how still and silent Alexander had been.

“Excuse me, do you know where they took Alexander? My husband?”

The woman looked at him with pity, but not as much pity as Aaron thought he deserved. “Surprised no one told you already. Ambulance left a couple of hours ago.”

Aaron’s heart skipped a beat. “Ambulance.”

“He was the first one they took once the paramedics were able to get through. I don’t know anything else.”

Aaron nodded and thanked the woman for her time. He walked at a very deliberate and steady pace to the edge of the park. As calm and unfazed as he seemed, he could feel a scream building inside his chest. Ambulance. Paramedics. That meant healthcare, a hospital - that meant there might be hope. Beside him, Theodosia squeezed his hand.

“He’s not answering his texts,” she told him. “But the doctors might not let him, right? You could be wrong!”

When he looked down, Theodosia was staring up at him with wide, hopeful eyes. He took a deep breath. “I might be. I hope I am, but I can't make any promises."

A small army of press and reporters were waiting at the park gate, but Aaron walked through in a daze and flagged down the first cab he saw that was willing to stop for him. He bundled Theodosia into the car and promised the driver a generous tip if she got him to the hospital quickly.

He barely took two steps into the emergency department before a nurse stepped up to him. “Sir, are you able to make it to the triage desk?”

It took Aaron a moment to realize what the problem was. “This isn’t my blood. It’s - they said my husband might be here. Alexander Hamilton. Please, please tell me he’s here.”

The nurse looked a little uncertain, but there was sympathy in her expression. She directed him to take a seat and promised to let him know as soon as possible. Not knowing what else to do, Aaron sat. Theodosia sat next to him, looking around the waiting room with wide eyes. The other people had all natures of maladies from injury to illness. Despite the best efforts of the hospital staff to make triage a less intimidating process, it was no place for a child, much less one as sheltered as Theodosia. If Aaron had had any choice in the matter, they would have waited elsewhere. But the nurse had promised him information about Alexander if they stayed put, so stay they did.

“Mr Hamilton?”

Under different circumstances, Aaron would not have even thought to respond to that name, but anxiety had drilled the name ‘Hamilton’ into his very nerves. His head shot up. The nurse beckoned for him to follow and led the way down the hall to a small room off the main corridor. There was no bed, but several chairs had been pulled together from the waiting room.

“I thought you’d appreciate the privacy. Your husband is currently in surgery. I’m afraid I don’t have any more information for you at the present, but we will keep you updated as we learn more. In the meantime, there are hospital admission forms we need filled in...”

“Of course,” Aaron agreed, although he didn’t understand why he needed to fill in the forms. All that mattered was that Alexander was alive. The idea of surgery unnerved him, but if they were bothering than that then Alexander must have a chance. He accepted the stack of clipboards and sat down, staring at the paperwork in his hands. It was only when he stared at the name at the top of the form he understood. He was Alexander’s husband. That made him Alexander’s legal next of kin, gave him power of medical attorney and responsibility for the bill in the event Alexander did not live to pay it himself. Aaron stared at the forms. There was so much to fill in, and much of it Aaron couldn’t answer.

Start at the beginning, he told himself. Name and profession were already filled in. Aaron knew where Alexander had been born, and Alexander had bragged enough about starting college a year early that it was not too difficult to calculate his age and birth date. For address, Aaron put his own. He put down his own information as emergency contact, too, and as his closest family member. From there on, Aaron was out of his depth. Was Alexander up to date on his vaccinations? He was intelligent enough to know he should be up to date, and irresponsible and careless enough to forget to do anything about it. His medical history was worse: Aaron had no idea if Alexander had any chronic conditions, what his family history was or if he had any medical allergies. Frustration and anger started to build in his chest. This wasn’t meant to be his job. Nothing was going the way it was meant to. If he’d known what a tangled mess of emotions and medicine he was getting into, he never would have agreed to marry him.

Two men in suits entered the room. They did not acknowledge Aaron, but they performed a meticulous sweep of the area. After a minute, they exchanged a nod. One left, and the other took up station near the door. Aaron watched in wary confusion, keeping his discontent well hidden. It was just as well he did, as moments later George Washington entered with his security entourage. Aaron got to his feet immediately. Washington looked more drained than Aaron had ever seen, and his mouth was set into a hard line.

“Sir.”

“Burr. What are you doing here?”

Of all the responses Aaron had been anticipating, that hadn’t been one of them. He couldn’t entirely keep the reproach from his voice when he said, “Alexander is my husband, sir. Where else should I be?”

They stared each other down. After a few moments, Aaron broke. He held out the clipboard and pen imploringly. “They gave me these forms. Alexander and I never talked about his health, we thought...”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Washington agreed. Aaron could feel himself being watched as he returned to his seat. With nothing else to do, he sat and stared at the wall in front of him. Theodosia leaned against him with a yawn. By her standards, it must seem very late. Aaron fet a little stab of guilt at the thought. Neither of them could leave until they knew if Alexander was safe, and Aaron suspected they would be staying very late indeed.

Between the two of them, they managed to convincingly fill in Alexander’s medical history. Aaron returned it to the nurse with a charming smile and asked if there was any news.

“Not yet, I’m afraid,” he was told, for what felt like the hundredth time. “I’ll let you know as soon as we hear anything.”

Every hour, they asked once more for news. Through some unspoken agreement, Washington and Aaron took turns in approaching the harried looking staff, each playing a different angle: Washington the stern figure of authority, Aaron the worried husband. Neither of them had any success. It was not until nearly one in the morning that word came, with one major complication.

“Mr Hamilton, if you and your daughter would like to come with me, we can give you an update on Mr Hamilton’s status.”

Before Aaron could get more than two steps, he remembered the reason for the security team surrounding them. Washington may not trust him, but that didn’t mean he didn’t care about Alexander. “Isn’t this something we can discuss here?”

“I’m sorry. Medical information is a privilege for families only,” the nurse said pointedly. Aaron risked a glance at Washington. Rage clouded his expression. Whether the anger was directed at him or the nurse, Aaron didn’t know. He did not linger to find out. That would take time, and Aaron cared about nothing but news of Alexander. If Washington still thought their marriage was a fraud, there would be nothing Aaron could say to convince him otherwise. If that was the case, he would see Aaron’s willingness to listen to Alexander’s private medical information as intrusive at best. The thought did not induce the anxiety it normally might have. Washington’s opinion of him was outside of his control and irrelevant to the current situation. All Aaron cared about was finding out if Alexander was okay.

Theodosia did not stir when he shook her shoulder, so he lifted her up in his arms and carried her through to the consultation room. The effort made his legs shake, but he managed it. He did not sit in the chair beside her. For once in his life, Aaron could not stay still. He stood by the door and waited for the doctor to arrive.

The doctor turned out to be a tall woman with steel grey hair. She did not smile at him, but the professional nod she gave him did more to settle Aaron’s nerves than warmth and kindness ever could have. There was something about her that radiated competence.

“Mr Hamilton. I’m aware you’ve had a distressing evening. Before we begin, is there anything we can do for you?”

Aaron shook his head. “I’d appreciate it if we could get to the point. Alexander.”

The rest of the sentence stuck in his throat. No matter how he tried, he could not bring himself to ask if Alexander was dead. Even asking if he would recover marched too close to that line, and Aaron felt his throat close up. No. He could not say it aloud.

“Mr Hamilton is in a serious condition, but his vital signs are stable.”

The world shuddered in front of Aaron’s eyes. It took him a moment to realize his knees had given out in sheer relief. Alexander was alive. He caught himself against the wall and leaned back against it as he caught his breath.

“He’s going to be okay?”

“He’s lost a lot of blood,” the doctor said. Her tone was gentle, too gentle to set Aaron at ease. “We weren’t able to get through until over thirty minutes after the incident. He went a long time without any medical care. Even though no major organs were hit, I can’t guarantee there won’t be any complications.”

Aaron’s chest felt tight. Of course Alexander had lost a lot of blood: Aaron had seen exactly how much he had been bleeding. Aaron was still covered in the stuff. He blinked back tears that appeared in the corners of his eyes. Would it be different, he wondered, if he had stayed? If Aaron had fought to stay at Alexander’s side, he might have been able to do something - anything - to help. The doctor continued:

“If we’re lucky, he’ll make a full recovery. We’ve stopped the bleeding, and I’m hopeful no further surgery will be needed. He’s currently receiving blood transfusions to replace what he lost. If all goes as planned, he should wake up within the next 24 hours. But we can’t discount the possibility that there could be ongoing or undetected complications from the blood loss. We won’t know until we’ve stabilized his fluid levels.”

“Can I see him?”

“I’m sorry. We can’t let you see him tonight, but by morning we expect to move him to a private room. You’ll be allowed in during visiting hours. Even if he is awake, I must warn you: your husband will be on strong medication. He won’t be himself.”

“But I’ll be able to see him,” Aaron insisted. The doctor nodded.

“You will. For now, I’d encourage you to go home and get some rest.”

It was a dismissal, clear as daylight. Aaron nodded and collected Theodosia once again. On his way out, he stopped by the waiting room to speak to Washington, but the man was gone. There was something about that that worried him, but he was too tired to place his finger on what. He carried Theodosia down to the taxi rank and settled her in the back of the cab. Soon, he thought mournfully, soon she would be too big for him to do this, and he would have to wake her. But for now, he was able to carry her from the hospital to the cab without too much difficulty. She woke on the way home, looking around with wide, anxious eyes.

“Alex?”

“Still in hospital,” Aaron soothed, stroking her hair and smoothing down any bits of frizz he could see. “He’s resting after the surgery. We can visit him tomorrow.”

Judging from Theodosia’s grumpy expression, she was no happier about the situation than he was. He smiled for her, trying to be the reassuring and calm father figure she deserved. Theodosia said nothing, but cuddled up by his side. There was nothing either of them could say. There was nothing that would comfort her short of Alexander’s presence, and no matter how hard he may pretend otherwise, she would know perfectly well how worried Aaron was. She had always been too perceptive for her own good. But there was nothing either of them could do to help the situation.

All they could do was wait.

Chapter Text

Aaron barely made it two steps into the hotel lobby before he was stopped by a hotel employee. “Mr Burr, sir, I’m sorry about what happened. I don’t like to to interrupt, but you have several missed calls that asked to pass along their details.”

Missed calls. Of course. Aaron pulled his phone out of his pocket and swiped it open with his thumb. He felt something throb in his skull at the sight of all the missed messages and calls. Jon, Laurens, Mulligan, Lafayette, Maria, Eliza - his phone only recognized half the numbers that had tried to contact him. Aaron had ignored them all. He felt a little twinge of guilt, but before he could do anything about it, Theodosia tugged impatiently on his hand. “Dad, please. I’m tired.”

The others would have to wait. A corner of Aaron’s brain switched off as he moved into autopilot. Regardless of how he felt, taking care of Theodosia had to be his first priority. It took only a few minutes to get Theodosia ready for bed, although both of them stalled before turning out the light. It was not until she burst into tears that he realized how badly he had read her mood. Tired she may be, Theodosia was in no condition to sleep.

Despite his own exhaustion, Aaron sat her down with a cup of cocoa and started the arduous process of working through her emotions in their usual way. It was a difficult task. For the first time in years, he entered the process with deceit in his heart: he could not begin to acknowledge (let alone confess to) the tempest of emotions he had sealed away. If he did, he would be overwhelmed. He suspected Theodosia knew he was faking, but she did not call him out on it. She let him coax her through her feelings, until finally she admitted the problem.

“I’m scared to be alone. I left and then Alex was hurt. What if I wake up tomorrow and you’re gone, too? Can I sleep in your bed? Just for tonight? So you’ll be safe.”

It had been over three years since Theodosia had stopped coming through to him in the night. Under ordinary circumstances Aaron would have been worried by the request, but these were not ordinary circumstances. He nodded. The look Theodosia gave him in response was not a smile, but he suspected it was the closest she could manage to one at the moment. It was enough to reassure him he had made the right decision. For the second time that night, they went through her bedtime ritual. She brushed her teeth again, and when she was done he tucked her in to Alexander’s side of the bed. It was only when she had fallen asleep that he allowed himself a moment to weep. Theodosia was safe. Aaron had inherited enough of his grandparents faith to thank God for that, but he was not able to shake feeling that it should not be something he had to be thankful for. There was no situation in which he should have to fear for Theodosia’s safety. The gratitude faded, leaving only hollow rage.

It was several minutes before he could pull himself together. When he had himself under control once more, he got to his feet and returned to the living space. He had work to do. He intended to start calling Alexander’s friends immediately, but Aaron hesitated at the last minute. Instead of his original plan, he found himself tapping on the ‘video chat’ icon and calling Jon Bellamy. He would deal with the others soon, he promised himself, but for now he was badly in need of a familiar face.

“Aaron, thank God, you - you’re covered in blood.”

Aaron stared at his friend. It took longer than it should have to parse those words, and when he did, he managed only a very flat response. “Yes. I am.”

“Yes,” Jon said slowly, looking at Aaron in concern. “Are you okay? Do you need to see a doctor?”

That explained the fear on Jon’s face. It should have been obvious to Aaron that Jon would be worried, but his mind still felt slow and clumsy. Aaron shook his head and explained as best he could. “Not my blood. I’m not injured. Alexander...”

“I saw the news. Are you alright?”

Aaron thought about that for a second. He shook his head again. On the other end of the line, Jon sighed and nodded. “Okay. Here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to shower. Take your time. Clean yourself up, put on some clean pyjamas and make yourself some tea. Take care of yourself. Do whatever you need to do, but call me one more time before you go to bed. Can you do that, Aaron?”

This time, Aaron nodded. He was beyond being in a position to judge the suggestions on their own merit, but he would follow them anyway. The words sounded reasonable, and he trusted Jon’s advice. They had steered each other through tragedies before. At this point in the night, it made more sense to listen to him than to not.

Without another word, Aaron ended the call and stumbled through to the bedroom. Two suitcases sat at the foot of the bed: his own, neatly zipped and locked, and Alexander’s, with the lid half open and a pair of purple boxers spilling out the side. Aaron swallowed heavily and looked away. Thinking about Alexander would only upset him, so he marched straight into the ensuite bathroom and slammed the door behind him. Shower. He couldn’t change what had happened. He couldn’t heal Alexander. But he could clean the blood and sweat from his skin, so that was what he would do. Aaron’s movements were deliberate and methodical as he stripped and dumped his clothes in a pile in the corner. He turned the water on hot, hotter even than Alexander always left it. It was enough to burn his skin and send steam cascading into the air, but Aaron reveled in the burn. It was something present. It demanded his mind catch up with the now instead of dragging behind. For a few minutes, he stood under the blistering heat and stared at the wall.

After five minutes, Aaron realized he was crying.

He brought his hand to his mouth, his breath coming through in great wheezing gasps. The clean white tile of the shower gleamed in front of him, but at the same time he could see Alexander falling to the ground in front of him. He got flashes of terrified faces and slippery blood staining Alexander’s new navy suit. The coppery tang of blood lingered in his mouth and he could hear the screams over the sound of the shower. Aaron knew perfectly well where he was. He was in his hotel room, safe and far removed from the horrors earlier that night. But that did not stop the images from coming one after another in an endless torrent. It was not until he slipped and sent bottles of shampoo and body wash clattering to the ground that he came back to himself. He flinched at the great noise, then proceeded to wash himself thoroughly with his favourite soap. When that did not cleanse the smell of blood from his skin, he tried Alexander’s soap, and the soap provided by the hotel. It took five washings before he was satisfied with his cleanliness. His skin felt raw and painful, but at least he was clean.

Once he was dried and dressed, Aaron had to admit Jon was right: he did feel better. That was not to say he felt good. The mere thought of Alexander in hospital was enough to make his heart ache. But the boiling hot water had burned away the horrible urgency that had dogged him all evening. A clean set of pyjamas helped even more. There was still a chill to the night, so he reached without thought for his favourite grey jumper. At the last second, he hesitated. He knew exactly how comfortable his jumper would be, fresh and soft from the laundry. Instead, Aaron went against his better judgement and caved to the need for a different kind of comfort. He flipped the lid on Alexander’s suitcase open and pulled out the verdant green jumper he had borrowed once before. Objectively, it was not as nice as his own. The fabric was rough and scratchy around the sleeves, and Aaron knew better than to think it had been washed since the last time he’d had his hands on it. The smell of coffee and old sweat should have revolted him. Under better circumstances it would have, but for now it only seemed deeply comforting.

Once he had made a cup of tea as instructed, and started making calls. Laurens first, he told himself. His hands shook as he scrolled through the list of contacts on his phone and hit call. Laurens picked up on the second ring.

“Burr, thank fuck, Alex isn’t picking up his phone. We saw what happened online, but we can’t find out what happened after the first shot.”

For a moment, the words stuck in Aaron’s throat. He teetered on the precipice of a breakdown. He had thought he was prepared for this, but now that he faced it, he realized how difficult his task would be. Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes. The back of his throat burned hot and prickly, and he could feel his breath catching in his chest. Despite this, Aaron forced himself to take a deep breath and exhale slowly. He could do this. He had to do this.

“Alexander is in hospital. He’s okay, for now, but they wouldn’t let me see him.”

“Shit,” Laurens said. “Fuck, that’s not good. How bad is it?”

“I don’t know,” Aaron said. He kept his voice level and calm, but he could feel the panic of helplessness start to claw inside his chest again. “He’s had surgery, I think. They might let me know more tomorrow.”

It took nearly thirty minutes to answer all of Laurens questions. Aaron lost count of how many times he was forced to say ‘I don’t know’. It was only when the intense questioning had come to an end that a temporary silence settled over the two of them. After a pause, Laurens said,

“He loves you, you know.”

A sob caught in Aaron’s throat. “I know. He told me.” A spike of panic, and he added, “Every day.”

“He told me too, Burr. He told me why he proposed, and what was at stake. All of it.”

“Oh.”

After all the fuss Alexander had made about keeping it secret, it felt strange to think that Laurens knew. Aaron was not sure if he felt like things had collapsed beneath him, or if a great weight had been taken off his shoulders. Maybe both. He had not told a single soul, even when the weight had crushed his heart. It felt unjust that Alexander had been able to turn to someone; yet, at the same time, there was some relief in the thought that Laurens knew the truth. For at least this one call, he did not have to lie. But before he could feel relief, Laurens continued.

“Burr, he told me all that, and he told me he loved you. I don’t know if he pulled his head out of his ass and admitted it, but he wanted to. Wants to. Fuck.”

“He told me. It’s mutual.”

Though his voice was as level as ever, the words tasted cold and bitter in Aaron’s mouth. This felt wrong. It should have been Alexander he said that to, and the thought made his heart clench. He’d never said it to Alexander. If he didn’t get the chance now, Aaron would never forgive himself.

On the other end of the line, he heard a sharp intake of breath. “That’s good to hear. Listen, if you or Alex need anything, you can call me. I know you’ve got your own friends, but if you can’t talk to them for whatever reason - Alex would want me to help you.”

“It’s appreciated,” Aaron said. “The same goes for you.”

“Right, right. Have you told anyone else what happened yet?”

Aaron hadn’t. Between the two of them, they sketched out a plan for contacting Alexander’s assorted friends and acquaintances. It was Aaron’s job, but Laurens was determined to help him. They split the list of people down the middle and bid each other good night. Once the call was over, Aaron put the phone down. He picked up his tea and took a slow sip. The television screen was black, but he stared at it anyway to try and force the same emptiness into his mind. Once he had finished his tea, he picked the phone back up and started to call people. His voice was hoarse and rough, but Aaron dutifully answered the same questions time after time. Yes, Alexander was in hospital. No, Aaron didn’t know when he would be released; and yes, of course Aaron would let them know as soon as he had any news.

It took the better part of an hour before Aaron was done. He could feel his head pounding in the threat of a migraine, but he did not dare sleep. Even awake, images of the attack flashed in his mind whenever he closed his eyes for more than a second. Sleep was too dangerous. Instead, he called Jon a second time.

Judging from his surroundings, Jon had settled in the living room with a cup of tea of his own. The scene calmed Aaron’s nerves. The small room seemed like an island of normalcy in a world which was spiralling out of Aaron’s control, and it was soothing to know that somewhere was safe and normal. After greeting him, Jon sat and waited in silence. He knew Aaron well enough to know he would speak in his own time, and Aaron was grateful not to be pushed. After five full minutes without speech, Aaron checked what application he was using to call his friend. It was a secure line, maintained and encrypted by Washington’s data security team. He could speak freely, then. In a small voice, he admitted,

“I never told him I love him.”

Jon gave him a sideways look. “Normally that’s implicit when you marry someone, but we both know my thoughts on that.”

Aaron swallowed heavily. Jon had been suspicious of Alexander since the day they had met, and Aaron could not blame him. He knew Aaron too well to be fooled by their lies. Countless times, he had offered Aaron whatever support was needed if he needed to flee Alexander. It had always annoyed Aaron, although he could not fault Jon’s motives. But Jon was one of the few people Aaron was in the habit of being honest with. Lying to him had felt wrong. It had been a wise decision, and a part of Aaron knew he should keep lying. But if Laurens knew, Aaron was not going to tear himself to pieces lying to Jon.

“He wasn’t blackmailing me or threatening me. I was doing him a favour. Alexander needed to marry a U.S. citizen. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“So why did you say ‘yes’?” Jon prompted. The news that the marriage was a scam did not seem to phase him. Aaron wondered if that was because he had suspected it already, or perhaps he didn’t care. Jon’s priority would be ensuring Aaron was content with the situation. If Aaron had been happy to do it, Jon wouldn’t care how many laws he had broken.

“I told him I didn’t want his scandals to sink the campaign. If Washington loses this election, the results would be disastrous.”

“And the truth?”

That much, Aaron knew the answer to. The smile slid onto his face without conscious thought, and he spread his hands wide. “Why not? You’ve seen how much my network has grown these past few months. Those connections will prove invaluable if I do follow my plan to become a senator. Not to mention Alexander is an influential man - both in his own right, and in his influence over Washington. Between Alexander and my other contacts, I have influence over the most powerful voices in Washington’s planned cabinet.”

Despite Aaron’s sly smile and confident words, Jon did not look remotely impressed. He raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. “Out with it, Aaron. I know you better than to fall for that bit.”

Aaron’s smile faded. He hung his head and stared at the ground, his cheeks burning with embarrassment. Of course Jon would see right through him. His mouth felt dry, and it took a few moments for him to get the words out. “He was in trouble. I do not know what he would have done if I had not helped him, and Alexander is my friend. He has always been my friend.”

Aaron did not have many friends. He had instead a wide range of acquaintances who likely thought of him as a friend, and whom he enjoyed the company of. He was fond of those acquaintances. He was genuinely glad to see them when they met, and he would introduce them as friends to each other, but he knew better. They were a convenience. As soon as circumstances rendered the relationship difficult, they would drift apart. There did not even need to be a serious rift between them: simply moving interstate could be enough. It had been enough, for some of them. The people Aaron could rely on as true friends were few and far between. He had Jon, and in more recent years he had Maria. And, to his eternal bemusement, he had Alexander.

He had expected Alexander to be like the others. They had been close in college despite their differences. Aaron had enjoyed his company and their spirited debates enough that he had felt genuine regret when he graduated. He moved on with the next stage of his life and expected that to be the end of it. It had been the end of the rest of his college friendships: apart from the occasional ‘Happy Birthday’ or similar platitudes, he had never heard from the rest of them since. Alexander had been different. They had maintained contact not just through graduation, but through everything life had thrown at them. Even moving overseas for Theodosia’s career had not stopped Alexander from calling him to debate on some minor policy issue. Despite everything, they had stayed in regular contact. It did not look like any friendship Aaron had ever heard of before: there was too much rivalry and fighting for that. But it had been a friendship, and that was something Aaron did not take lightly.

The sound of Jon’s sigh made him wince. “Of course that’s the part that embarrasses you, you absolute - “

Whatever insult was on the tip of his tongue was cut off, likely in deference to the seriousness of the situation. “You helped a friend when he was in trouble. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“And then I fell in love with him,” Aaron said miserably. “And I never told him. I told him to wait, give me time to think - I worried about consequences. What if I don’t get a chance to tell him?”

“You told me once he was smart. If you’re right, he’ll know.” At Aaron’s skeptical look, Jon laughed. “You’re not as enigmatic as you think, Aaron. I haven’t seen the two of you together for months, but I know you. If you really have been pining over him, it will have been obvious.”

Until that moment, Aaron had not known it was possible to feel both relief and crushing embarrassment at the same time. The more he thought about it, the more plausible Jon’s argument sounded. He had relished every excuse he had to touch Alexander, and he had been caught staring one too many times for his liking. Even worse, Aaron strongly suspected Alexander had learnt to see past his careful control and gain some measure of understanding as to Aaron’s true feelings. And, of course, when Alexander had raised the idea of a relationship, Aaron had tried to figure out how to make a relationship work. He had put hours into the task. He had not gone to bed before three in the morning for a week, trying to recast his plans for his career and Theodosia’s education around a life based in D.C. He had agonized over it, determined that when he told Alexander ‘yes’, he would be able to stand by it. Alexander was no idiot. There was only one motive Aaron could have for the level of effort he had put into their relationship. It was, in all likelihood, painfully obvious how infatuated with Alexander he was. Despite the relief, he grimaced as he said,

“Thanks. I think.”

“Any time, Aaron,” Jon said. The teasing note in Jon’s voice reassured him. If Jon was teasing him, he must be sounding more normal. “Now, how are you feeling? What do you need?”

“I should try to sleep,” Aaron admitted, very reluctantly. He did not want to sleep. He drained the last of his tea and set the mug down. “I still can’t believe what happened.”

“Neither can I.”

Aaron felt an irrational flash of anger and annoyance at Jon’s words. Jon would have been watching the event on television, or maybe seen the news online. Didn’t he understand Aaron had been right there? Right in the middle of the blood and the screams and the awful patch of red spreading over Alexander’s white shirt, and -

He heard Jon’s voice coming through the phone. “Hey. Hey, still with me?”

Aaron swallowed heavily and blinked the sudden tears away. He nodded and got to his feet. He was tired, that was all. A good night of sleep would banish these nightmares from his mind. Jon bid him goodnight and disconnected the call, leaving him alone with the luxurious king-sized bed and his daughter. It seemed chill and empty without Alexander’s heat, but Aaron made himself as comfortable as he could in spite of the painful absence. Bundled up with the blankets wrapped around him, he could almost pretend the warmth was from his husband, and not his own heat radiated back by the duvet.

Despite the odds, exhaustion won out over stress or loneliness, and Aaron was blessed with a dreamless sleep. He woke the next morning with a jolt. Memories flooded him before he even fully regained consciousness, and Aaron let out a low groan. He wanted nothing more than to bury under the covers and return to sleep, but he was used to denying himself such things. Instead, he pulled himself out of bed and hoped what the day would bring was worth it.

Chapter Text

Alexander was cold.

He was cold, and in pain, neither of which he liked. He was shrouded in darkness, but he could not escape the lingering feeling that there was a bright light just beyond, if only he could reach it.

At 4:49 AM in the morning, he did.

The brightness swam into focus as a fluorescent light in a white room. Alexander stared at the ceiling in confusion. He was in a single bed in a white room with a fluorescent light. Why was that surprising? The answers came in a rush. He was alive: that was the first point of surprise. He remembered the rally, and the bullet, and Aaron’s unsmiling face. The memories should have alarmed him, but the hazy fog blanketing his brain kept his fear in check. That would be the painkillers, he guessed. Not enough to stop the pain, but enough to keep him still and quiet. Typical hospitals.

He looked around, searching for more clues. He was in a private room, although he could see the nurses’ station through the open doorway. There was medical equipment surrounding him, and even at his best Alexander would have no idea what half of it was for. There was an IV drip in his left arm, and Alexander shuddered at the sight. He hated hospitals. That alone would have been enough to send him into a foul mood, but as he looked around, there was something even worse.

He was alone.

Ridiculous as it was, Alexander felt tears stinging in the corners of his eyes. He’d thought - well, it didn’t matter what he’d thought. He was alone, and that was all there was to it. The emptiness of the room spoke volumes. They may not have talked, but Alexander now had Aaron’s answer. It was a ‘no’. There was no doubt in Alexander’s mind, and the despair haunted him as he fell back asleep.

The second time Alexander woke, it was to the sound of raised voices and his own name.

“Mr Hamilton, please, calm down, or I’ll have to call in a code grey.”

Alexander groaned a weak protest. He was not even conscious, he wanted to argue: how could they possibly claim he wasn’t calm? Before he had a chance to point this out, a voice that was not his own replied.

“I am calm. I just want to see my husband. Please, I haven’t seen him since last night, I need to know if he’s - if he’s safe.”

There was no way it was possible, but - Alexander knew that voice. He opened his eyes. Surely Aaron hadn’t responded to ‘Mr Hamilton’ without complaint. It was a long-standing joke between them: neither of their names suited the other, and both insisted on their proper names whenever the other came up. Before Alexander had too long to wonder, another familiar voice piped up.

“Alex? Alex!”

Alexander sat upright, or as upright as he could manage. He did so just in time to see Theodosia bolting across the hospital floor at breakneck speed. She showed little regard for the hospital staff, dodging and weaving with little grace but much determination. She was unharmed, he was pleased to see: exhausted, yes, but he could not see so much as a bruise on her skin. She did not say anything when she reached him, but instead climbed up onto the bed beside him. Looking out the door, he could see Aaron standing by the nurses station. Alexander grinned and beckoned him over. Aaron walked as if in a trance, completely ignoring anyone who spoke to him. As gratifying as it was to have that kind of effect on the man, Alexander grew more and more uncomfortable the closer Aaron got. Given the number of times he had told Alexander off for bad posture, the slump to Aaron’s shoulders was terrifying - to say nothing of the deep bags under his eyes. There was a note of wonder in his voice when he said,

“Alexander. You’re alive.”

“You look like shit,” Alexander said, never one to beat around the bush. Aaron stared at him for a moment before laughing.

“Of course the first thing you do is insult me.”

“I’m serious, you look like you’ve aged ten years. I’d worry you had if Theo wasn’t here.”

“It’s only been one night,” Aaron assured him. There was no chair in the room, so Aaron perched on the edge of the bed and took Alexander’s hand in his own. Alexander looked down at their joined hands. There must be nurses watching, he surmised. It was the only explanation he could think of to explain Aaron’s behaviour. He rubbed his thumb over Alexander’s hand, staring at him like he couldn’t quite believe his eyes. Maybe, Alexander thought, maybe he was hallucinating from the painkillers. That would explain why the word still seemed hazy and unfocused.

“Are you a dream? I’m hallucinating, aren’t I?”

“I’m real,” Aaron said. His smile grew, warm and fond and indulgent. It had to be a dream, because Alexander knew that look. He had seen it in college, whenever Aaron had slipped and found himself in love with one of his many partners. He had seen it in photographs of Aaron and his wife, the ones where he looked at Theodosia like she had hung the moon and the stars. He had even imagined it a hundred times aimed at himself. Dream or not, Alexander felt a warm glow settle into his chest. Not only did that expression make him feel adored, it made him feel safe. He did not even panic when he saw the shadow of a stranger in the doorway. At first he wondered if Aaron had noticed, as Aaron did not look up to greet them. He reached a hand to Alexander’s face and touched his cheek.

“I love you,” he said.

Alexander closed his eyes, not wanting Aaron to see how much the words hurt. It was a lie. It had to be. Aaron had not been there with him in the night, and he had not said a single thing until they had been joined by a stranger. It was cruel, and Alexander could not begin to fathom why Aaron would do such a thing to him. Their ruse was important, but he could be more delicate than this.

“Visiting hours don’t start until ten,” the figure by the door said. Whether it was a nurse or security guard, Alexander didn’t know, but the man’s voice was terse with disapproval. “It’s six thirty. I understand it’s been a difficult time, so we’re willing to be lenient. If you leave now, we can let it slide.”

“C’mon, Dad. We can come back later when Alex is awake.”

The hand touching his cheek was removed, and warm lips brushed against his forehead. Alexander heard Aaron’s chair scrape against the floor as he stood. The Burrs left, leaving Alexander with more questions than answers. Later, Alexander would have think about what had happened. His memories from Halloween were hazy, and Aaron’s behaviour baffled him. What could have compelled Aaron to make such a blunt declaration? It felt heavy-handed and clumsy. Or perhaps Alexander only thought it had been heavy-handed because he knew it was false. Not only was it false, it was unnecessary. Was an audience really enough to compel such drastic behaviour? There was something there that did not feel right: but Alexander was tired, and before he had time to address any of his questions he had fallen back asleep.

The third time Alexander awoke, it was early afternoon. He was surprised to find Aaron at his side once more. He had pulled a chair up to Alexander’s bedside and set up his laptop on an empty patch of the bed. For a while, Alexander was content to watch. He had been right when he had said Aaron looked terrible. There were deep bags of exhaustion under his eyes, and the horror of what he had seen still lingered in his expression. It was enough to make Alexander’s heart ache. If not for him, Aaron wouldn’t be in this position. Without saying anything, he reached out and touched Aaron’s cheek. Aaron froze at the sudden contact, his eyes moving slowly from his screen to Alexander.

“You left.”

Aaron shook his head. “They kicked me out. It won’t happen again, I promise. Theo just went to speak with a colleague of Eliza’s, but she’ll be back in an hour.”

Eliza, Eliza, what did she have to do with things? Alexander could feel the gears of his mind turning, but no matter how he tried he could gain no traction on the problem.

“A paediatric psychologist,” Aaron said, when it became clear Alexander wasn’t going to reach the correct conclusion himself. His voice broke a little on the words, but he pushed on. “Even if the children were safely away from the scene, last night was traumatic for her.”

“Shit. Right,” Alexander grimaced. He dropped his hand to the bed, breaking eye contact with Aaron. “I didn’t mean to hurt her.”

There was a measure of silence. Alexander wondered if that was a sign Aaron was angry and needed time to calm himself before he spoke. He had a tendency to do that, Alexander knew, to hide messy emotions under a pause. He must be furious. It seemed to take awfully long to Alexander, although in reality it was only a few seconds before Aaron spoke again. He did not sound at all pleased when he did so.

“Tell me you did not just try to take the blame for getting shot.”

“I should’ve realized something sooner, I - “

“It was an attempted assassination, Alexander. That’s not something you can take responsibility for.”

Assassination. Fear rolled in Alexander’s gut. “Washington, is he - ?”

“Unharmed. You were the only casualty.”

There was a new tightness in Aaron’s voice. Alexander watched his eyes flicker down to his chest, where bandages and blood were hidden by the loose hospital gown he wore. He made a point of not looking down himself. Even if there was anything to see beneath the hospital gown, he had no desire to see for himself. Aaron’s eyes flicked back up to meet his own.

“I didn’t think you were going to make it. I couldn’t - there was so much blood,” Aaron whispered. There was something strange about his tone beyond the way his voice cracked part way through his sentence. Alexander looked at him more closely. Now that he looked, he could see it: the slight shake to his hands, the far-off look in his eyes. It was a look Alexander had seen it before, but never in Aaron. He had seen it when Lafayette had been asked one too many questions about his days as a soldier and a spy before becoming a politician; he had seen it when Washington had been caught unprepared by a reminder of his days in the army. If nothing else, Alexander had seen it in the mirror every time a storm had raged outside. Aaron was having a panic attack. Alexander grasped for his hands. The painkillers made his movements clumsy, but that was fine by him. All that mattered was that he made contact as soon as possible.

“Aaron. Aaron, sweetheart, listen to me, it’s okay. I’m okay. We’re in the hospital, and we’re both going to be fine. Look around, tell me what you see.”

“What do I see?” Aaron echoed, blinking dumbly at Alexander. Alexander nodded and squeezed his hands encouragingly. It took Aaron a few moments to gather his thoughts.

“It’s a hospital room, there’s not much to see. Just - walls, a bed. You.” Aaron stared at him for a moment, and the tension in his expression eased. “You’re smiling.”

“You were always telling me to smile more,” Alexander said, and despite the fugue clouding his mind he attempted a charming grin. He expected the expression was rather more lopsided than he would have liked, but it had the desired effect: Aaron’s own face broke into a smile. The expression was weak and uncertain, but it warmed Alexander’s heart. “You’re pretty when you smile.”

“Am I, now?” Aaron asked. The expression twisted into a smirk, and Alexander was surprised to find he liked that even more. Without stopping to think, Alexander launched into a detailed description of all the different ways Aaron was attractive. Despite the IV in his arms, he gestured as freely as usual - here grasping his arms, now stroking his cheek, ending with an appreciative pat to Aaron’s chest. The entire time, Aaron was grinning at him. Every now and then, he let out a small little laugh and ducked his gaze downwards, as if he were embarrassed.

“You don’t think I’m making fun of you, do you?” Alexander asked anxiously.

“I think you’re under the effect of some very strong painkillers, and that I’m never going to let you forget this.”

Maybe it was the morphine talking, but that threat did not sound so dire to Alexander. It implied Aaron intended to stick around long enough for ‘never’ to be a threat, and if the price of that was Alexander’s pride, it was a price he was willing to pay. But the thought brought with it a spike of anxiety. It was foolish to bare his heart like that when he was (in all likelihood) not wanted.

Throughout the morning, they faced the constant rotation of different hospital staff coming to deal with Alexander. Different nurses and doctors came in to check on Alexander’s health, each of them asking a dozen different questions. Aaron listened attentively. He interrogated every doctor and kept notes in a small black notebook. Between visits, he would look up medical terminology on his phone and add definitions to his notes. Alexander considered getting upset at the casual disregard for his privacy, but quickly decided it was too much effort. Even if he wanted to, he was in no state to look out for himself. Knowing Aaron had the doctors under control made it easier to submit to various medical treatments.

As different specialists came in, he and Aaron built up a picture of what had happened. The shot had not hit Alexander straight on. The bullet had entered at an angle, a possible indication that the shot had still been meant for Washington. The idea made Alexander's chest tighten with fear. He dreaded to think of what might have happened if he had not been there to take the shot.

Critically, the angle meant the bullet had not penetrated deep into Alexander’s chest. It had torn a path through skin and muscle before striking and breaking his rib, which had absorbed the worst of the impact. Although the resulting wound was ugly and long, it was the best result they could have hoped for. No major organs had been hit. That itself was a small miracle. If the bullet had travelled at a different angle, or been just a fraction higher or lower, Alexander would have been dead.

When Alexander pointed this out to Aaron, Aaron dropped his notebook. He fumbled twice picking it up, and when he spoke, his voice shook with anger.

“No. You’re alive. The doctors said you’d recover, and I can’t find any reason to distrust them.”

“But it could have - “

“Alexander,” Aaron said curtly. Alexander’s jaw snapped shut. He looked at Aaron, ready to argue, but the words died in his throat. For the first time, it occurred to him that Aaron’s denial may not be a denial of fact. It was because Aaron was not able to face the truth. Halloween must have frightened him more than Alexander had realized. It was a sobering thought, and he wondered if it was the painkillers that took away the edge of fear for himself.

It was not until a member of the administrative team came in that Alexander himself felt a chill of dread. The doctors were content to do their business and leave, but administration meant forms. It meant thinking. It meant paying attention to the fact that he was in hospital and would remain in hospital for the immediate future, and not even the promise of Aaron trying to distract him could make that an appealing prospect.

“We were able to get most of your details from your husband, but it still requires your approval. Here’s the paperwork for your medical history, religious and cultural preferences, personal details and finances.”

Finances. A numb kind of terror spread through Alexander at the very word. It was strange, he thought, standing in front of Washington had not frightened him one bit, but the mention of medical bills was enough to make the blood drain from his face. He accepted the paperwork, but he could not help but wonder what he was supposed to do. He couldn’t afford this. It was not that Alexander was poor. His salary was more than comfortable and his savings were not insignificant. Many of his friends were well off and would be willing to help, but that required Alexander admitting he needed help. Regardless of the help available, Alexander could not help but worry. He also knew how expensive medical treatment could be, and he did not dare think the basic coverage he had insisted on (“why would I need anything else?” he had said, and invested the savings in stocks) would cover half of the costs. He felt his heart rate accelerate. Not only would this destroy his own finances, what would it do the Burrs? Their marriage had tied their finances together. Aaron was rich, but he was not a billionaire. Most of his money was tied up in land or Theodosia’s trust fund. If they had to touch that - no, the very idea was unthinkable.

Aaron’s hand touching his own startled Alexander out of his thoughts. He had been staring at the paperwork for a full minute, frozen in horror. Aaron’s thumb rubbed a soothing pattern over the back of Alexander’s hand. “What’s wrong?”

“Insurance,” Alexander croaked out. “I don’t - I just got basic - I fucked up.”

The thumb stopped moving against his skin. Alexander risked a peek at Aaron’s face, expecting to see his expression overcome with wrath. At very least, he expected that careful mask of control Aaron always fell back on in times of difficulty. Instead, Aaron was smiling. Genuinely smiling, warm and indulgent, like Alexander had said something silly. Before Alexander could ask why, Aaron squeezed his hand.

“You really weren’t listening to those negotiations before the wedding, were you?”

“What negotiations?”

Aaron laughed. “The day you introduced me to Washington. He and I talked about a lot of things - my intentions, what safeguards you and I had discussed, where to buy a ring. And practical details, like legal issues. And your health insurance.”

Alexander remembered the conversation in question, although not what had been said. He had been too distracted by his own anxieties to listen to a single word of it.

“I wasn’t willing to take on the financial risk of marrying someone without coverage,” Aaron continued. “And having two separate policies seemed cumbersome. The necessary forms were in the documents you signed that day - you must not have read them properly. We’re on the same family policy, Alexander.”

The flood of relief that came from those words was enough to make Alexander’s head spin. Aaron went on to explain the benefits in detail, but Alexander knew he didn’t need to listen to his words. Aaron was a cautious man, and fiercely protective of his family. He would have insisted on the highest quality of coverage available. There was likely no medical service Alexander could request that would not be covered, and the excess payment may even be a reasonable value. This injury would not bankrupt him.

“You’re doing it again, aren’t you?”

“Doing what?” Alexander asked, trying not to look guilty.

“Not listening,” Aaron said, but he squeezed Alexander’s hand. The look on Alexander’s face grew more sheepish by the moment as he realized he had been caught. At very least, Aaron did not seem angry at him. He smiled at Alexander and tapped the page. “Just sign here. I’ll take care of everything.”

Still, Alexander hesitated for a moment. He could almost hear his friends urging caution. A vision flashed before his eyes of Washington’s suspicious gaze, of how disappointed he’d be to hear Alexander had signed medical and financial documents on nothing more than the word of Aaron Burr. Before he could hesitate for more than a second, the vision cleared, and he saw Aaron again. If Aaron thought the delay was strange, he didn’t show it. There was nothing but kindness and patience in his eyes, and Alexander swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. Sense be damned, if he couldn’t trust Aaron, he could trust no one. He signed without one more thought on the matter and pushed the papers away.

Shortly after the paperwork was completed, Theodosia returned from her appointment. Her face lit up when she saw Alexander was awake, and she rushed to his side. “You’re awake.”

“Sure am,” Alexander grinned. “Someone’s gotta keep your dad from getting in trouble, right?”

“Does this mean you get to come home soon?”

Before Alexander could answer, Aaron jumped in. “The doctors said it’s going to be a little while before Alexander’s back on his feet, sweetheart. It looks like we’re going to be in Virginia for longer than expected.”

That made Alexander’s heart sink. He asked how long Aaron meant by ‘a little while’, but Aaron dodged the question. Alexander kept pushing, and the more Aaron dodged, the more Alexander dreaded finally getting his answer. Virginia had to be one of his least favourite places to visit. He had few friends or allies here, while his political rivals had plenty. The news was as dire as Alexander expected. He was to be kept for days in hospital, and it would be at least two weeks before he was cleared to fly. By that point, they would be close enough to election day that it would make more sense to stay in Virginia than not - because hospital or no hospital, Alexander refused to miss out on Washington’s scheduled results party.

The Burrs stayed with Alexander for hours. It was not until the nurses came with Alexander’s dinner that he realized the pair had spent the entire day with him. Whether out of a sense of duty or not, Alexander was grateful. They had rendered a truly intolerable position (being stuck in hospital) into something so pleasant Alexander had scarcely noticed time passing. The thought kept him from growing too melancholy as he ate his way through the bland and unappetizing hospital dinner.

Despite visiting hours officially ending at five, Alexander was permitted one visitor after dinner. Washington looked exhausted when he came into the room, and his security escort was at least twice the size Alexander was used to seeing. He gave a rare smile at the sight of Alexander sitting up and alert.

“You’re awake. I came by this morning, but I’m told only family members can visit without the patient awake to consent.”

The words made little sense to Alexander. He felt his expression pinch in confusion. “Then why didn’t they let you in?”

Something in Washington’s expression softened at that. Although he could not place his finger on what, Alexander had clearly said something right. Still, it frustrated him. He could feel the fog surrounding his mind, clouding his judgement and stopping him from drawing conclusions he knew should have been obvious.

As Alexander struggled, Washington folded himself into the chair beside the bed. It was the same chair Aaron had used, and with him it had seemed perfectly reasonable, but the chair looked comically small beneath Washington’s huge frame. As uncomfortable as it must be, it did not explain the deep worry and guilt that took over as his smile faded. For once, Alexander waited. His day with Aaron had shown him how sluggish his mind was on opiates, and he had no desire to make a fool of himself in front of Washington. At length, Washington spoke.

“You put yourself between me and that gunman.”

“Of course I did,” Alexander said, not thinking twice about his answer. Why would he? It was the truth, and he could not see any reason it would be a controversial statement. Washington stared at him, his gaze heavy with sorrow. After several moments, he said,

“Son, I’m not equal to the dedication you’re showing me. This campaign isn’t worth your life.”

“I’m not afraid to die.”

“I know. That’s what worries me,” Washington said, frowning at Alexander. Despite Washington having made his perspective quite clear, Alexander struggled to understand what his problem with the situation was. If Alexander hadn’t acted, Washington might have been shot, even killed. In Alexander’s mind, the risk of that outcome was far worse than the reality of his own injury.

“I knew what I was doing,” Alexander insisted. “And I’d do it again.”

Washington shook his head. “No. I forbid it. Too many people need you alive, son. I need you alive.”

Alexander’s first instinct was to deny those words, but he hesitated at the stern look on Washington’s face. He was not being addressed as an employee, but a friend. For the first time, Alexander considered that Washington might feel some fraction of the same desperate urge Alexander had felt to keep Washington alive. The idea did not sit well with him. Worse, the thought had opened the floodgates in his mind. He thought of Laurens and Hercules and Lafayette, and all the messages they had sent him throughout the day. He thought of the Schuyler sisters, all of them his friend despite all his mistakes. Worst of all, he thought of Aaron and Theodosia. Sweet, patient Aaron, who had helped Alexander read and respond to all of the messages from his friends, who had stayed with him through it all. Alexander’s breath caught in his throat. For just one instant, he was there again. He could see Aaron’s tear-stained face and feel him pressing his makeshift bandage against his wound. The thought made his head spin. That was right, Aaron had tried to save him, despite the possible danger in doing so. Alexander swallowed heavily. He forced himself back to the present.

“I’m sorry. But I don’t regret it.”

“No. I don’t suppose you do,” Washington said. They stared at each other. No matter how Alexander tried to focus, his mind kept raising the same sequence of images again. Washington in danger. The world lurching before his eyes. Aaron’s hands, catching him when he fell. Aaron, trying to stop the bleeding. Aaron had stayed through it all, and Alexander could not begin to comprehend why. Confusion rose in his chest. It was an ugly, panicking thing that must have shown on his face, because Washington’s frown grew.

“Alexander?”

“He stayed,” Alexander said. “The gunman was still there, still shooting. He could have been hurt. Why did he stay?”

“Alexander. Alexander, look at me.”

Habit bore out over the inner turmoil Alexander was feeling, and he obeyed. Washington was watching him with concern. For a moment the concern confused Alexander, before he remembered he had been in the middle of a conversation before being distracted by intrusive memories.

“Sorry, sir. I’m not...”

“It’s alright, son. You’re safe now.”

The words calmed Alexander more than he would have expected. He did not quite manage to focus, but the adrenaline rampaging through his system eased. Washington was right. He may not like hospital, but he had no doubts about his safety. He had seen the police and security guards patrolling the building, and Aaron had told him there were more outside. Nor did he need to worry about medical care: neither Aaron nor Washington would accept anything but the best. His heart rate slowed. There was only one thing left for Alexander to worry about.

“Do you have someone who can take over my role on the campaign? Aaron said it’s going to be days before they let me out of here.”

“‘Aaron said’,” Washington echoed, his tone flat. He leaned forward a little, resting his elbow against his knee. It was not often Alexander remembered Washington was an intimidating man. The combination of his temper, influence and physical size was enough to frighten most people, but not Alexander. He had long since become a signal of comfort and safety. It was only now, watching Washington's tempter turn against Aaron, that Alexander could see why his enemies feared him. Washington’s disapproval was not aimed at Alexander, but that did not make it any easier to bear. He tried not to sound defensive when he said,

“Yes. Aaron. He stayed all day.” When Washington’s frown didn’t ease, Alexander added, “I don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s managing the doctors, he dealt with the insurance, he...”

 

Alexander had hoped to persuade Washington that Aaron was genuinely concerned for Alexander’s wellbeing. At best, he would listen to Alexander and see Aaron for who he was. At worst, he would be frustrated by Alexander's stubborn insistence that Aaron was a good man. Alexander had prepared himself for any almost any reaction he could expect from Washington, but there was one he had not accounted for. Washington looked afraid. It was hidden quickly, but even if Washington could control his expression, he could not hide the fact that the blood had drained from his face. Washington did not just dislike Aaron: he was frightened of him.

“Son, please be careful. It’s natural you want to rely on those close to you, but you must not forget to be cautious. I don’t want to see you hurt.”

“Aaron wouldn’t hurt me,” Alexander protested.

“Yes. He would,” Washington said with absolute certainty. “He has no moral fibre, and he’s already proven himself willing to take advantage of you. He won’t hesitate to do it again. When he does, I’d prefer him not to have any personal information on you.”

As little as he liked the idea, Alexander considered it. As dearly as he loved Aaron, Alexander was under no illusions regarding his moral framework. Aaron was willing to cut and compromise where Alexander was not. He was manipulative and often cold, as well as willing to go to great lengths to get what he wanted. There were few lines Aaron would not cross for his own benefit, and none he would not cross for his family. But even so, Alexander could not imagine Aaron planning against him. Washington's fear that Aaron would hurt Alexander seemed absurd.

“I trust him.”

“You shouldn’t. He’s a liar. I’ve met his kind before. He’s dishonest to the core, but clever enough not to be caught in his own lies. He’ll avoid disagreement at all costs, but he won’t ever agree: he’ll dodge and evade and go to any lengths to avoid honesty. ”

The words made Alexander’s heart sink. He could withstand questioning on Aaron’s moral compass, but his evasiveness was another matter. There was one topic that sprang to mind: something vitally important where Aaron had gone to great lengths to avoid giving Alexander a straight answer. He had, in fact, avoided discussion altogether.

Even when they had both thought Alexander was dying, Aaron had not said he loved him.

Yes, he had said it that morning, but he had only done so once they had an audience. He had been affectionate, but that was hardly surprising with so many hospital staff around. Alexander’s heart sank. Aaron’s refusal to give him an immediate answer suddenly made awful, terrible sense. He was not hesitating to take what he wanted due to lingering anxieties. He was trying to avoid rejecting Alexander explicitly, knowing full well Alexander would a nightmare to deal with afterwards. Whatever Aaron’s motivations were, they did not involve loving him. Alexander swallowed heavily. Even now, a part of him rebelled at the idea. His mind provided countless counter-examples to prove that Aaron cared about him, even if he did not love him. Alexander did his best to ignore it. If nothing else, Washington’s judgement should be proof enough.

Something of Alexander’s distress must have shown in his face, as Washington leaned over and put a large hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, son. I never wanted to see you hurt. I hope that I’m wrong, but I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary.”

“I thought I was part of the family,” Alexander mumbled. The hand on his shoulder gave a reassuring squeeze, but it did little good. Alexander was in deep despair. He’d already planned what to get Aaron and Theodosia for Christmas. In the back of his mind, he’d already planned out birthdays and holidays and more. It had never been his to plan, but still he felt as though it had been cruelly snatched away.

“That is what I was worried about. Especially now. You’re under the effect of strong medication, and I’m afraid it shows.”

Alexander nodded in glum agreement. Of that much, there was no doubt: even Aaron had pointed it out, when Alexander had asked why he was not permitted to work in his current state. There were arguments floating around in his mind against what Washington had said, but Alexander could not press through the haze and exhaustion surrounding his mind to grasp them. Washington patted him on the back.

“I’m sorry, son. I might be wrong; I hope I am. I don’t normally comment on the personal lives of my staff, but I don’t say this to you as your employer. I’m saying it as a friend. I’m worried about you. Be careful, Alexander. Burr may call himself your friend. He may even mean it, in his own way. But do not think for a second that means he can be trusted, or that he would not betray you if it furthered his own goals.”

“But I love him,” Alexander protested, before he had a chance to give the words any thought. To his credit, Washington did not startle, nor insist that Alexander was deluded. But he did look at him with a solemn expression and ask,

“Does he love you?”

There was a long silence. Finally, Alexander said quietly, “He wouldn’t say.”

Washington did not comment further on the matter, but changed the topic. Grateful for the distraction, Alexander tried to forget the question. No matter what he wanted the answer to be, Aaron’s silence said enough.

Chapter Text

Less than two days after the attack, Washington and his entourage left Virginia. Alexander may be confined to a hospital bed, but the rest of the campaign moved on. There was an election to be won. There was no time to linger and wait for Alexander to recover. Washington called every day, but he had no choice but to continue to campaign and fight.

The media was in a frenzy. Each news outlet published the most extreme views they could find in a frantic race for readers. There were plenty of extreme views to be had, as the attack had not stopped the opposition. The White House had claimed the attack was a sign Washington was unfit for presidency. How, they asked, could Washington guarantee national security when he could not protect Alexander? In a baffling twist, they tried to turn Alexander's newly built reputation as a family man against them. Alexander was a married man. He had a devoted partner and a young daughter who depended on him; Washington was a coward to have let him risk himself like that. If Washington was willing to sacrifice Alexander for himself, what would he do to the working families of America? Alexander was outraged when he heard. He tried to leave his hospital bed to make a statement, and not even Aaron could coax him back to bed. It took two nurses to hold him back, and he did not quit the idea until Washington called and ordered him to rest.

A small contingent of Washington’s team remained in Virginia. Some were sick, and a smaller number quit the campaign from fear. Most were event planners and organizers dedicated to the results rally on Election Day. The headquarters of their campaign was to be based at Washington's own luxurious mansion in the countryside, for once opened to the public. The venue had been a last minute choice. Their original plan had been to hold the celebration in a large public building, but the chosen venue looked over the site of the Halloween rally. The last thing any of them wanted was a reminder of what had happened that night. Mount Vernon was the only substitute they could find at short notice. It was cheap, it was available, and above all it was secure. Nothing got in or out of the property without Washington's say so. It was something Alexander looked forward to. He had not yet visited Washington’s home, and he was curious to see what kind of place could shape a man like him.

The Burrs stayed with Alexander. On the second day, Aaron brought him a bag with what initially seemed like a baffling collection of supplies. By the end of the day, Alexander had used every last thing. Aaron seemed to know everything an inpatient in hospital would need, in much the same way he knew how to handle doctors and nurses. It took Alexander longer than he liked to admit to realize why: this was not the first time Aaron had played husband to a hospitalized spouse. The idea brought with it an uncomfortable squirm of guilt. He was no Theodosia, and reminding Aaron of that trauma was poor thanks for the patience he had shown Alexander. But Alexander could not deny his support was welcome. He never could have managed the doctors alone, and the bag of gifts cheered him a great deal. It gave him a sense of normalcy and control in a sterile and dehumanising environment. Some of the gifts eased small irritations, while others acted as indulgences or distractions. As useful as they all were, Alexander wondered where Aaron had found these things. Alexander was fairly sure he didn't own chapstick, and he was absolutely certain he didn't own a pair of fuzzy pink slippers.

“You do now,” Aaron told him, when Alexander pointed this out. “I was going to get the black ones, but Theo explained you needed more colour in the room.”

Theodosia had a point. The stark white walls and ceiling were hardly uplifting, and the curtains were even worse. Alexander’s room did not look plain and dreary for long. Flowers and fruit baskets soon started arriving from friends and acquaintances, all searched and approved by security. Even better, Theodosia drew him several different brightly-coloured posters to hang on the walls. Alexander cherished each and every one of them. His favourite showed their family in a park in spring, surrounded by bright swirls of colour. As the collection grew, he pointed out new pieces to the nurses and doctors that would come around to visit him.

“Can you believe she’s mastered surrealism at such a young age?” he would ask, gesturing to the latest masterpiece. “Art’s not even her favourite subject.”

“I never would have guessed,” one doctor said, laughing and shaking her head. Another one looked over at Aaron and said,

“It could be worse. A lot of people can be unintentionally cruel when they’re on this many painkillers. It’s sweet that he’s so impressed.”

“Oh, this isn’t the painkillers. He’s always like this,” Aaron said. “He wanted to record her piano practice and put it on Twitter.”

“And my piano is terrible,” Theodosia added, cheerful and unashamed. “I just started, it’s going to be ages before I’m any good.”

“But you will improve,” Aaron reminded her. Despite addressing Theodosia, he was looking at Alexander. The smile Aaron directed towards him was warm and affectionate and made Alexander’s heart twist in his chest. He remembered Washington’s words all too clearly. As tempting as it was to give in to the pleasant flow of emotions that surged whenever he saw Aaron’s face, Alexander held himself separate from his instincts. There was something here he did not understand. Until he understood it, he would be cautious and hold himself back.

As time passed, Alexander found himself questioning Aaron’s motives. His conviction waivered. It may only be wishful thinking, but Alexander could not bring himself to believe Aaron held no interest in him. He told himself he was being foolish. It was Aaron who had chosen to avoid the subject, and Alexander had to respect that choice. If Aaron wanted him, he would say something. So long as he avoided the topic, Alexander had to resign himself to the fact that Aaron was avoiding it for a reason.

The only question that remained was why Aaron avoided it. Washington had assumed selfish motives, but Alexander was not convinced. Aaron treated him with too much kindness and patience for that. Alexander was alternately high as a kite, or else in pain and cranky. His temper was short and his conversational skills were a far cry from his usual lighting fast wit. There was little pleasure to be had in visiting him. Despite this, Aaron and Theodosia arrived the minute hospital visiting hours opened. They took breaks for assorted reasons: so Theodosia could play outside, so Aaron could visit a psychologist, so Alexander could take a nap. Otherwise, Aaron and Theodosia sat by Alexander's side until the hospital staff kicked them out. That, Alexander felt, was not the way a selfish man would behave. Aaron was not the heartless monster Washington believed him to be. No, Alexander feared the truth was much worse than that.

Aaron was trying to spare Alexander’s feelings.

It was the only explanation Alexander could conceive of. Aaron was not a cruel man. He could be ruthless, yes, but he took no pleasure in hurting people. After Alexander’s big confession, he knew how stupidly in love Alexander was. Openly rejecting him while Alexander was recovering from being shot would hurt Alexander too much while he was still fragile. By avoiding the topic, Aaron avoided hurting him while also ensuring he did not have to outright lie. He could break Alexander’s heart later. For now, he would spare them both the pain and awkwardness. The logic was twisted and ludicrous, Alexander knew, but he also had no doubt Aaron would believe it. The thought made his heart heavy with grief and sorrow.

There was one flaw in Alexander’s theory. If Aaron was concerned for Alexander’s feelings, he should have kept himself separate and isolated to avoid getting Alexander’s hopes up. The truth was the polar opposite. Aaron was, if anything, even more affectionate than he had been before Halloween. Every time he came in, he kissed Alexander’s cheek and gave him his morning coffee. He tried to do the same when he left, but by evening Alexander was invariably tired and cranky. He would duck his head and dodge Aaron’s mouth, unable to face the turmoil of emotions it brought. The first time he did that, Alexander caught a glimpse of wounded confusion on Aaron’s face. After that, he made sure not to look.

If Alexander had hoped rejection would reign in Aaron’s affectionate side, he had another think coming. Aaron remained relentlessly affectionate at all hours of the day. As a test, Alexander spent half a day accepting the gestures to see what would happen. Aaron kissed his cheek when he greeted him, and then held his hand for four hours straight before one of the nurses shooed him away. When he returned, Aaron pressed a chaste kiss against Alexander's mouth and resumed his position by his side.. It baffled Alexander. If only, he thought, his mind was clear of painkillers: then he could figure it out. He was certain the truth was lingering just out of his reach. Surely it could not mean what he wanted it to mean. He spent three days agonizing over what Aaron was trying to tell him, but he could not wrap his head around it. The simplest thing to do would be to ask Aaron, but they did not have so much as one minute of privacy in the hospital. The question remained unanswered, and would remain unanswered until Alexander had Aaron alone.

On the fourth day, one of the nurses came in with a smile.

“Good news! I’ve spoken to the doctor. If you can provide a valid local address, you’re ready to be discharged.”

“Valid?” Aaron wanted to know.

“Local?” Alexander asked, his expression falling.

“Yes. I’m afraid you’re not going to be cleared to fly for another two weeks at least. In that time, you’re going to need a local residential address. A hotel won’t make it past our outpatient approval process, I’m afraid: it has to be a residential address.”

Despite the persuasive power of Aaron and Alexander combined, she would not budge her position. A hotel room would not meet hospital policy, and policy could not be changed. After an hour of arguing, Aaron slipped out of the room to make a call. Although he could not make out what he was saying, Alexander could hear his voice from the hall, his tone low and urgent. Theodosia stayed with Alexander. She climbed onto the bed beside him and crossed her legs, looking at him thoughtfully.

“We could kidnap you,” she suggested. “I’ve still got my Halloween costume, and we could make Dad wear a doctor’s coat and a mustache.”

Across the room, the nurse barely managed to suppress a snort of laughter. Even Alexander had to concede it was not the strongest plan he had ever heard. Still, there was some merit. If he bribed his way out, maybe got a few doctors on his side - and he certainly wouldn’t say no to Aaron in the right kind of nurses outfit...

Aaron's return startled Alexander from his reverie. He could not have been gone more than fifteen minutes, but Aaron looked utterly exhausted.

“Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is a friend of mine has agreed to let us use the guest room in his apartment. It’s close by, and he’s away on business, so we’ll have the place to ourselves.”

“And the bad news?” Alexander asked. Anxiety started to churn in his gut. There was only one person from Virginia Alexander trusted, and Washington's home was too far from the hospital to be an option. Whoever Aaron was speaking to was no friend of Alexander's. Worse, there was something about the way Aaron winced at the question that filled Alexander with dread.

“I’ve lost count of how many favours I owe Thomas.”

Alexander stared. “I’m not staying with Jefferson.”

“Fortunately, Thomas is out of the city with the rest of the campaign. There shouldn’t be more than a few days overlap with our stay in Virginia. I’m hoping that by then you’ll be well enough for us to stay elsewhere.”

That was not what Alexander had been hoping to hear. “You expect me to stay at Jefferson’s house.”

“His city apartment, yes. I’ve stayed once before. It’s spacious, close by, and it gets you out of hospital.”

And there was the trap. Alexander hated Jefferson, loathed him even. There was not a single trait the man had that Alexander did not consider repulsive. But there were a handful of things in life Alexander hated even more, and being trapped in hospital was one of them. Despite the best efforts of the Burrs to decorate his room and smuggle him edible food, a hospital was a hospital. The bright colours and familiar faces could not mask the pervasive smell of antiseptic, nor the dreadful look in the eyes of other patients passing through the halls. It was its own kind of Hell, and Alexander wanted out. If Jefferson was offering that, Alexander had no choice but to take it.

“How are you going to get the keys?”

Aaron smiled. It could have been a sign of relief or smug victory, but either way he knew he’d won. “Fortunately for us, James has a key. He’s still in town - he’s had another one of his respiratory flares, the poor man, and he had to stay behind. He can pick us up from the hospital this afternoon.”

That settled it. The promise of making it out of hospital that very day was irresistible. Two hours later, Alexander was settled into the back of James Madison’s car with Theodosia by his side. He tried to eavesdrop on the conversation between Aaron and James in the front, but his mind was cloudy from the drugs and exhaustion. There was something about regular visits, and strict rules Aaron and Alexander were expected to follow. Alexander paid particular attention to that part. If he was lucky, he would find some new way to irritate his enemies. The list of rules was extensive. They were to keep the house clean; they were to drink none of the good wine; Aaron was to water the houseplants every day; and, most importantly, they were not permitted to set foot inside the master bedroom.

“It’s a miracle he’s letting you stay at all,” James said.

“Believe me, I know. Both you and Thomas have my gratitude. I don’t know what Alexander and I would have done without you.”

“You would have stayed in hospital. Hamilton may be a pain in the ass, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” James said, showing surprising compassion. But then, as someone who faced regular hospital visits, James would know all too well the horrors Alexander had been facing.

“We’re grateful. For what it’s worth, our spare room at home is always open to you - either of you - if you need it.”

“Better not need it,” Alexander mumbled, but if anyone heard him they gave no sign of it. He grumbled under his breath before leaning back against the seat. The world slipped by, but all Alexander could think of was how badly each bump and jolt of the car hurt his chest. There were tears in his eyes by the time they pulled into the car park of Jefferson’s apartment block. He tensed when Aaron opened the car door, knowing he was about to be caught. Crying was bad enough, but doing so in front of James (his enemy!) was even worse. Dread seized Alexander, and when he tried to speak the words stuck in the back of his throat.

Aaron crouched down beside him. A frown tugged on the corners of his lips. After a moment, he reached out and wiped the tears away with his thumb. “Are you okay?”

At Alexander’s nod, the frown on Aaron’s face eased. He helped Alexander to his feet, sliding an arm around his waist to support his weight. As they shuffled over to the elevator, he said loudly, “I know you don’t need this much help, but humour me.”

The words baffled Alexander. He very much did need Aaron’s help. The distance from the car to the elevator may as well have been halfway across the world if Alexander was left to struggle alone. With the amount of weight Alexander was leaning on him, there was no way Aaron would not have been aware of that. It was not until he saw Aaron flash a sheepish grin at James that he started to put two and two together. Aaron was trying to preserve his pride. He would know just how much Alexander hated showing weakness in front of a political rival. How could he not? Aaron and Alexander were both stubborn and full of pride. If their places were reversed, Aaron likely would have felt the same frustration and shame Alexander now struggled with. He could not take it away entirely, but it seemed Aaron had found a way to mitigate its effects.

Under ordinary circumstances, Alexander would have been eager to explore Jefferson’s apartment. As it was, he lost all interest in his surroundings as soon as he set his eyes on the large couch in the living area. It seemed Aaron had a similar idea. He helped Alexander shuffle over to the couch and set him down gently. Much to Alexander’s surprise, he fussed over Alexander once he was settled: fetching him water and a blanket, stroking his hair, making sure the television remote was in reach. The last thing he did before leaving was brush his lips against Alexander’s forehead in a quick kiss. The observation puzzled Alexander, but he was too tired to question it. His trip from the hospital had completely exhausted him, and he fell asleep on the sofa without a second thought. When he woke over an hour later, Theodosia was sitting on the ground, staring at him with wide eyes. Relief flooded over her face when he groaned and tried to sit up.

“You’re okay.”

“‘Course I’m okay,” Alexander said, covering a yawn with one hand. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

There was something about the pause that followed that made Alexander’s heart sink like a stone. Theodosia’s lower lip trembled. Tears filled her eyes, but through sheer force of will she somehow kept them from falling.

“Dad thought you were dead,” Theodosia said. Alexander felt an unpleasant swooping feeling in his gut, like the floor had just dropped out from underneath him. As soft as Theodosia’s voice was, the words seemed to echo in his mind. “He didn’t cry and he didn’t even care about all the blood and no one could get him to talk. He just sat there.”

Aaron had thought he was dead. Alexander let out a shuddering breath and just barely bit back a curse. That explained far too much of Aaron’s behaviour for his liking. Aaron tended to respect the rules and boundaries set in place by other people, but he’d forced his way past hospital security in a desperate bid to see Alexander. He had barely left Alexander’s side since. It even explained Aaron’s recent determination to make sure Alexander was safe and comfortable. Aaron may only see them as friends, but they were genuine friends. If Alexander had watched one of his friends die in front of him, he’d be a mess. He’d be overprotective and clingy to the point of being unwilling to let them out of his sight.

“I’m not dead,” Alexander said, once he had taken a moment to process it. “And I’m not planning on dying any time soon. I’ve got so much left to do.”

The sigh of relief Theodosia let out made Alexander’s heart wrench with sympathy. He added quickly, “Besides, someone’s got to look after you and your dad. He’d be a mess without me.”

Despite the tears pricking in the corners of her eyes, Theodosia let out a quiet giggle at that. “Yeah. You’re a mess, too, though.”

“I should probably be offended by that,” Alexander mused. Theodosia laughed again, this time much louder. The sound echoed throughout the apartment, and Alexander heard a door creak open somewhere behind him. As footsteps approached the sofa, he reached up and put a hand over the back to wave at Aaron as he passed. Maybe if he was lucky, Aaron would pause to hold his hand for a minute. “Hey, honeybunch.”

“Aaron has gone to collect your belongings and buy groceries. He asked me to keep an eye on you and Theo until he was back,” James said. Alexander flinched. He stared at James in a kind of offended horror. There was something dreadful about expecting Aaron and getting James instead.

God. He’d called James honeybunch. Alexander withdrew his hand, his mood abruptly sour. “We don’t need you here.”

“We do. I can’t reach the hot chocolate, it’s on the top shelf,” Theodosia complained.

“I’m not sure about your father’s rules on treats,” James said. Alexander snorted and waved a hand in the direction of the kitchen.

“Make yourself useful and get her the cocoa, Madison. She can have whatever the fu - fudge she wants.”

“You’re not her fa-”

James stopped mid sentence as two pairs of furious eyes stared him down. The healing skin and muscle across Alexanders chest screamed in protest as he pulled himself upright. Despite his pain and exhaustion, Alexander could not let that comment slide. He stared James down. The tension built, but James did not apologize. Alexander could feel Theodosia's temper threatening to break, so he spoke

“Look, James. I’m tired. If you get Theo her hot chocolate, I’ll do you a favour and pretend you weren’t about to say what we both know you were going to say. But if you ever question how Aaron and I raise our daughter - if you ever question that she is our daughter again, I’m going to make you regret it. Is that clear?”

Before James could answer, Theodosia piped up. “You might be tired, but I’m not. I want an apology, buttface.”

As difficult as Theodosia’s stance made the situation, Alexander couldn’t help but feel a rush of affection towards her. He could not begin to understand why she had chosen to trust him and let him into the family, but the fact remained that she had. As far as Theodosia was concerned, Alexander was part of the family. He reached over and patted her on the shoulder.

“Theo. You get to decide who’s part of your family, not James. And as much as I’d love to see you yell at James, Jefferson might kick us out if we upset his boyfriend. And Aaron would be disappointed in both of us. You don’t want to upset your dad, right?”

“Dad’s not here,” Theodosia muttered mutinously, and she poked her tongue out at James. Alexander shrugged. What could he say to that? She had a point, and at least Theodosia had good taste in enemies. If Theodosia disliked James, that gave Alexander an excuse to be rude that Aaron might actually listen to. But even Alexander could see a full on row at this stage would be a disaster - to say nothing of how they would explain it to Aaron when he returned. With Theodosia filled with rage and James as useless as ever, it fell to Alexander to be the responsible one. The idea was an intimidating one. Situations like this were Aaron's job, and he seemed to know what he was doing. For the first time Alexander wondered if Aaron found being responsible this draining, or if it somehow came naturally to him. Either way, Alexander knew he would not manage the same illusion of rational calm. He would have to find another way to defuse the situation. He reclined back against the sofa and patted the seat beside him.

“C’mon. Ignore him, like you said, he’s a buttface. Help me figure out how this television works.”

What James did after that, Alexander didn’t pay enough attention to find out. He and Theodosia picked out a movie, and from then on he was entranced by the brightly coloured animation. Maybe it was the painkillers talking, but he could have sworn the Disney film they’d chosen was more interesting than most. By the time Aaron returned, he was thoroughly intrigued by the plot. He turned the volume up when he heard Aaron and James talking, not wanting to miss one second of the film.

After some time, Aaron came to sit on the couch beside him. This development pleased Alexander greatly, and he took the opportunity to lean against Aaron and rest his head on his shoulder. He’d missed this. The hospital had been very strict about how many people were allowed in one bed, so Alexander had been almost completely deprived of opportunities cuddle with Aaron. Now that he was confident he would one day lose it, he was determined to take as much advantage as possible. He didn’t care if it was manipulative or desperate. It was the only chance he had to get a taste of what he wanted, and he was going to take it.

“James was in a foul mood when he left. Something about you mocking him?”

“He’s a buttface,” Alexander mumbled. On the other side of the couch, Theodosia nodded in firm agreement. Aaron’s expression was stern and disapproving, but Alexander could feel his chest shake as he swallowed down laughter.

“Dare I ask what brought this on?”

A spike of anxiety caused the words to die on Alexander’s lips. Aaron had been patient and kind enough to let Alexander into the family, but surely he would frown upon Alexander trying to take the on role of ‘father’. But even if Alexander had his doubts, Theodosia did not.

“He tried to say Alex isn’t my dad,” she said, her tone indignant and offended. Alexander lay very, very still. He thought of animals that played dead when threatened: if it worked for them, it might just work for him. He jumped when he felt Aaron’s arm wrap around his shoulders and hug him a little closer.

“I’ll have to have a word with him about that,” Aaron said. “Our family is none of his business.”

His tone was level and even, but both Alexander and Theodosia knew him well enough to pick up on the undercurrent of cold rage. Once Alexander realized it was not aimed at him, he felt a stab of sympathy for James. They may be enemies, but Alexander had been on the receiving end of Aaron’s anger often enough to pity anyone who found themselves in that position. That pity was soon overwhelmed by a wave of vindictive glee. There was a part of him that delighted in the knowledge that Aaron would make James' life an absolute hell - and all in Alexander's name.

“I tried to talk to him about it, but Alex wouldn’t let me. He said you’d be mad,” Theo complained.

“Well, I’m going to handle it with a little more diplomacy than either of you would. I’m sure James didn’t mean to be so hurtful.”

“Sure, sure, take his side,” Alexander muttered.

Aaron smiled and pressed a kiss to Alexander’s cheek. The gesture confused Alexander once again, but he was too tired to manage another long discussion, so he let the kiss slide. Some questions were best left unanswered.

Despite his release from hospital, Alexander was still far from well. He spent the rest of the day dozing on the couch and drifting in and out of consciousness. The first time he woke, he reached for his phone to check Twitter and his emails in the hopes of finding something to work on. After catching him on his phone once, Aaron was careful to confiscate it. Alexander was not himself, he insisted, and he would thank Aaron for saving his dignity later. There were better ways to amuse himself.

Even confined to the couch, Alexander was far happier than he had been as an inpatient. To begin with, there were his accommodations. For a man who accused Alexander of having too much of an appreciation for the finer things in life, Thomas had extraordinarily luxurious taste. The difference, Alexander supposed, was that Thomas was old money. A quick look around confirmed Alexander’s suspicions: his taste, like his morals, were set in the last century. None of it was in line with Alexander’s standards for good decor, but he shuddered to think how much it must have cost. If nothing else, it was undoubtedly a step up from the hospital.

Out of all the perks of being an outpatient, the one Alexander loved best was the food. The horror of hospital food had killed Alexander’s appetite over the past few days, but promise of a home-cooked meal was enough to make his stomach growl. Aaron spent the entire afternoon in the kitchen. As frustrated as he was by the lack of opportunities to talk to Aaron, it did help build Alexander’s expectation for the night’s meal. When Aaron put a bowl of delicately spiced noodle soup in front of him, Alexander nearly cried with joy.

That night, Alexander realized even sleeping was better here than in hospital. No more was he confined to a single bed in a brightly-lit room with strangers bustling in and out. Even in the guestroom, Thomas had the luxury of a queen sized bed. The mattress was just the wrong side of too soft and piled high with an impractical number of pillows, but Alexander was too relieved by the rest of the changes to complain. Best of all, he got to share the bed with Aaron. Several hours after Alexander went to bed, Aaron slid between the silk sheets and curled up beside him. His movements were slow and silent. He clearly thought Alexander was asleep, which made his behavior even more intriguing. He did not press his body against Alexander’s side as Alexander had hoped he would, but he did take Alexander’s hand in his own. Alexander kept very still. If he moved now, Aaron would stop, and Alexander would never find out where this was going. Aaron dragged Alexander’s hand to his lips and pressed a tender kiss against the back of his fingers. With that done, he lowered Alexander's hand to the mattress and curled around it. He fell asleep like that, as close to Alexander as he could get. Even after Aaron’s breathing evened out, Alexander stayed awake in the darkness, wondering.

The next day, Alexander found himself longing for fresh air and the warmth of the sun. This was not a wish he was likely to get in early November. The fresh air might be possible, but the wind had turned cold and vicious. Nevertheless, when the sun came out after lunch, Aaron did his best to make that wish come true. A storage cage held an outdoor gas heater and plenty of furniture. Moving it alone could not have been an easy task, but Aaron wrestled each piece out onto the balcony. He let the heater run as he worked. By the time he was finished, the balcony had been transformed from a frigid wasteland to an oasis of warmth and golden light. Alexander walked out to find the outdoor sofa piled high with blankets and cushions. There were two mugs of cocoa waiting on a side table, and dozens of lamps chased back the winter dark. Alexander looked around in wonder. The idea that Aaron had done all this for him was enough to make his heart sing.

They settled together on the couch, far closer than Alexander would have expected. Instead of settling at the other end of the sofa, Aaron pressed close to Alexander's side. Despite the plentiful blankets and throws, Aaron insisted that they curl up under the same one. Alexander considered questioning it, before deciding to keep his mouth shut. He would enjoy the proximity while he had it.

The afternoon passed in companionable silence. Aaron focused on his work, while Alexander was forced to content himself with a novel. Despite the book coming highly recommended by several of his friends, he struggled to engage - until he looked up, and realized the sun had gone from high noon to a pink sunset. Beside him, Aaron had set aside his laptop. In place of his work, he had taken up staring at Alexander with an unreadable expression on his face. From the way his weight had settled against Alexander’s side, he must have been looking for some time.

“What? Have I got something on my face?”

Aaron did not take the hint to stop staring. He chuckled, the sound soft and full of affection, and reached out to touch Alexander’s cheek with one hand.

“No. I was just thinking how lucky I am.” The unreadable expression broke into a smile that took Alexander’s breath away. Aaron’s eyes dipped down to Alexander’s mouth before his dark eyes met Alexander’s own, “Can I kiss you?”

Alexander’s heart leapt. He could feel it hammering in his chest, pounding as his mind scrambled to understand what had happened. Had he heard that right? The torrent of emotions that flooded through him went beyond anything he could describe, but in the end, there was only one thing he could say.

“You’re a fucking asshole.”

To Alexander’s outrage, Aaron did not seem angry or offended. His expression pinched together in confusion. There was an undercurrent of hurt there, too, a hurt so deep that it made Alexander’s heart ache from the desire to comfort him. But there was no anger.

“I don’t understand,” Aaron said at length, after a long time searching Alexander’s face.

“Don’t play dumb. You said we’d talk about our relationship, and we didn’t. I can take a fucking hint, alright? You didn’t say anything. You’re not interested. That’s fine, but you don’t get to turn around and fuck with me like this.”

“I never said anything,” Aaron echoed. The words sounded more like a question than agreement. His gaze was unfocused as he thought about Alexander’s words. His eyes widened slowly, and Alexander watched his mouth move from an unhappy line to slack-jawed horror “That’s why you’ve been acting so strangely. You think I didn’t - ”

“Why I’ve been acting so strangely?” Alexander asked indignantly. He didn’t care that he had interrupted Aaron, but Aaron shook his head and increased his volume. It was rare enough for Aaron to raise his voice that Alexander found himself listening.

“Yes. Listen to me, Alexander. I love you. I want to be with you, whatever that looks like.” He took Alexander’s hands and squeezed them. His smile was bright, and with a shock Alexander realized the strange look in his eyes was adoration. Aaron looked at Alexander like he was the centre of his world.

“I never should have let you walk out our front door without making sure you knew how much I loved you. I spent a whole week regretting it. I didn’t realize you thought that meant I didn’t love you: I never would have let you leave if I had. I asked for time so I could figure out how we could make this work. When I told you I loved you in hospital, I meant it. When I tried to hold you hand, or kiss you, or anything like that, I wasn't doing it for the nurses. I meant it. Alexander, all this time, I thought we were together.”

“You didn’t realize,” Alexander echoed. “You didn’t realize you hadn’t told me, holy fuck, how did I fall in love with someone so stu - wait. So when you asked if you could kiss me...”

“That was because I wanted to kiss you,” Aaron said. A playful grin spread over his face, and his eyes dipped down to Alexander’s lips before he admitted, “I still do.”

Alexander stared at him in wonder. Aaron had thought they were together. Aaron had wanted to kiss him. The past week played out again in Alexander’s mind as he digested this new piece of information. Every time Aaron had reached out for him and tried to be affectionate, Alexander had turned away, thinking it was all a lie for the hospital staff. But Aaron had meant it. That was why he had held Alexander’s hand when no one was around, why he had been so angry at James for denying Alexander was part of the family. It was why he had resumed sleeping beside Alexander at the first opportunity he got. Aaron wanted to be with him. All Alexander had to do was let him stay.

Inch by inch, Aaron leaned in to kiss Alexander. His movements were slow, and it took Alexander a moment to realize he was giving him time to pull away. Instead, Alexander leaned forward to meet him halfway. Aaron’s lips were warm and soft against his own, and Alexander pulled him closer. His head spun with glee. This was real. This was wanted, longed for by both of them. Most people celebrated their first kiss, but this kiss was special because Alexander knew it was not the last. If all went as planned, Alexander would get to do this every day for years to come.

Chapter Text

Alexander wandered through the next several days in a daze. Time and time again, he caught himself grinning at nothing as he remembered Aaron loved him. That may not have been enough to render Alexander’s current situation tolerable, but it was enough to take the bitter sting out of the slow process of recovery. Recovery was slow. The process of healing was painful and humiliating, and not even Aaron could make him cheerful. There was a tightness around Aaron's eyes whenever Alexander snapped at him or insulted him. Every time it happened it felt like a slap in the face. Alexander adored Aaron. No matter how frustrated he was, he should not be hurting him. He learnt to hold his temper and curb his tongue. Patience did not come naturally to him, but for Aaron, he would try. The reward for trying was worth it: so long as Alexander kept Aaron happy, Aaron seemed willing to oblige him with as much attention and affection as his heart desired. A part of Alexander realized Aaron’s love was not conditional on his good behaviour, but he did not let himself dwell on it. The scale of the feelings involved was large enough to terrify him.

The transition from a fake relationship to a real one was clumsier than Alexander would have anticipated. They danced around each other in an awkward attempt to find out where new boundaries lay. It helped that Aaron seemed to have resolved not to make the same mistake twice. He told Alexander he loved him often. He asked for permission before each new kind of intimacy and stated his reasons whenever he set a boundary for himself. It was necessary; it was also exhausting. As they learnt how to live together again, new worries started to rise at the back of Alexander’s mind. Every few hours, a new challenge would bubble up and crystalize in his mind. Every time, Alexander convinced himself that this new problem would be the thing that would drive Aaron away from him. Once in his mind, the thoughts could not be dislodged. Alexander would fret and bite at his nails until Aaron asked him what was wrong. The conversation was the same every time.

“If we win, I’m going to have to move to D.C.”

“I know,” Aaron said, and kissed him before Alexander could protest further. It worked, but only for a few minutes, before Alexander had another problem.

“You have a job. What about your career?”

“They have lawyers in D.C. I have contacts, and a plan. I can get a new job, maybe start my own firm. We can go over the details once you’ve got a clear head.”

The idea that that could be enough for Aaron left Alexander’s mind reeling. He knew how ambitious Aaron was. He knew how much Aaron valued his career. He knew how hard he had tried to rebuild it after spending a year as a stay-at-home dad. The fact that Aaron was willing to uproot his whole life and restart his career in a new city could only mean he valued the potential of a relationship with Alexander more than he valued what he had already built in New York. After several hours pondering this, Alexander thought he understood why. Aaron loved him. He really loved him. Aaron had said that, of course, but the thought still caught Alexander off guard. It was enough to put a giddy grin on Alexander’s face for an hour, before he realized there was another problem. Aaron was so willing to move for Alexander because he saw Alexander as family. But there was one more member of the family that would be prioritized above Alexander.

“Theo will have to change schools.”

“Good. In all honesty, I’ve been wanting to move her since the incident with that Eacker boy. I’m hoping to find somewhere with an accelerated mathematics program. I know she’s been bored in class lately. I think she’d enjoy the challenge, and I’m sure it would be good for her.”

“What about her piano lessons? The karate? The -”

In defiance of all logic, Aaron laughed. “Alexander, I know. Everything you’re only thinking of now, I know. Why do you think I needed time to think about our relationship?”

Alexander looked sheepish. “I thought...”

“You thought I wasn’t certain about you,” Aaron said. At Alexander’s answering wince, he let out a long sigh. He brought one hand up to touch Alexander’s cheek. Even as anxiety swirled in Alexander’s mind, the smile on Aaron’s face brought with it a sense of calm. Aaron’s smile was a gentle, tender expression, the kind he only wore when he was looking at something he truly adored. “Alexander. Listen to me. I love you. I have never been more certain of anything in my life. Yes, it’s going to be difficult, but we can build a new life together. All that time I spent trying to figure out how things would work, and the first thing I realized was that they wouldn’t work if I wasn’t with you. I’ve got a plan written down, but we can change it if we need to. Whatever the details are, we’ll work it out later. All I need to know is that we’ll be together.”

“You’re a sap,” Alexander said, staring at Aaron in wonder. That was easier than confronting the wave of emotion he felt at Aaron’s affirmation. Between dealing with his emotions and teasing Aaron, Alexander would always take teasing Aaron. In his defense, he challenged anyone to resist his reward: Aaron chuckled, grinning at Alexander with inexplicable fondness.

“You always did bring out the worst in me.”

Unable to resist, Alexander kissed him. Even though he had done it a hundred times before, it still sent a thrill through him that he could do this whenever he wanted. Theodosia was busy with her homework, and there was no one else around to see. This kiss belonged to no one but Aaron and Alexander.

Even as Alexander healed, the doctors kept him on powerful painkillers. His mind was a fog. Alexander could only track the passage of time by counting the weekends, when John flew down form New York to visit. Three weekends passed following his release from hospital. Three times John flew down to visit. It should not have surprised Alexander that his best friend cared so much, but a lump of emotion caught in his throat whenever he thought about it. He thought of Washington's reaction to his self-sacrifice. For the first time in his life, Alexander considered the prospect that he was loved. The idea terrified him. If that was the case, what would have happened if he had not survived Halloween? How many people would he have hurt? It was unacceptable.

With Alexander measuring time by the weekends, he lost track of the outside world. Election day loomed. It was not until the day before the election that Alexander realized the campaign team would be returning to Virginia. He realized when Thomas Jefferson waltzed into the apartment. He was followed, as always, by James Madison, along with a small army of personal assistants to carry his bags for him. When he and Alexander made eye contact, Thomas froze.

“Hamilton. Where’s Aaron? I thought I told him not to leave you unsupervised in my home.”

A smirk spread over Alexander’s face, and he nodded to his lap. The back of the sofa concealed where Aaron was sprawled out across the couch, his head resting in Alexander’s lap as he snored. The last two weeks had been hard on him. Aaron had fallen asleep within minutes of sitting in front of the television, too exhausted to do anything else. He had tossed and turned until his head had ended up in Alexander's lap. With a little prompting from Alexander, had wrapped his arms around Alexander's middle. The sight of him was enough to make Alexander’s heart glow with warm affection.

The disgust on Thomas’ face suggested he had taken Alexander’s smug satisfaction quite differently. Alexander laughed. At the same time, Theodosia popped her head up from the other end of the sofa. He watched with smug amusement as Thomas’ expression changed from disgust to confusion to outraged befuddlement when Theodosia greeted first him, and then James.

“Hi, Thomas. Hi, Buttface. Dad’s asleep. He always falls asleep when we watch this film, he thinks explosions are boring because he’s old.”

It had been a battle to keep a straight face at Theodosia’s nod to James. He lost the battle to stay quiet at Thomas’ outraged splutter. His laughter was loud enough to wake Aaron, who lifted his head from Alexander’s lap and stared up at Alexander in confusion. His eyes were still heavy and hooded with sleep, but his lips curled up on one side into an adoring smile. For a long moment, all they were aware of was each other. It took the sound of Thomas scolding Theodosia to break them both from their shared reverie and into twin protests.

“Shut it, Jefferson, you don’t get to talk to Theo like that. It’s not her fault you’re friends with an asshole.”

“Thomas. I appreciate that you’re upset, but I must remind you that Theo is not your daughter. She’s mine – and, of course, Alexander’s. If you have any complaints with her behaviour, you can bring them to my husband and I.”

Behind Aaron’s back, Theodosia blew a raspberry at Thomas and James. Alexander gave her a sneaky thumbs up in return, making sure no one else could see him do it. He made no such attempt to hide his smug glee, delighted now Aaron had joined the fray. He had no doubts the words to Aaron’s protest were carefully chosen. In one move, he had defended both Theodosia and Alexander from criticism. By highlighting Alexander’s role as co-parent, Aaron had emphasized Alexander’s place in the family and provided further legitimacy to their relationship. There were very few people whom Aaron trusted with Theodosia’s care. For Alexander to be included on that list was a huge honour, husband or not.

“Well, your husband has been teaching her foul language,” Thomas countered. Alexander tried and failed to hide a snort of laughter.

“Don’t act like you don’t curse up a storm every time you get a papercut, I’ve seen you at work. Besides, if Buttface here didn’t want to be called Buttface, he shouldn’t have said I didn’t count as Theo’s dad.”

“Alexander,” Aaron said. His tone was a warning and scolding all in one, but Alexander was close enough to feel the slight puff of laughter disguised as a sigh. As a result, Alexander’s grin was entirely unrepentant.

“I love you too, sweetie,” he cooed, batting his eyelashes at Aaron.

In response, Aaron put his hand over Alexander’s mouth. It was a technique he seemed to grow more and more fond of each time Alexander found a new way to be annoying: it was certainly happening more and more often. “I do apologize: for Theo’s language, and for Alexander’s behaviour. They should both know better than to be so rude, and I am sure they are both going to apologize.”

He may not have been able to speak, but Alexander’s eyebrows shot up at the idea he would apologize. The only sign that Aaron had not completely lost his mind was the fact that he looked to Theodosia to apologize first. After five seconds under Aaron’s expectant stare, she sighed. It was a loud, theatrical sigh, and Alexander felt a stab of sympathy. He knew all too well how false apologies burned and stung. With her head hung low, she turned to face James. It was only when she looked up again that Alexander caught a glimpse of the hard line of her jaw and the fire in her eyes. Enunciating very clearly, she said,

“James, I’m sorry you’re a buttface. It must be really hard being too stupid to realize Alex is my dad, and - “

Theodosia Esther Burr.”

At that, Theodosia’s jaw snapped shut with an audible click. Even Thomas winced in sympathy at the stern disapproval with which Aaron had spoken her name. There were very few people alive who did not have an inherent fear of their full name being marched out by an angry parent, and everyone in the room knew Theodosia had just landed herself in enormous trouble. Even when Aaron lowered his hand from Alexander’s mouth, Alexander did not speak. He was too busy staring at his husband and biting his lip. If he had thought it would do any good, he would have spoken up in Theodosia’s defence. But to Aaron’s credit, when he spoke, his voice was level and even.

“Theo, I’m disappointed in you. I know things have been difficult lately, but I thought you knew better than this. We’ll talk this over once I’ve apologized for your behaviour, but for now, I think it would be best if you went to the guest room Alexander and I have been sleeping in.”

“I’m - “

“Now, Theodosia,” Aaron said, and that was that. Theodosia sloped off to the bedroom with her head hanging low. It was only when the door clicked shut behind her that Aaron turned his gaze on the men assembled before him. Alexander’s heart sank when he saw Aaron’s expression. Most people would not have looked past the polite embarrassment and regret he was careful to show, but Alexander could see the rage in his eyes.

“I am sorry. I must ask you to be patient with her. Theo is still a young child, and this trip has been traumatic for her - for all of us. I’m not surprised she’s sensitive, especially when it comes to Alexander. Nevertheless, I can assure you I will be having words with her about her behaviour.”

“I will admit, I am surprised,” Thomas said. He walked across the room, keeping his eyes on the pair as he went. “You raised her to be a polite girl, and she always did behave herself. It’s enough to make one wonder about external influences.”

The smile on Aaron’s face was dangerous. Fortunately for Alexander, it wasn’t aimed at him. There was no need for him to worry about what came next, as he was not the target of Aaron’s irritation.

“I appreciate the concern, but I am confident I understand the reasoning behind Theo’s outburst. Several days ago, James (quite unintentionally) implied Alexander was not her father. I’m afraid Theo took the words as a threat. After everything that has happened these past few weeks, she’s become understandably protective of Alexander. It will take her time to realize James simply misspoke. Once she realizes her family is not under threat, I'm sure she'll be remorseful.”

“Of course,” James said when Aaron’s gaze turned to him. Aaron’s smile grew wide with satisfaction. It would have been easy to mistake the expression for genuine pleasure and agreement with James, but Alexander knew better. This was a fight, although unlike any Alexander had ever been in. More importantly, it was a fight Aaron was winning. Despite James being the one insulted, Aaron had managed to turn the situation on its head and highlight what James had done wrong. It took the focus off Theodosia’s behavior and, even better, seemed to make everyone forget Alexander’s own insults.

“She will learn in time, but until then I must ask for patience on her behalf. As I said, once she realizes her family is not under threat, Theo will apologize.”

“It’s no trouble at all,” James said. James himself seemed resigned to his defeat, but beside him Thomas was visibly fuming. It took all of Alexander’s control not to grin. Thomas was a lot more tolerable when he was not in a position to argue, to the point that Alexander could almost see the merit in keeping him around.

Aaron thanked James in an earnest tone, as though James had been in a position to say anything else. He excused himself after that, slipping away to speak with Theodosia and leaving Alexander alone with two of his mortal enemies.

An awkward silence settled over the room. Alexander wondered how long he had to wait before retreating. Spending time with Thomas and James was awkward at the best of times, and even worse when he was sick. Aside from them adding a headache to his list of health concerns, it was humiliating. If Alexander had known ahead of time they were having visitors, and he might have worn something other than Aaron’s pyjamas. He told himself it was for the best. With their formerly fake relationship now solidified into a real bond, it was easy to forget that parts of the world still needed convincing their relationship was real. This particular pair of pyjamas had ‘A. Burr’ embroidered over the pocket. Short of dangling a sign saying “property of Aaron Burr” around his neck, there was little more Alexander could have done to emphasise his relationship to Aaron. It did little to ease his embarrassment, but it did soothe his pride.

“Aaron would want me to thank you for letting us use the guest room,” Alexander said at length. The words burned his tongue, too close to an actual expression of gratitude for his liking. Alexander loathed everything about the present scenario. It was bad enough that he was injured, but being injured and owing a favour to Thomas was intolerable. He felt his stomach roll with disgust at Thomas’ smug sneer in response to his words.

“Well, poor Aaron was so distressed, he was begging me for help. I have to say I pity him. He’s had more than his fair share of the ‘for poorer’ end of the spectrum, and I can’t expect things to improve given the parties involved. If I was in his position, I’d be looking for a way out.”

Alexander snorted. A month ago, the words would have shaken him to the core. Now that he was secure in the knowledge Aaron was in love with him, they sounded laughable.

“Aaron’s not looking for a way out because he doesn’t want out. You're not going to be able to turn him against me. He loves me. I’m all he wants.”

“That’s funny. He told me that falling in love with you was the worst decision he ever made.”

The words froze Alexander in place. He stared at Thomas, hoping against hope to see some sign of deception or dishonesty. There were none. There was only the smug satisfaction of a man who thought he had achieved his goal. Alexander’s heart sank, but something kept him from despair. The words kept turning over in the back of his mind. As mundane as they sounded, there was something about them Alexander was missing. He could have sworn he’d heard them before. The worst decision Aaron had ever made – when had he been talking about that? Not only that, there was something familiar about the crushing hollow feeling that accompanied those words. He had heard them before, and he hadn’t liked them any better the first time he’d heard them. Still, he could not quite place the memory.

“When did he say that?” Alexander asked. His voice sounded weak and dismayed even to his own ears. It pricked at his pride, but he reminded himself that in this one case, it could be an advantage. If he wanted information out of Thomas, the quickest way to get it would be to let him think it upset Alexander to hear it. Thomas never could resist kicking a man when he was down.

Sure enough, Thomas’ lips curled up into a cruel smirk. “A few weeks ago, when you were in New York. It must have been the first time in months the poor man had been exposed to you for more than a few days. That was when I realized I don’t need to do anything to ruin this little scheme of yours. Given time, you’ll ruin it yourself.”

New York. Alexander’s eyes widened. He’d heard that conversation. He’d overheard Aaron on the phone talking to Thomas, he’d even heard him say that something about Alexander was his worst decision. With only half the conversation to go off, Alexander had assumed they were talking about the marriage, but even then it hadn’t seemed right. Alexander’s lips moved soundlessly as he ran through the conversation in his mind. It fit. A thought started to rise. It dragged with it a bubble of excitement and amazement, but Alexander was not going to let himself jump to conclusions.

“‘Because denial worked out so well for you.’ That’s what he said, isn’t it? Because you won’t pull your head out your ass for long enough to admit you keep panting after Ja-”

“Hamilton,” Thomas said sharply. Alexander stopped mid-sentence and looked at him in confusion. He was not the only one staring: James had started to look at Thomas with suspicion. When realization hit, Alexander laughed.

“Fine, I’ll keep quiet. As a favour,” he said, knowing damn well how many favours were stacked against Aaron and himself. Clawing one back shouldn’t have been so easy, but Thomas had always been a coward. He would go to any lengths to keep things secret from James - never mind the fact that it was too late. It was a vulnerabilty, and Alexander was not squeamish about using to further his own ends. He would not miss any opportunity to make things uncomfortable for Thomas, in much the same way as Thomas would take any opportunity to undermine Alexander. Any other time, Alexander would have gloated over the victory. But in this particular instant, he left the pair alone to join his family in the bedroom. Alexander had more important things to do than upset his enemies. He was busy marveling at the gem of information that had just fallen into his lap.

Aaron had loved him in New York.

The thought was enough to make Alexander’s mind spin with dizzying excitement. He had loved Aaron then too, of course: Alexander could not pinpoint exactly when it had changed from highly charged attraction to love, but he knew it had been a long time before he had noticed. He had loved him when they were fighting. He had loved him before, with the fake dates and the party and everything that had happened, and he hadn’t even realized. By the time realization dawned, he had been besotted. Alexander had thought he understood how things worked after that point. He had decided to pursue Aaron, and of course his dear Aaron had been unable to resist Alexander’s considerable charms. He had fallen in love as a direct result of Alexander’s efforts to seduce him, and that was that. It had never occurred to him that Aaron might have been in love before Alexander decided to pursue him.

The door clicked shut behind him, and Aaron looked up at Alexander and let out a sigh. Both Aaron and Theodosia were sitting on the floor, Theodosia scowling at a scrap of paper before her. There was a plaintive note in Aaron’s voice when he spoke.

“Please tell me I don’t have to get you to write an apology letter, too.”

“What? No!”

Even Aaron couldn’t hide the scale of the relief that spread over his face, and Alexander felt a stab of sympathy for him. Dear, patient Aaron, trying so hard to keep the peace. If only he could realize there was no reasoning with men like Thomas and James - then, Alexander was sure, Aaron would be much happier. Until that day, Alexander would have to make sure Aaron would be protected from the worst of his battles with them.

“I even shut up when Thomas told me to,” Alexander wheedled, hoping to coax a smile onto Aaron’s face. It worked: his eyebrows shot up in disbelief, but one corner of his mouth started to twist upwards.

“I find that hard to believe.”

“It’s true,” Alexander insisted. He sat himself on the ground beside Aaron, leaning against him. He peered over Theodosia’s shoulder and winced when he saw the letter. Writing it would be easier than saying it in person, but Alexander would have broken every finger he had before writing an apology to James Madison. He opened his mouth to say something, but a sharp look from Aaron cut him off before he could get even a word out. He shut his mouth. This was apparently one of the few things Alexander was not welcome to interfere in. Instead, he focused on leaning back against Aaron with a long stretch and arch of his spine. The movement prompted a dull throbbing pain in his chest, and he felt his bandages shift. He let out an involuntary little grunt of pain. In an instant, Aaron had turned around, his expression tight with concern. Alexander avoided his eyes as he turned around and slumped against him.

It had been two weeks since Alexander had been discharged from hospital. Between the regular medical, psychological and physio appointments, it sometimes felt as though he had never left. The pace of healing chafed at his patience. Alexander attended every appointment he had. He did all the assigned exercises, took his medication, rested when he was ordered, and generally let Aaron fuss over him as much as he desired. It seemed a great injustice that he did all this and still needed more time to heal. This was not something Alexander could simply push past. It would be another week before Alexander was cleared for light regular activity, and a month before he was clear to work.

“You’re moping,” Aaron said. His tone was gentle, and he softened the words even further with a tender kiss to Alexander’s temple. “Can you manage a smile? For me?”

There was very little resemblance between Alexander’s answering grimace and a smile, but it earned him a soft laugh nonetheless. The next kiss was pressed to Alexander’s cheek. “Not quite, Alexander. I guess it’s up to me then.”

Alexander looked up. Despite the fact that Alexander had just rebuffed his attempts to cheer him up, there was a brilliant bright smile on Aaron’s face. It was not entirely earnest. The smile did reach Aaron’s eyes, but Alexander could see the telltale signs of strain at the edges. He was showing more teeth than he would have if he were genuinely happy, but the usual tight control Aaron usually kept over false expressions was not there. It was exaggerated, but not entirely a lie. Even knowing the expression was exaggerated, Alexander couldn’t stop himself from smiling back. God, Aaron had a pretty smile. At the sight of Alexander’s hesitant little smile, the falseness in Aaron’s expression melted away. He surprised Alexander with a quick kiss to the lips.

“There we go. I knew you had it in you.”

“You two are gross,” Theodosia complained. She pulled a disgusted face at the two of them.

“It’s not my fault your dad’s a dork,” Alexander countered.

“Yeah, but you’re the one that married him.”

Alexander glanced over at Aaron. He was laughing at Theodosia’s assessment of the situation, his entire face bright with joy. A rush of warm affection ran through Alexander, and he was quite certain he had a dopey look on his face when he said,

“Yeah. I did.”

Later that night, after a shower and dinner and Theodosia’s forced apology, Alexander lay on his back in bed, staring at the ceiling. The too-soft mattress dipped as Aaron took his place beside him. As had become his habit, he rolled onto his side and pressed the length of his body against Alexander’s. It was as close as they could get. Alexander’s injuries still forced him to sleep on his back, but he wrapped one arm around Aaron and pulled him in. The fact that he could do little more was a source of constant frustration to Alexander.

It was just one of the many concessions his injury forced him to make. He could not sleep on his side; he could not hold Aaron as tight as he wanted; he could not have sex, at least, not while he required opiates to manage his pain. The last he found especially frustrating. After all this waiting, he was desperate to get his hands on Aaron. He could hardly wait to explore his body with the kind of thorough attention to detail Alexander reserved for the most important things in his life. The desire was there, but Aaron refused to do more than kiss while Alexander’s mind was clouded with painkillers. It was enough to make a man weep.

Under ordinary circumstances, Alexander would have spend the evening trying to persuade Aaron to have a little leniency in this rule. After the conversations of the day, Alexander found his mind was elsewhere. Thomas’ taunts had been echoing in his mind all evening. It was not until Aaron had settled down beside him that Alexander found the confidence to break the silence between them.

“Hey, Aaron?”

Aaron made a wordless sound in response and squeezed his hand. Alexander risked a glance over at him. It had been a bad idea: Aaron lay on his side, staring at Alexander with the kind of tender affection that made his heart swell. It was nearly enough to distract him from his task, but Alexander held firm.

“You love me, right?”

“Yes, Alexander,” Aaron said. His lips curled into an indulgent smile, and he brought Alexander’s hand to his mouth to kiss the back of his hand. “I love you.”

In the face of such open adoration, restating Thomas’ claim seemed insulting. Alexander tried a different tactic. “When did you know?”

There was a long pause as Aaron gathered his thoughts. Here, in the safety of their bed, Aaron let down his usual guards, giving Alexander the rare pleasure of watching his thoughts take shape. To Alexander’s surprise, there was both embarrassment and shame in Aaron’s face by the time he formulated his answer.

“That’s difficult to say. I knew it was a risk a long time before I fell in love. Right from the beginning, I enjoyed your company more than I should have, and you have always been handsome.” That much, Aaron delivered without hesitation. There was a bright smile on his face, and he met Alexander’s eyes and held his gaze. It made the change that came after even more apparent. Aaron looked down, and when he spoke it was with great hesitation and doubt. “It frightened me. I didn’t want to fall in love. I especially didn’t want to be in love with you.”

Alexander’s heart sank. Thomas had been right. “If you don’t want this -”

“I do,” Aaron blurted. The words came out louder than either of them had expected. Perhaps it was selfish of Alexander, but he was gratified by just how intense Aaron’s response was. His eyes widened and searched Alexander’s face for some sign he was joking. His grip on Alexander’s hand tightened so it was almost painful. “Alexander, you must understand - I was wrong. I was proud, and I was foolish and I was wrong.”

“Especially me, though,” Alexander pointed out with a whine. He was unable to stop himself from pouting, even when Aaron tried to kiss away the expression.

“Especially you. You get under my skin all too easily,” Aaron said. The words sounded like a confession. As Aaron spoke, he reached up to touch Alexander’s cheek. A smile started to creep onto Aaron’s face, weak and shy but earnest. “You drove me mad, do you know that? You’d do something, or say something, and I’d be blown away. It was infuriating. You could sweep me off my feet without even trying. I’d be scrambling to pull myself together before you noticed, and there was nothing I could do to control it.”

“Bullshit.”

Aaron laughed and shook his head. “I mean it. I may have been able to hide it, but it happened nearly every day. I still don’t know how I managed to keep it from you.”

Every day. Alexander took a moment to digest this new information. There were perks to Aaron having been so resistant to his advances, perks that Alexander was only now beginning to appreciate. Aaron had appreciated his flirting, even though he had not shown it. Aaron thought he was impressive. That was a thought Alexander liked very much. He liked even more the idea that Aaron found him irresistible, and he resolved to take full advantage of that at every opportunity.

“I’m not even talking about any of the times you were trying to flirt,” Aaron continued. “I had enough trouble dealing with the look you’d give me if I helped you build an idea, or - God help me, even when you were trying to annoy me, picking petty fights or calling me every pet name in the book. I should have known I was a lost cause when I started to find those things endearing.”

“So that’s what did it? The fact that I’m a pain in the ass?”

Aaron grinned and kissed the tip of Alexander’s nose. Alexander wrinkled his nose in response, letting the gesture hide his worry. He knew he was obnoxious. What if Aaron’s infatuation was just that: infatuation? What if he woke up one day and found Alexander’s habits annoying again? No one could fault him for it. Anyone who could tolerate Alexander had the patience of a saint. It was only a matter of time before Aaron’s patience ran out. He had heard words like that enough times from enough people that it did not even occur to Alexander to doubt it was true. The anxiety pulled at his insides, not comforted at all by the besotted smile on Aaron’s face.

“There’s no one thing that did it, Alexander. It’s you.”

“But if you had to pick one thing. The thing that really pushed you over the edge,” Alexander pushed. He had to know. Alexander’s mind had sped past the restraint of logic and reason and dived straight into a sea of anxiety and worst case scenarios. He could feel his heart pound as Aaron considered the question. The care Aaron gave the question was comforting, and Alexander forced himself to take a deep inhale. When Aaron’s face settled into firm certainty, he met Alexander’s eyes.

“I can’t. You’re the one thing. There was no grand realization because I knew where I was headed before I got there. I knew I was going to fall in love before it happened. I was furious when I figured it out.”

“When did you figure it out, then?” Alexander wanted to know. There was a pleading note in his voice. If he could just figure that out, if he could find out what genius and suave thing he had done to win Aaron over, then maybe he could keep doing it. Maybe, just maybe, Aaron would let him keep him. Whatever the answer was, it seemed to embarrass Aaron. He let out a little laugh and tucked his face against Alexander’s shoulder.

“If you must know, it was the night our friends threw that ridiculous party. I saw you trying to get along with Jon, and it meant the world to me. And you spent the whole night looking at me in that way you always do, and I knew I was in trouble,” Aaron said. The tension in Alexander’s gut eased. If that had been what had done it, he could keep doing that. He could guess exactly the look he had been given Aaron: it was likely not too far from the one he wore now. Aaron looked up and grinned.

“Yes, that’s the one. I couldn’t handle it. I’d thought I could control how I felt, but that was when I realized you took that from me. I didn’t fall in love that night, but I knew it was only a matter of time before I did. I didn’t take it well. I hoped talking to Maria would get you off my mind, but then she suggested shots, and - well, you know how that turned out.”

“I liked how the night ended,” Alexander said. It was blunt, but something in his gut told him that was the best route to take with this. They had already spent weeks dancing around the issue. If that one night was going to be a problem for them, Alexander would much prefer to get the fighting and awkwardness out of the way up front.

It seemed Alexander’s gambit paid off. Aaron was visibly caught off guard by the blunt words. While he was scrambling to recover his train of thought, he was safe from any lingering feelings of anxiety and guilt - exactly where Alexander wanted him. He pressed his advantage:

“Yes, it was a mistake. Neither of us had come to terms with what we were feeling, and it complicated things. But it was good.”

“It did complicate things. But,” Aaron stopped, hesitating. He ducked his head, then forced himself to look Alexander in the eye despite his embarrassment. “It was enjoyable.”

Alexander grinned at him. “If only we could have agreed on that earlier. Think of all of the fighting we could have skipped.”

“We got here in the end,” Aaron said. “We made it. Even if we took the long way around, I’m happy I get to be with you.”

The smile on Aaron’s face was bright enough to light up the night sky. God, how had Alexander been so lucky to end up with this? Most people only saw Aaron’s professional smile, but Alexander got the real thing. He got to see what Aaron’s face looked like when he was filled with nothing but joy and love and adoration and know it was because of him. He loved everything about it, from the way Aaron’s eyes crinkled in the corners to the way his lips pulled up a little more on the right side of his face. It was the most beautiful thing Alexander had ever seen.

“What about you?” Aaron asked. “When did you figure it out?”

Alexander groaned. Now that he had raised the topic, he couldn’t avoid answering himself. Alexander turned his face away to hide his embarrassment, but that did not stop Aaron from reaching out and touching his cheek. Despite himself, Alexander leaned into the touch. His cheeks had flushed warm, and Aaron's touch felt nice and cool against his skin. It was only after he had spent few moments in silent debate that he reached over and picked up his phone.

“I was the opposite. I fell hard and fast and I didn’t realize for months. But I can show you when I realized.”

It took only a moment for Alexander to find the right clip. He propped the phone up on his chest so Aaron could see and pressed play. Instead of watching himself, Alexander spent the entire clip watching Aaron’s face like a hawk. At first he seemed baffled. Alexander could not fault him for that. A late night talk show was not what most people would think of when they were asked about love.

In the video, Alexander’s past self spoke boldly and without hesitation. He was blissfully unaware of the maelstrom of emotions he was about to unleash on himself. As the on-screen Alexander explained how he felt about Aaron, Aaron’s face shifted from bemusement to disbelief and wonder. When it got to the end, he laughed.

“You are the most ridiculous man I have ever met,” Aaron told him. There was enough warmth and affection in his voice to soothe any sting the words might have carried. The kiss that followed ignited a warm glow that spread through Alexander’s body. When he pulled back, Aaron was grinning at Alexander as though he were the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

The fears Thomas had managed to corrupt Alexander with melted away in the face of Aaron’s open expression. He had no doubt left that Aaron was his to love. There were a million things he could say to Aaron in that moment, and Alexander wanted to say them all. But he knew Aaron would not welcome the ten hours of praise and adoration, so Alexander did the only thing he could do and kissed him. Aaron would understand. There were some things that could be said without words, and “I love you” was one of them.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 32 - DEMOCRACY

The sun rose on a election day, and the world held its breath. Both Aaron and Alexander rose at dawn. They prepared for the day in the silvery grey light of morning in near silence, neither of them willing to acknowledge the looming risk.. For once, there was nothing Alexander could say. Either they won, and Washington took the White House and helped steer the United States into the country Alexander knew they could be, or -

- or -

Alexander did not like to think about ‘or.’

In the name of respectability, Alexander had chosen his most boring suit: black, at Aaron’s suggestion, after his grey suit had been ruined at the jazz bar. As reluctant as he was to admit it, Alexander found he liked wearing black. There was something pleasing about the contrast of his crisp white shirt with the black jacket that made him feel distinguished. The Burrs, of course, had made similar concessions to modesty. For himself, Aaron had shirked any trace of colour. The two of them looked terribly somber when they stood side-by-side dressed all in black.

Even Theodosia was expected to dress for the occasion. For the first time since Alexander had known them, Aaron did not let Theodosia have any say in her outfit. They had bought a new dress for the occasion, although it would likely never be worn again. Theodosia complained endlessly about the outfit. The powder blue dress was too long, making it impossible for her to run and play, and matching white cardigan would be impossible to keep clean. She would have to stay still and calm all day long. Although Aaron's stance on her outfit was firm, Aaron listened to Theodosia’s complaints on the matter. He agreed with all her points. The dress was not her usual style, nor was it as comfortable as what she usually wore. It was unfair that she did not get to choose her outfit, and Aaron was sorry. After agreeing, he reasoned with her. He pointed out the way he and Alexander had dressed, and how much of a fuss Thomas was making. They had dressed this way for a reason. Tomorrow that reason would have passed, and Theodosia would be free to choose her own outfits again. His arguments won Theodosia's begrudging agreement. She sat still as he pulled her hair back into tight neat braids. While he did so, one of Thomas' stylists proposed straightening her hair. Another suggested she should wear make up for the occasion. Aaron froze in place. After a moment, he resumed braiding Theodosia's hair, but Alexander could see his temper ticking away beneath the surface. As soon as he could, he hurried Aaron away before the explosion came. It was bizarre to be the rational one, but when it came to Theodosia, Aaron would always be sensitive.

The trio piled into a limousine shortly before the polls opened. Alexander spent most of the journey chewing on his lip and peering out the window. There were plenty of people outside the polls. Was that a good sign? There were police, too, which worried him. Police presence had increased everywhere since Halloween, and Alexander hated that his own injury was used to justify it. Such a strong police presence would only drive people away. It was heartening to see the crowds that formed despite their presence. People were voting. There was no chance to win if they did not vote, and they would need every last vote of support they could get. Alexander shuddered to think what might happen if there was no clear victor. No, he told himself, there was no risk of that. There were enough people out there that there should be a decisive outcome. There was only one concern left. Watching from the safety of the car, Alexander had no way of knowing how the assembled crowds might vote. He could only hope.

The voting process was smooth, if not quick or efficient. Alexander felt an undeniable thrill as he marked the box beside Washington’s name. After all this time, after all he had been through, the opportunity to vote felt almost surreal. He walked out of the booth with his head held high and a genuine smile on his face. He shot a grin at the cameras before he walked around the corner and right into a stranger.

“Sorry about that, I...”

Alexander froze in place. There was something about the man he had walked into that made his thoughts leap to Halloween. Could it have been the man from the front gate? Or perhaps he had been one of the guests. It was a moot point: either way, Alexander’s body had flooded with fear. His head spun, and Alexander could have sworn for a moment he was back in the park. Once his mind made that one connection between the past and present, he found a million more. It was a white man in the red cap, a tall white man with a neatly trimmed beard and a white t-shirt and ice-cold hate in his eyes. There was a crowd, just like on Halloween, and Alexander could not breathe. Even though he knew perfectly well where he was, the world seemed to fade out around Alexander, until all he could see were the similarities. Every instinct he had screamed at him to do something.

The entire crest of panic could only have lasted seconds. Before it had time to break and spill over his face, Aaron appeared as if from nowhere. Logic insisted that he had stepped out from the poll booth beside Alexander’s and not out of thin air; but logic was not in play for Alexander at this particular moment. He watched in bemused silence as Aaron placed himself between Alexander and the stranger. There was a charming smile on Aaron’s face as he shook the stranger’s hand and made polite conversation, but as soon as possible he made his excuses and led Alexander away. Aaron's hand pressed against Alexander's. The touch was more soothing than Alexander could have imagined. He clung to Aaron's hand like a lifeline, even if a part of him worried the grip must be painful.

It was not until the entire family was back at the car that Alexander realized what had happened. The psychologists had warned him about this. It was an ingrained trauma response: unsurprising, given what had happened, but entirely unwelcome. Halloween still haunted Alexander's thoughts. Even if he did not dedicate any conscious time to the topic, his subconscious was looking for patterns and warning signs. It was a natural human trait. Until he had processed the event, his mind would trigger a fight or flight response at every pattern it found. It was something Alexander could do nothing but endure until it passed.

“You’re safe here,” Aaron assured him. He settled him in the back of the car and took the seat right beside him. Theodosia climbed over to the other side and hugged him. She may not know what was wrong, but she was smart enough to realize Alexander was upset. The concern made Alexander’s breath catch in his throat. Yes, recovery was going to be awful, but for the first time he realized he would not be facing it alone. He had a family. The realization was enough to slow the racing panic in his mind. He finally noticed the comfort of having the Burrs so close.

“I’m alright,” he said. Even to his own ears, the words sounded shaky and uncertain. He took a deep breath and focused on the way Aaron squeezed his hand. His voice was steady when he repeated himself. The new conviction earned him a kiss on the cheek and a bright smile from Aaron.

Instead of heading directly to Mount Vernon, the trio found a small, out of the way cafe and stopped for brunch. All three of them were ravenous. More importantly, it provided a chance to calm down and prepare before facing Washington and the press. All three of them needed time. The rapid pounding of Alexander’s heart was not enough to dissuade him from his usual coffee. He focused on the bitter tang with relish. Someone who fancied themselves a connoisseur of coffee might have had something to say about the underlying aromatics, but all Alexander cared about was the way it burnt his mouth. He focused on the sweet stinging pain, and slowly his pulse began to slow back to normal. Across the table, Aaron seemed to be doing the same thing with his tea. Knowing Aaron, he was appreciating the subtle flavours instead of relying on temperature to shock him back to reality. The thought brought an indulgent smile to Alexander's lips.

It was only once he had calmed down that Alexander looked over at Aaron and grinned.

“Well. We voted.”

“You two voted. I still don’t know why I’m not allowed to vote,” Theodosia complained.

“You know, four years ago I would’ve had an answer, but not now. You’re definitely smarter than some of the idiots who voted then.”

“Alexander, don’t be rude,” Aaron warned, but there was warm amusement carried in his voice. Alexander grinned. That was a challenge if he ever heard one. He spent the rest of brunch being as rude and uncharitable as possible to his political opponents. Aaron let out a long-suffering sigh but, tellingly, did not scold Alexander again. He let Alexander ramble all through breakfast. Even when he shook his head or scolded Alexander, Aaron did not seem to be able to keep himself from smiling at Alexander’s theatrics. The realization egged Alexander on. He kept going after they piled into the car, addicted to the moments when Aaron slipped up and laughed aloud. He knew the laughter was genuine. If Aaron was only being polite, it would have been his smooth chuckle; not the dorky, undignified laugh Alexander adored.

They were greeted at Mount Vernon by Washington himself. It was only practice from their decades-long friendship that allowed Alexander to identify the strain in Washington’s countenance. To the rest of the world, he looked as calm and unflappable as ever. It was a comfort to Alexander that Washington managed to seem in control. So long as Washington was in command, Alexander believed they could get through anything. The campaign team agreed, but that did not stop them from fretting. Most people managed some veneer of calm before the cameras, but in the back halls it was a different story. Washington had opened an entire floor of his home to the campaign team and their families, but it went largely ignored. Every last person squeezed into the central control room. Several large televisions displayed the results rolling in, while a team in the corner tapped away on their laptops. The room watched with bated breath.

The only person (aside from Washington himself) who seemed entirely unphased was Aaron. He wielded his iron control with the ease born of long practice. No matter what the mood of the room was, Aaron wore an easy smile and calming temperament as he worked his way around the room, introducing himself and making new contacts and providing bold reassurances. Wherever he went, people were left feeling calmer and more confident. It took Alexander a moment to realize he was networking. A year ago, Alexander would have been outraged that Aaron could find the time to network at a time like this. Now he found himself impressed. The more Aaron worked, the more people in the room looked at him as if he held some position of authority: someone who was worth listening to. If Aaron ever moved into politics, he would take the world by storm. The thought made Alexander’s chest glow with pride. God, the things he and Aaron could accomplish together.

A hush fell over the room as the results from the first state came in. Combined, the major parties took 58.3% of the vote. Neither had claimed more than a third of the total number of votes, despite their decades-long histories. Washington claimed the remaining 41%. Someone let out a whoop of excitement, and the room broke into cheers and even tears from overwhelmed staff. An independent candidate had won a state. It was a resounding victory that some people had feared would not come at all. Most took it as a positive omen. If Washington could win one state, he could win more - maybe, if they were lucky, he could win enough to take the electoral college. There was hope.

As the day progressed, the cheering and celebration stopped. The entire room stared at the screen in stunned silence as the results rolled across the electoral map. No one, from the newsreaders to the people on the street to Alexander himself, could believe what they were seeing. The numbers were checked and rechecked. Questions started flying, shortly followed by accusations and wild speculation. By five PM, Alexander knew he had work to do. He had written more speeches than he could count for Washington’s results announcement. They had covered everything from a strong victory to crushing defeat, but he had not prepared a single speech for this scenario.

Washington had won every state.

The celebrations at Mount Vernon continued long into the night. It was only his injury that kept Alexander from staying awake the entire night. By just ten o’clock, Alexander was fading fast. Aaron did not miss his husband’s flagging energy and urged him to go to bed with both stern words and sweet kisses. Drunk on both victory and love, Alexander followed him to bed and spent the night in dreamless bliss.

With the rest of the house nursing severe hangovers, Alexander and his family were the first to rise. Both Aaron and Alexander showered and dressed before venturing out in search of breakfast, but Theodosia refused to change from her pyjamas. Aaron and Alexander exchanged a look before Aaron shrugged. He had said she could choose what she wanted to wear, and he intended to stick to his promise.

They found the kitchen without too much difficulty. The large old-fashioned kitchen may have been unfamiliar, but Aaron and Alexander fell into their morning routine without a second thought. While Aaron rustled around in the pantry to find what he needed to cook, Alexander handled drinks and set the table. He did not ask what Aaron was making. Whatever it was, it would be good; even if it wasn’t, Alexander knew that by not cooking himself, he lost any right to complain about what was served.

As Alexander poured his second cup of coffee, he heard the sound of footsteps from the hallway. He turned around just in time to see Washington enter the kitchen. Washington looked oddly out of place among the pots and pans. However well stocked the kitchen was, Alexander suspected his employer (president elect, his brain supplied, with a giddy jolt of excitement) knew no more about cooking than him. It was likely a long time since he had set foot in his own kitchen. The incongruity was not helped by the fact that Washington appeared dressed and ready for the day. That, Alexander suspected, was out of concern for the Burrs. If Alexander were alone, Washington would not have bothered changing out of his dressing robe: they had known each other too long to bother with such things. Alexander raised his mug half in salute, half in question. At Washington’s nod, he started to pour another mug for him.

“Aaron, babe, can you cook enough for one more?”

Discomfort flickered over Washington’s face. “Son - Alexander. No one else is going to be awake at this hour. You can drop the pretence for now.”

“What pretence?” Theodosia asked, as Aaron and Alexander exchanged a long look.

In the past week, the two of them had shared long conversations about Washington’s open disdain for Aaron. Despite their combined effort, they had not been able to devise a satisfactory solution. Washington valued honesty above almost all else; Aaron was and always would be a closed book to everyone except a precious few. They could not stop Washington from viewing Aaron’s reticence as suspicious, and Aaron neither could nor would change his personality. They were at an impasse.

What Aaron read in Alexander’s face as they stared at each other Alexander didn’t know, but what he saw in Aaron worried him. The unhappiness and worry shifted to resolve. There was a stubborn set to Aaron’s jaw, but the slight furrow in his brow gave away his anxiety. If they had been close enough, Alexander had no doubt he would have felt Aaron’s heart racing.

“Theo, sweetheart, Alexander left his glasses in our room. Can you please fetch them for him?”

The adults in the room, by mutual silent agreement, decided not to notice the way Theo muttered under her breath as she left. Once she was gone, Aaron turned the heat down on the stove and paced the room. He checked each entrance for eavesdroppers before shutting the door. Only when the last door was shut did he turn towards Washington and straighten his spine.

“Sir. I will cut to the chase and keep this as brief as possible. We both know you dislike me. I can’t blame you for that: you have good reason to suspect my motives, especially in regard to Alexander. I’m glad to know he has people who will stand up for him. That said, I believe we have reached a point where we can no longer ignore our disagreements. The current situation is not sustainable. Alexander has gone to great lengths to allay the fears of my own friends. I hope you will at least allow me do the same, and state my case.”

Alexander’s heart pounded. He could swear he could feel it up in his throat as anxiety buzzed in his brain. They hadn’t discussed this. “Aaron?”

The smile Aaron sent in response went a long way to soothing Alexander’s fears, but it did not quite manage to silence the voice in his brain telling him they were headed for disaster. To satisfy Washington, Aaron would have to reveal more than he would be comfortable with. There would be no keeping both of them happy. Alexander looked to Washington, hoping he would disengage, but what he saw made his heart sink. Washington looked guarded but thoughtful. From his perspective, Alexander supposed, it was a risk free endeavour. Whether or not his opinion changed, he would learn more about Aaron. Washington nodded and gestured for Aaron to continue.

“When I agreed to marry Alexander, it was not without thought of political motive. It would be a lie to pretend there has been no benefit to my career. I have taken advantage of opportunities that I would not have had if I had not wed Alexander, and I do not apologize for that. It was what I had intended. I knew marrying Alexander would open new doors for me that I could never hope to find otherwise. That is how I justified the decision to myself. I did not want to admit I was motivated, at least in part, by sentimentality. Alexander has always been my friend. That is what compelled me to act. Alexander turned to me only when he had exhausted all better matches. If I had refused him, I do not know what he would have done; he would have been in a dreadful situation.”

“I am aware of the position Alexander was in. If you’re hoping to win my approval by reminding me, you’re not going to get very far.”

Alexander's jaw dropped. This was not something they had discussed, not since the very first few days of marriage. He remembered all too well how insistently Aaron had dodged the topic, changing his motives every time he was asked. The one consistent motive he quoted was friendship. It hadn’t even occurred to Alexander that he could be telling the truth. Each time Aaron had mentioned friendship, he had done so with a slippery grin and avoided eye contact. Alexander had assumed that meant he was lying. This made more sense: Aaron had been uncomfortable with how honest he was being and trying to hide it. Aaron would have hated the fact that he was so driven by emotions. He would have hated admitting it even more. The fact that he was willing to state it now was a testament how far they had come.

“I’m not asking for your approval. I’m asking for your acceptance,” Aaron said. He walked across the kitchen to Alexander’s side. Alexander watched as he inhaled and then exhaled to the count of five. When he was done, he took Alexander’s hand and continued.

“I plan on standing by Alexander’s side for as long as he’ll have me. There is nothing you nor anyone else can say to dissuade me from this path: Alexander has become an essential part of my life. I will do everything I can to make him happy. That's why I'm bringing this up now. Alexander values your opinion, more than he likes to admit. I know it’s too much to ask for you to like or trust me, but I’m hoping that we can come to a compromise. I’m asking for a second chance. A clean slate. It will make Alexander’s life a lot easier if you and I can get along, and I do not believe our motives are at odds.”

As soon as Aaron took Alexander’s hand, Washington’s eyes snapped to Alexander’s face. It took Alexander a second to realize why. Even now, Washington was worried that Burr was somehow manipulating him. It made sense, in a twisted way. The last he had heard, Alexander had been heartbroken about Aaron’s silent rejection of his advances. This reversal of the situation would seem suspicious, especially given the timing: if Aaron was motivated by political gain, staying with Alexander after the election result would be an obvious decision to make. Washington did not know the truth. He had not seen the way Aaron looked at Alexander with pride and adoration, nor the way he melted into Alexander's touch.

“He means it,” Alexander said earnestly. “We’ve talked about it. Aaron loves me - he’s a sap, honestly, you wouldn’t believe it. We’re staying together. He’s coming with me to D.C, starting his own law firm, and we’ve been looking at schools for Theo for the past two weeks.”

Some of the tension eased out of Washington’s expression when Alexander hinted this had been going on for some time. This was a moment of weakness, Alexander realized, and he jumped on it without a second thought.

“George. Please. Trust me on this.”

The resolve on Washington’s face shattered. “Very well. We have an agreement. But -”

Before he could finish, Theodosia let herself in with Alexander’s glasses held aloft. She dropped the glasses on the table in front of Alexander. With her arms crossed, she stared up at him with a stern look on her face.

“Don’t forget them again.”

“I hate wearing my glasses. They make me look old.”

“I like them. They make you look attentive. Focused,” Aaron said. His lips curled into a teasing smile. “When you look old, I’ll tell you.”

They bickered over Alexander’s age and the merits of optometry while Aaron stepped aside to finish breakfast. No matter what incentives anyone at the table applied, Alexander stubbornly refused to change his behaviour. Part of his resolve came from sheer enjoyment of the situation. There was something about bickering over breakfast that made his heart swell, something undeniably domestic. For the first time, Alexander found himself aware of how and why Aaron had adapted to domestic life. Alexander would not have traded this moment for the world.

Chapter Text

Alexander nearly cried with relief when he walked through the front door of Aaron's apartment. After weeks in Virginia, it was good to be home.

Staying with Washington had not been as intolerable as the weeks spent at Jefferson’s apartment, but it had not been without problems. In Washington’s home, he had been just one of many guests there for the election. Alexander may have been a favoured guest, and it showed. He had been afforded every luxury. Not a single detail had been been overlooked, from the snacks stocked in the room (including Alexander's favourite kind of sour candy) to the style of the decor. At first glance, Alexander assumed the size of the rooms was another sign of Washington's favouritism. It had not taken him long to realize the unfortunate truth.

While Alexander was more than welcome, Aaron was not. Their room had been prepared before Aaron had spoken to Washington about Alexander, and it showed.

Even if his ploy had worked (Alexander could only hope it had), it was too late for the room to be remade. The room had been designed to give Alexander as much privacy as he could have desired. Both of he and Aaron knew it, and it hurt Alexander more than he liked to admit. He did his best to take comfort in the fact that some of the changes were welcome. There was no need for Washington to know it was Aaron, not Alexander, who had made use of the private office. The furniture scattered around the room was plentiful. Neither Aaron nor Alexander made much use of the assorted chairs and sofas, but Theo had great fun clambering about and pretending the floor was lava.

Other changes were less welcome. Only one mug had been provided with the coffee pot, and the bed proved to be a disaster. At first glance, it appeared to be an ordinary double bed. It was only when they stripped the covers back that they discovered it was two king singles pressed together. Each single bed was made seperately beneath the top duvet. If they had so desired, it would have been easy for Aaron and Alexander to push the beds apart an inch or two and have their own space. When they had first married, the thought might have been appreciated. As it was now, Alexander hated every little detail about the bed. He hated the implication that his bond to Aaron was not real; he hated the mere thought of sleeping alone; and, most of all, he hated how difficult the setup made it to cuddle. It was impossible to entangle himself in Aaron without one or both of them slipping into the gap, or outright lying on top of him. After spending just one night there, Alexander had been desperate for his own bed.

Five minutes after walking through the front door, Alexander flopped down on the bed and let out a long sigh. It was good to be home.

He dozed in and out of consciousness as he listened to Aaron make his way around the house. Unlike Alexander, Aaron would not be content until he had unpacked and put everything away. Alexander knew better than to interfere with this ritual. He had once tried to help, but he had learnt the consequences of putting something in the wrong place were dire. It was best to stay out of the way. There would be time to be a kind and considerate partner later. For now Alexander could relax and rest with the knowledge that Aaron was both happy and close at hand.

After an hour, Aaron came and sat on the bed beside him. Alexander blinked up at him and smiled. “Hey, beautiful.”

“Hey yourself,” Aaron said. His eyes dragged over Alexander’s body, and he put one hand on Alexander’s thigh. “My sister stopped by. She's taken Theo out for the afternoon. They're walking down to some market or other.”

“Okay,” Alexander said. It was good to know, he thought. He’d wondered when he’d heard the sound of Theo's bicycle bell from the street below. It would be a long trip in this cold, but she would no doubt appreciate the fresh air. Come to think of it, a walk would do Alexander good, too. He was about to suggest it, but before he could say anything Aaron shifted and straddled his hips. He grinned down at Alexander.

“We have at least an hour,” Aaron said, tracing over Alexander’s face with his fingertips. The touch was light and teasing enough that Alexander shivered. “Probably more. Just you and me.”

“Okay,” Alexander replied. His tone was still flat and neutral as he wondered what Aaron was getting at. Aaron was clearly expecting a particular response from Alexander. It took Aaron the sound of Aaron’s laughter to make Alexander realize he had missed something. His eyes widened as he realized what that thing was. They were alone. Alexander had been off painkillers for nearly a week now, and for the first time he and Aaron were alone. He flushed. “Oh.”

“‘Oh’, indeed,” Aaron grinned at him. He put one elbow on the bed beside Alexander’s head and bent his spine so he could press a kiss against Alexander’s lips. He no doubt intended the kiss to be sweet and gentle. There was still a caution to Aaron’s touch that had not been there before Halloween, and he fretted about Alexander overexerting himself. Alexander had no such concerns. He curled his fingers around the base of Aaron’s neck and slid his tongue into his mouth. It did not take a great deal to divert Aaron from his plan of moving at a glacial pace. By the time Alexander pulled back, he looked disheveled. Alexander’s grasping hands had tugged his shirt askew, and his lips were parted. Alexander grinned up at him, all wicked eagerness and hunger.

“Maybe I should make you wait,” Alexander said, even as he ran his hands down Aaron’s sides. “You made me wait.”

“And you complained every night,” Aaron pointed out with a laugh. “You haven’t got the patience to make me wait, for which I’m grateful. It was hard enough the first time. God, do you have any idea how hard it was to keep saying ‘no’ to you?”

“But you did it.”

“I did. And I’d do it again,” Aaron admitted. His voice dropped to a low purr that made Alexander’s heart pound with anticipation. “And now I’m going to give you everything you want.”

“That might be hard. I want a lot.”

Aaron smirked at him. He leaned down and trailed kisses along Alexander’s jaw. For a moment Alexander wondered how he knew exactly where to be gentle and where to bite and tease, until it hit him: Aaron remembered. He’d done the exact same thing all those months ago, and Aaron had paid enough attention that he remembered it now. Alexander whimpered. The idea that Aaron had paid so much attention to him made him dizzy with lust. Aaron rolled his hips against Alexander, letting him feel his hardness through the fabric of his pants. Finally, he straightened his spine and sat back. His weight was still heavy on Alexander’s hips, but Alexander resented the new distance between their mouths.

“I know how much you want. Don’t think I’ve forgotten what you said last time,” Aaron told him. He trailed his fingers down his own chest, pausing to unbutton his shirt as he want. “You promised a lot. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind since.”

“Is that so?” Alexander asked. His face lit up, and he reached up to help Aaron remove his shirt. He could not remember half of what he had said that night, but that detail did not matter to Alexander. What mattered was that Aaron remembered. The idea that Aaron had thinking about him fanned the flames of Alexander's hunger, and his mind raced with possibilities. “Did you touch yourself, baby? Did you think about me as you jerked off? I thought about you when I did. Couldn’t get you out of my mind.”

Aaron’s pupils dilated and he took a slow, shuddering breath. Pride and heat swept through Alexander all at once. Aaron inhaled to the count of five. Alexander did not need to count to know the exhale would take exactly ten seconds. His words had been so effective Aaron was taking deliberate measures to calm himself. A cocky grin spread over Alexander’s face. Alexander was as talkative during sex as he was in all other activities. If Aaron enjoyed that, then Aaron had won the lottery by falling for Alexander.

“An hour. Think of everything we can do,” Alexander purred. He ran his hands over Aaron’s chest, delighting in the warmth of the skin under his hands. There were a thousand different ways to touch, and Alexander wanted to try them all. It would take more than this one session for Alexander to be content. He could spend hours exploring Aaron’s body without ever dipping below his hips. Did he like light, teasing touches? He was ticklish: it was possible a light touch would be too similar to that. Tweaking Aarons nipples resulted in a complete non-response, but he moaned when Alexander scraped blunt fingernails against his skin.

Aaron did not simply sit there and let Alexander do as he wished. He conducted his own exploration of Alexander’s body, as patient and methodical as he was with everything he valued in life. The fact that neither of them could keep their hands to themselves did lead to awkward moments where they boxed one another in, but Alexander did not mind the delays. It forced him to stop and take a moment to look at his husband. The sight of Aaron grinning down at him with open desire took Alexander’s breath away every time. Even now, he could scarcely believe his luck.

They spent a long time like that, caught up in one another. Alexander was determined to make the most of this precious moment. There was no doubt in his mind that he would have Aaron in his bed every night for years to come, but that did not stop him from memorizing every last detail as if this could be the end. It felt as though he were under some kind of enchantment. Every little movement Aaron made consumed Alexander’s mind. He could not think or plan or scheme: he could only react on instinct. It was not until Aaron groped at his rear that his thoughts crystallized into words.

“Please tell me you have condoms.”

Looking rather sheepish, Aaron shuffled across the bed and opened the bedside drawer. He tossed an unopened packet of condoms on the bed, followed by a full bottle of hypoallergenic lubricant. “I bought them before I left for Virginia.”

“My hero,” Alexander said. He was only somewhat joking, and he wondered if Aaron had picked up on his relief. “So, how do you want to do this? Do you have a preference? Have you been with enough guys to have a preference?”

For the first time that night, Aaron looked embarrassed. He stayed close to the edge of the bed, looking halfway ready to bolt. “It’s been a while.”

“Yeah, I haven’t exactly been performing my husbandly duties,” Alexander said, waggling his eyebrows. The irreverent comment mostly worked: Aaron gave an undignified snort of laughter, easing in the anxiety in his expression. When Alexander reached for him, he obliged the unspoken demand and moved towards the centre of the bed. Alexander met him there, catching his lips in a kiss.

After a few moments, Aaron pulled away from the kiss. Even when Alexander made a soft sound and tried to chase him, he dodged Alexander’s lips. When Alexander nibbled along his jaw instead, he pushed gently at Alexander’s chest and said,

“No, Alexander, wait.”

Alexander could have sworn his heart stopped. Dread swooped in his chest as his stomach plummeted through the floor as Alexander’s mind scrambled to figure out where he had gone wrong. Had he hurt Aaron? There were a million reasons Aaron might want him to stop, from ‘I need to pee’ to ‘I would rather die than touch you’, and Alexander’s lightning-quick mind jumped straight to the worst scenarios he could construct. But when Alexander dared glance up to Aaron’s face, there was no anger or fear to be seen. His smile was as bright as it always was for Alexander. Almost more reassuring was the open lust on his face, hungry and full of promise. Whatever the problem was, Alexander was still wanted.

“I only stopped you because we need to have a serious talk. That means I need to focus, and I can’t when you’re doing that. You’re very distracting.” Aaron paused to let out an awkward chuckle. Even if Aaron was embarrassed by the admission, it did wonders for Alexander’s ego. He felt a flush of pride, and arousal a moment later when Aaron’s eyes visibly dipped down Alexander’s body before snapping back up to his face. For once, Aaron made no attempt to hide his actions or intentions. What he saw clearly distracted him, because for a moment he was flustered before he regained control over himself.

“When were you last tested? I went to the doctor a few weeks ago. All the tests came back negative.”

That was good news, but Alexander’s heart still sank as he tried to remember the last time he had seen a doctor. “Too long ago.”

Aaron let out a disappointed sigh, but he patted Alexander’s thigh in a consoling gesture. “Get tested. I’m not taking any risks. We’re not doing anything without a condom until we’re sure, and that limits our options. I can’t stand the taste of latex. I'd rather not deal with that if I've got other options.”

“I’ll call the doctor tomorrow,” Alexander promised, in what was possibly the quickest decision of his life. He hated going to the doctor, but he was willing to ignore that if a blowjob was on the table. “We’ve got condoms, it’s fine. You can still fuck me. Right?”

“Well, when you put it like that, how could I say ‘no’?” Aaron teased. The playfulness delighted Alexander. Sex was one of his favourite things, and in his experience, it was always best with someone who had a sense of humour. It helped ease over the awkward moments that inevitably arose with so many moving body parts.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I needed to convince you,” Alexander shot back. Aaron was already reaching for him, but Alexander shuffled back an inch so he could prop himself up against the headboard. He ran his fingers down his chest, taking care to skirt the lumpy mess of scar tissue marring one side. The entire time, he watched Aaron with hooded eyes. Aaron had stopped still, staring at Alexander with open hunger. A sly smirk spread over Alexander’s face. He moved his hand lower and lower until he slipped it between his thighs, reaching towards his ass. It was impossible to get a good angle like this, but that was not the point. The point lay in the way Aaron stared at Alexander in a lust-driven stupor. The smirk on Alexanders face grew. This was the one space he didn’t need words: he already had Aaron eating out of the palm of his hand.

Aaron settled between Alexander’s thighs. He set his hands on his hips and kissed him, licking into Alexander’s mouth. For a few minutes, they lost themselves in that, until Aaron pulled away with a wistful sigh.

“Last time, you said you wanted to take things slow,” Aaron said. He kissed Alexander’s neck, tracing his tongue along the curve of his collar bone. “We don’t have hours. I hope you can forgive me for rushing a little.”

The feel of Aaron’s fingers slipping between his cheeks made Alexander squirm with want, but there was one thought that would not leave him alone. “Hours?”

“If you’ve got the stamina,” Aaron teased, mischief dancing in his eyes. Alexander knew that look well, and there was no doubt in his mind that Aaron meant every word. Given the chance, he would take hours. Alexander let out a low groan. If his curiosity didn’t damn him, his pride would. He suspected his pride in his performance would not even factor into it. Alexander was burning with curiosity. He could not imagine what Aaron might have planned that would take hours, and Alexander would not be happy until he found out every last detail.

Lube dripped between Alexander’s legs and Aaron pressed one finger inside. He had an expression of intense focus, the same look he wore when tackling a challenging case. Alexander suspected the look was not driven by pure appreciation. They were not yet familiar with each other’s bodies. There were a million little signs Alexander might give that he liked or disliked something, and judging by Aaron’s expression, his husband would not miss a single one of them. Aaron looked transfixed by him. Some of Alexander’s past partners had been prone to rushing preparation - he himself had fallen into the same trap more often than he liked to admit. Aaron was not prone to making such mistakes. He had the patience to make sure Alexander felt nothing more than momentary discomfort and steadily building pleasure as he stretched him out. Alexander had never felt safer or more loved.

In the end, it was Alexander who insisted on moving things along. His spine arched when Aaron pressed his fingers against his prostate. He was not sure what was more embarrassing: the sheer volume of his moan, or the desperate little whimper he let out when Aaron pulled his fingers away.

“C’mon, Aaron, gorgeous, need you,” Alexander panted. He reached out and touched Aaron’s cheek, coaxing him to tilt his head until they made eye contact. “I want you to fuck me. I know you want it too. Wanna feel you in me, want - fuck, everything. All of you.”

Aaron’s answering grin was wicked. He did not immediately fulfill Alexander’s request, instead pulling him into a filthy kiss. When he retreated, he also removed his fingers from Alexander’s rear and reached for the condoms beside them. “All you had to do was ask.”

“You were waiting,” Alexander realized. The realization came with a ripple of frustration. The frustration was drowned out when Aaron only grinned in response. There was something about the shameless, smug satisfaction on his face that made Alexander ache for him. He watched with greedy eyes as Aaron tore the condom wrapper open and slowly rolled the condom down his cock. Alexander wondered how much of the procedure was a show. It took longer than he expected, and the two slow pumps of Aaron’s hand over his cock were definitely for Alexander’s benefit.

“C’mere,” Alexander insisted, making grabby hands in Aaron’s direction.

There was an inevitable awkward moment as they shuffled around each other until they found an agreeable position. Alexander insisted on lying on his back, not wanting to miss out on a single second of the pleasure on Aaron’s face. He settled near the head of the bed. His legs splayed wide, providing Aaron ample space to settle between them. Alexander bit his lip in anticipation as Aaron grasped his cock and lined himself up. The press of Aaron’s cock into him was slow but relentless. Alexander groaned, letting his head fall back against the mattress. He regretted it a moment later when he heard Aaron let out a soft whimper. Was that worry, or pleasure? Alexander’s head shot up, and what he saw nearly undid him. Aaron was staring at Alexander with a look somewhere between awe, determination and mindless pleasure. When he saw Alexander watching, he let out an embarrassed little puff of laughter.

“I might need a minute,” Aaron confessed. Alexander made a sympathetic sound. He reached for Aaron’s hand and laced their fingers together, earning him a shaky smile.

Impatience boiled beneath Alexander’s skin. He wanted, and he did not like waiting for things he wanted - but in this case, he was willing to make an exception. Aaron was overcome. His usual control was nowhere to be found, and Alexander found himself intoxicated by the sight. There was a thin sheen of sweat Aaron’s forehead. His thighs trembled, and he looked at Alexander with reverence bordering on worship. He was completely undone, and all because of Alexander. The thought fed Alexander’s ego as much as his arousal. The impatience faded as Alexander considered the situation. This was more than acceptable. This was something he found himself liking very much.

As he pulled himself under control, Aaron pulled Alexander’s hand to his mouth and kissed the back of his hand. “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Alexander promised him. After a moment, he added, “Is it bad that I found that hot? It might just be that everything you do seems sexy to me right now but damn, that was hot. I think - “

For a second, Alexander thought Aaron had fallen back on his habit of covering his mouth with his hand. The reality proved to be even better. Aaron had kissed him. It was an effective technique (it was, Alexander knew from personal experience, very hard to talk with someone else’s tongue in your mouth) and one Alexander could only hope he would resort to more often.

While they kissed, Aaron started making tiny rolls of his hips. Alexander took that as an open invitation to move as much as he wished, so he rolled his hips back against Aaron. Things spiralled from there. Aaron continued to be a considerate lover, determined to make Alexander feel good. He was not afraid to experiment. When he found something Alexander liked he was ruthless with using it against him until Alexander was crying out in pleasure. He wrapped a lube-slick hand around Alexander’s dick, providing just the right amount of wet pressure to make Alexander shiver. When he found an angle that let his cock drag against Alexander’s prostate with every thrust, Alexander went silent. God, Aaron was so good. The stream of filth that had been pouring from his lips stopped as every last neuron in his brain was needed to process the pleasure. Aaron stopped for a moment.

“Good?”

All Alexander could manage was a vigorous nod and an eager sound from the back of his throat. He rolled his hips against Aaron again, and Aaron took the point. Alexander let out a wordless groan of approval. The entire time, Aaron watched him with dark, hungry eyes. There was something intoxicating in watching lust mingle with with care and adoration. It was not the first time Alexander had had sex with someone he loved, but he had forgotten how overwhelming and emotionally charged it could be. It fed into his arousal, and back into his own emotions.

Aaron’s inability to take his eyes off him was flattering, but Alexander was far more interested in the ways he could pull reactions from his husband. This far gone and at this angle, there was not much Alexander could do beyond press back against Aaron to contribute to the main event, but he found ways to contribute. To begin, he could put on a show. He arched his spine just a touch more than necessary, looking up at Aaron through hooded eyelids. He traced his fingers over the unscarred part of his chest, teasing his nipples while maintaining charged eye contact. Whenever he could, Alexander talked. Most of what came out was a blend of praise and promises. The praise was all for Aaron: either what he was doing, or how good he looked doing it, or how much Alexander relished every sound he made. The praise was interspersed with a near endless stream of suggestions and commentary. There were so many things Alexander wanted to do with Aaron, and Aaron deserved to hear them all.

Finally, Aaron’s hips started to stutter and his rhythm turned erratic. Alexander let out a little moan to encourage him. This time, when Aaron came, Alexander had the sense to watch. His mouth dropped open wide as his body shook with pleasure in the most beautiful display Alexander had ever seen. His hand tightened a little on Alexander’s dick and that was enough to send Alexander over the edge after him.

“Wow,” Alexander said when he was done. He saw a smile flicker over Aaron’s face and his chest shook with suppressed laughter. Alexander grinned at him. “You earned it. Put it on your CV.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Aaron said with a snort of laughter.

“Yeah. You love me though.”

The look on Aaron’s face was more confirmation than words ever could have offered. He pulled out slowly, mindful of how sensitive both he and Alexander would be. He dealt with the condom while Alexander lay on his back and contemplated just how wrong the world at large was about the merits of married sex. As he was starting to doze off, Aaron shook his shoulder.

“Alexander, you can’t sleep yet. It’s the middle of the day. Theo will be home sooner or later, and your friends are coming over for dinner. You’ve got to have a shower.”

Alexander pouted as he sat up. “Spoilsport.”

“Yeah,” Aaron said. He had Alexander’s favourite smile on his face, the smile he wore when he was about to say something that proved how far gone over Alexander he was. “You love me, though.”

Chapter Text

Winning the election came at a cost. As January loomed, Alexander found himself face to face with the realization that he did not want to leave New York. The city was his home. Both he and Aaron had built their entire lives around New York. Their friends, their family, their hobbies; everything either of them had ever built lay in the city. Greater things lay ahead for Alexander, but that was not enough to quell his anxiety. He had no idea how Aaron faced the prospect. Nothing short of Washington's promised cabinet position could have tempted Alexander out of New York, and Aaron did not even have that for himself. He had secured himself a promising job, but the fact remained that he was moving for Alexander.

Alexander's anxieties were not enough to halt the passage of time. On January 11, the Burr-Hamilton family threw their final going-away party. Everyone they knew was invited to their New York apartment. It was their last night there. They were to leave for DC the next day and put the apartment up for rent. The furniture they had decided to leave behind was not enough to make the apartment feel like a home, and Alexander hated the empty rooms. He found himself skirting around furniture that was no longer there. What furniture remained was not enough to seat all their acquaintances, so some were consigned to the floor. The company was good, but the evening was bittersweet. Every interaction now had an uncomfortable new weight to it. It was the last time Alexander would open the front door for his friends; it was the last time he’d see his friends in his apartment; it was the last chance they would have to talk and dance and laugh together. None of them knew how long it would be before they met again. Yes, they would stay in contact online, but that was not enough to replace physical presence.

Late in the night, Alexander found himself alone in a corner with Jon Bellamy. They looked at each other for a long time, neither of them speaking. Alexander could only imagine what he thought. Alexander had breezed into Aaron’s life, turned it upside down, and now he was whisking him away to a different city for at least four years. Combining that with the man’s existing suspicions about Alexander’s morals - well. The picture it painted of Alexander could not be flattering.

“I’m -”

“Don’t,” Jon said, before Alexander could get more than a word out. There was grief in his face, but for once Alexander could see no anger. Jon reached up and clasped Alexander’s shoulder. His voice was thick with emotion when he said. “Take care of him, Hamilton. Take care of both of them.”

Alexander stared. That hadn’t been what he’d expected to hear. Once the surprise passed, his expression softened. “You don’t need to worry about that. They'll have everything they could want. I promise.”

Jon gave a short nod and stepped away. As curt as the other man had been with him, Alexander was pleased by the progress suggested by the conversation. If Jon thought Alexander would respond well to such a comment, he must trust that Alexander had Aaron’s best interests at heart. With a grin, Alexander sidled up to Aaron’s side and rejoined the party. He would keep his promise. So long as Alexander was alive, he would do everything in his power to make sure his husband and daughter wanted for nothing.

When the time came for Theodosia to go to bed, she wailed in protest. It was rare for her to throw a tantrum about bedtimes, but this was no ordinary night. As far as she was concerned, Aaron's closest friends were her family: separation from them seemed a dreadful fate. She begged Jon again and again to come with them. It was not until she had extracted a promise of regular visits and phone calls that she let Aaron coax her to bed.

As the guests started to leave, the mood tipped from bittersweet to somber. Even if he had known this was the last time he would see many of his friends, the idea filled him with sudden fear. He and Aaron took turns saying goodbye to people. By mutual agreement, neither of them imposed on the others farewells: there were some things that were better kept private. When Aaron returned from saying goodbye to Jon with tears pricking in the corners of his eyes, Alexander pretended not to notice. He was in no position to judge. His own parting with John Laurens was bitterly painful. While Aaron had managed to hide his tears, the blotchy red patches on Alexander’s cheeks gave him away before he could think of hiding his grief. Aaron did not comment on his tears. Neither of them wanted to admit the scale of their emotional turmoil.

When they finally retired to bed, Alexander took great comfort in Aaron’s presence. They pressed themselves together chest-to-chest, Alexander tucking his face into the nook of Aaron’s shoulder. It was only the familiar strength of Aaron’s arms around him that warded off the heart-wrenching loneliness that came with saying goodbye. He hated to think of what state he would have been in without Aaron. Aaron was the one comfort he had when the future seemed too great for even him to tackle. No matter what happened, Alexander had no doubt Aaron would stand with him until the end. If nothing else, he and Aaron had each other.

***********************************************************************************************

The house in D.C. was larger than their place in New York. They were quickly grateful for the added space: living together full-time brought with it new challenges. They were challenges that Alexander met head on, confident in the strength of his bond with Aaron, but the size of their new home was a comfort. Each of them needed their own space. The house they purchased together was large enough for each of them to have their own office - including Theodosia, who painted hers pink and filled it with toys.

Alexander’s home office could be generously described as organized chaos. In truth, pure chaos was closer to the mark, but calling it organized made Aaron look at him with less disappointment. Papers covered every available surface from the desk to the floor. A large whiteboard took up an entire wall. It did not add much brightness to the room, as every last inch of it - from the floor to the ceiling - was covered in Alexander’s notes. The centerpiece of the room was his large, heavy oak desk he had found in antique shop. Its origins did not save it from being covered in pens, papers and wires, but he cleared it regularly. The entire room was in a constant state of flux. There was only one object Alexander refused to move for any purpose, no matter how important: a framed photograph of Aaron and Theodosia. It was a vital reminder of what he stood to lose if he failed.

The next door down the hall was Aaron’s office. Much to Alexander’s private amusement, Aaron’s office was exactly what Alexander would have once imagined for the man he had called Burr. Aaron's office could have come out of a magazine. While Aaron was working he might reach some level of disorder, but at the end of the day every last pen was put in its place. There were very few personal touches. A potted plant beside the desk provided an elegant touch of green, and above his desk ran a row of neatly spaced photographs. Aside from that, the room was taken up by books of law and bound personal papers. There had been a time when Alexander would have thought the elegant efficiency on display was the full sum of Aaron’s personality. Whenever he remembered those times, he found himself deeply humbled by the fact he now knew how wrong that was. The office said nothing more than that Aaron liked a tidy space to work. It told nothing of the way he snorted when he laughed, or the warmth in his eyes when he looked at Alexander.

At the very end of the hall stood their shared bedroom. It was Alexander’s favourite room in the house. There had been a time when he had thought bedrooms were useless for anything other than sex (and, if prompted, he would begrudgingly admit sleep to the list). That had been before he had fallen in love with Aaron. Some of his favourite times were the rare mornings he awoke before Aaron. He would sit and hold his husband tight, watching as the golden morning light trickled in and spilled across the bed. The passage of the minutes seemed to slow and stretch. It was peaceful in a way Alexander’s life rarely was, but that was not why he loved it. He loved those moments for when Aaron would wake up and look around in bleary confusion - until he saw Alexander, and his face shifted into careless, open adoration. The expression was unguarded and spontaneous. Even the threat of morning breath was not enough to stop Alexander from kissing him when that happened. He loved the way Aaron smiled too much to hold back.

Much of the style in their home differed from Aaron's old apartment. He insisted on including Alexander in every stage of the decorating progress and had been happy to change almost everything. There was one thing he demanded to keep. The wall of photographs had been packed, wrapped and painstakingly reassembled in their new home. In the following months the display expanded rapidly. New photos of Alexander were added at an extraordinary rate. He seemed determined to document every stage of Alexander's new life. There was a photo of him standing by Washington’s side at the inauguration; there was a photo of him with Theodosia on his shoulders, putting the star on the Christmas tree; there was a photo of him dancing with Aaron, taken at one of the formal White House balls.

Two years passed before Alexander stopped and looked at the wall with more than passing interest. When he did, he realized something important was missing. Once it was noticed, he could not un-notice it, and Alexander wondered how he had gone so long without thinking of it. Now that he had noticed, something had to change. He came up with a plan and put it into action the very next day. For the next week, he showered Aaron in romantic affection. He bought him flowers every day and took him to the most romantic restaurants he could find. When they were alone, he gave backrubs and compliments and made sure every last desire Aaron had was filled before it could even fully form in his mind.

On the seventh day, he treated Aaron to a candle-lit dinner at home. Both of them knew the food had been pre-purchased from a restaurant and reheated, but Alexander told himself it was the thought that mattered. Everything else was perfect. The champagne was from a bottle he had been saving for a special occasion, and he put three full hours into crafting a playlist of Aaron’s favourite jazz songs. They danced even though there was no one to see, flipping coins between songs to determine who would lead. Whenever Aaron asked him what he was up to, Alexander distracted him with a kiss. It was only once he had Aaron fed and relaxed and happy, Alexander executed the final stage of his plan. He knelt beside Aaron and took his hand.

Alexander had planned this moment a hundred times over. Every last detail had been seen to. Alexander had practiced his speech ten times that day, and ten more the day before. But when they made eye contact, all of Alexander’s carefully prepared words fled from his mind. Instead, he said:

“Marry me.”

Aaron’s eyebrows arched in surprise and confusion. “Aren’t we already married?”

“Sure, sure. And we both remember why.” Alexander brought Aaron’s hand to his lips and kissed the back of it. “I want to give you better than that. I want to give you something more real than that. I know it won’t change anything for the rest of the world, but it will for us. We can have a proper wedding. Guests, vows, a fancy venue, giant cake - you name it. You’ll get the wedding you deserve. But more importantly, you’ll know that when I say my husband, I don’t just mean the guy that saved my ass. I mean the man that I want to spend the rest of -”

Alexander did not get a chance to finish. For once in his life, Aaron had decided he could not wait any longer. He kissed Alexander before he could finish his sentence. There was nothing Alexander could do to that but respond, but when they finally broke off, he asked one more question.

“Wait. Just to make sure, that’s a yes, right?”

The grin Aaron sent him was bright enough to light up the night sky. “Yes, Alexander. It’s a yes.”

And that was all Alexander needed to hear.