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When We Were Young

Chapter Text

The morning Abigail rose from her bed would be the morning that would definitively change the course of her life, yet she did not know it.

Ever since the day her husband had been recruited into the Continental Army, their house had been particularly quiet, with the exception of the few servants who also resided in their residence.

That had been a certain argument that she had to concede to, seeing as how Tobias’s parents had all but insisted on having servants while she had been insistent they could handle the household themselves. “Don’t be silly, Abigail dear. Servants are what keep a household functional and happy,” Mrs. Hawkins had remarked in only a partially patronizing way. “Really?” interjected Mr. Hawkins while chortling heartily, “I thought that was a wife’s duty.”

Abigail never cared too much for her in-laws, and, to be perfectly honest, neither did Tobias. His relationship with his parents had become strained over time when it had become apparent that their son’s growing patriot tendencies would not fade in spite of his very Tory upbringing.

Partially as a jab to his parents but mostly as a way to do what was right, her husband paid the few servants they employed very well, almost ridiculously well, and provided them with room and board so they did not have too many expenses.

If Mrs. Hawkins had known just how much her son paid their servants, she would have fainted, and Abigail would have pushed the fainting couch back a few feet as soon as her mother-in-law began to swoon.

But that was unbecoming behavior for a young lady!

Yes it was, but that never stopped her from sharing those thoughts with Tobias, who always laughed and added fuel to the fire by contributing his thoughts on how his father would react. It was safe to say that they were quite possibly society’s most unconventional couple, at least behind closed doors, and neither of them were bothered in the least.

It was now three years since she had seen her husband and her best friend after they had entered the war. A little over six years passed since their group had last been together – herself, Tobias, Abraham Woodhull, Anna Smith (now Strong), Caleb Brewster, and Benjamin Tallmadge. The six of them had once been inseparable, but ever since then, the war and personal affairs had more or less sent them on their separate ways.

The last she had heard from Anna and Abe had been their engagement, but after Tobias had returned home from a trip to Setauket, he had informed her that their engagement had been broken off, and that Abe was engaged to Mary, who had been arranged to marry his older brother whose soul now rested with God. A few years later, Abe and Mary had gotten married just months before herself and Tobias and then not long after Anna had married Selah Strong. How was possible for so much could change so quickly?

Those events convinced her to reconnect with her childhood friends by joining Tobias on his business trips to Setauket whenever she could and visiting Anna at her husband’s tavern or visiting Abe at his farm, the latter of which would have been more present with the presence of “the shrew”, the lovely nickname she had given Mary Woodhull but never too her face. Yet.

Speaking of the Woodhulls, Abigail had plans on visiting Setauket that very day. After letting Iris, a fair haired girl of seventeen, select her dress, she went about dressing herself while she encouraged the younger girl to get some breakfast in her before the day began.

Once alone, she retrieved her riding cloak from the closet along with her travel bag packed with the appropriate necessities for the journey, including the carrots she planned on sneaking out to feed Cantor, her favorite horse she liked to travel with.

A beautiful, Narragansett Pacer, Cantor was a tall, gorgeous, dependable steed although the name of his was fairly appropriate considering cantering was his favorite speed. On some occasions, Abigail suspected the horse of being quite arrogant at times, given the many drawings they have of him his pose held such a dramatic flair.

Making her way down the narrow staircase, Abigail was greeted by the sight of her father, who was in the middle of organizing his medical kit, perhaps getting ready for a house call. When he took one look at her carrying the riding bag and cloak, he gave a feigned heavy sigh and walked over to her to relieve her. He passed along the saddle bag to one of their manservants after asking if he could get the horse ready and saddled for his daughter’s departure after breakfast.

“How many times must I tell you about walking up and down those narrow stairs with that thing in your arms?” Thomas Williams scolded lightly but playfully with a waggle of his finger.

“A hundred and one times a day as I can recall, papa,” Abigail remarked whimsically, “and I believe you have not yet met your quota for the day.”

Mr. Williams laughed whole-heartedly. “Such a quick mind and a sharp tongue! I wonder where you get them from.”

“From mama, I believe, based on all the stories you told me, but you only reinforce it.”

According to her father, Mrs. Alice Williams and her sisters were considered high society darlings, but her mother had never wanted to be a part of that life, which did not surprise
Abigail to hear that her mother had fallen in love with a poor Irish first generation immigrant, her father, and the relationship had caused quite a scandal. However, in spite all of their trials and tribulations, Alice Williams had suffered no fools and had known exactly what she wanted.

Mrs. Williams died moments after giving birth to Abigail, their only child, two years into their marriage.

“Ah, yes. I believe you’re correct. Now let’s have some breakfast before you run out of here like the wild heathen that you are.”

Chuckling, Abigail followed him into the dining room where their breakfast was waiting for them. She couldn’t linger long but did attempt to sneak some biscuits and fruit into her dress pockets when her father caught her.

“I have already set aside a bag of fresh biscuits and fruit for your travels so don’t ruin that dress!”

She grinned and thanked him before setting her napkin across her lap and digging in. When news had reached her father about Tobias’s enlistment, he had insisted that she come stay with him at his home while Tobias was serving. With her inherited British mixed with Irish stubbornness, Abigail had insisted on staying exactly where she was, that she refused to be driven out of her home. Eventually, they had come to an agreement where her father would stay with her, which turned out to be a much better arrangement.

After breakfast, Mr. Williams walked Abigail out to where the stable hand and Cantor, tacked up thoroughly including her riding bag, stood. The poor fellow was having a difficult time getting the horse to lower his head to a more suitable height. Like Abigail said, arrogant!

“If you happen to see Reverend Tallmadge, please give him my warmest regards,” Mr. Williams requested. She saw a little spark in his eyes and just knew he was implying something, but she refused to acknowledge what that little implication meant.

The Williams and Tallmadge families had always been close, both being families of the Irish decent more or less. Their families would dine together almost every night, each taking turns at playing host. For each and every dinner, Abigail and Ben would sneak out during their fathers’ night caps to have a nightcap of their own, stealing a bottle of brandy – with Abigail usually doing the swiping – and sneaking out to the fields to entertain themselves.

That was actually the last time she had seen Ben. The night before he had gone to Yale, their families had held a celebratory dinner in his honor. Afterwards, Abigail had made sure to take the most expensive liquor her father had. When Ben had gone to stop her, she had said, “It’s a celebration, Benjamin! Only the finest alcohol will do!” and had proceeded to lead him out to the fields where the pair had gotten spectacularly drunk.

But it wasn’t the drunken part that made the night stand out so clearly to Abigail to this day. It was the memory of extra physical displays of affection – accidental brushes and bumps of shoulders and grazes of fingers that lasted too long, looks of hidden meaning exchanged between them throughout, and the heavy flirting, good Lord was there flirting! She could not remember exactly what was said, but what she did remember never failed to make her blush.

She busied herself with slipping on her clock to hide that very blush and promised her father she would give Reverend Tallmadge his regards. Making sure the coin purse was firmly secure in her dress pockets, she let the two men assist her in mounting the horse, but not in that silly side saddle nonsense. With one leg on each side of the horse, she felt more secure.

After a few more good-natured exchanges, Abigail bids her father and the manservant farewell before sending Cantor into a gentle trot down the road away from the house. She allowed the horse to transition into a canter once they are a good distance away from the house.

The ride to Setauket wasn’t too far away, but it was just far enough away to not fall directly into the redcoat occupation of the town. Their homes were just outside of the British’s reach. By some miracle, redcoats were never stationed in their homes, and she thanked her lucky stars every day for the past three years and counting.

When they reached a fork in the road, she turned Cantor towards a brief detour, cutting through an open field that would bring them closer to Setauket without having to worry about presenting papers to a redcoat when entering town. That was something Ben had shown her one day years ago while out riding.

It wasn’t until she could see the all too familiar bell tower of Reverend Tallmadge’s church did she ease the horse into trot and then into a walk as she arrived closer to the church.

The town swarmed with activity with both Setauket residents and redcoats alive moving about in a curiously alert manner.

Taking this as her cue to blend in, she dismounted from Cantor behind a closed woodshop and led him towards the Strong Tavern, praying that she wouldn’t be stopped.

“Stay exactly where you are!”

Abigail halted immediately, grip tightening on Cantor’s reins to stop him as well. She squeezed her eyes shut and took a breath as she heard clinking of metal buckles and footsteps behind her. She opened her eyes and turned around to see a redcoat heading towards her.

“Good morning, officer,” she greeted with her most charming smile, which felt completely false given the flurry of nerves she was experiencing. She loosened her hold on the reins so that she could push back the hood of her cloak so she could see the red coat more properly.

The officer in question gave her a tight lipped smile in return with a short nod in greeting as he approached her. “Good morning, madam. Pardon my intrusion, but I was curious to who the newcomer was arriving on such a fine steed.”

Abigail gave a light laugh while simultaneously tightening her grip on Cantor’s reins. He didn’t take too kindly to strangers, particularly strange men for some reason. She didn’t trust that he wouldn’t turn around and kick him even though she secretly hoped he would. “My name is Abigail Hawkins. I’m visiting my friend at her husband’s tavern. They are expecting my arrival any moment now.”

“May I see proof of your purpose here, madam?”

Biting back a sigh, she dug in her skirt pockets, thankful her father had thought to remind her to bring her receipt from her previous stay at the Strong tavern, and she handed it to the red coat for him to inspect.

She waited with bated breath until he finally deemed it reputable. “Everything looks to be in order, Ms. Hawkins…”

“Mrs. Hawkins,” Abigail corrected politely, not wanting him to get any funny ideas. She had heard stories about some of those less than honorable redcoats who preyed on unmarried women. In some of those tales, a few were married women as well. The warm metal of her father’s small pistol soothed some of her anxiety, though not by much when the redcoat’s eyes zeroed in on her face.

“Then where is your husband, pray tell?” he asked, his voice shifting into a tone she wasn’t sure how to identify.
Thinking of a story quickly, she remarked, “He’s at the tavern waiting for me. My friend’s husband and mine go way back. We decided that a get together was what everyone needed.”

The redcoat stared at her with a perturbing level of intensity, trying to sense any dishonesty in her words. She fought the urge to bite her lip with anxiety. After what felt like an eternity, he replied, “I shall escort you to the tavern personally.”

Eyes widening with surprise, Abigail shook her head. “Please, don’t feel obligated to assist me on my account. I – I don’t want to detract from your post.”
“Nonsense. It would be my honor. The tavern I believe you’re referring to is the Strong Tavern, correct?”

Too stunned to speak, she nodded in response and fell into step with him as he began to walk in that direction.

“A young woman such as yourself, especially a married woman,” the redcoat continued as they walked, “should take extra precautions. We’ve had some trouble recently in the tavern, just the other day actually. It would be against my moral principles to not escort you there myself.”

“What kind of trouble?” she asked with concern.

The redcoat shook his head. “It’s nothing to concern yourself with. The incident in question is still under investigation, though it may be of interest to you that one of the parties involved was the very owner of the fine Strong Tavern establishment.”

Her heart clenched inside her chest at his words. What had Selah gotten himself into? She knew very well that Selah, as well as her husband, held the British in contempt and supported the Continental Army. What could he have possibly done to land himself into such trouble?

Whatever expression he saw on her face prompted him to stop just outside the tavern door. Taking pity on her, he gently took the reins from her limp hands and tied Cantor up to the hitching post. “I suggest you start keeping mind of who your true friends are, Mrs. Hawkins,” he recommended, “and choose wisely.”

He guided her inside the tavern. There were several redcoats as far as the eye could see. This was not the same Strong Tavern Abigail had visited a week ago. This was a salon for the British.

“Now,” the redcoat said, interrupting her thoughts, “direct me in the way of your husband.”

Right before she could open her mouth to formulate a response, Anna Strong emerged from the backroom, wiping her hands in front of her apron. As soon as she looked up and saw Abigail standing there, she took in her company, blinking for a moment before surging into action.

“Oh, Abigail! It’s so good to see you!” Anna gushed, rushing forward and sweeping the blonde into a tight hug. “I see that you’ve made the journey back to our humble establishment safely.”

“… yes,” Abigail managed, still recovering from the redcoat’s words. “The ride was quite speedy. You know Cantor and his exuberant stride.”

Anna laughed lightly. “That sounds like that good ol’ boy.” She pulled back and looked over at the redcoat who was still standing by, observing the exchange with keen interest. “Why, Lieutenant Simcoe, twice in one day. That has to be a record for yourself, sir.”

This Lieutenant Simcoe smiled at Anna in such a way it made her own skin crawl. “Yes, it is, isn’t it? I’m absolutely parched, but I must see to my duty of making sure Mrs. Hawkins makes it to her husband safely.”

Anna gave a quick glance at Abigail, sensing this had been a ruse, and sought to distract the captain. “I’m sure she can find her own way. She’s among friends here. And I do believe I owe you an ale from yesterday.” She laid a hand on his forearm and held his gaze steadily with a pleasant smile. “Please, I insist.”

It took a moment or two before Anna’s charm convinced him. “Well, if you insist, I suppose there won’t be any harm in that.” When he turned his back to have a seat, Anna quickly seized Abigail by the arm and led her towards the backroom.

“Won’t all of those redcoats be suspicious of you hauling me back here?” Abigail whispered as soon as she shut the door.
Anna shook her head as she fiddled with a cloth in her hand, smoothing the edges and turning it into a perfect square. “Never mind them. They’re all too drunk to notice much of anything.”

Abigail frowned. “In the middle of the day? Also, this Lieutenant Simcoe character doesn’t appear to be intoxicated. In fact, he seems rather keen.”

The barmaid sighed grimly. “Unfortunately, that he is. Too keen, in more than one respect, in fact.”
“So what’s happened? He wasn’t very forthcoming with details, but he said it involved Selah.”

Anna informed Abigail of the events that had taken place in the tavern yesterday, about how John Robeson, a Tory oyster farmer, happily read an account in the Royal Gazette of a retreat by Washington to a room full of redcoats and how Selah ordered Robeson to leave. There was a struggle, and beer was spilled on Captain Joyce, who angrily tackled Selah. Abe had attempted to intervene but was stopped by Lieutenant Simcoe, who placed a pistol to the back of Abe's head. Joyce then proceeded to attack Abe while he was down, kicking him in the head and doing more damage. Then some more redcoats came in and arrested Abe and Selah when Joyce had the audacity to claim they had attacked them. As far as Anna was aware, they were still being held for questioning.

With each description of the events, Abigail felt herself becoming sick with dread, covering her mouth in horror as every passing word from her friend’s mouth became worse than the last.

“We must do something,” Abigail murmured after a few moments of silence passed after Anna finished her recount.

“How?” Anna demanded. “There’s little that we can do, unless we try appealing to Abe’s father, but I highly doubt Richard Woodhull would help a rumored patriot and his wife along with his son.”

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Abigail began to pace back and forth in the tiny room. Anna was right, of course. Richard Woodhull, the town magistrate, had no love lost for the rebel cause and those who championed or sympathized with it. She would have offered to speak with the man himself if not for the fact she had no idea how the man felt about her, considering it was no real secret that her husband was more than a sympathizer. How would she hold up in the magistrate’s eyes by extension?

“We can discuss our plans later this evening,” Anna decided, breaking Abigail’s train of thoughts, “if you would like to spend the night, of course.”

“Absolutely,” the blonde agreed, nodding vigorously which made Anna smile tiredly. “How much longer is your shift?”

“It ends right about now. I’ll give Simcoe his ale and then we can go. If above all else, we need to get Cantor untacked and fed or he will not be happy.”

“Of course. He starts biting when he’s unhappy.”

“Sounds just like his owner.”

With a roll of her eyes, Abigail gave a light shove to Anna’s shoulder and watched as her friend walked out of the backroom towards the front. She didn’t want to give this Simcoe any reminder to be introduced to her husband so remaining in the backroom until the end of Anna’s shift was her best option.

---

Managing to escape Simcoe and the rest of the redcoats, Abigail and Anna made it to Strong Manor with measured relief. Abigail released Cantor into the hands of the Strong’s stable hands and warned them that he liked to test his boundaries. It was a warning she had given numerous times to them but always felt the need to remind them should they forget to be on their guard.

Anna had helped her get situated in the room Abigail usually occupied on her visits. Since she hadn’t been able to stuff another dress inside her riding bag due to the amount of carrots she had smuggled out of the kitchen for Cantor, Anna agreed to loan her one of her dresses for the day while the one Abigail currently wore could be washed. Abigail agreed but only on the terms that she would wash her own dress and that she could assist Anna in doing the soldiers’ laundry who were quartered there. It took some convincing, but Anna eventually agreed.

Doing the laundry was a necessary evil, at least she always considered it to be. Sometimes she even wondered what would ever happen in the world of men if women altogether stopped doing their laundry. The thought was an entertaining one, which more often than not provided her some form of entertainment while scrubbing clothes clean.

Between the two of them and a handful of Anna’s servants, they managed to carry out the long, tedious process of the washing unscathed. With their own laundry in hand, they headed down to the river so where they could hang their dresses to dry. The redcoats’ laundry could wait a few minutes for drying or so was Abigail’s logic.

“You really do have a beautiful home, Anna,” she remarked, gazing out along the land touched by the edge of the river as they stepped past the gate of the Strong Manor. “Sights like this really make me miss Setauket.”

When she received no response, the blonde glanced over at her and asked, “Anna?” She frowned a little at the distracted look on her friend’s face. “Is everything all right?” She realized her error and would have pinched herself if she didn’t have a basket of laundry in her arms. “Of course it isn’t, given everything. Are you –”

“I’m all right. I…” Anna looked around distractedly, lowering her basket to the ground to smooth her hands down her dress. “I think I left something important in the barn. Would you mind hanging mine up as well?”

“Of course, I will. I – Anna!”

Before she could even finish her sentence, Anna set off to the barn without a moment’s notice. Curious. Abigail let out a quiet sight before picking up Anna’s basket by the handle and heading towards the river to pin up their laundry for drying.

By the time Anna returned from the barn, Abigail had already finished pinning up the clothes onto the line. With the gentle autumn breeze billowing through the cloth, she was almost certain their laundry would be dried in no time.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” Abigail asked, adjusting one of Anna’s dresses on the line without a glance in her direction. If she had looked, she would’ve seen a rather distressed looking Anna who had been signaled by Abe to meet her in the barn to discuss his kidnapping by the Continental Army and his interrogation by Ben.

Seeing as Abigail was momentarily distracted, Anna took advantage of the opportunity to school her features before replying, “Not entirely sure if I founded what I needed, but I hope I’m on the right track.”

Abigail snorted lightly. “That’s quite cryptic, but I take your word for it.” She lifted her empty basket and turned towards Abigail with a grand flourish. “Shall we return to our laundry wench duties, madam?”

Grinning, Anna grabbed her own basket, and together, they returned to the house but separately were thinking entirely different thoughts.

---
Dear Ben,
Hopefully, one of these days I’ll pluck up the courage to actually send you these letters I have written. It has only been three years now. I –

“Ugh, no!” Abigail murmured harshly, aggressively crossing out those words with her quill before crumpling the paper and shoving it into her bag. She had decided to stay in rather than join Anna for her night shift at the Strong Tavern, once again thinking of Simcoe and how she never wanted to meet the man again. There was something about him she just didn’t trust. At least she wasn’t alone in the sentiment. Apparently, Anna felt the same way.

Having changed into her nightdress, she was in for the night so she thought composing a letter would help take her mind off the events she had learned about throughout the day. The letter to Tobias had already been written and sent off via a trusted courier days ago as were all of his letters for the past few years. For some reason, she could never manage to send Ben his. It wasn’t for a lack of knowledge for his station because she had no idea where her husband was apart from the latest information she had received from his responses, which had grown less and less frequent as the years went by.

She still held each and every one of Ben’s letters she had written for him for the first year he had enlisted. Three hundred and sixty-five letters remained in her drawer tucked away from any prying eyes of servants. After that one year, her Benjamin letters became less frequent, yet she continued to write them all the same. It didn’t feel right not to.

Tapping her foot lightly on the wooden floorboards, Abigail chewed on her lower lip thoughtfully, trying to think of exactly what to say and how to say it. Many of the words she had written in his letters in the past were quite honest, so honest in fact she worried for their discovery into the wrong hands, yet she did not regret writing them. Perhaps, that honesty would serve her well again tonight.

With a new sheet of parchment, she dipped the quill into the ink pot, tapping off the excess ink and began to write, honestly.

Benjamin,
So much time has passed since the last time I have written you. I’m afraid that fault falls heavily on me. It’s not the lack of desire to write to you what stops me, but it’s what I wish to express that often prevents me from doing so. Have you ever had a moment where you wish you could’ve been braver, to speak honestly without fear of the consequences? Of course not, how foolish of me. You are doing that by being where you are, fighting for what you believe in. One day, I hope to demonstrate that sort of bravery but in a different manner than how you’re experiencing it of course.
I cannot recall if I ever told you how very proud I am of you. Whether before you left or in letter, the memory escapes me so if I have already told you, then forgive me for repeating myself. What you are doing for the rest of us matters. What you do matters. I just hope I can tell you all of this in person one day, and when that day comes (when, not if mind you), I hope I can find the bravery to say it.
Yours truly,
Abigail

Satisfied, she set the quill back in its bottle and allowed the ink to dry on the parchment. She rose from her seat at the writing desk and began dimming the candles save for one so she could have enough light to fold the letter and slip the parchment inside an envelope.

Once done, she tucked the envelope carefully inside her riding bag and padded her way towards the bed. Slipping underneath the covers, the blonde turned to the candle left on the bedside table and leaned forward, cupping her hand around the flame before blowing it out. Darkness descended upon the room. The only light came from the moon outside, which was barely concealed by the curtains.

Sleep no longer came easy for Abigail these past three years, but when it did come, it came so slowly. She missed the presence of a strong, warm body by her side. The last thought that entered her mind before succumbing to sleep was that of Benjamin Tallmadge.

But she would never admit to that.

---

The next morning Abigail awoke to a sound of insistent knocking at her door. Slipping from beneath the sheets, she grabbed a borrowed robe from where it had been left across the back of a chair and put it on just before she opened the door.

“Anna,” she breathed out a sigh of relief. For a moment, she worried that one of the redcoats quartered in Strong Manor had stumbled across her room for some purpose or another. She took in the other woman’s urgent demeanor and immediately held back any sort of quip that would have naturally tumbled out of her mouth. “What is it?”

She stepped aside to let Anna glide in and shut the door behind her. As soon as she did so, Anna remarked, “Abe’s out. He’s been released.”

Abigail stared in amazement. “But how –”

“His father got him out,” Anna replied. “Mr. Woodhull has a very good relationship with Major Hewlett.” She paused, wringing her hands together nervously. “No word about Selah yet, however.”

Walking the short distance between them, the blonde cupped her friend’s arms gently in her hands and gave them a comforting squeeze. “I’m so sorry. With Abe out, though, perhaps there is a way we can get Selah released as well.”

“I…” Anna paused, momentarily unsure. Unsure about what, Abigail was uncertain herself. Her expression turned oddly decisive as she took another breath before adding, “I believe there’s something in the works, but I cannot say for sure.”

Abigail titled her head, brows furrowing. “What can you say?”

But Anna shook her head insistently. “I haven’t been told everything myself, but Abe told me he would find a way to –”

“Abe? When did he find a way to contact you between the incident at the tavern and being released from British custody?” Abigail asked, confounded.

With another shake of her head, Anna carried on as if that particular detail wasn’t important, “He’s been instructed to make an oath to the king, in public, in the town square just before noon, as punishment for his supposed recourse.”

Silence settled into the room for the briefest of moments, allowing Abigail to take in the news. It was quite a lot to digest, considering how she was only offered half the pieces to Anna’s puzzle. Still, she couldn’t just let the other woman continue to dodge her questions.

“Did he come to you at the tavern last night?” Abigail questioned. That was the only time she could imagine he could afford to slip away to find Anna.

“Yes,” Anna remarked immediately with a nod, and Abigail knew she was telling the truth then. That was enough, for now.

“All right. I suppose I might get to see Abe for a moment on my way out of town today after a quick stop first. As soon as I arrive home, I’ll speak with my father about this. Perhaps he’ll know someone that can help Selah out of his predicament if Abe’s father will not.”

Thomas Williams might have only been a traveling doctor, but he had made many interesting contacts and connections among many of his visits. Hopefully, it would not be too much of a shot in the dark, but these were desperate times.

After a grateful hug from Anna, Abigail began to ready herself for the day’s travel once she was alone. Dressed in her freshly laundered dress, she made her way downstairs to have breakfast with Anna when one of the redcoats decided to join them. He was polite and kind enough, but the very presence of his red coat was enough to set them both on edge.

When she was ready to go, the two women walked outside together towards their horses so they could make the journey to town together.

Upon their arrival into town, Anna and Abigail went their separate ways, with the former heading straight to Strong Tavern while the latter found herself on the steps of the Setauket Presbyterian church.

With Cantor tied at the hitching post and grazing casually at the small patch of grass that was afforded to him, Abigail waited a moment before opening the large wooden door and let herself inside.

It was as if she had stepped back in time as soon as she set one foot inside the church. Nothing in the past six years had changed, not the strong, steady high rafters nor even the wooden floorboards underneath her feet. The integrity of the architecture remained simple and pure in its design. With few renovations, it was the church Abigail remembered well from childhood.

She was not alone in the church as it would appear. Standing at the dais before the pews stood Reverend Tallmadge, scouring over his Bible and taking notes on parchment. Every now and then he would lift his hand to adjust his spectacles, which would always slip down the bridge of his nose, an all too familiar sight indeed.

“A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace,” the reverend spoke, reading aloud from his sermon notes. He gave a quiet sigh with an ironic smile twitching across his lips. “I suppose this verse will do.”

“A very well chosen verse, I must agree,” Abigail remarked, holding back a smile when Reverend Tallmadge looked up from his notes, startled. “Ecclesiastes 3:8 if I am correct?”

The reverend removed his spectacles and pocketed them for safe keeping. “Correct. I am very relieved you’ve kept up with your Bible studies.”

“There isn’t much for a young person to do when all but two of her friends have gone off to fight for the ca… in the war,” she amended quickly, glancing around the church and wondering if she had been overheard by an unseen party.

“Don’t worry,” the reverend assured her. “There are no eavesdroppers here. It’s just you and I. For the moment at least.” He stepped away from the dais, rolling up his parchment and tucking it underneath his arm with his Bible cradled against his chest. “It won’t be for much longer, I afraid. Major Hewlett has set his sights on the church for being his new headquarters.” His expression soured at that. “A place of Tory business in a house of God! The nerve of that –”

He managed to catch himself before he said something he might regret, especially in the sanctity of his church. She watched sympathetically as the man regained his composure. “Pay no mind, I am merely a frustrated soul among a sea of –”

“Redcoats?” she interjected helpfully and grinned as the worn lines along his face eased as he let out a laugh.

“I would have chosen a different metaphor, but let’s go with your analogy instead. It’s quite an appropriate one.”

“Indeed.”

“So what brings you to Setauket, Ms. Williams?” he asked and then realized his error. “Mrs. Hawkins, my apologies. Forgive me, it has been quite some time since we last saw each other. I can recall my son Benjamin chasing you around the fields one afternoon after you threatened to take something special from him if he didn’t stop tugging at your curls.”

Abigail couldn’t help but ask, “Wasn’t that the summer before he went off to Yale?”

An amused grin spread across the reverend’s face. “I was thinking a few years prior to that, but you might just have a point there. Your playful squabbles never did quite fade as you both grew up.”

Ducking her head a little at his teasing, she knew as well as Reverend Tallmadge that her and Ben’s squabbles as he so phrased it had always been interesting events when they were children. However, as they transitioned into adolescence and then early adulthood, they were certainly more than inappropriate behavior between members of the opposite sex. But she knew from the fond expression on the reverend’s face that he was not being reproachful. In fact, he held that similar spark in his eye that her father always had whenever discussing that particular Tallmadge boy.

Nor did it help years ago she had overheard the reverend, in conversation with her father, saying how much of a daughter he considered her to be, suggesting he believed Ben would propose to her on his next visit over the Christmas break.

Ben never did.

Tucking a stray curl behind her ear, Abigail changed the subject back to his original inquiry. “I was visiting Anna at her tavern and spent the night at the Strong estate. I wanted to pay a visit to you before I traveled back home. My father always wanted me to give you his warmest regards. He misses our weekly dinners with your family dearly.”

Reverend Tallmadge smiled sadly. “Times have changed drastically these past few years, but we all must make our sacrifices.” He paused for a moment, thoughtful, before walking towards her and offered his Bible to her. “Give this to your father for me, and tell him he is always welcome in my church even though Setauket does not welcome his ideals.”

Understanding the meaning in his words, Abigail accepted the Bible reverently, running a hand across the well-worn spine of the holy book before clutching it to her chest. She promised him she would before he led her out of the church.

Just as they were stepping out onto the church steps, they caught onto what sounded to be a speech of some sort. The closer Abigail approached the source of the voice did she find Richard Woodhull and his son standing in the middle of town, with Abe resting his hand along the Bible and making the solemn oath to the crown. Just as Anna said he would.

Abigail gazed at the sight of father and son engaged in such a display in front of the townspeople and British officials alike and felt the twisting sensation in her gut from yesterday worsening. The oath held so much more than a simple public reprimand for the son of the town magistrate who had gotten out of hand. Judging from the tension radiating from Reverend Tallmadge beside her, Abigail feared whatever the future held for Abraham Woodhull and what the future held for them all.

Chapter Text

“Abigail, may I speak with you for a moment?”

Moving her gaze from the book in her lap, Abigail looked up to see her father standing in the doorway of the parlor room. His expression made her close the book and set it on the table beside her. The expression was a mixture of determination and decisiveness, a rare look for her to be on the receiving end. Her curiosity transitioned to concern quickly.

“Of course,” she replied, folding her hands carefully on her lap. “Is everything all right, papa?”

Mr. Williams took a step into the room, pausing as if to rethink the action before fully entering the room. “Things could be better, but that is not what I wanted to talk to you about. What you told me the other day, about your visit to Setauket… it concerns me greatly.”

Abigail nodded gently, understanding his feelings completely. She, too, was concerned for the small town and their friends within it. She had told her father everything that had occurred and had even implored him to have one of his contacts help release Selah. However, her father had admitted there was no one he knew that could save Selah Strong apart from Judge Woodhull himself, and they both had known that would never happen.

“As am I. The British presence in Setauket has increased significantly in the years we have left,” she commented. Her father’s house was just out of reach of Setauket, and she and Tobias were even less so. If the British felt inclined to expand their territory, in their mind they had every right to do so. How they had managed to slip by the Quartering Act she had no idea.

She observed as her father become more conflicted as he thought over his next words carefully. “This is why I would prefer for you not to travel to Setauket anymore, at least not for the foreseeable future.”

Silent, the blonde blinked slowly, processing what he had just said. “I… I don’t understand. My friends are in trouble. They need our help. How can you ask this of me?”

“I’m not asking,” Mr. Williams stated flatly. The steely look in his grey eyes solidified he had already made up his mind. “It is dangerous for any man to ride alone to a British territory, let alone a woman. How you have made it there and back on so many occasions is astounding.”

“It’s called being careful.”

“It’s called sheer dumb luck. Honestly, Abigail, have you learned nothing from me your entire life? You need to protect yourself, first and foremost.”

“Which is precisely why you taught me to shoot at the age of twelve,” Abigail fired back, rising to her feet to meet her father’s gaze challengingly. “Which is why you’ve always told me to keep a pistol on my person whenever I travel, to carry some extra coins to pay someone off if I’m given any trouble. You have taught me everything that I know.”

“Clearly, I haven’t taught you enough!” her father remarked bitterly, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I should have demanded you to move in with me the moment Tobias left for the war, instead of giving into your foolish stubbornness to remain here.”

Chest tightening with indignation, she retorted, “I refuse to apologize for abandoning my home just so that any person could just come along and seize it for their own purposes. I will not be driven out of my home.”

Her father’s face contorted with a mixture of irritation and fear. “There is much that I am willing to tolerate from you, but your insolence when it comes to your safety is not one of them.” He cut himself off from what was possibly a more expansive tirade by turning around abruptly and walking towards the bookcase across the room, giving him a moment or two to collect himself.

After a strained silence stretching out for several minutes, he spoke quietly, “You won’t be staying here for much longer. I’ve already made arrangements with your Aunt Claire in Dublin. You will be staying with her for the next few months, perhaps longer. For as long as the war persists.”

All of the air felt as if it had been sucked out of the room at his words. She could not comprehend anything else he was saying. The only phrases her mind could replay over and over “arrangements with Aunt Claire… Dublin…won’t be staying here…until the war ends.” It didn’t seem real. None of it seemed real to her.

What if one of her friends needed her, and she was gone? What if Tobias returned home to find his wife not in their home? What if she couldn’t get her letters to Ben?

“…Abigail?”

Abigail’s focus returned to the present at the sound of her father’s voice, much closer and more concerned than she was expecting. It appeared that he had been trying to regain her attention for some time, judging by the faint frustration laced in his voice.

“No,” she spoke softly.

Her father’s brows furrowed in confusion. “Pardon?”

“No,” Abigail said louder, refusing to meet his eyes. “I’m not going.”

“You don’t have a choice,” he remarked firmly, the decisiveness and irritation returning to his eyes. “The carriage will arrive by the end of the week. Iris and the other maids have already started packing your belongings for the trip per my request.”

Panic seized her as the realization struck her that her father’s words weren’t just words, they were a course of action, and he had already followed through. Clutching at his arm, she stared up at him and begged, “You cannot do this!”

“It’s already been done,” he spoke softly, though his eyes remained hard. “I’m doing this for your sake, Abigail. For yours and for mine.”

He stepped back, releasing himself from her grip, speaking about how he was late for a house visit to some sort of family name she was not familiar with, but she was only half listening. The only thing she felt as her father left the room was the hard pressure inside her chest, knowing that her world was on the verge of falling apart.

---

The moment Mr. Williams travel cart headed down the cobblestone road and out of sight Abigail eagerly encouraged Ichabod, the manservant, to have Cantor tacked up and travel ready as soon as possible. When he seemed reluctant to do so given her father’s strict instructions, she placed a small handful of coins into his slender hand for his trouble, and he immediately set off to do the task.

She had to speak with Anna about this, in person. It was too much to write in a letter, and she doubted the letter would reach the Strong estate in time before the carriage to whisk her off to Dublin arrived.

Her father’s house call was in a town in the opposite direction of Setauket, and he wouldn’t be expected to return until later that evening or perhaps the next morning. She suspected it would be the latter, given his cautious nature. There was plenty of time she could make it to Setauket and back without her father ever having to know, as long as the servants kept her in their confidence.

By the time she reached Setauket, the sky was painted in the warm hues of impending dusk. Instead of dismounting behind the woodshop as she had done days prior, she opted for the field just outside the town perimeter. She tied Cantor securely to a wooden post, giving him enough slack to graze until his heart was content, and walked into town, blending in with the crowd as much as she could.

When she reached Strong Tavern, she dared not to step inside, fearing she would run into Lieutenant Simcoe once again. Instead, she simply waited until she finally managed to catch Anna’s eye. She gave a small nod and proceeded to head out towards the fields where she had left Cantor, hoping her friend would follow.

Abigail was not by Cantor’s side five minutes when she heard the voice of Anna Strong say, “Two visits within three days. This is certainly a treat indeed.”

The blonde let out a mirthless laugh and noticed the playful smile fade from Anna’s face.

“Oh, I wish this visit was a pleasant one,” she said with sigh. She lowered herself onto what was once wooden steps for an entrance of some business that had once stood there. “I just really needed someone to talk to. And a letter would not have sufficed. I don’t have enough time.”

“What is it?” Anna asked urgently as she took a seat beside her, eying her with concern.

So Abigail told her everything, how she had told her father about the day’s events from her previous visit, how she had implored to him about Selah’s case and that he was unable to find someone to get him out, leading to the argument they had just engaged in earlier that noon.

“So much for your word of not returning to Setauket,” Anna remarked wryly. She nudged Abigail’s shoulder in an attempt to get a laugh from her and grinned a little as she succeeded.

“You cannot break a vow if you’ve never made one,” Abigail countered back with a small smile.

A light dusk breeze rustled the autumn leaves along the ground, swirling them around in a colorful cyclone, then falling gracefully to the ground as the wind gradually died down.

“He’s made arrangements for me to stay with my aunt in Dublin,” she confessed, sighing heavily. At Anna’s startled look, she continued, “I’ve already tried reasoning with him, but he refuses to budge on this topic. He’s concerned more for my safety than anything else, which I understand completely, but I find it highly ironic that for a man with such patri-”

She stopped herself short and corrected herself, dropping her voice so that only Anna could hear. “For a man with such radical beliefs, that every man, woman, and child ought to protect our country, he is so quick to cast me off to the mother land!”

Carefully, as if not to spook her, Anna flipped the blonde’s hand over in her lap and laced their fingers together so that she could press her hand comfortingly. “I know this may not be what you want to hear right now – believe me, I understand your feelings and concerns about this – but perhaps your father is right about this.” At the blonde’s look of utter betrayal, she was quick to add, “If I had the opportunity to return to the land where my ancestors were from, at least for a time, while the war still rages on, I would like to think that I would take advantage of it.”

After a moment or two, Abigail looked back at her friend with a knowing smile. “You and I both know that you would not leave this place while our country needed our support.” Her smile saddened as Anna did not disagree with her. “So what am I to do while our men need us, while our country needs us?”

Neither woman could come up with a sufficient solution to her words or the dilemma at hand. With the time that remained, they instead discussed the latest developments in Setauket regarding the redcoats and the changes in the town. The discussion then eventually led to the Woodhulls, namely Thomas and how big he was growing. At the mention of Mary Woodhull, Abigail instinctively wrinkled her nose and muttered, “Mother Shrew,” causing Anna to toss her head back and laugh loudly. The sight alone had Abigail bursting into giggles as well. It was almost enough to make them forget that she would be leaving within less than three days’ time.

It was nearly nightfall by the time the two women parted. Their goodbyes were more tearful than usual, seeing as how neither of them were sure if Abigail could make it back to Setauket before her departure.

The journey home was miraculously a safe one, even with the amount of shortcuts she took to keep off the roads as nightfall descended. She could easily picture the outrage of all of the important men in her life at her alleged reckless behavior. As she could see it, she was only being practical.

Thankfully, Iris had delayed snuffing the flame of the front porch lantern, and seeing as how her father’s cart wasn’t present either, she was even more grateful.

Dismounting Cantor, she patted her horse fondly while passing him along to Ichabod to take him to the stables. She removed her cloak as soon as she was inside and folded it over her arm to take with her back to the bedroom to avoid her father’s suspicion the following morning.

She declined Iris’s offer (though really an enticement) of dinner and joked she would have a rather sizeable breakfast in the morning, affectionately pinching the younger girl’s cheek on her way to her bedroom.

Once settled in, Abigail found herself making her way down to her husband’s study, which held the finest quality of liquor. It had been Tobias’s idea to keep it in the study for whenever his parents decided to pay a visit. If they ever commented something particularly underhanded and upsetting, he found an excuse to retire to his study. Abigail approved this strategy.

She grabbed crystal glass from the table besides the cabinet and perused the selection with great care before deciding on whiskey as her drink of choice for the evening. With her glass in hand, she walked around the study, taking in lack of messy clutter that often accompanied the room in the past in the absence of her husband.

Taking a long sip from her glass, Abigail walked towards the desk and sat in the armchair, something she rarely did these days. She leaned back into the leather seat, shut her eyes, and just let herself think. How was she going to get herself out of this situation?

When nothing came to mind, she opened her eyes and took another sip, pausing midway when she noticed a parchment half poking out from underneath a closed leather bound book.

She set her drink aside and carefully pulled the sheet from underneath the book. Her blue eyes widened. It was a recruitment flyer for the Continental Army. They were difficult to come by these days, especially in Rhode Island, and this close to Setauket!

Initially, she would have thought it was the old flyer from when Ben and Tobias had enlisted if it had not been for the date of 1776 in the corner.

That was when everything began to fall into place.

Her father’s insistence on sending her to Dublin to stay with his sister, the strange behavior he had been displaying for the past few days… it all made sense now in this light. Her father was enlisting into the Continental Army while his daughter was away in Dublin.

Numbly, Abigail downed the rest of the contents of her drink and rose to pour another, with the flyer still gripped in her hand.

She read over the flyer again and even the words aloud. “To all brave, healthy, able bodied, and well-disposed young men, in this neighborhood, who have any inclination to join the troops, now raising under General Washington for the defense of the liberties, and independence of the United States against the hostile designs of our brethren. Thomas Williams has many fine qualities of his character, but ‘healthy’, ‘able-bodied’, and ‘young’ are not among them!”

She tossed the flyer back onto the desk and took another hard swallow of whiskey, cringing and coughing as the liquor burned her throat.

Dizzily, she reached for the desk to balance herself after placing the empty glass to the side. The room was spinning and not just from the drinks. It all made perfect sense. Any other way she attempted to picture it, it all led back to this.

Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes. The longer she stared at the flyer, the blurrier it became. Blinking rapidly, she slid the parchment back underneath the book to its original location and proceeded to snuff out the candles in the study. It kept her mind vaguely preoccupied until she shut the door of the study behind her.

There was no way she would allow her father to do this. Mr. Williams was not well enough to serve, despite his physical appearance and youthful personality. His immune system had never been the strongest, and the cold affected him more easily than it did other men, especially younger. How would he last out in the battlefields? How would he survive the brutal winters?

Sleep did not come for Abigail that night as she lied awake in her bed. Her thoughts were plagued by different horrific circumstances of her father fighting with the rebels, each and every one of them more gruesome than the last.

Pushing back the sweat covered blankets from her body, she willed herself to think, to breathe. What use would she be to anyone if she could not think?

Somewhere between this thought and several other attempts to calm herself an idea began to emerge, one that made her sit a bit straighter. Maybe her father did not have to enlist in the army at all. He would not be able to if he happened to lose the flyer, which were a rarity these days due to the fear of it falling into the wrong hands.

By losing the flyer, she did not refer to burning it or tucking it away for safe keeping. No, what she intended to do was a much more compelling option.

Instead of going to Dublin, Abigail Hawkins would enlist in the Continental Army in her father’s stead.

Scrambling out of her bed, she fumbled about her quarters until she found a match and lit the closest candle. She brought it over to the writing desk and sat down to write down her thoughts as they came to her all at once. Writing them all down would help her organize her thoughts, but logically she knew she would have to make sure the documents were destroyed.

No longer would she be Abigail Hawkins. She would be Thomas Williams of Setauket, Rhode Island.
---

Groggily, she stumbled out of bed the following morning. There had not been much time for sleep after she had spent the majority of the night organizing her plans. The little sleep she did receive was a still a blessing.

Knowing her father would arrive at any minute, she got herself ready for the day, changing from her nightdress into a simple plain green dress and had Iris assist her with the other essential dress workings. She had to bite her lip when Iris made the comment about the smell of smoke in her room, to which she had given a not so cleverly crafted explanation for the smell when in fact the true cause of the order was from the burnt parchment, whose ashes she had swept into the desk drawer.

Four primary measures of her plan needed to be accomplished before the week’s end in two days. First, she had to convince her father she came around to the idea of traveling to Dublin. The second component of her plan was twofold: convincing her father to allow Iris to accompany her to Dublin and convincing Iris to come with her. The purpose for Iris’s company would be for the younger girl to act as her double. Many people commented how eerily similar the two women resembled one another, which made the fact of Iris traveling to Ireland in her stead all the more perfect. Abigail believed the younger girl had relatives living somewhere relatively close to Dublin so she should not be too difficult to convince.

Third, Abigail required some items of her husband’s clothing to take with her – one to change into before arriving at the training base and another as an alternative for any unforeseen occurrence. She would also have to take in the items she would be borrowing by quite a bit of inches so that the clothes would not hang off her much smaller frame while at the same time not reveal too much of her womanly figure. She was also familiar with her measurements from her wedding dress fitting. All she had to do was be extremely generous and double those measurements for when she was assigned a uniform – if she even made it into the army.

Fourth, her long locks needed tending to. Ideally, she would not have to lose too much from the length, but her hair needed to resemble the average soldier’s hair length if she wanted to be successful with integration. Iris would have to take the honor of cutting her hair so she would not butcher the cut herself. However, this would only be after she confided in Iris about her true intentions.

Finally, the invisible fifth measure, required her father to be away on a house visit while the plan was executed. This would be where Abigail would draw in Ichabod as an accomplice. Ichabod would travel with Mr. Williams for an urgent letter requesting his presence in Philadelphia, a letter which would be forged by Abigail herself. This provided more than enough time to make sure Iris was dressed in one of Abigail’s dresses with her hair styled in the long, loose fashion Abigail often wore her hair. This was as much of a façade for anyone else who might spot the carriage on the way to the boarding docks.

Abigail had two days to accomplish all of this.
With this impending deadline in mind, the blonde headed downstairs while preparing herself for the many tasks at hand.

Mr. Williams arrived back at the estate at 7:00 o’clock sharp. The dining room table was already set for breakfast, and as soon as he walked through the door, the tantalizing smells of eggs, bacon, sausage, and bread greeted him like old friends.

Before they sat down for breakfast, Abigail pulled him aside and confessed she had not been able to sleep a wink last night, having felt overwhelming guilt for how she had spoken out of turn. She told him she realized the wisdom of his words and his decision and apologized tearfully for her part in the harsh exchange. Her father immediately wrapped her in a warm embrace and told her there was nothing for him to forgive, that he rightfully understood her concerns. She was his patriotic little girl and was so very much like her mother that it made his heart ache.

On her part, the emotions she had conveyed to him were not an act. They were very close to the surface of everything she was feeling, which made it easier for her cry. The guilt overwhelmingly made her feel worse when he brought up the memory of her mother.

During breakfast, they began discussing the plans for Dublin. As soon as she spotted Iris entering from the kitchen to pour their tea, Abigail suggested that she would like some company on her travels and suggested Iris to be that very person. The younger girl looked at her with a great deal of surprise and asked if she really wished for her company. Abigail assured her she did and mentioned that perhaps they could take a trip to visit Iris’s family in the country, informing her father of the servant’s Irish heritage. He agreed wholeheartedly, and Iris returned to the kitchen with a lighthearted bounce in her step.

Informing Iris her true intentions later that evening surprisingly proved to be one of the least trying tasks she had to accomplish. Initially, Abigail believed this take the most effort and time to convince her, which encouraged her to confide in the younger girl as early as possible. However, she was blissfully proven wrong when Irish had all but agreed to do it immediately. “I’m just excited I can see my relatives again, miss. I don’t mind practicing some deceit to get there,” were the girl’s exact words before Abigail enveloped her into a hug.

Late into the morning the following day, she began to work on taking in the inseams of her husband’s clothes, which proved more difficult than she had anticipated. It took nearly half the day to accomplish, but luckily, she managed. Once those were taking care of, she folded them carefully and tucked them into the satchel she would bring on her journey. The boots she required also came from her husband’s wardrobe.

Just before lunch, Abigail met with Iris and requested for her to cut a few inches off her hair while in the bathroom so that the mess would be more manageable. She didn’t realize she started crying until Iris set down the scissors after finishing with her hair. It was silly. She felt absolutely silly crying over something as trivial as hair. But the realization did not occur to her until the moment she saw long, thick, golden curls filling half the sink. Abigail’s once beautiful, flowing hair now rested just below her shoulder blades.

Wordlessly, she tied her hair back into a low seated bun.

After dinner, Abigail and Mr. Williams went their separate ways. He wished to observe the stars in the night sky as he so often did and walked out onto the front porch once Abigail made sure he had put on his heaviest coat.

Seizing this opportunity, she approached Ichabod when he was alone and told him of her plans. He was the one person she had trouble to convince, and if she had foreseen this occurring, she would have approached him first. But now they were running out of time with the carriage arriving early tomorrow morning. After approximately two hours, he begrudgingly agreed to her terms and agreed to give him the letter she had already forged the day before.

Hours later, Abigail was getting ready for bed when she heard a knock on her door. She got up to open the door and saw that it was her father standing there looking haggard and conflicted. He improved her of the impromptu call he must take in the morning and blamed Ichabod’s uncomely tardiness for not having providing him more notice. Knowing that he would be unable to see her off, he regretfully added he would have to leave first thing in the morning to leave for Philadelphia. Father and daughter exchanged their heartfelt goodbyes in a fleeting moment that felt too cruel for them both. Abigail felt extremely wicked since she had orchestrated this.

Before she knew it, the morning had arrived. Awaking with a strange sensation in the pit of her stomach, Abigail rose from her bed and looked out the window. Her father and Ichabod had left at first light and had been gone for some time. The carriage would arrive at any time now so she slipped into her robe and went to retrieve Iris.

Abigail’s belongings were already downstairs in trunks and boxes, which they both moved onto the porch for the driver to collect. She let Iris pick out the dress she wanted to wear and told her she could keep it after lacing up the finally stays on the dress.

When the carriage arrived, Abigail walked Iris downstairs but stayed behind when they made it to the front door. They embraced warmly before Iris nervously opened the front door and took her first steps into a brand new life. Abigail, meanwhile, walked heavily upstairs to begin for her own new journey.

After binding her chest to the point of nearly fainting, the blonde dressed herself in her husband’s clothes, which neither clung nor fell off her feminine frame. The boots were still too big, but with an extra padding of socks, they fit just fine.

Donning her father’s cap she had taken from his room, she finally faced the mirror. The stranger staring back at her looked vaguely like herself but not as well. She wasn’t entirely sure what to make of that, but time was no longer on her side to allow her to consider that.

Tucking the flyer into her front pocket of her coat, she reached for the satchel and slung the strap over her head so it rested along her back. Before he had left, Ichabod had already saddled and tacked Cantor for her so she could ride off as soon as she was ready.

She went to leave when she paused and walked over to her desk. Opening the door, she found the thick stack of Ben’s letters she had tied together inside. She bit her lower lip contemplatively before grabbing them and stuffing them into the very bottom of her satchel. She couldn’t leave them there in good consciousness.

Once they were tucked safely away, she shut the door to her bedroom, the door to her house, the door to her old life as she mounted Cantor. Feeling the every present warmth of her father’s pistol on her hip and the coin purse against the other, Abigail took a deep, steadying breath before inducing Cantor into a gallop.

And if she kept her most recent Ben letter tucked inside her breast pocket, no one would ever know it but her.

Chapter Text

“Name, town and state of residence, age, and previous military experience.”

“Harrison Smith. Portsmith, New Hampshire. Age fifty-five. I fought towards in the French and Indian War towards the end in the year 1761.”

“Name, town and state of residence, age, and previous military experience.”

“Stephen James. Hartford, Connecticut. Age sixteen. No prior military experience.”

“Name, town and state of residence, age, and previous military experience.”

“Henry Isaacs. Staten Island, New York. Age fifty-three. No prior military experience, but I have dedicated much of my crops to support our troops over the years.”

“Name, town and state of residence, age, and previous military experience.”

“Clarence Jones. Boston, Massachusetts. Age twenty-eight. No prior military experience.”

With each passing hour, Abigail lost track of how many men enlisted possessed no military experience. What she had been able to have a rough estimate were the startling age differences. Ever since she had arrived at the enlistment station, she had seen a man of every size, age, and color present. While the majority were white men, she did observe an increase in black men being recruited, though in a designated area separated from the rest of the men causing her to frown. If every man was here for the same purpose, why were there any separate enlistment lines at all?

She saw men from their early sixties to boys in their late teens step forward to provide their name, residence, age, and prior military experience. As noted previously, the vast majority of the men enlisting held no military experience, which was both alarming and unsurprising. These men’s current occupations – farmers, artisans, merchants, and other professional pursuits – hardly gave them the time to serve, seeing as how their livelihood greatly depended on their presence.

Standing in line, she heard a handful of men identifying as veterans state their previous military experience from the French and Indian war, ranging in years of experience between them, but those were men with greying hair and aging form. The men who had military experience lacked the advantages and benefits that came with being young, and the young, able-bodied and agile, lacked the advantages and wisdom of their elder counterparts, namely experience.

When she had arrived, the station was not as crowded with potential recruitments as she had anticipated. In fact, the numbers appeared to be at an alarming low. However, given the small turnout for recruitment, this gave the recruitment officers more time to interview each enlistee more thoroughly, leading them into a private space to discuss matters of what Abigail assumed to be compensation.

So far, blessedly, she managed to escape any suspicion in her current physical state. Having taken one of her father’s caps to better obscure her feminine features, she took a small comfort in the notion she had a piece of him with her along with his pistol.

Steadily, the line moved forward with Abigail falling into step with every slow trudge forward. She looked around and spotted her horse tied up to a hitching post, grazing languidly at the pile of way a few of the men had placed for their horses to eat. Both surprise and pride filled her chest when she noted Cantor had not kicked anyone yet.

Practically in the blink of an eye, she found herself second behind a rather large fellow in both height and girth. She could not see his face or anything else beyond his back, but with a quick upward glance at the back of his head, she determined he must have been at least in his early thirties, possibly later, and was pleased with herself to be proven correct when he gave his information to the officer.

She felt herself breaking into a cold, nervous sweat as she realized she would be next. With bated breath and rising heart palpitations, she heard the scratching of a quill against parchment as the officer took down the man’s information. Her palms began to sweat at the sound of chair legs scratching along the wooden floor as the officer rose and asked for the man to follow him into a private room.

When there was no longer anyone in front of her to conceal her view, she did her best to remain stiff and alert in the hopes she did not appear as a nervous wreck as she felt inside. A long string of colorful epithets filled her mind, and she repeated them over and over as a mantra despite her previous nature of intolerance for the use of such language in her own vocabulary. But she had a sneaking suspicion that intolerance would disappear very soon.

There was only one officer remaining at the table, the others currently interviewing their prospective soldiers. He had yet to look up from his notes quite yet. It wasn’t until another officer and enlistee stepped out of one of the private rooms did he finally glance up and gestured her over. She walked towards the table with the heavy feeling of lead in her feet and a jittery sensation throughout her entire being.

“Name, town and state of residence, age, and previous military experience.”

Swallowing inaudibly, Abigail took a quiet breath before stating, “Thomas Williams. Setauket, Rhode Island. Age twenty-three. No prior military experience.” She paused for a moment before adding, “But I do have experience shooting.”

The officer was already writing down her information when she mentioned her shooting ability, pausing to look up and assess her for the first time. She fought back the urge to squirm underneath the scrutiny. “Livestock or people?”

The urge to narrow her eyes at the almost patronizing tone in his voice was a strong one, but she understood it. She had heard previous men admit to their lack of military experience and even less experience with handling guns. The officer’s skepticism, while irritating, was justified.

“A little of both, mostly the latter,” she remarked and was pleased at the slight surprised raise of his eyebrows. That was the truth, for the most part. She had shot livestock before but only when it was clear they were suffering and would never make a full recovery.

As for people, she had fired her pistol as a warning shot on some occasions on her lone travels home whenever she heard a suspicious rustling in the trees. One time, she had shot a man trying to steal Cantor after she had just tied him up to get a drink of water by a nearby stream. She had intended to shoot him in the thigh, but he had been in mid-turn towards her when she fired her shot. To this day, she still wasn’t certain if she had shot the man in the groin. She would never know for sure since she hadn’t thought it wise to stick around and find out at the time.

Clearing his throat, the officer rose from his seat and asked for her to follow him into the available room for an interview. Adjusting her cap atop her head, she followed him inside and continued to stand as he shut the door behind them.

As he rounded the desk, the officer introduced himself as Lieutenant Wilson, one of the recruiting officers in the state of Rhode Island, and extended his hand to shake hers. Thankful for the weather permitting the use of gloves to hide the smoothness of her hands, she accepted the man’s hand and shook it firmly, mimicking how her father shook hands with other men.

“Before you have a seat, would you disclose any items on your person and set them on the desk,” Lieutenant Wilson requested. “It serves the interest of the Continental Army for you to do so.”

With a nod, Abigail removed the coin purse from one pocket and set it on the desk. At the officer’s curious look, she explained, “It’s always good to be prepared to pay someone off who may give you trouble.” She then pulled out her pistol and set it securely on the desk in front of him, adding, “And it is also wise to be prepared in case said wayward person is not interested in money.”

He reached over to inspect the pistol but not before asking, “Is it loaded then?”

“Yes, sir,” Abigail remarked, choosing honesty in the moment when she knew that would be hard to do from this moment forward.

Carefully, he took the pistol in his hand, turning it over as he inspected it. “It’s a rather small pistol. Light as well.”

“It’s much more readily concealed while traveling, which is especially useful if it isn’t your first course of action.”

Wilson made an affirming noise as he continued to inspect the gun in his hands. “Very logical, practical, too.” He then placed the pistol back where Abigail had laid it and opened a notebook to a fresh sheet of parchment with his quill at the ready. “So let us discuss enlistment and compensation negotiations. Understandably, most men prefer the shortest enlistment terms as possible with renewal periods, but Congress has recently made some revisions to the process and requires each enlistee to serve at least one year. But you are not limited to serve only one year. You may choose to serve for more than one year or even for the duration of the way, but that option is less popular –”

“The duration of the war,” Abigail insisted, not even taking the time to consider she had just interrupted a lieutenant of all people. The longer she could keep her father out of the war, but the better off he would be. “I would like to serve for the duration of the war.”

Lieutenant Wilson, clearly unaccustomed to hearing this request, instead of inquiring if she was certain about her decision, decided to move forward. “All right. Now onto the issue of compensation. Congress has also made revisions to this as well but nothing too substantial. You will be provided with a yearly stipend and land, the latter of which will be received you have carried out your enlistment, which in this case would mean not until the end of the war.”

“I don’t need any compensation,” Abigail remarked. She did her best not to fidget as he began to eye her with suspicion.

“Nonsense. Every man needs to learn a living and should be compensated for their efforts.”

“I don’t want any compensation. Serving my country and performing my duties is more than compensation enough.”

Sitting back in his chair, Wilson laced his fingers together and observed her with interest, trying to figure her out. “While that is quite noble of you to say so, Williams, you are still entitled to at least a stipend. We can negotiate something reasonable for you. Do you have a family to support?”

Abigail paused and then remarked, “No, sir.”

“No dependent relatives, siblings, parents or otherwise?”

The face of her father entered her mind, but she answered, “No, sir.”

As the officer wrote this down, Abigail took this time to compose herself and then finally remarked, “I’ll accept whatever compensation you believe is best. This is not about money or land for me. I want to do what is right and serve my country. That… that is all I desire.”

She couldn’t quite read his expression, but judging from the upward curve of his lips, she must have said something right to impress him. “I’ll take that under advisement,” he replied, making another note in his journal.

They settled into a discussion of what the next few days would hold. She and the rest of the enlistees would remain there for some rudimentary training, but they would be assigned regiments before the week’s end. It was clear from his tone that the army was in desperate need of men no matter if they were experienced or not.

Part of their training including three manuals which he handed her – Humphrey Bland’s A Treatise of Military Discipline, Timothy Pickering’s An Easy Plan of Discipline for a Militia, and “Sixty-fourth”, the 1764 regular British Army manual. In the morning, the group would then begin drill training, which essentially consisted of target practice and properly holding a musket.

Essentially, what Abigail took away from her interview with Lieutenant Wilson was she must teach herself as much as she can before she was throw out onto the battlefield.

As soon as she was dismissed, she rose to her feet to retrieve her coin purse and pistol so she could return them to their proper place and made a conscious effort to hold the manuals against her hip instead of cradling them to her chest as she was accustomed to as she was escorted to her temporary lodging.

The enlistee lodging consisted of a relatively moderate size log cabin, but its outward appearance was deceiving. When she stepped inside, the cabin was crowded with men in various stages of undress. She quickly averted her eyes and hid her flush underneath her cap as she followed through on the officer’s advice to find a bed before they were all taken.

Abigail finds the furthest bed away from the others as far as she could find, which truly was not saying much given the close proximity of the bunk beds. Fortunately, her bunk partner didn’t appear very threatening. Tall, slender, and lean with raven hair and pale skin, he looked rather young compared to the other men. She hazarded a guess he was younger than herself.

“Do you mind some company?” she asked lowly as soon as she approached the boy. She noted one of the manuals opened in his lap and smiled. None of the other enlistees seemed to be particularly bothered with them, especially the younger and middle aged groups.

Jumping slightly, the boy peered up startled only to smile in relief. “No, not at all. You can have the top if you’d like. I’m nervous about rolling off and falling onto my face.”

Abigail grinned and set her satchel on the bed to stake her claim. “Well, if I do roll off, feel obliged to use me as a rug when you rise in the morning.”

His laugh was muffled by the roaring laughter from the other side of the cabin. She couldn’t help but jump a little at just how loud the others were and hoped no one would notice. “You seem like the quiet sort. I’d prefer your company over those lot,” he remarked lowly for her ears only. “My name’s Christopher. Christopher Morgan.” He extended his hand out to her.

Setting her manuals on her bed, Abigail accepted his hand and replied in kind, “Thomas. Thomas Williams. And I second that sentiment.” She grabbed the title that Christopher was reading and tapped the cover lightly as she faced him. “Care for a study partner?”

The boy smiled gratefully and suggested that she grab her bunk before one of the scrawnier men tried to push their way over to it. Without thinking twice about that, she pulled herself up easily into the bunk. Years of mounting and dismounting Cantor’s impressively tall form had led her up to this very moment.

The next few days passed by in a blur of confusion and struggle of adjustment. The biggest lesson she learned thus far was perhaps the most important.

Men were horrible, boorish creatures.

Their mouths were just as foul as the rest of their behavior, namely flatulence, belching, and every other action society deemed unsuitable to be done in front of women. Oh, and their discussions about women were perhaps even more vile than their bodily functions. She once walked in on a conversation a man discussing a woman giving oral pleasure and immediately walked right out of the room as discreetly as she could.

When they were not busy with drill practice, if one could even call it that, Abigail and Christopher read their manuals together, taking turns quizzing each other. Sometimes, a group of the particularly disgusting men would mock them for reading when they should be out shooting. According to one of member of the group, “reading was for pussies and pansies.” It had taken everything inside her not to react in the manner she would have preferred and instead settled for rolling her eyes after they left.
They did manage to draw in a few more men into their alleged study group. Harrison Smith, the French and Indian war veteran, Henry Isaacs, the Staten Island farmer, and Stephen James, the sixteen year old enlistee integrated into their group one by one. Harrison deeply appreciated their dedication and offered to provide any assistance he could for them, which Abigail and Christopher gladly accepted. Henry Isaacs had approached them one day, stuck on a particular passage in one of the manuals and asked for some clarification, and the four of them held a discussion about it.

Stephen James, the poor boy, was completely lost. The youngest enlistee of the entire station, he seemed so out of place and unknowing just where he belonged. Taking one look at him, Abigail immediately took him under her wing and encouraged him to join their group, hoping that he and Christopher would form a friendship over their common problem of being the youngest present. Call it womanly intuition or pre-motherly protectiveness, but she absolutely refused to let those disgusting men corrupt his soul.

To be fair, not all of the men were completely abhorrent. There were different levels that explained these men’s behavior: tolerable, somewhat intolerable, and absolutely unacceptable. Reference to the disgusting men fell into the final category, which referred to three men in particular (asshole soldiers as she would latter mentally refer to them). She considered Bartholomew, Jasper, and Decory to be the worst of the worst and did her best to avoid them whenever possible.

During times the men were allowed to rest, Harrison took their group to an empty field to offer some extra shooting practice and other useful lessons from his experience in war. Being part of the oldest age bracket of enlistees, he was often subjected to ridicule of his age by the younger, immature enlistees, which was why he felt no qualms about not inviting them to these extra sessions.

Unaccustomed to shooting with a musket, Abigail particularly struggled with this during official practice, but she could hardly say she was the worst. When it came to lighter weaponry – namely pistols and other hand guns – she could hold her own against most of the men with the exception of the war veterans naturally.
Each and every lesson Harrison shared his experiences of the war, the battles in which he fought and the weapons they used. Abigail found herself growing more interested in edged weaponry and asked one evening if he would teach her about the most commonly used and how they were used. Sensing her desire to learn more, he agreed to teach her, starting with the bayonet, the commonest edged weapon utilized on both sides as it turned out. This made it easier for her instruction on to use them since they were most often attached to the musket. A blessing in disguise.

Before the sun had risen over the horizon that Friday morning, there was an urgent knock on the cabin door followed by the booming voice of one of the lieutenants ordering them to rise for the day and gather their belongings. For once, everyone in the cabin moved in synchronized fashion, dressing quickly and gathering their belongings in a timely manner before filing out of the cabin.

“Do you think we’re being assigned our regiments this morning?” Chris leaned and asked her quietly, voice cracking mid-question.

All Abigail could afford him was a shrug, unable to formulate a coherent thought, let alone a response for him and focused all of her energy on putting one foot in front of the other.

Soon enough they were all gathered along the edge of the open field. Abigail took in all of their saddled horses, Cantor included, and knew this would be more than regiment assignments.

“They mean to send us off this morning,” she murmured to no one in particular but was aware Christopher heard her as he gripped the strap of his bag nervously.
Lieutenant Wilson stepped forward and informed them this was their graduation day. After they received their assignments, each man would change into their own Continental Army uniform and rejoin their group to set out for their destinations. If they did not return, they would be hunted down and shot as a deserter.

“This is war, gentlemen,” Wilson proclaimed. “It is time to join our brothers and defend this land that is rightfully ours.”

Many of the sixty-five recruited soldiers cheered and hollered in solidarity, but Abigail remained silent, too stunned to even make an attempt. Glancing over at Christopher’s pale face, she knew she was not the only one. She give him a tight-lipped smile just as they were lined up by surname.

By the time the lieutenants made it to the letter M, Abigail never felt more alone. Stephen, Harrison, and Henry’s names were already called and assigned to separate regiments. She watched them each file back one by one in their new uniforms and accept their weapons before mounting on their horses.

When Chris’s name was called, she dug her nails into her palms to stop herself from reaching out to comfort him, seeing as how he was barely holding himself together as he received his uniform and headed towards the cabin to change. He had been assigned to the flying camp, which held no disclosed location. Only the soldiers assigned to the flying camp would know of its location.

Abigail couldn’t bring herself to make eye contact with him when he returned fully uniformed and instead found Cantor’s head poking out from the herd of horses instead, ever the curious creature. She held back an amused snort. The thought she would always have Cantor provided her with a significant amount of comfort she hadn’t realized she needed until that very moment.

“Thomas Williams.”

Abigail nearly jumped out of her skin at the sound of her father’s name and quickly remembered that was her alias. There weren’t many of the recruitments left to assign, which meant there would be less of them she had to worry about changing in front of when she received her uniform.

Stepping forward, she held herself tall and straight, just as she and the rest have learned from their many study sessions. She could practically feel Harrison’s proud gaze at the back of her head.

“You have been assigned to the flying camp,” Wilson remarked. He passed the uniform to her with such reverence she was absolutely petrified of his reaction if she were to drop it.
“Make your country proud.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, repeating the words of those who had gone before her. Holding the uniform securely in her hands, she turned from the lieutenants and made the short trek towards the cabin. As soon as she was out of sight, she rushed inside, taking advantage of the temporary solitude to at least change out of her husband’s shirt and into the white undershirt that inevitably cover just above the knee, but that would also conceal the fact she lacked a certain appendage all of these men possessed while hiding two particular assets that many of them often coveted in their particularly foul discussions.

Shuddering at the thought, Abigail proceeded to layer herself in each of the pieces afforded to them, starting with the waist coat and ending with the breeches, which she heard was rather uncomfortable for men given the unfortunate design towards the nether regions. Luckily, she had given measures doubled her size and did not have a penis so she anticipated her comfort would be more than tolerable. Perhaps it was God’s way of offering her some reprieve from the week’s social adjustments.

By the time the next few recruitments entered the cabin to change, Abigail was mostly dressed in her uniform. After slipping into the new pair of boots, she rose from Christopher’s cot and reached for the coat. It was a remarkable shade of blue, a color that had always been her favorite. The rough fabric of wool greeted her fingertips as she lightly traced the material, observing the intricate pattern of the lapels, cuffs, collar, and the coat skirts.

Realizing she was dawdling the time away, she slipped her arms into the coat, shifting a little underneath the extra weight, which she would be appreciative of come winter. She hesitated for a moment before replacing her father’s cap with the cocked hat. That didn’t stop her from placing her cap into her satchel anyway.

Once she was presentable, she turned and headed towards the door when she recalled the letters stowed away in her satchel. She had been fortunate thus for as to not have any of the men rifle through her bag and discover them. Quickly and discreetly, she slipped them into her breast pocket of the coat, comforted in the knowledge the larger coat held larger pockets.

Abigail returned to the field where she received her musket and other weapons. She then walked towards Cantor and mounted him, trying not to be too eager to reach a part of her that was still familiar.

She met Christopher’s gaze and shared a brief smile of relief. At least they would be continuing their journey together. The unfortunate side was that Bartholomew, Decory, and Jasper were also assigned to the flying camp. There were quite a few more men assigned to their group as well so she believed avoiding them would not be difficult.

Each group was led by one of the three lieutenants, and their group conveniently were led by Wilson. He did not exactly disclose the location of where they were headed but impressed upon them the importance to make sure to follow his lead.

Knowing being a follower wasn’t one of her horse’s favorite activities, Abigail forced Cantor towards the back of the group and prayed multiple times for God to give them both the strength to make it through the journey without an incident.

Her earlier sense of dread was slowly being replaced by a strange sense of purpose. She couldn’t explain the feeling or how she came to feel it, but this feeling calmed and soothed her anxiety, at least for the moment. Sensing her owner’s calm, Cantor latched onto it and did not put up a fuss, choosing to trot behind the rest of the horses easily.

For the first these past few days, Abigail felt hope, hope for herself that she could survive this and hope for the future of their country as they rode off to defend her.

Chapter Text

By the time the group arrived at the flying camp site, it was nearly high noon. With only taking short breaks to rest their horses and themselves, they made the journey in nearly two days’ time.

Exhausted and famished, Abigail considered breaking off a piece of a carrot she had nearly forgotten about in her riding bag but refused to risk facing Cantor’s wrath, at least not in the horse’s line of sight.

For the most part, Abigail rode alongside Christopher, conversing with him whenever the opportunity presented itself. During one of their stops, Christopher had informed her the wonderfully boorish trio of men had given her a nickname.

She had been nearly afraid to ask, but the boy had told her anyway despite her inward hesitant reservations. “Pretty boy,” he revealed lowly for her ears only with a barely suppressed grin. Abigail frowned. “It’s supposed to refer to your small build and not quite feminine stature.” At her hard stare, he had lifted his hands in self-defense. “Their words, not mine!”

Instinctively, she wanted to be insulted, but the more she considered it, the less indignant she became, choosing to receive the moniker more as a backhanded compliment than the words clearly did not intend to be.

Men and their fragile pride never ceased to amaze her.

Throughout their journey, Abigail had wondered why their numbers had been so significantly smaller than the other assigned regiments at the recruitment base. However, upon their arrival at the site, she learned very quickly why.

The flying camp was just that: a temporary dwelling for soldiers to rest between missions before picking up and traveling back to their authentic camp.

Neither Abigail nor the other men were aware of the current mission these soldiers were on. All they were aware of was what Lt. Wilson had told them previously, that they would be informed by a General Charles Scott, whoever that was.

The group dismounted a few yards away from the site and walked the rest of the way by foot after being greeted by a handful of soldiers ready to herd their horses with the others. Before Cantor could attempt to snort his discontent, Abigail snuck him the last carrot from her riding saddle to appease him. She wished she could say the same thing for her own stomach. Lucky beast.

They were then led to a small area intended as a dining area, which mainly consisted of men sitting on logs with plates balanced on laps and cups resting precariously close to the edge of their log. Each of them were offered a plate, though rations were running low since they had arrived just at the end of lunching hour.

None of them complained, not even the trio, who all but wolfed down their food the second they had their hands on it. Abigail just stared at them in shock until she felt Christopher elbow her in the side to keep moving.

She sat next to Chris, carefully balancing her plate in her lap while instinctively fighting the urge to pounce on the food like her other male companions. Years of societal etiquette ingrained in her a certain decorum, which included eating. She knew giving in and scarfing her food down would only enhance her alias, but that would have to be something to work on. For now, she took a bite of her biscuit in measured bites, forcing herself to chew slowly and savor the taste instead.

After a brief survey of the camp, she spotted Lt. Wilson stepping into what she could only assume was the general’s tent, judging from two soldiers stationed directly outside. She tried her best to recall all of the things she had learned from the manuals and lessons from the recruiting base, knowing that understanding the chain of command would serve her well, no matter how ridiculous she secretly thought of the bureaucratic nonsense of it.

“…can you believe it? The demotion hasta’ve gotten to ‘im.”

“It’s not an official demotion, you bollock. Where do you get your information from?”

“Ya know Charlie? He’s the one who told me –”

“The wash boy? Fucking idiot wouldn’t know his head from his arse. No, I get my information from one of those fellas over there.”
Picking up on the conversation, Abigail threw a cursory glance behind her, noting the two gentlemen, if they could even be called that given their current disheveled state, speaking to each other in hushed tones not too far from her. She happened to look back just in time to see what the man point in the direction of his informant and looked in the direction of his hand. It had to be directed towards one of the two soldiers guarding General Scott’s tent.

Needless to say, their conversation captured her interest.

The one who pointed dropped his voice lower, causing Abigail to strain to eavesdrop without bringing attention to herself. She kept her gaze on her plate, poking at the leftovers with her spoon. As she was listening, she was vaguely aware of Christopher “discreetly” sneaking food from her plate, but she couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge it, too engrossed in this intriguing camp gossip. And on her first day nonetheless!

“There’s talk of court-martialing him, but he doubts they’re gonna do anything of the sort. The boy’s too valuable an asset, and they’re in desperate need of men. Why do you think we’ve got this new lot?”

She held back an indignant sound at that but knew the soldier had a point. There had been rumors that the Continental Army were running low on supplies and men, and it appeared that it was certainly true in the case of the latter.

The one with the thick Scottish accent remarked, “But dontcha think if he fucked up that badly there would be somethin’ done to him? It’d serve the little bastard right, him and the General as a matter o’ fact.”

“Would you shut your stupid trap, man?”

“I’m not gonna apologize for sayin’ it, seeing as how he rose through the ranks so bloomin’ quickly while the rest o’ us have been servin’ for years before he even enlisted-”

She wasn’t sure if the other man had slapped a hand over his companion’s mouth or had shot him a dirty look. Either way, she was engrossed and tore off a piece of her bread to eat, the one thing on her plate she absolutely refused to let the boy swindle from her.

“James, if you don’t shut the fuck up –”

“- why should some Yale educated little prick outrank us?”

Abigail looked around the dining area and wondered how the other men did not appear to hear any of this. The trio were too busy discussing topics among themselves while the rest of the men continued to scarf down their food. Even Christopher, who was sitting right beside her, was too busy enjoying his meal to pay even the slightest bit attention.

There was a slight tussle behind her, prompting her to give another cursive look behind her. The man dragged who she presumed to be James passed the group towards the edge of the woods so they could continue their conversation. If she wanted to hear the rest, she needed to find an excuse to pursue them.

Downing the contents in her drinking cup, she told Christopher she was off to find some water to refill her canteen. Before he could say anything else, she slid him her plate to finish off and headed off in the direction towards the stream she had spotted on their way to camp, which so happened to be in the direction of where the two men had traveled.

Fortunately, the stream was just in earshot of the men’s conversation. It was clear to Abigail’s ears James was on the receiving end of a verbal lashing.

Squatting down near the edge of the stream, she took her time filling the canteen with water while she resumed her place in listening to their conversation.

“… talk like that could land you into a whole out of trouble,” remarked the second man, who sounded very irritated indeed, “and the last thing we need right now is more trouble. The army’s barely holding on by a thread as it is.”

James hissed harshly, “How much longer do we have to be o’erlooked by newcomers, Matthew? Does it not bother you at all?”

“I didn’t say it didn’t bother me. What I’m telling ya is to keep your head, mate, otherwise you might not have a neck. Ears are listening in this camp. Anything heard by the wrong person could land you in massive shite.”

“… but that Tallmadge boy –”

Abigail froze, nearly dropping her canteen into the stream. No, that wasn’t possible. They couldn’t be referring to…

“Captain Benjamin Tallmadge is the least of our troubles right now. Let’s concentrate on getting through this war in one piece. Focus on taking your aggression out on some bloody redcoats. It’ll do ya some good.”

Hearing the rustle of leaves behind her pulled Abigail out of her shocked trance. She quickly screwed the top back onto her canteen and practically dived into the nearest bush just as she spotted the two men stepping beyond the cluster of trees, having narrowly missed being caught listening to them.

She sat there for a moment, perhaps longer than a moment to let the weight of their words sink in, to let the reality of her situation fully hit her. Of course she had been assigned to Benjamin’s regiment. Of bloody course she had. Why wouldn’t God find form of amusement during this war for Himself?
For the first time in her life, she allowed herself to murmur the words “fucking fuck” underneath her breath and ran a hand over her face anxiously. She had never sworn a curse in her life, but the occasion was more than appropriate for it.

There wasn’t much to be done to remove herself from the situation now so she began to contemplate her options. First, she could find Ben and reveal herself to him, hoping against all hope he wouldn’t expose her. While risky, that appeared to be her most reasonable option. Or.

Or.

She could avoid him like the plague as much as she was physically capable without having any confrontation. Unrealistic and untimely but certainly more appealing than the first option.

Decision made, Abigail carried the plan out for the rest of the day and well into dusk. She was extremely surprised and a little bit pleased with herself to being as successful as she was, but she had a feeling the success was due to Ben’s unknowing role in the avoidance than her own determination and paranoia. Whatever trouble he had found himself in must have influenced his presence or lack thereof in the camp. Worry filled her thoughts along with her surprise and hoped, despite the intentions of her avoidance tactics, she would catch a glimpse of him so that she could see for herself that he was fine.

But she really should have remembered the phrase be careful what you wished for.

No sooner did the sun begin to set, all of the soldiers were ordered to gather in the middle of the camp site, both the old and the newly recruited. Lt. Wilson stood in line with his fellow officers, including the man she assumed to be General Charles Scott. Ben stood towards the end of the line furthest from her, but that didn’t prevent her from trying to hide behind the taller soldiers, which wasn’t a difficult task to accomplish considering she was most likely the shortest soldier there. The only exceptions to the rule were some extremely young looking soldiers who she nearly suspected were secretly twelve years of age.

The man whom she assumed was the camp’s general stepped forward and introduced himself as General Charles Scott. He gave a rousing speech of patriotism and thanked them for serving their country with such passion a soldier somewhere towards the back led a rallying, if not somewhat boisterous cheer. Abigail couldn’t help smiling as the rest of the men followed suit with their own.

After a few moments of the tolerated hoopla, Ben stepped forward after being introduced by General Scott, and it was like the air was completely sucked out of the camp. Not for the other men, no, they were still murmuring among themselves as they came down from the excited cheer. The only one that felt breathless was Abigail, who was all too aware of the young captain’s every step now that he was in front of them.

She hadn’t seen or spoken with him much since the Christmas of ’70. The last moment she had seen him properly had been at her and Tobias’s wedding the following year. Tobias had asked him to serve as his best man. That one very painful dance they had shared at the reception had been the last time she had ever been in close proximity to him, before life had chosen to take them in separate directions.

Standing before her, Benjamin Tallmadge appeared the embodiment of a young lion, strong, confident, and accomplished in both his stance and appearance. Taking in his uniform, she noticed he was not just any other soldier. He was a man of importance, and sensing from the way he held himself, he had earned his place, no matter what she had overheard from those two bitter fools. Time might have placed an ocean of distance between them, but even she could see he was still the same boy she had always cared for. He was still her Ben.

Although in many respects, he truly wasn’t.

Ben had had a look of mild displeasure at the general’s introduction – “Captain Benjamin Tallmadge, one of our youngest and most promising officers, has led some missions into the field but will now be assisting with the integration of the new recruits for the time being” – and Abigail couldn’t blame him. She had barely concealed her own frown at the man but then the words he had just spoken and settled in – “will now be assisting with the integration of new recruits…”

Fuck.

After introducing himself, Ben accepted a roll of parchment from one of the camp servants and announced, “When I read the name from the list, step forward and identify your presence. Recruits’ names shall be read off first.”

Cursing inwardly, Abigail dug her nails into the palms of her hand to keep from repeating the words aloud. Not only would she have to step forward and draw attention to herself to all of the camp and then to Ben, but she would also have to do it sooner rather than later. Holding back any nervous sounds threatening to tumble out of her – though she was nearly certain it would have been a scream – she maneuvered herself so that she was with the group of her fellow recruits, which ironically only brought her closer to Ben. Brilliant.
There were only ten recruited soldiers in total with the inclusion of herself. After Ben read the first name from his list, she realized the names being read off were in alphabetical order, but not only were their names being called, where they were coming from were also being read off as well.

“Christopher Morgan of Boston, Massachusetts.”

Christopher stepped forward when Ben reached his name and announced himself, “Present, sir!” And God bless him, he was the only one so far that gave a salute. She was nearly embarrassed for him but was comforted by the small smile Ben offered the boy before calling out the next name.

There were only a three more men in front of her, and she tried her best to shake off her nerves. Resolve was her only friend to her, and she chose to embrace it wholeheartedly. What other choice did she have?

Her heart leapt inside her chest as the last male recruit in front of her stepped aside. Now she was face to face with Ben or rather soon to be face to face. He had glanced down at the parchment to read off the next name but paused, brows furrowing in some unidentified emotion.

“Thomas Williams… of Setauket.”

To the outside observer, the words seemed calm and controlled, if only oddly enunciated. However, Abigail knew far better. To her ears, the words sounded choked and restrained, and a wave of guilt nearly knocked her over. He must be thinking my father enlisted, she thought to herself with no small amount of grief. He must think with my father gone that I would be all on my own.

Her father never would have survived the war if she had allowed him to enlist, which was what gave her the courage to mimic the actions of the recruits before her and step forward, arms held straight at her sides. Consequences be damned.

“Present, sir,” she spoke once she could find her voice.

Almost as soon as the words came out of her mouth, Ben’s head snapped up from the list, his eyes locking with hers. She held onto his gaze steadily while inwardly fighting to maintain her composure. Those blue eyes of his pierced her own, breaking briefly to assess her face and taking her in before returning to meet her gaze.

It felt like an eternity held them in that moment. She waited with bated breath, not knowing what course of action he would take, because in that moment she knew that he knew. Once their eyes locked, she should have known it was all over. A long time ago, she had attempted to scare him on All Hallows’ Eve, but he had caught her in the act, ruining her fun. When she had asked how he had known, he had confessed he could “recognize those eyes of yours anywhere.”

Why were his eyes so damned blue?

After drawn out pause, Ben gave her a short nod and turned to the servant behind him for the list of enlisted soldiers’ named.

A strange whooshing sensation flooded her ears as relief flooded through her body. He kept her identity concealed.
Ben protected her.

With shaky limbs, she forced herself to move over to the recruited soldiers’ group to stand beside Christopher, barely aware of him patting her on the shoulder in solidarity. She glanced over at him with a tight lipped smile, but a part of her felt what had transpired was nowhere near over.

---

With the acquirement of the new recruits, the General required for some of them to bunk with another soldier for the time being, at least until they could make it back to the official camp base. Abigail all but latched onto Christopher in declaration as his bunkmate, and funnily enough, he had been just about to do the same. The camp was already running low on supplies so sharing tents temporarily would help alleviate some of the pressure.

She and Chris set up their tent together with the boy more or less telling her what to do since she could not recall the last time she had ever pitched a tent before – which was never, in more ways than one. Clearly.

Throughout the entire process, Abigail sensed she was being watched. It was like a pressure along the back of her neck without the presence of anything against her, not necessarily unpleasant but distracting nonetheless. It was so distracting near the end Christopher ended up taking over and only letting her help move their things inside once the tent erected.

No sooner had they finished setting up their cots were they summoned back to the center of the camp. The recruits were paired off with experienced soldiers to patrol the perimeters at different shifts. Christopher was part of the first group for the first shift and returned to his tent to retrieve his musket. Abigail was assigned to the second group and held the morning shift.

Right when they were dismissed, Abigail caught Ben’s eye. For the first time since roll call, he did not look away. Instead, he gave a slight tilt of his head and walked inside his tent. Realizing that she was expected to follow, Abigail waited a beat before walking in the direction of his tent, pausing right outside to collect herself before pushing back the thick material and stepping inside.

Ben’s back was facing her when she let the tent flap close behind her, but she didn’t need to see his face to observe how he was feeling. His shoulders were tense and rigid from some repressed emotion. He was pinching the bridge of his nose and somewhat hunched over, indicating the severity of his frustration.

She knew better than to say anything to fill in the moment so instead removed her cocked hat and placed it lightly on his desk to alert him of her presence.

It took another prolonged moment of silence before she heard him murmur, voice strangled, “What were you thinking?”

Abigail opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out, though she doubted the question wasn’t rhetorical as he finally turned around to face her. He wore an expression of such anger she was not accustomed to seeing. To say it startled her was more than an understatement. “How did you even get through recruitment? Hell, how did you even find out where the recruitment station was?”

She had a feeling he would have thrown his hands in the air in frustration if that was a characteristic of his nature, but he refrained from doing so. He then gave a short, ironic huff of laughter. “I would ask if you were even thinking at all, but it’s clear to me there was plenty of forethought going into this plan of yours.”

“Of course there was a plan,” Abigail found herself retorting, though she was vaguely aware there had possibly been a compliment in there somewhere. “Would you think I would do something like this without one? How stupid do you think I am?”

“In previous experiences, the thought would have never crossed my mind, but today, I would say extremely,” Ben remarked, tone equally clipped and sharp yet quiet.

Her eyes narrowed. “You don’t know the lengths I went to in order to come here so excuse me for not tolerating what you just said to me. And before you can accuse me of any other false accusations.”

She paused at his second huff and walked over to him so that they were practically nose to nose – or they would have been if he wasn’t nearly four inches taller than her. “I did this for my father. He… he intended to enlist, and I couldn’t let him. I found the flyer in the study and figured it out. I couldn’t let him do this. He’s not as well as he claims to be.” She looked away when she felt tears threatening to brim but forced them down. This was no place for tears.

There was a soft touch underneath her chin and a gentle nudge so that she was now looking up at him again. Ben’s fingers had brushed along her chin to coax her to look up at him, his thumb unconsciously brushing against the soft skin there. Though his face still expressed his anger, his eyes were much softer, less of a stormy grey has they had been moments prior.

Being so close to him and seeing that look in his eyes compelled her to tell him everything, about how her father had intended to send her to Dublin to stay with his sister and how she had manipulated the situation to her advantage to disguise her absence. With each passing detail of everything she had done, she could see the conflicting emotions across his face, but in the end, she knew she could trust him. If there was one person in her entire life she could confide in and trust completely, it was Benjamin Tallmadge. He had always been her person.

“And no one knows you’re here,” he remarked quietly, though the statement was phrased more like a question in his tone.

“Apart from Ichabod and Iris, the latter who traveled to Dublin in my stead, no one else knows I’m here,” Abigail confirmed. She paused before amending quietly, “No one else but you.”

Squeezing his eyes shut, Ben clenched his jaw, taking a breath to process everything she had just confessed to him. Despite everything, she pitied him. It was quite a lot to take in, especially for someone in Ben’s position, an officer in the Continental Army to deal with something as precarious as this.

“I won’t reveal your identity to anyone,” he promised finally after several minutes of silence. It sounded as if it greatly pained him to speak the words. “It’s too late for anything to be done about it now. The consequences would be too severe even if I were to say anything. I won’t risk your safety.

“But, you must know, there is very little I can do to protect you. General Scott has essentially made me his personal secretary after I recently disobeyed an order from his command.”

Abigail’s eyes widened. So her information from the other soldiers had not been too far from the truth then. “How much trouble are you in?” she asked urgently.

“I’m not entirely sure, but I can’t disclose much more beyond the situation until it gets rectified,” he said, dropping his hand from her face in favor of reaching down to touch her hand in an attempt to provide her some comfort. “It’s not myself I’m concerned for at the moment. I’ll do for you what I can, but I can’t protect you as long as I’m –”

She shook her head. “I don’t need your protection, Ben. I just need your word.”

“You already have it.”

“I know.” She smiled softly, reaching up to touch his face but rethinking the action and letting her hand fall back to her side and took a few slow steps back. “I suppose if we’re done here I should probably go. Don’t want to start any more rumors about you.”

Puzzled, Ben raised an eyebrow. “Any more rumors about me?”

She recounted the conversation she had overheard between the two soldiers when they had arrived at the site, informing him of more or less of what they said minus the profanity and exact phrasing of the insults. “I don’t think they intend any harm, but I think you should still keep an eye out for them,” she concluded, observing how the tightness in his shoulders returned with a small frown.

“Did you happen to catch their names?” he asked tiredly after running a hand through his hair.

Squinting thoughtfully, she mentioned hearing them address each other as James and Matthew but not hearing anything pertaining to surnames. She grabbed her hat from where she had placed it on his desk and turned to leave his tent when he commented after a moment, “You cut your hair.”

Abigail stepped right at the closed flap of the tent, remembering all too well the playful affinity he had always held for her hair, having always tugged on her curls to annoy her as children or to tuck a stray curl behind her ear simply out of affection. The once long golden locks were now gone and replaced by a short braid that barely passed her shoulders.

With a small, sad smile over her shoulder, she replied in a half-hearted attempt at jest, “We all must make our sacrifices, don’t we?” before placing the hat back onto her head and stepping into the crisp autumn night.

Chapter Text

Autumn gave way to winter’s bitter cold, orange and red leaves lying frozen underneath blankets of snow. This wasn’t the only transition Abigail had difficulty adjusting to. In fact, it was perhaps one of the easiest of them all.

The knowledge of having to learn as one would go rather than receiving any semblance of the training the British gave their troops didn’t make the transition to Continental Army any easier. In fact, it felt more of a hindrance than anything else, at least initially. However, as the days had worn on, she had found a way to turn this into a strength, seeking out advice from more experienced soldiers and observing their routines to better herself but only from the ones that were mostly agreeable and tolerating of her questions.

The only change she had not been able to adjust to completely was her relationship with Ben, or the lack thereof one. Logically, she knew no one could know of their friendship, which would only lead to more questions than were needed.

There had been a few stolen moments periodically, but those moments were filled with information Ben had felt it was vital for her to know, such as who to approach and not to approach within officer ranks and the importance of the military hierarchy. Apart from that, they had little to discuss with the other. He was often busy doing General Scott’s bidding while she was either often on patrol with her assigned group or with Christopher, though a part of her wondered if the fact their group remained so close to camp on their patrols had anything to do with Ben’s interference but never had the chance to pose her inquiry to him.

By the time December arrived, the regiment had returned to the Continental camp base. Integrating into the larger base was much more overwhelming than the flying camp had been, but as with everything else she had faced, adjustment was necessary, the sooner the better. It was very similar to the flying camp but only more. More men, more officers, more rules and information.

She did her best to avoid Caleb Brewster whenever she could as well. As close as they were growing up, it would be unwise to have anyone else know about her in the camp, at least that was what she and Ben had agreed upon. Well, perhaps not verbally. It wasn’t something that they explicitly stated. If Caleb did know of her identity, he would have found her straight away, and if Ben had shared her identity with Caleb, Abigail trusted he would confide to her that he did so or at least discuss it with her before telling him.

To be perfectly honest, avoiding Caleb was a complete and utter nuisance. The man was always everywhere! If she spotted him in the distance or approaching the area she was in, she had to find a way to get herself out of there before he could catch a glimpse of her. All it would take would be one look at her face, disguised or not, and he would know. He wasn’t a stupid man. Wait, correction. He wasn’t a blind man.

Caleb Brewster had always been stupid in the most impossible ways. It was one of his more endearing qualities, oddly enough.

Christmas Eve in the Continental camp was hardly the Christmas Eves she had been accustomed to. The wind was cold and biting, nipping at any exposed necks or any patches of skin not covered by the heavy wool fabric of the army coat. Snow, once always so magical and pure, seeped into the soles of well-worn boots, threatening to expose one’s socks to their same fate. The once merry carolers singing Christmas songs were replaced with drunken and belligerent men who sang off key, only pausing when an officer arrived to reprimand them and picking up right where they had left off as soon the officer was out of sight.

Abigail fought back a frown as she bypassed the boisterous group, not wanting to draw any attention to herself as she trudged her way through the snow. She could feel the frigid slosh seeping into her soaks and bit her lip to keep herself from swearing. Ordinarily, she would have promptly stopped right then and returned to her tent to quickly remove her boots and socks to revive her rapidly numbing feet, but there was a task she needed to see through so she persevered despite her toes’ throbbing protests.

Tucked away inside her inner coat pockets was a thick stack of letters, tied together with coarse string of twine. The three hundred sixty-six letters rested firmly against her chest as she subtly tightened the coat around herself to shield herself from the cold. Their presence both comforted and unnerved her, a complicated but appropriate combination of emotions given the decision she had impulsively made on what to do with them.

She didn’t even give herself time to gather herself when she reached his tent. If she had, the opportunity to not do what she had intended would have been too appealing.

With only a gentle tap to announce herself, Abigail waited until she heard Ben’s permission to come in before stepping inside, letting the tent flap close behind her.

She turned around just as Ben rose to his feet. Neither of them spoke a word, unsure of where to start off first. The last time they had gotten a chance to speak privately had been sometime the previous week, and even then, it had only been brief. She missed his company terribly.

“I… wanted to congratulate you on your reinstatement as captain,” Abigail found herself saying when it was apparent neither of them knew what to say to each other in that moment, a rarity given how often they used to bicker and banter about the smallest of things growing up.

The small smile offered to her in response was nearly enough to lead to her undoing, but somehow, she managed to maintain her composure, an admirable quality she rarely thought herself capable of possessing. “Thank you, though it only provides a small comfort at the moment.”

Abigail frowned softly. “But I thought you said…”

“Without the official title and approval from General Scott, there was little I could do in the camp, at least on an official basis,” he paused for a moment, as if unsure of if he should confide in her the words that appeared to be on the tip of his tongue. However, it appeared that a part of him already had his mind made up from just one look at her. “Just because he gave my position back doesn’t mean I’m necessarily out of the woods just yet. So to speak.”

“I’m sorry,” she murmured, doing her very best not to wring her hands in worry for him. “If there’s anything you ever need me to do –”

“I won’t have you risking yourself for me –”

Abigail carried on as if he had not interrupted her, which had happened all too often in their youth, a tale nearly as old as time itself, “– I’m here for you. Always.”

Those words were too much and too simple all at the same time, a complicated mess of things she always managed to find herself in, especially lately. They didn’t feel as if they expressed enough of what she was feeling, while at the same time she never felt more exposed.

“I know,” he remarked after a brief silence, expression torn between veiled and soft.

Before she could let herself feel overwhelmed, she glanced down to run her fingers over the material of her coat, restless. “I have to admit though that my intentions of coming to your tent weren’t completely congratulatory. It’s Christmas Eve, and I didn’t feel right not giving you something, especially because it’s been years since the last time we spent Christmas together at all and –”

“Abigail, you’re rambling.”

“I…” She looked up sharply to see him still looking at her all fond and narrowed her eyes at him. “Shut up.”

Ben lifted his hands in surrender, though the appearance of his grin ruined the gesture. Damn him.

“Anyway,” she continued after an amused shake of her head despite herself, “I figured I should give you something, so I thought I would give you these.” Without pause, she reached inside her breast pocket and withdrew the thick stack of letters. She wasn’t aware of just how warm they had been keeping her until she removed them from her coat, leaving her with a vaguely empty, vulnerable sensation.

She watched him take a step forward, eying the stack of letters in her hand with no measured ounce of curiosity and focused her gaze on the letters, turning somewhat sheepish. “These are letters that I’ve written to you but never sent. I never knew precisely where you were, so there was no way of me knowing where to send them. There should be three hundred sixty-five of them. Well, more like three hundred sixty-six. There’s a more recent one at the top but…”

She stopped herself mid-rant, knowing she risked another teasing remark from the captain before her, and thought it best to stop herself there, at least momentarily. “I know these aren’t much of a Christmas present, but I thought you should have them,” she added softly, instinctively reaching up to tuck a curl behind her ear, only to recall the lack of them flowing past her shoulders and immediately lowered her hand back to her side.

When she received no reply, she hesitated a glance up and noted with some surprise his gaze remained transfixed on the letters held in her hand. A part of her wondered if he had even heard her.

“…Ben?” Another pause. She frowned. “Benjamin.”

“… a whole year’s worth of letters?” he asked weakly, staring at the letters with such an unreadable expression Abigail nearly wanted to take them back and bolt.
Instead, she answered, “Yes, plus one of course, but that was a few days before I left Setauket for recruitment.” She nearly admitted to having written more over the years, perhaps not another three hundred sixty-five of course but still a significant amount, but sensing how he appeared to be overwhelmed by the ones she was presenting to him, she decided to keep that information to herself.

Deciding to take the initiative, she took a step forward and then another until she was standing directly in front of him. She was just about to reach out to take his hand so she could pass him the letters when he accepted them from her, her proximity possibly triggering the action, of that she wasn’t certain.
His fingers brushed hers, and it was like a spark ignited underneath her skin, warming her in ways the wool coat hardly ever did. Breath hitching quietly, Abigail cautiously retracted her hand after passing along the letters to him.

“Merry Christmas, Benjamin,” she wished him with a smile. Or as merry as one could be during times such as these, but those words weren’t necessary to speak, especially now.

“I… Merry Christmas, Abigail,” he returned softly, struck with the generosity of her gift. By the time he managed to lift his gaze from the letters in his hands, she was already gone.

---

A few nights had passed since Abigail’s gift, and Ben had yet to read the letters.

It wasn’t that he held no desire to read them. That was the furthest from the truth. Truth be told, his desire for the knowledge of each letter’s contents nearly drove him mad with each passing day he was unable, either from his official duties or from his fear of anticipation of what the letters contained. The latter of which was completely ludicrous, and he was completely conscious of this fact, but that still didn’t mean it was untrue.

Fed up with his uncharacteristic indecision, he slipped the top letter from underneath the twine holding the stack together and sat on his cot, holding the letter in his hands. Finally, progress at last.

Running his fingers over the crinkled edges of the envelope, he turned it over in his hands and broke the wax seal before he could talk himself out of it and then pulled out the folded sheet of parchment from its sheath. The familiarity of Abigail’s neat, concise handwriting nearly knocked the wind out of him.

Benjamin,
So much time has passed since the last time I have written you. I’m–

“Tallmadge,” the voice of the urgent soldier quickly pulled Ben away from the letter and back into the world of the camp. Folding the letter quickly, he sat up in his cot, noting the urgency from the younger man. “On your feet. Muster up your men and supplies. Every man gets three cooked meal rations, forty rounds of ammunition, fresh flints, and a blanket. ”

Rising to his feet, Ben inquired, “For what, sir?”

“Secret mission, they say,” was all the soldier remarked before he turning to step out of the tent, “The password challenge is ‘victory’.”

“And the answer, sir?”

The soldier paused and then answered, “Or death”, and exited the tent without another word, leaving Ben to his own confused thoughts.

He did not dare linger too much on them, instead taking the opportunity to gather his things and dress himself accordingly. Most importantly, he took the stack of letters from where they sat on the small wooden stool beside his cot and buried them deeply into his knapsack, slipping the letter he had just retrieved back into its original place. Then he readied himself for the secret mission, one of which was a secret to him as well.

---

To be perfectly honest, being interrupted in the middle of the night by a soldier for some mission was an occurrence Abigail was finding herself becoming used to. Whether or not that was a good thing she wasn’t quite certain.

Dozens, if not hundreds of men were busy loading supplies and weapons into boats, and Abigail was one of those men. The horses had apparently been secured and taken to wherever place they were headed. She only hoped that Cantor had cooperated well. Or decently rather.

She was in the middle of helping pass along a rather heavy supply of ammunition when she heard Ben call out Caleb’s name. She nearly dropped the crate of said ammunition but thankfully managed to tighten her grip before it could fall. Also, fortunately for her, she and her loading partner had already been half way loading it into the boat prior to her hearing his voice.

“What?” Caleb shouted back at him, and it took everything inside her not to snort. Typical Brewster. She would not have been surprised if he had shouted back “oi!” instead. There wasn’t much she would past him.

“Do you have any idea of what this is about?” she heard Ben asked as he drew nearer.

“Me? No,” was the other man’s remark as he helped load some muskets into a boat. “Thought you would.”

“All they told me was that we were crossing the Delaware.”

Keeping her head down, she continued to help load weaponry into the boats, only stopping by Christopher to help him with another heavy crate of ammunition.

Caleb gave a short huffing laugh. “Oh great! They just told us to follow you.”

So, neither of the men assigned to lead them knew what was happening. What a comforting thought. Too busy gritting her teeth from attempting to lift the crate with Christopher by her side, she supposed she was lucky to have a distraction to keep her from voicing this very thought.

“Here, let me help you gentlemen with that.”

This time Abigail did drop the crate, though it was hardly very far from the ground to begin with. Glancing up, she saw that Ben was standing above them, only crouching down to take a side of the crate while Abigail and Christopher held the others.

“Thank you, captain,” Christopher said for the both of them, more than a bit sheepish but his breathlessness overwhelming his embarrassment.

“It’s no problem,” Ben remarked with a kind smile, helping them load the crate into the boat. Abigail felt the warm brush of his fingers against her the entire way along the rough wood of the crate.

Seeing as how the boats were filling up quickly with men, Abigail bent down to retrieve her own bag and turned in the direction to follow Christopher when she felt a firm but brief tug on the corner of her coat. She looked up just in time to see Ben turning towards the boat where Caleb was stationing, giving a subtle tilt of his head in the same direction before continuing his walk over to Caleb. She waited a moment or two, adjusting the strap of her bag on her shoulder before following him.

“Well, you’re the whaler,” Ben began, placing his bag into the boat and then himself. He raised his voice so that his regiment could hear, “As long as we’re crossing, he’s captain.”

“Oh, dear Lord above,” Abigail murmured to herself, too low for anyone to hear as she mimicked Ben’s actions of putting her bag into the boat before pulling herself in. Out of the corner of her eye, she could have sworn she spotted Ben instinctively reach out to steady her but stopped himself short of doing so as soon as she made it into the boat. Perhaps she was just imagining things.

Standing in the boat, Caleb pointing to a soldier in each of the boats, ordering them to push off the shore.

As soon as the boat was fully in the water, Abigail looked around them and barely concealed her frown of concern. Of course, given her rank or lack thereof, she wasn’t entitled to know everything the army planned, but that didn’t stop her from not liking being uninformed. And judging from the frequent glances she threw in Ben’s direction, he appeared to share that sentiment, so they were in the same boat.

Oh, Christ. They were literally in the same boat. Had she somehow caught Caleb’s knack of cracking puns?

The further they made it beyond shore and into the mist laden waters, the colder it became. Abigail’s arms ached from the rowing. Practically frozen from the cold, her fingers cramped from their tight grip on the oars as they moved forward in the water.

Every man in the boat, except for one look-out and Ben and Caleb, shared an oar. It would have been easy for her to slack up lightly and allow her partner to take much of the rowing duty, but she refused to even consider that as an option.

Dubious circumstances aside, she enlisted into the army just as they all had, and she would be damned if she didn’t give it her best shot, even if that meant her fingers falling off from rowing.

She did find a way to distract herself, mostly by eavesdropping on others’ conversations. It was something she found herself becoming increasingly skilled. It wasn’t that difficult to listen in on Ben and Caleb’s conversation either, especially as how the other men in the boat were concentrating on their rowing and holding off the bitter cold.

“… if you ask me, this is just a glorified scout.” Caleb, clearly. “Secret password, ‘victory or death’? Washington’s just making us feel like we’re still in the fight.”

There was a light swaying in the boat as if someone were standing up. She hazarded a glance behind her to see Ben had risen to his feet. “Caleb, look.”

At his words, Abigail’s gaze returned forward and took in the scene before her. Her eyes widened. There were numerous boats sailing with them, not just the few half dozen or so back near the shoreline of the camp. There had to be a dozen or so more, if not doubled that.

What on earth?

“Jesus,” Caleb commented, voicing Abigail’s sentiments precisely.
“This is no scout.”

Whatever they were heading into, Abigail realized as she tightened her grip on the oar, must have been incredibly vital, to invoke this many soldiers. For the first time, it struck her the reality of seeing battle was imminent, if not inevitable. Not just witnessing battle but participating as well.

Clenching her teeth, she moved the oar forward in the water, careful to avoid a large patch of ice floating along beside them.

---

“What was it that you… you sailors say?” Ben asked, the cold causing him brief pause to collect his thoughts. “‘Fair weather brings cloudy weather’? Maybe this time it’ll be the reverse.”

“Or maybe the fog will lift, and there'll just be more fog,” Caleb remarked helpfully, to which the captain gave him a look inquiring why he always had to be such a pain in the arse.

It had been hours since they had set sail away from the camp, and the temperature and weather had done little to be kind to them. The cold had long settled in his bones, which had prompted Caleb to fetching him a blanket to wrap himself in. Guilt settled in like an old friend as he sat beside Caleb with a blanket around his person while his men continued rowing, shivering and shifting to make themselves warm.

His gaze hardly moved from Abigail’s form, too stiff and still for his liking. If it weren’t for the motions of her rowing, he would have sworn she had frozen to her spot. Initially, he hadn’t wanted to accept Caleb’s offer of the blanket, instead wanting to give it to Abigail, but one hard brief glance from her had stopped him. Both of them were all too aware he couldn’t demonstrate any kind of preference to her among the rest – “don’t you even think about it, Tallmadge” her blue eyes had seemed to say, showing evidence of vivacity he hadn’t realized how desperately he had needed from her.

“We’re here,” the lookout announced, prompting both men into action.

“All right, on your feet, men,” Ben commanded, and a series of clinking of metal accompanied the soldiers stiffly rising to their feet after hours of rowing. “Everyone, check your flints.”

The men proceeded to remove their oars and check their flints as Ben ordered, but there were too many of them on one side trying to accomplish the same task.

“Move back, you’re tipping her!” Caleb ordered, eying the soldiers with increasing tension as Ben approached them.

The captain, having grown increasingly nervous with how the men were handling the equipment and nearly hitting each other with them, walked closer to intervene. Just one good hit could easily send Abigail, the lightest of the bunch, overboard.

“Watch those arms!” Ben shouted, fear sharpening his tone. No sooner had the words come out of his mouth did one of the swivel guns threaten to dip into the water. “Grab that swivel gun!” He bent down to retrieve it just as the boat gave another dramatic tip.

“Ben, no!” Caleb shouted after him, quickly echoed by Abigail before he submerged into the ice cold water.

Without a second thought, Abigail lunged forward and latched onto one of Ben’s hands that still clutched to the side of the boat, her scream stuck in her throat when he submerged completely. It felt like an eternity before he resurfaced.

“Pull him up!” she heard Caleb shout, and with the help of two other soldiers, they hauled him out of the water as fast as they could.

“Can you hear me? Be- Captain, can you hear me?” Abigail asked urgently, lightly tapping at his face. He coughed and spluttered out water. She rolled him onto his side to assist him.

“We’re going to have to strip him,” she spoke, raising her voice for everyone’s benefit. “He’ll freeze if we don’t.”

“You heard the fella, make some room,” Caleb’s voice got progressively closer. “The rest of ya, get us to shore.”

Everyone fell into their assigned tasks promptly. Abigail hardly paid any mind to where they were headed, too busy trying to remove Ben of his soaked uniform to think of anything else. When it became too difficult to remove an article of clothing, Caleb dropped by her side and aided her, not asking her any questions, only doing as what she told him to do.

They were only partially through removing his clothes by the time they managed to get to shore. Quickly and efficiently, Caleb and Abigail finally removed the last stubborn article of clothing, namely his trousers when she had Caleb fetch the blanket Ben had been wearing moments before and also asking for as many blankets at their disposal to warm him up.

They got him wrapped into one and had some of the others help carry him out of the boat, carefully lowering him to the ground only when they were as far from the water as possible. Abigail remained by his side the entire time.

Dropping to her knees, she cupped his face and asked if he could hear here. He gave a small jerk of his head, and she gave a quiet sigh of relief, which faded when she realized that probably would not be the case for very long. The trembling had started moments after pulling him out of the water and had already intensified in the past few minutes. With her hands cupping his face, she rubbed the sides of his neck to warm him when the thought struck her.

“Body heat,” she murmured.

“What?” Caleb asked, leaning forward.

She repeated herself louder, turning her head in his direction, “Body heat. The best way to increase his temperature is direct contact with another warm body. Do you have any more blankets?”

“That’s all the blankets we have wrapped around him,” he remarked, frown deepening as he took in the state of his friend, shivers wracking his frame. “What exactly do you intend to do?”

“Basically? Wrapping myself around him to give him as much body warmth as possible,” Abigail remarked bluntly. She looked up at him challengingly, eyebrow cocked. “Unless you want to do it?”

“… right. I’ll go make a fire.”

“Good call.” Without as much as another remark, she peeled back the top blanket layer covering him, wincing in apology as he groaned at the cold, so that she could slip inside with him. Once inside, she wrapped herself around as much of him as she could while trying to unsuccessfully close the blanket clothed cocoon at the same time. Somehow, she made it work but only partially.

“Listen to me, I’ve got you,” she murmured, dropping her voice only low enough for him to hear. She wasn’t sure if he had until he turned his head, and their noses brushed. Inhaling shakily, she shifted so that she could align herself at a taller height so that he was more comfortable and that she could avoid doing something foolish. In the back of her mind, she knew that an even quicker way to warm him would be direct skin to skin contact, but since there were multiple factors hindering her ability to do so – namely her current “male” status in the Continental Army among many, many other reasons – she settled for this.

Ben tried to speak, but she quickly shushed him, tightening her arms and legs around him and pressing herself more firmly into his side.

Rolling her shoulder slightly, she felt the material of her coat shift back slightly and encouraged him to move his face towards her neck, the one part of her that was actually not entirely frozen.

She nearly leapt out of her skin at the first press of his freezing skin against her neck but merely sucked in a breath to remain calm, though when he made an unintelligible noise and nuzzled desperately into the warmth he discovered there, she sucked in another breath but for an entirely different reason.

In the distance, she could hear Caleb and the men gathering wood for the fire, but she was more concerned about the man in her arms than what the others were doing.

“You’re an idiot, by the way,” she informed him quietly, “trying to grab that swivel gun like that. I was closer. I could’ve gotten it.”

“No ya’couldn’tv,” he groaned against her neck, which surprised her. She hadn’t expected him to reply. “Didn’t wan’ta’y fallin’ ‘n.”

She did her best not to snort and make a sarcastic remark about making a fine mess of things and said instead, “Don’t talk. You should save your energy. I’m here. Nobody’s getting rid of me that easily.”

Making another noise she couldn’t quite decipher, Ben pressed his face further into her neck and shuddered violently, the edges of his vision darkening before he slipped into unconsciousness.

---

Waking up did not happen fully at once. Drifting in and out of consciousness, Ben barely knew of his surroundings or his current state. He caught glimpses of faces and overheard pieces of conversations, most of which he most likely would not be able to recall later. The faces he most often saw were those of Caleb and Abigail, the latter of which he saw less often. He would have frowned at that if he had been in his proper state of mind.

One of the first times he drifted into consciousness, he caught a full view of Caleb’s face hovering over him, concern lined into his face.

“All right. Hey, wake up!”

Ben blinked, unable to process the darkness of the night had given way to a bright winter morning.

“How’s that fire coming on? We need… oi! Don’t you dare…”

He couldn’t catch onto his friend’s next words before slipping back into the darkness, though the soft, warm form against him didn’t make it completely unpleasant.

The next time he woke up was for an even shorter period. Nearly as soon as he had caught his eye, Caleb was on him in a flash, all strained grins and nervous laughter, “You’re not going on us like this, you dumb bastard. You hear me? You stay awake all right?”

Unfortunately, he was unable to follow through on that request and fell back into the darkness, this time burying his face into whatever soft warmth he was clutching to. This time he heard a different voice, murmuring against the top of his head, “Come on, stay with me.” A quiet, feminine voice, so familiar and yet…

The third time he managed to blink awake it was night again. There was a fire crackling beside them, but he couldn’t tell just how close he was. However, judging from the extra amount of warm, it was just close enough.

“Know why you can't die? You're still a virgin.” Caleb.

“Don’t you ever shut up?” The feminine voice again.

Groggily, Ben rolled his head to the side to get a better look only to be met by a face full of neck and golden locks. Instinctively, he wanted to bury his face against said neck, but what he wanted more was to see this person’s face, this woman’s face.

Suddenly, he felt himself shifting, along with the warm soft form he was pressed against, and soon enough he was able to see her face. Abigail’s face was angled towards Caleb, pretty features settling into a glare. Even in the dim firelight, he recognized her face, hell, could’ve recognized her face anywhere.

He wasn’t all that concerned with what they were talking about – though he would very much mind much later when he remembered of course – he was too busy scrutinizing her profile to decide if she was properly real or not.

“See, all you ever done is box the Jesuit. I'm surprised you're not blind.”

“Caleb!”

“Now, the man upstairs, He don't take kindly to virgins over the age of twenty. Sees it as a waste of His good works.”

“I swear to God, I’m going to beat you with a tree branch as soon as I get up…”

Ben faded back into unconsciousness, so he never got to hear the end of Abigail’s threat towards Caleb.

---
Blinking slowly, Ben flinched against the brightness against morning sun. It didn’t take him long to dissolve into an intense round of coughing, forcing him to curl in on himself, face pressing against a melting patch of snow.

“Ah, Happy New Year, Tall-boy!”

He lifted his head groggily and looked over to where Caleb was turning from the river and walking towards him, brushing himself off as some snow descended upon him from a tree branch.

“How are ya feeling?”

Ben groaned as he rolled onto his side, trying to find a proper position that didn’t leave him feeling like absolute shite. “Where are the... where are the men?”

“Right now? Gone.”

“Gone?”

“Yeah. You've been out for a few days, my friend.”

The captain stared at him, uncomprehending. “What?”

Caleb walked over towards him, squatting down to over him his canteen. The contents of the bottle Ben was not certain of, but at the moment, it was difficult for him to care. “The year's over. Bounties are up. I doubt too many are keen to reenlist.”

Looking around, he took in the number of missing boats and even more so his men. The lack of presence of one particular soldier caused a tightening sensation in his chest. “What of Abigail?” he blurted out without a moment’s thought.

“She went to fetch some more firewood,” Caleb answered, grabbing a stick to poke at the fire. “Was worried about it getting too low so she went in retrieve some herself. Stubborn one.”

Taking a long swig from Caleb’s bottle, Ben groaned again, attempting to pull himself up into a sitting position until he felt his friend’s hands on him but instead of helping him up, he was pushing him back down.

“You need some rest still. Besides, if I let you up before you need to be, Abigail will tear me a new hide.”

Too weak to fight him, Ben fell back into his makeshift cot, cocooned in more blankets than he could count. It took a few minutes for him to process what Caleb had just said and a few more to realize what he had just done. Face growing pale, he stared at Caleb in horror and began worriedly, “Caleb, you must understand. Abigail… I mean, Williams. I-”

“Relax, Tall-boy. Abigail and I talked it all out last night,” Caleb reassured him. “It was long after the others left, I swear. To be honest, I’m rather annoyed I hadn’t figured it out sooner, though her nearly elbowing me in the face a few days ago was my first clue.”

“Well, she… wait, elbowed you in the face?”

“Yeah, wouldn’t let me get near ya. She never did leave your side since we got ya off that boat, too. Who do you think kept you warm?”

Flashes of images entered Ben’s mind in brief snippets – the soft form he had clung to, the curve of her pale neck, those dreadful golden locks… He swallowed an unwise amount of liquor from the canteen without a moment’s thought, coughing and spluttering a bit as he lowered it from his mouth.

Caleb gave him a hard, sympathetic pat on the back to help him out. “I won’t breathe a word of this to anyone though.” Ben looked up at him while wiping the corner of his mouth and noted the rare serious expression on his friend’s face. “You have my word.”

Trusting him, he nodded his appreciation. “It’s really not my secret to tell, but it’s one I’ll guard with my life.”

Caleb nodded in understanding, which of course he did. He had grown up with the both them, having become a witness to Ben’s growing affections for the blonde over the years. Caleb knew better than anyone, if not taking Abraham and Anna into account, how much he cared for Abigail. He knew he could trust Caleb to the very end with this.

“Aye, I understand. That’s why Abigail said -”

“What exactly did Abigail say now?”

Both men turned at the sound of her voice and saw Abigail approaching them, arms full of branches ranging from numerous sizes. Not seeing Ben was awake, her gaze focused on Caleb as she remarked, “I think I might have found a decent size branch to hit you with, so any more innuendos, and you’re in for a world of trouble.”

“Darlin’, that’s the title of my autobiography,” Caleb huffed out a laugh, though he made sure to keep his eyes on her as she came closer to deposit half the load into the fire. “Look who’s awake.”

Pausing in her actions, Abigail turned just as Caleb took a step back so she could see for herself. Her blue eyes locked with Ben’s, and for a moment, it felt like time stood still.

In the next moment, she was right in front of him, nearly nose to nose, with her hands sliding to touch the sides of his face, and he couldn’t breathe.

Her hands were running over him, searching, as her eyes focused on him intently. “How are you feeling?”

“I…” any words died on his lips as she brought the back of her hand against his forehead. It took every ounce of his willpower not to close his eyes.

“You feel good.”

Ben couldn’t stop himself from licking his chapped lips. “Abigail…”

“Much better than you have felt previously,” Abigail murmured to herself as if she hadn’t heard him. Perhaps she hadn’t, considering how calm and collected she appeared. He wanted to resent her for it. “You do look a bit flushed though.” She frowned, fingers trailing across his cheeks, which grew increasingly warmer under such attention.

A loud cough drew Ben’s attention over Abigail’s shoulder to where Caleb stood, clearly concealing with great amusement behind a feigned cough. Ben’s eyes narrowed pointedly, which only made the other man’s shoulders shake even more in barely suppressed laughter. The urge to lunge at him never was more appealing than in that moment.

Meanwhile, Abigail was completely unaware of the silent battle between the pair, too concerned with assessing Ben’s vitals to pay them any mind. Eventually, she rocked back on her heels to get a better look. Considering his flushed complexion, his temperature appeared to be increasing to a healthy state, though his dazed demeanor had her feeling more concerned. She hadn’t missed the way his gaze flickered from her eyes to her mouth and back again, unable to completely focus. While he was getting better, he wasn’t completely out of the woods yet.

“What’s the diagnosis?” Caleb inquired, scarcely managing to suppress his mirth by the time she turned around.

“Much better than yesterday,” Abigail confirmed, “though I think you could use some more rest before we move again.” She looked at Ben expectantly, knowing fully well he would try to find a way out of it. “Just give me a few hours, and I promise you, we can start moving again.”

She had removed the cocked hat, so he had a completely unobstructed view of her eyes, which bore into his in such a way he was finding it difficult to say no. That and his traitorous body appearing to agree with her demands all lead to letting out an incredibly reluctant “fine”. His lips faintly twitched upwards at the sight of her pleasantly surprised smile.

Returning his attention to the traitor, Ben asked, ““Where were they headed?”

Caleb tilted his head. “Who?”

Ben held back a sigh and asked carefully, “The men. Where were they headed?”

Scratching the back of his head, the other man remarked after a short pause, “Uh, Trenton.”

Ben stared at him for a moment. “Trenton?”

Looking between the two men, Abigail asked curiously, “What’s in Trenton?”

Caleb looked at Ben, silently asking for his approval. When Ben gave it, he looked over at Abigail as he answered, “Washington, I reckon. Probably a very good chunk of the Continental Army as well.”

Abigail’s stomach dropped at that information. They would be heading to where the major base of the Continental Army resided, to where Washington was most likely stationed.

They were going to meet the Gray Fox himself.

Chapter Text

Ben, Abigail, and Caleb had arrived in Trenton, New Jersey within a day’s time. After encountering a group of disguised Continental soldiers posing the password challenge of “victory”, Ben had responded with “or death”, the answer he had confided in Abigail and Caleb prior to their trek in search of Trenton. Upon the acceptance of his answer, the trio had been escorted to the Continental Army base.

Almost as soon as they had set foot into camp, one of the soldiers had been prepared to escort Abigail to where the other lower ranking soldiers resided until Ben had stopped them, saying, “Williams is with us.” Nothing more had been done about it, at least for the moment.

After their accommodations were readied, Abigail followed Ben to his tent, after having been informed she would have her assignment the previous morning. Just as soon as they were alone, she told him he needed to get more rest, but he made a counter offer of her getting her rest first, after having spent so much time taking care of him herself. Of course, he presented that argument.

“Besides, I must speak with General Scott to inform him of our arrival,” he added, slipping back into his coat. “Please humor me and take the cot while I’m gone. If it makes you happy, I’ll rest as soon as I return.”

Eyes narrowing thoughtfully, Abigail remarked, “It would, but only if you’re telling the truth.”

Ben only offered her a mildly cheeky grin in response before slipping out of the tent. No sooner than he had disappeared did she started lie down on the cot. Perhaps some rest would do her some good.

She fell asleep before her head had hit the pillow.

---

Abigail found herself in a strange balanced state upon the hour before dawn, drifting between the realms of sleep and consciousness. This perhaps explained why she didn’t entirely jump out of her skin when the flap to Ben’s tent opened to reveal one of the disguised soldiers who had escorted them to camp. This was truly a blessing. At least she didn’t have to explain herself as to why, a low-ranking soldier was alone in an officer’s tent.

“Apologies for the sudden intrusion,” the soldier said and sounded surprisingly sincere. A rarity! “But every man must be officially dressed and armed as soon as possible.”

Tensing, she pushed herself into a sitting position and rose to her feet. “Are we preparing for battle?”

The soldier shook his head. “It’s just for protocol and a precaution.” He didn’t explain any further, which she found disconcerting but not completely unheard of for the military. Judging by his uniform, he more than likely out ranked her and was privy to information not intended for those below them.

She nearly asked if Ben had been informed of what was happening but stopped herself just in time, realizing he probably had already heard during his meeting with General Scott.

“We’re all to report to the house right before dawn.” Before she could even inquire as to what they were meeting for, the soldier slipped back out into the morning darkness.

The first thing she made sure to do was tighten her binds underneath her shirt, sucking in a sharp breath when she tugged nearly too tight. The brutality of the bindings rivaled that of corsets, which she loathed with every fiber of her being. Once suitably held in, she straightened up her appearance by adjusting her uniform before retrieving her musket and cocked hat, the latter of which she pressed firmly onto her head just as she followed the soldier’s previous path out of the tent.

By the time she joined the other men, the sun was just peering above the horizon, providing some much needed light away from the fiery torches and campfires. Judging from the confused expressions on many of their faces, they were just as much in the dark of what was happening as she was, which brought her little comfort in their solidarity.

Soon enough an officer arrived and had them line up in groups, which initially lead Abigail to wonder if this was another roll call. However, when they began to move towards the house, the thought was cast aside to only be replaced by half a dozen other possible theories inside her mind.

It wasn’t until the last group of men arrived at the house did she gain some insight. Before them stood a wooden platform supported by a heavy crate foundation. It appeared to have been put together hastily but determinedly if noting the multiple sources of support of the platform.

Four soldiers were at the wooden platform, three of which holding a rather large wooden post while the other remained on top of the platform, directing them as they pushed the post upward. Once the post was upright, Abigail noticed its inverted “L” shape with a single upright and horizontal beam as it was shoved firmly into the ground.

A heavy feeling of dread washed over her at the sight as drawings of similar structures in books appeared in her mind’s eye. This was no ordinary structure at all. In fact, she knew precisely what it was as the on soldier standing on the wooden platform began to attach the rope across the horizontal beam.

They were witnesses to the construction of a gallows.

---

The hours leading up to the execution were perhaps that longest hours Abigail had ever experienced. Upon the arrival of the officers, her eyes immediately searched for Ben, knowing he had already confessed of his previous indiscretions to Washington practically upon arrival. She still didn’t know what exactly had landed Ben in such trouble with General Scott, but she feared the consequences.

Growing nervous when she didn’t see the captain’s arrival with the others, she walked over to Caleb to question him, knowing she must be brief considering her status in the army’s ranks. “Where is he?” she murmured anxiously.

With a cursory glance over his shoulder, Caleb leaned a bit forward, speaking lowly for her ears only, “He’ll be here. General Scott and he had some unfinished business left to discuss.”

“What kind of unfinished business exactly? What did he even do, Caleb?”

Sensing her growing anxiety, he reached out and placed a heavy hand on her shoulder, giving her a brief firm squeeze. “Can’t really talk about it here, Ab- Williams, but you should try to calm yourself. No use worrying unless you have to.”

“Easier said than done,” she replied grimly. Not even the reassuring gesture of his brought her much comfort.

Giving her a forced, if not half-assed, smile, he gave her shoulder another firm squeeze, remarking, “Man up, soldier. It’s going to be a long day.” He didn’t get a chance to say anything else when another soldier drew his attention elsewhere, leaving Abigail to mull over those words. Man up indeed.

Soon enough, General Scott and Ben joined the officers standing in front of the house porch, talking quietly amongst themselves. Judging from their tense postures, the latter more so than the former, she couldn’t stop herself from relieving that gnawing feeling of anxious fear.

For the briefest of moments, she thought she caught Ben’s eye, but when she finally managed to turn her head in his direction, he was once again looking elsewhere.

The sound of horse and wheels rolling along gravel drew her attention in the opposite direction. The wagon came to a halt, the driver hopping down from his post and handing the reins to another soldier. Sitting in the back of the wagon was a soldier with his hands bound together who was now being escorted from the wagon towards the platform. The blue material of his coat contrasted starkly with the greyness of the world around them, the patches of snow and the brown, barren trees.

Both the condemned soldier and Abigail’s eyes locked onto the noose dangling from the makeshift beam.

In the crudest of terms, she knew this was very much an informal execution, given the construction of the site and the lack of presence of other soldiers. When it had become known who was being execution, namely a man of relative anonymity and perceived unimportance, many of the soldiers had left, either to carry out their duties or whatever excuse they had formulated. While many had left, quite a few had remained, herself included. She had a sneaking suspicion if this were an execution of a captured enemy soldier or perhaps a ranking officer, those men would not have left.

Moments later, a group of soldiers arrived on large great beasts of stallions. Upon a more focused inspection, she realized they were officers, if not generals. She watched them dismount but was more focused on the man leading the group, possessing such an air of authority many a man’s conversations dwindled to a halt at the sight of him.

Abigail’s breath caught in her throat when she realized she had just laid eyes on George Washington. Every officer standing nearby removed their hats in respect, Ben included. She wasn’t sure if she should do the same but thought it unwise of her to do so. Thankfully, the other soldiers around her had kept theirs on as well.

However, she did not get a chance to observe this legendary man any further as he stood next to the young captain when a soldier, upon the commander in chief’s approval, began to read from a roll of parchment aloud the following narrative while another soldier proceeded to strip him of his uniform coat:

“The accused, John Herring, having been convicted of breaking into the house of Mr. Prince Howland and robbing him of several spoons, silver dollars, and wearing apparel, has been sentenced to suffer death.”

The condemned soldier’s hands, which had been previously unbound, were then bound again behind his back. The noose was then tightened around his neck as the statesmen continued, “His Excellency, the commander in chief, approves this sentence as an example made to deter the boldest and most hardened offenders.”

Abigail’s eyes found Ben just as the condemned soldier was pushed off the platform. Her chest tightened at the sound of his choking. Instinctively, she found herself turning towards the sound, but Ben’s gaze refused to release her. Even from the distance between them, she understood the message he was silently conveying: don’t look, keep focused on me, do not turn around until…

Washington turned his head slightly in Ben’s direction, speaking quietly before turning around and heading into the house, following by several officers. She refused to look away from him, hoping against hope that her gaze alone could keep him from entering the house.

However, her attempts at mental manipulation were all in vain as Ben, after lingering for as long as he dared, gazed remaining on hers, turned to follow the last officer inside. The gravity of this decision did not fully land until the door closed behind him.

Swallowing hard, Abigail took a step forward in the direction of the house when she felt a hand grasp her elbow. She turned and saw Caleb giving her a subtle shake of his head.

“That wouldn’t be a good idea,” he advised. Instead of releasing her, he gave her a gentle tug in the opposite direction. “Come with me. You should learn a few tricks of the trade before your patrol tomorrow morning.”

The only reason she allowed herself to be led away from the house was for the fact she appeared to have lost any sensation in her limbs. She allowed herself to be led away but couldn’t prevent herself from taking a final look at the house, only to see the body of the condemned soldier being lowered from the gallows.

---

“You want to try and make sure to find a water source of any sort,” Caleb instructed, pointing out towards the small creek not too far from them. “That’ll be your best bet for lasting in the woods if you’re left on your own.”

“Right,” Abigail replied distractedly. Her mind wasn’t entirely present with them in the woods, instead lingering right outside the Trenton house.

If he sensed her distraction, he didn’t acknowledge it, instead drawing her attention towards a large tree with rather large hollow. She caught some of his words describing how tree hollows were excellent places to take cover but was still too consumed in her thoughts to process what he was saying.

“…are you even listening?”

Starting lightly, Abigail turning around to find Caleb leaning back into said tree hollow, looking at her expectantly. She sighed heavily and tugged at the edges of her coat. “I’m sorry, Caleb. I know this is important for me to know.”

“Very important to know,” he emphasized. She nodded.

“I don’t mean to be so distracted,” she apologized, pausing for a moment. “I’m just worried is all.”

Nodding in understanding, he said, “I understand, but Benjamin’s a big boy. He can handle himself. You shouldn’t let yourself worry.”

Abigail gave him an irritated expression. “Right because why would I be concerned about him after a soldier was executed by hanging? How silly of me.”

With a grimace, Caleb said, “Okay, I’ll give you that. But listen,” he pushed himself away from the tree and began walking towards her, “if he’s in any serious trouble, I’ll be the first to know about it, and I’ll always have his back. All right?”

He kicked out a foot to lightly nudge at her foot, prompting a reluctant smile from her. “Fine. I suppose.”

“Not really the confidence I was hoping to inspire, but I’ll take it.” He clapped his hands together, grinning when she rolled her eyes. “Let’s get back to survival woods training, shall we? Ben would want you to know this.”

Abigail nodded in agreement, knowing fully how right Caleb was. Keeping this in mind, she made a stronger effort to focus on his teachings and to prevent her mind from straying, although the occasional worried thought did enter her mind, but she managed to control it.

They spent a good portion of the day in the woods, with Caleb showing her the best ways to conceal herself in the woods, what could and couldn’t be consumed, and even how to make the most unlikely of objects into potentially lethal weapons.

Surprisingly, he was a very good teacher. His patience proved infinite as she asked him to explain something again or even if she felt she had posed too many questions. He also used his humor whenever he could, a characteristic she was not at all surprised by. At the end of the day, she felt accomplished when she could recall everything he had taught her with almost perfect clarity.

By the time they returned to camp, Ben had still not returned, which only made her grow more concerned.

It wasn’t until two nights later did he rejoin them.

As much as Caleb tried his best to distract her during that time, Abigail had not been able to prevent herself from feeling increasing dread with every passing hour Ben wasn’t with them. The progression of her fear and worry from the first night to the second night increased to the point where she had forced herself to keep busy, to do anything to distract herself from doing something that she would regret later, such as breaking protocol and marching into that house to see him for herself.

After having been assigned a shared tent with another soldier, with whom she had not met previously, sleep had not come easily to her during those two nights either. On both occasions, she had found herself rising from her cot and leaving the tent to join the nightly patrol, in spite of the fact it was not her group’s shift.

She never heard any complaints from any of the officers she encountered nor any of the soldiers. In fact, she was certain they were grateful for an extra set of eager eyes. Truth be told, she was keenly aware of the selfishness of the motivation for the reason she was merely volunteering as a way to distract herself.

Better to be selfish and productive than not, right?

However, on the night Ben did return, her worry had transformed into annoyance once she had learned he was never in any danger. Upon Caleb’s brief report of his status, her intense relief had begun to turn into irritation, but at first, she had managed to rein herself in.

There were two sides of Abigail at war. One side acknowledged the gravity and delicacy of Ben’s situation, realizing it would have been impossible for him to have reached her to inform her of what was going on underneath such scrutiny.

However, the other part of her claimed that while unrealistic, she could have tried to help him if he had just asked for it. If only he had found a way to tell her that he was okay.

One of these arguments was only slightly less rational than the other.

She hadn’t decided which side was the victor over the course of those few days.

It wasn’t until she saw him again, walking down the steps of the house porch and heading towards herself and Caleb with such a purposeful stride did she finally come to her decision on how to feel. She chose furious.

“I’m going on the night patrol,” she informed Caleb, barely giving Ben another glance as she picked up her musket from where she had lain it after reloading it.

“But your shift isn’t even until morning,” he said around a mouthful of biscuit, looking up at her with a confused look. Swallowing, he rose to his feet. “Do you even understand the definition of protocol – oh, well, off you go then.”

Abigail grabbed her belongings and quickly marched off to join the rest of the soldiers gathering up for the night patrol right before the young captain could even reach her vicinity. With the veil of night, he probably hadn’t realized it was her beside the whaler.

“Oi, Tall-boy!” Caleb exclaimed as soon as he spotted his friend and walked over to meet him halfway. “What’s the damage, captain?”

“Nothing that I can’t handle,” Ben answered, the relief from his meeting with Washington still in his system. “And it’s major now, actually.”
Eyebrows nearly disappearing into his hat, Caleb whistled lowly. “Let me get this straight. You get into trouble with General Scott, and you get promoted to major? What do I have to do to piss him off?”

Grinning, Ben gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Nothing really. You fare just fine on your own. Actually…” he stopped himself short and after a quick tilt of his head towards a more remote location, he remarked as they began to walk, “Washington promoted me to major only after General Scott claimed only a major could serve as head of intelligence.”

“Head of intelligence… blimey, you managed to tell Washington about the ring then,” Caleb murmured, dumbstruck. “And he went for it?”
Ben nodded discreetly, although his excited expression was hardly anything but. “He’s willing to try anything and thinks it’s a good idea. We’ll have to get to work right away.” He paused, his excited expression fading slightly before asking, “You didn’t mention any of this to… Williams, did you?”

Caleb shook his head as he answered, voice low for his ears only, “Nah. Didn’t want to get her involved in anything more than she needs to be.”

“Good. That’s good,” he nodded in approval. “Have any idea where she is?”

“You just missed her, though I doubt you’d want to talk to her right now.”
Ben’s brows furrowed in confusion. “And why is that?”

“She’s pissed at ya, mate,” Caleb remarked. “You had her worried to her wits’ end with your meeting in there. I had to practically hog tie her down to keep her from going in after you.”

At Ben’s reproachful look, he lifted his hands and added, “I did no such thing.”

Sighing heavily, the newly promoted major knew he needed to speak with Abigail, but currently, he couldn’t make that a top priority, as much as he would have liked to. Instead, he and Caleb headed in the direction of his tent so they could make their plans for the ring, starting with the way to contact Abe again.

If a certain blue eyed, maddening blonde plagued his thoughts, Ben tried his best to ignore it.

---

Volunteering for two nights’ worth of patrol along with performing her three assigned morning patrols was certainly not the most pleasant decision Abigail had ever made. In fact, she would willingly bet it was in fact one of the poorest decisions in her life.

Several hours of foot patrol around the camp’s parameters paired with the carrying of the heavy musket along her shoulder, pistol on her hip, and a small stash of ammo strapped to her side in freezing temperatures of the evening and early hours of the morning even on the strongest of men. The only way she managed surviving each patrol was the near immobilizing fear that her identity would be discovered, if she were not able to carry her own weight.

While there were unpleasant consequences of these multiple patrols, there were some advantages she found to be rather useful. With the increase in patrol duties, she discovered herself becoming more familiar with the parameters, making mental notes of the lay of the land in the morning and recognizing certain parts even at night. Caleb’s woods survival lessons really did assist her immensely on patrols as well, giving her more opportunities to put his guidance into practice.

Despite all of the progress she felt she was making, a part of her couldn’t help but wonder why they weren’t doing more. The location of the British camp was not far from where their own resided. Why was there no action being taken by Washington? Of course, being outnumbered by the enemy was an immense influence, but that didn’t have to rule out sabotage, perhaps tampering with their rations, stealing their ammunition…

There would be no way Washington would approve of any of it, of that she was most certain. From each of the manuals she had studied weeks ago, it was clear that, in spite of the causalities and hardships of war, there was an honor to it, a code that each army should abide by, which implied the discouragement of subterfuge. However, she highly doubted the British never engaged in some form of trickery, but that was not her place to say.

Upon reflection of hearing tales of doomed soldiers who had attempted to go rogue, Abigail didn’t find it at all difficult to understand those soldiers’ reasoning, now that she was essentially in their shoes. However, that line of thought was dangerous, especially in her current situation, so in the end she thought it best to keep these thoughts to herself.

She and the night group of soldiers returned to camp, nearly dead tired on their feet. She all but stumbled into line to get cup of water, her feet feeling heavy and leaden yet somehow still attached to her body. Blessedly, the line moved quickly, men parched enough to not dally about and moving on about their business.

Grabbing a cup, she took a deliberately slow sip, not wanting to risk choking in her haste to quench her thirst and turned to head back towards her tent to get some rest before the morning when a familiar voice captured her attention.

“Williams! I thought that was you!”

It took her a moment or two to react, which was a significant improvement over the near month she had adopted the alias, before she turned around to see a grinning Christopher Morgan waving her down from his perch by a crackling fire.

She walked over towards him, grinning tiredly in kind, and sat beside him while containing her groan of appreciation at finally having a reason to no longer stand. “It’s good to see you,” she greeted after taking another sip from her cup. “How long have you been here?”

“We made it a few days before you, Brewster, and the captain arrived,” he answered while reaching for a stick to poke at the fire. “Or rather major now. Apparently, Tallmadge got promoted.”

Abigail hummed in what she hoped sounded as affirmation, but no, she hadn’t heard the news, considering how very cross with Benjamin she was at the moment.

The reunited friends chatted amongst themselves for several minutes, each expressing how strange it was to be away from their respective homes for such a prolonged period of time but agreeing it was worth it in the same of their country’s freedom. She listened with a warm smile as Christopher described his rambunctious little brothers and how troublesome they were in his family. He was the middle child of seven siblings, of which there were five sons and two daughters. She couldn’t help but express her pity for their poor mother, which only made the raven-haired boy laugh in agreement.

“Bless her soul. She was never really fond of the idea of our father teaching us how to track in the forest,” he remarked, poking the fire gently with a stick. “We almost always traveled too far for her liking. Pushing our boundaries but never crossing them was how he looked at it.”

“That’s an interesting philosophy,” she mused as she set aside her cup, long ago drained of its contents, and gazed into the dying embers of the fire.

A brief silence settled between them, with only some faint chatter of soldiers and the sounds of nature cutting through. Then Christopher remarked, “Come to think of it, I think that’s exactly what we need.”

“Hmm?” she hummed, having been lost in thought for the moment.

“That philosophy. Pushing boundaries.” Glowing with increased eagerness, Christopher turned to her, lowering his voice to a pitch only she could hear, “Perhaps we should expand our boundaries when it is our group’s turn to patrol in the mornings. Think of it. We could cover more ground and see what those redcoats are up to.”

Curiosity sparked, she shifted in her seat on the log so that she could face him properly while scoping the area to make sure they were not being overheard. “I do like the sound of it, I do. But what if we get caught?”

“As long as we make a pact to keep it a secret, we shouldn’t get caught,” he answered quietly. “Maybe we could even follow them if we spot them, but only within reason of course.”

She couldn’t deny the thought wasn’t appealing. In fact, it was almost too appealing. It certainly appealed to her sense of restlessness. “And we would be doing something productive…” she trailed off hesitantly.

“Precisely!” he grinned eagerly. “What do you say?” He held out his hand between them, raising his eyebrows. “Are you in?”

For a moment, she hesitated, not so much in a manner of she was reluctant to participate due to a lack of interest. She had too much interest in pursuing this endeavor. The danger, however, did give her pause.

Briefly.

“I’m in,” she responded with a growing smile, finding his excitement infectious. She took his hand and shook it, accepting the secrecy pact as a binding agreement.

They planned to meet sometime into their morning patrol before going their separate ways to get their rest. During her walk back to her shared tent, a keen sense of guilt began to gnaw at her as she realized this was yet another secret she had to conceal, and it wasn’t just a secret to protect her and Christopher’s intentions from the rest of the base.

Now Benjamin was no longer the only one keeping secrets.

Chapter Text

White Hall Manor, Setauket, Long Island

“Conspiracy?” Major Hewlett asked, setting down his knife and fork across his breakfast plate.

The major had transitioned his place of business from the Setauket chapel to his current residence at White Hall manor, the home of Judge Richard Woodhull. Not only was the man a loyal subject of the crown, but he had grown to be a dear friend to the major along with being a valuable asset within this town. Hewlett knew Richard could be trusted when he had presented the idea to him. It was a challenging time to have trust in anyone these days, especially from the previous attempt on his life, which had been intercepted by his beloved horse, may God rest his soul.

“I’m afraid so,” responded Captain Simcoe, having received the promotion in rank upon Captain Charles Joyce’s tragic demise months prior. His opinion on the matter of official business conducted at White Hall was less favorable than the major’s, namely for the sake of the judge’s son, Abraham Woodhull. That son of his was not to be trusted, but the captain had no way of proving it, especially since the task would be difficult with Woodhull having appeared to have fallen into Hewlett’s good graces. All Simcoe could do was wait for the right opportunity to present itself.

“Whilst enduring torture at the hands of my rebel captors,” he continued, “I managed to wheedle out the fact they hailed from Setauket.”

Major Hewlett’s eyes hardened as he focused on the captain’s face with keen urgency. “Setauket?”

“By your leave,” Simcoe remarked, walking closer towards the dining table to where the major sat, “I would like to conduct an inquiry, beginning with the family names of Tallmadge and Brewster. I believe we will discover who these traitors are by beginning with them.”

He paused for a moment, watching the consideration shift into approval across Hewlett’s face. Knowing he would be granted approval, Simcoe decided this was his chance to inform him of his additional intentions. “I would also like to extend my inquiry to include another family as well, one in which has also very close ties with the Tallmadge and Brewster names.”

“Go on,” the major encouraged, folding his hands together thoughtfully.

“The Williams family, sir,” Simcoe informed him.

Hewlett frowned. “There are nearly half a dozen Williamses in Setauket alone and more up and down along the coast. Care to narrow it down?”

“The Williams family who live just outside of Setauket, to be more precise.”

“If they don’t fall into my jurisdiction, I’m not sure that would be wise -”

Simcoe, eager to assert his point, cut him off pointedly, “It is rumored that the Tallmadge boy fancies this Williams girl. It’s long been established as fact rather than rumor. According to some sources, she’s the first and only woman he’s ever loved.” He pressed his hand along the back of the wooden dining chair with his other holding his captain’s hat securely against his hip. “I believe if we inquire into the Williams family as well, it will provide the others with the incentive to come forward, at least for Tallmadge anyway.”

Major Hewlett reached for his glass of wine and took a long sip, tense as he weighed his options. Simcoe observed him with the keen, sharp attention of a hawk, looking for any signs of dissent and was more than prepared to defend his position.

“Very well,” the major remarked after some consideration, looking up at Simcoe, who barely suppressed his pleasure. “But.” He held up his finger just as the captain was about to smile. “Tread lightly.”

Somewhat confused, Simcoe inquired, “Lightly?”

“Tactics of which we employed on our first days here are no longer to be tolerated,” Hewlett remarked. “We must show these people that we are better than the rebels. We must win the battle for their hearts and minds.”

As the major looked far away as he took another drink from his wine glass, Simcoe didn’t bother to suppress the mixture of annoyance and disgust across his face as he fought back a sigh. He took a step back and began to round the table towards the foyer, replying as he made his exit, “I intend to. Believe me.”

---

A few days had gone by since Abigail and Christopher had made their agreement regarding patrol. During those few days, they had even begun to put their plan into practice, making minor adjustments along the way whenever an issue occurred. So far, the pair had been rather lucky, considering they had yet to be caught breaking protocol.

Day patrols were trickier to maneuver than night patrols, though it was easier to track and find their paths during the days for the light. Nights were much easier to slip from under the supervision of other soldiers but also presented a challenge for them. However, as Christopher chose to see it, the nights were only putting their knowledge to the tests. Fortunately for Abigail, after having managed double patrol day and night shifts, she found the truth in his words and took them to heart.

During this time, they had made sure to keep track of the time, memorize the camp routine as it pertained to mandatory roll call and tent inspections, the latter occurring far less frequent than the former. They both knew that some officers, namely Officer Brandon, was particularly fond of unannounced checks and roll calls. However, roll calls could not be performed during patrol shifts, of that the pair was most certain. Abigail had voiced her concern of this previously, but Christopher had been quick to assure her they could make it back in time “before Pita can puff out his chest and bully the newer soldiers.”

Pita was an acronym that a few of the soldiers had created for Officer Brandon. He was an arrogant, annoying idiot, ordering non-ranking soldiers about just because he could. This was why he earned the name of Pita, otherwise known for as “pain in the arse” Brandon. Pita Brandon.

Abigail wasn’t sure who created the name, but she forever owed the creator of the nickname for providing her with this amusement in these times of war.

With each passing day, they began pushing the boundaries to search more, even perhaps pushing their luck with each boundary crossed. Abigail did agree that these “side” patrols of theirs, in the end, would benefit them a great deal. It was better to know the full terrain of one’s territory than only a portion, especially considering how the enemy wasn’t too far off from where the Continental camp lied.

“I think if they would just let us go beyond these parameters, like what we’re doing now,” Christopher murmured lowly to her while walking up to a low lying branch of an old birch tree, “we could probably have an alternate path out of camp, to meet with other regiments for instance.”

Abigail nodded, squatting down near the tree to inspect a rather interesting shaped rock. It was rough and jagged but a near perfect shape of a spearhead. She passed it over to Christopher, who went to work on carving a mark into the tree, one that only they would know. “That’s really something they should consider. I think they would only listen to reason, however, if it came from of a solider of higher rank, and only if this theory has been put into practice.” She was incredibly tempted to take Cantor out to experience this new path for herself…

“Maybe you could pass along this information to Tallmadge,” he remarked, after etching a small looping carving into the bottom portion of the birch tree. His strange tone prompted her to raise an eyebrow, sounding innocent, far too innocent to be innocent.

“Are you implying something or…?”

“I’m not implying anything! All I’m saying is that he seems to take your words into consideration, is all,” he commented. He didn’t sound bitter or resentful as she was beginning to fear. Instead, he looked more curious than anything else, but she knew the boy well enough that he would not push her if she didn’t wish to speak of it. He might have been for pushing the rules of the military, but regarding their friendship, he did not appear to harbor the same sentiments.

For that, she was extremely appreciative.

“I’m not sure I agree with your assessment, but he is more inclined to lend an ear than the other officers,” Abigail remarked slowly, carefully treading the line between truth and needed secrecy. As much as she couldn’t tell him, Christopher deserved what she was able to tell him, despite how limited that capacity was.

“That’s good to know,” he mused, pocketing the spearheaded rock inside his coat pocket before resuming patrol. Abigail lingered behind for a moment, allowing herself a quiet breath of relief, and then followed him along the path. With all of the risks that came with her situation, she was incredibly fortunate for having found a friend in someone as loyal and patient as the young Christopher Morgan.

---

“There’s something going on between those two,” Caleb remarked while he paced back and forth along the wooden floorboards. A small frown settled along his normally jovial face. “Just don’t know what.”

When Ben failed to comment, he continued, “You know, when I suggested that Abe take Anna to New York to get past the checkpoint, he got very upset.” He stopped to gage Ben’s reaction, only to find him continuing his work on the camp’s correspondence. “Anyway, I suppose none of this is our concern.”

Looking up from his work, the major frowned towards Caleb. “They’re my only two agents on Long Island. If there’s trouble between them, I want to know about it.”

Caleb gave him a wry grin. “Well, how’s about you jump on a whaleboat with me, major?” He gestured to the empty room around them, save for the wooden desk and stacks upon stacks of parchment and other forms of stationary. “Get your arse out of this woodpile?”

Ben sighed heavily. “I would like to, but Washington needs me here. Compiling.” He settled back into his chair, setting his quill back into its ink pot. “That and there’s Sackett’s homework… trade craft, as he calls it.” Groaning quietly, he reached back to rub the back of his neck, restless. “I feel like I’m back in school again.”

“Now see, this is exactly the reason why I've been careful to avoid success,” Caleb remarked, grinning as Ben gave a tired chuckle.

“As for Abraham and Anna,” Ben said, returning to their previous topic smoothly, “should I be concerned?”

Letting out a breath, the whaler just shook his head. “Not sure how to answer that. Once I find out more information, I’ll let you know.”

“Thank you,” Ben remarked gratefully and then eyed the papers in front of him dubiously. “I suppose I should be returning to… desk duty.”

Snorting lightly, Caleb resumed his pacing just as he replaced his grin with the most innocent expression. “It’s tricky business, this all agent stuff, isn’t it? Needing to find the proper balance between loyalty and trust.”

Ben hummed in affirmation, though the other man suspected he was only half listening at this point.

Well then, he thought to himself, this should grab his attention.

“Especially,” Caleb continued, maintaining the same innocent air he was never known to possess, “when there’s history there, a long, complicated history with a lack of closure and unresolved… feelings and such.” From the corner of his eye, he noticed with no small pleasure of delight as Ben stiffened, clearly reading into the implication behind his words just as they were intended. Good.

“Even more especially,” the whaler on continued, tone verging on gleeful, “when it’s men and women. Tricky business indeed.”

“If you’re going to continue speaking in innuendos,” Ben remarked, tone clipped, “just come out with it.”

“All I’m trying to say is that perhaps Anna and Abraham are not the only ones that need to resolve whatever conflict has developed between them,” Caleb said, lifting his brows challengingly, as if daring to be proved wrong.

But alas, in this instance, that was one thing Ben could not do. He had yet to speak with Abigail after his meeting with Washington, and that had been a week ago, a week and a half if those few days in between were considered.

He hadn’t been able to seek her out, having been assigned his tasks by. However, neither had she made the attempt to find him either, which only confirmed his belief she was still very much cross with him. His only method of knowing she was not in harm’s way was due to Caleb’s observations, whenever he wasn’t on his way to Setauket.

While he understood her feelings, he couldn’t help but feel frustrated, both with her and himself. It felt as of late whenever they took one step forward, they took two steps backwards.

“It’s a little more complicated than –”

“Sir,” a voice interrupted, prompting both men to turn their gaze towards the door. Entering the room was a soldier, a corporal in fact, who walked straight towards Ben as soon as he saw him. “I have an urgent report from the provost marshal.”

Ben accepted the parchment from his extended hand as the corporal continued, “He thought perhaps you’d like to see the latest prisoner exchange proposal.”

“Thank you, corporal,” he remarked with a short nod. The corporal nodded in kind and exited the room, dismissed. As soon as he was gone, the major opened the folded parchment and began to read the proposal’s contents, which consisted of a brief summary of the number of men and how long they had been held in British custody along with a list of names.

It wasn’t until he reached the final name did Ben push back his chair and rise to his feet abruptly, refusing to remove his gaze from that one name. He stared and stared until the words became blurry. It could not be…

“What is it?” Caleb asked, stepping close to get a look at the parchment.

“Samuel,” Ben croaked, voice tight with emotion. He attempted to clear his throat, but that did nothing to help. “It’s Samuel. He’s alive.” His voice still sounded choked to his own ears. It didn’t matter because

Samuel was alive. His brother was alive.

Ben finally managed to look away from the paper to meet Caleb’s stunned gaze, and he couldn’t help the light laugh in his voice as he added, “He’s being released.”

Snatching the paper from his hands, Caleb read over the proposal and let out a loud, whooping laugh. Ben covered a hand over his mouth, though he didn’t know why as he felt himself grinning relentlessly against his own palm.

“Sammy boy!” Caleb cried and immediately walked over to the major. They two men embraced warmly with Caleb slapping him heartily on the back.

“When do we go get him?” the whaler asked the moment the embrace ended.

“I…” Ben’s excitement deflated as reality returned, causing him to sigh. “I have to report to Washington tomorrow.”

Caleb huffed. “Oh, come on! He’ll release you for this.”

Ben shook his head, desperate to rein in his irritation. “No, he won’t. He’d consider it… special treatment.” Those last words came out more bitterly than he intended, but that couldn’t be helped. He hadn’t seen in his brothers in years. He had thought… he had thought the worst had happened, that he would never see his brother again. And now he held a paper in his hands detailing his release… “There are other men’s brothers on that list.”

Caleb nodded, understanding. “All right. Well, I’ll pick him up then. Yeah, I’ll go and get Samuel, and then I’ll bring him straight here.” He started off to the exit and then paused, shaking his head. “No, you know what, I’ll get him drunk first. I’ll get him drunk first and then I’ll get him a screw.”

He grabbed his hat from Ben’s desk and turned to head out in the direct of his boat, a bounce in his step when Ben called out to him, “Wait, Caleb.”

Pausing, Caleb turned in the door way, radiating with excitement, “Yeah?”

“Thank you,” he spoke sincerely. He wanted to thank him for more than that, for putting himself at unnecessary risk for a task he wasn’t required to do, but he knew if he did, Caleb would take offense to it, seeing as how it was something he was gladly volunteering to do, so he kept those sentiments to himself.

The whaler grinned warmly, “Hey, what are brothers for, right?”

Ben watched his best friend leave, wanting more than anything to go with him but knowing that he couldn’t go against Washington’s wishes.

So with a heavy heart, he returned to his post, thumbing through correspondence and writing lists although his mind was far away from the room he was in.

---

Day became dusk by the time Ben stepped out of the house and onto the wooden porch. The crisp winter wind greeted him with bite, but it was a welcomed one to be out of that house, that room in particular.

If anything, the cold energized him, easing the surge of restlessness he felt but only marginally. The news of his brother’s release had not fully hit him yet, although his current state of shock would suggest otherwise. It was something he could hardly believe, but he had the papers in his possession to know it was happening. He and his brother would be reunited.

If only he had been able to go with Caleb to retrieve him.

Having completed his tasks for the day, the major had the evening free to continue to mull this over and more, to over think and to over analyze, and count the hours until they returned. He was stepping off the final porch step when he spotted a familiar form not even several yards away, carrying a musket and other supplies utilized during patrol.

It wasn’t until the soldier briefly removed their hat did he know it was Abigail, even more so when he observed the boy beside her. They always seemed to be together these days, on the days he was able to see her but not speak with her, which was too often for his liking.

His curiosity about the boy was quickly replaced with his eagerness to share his news with her. Their families had always shared a close kinship throughout the years. She had every right to know about Samuel’s release.

As soon as the younger soldier headed off in the opposite direction of her, Ben walked towards her with a briskness that was anything but discreet. Fortunately, there was hardly anyone present to interpret his behavior as odd, and to be perfectly honest, in that moment, he was unable to care any less.

Meanwhile, Abigail, tired from the extra miles she and Christopher had tacked onto their patrol, was preoccupied with the removal of her musket strap from her shoulder to see him coming.

She let out a quiet noise of victory when she finally disentangled herself from the horribly heavy piece of weaponry and was tempted to leave it there and return to her tent when she finally glanced up to see Benjamin heading toward her in a rather determined manner.

Freezing in her moments, Abigail couldn’t help but allow the thoughts enter her mind that she had been caught, going against official orders and patrolling beyond the parameters. However, the closer the young major came, she realized his expression didn’t support her thoughts. He didn’t look cross at all. In fact, he looked almost happy but was attempting to maintain a calm façade, which wasn’t fooling her. She could read him like a book.

“A-” Benjamin went to greet her but stop himself short, catching himself just in time to correct himself. “Williams. Can you spare a moment?”

“I…” she paused to look around the camp, noting the scarcity. “Of course.” Then, in a much lower voice, asked, “Is everything all right?”

Matching her quiet tone, he leaned in for a moment, discreet, to murmur, “I have news but… not here.”

She nodded in understanding and shifted her supplies in her hands, along with the musket, “We just came back from patrol so I’ll have to deposit these in my tent, but I’ll come to your tent soon after. Promise.”

He looked as if he was prepared to join her for the walk, even going so far as to help carry her belongings, but they both knew how suspicious that would look regardless of the number of soldiers currently in camp, or lack thereof for the moment.

They went their separate ways, each returning to their tents. She had half a mind to drop her things onto her cot and return to him immediately but was conscious of the random tent assessments performed by Officer Pita himself.

With an irritated sigh, Abigail carefully sorted the supplies and musket into their proper places, which took more time than she liked. Even though she was careful, she couldn’t stop her mind from wondering to Ben, mentally assessing his countenance when he had walked up to her and pondered what news he had to share. It had to be something good, something important. Her curiosity consumed her.

She set off in the direction of his tent as soon as she was done, uncaring of any looks she might have drawn to herself, if there were any at all. It wasn’t until she was standing directly outside his tent she had forgotten her hat in her haste, but the moment the tent flap opened to reveal Ben, everything else ceased to matter.

Once inside, Abigail looked around, a little taken aback at the disheveled state of his tent. Normally efficiently organized, his things were scattered about almost haphazardly, almost as if he had been in the process of reorganizing to keep himself busy but unable to determine what should go where. It was a startling sight to say the least, and her curiosity quickly gave way to concern.

She turned around, prepared to ask him what was going on when he blurted out, “Samuel’s alive.”

Abigail stared at him. “What?”

“He’s… he’s alive. He’s on the prisoner exchange proposal I just received this morning,” Ben added and looked down at his hand, in which he still clutched at the parchment in a vice-like grip.

Her lips parted with a gasp. She could hardly believe it. The last she had seen Ben’s older brother was well before the war had begun, far before he had enlisted. Years’ worth of memories bombarded her at just the mention of Samuel’s name – Samuel being the mediator between her and Ben’s numerous bickering matches, Samuel helping her take care of her father during one of his sick spells, Samuel as her confidant about her feelings for his brother at the tender age of sixteen – “my brother’s an idiot but be patient with him. I have a strong sense about the two of you” - He was the older brother she had never had but had always wanted.

Samuel Tallmadge was the older brother Ben had always adored and worshipped. And after years of separation, he was returning to him.

Without another word, Abigail closed the distance between them to throw her arms around his neck and embrace him tightly. She felt his arms wrap around her waist without hesitation and tightened her arms around him, supporting him.

“I’m so happy you told me,” she spoke softly against his ear, just as he pressed his face against the curve of her neck with a quiet breath. “I know how much you’ve missed him.”

She smiled as she felt him nod against her neck. Then, because she couldn’t help herself, “Now Caleb has someone to share his shifts when dealing with the pair of us.”

Ben laughed at that, warmly and solidly. She experienced his laughter both in sound and in touch. There wasn’t anything better in the world. “I think Caleb mentioned he was getting him drunk first.”

“Ah, that’s probably for the best then,” she remarked. “I suspect we’ve had that tendency to nearly drive him to drink in the past.” The fond chuckle she received was all the confirmation she needed for that.

He told her that Caleb had set off to retrieve him as soon as he had heard and how Washington required his presence at the camp for specific tasks. Judging from the tone of his voice, she knew this upset him greatly but also understood he had an obligation to Washington to obey his orders. That didn’t stop her from sharing in his resentment, however. He deserved to be there to be reunited with his brother.

They fell into a silence not long after that, each incredibly reluctant to break away from the embrace.

It wasn’t until she felt him begin to tremble against her did she finally pull back, not entirely but enough so that she could see his face. As soon as she did, the tortured expression on Ben’s face was nearly enough to break her heart. She knew him well enough he was trying to remain composed but was struggling with doing so greatly.

Reaching up to lay her hands against the sides of his neck, she slid her hands up to cup his face gently. “Hey,” she murmured. “You don’t have to put on a brave face for me. There’s no use in pretending here. I’m here for you.”

“I…” Ben started but cut himself off, squeezing his eyes shut. “It’s been so long… It’s been years. And I thought…” His breath caught in his throat. “I thought he was dead.”
Her thumbs brushed tenderly along his cheeks as she waited for him to finish, patient and calm as his façade began to crack. “And I should be there. I should be the one to bring him back. And I can’t. And it kills me.”

“I know,” she murmured, throat tightening with emotion as she sadly watched the first tear fall.

He breathed out harshly, trying to compose himself but failing with every single attempt. Blinking rapidly, he tried to keep the tears at by, but as soon as the first traitorous tear rolled down his cheek, he knew there was little he could do about it. Just like how he was helpless in retrieving his brother.

“It’s okay,” Abigail assured him. When he refused to look at her, ashamed, she stepped closer so that he had no choice but to look at her. “Hey, it is okay. Everything is going to be okay. Crying,” she leaned in forward to press her lips lightly against a tear stained cheek, “is okay.” She pulled back slightly to see that his eyelids had fallen shut.

With a decision made, she guided him over to the cot before walking towards the tent’s entrance, making sure the flap was securely closed. She then returned to his side, sitting beside him on the cot where he had buried his face into his hands.

Gently, she guided his hands away from his face, giving them a comforting squeeze before shifting them so that they were know lying down on his cot. It was definitely not meant for two people, but with some rearranging, Abigail managed to make it work, with her arms wrapped around him securely and his face pressed against her shoulder, attempting to suppress his sobs, sobs of relief, reawakening grief, frustration…

She held him throughout it all, even as the dusk became night, even as his sobs subsided and his shuddering ceased long ago. He refused to release her, and she refused to be released.

Hours later, both emotionally fatigued, they fell asleep together but only after some shifting so that Abigail was curled against his chest and Ben’s arms around her.

Chapter Text

Abigail was keenly aware of the odd looks she was receiving from the higher-ranking officers who were coming in and out of the Trenton house. This was something she should have been more concerned about, knowing any kind of attention did not benefit her while trying to keep her secret.

However, those thoughts were the furthest from her mind, as unwise as it was. Before she had left his tent the previous night, Ben had told her he would be returning to the tasks Washington had assigned him, meaning he would be consumed with compiling of information and correspondence. At that time, she hadn’t spoken a word apart from squeezing his hand in comfort, but she knew then and knew now that little progress would be made the following morning.

And when she had stepped into the small wooden room inside the house, she had been proven right, having found him pacing the floor, periodically glancing out of the window to search for any sights or sounds alerting him to Caleb’s return with the men that were listed in the prisoner exchange proposal, looking for one particular face.

Upon seeing her, Ben’s initial reaction had been trying to convince her to leave, that she shouldn’t be risking attention for his sake, growing increasingly frustrated with her stubborn refusal. Quickly, however, it had been clear to them both the growing half-heartedness in his attempts to get her to leave. She had taken this as a minor source of victory as he had closed the door to the room to decrease the number of curious eyes.

“They should be back by now,” Ben remarked, continuing to pace back and forth incessantly. Abigail observed him wringing his hands nervously behind his back.

“They’ve only been gone a day,” she reminded him gently. “And the exchange could be happening any moment now.”

“Exactly. And I should be with them.” He chuckled bitterly. “But I’m not.”

“You were obeying Washington’s orders,” she reminded him with a small frown. “You said so yourself it would have been interpreted as special treatment if he had granted you leave, although I highly disagree.”

With a burdened groan, the young major halted in his movements and pressed his hands to his face in agitation. “I just wish I could do more.”

She nodded, knowing that words could do nothing to ease his restlessness in that moment. All she could do was be there for him, with him, and that was all she could do.

“I understand,” she said, after several minutes of silence. She rose to her feet just as he made another trip to the window. “I wish there was more I could do for you now.”

With his hands gripping the bottom length of the window pane, Ben said nothing, but he didn’t have to. All of the tension in his shoulders spoke for him. After a moment, he looked down at her, with a complex mixture of emotions even she was having a difficult time deciphering. “You’re doing more than enough.” For the first time that morning, he smiled. “I think this is first time I’m admitting this, but I appreciate you not listening to me.”

Abigail raised her eyebrows, a grin growing across her face, which gave him momentary pause. “Just this once, of course.”

“You’re not going to get away with that last bit. You know that, don’t you?” she asked, grinning fully now as he sighed heavily, though that smile of his hadn’t dimmed.

“And you’re never going to let me forget I said that, will you?” he challenged in kind, his smile growing.

Abigail shook her head with her wicked grin. “Never.”

Ducking his head with a quiet huff of laughter, Ben’s gaze inevitably returned towards the camp base once again. She looked down to see his grip tightening along the window pane once again, knuckles turning increasingly white.

Without a second thought, she lifted a hand to rest over his, brushing her fingers along his knuckles and gently coaxing him out of his white-knuckled grip. Only once she felt his grip underneath her fingers did she begin to withdraw her hand.

However, nearly as soon she did, his hand dropped from the window and reached for hers, drawing her back in. The pair’s gazes remained fixated on the camp outside, pointedly not on the feeling of his fingers sliding down along her wrist to entwine with hers. She feared he felt her pulse jolt at the brush of his fingers along her wrist, but if he had, he showed no indication of it.

Throughout the night and into the morning, Abigail’s joy and elation upon hearing the news of Samuel’s impending return gradually changed to doubt and quiet suspicion. She hated herself for it, but it wasn’t in her nature to accept things at face value, or in this case, words’ value. Out of the two, Ben certainly possessed more optimistic ideals than herself. This wasn’t to say she was a pessimistic purist, far from it actually. In her life, she learned it was wiser to withhold trust until someone earned it. She was a woman after all, no matter her current situation and her alias.

A part of her had a feeling, somehow some way, this wouldn’t play out entirely how anyone anticipated. In what fashion, she was uncertain, but she knew better than to go against her instincts. She hadn’t the heart to share these thoughts with Ben then, nor did she have the heart to share them with him now. It just wasn’t her place, and she didn’t want it to be.

It was difficult to measure how much time the two of them stood there, silent and still with only the occasional comforting hand press providing any sort of movement. It wasn’t until soldiers began gathering in small groups in the center of camp did they realize there was a world beyond these four walls.

She fought back a frown, realizing it was more than likely Officer Pita’s tent inspection rearing his ugly head, and shared her suspicions with Ben while omitting the officer’s moniker, obviously.

He encouraged her to go, saying he would be fine on his own. Unwilling to completely accept that, she promised him she would return as soon as the inspection was over, giving his hand one final comforting press before allowing her fingers to slip away from his. Her hand felt significantly empty after she left the room and stepped out of the house.

The wait for the inspection was much longer than the inspection itself, which only fueled Abigail’s irritation further. Upon experiencing her first inspection, her initial response was fear, fear for being reprimanded for not having her supplies in the proper order, fear for having her belongings being searched through, all cumulating into her fear of getting caught. Now having more experience with camp life and observing the behaviors of other soldiers and officers alike, especially Pita, she knew what to expect, although this did not decrease her level of caution.

After a little over an hour of waiting for her tent inspection and minutes after the inspection was completed, she barely gave herself enough time to let them leave the tent before she made her way back towards the house. It was the sight of Ben marching determinedly out of the house and through the camp when she decided to alter her course.

“Where are you going?” she asked him as soon as she caught up with him, although she already knew the answer.

“I’m going to join up with Caleb,” he responded after a moment of hesitation. It was clear from that pause alone he had never intended on telling her of his true purpose if she hadn’t caught up with him, which only solidified her judgement in believing this was a bad idea.

“Are you sure that’s wise?” she asked, purposefully ignoring the determined set in his jaw as she matched his brisk pace towards the horses. “And not just regarding Washington. Are you sure it’s wise that you should be going? A highly ranked officer of the Continental Army in charge of a prisoner exchange?” Even as she said the words aloud, she felt even more convinced there was something not quite right about this scenario.

“I’ve done all I can do from here for Washington. Now I have to do what I can for my brother,” Ben replied, “I thought you of all people would understand this.”

Abigail pressed her lips together firmly, doing her best to rein in her irritation at the mild accusation underlying those words. “Don’t read more into my words than what I’ve said, Benjamin,” she remarked. “All I’m suggesting is to think about this –”

He was already reaching for an already saddled horse, which quite possibly meant he had made arrangements for this very moment – just how many hours prior she couldn’t quite say. One quality Ben was known to possess was a particular terrible tenacity. Whenever he had his mind set to something, it was incredibly unlikely for him to be talked out of or down from whatever he desired to accomplish. She knew this to be fact, mostly because she was exactly the same.

Knowing better than to continue this route of the argument, she decided to change course. “Let me come with you, at least,” she reasoned.

“No.”

Abigail’s eyes narrowed. “Benjamin.”

“No,” Ben retorted before mounting his horse, as if holding the higher ground would win him the argument. He adjusted the reins in his hands before looking at her. “You’re to remain here, at the base, until you receive orders stating the contrary.”

“You need someone, Benjamin –”

“That,” he cut her off, “is an order.” Before she could even think of a sharp retort, he kicked his horse’s flanks and rode out of the camp at a trot.

She stood there for a moment, collecting herself through measured, calming breaths, counting silently before turning on her heel and rushing back to her tent. Slipping out of her uniform coat, she shrugged back into her father’s coat and cap, to provide her some cover. She then grabbed her pistol and other weaponry she could carry on her person in what little time she had to spare and slipped out of the tent to retrieve Cantor, holding his reins firmly in her hands.

There was no time to tack him properly, not if she intended to follow Ben into his foolhardy mission of his. Thankfully, with years of riding bareback under her belt, she knew she wouldn’t have much trouble, unless Cantor was feeling particularly frisky that morning.

---

The journey into woods wasn’t particularly eventful on Cantor’s part. As if sensing her urgency, he was perfectly well-behaved, doing just about everything she asked him to do, which was more than she could say under ordinary circumstances.

She kept their distance from the young major, going only as close as she dared to without wanting to be caught by himself or anyone else. It was fortunate she had changed her coat and cap when she had, the neutral colors of the chestnut brown blending in well with the barren, dead bark of winter camouflaged them, or so she hoped.

It wasn’t long until they made it to the open trail, and not long after did she spot the Continental soldiers tasked with transporting those from the prisoner exchange back to camp. She reined Cantor back sharply, almost too sharply that she nearly slipped off his back. Knowing she couldn’t get too close, she observed from a great distance as Ben slowed his horse to a walk and an eventual halt to speak with the soldiers.

She tried to see if she could spot Caleb or Samuel within the group, but in the end her attempts were futile. Even though her skills at tracking had greatly improved from Christopher’s guidance, she lacked the keen eyesight of a hawk to observe from such a distance. Instead, she settled for remaining back, waiting in the shrubberies, or what was left of them, until it was safe enough to reveal herself if the time called for it.

The conversation between the major and soldier was brief, much briefer than she anticipated, and before she was aware of what was happening, Ben guided his horse down the road past the soldiers and took off into a gallop.

Cursing to herself, she realized she didn’t have many options left, which left many of her next decisions up to improvisation.

Knowing it would be difficult sticking to the path Ben had just taken while remaining out of the sight of the other Continental soldiers, she pressed the reins against Cantor’s neck, easing him to turn around and return from where the direction they had just come from. This was not an attempt to return to the camp but to travel back to the small break in the path that had lead in two directions, one of which she would be returning from.

She just prayed to God it would keep her in the right direction.

“Come on, boy,” she murmured encouragingly to the horse before nudging him into a light gallop when they were a good distance away from the soldiers. Cantor stretched out his legs smoothly into the run, breathing in time with every motion. At one point, she could have sworn she felt end of his tail brush along her back. She didn’t have to look back to know his tail was swishing about in pleasure. At least one of them was having fun.

---

As soon as they returned to that break in the trail, Abigail didn’t hesitate to travel straight down the opposite path. She encouraged him to go faster, instinctively pressing her legs more securely at his sides and tightening her grip on his withers, cursing herself for not taking the time to saddle him all the while. How was it possible in all those months she had forgotten how fast this beast was?

It was next to impossible to know how much time had passed, with only the changing cast of sunlight as a guide. The bitter cold of the winter wind dug deep into her bones, beyond the material of her clothes and skin. Her teeth were gritted in pain but did her best to ignore it in favor for concentrating on remaining upright.

Eventually, she did slow him down into a trot, allowing Cantor a moment or two to catch his breath. She reached up to adjust her cap atop her head as the trot eased into an energized walk.

The only sounds in the woods were the crunch of leaves and snaps of twigs underneath Cantor’s hooves, which only made it more startling when a loud whinny pierced the veil of silence. Stopping him immediately, she reached inside her coat to pull out her pistol with one hand and clutching Cantor’s reins in the other.

She scanned the area cautiously, heart pounding. The thought of hopping off Cantor to take a closer look was entertained but was quickly eliminated by the need of a potential escape. Though she soon realized even if that was a possibility, she wasn’t certain how much longer she could ride without falling right off. Her limbs were already stiff and half frozen from the combination of the lengthy ride and cold. Even with all her hours of riding bareback, that would be difficult to manage.

The sound of thundering hooves prompted Abigail to immediately tug on Cantor’s reins, commanding him to back up into the woods and behind a thick patch of trees. She cocked her gun and readied herself as the thundering came closer and closer still. Would this be her first confrontation with a redcoat?

The sound of hooves trampling along the woodland floor finally found its embodiment of a white horse, fully saddled and adorned fit for an officer. The only problem appeared to be the horse’s lack of rider.

Lowering her pistol to her side, she leaned forward, preparing to jump down to the ground. She suppressed a deep groan at the ache in her bones as she shifted but ultimately couldn’t suppress it altogether when she tumbled to the ground in a graceless heap.

Pulling herself to her feet, she quickly tied Cantor’s reins to a low hanging branch and took a step closer towards the trail. Once she was certain there was no one in sight, she stepped from behind the trees and walked over towards the horse for further inspection.

It didn’t take her long to realize the horse belonged to Ben.

Holding back her fear, she coaxed the horse in allowing her to draw him into the trees to join Cantor. She loosened one of his reins and tied him up on another low hanging branch, making each certain each horse had enough leeway to graze at what little grass was offered to them. Meanwhile, she checked the weapons on her person, knowing she would have to retrace the horse’s path on her own. Whatever trouble Ben had found himself must have been enough to spook his horse and send him toppling off.

That was what she had to believe and what encouraged her to travel forward on foot.
She kept close to the trees and bushes, just as Caleb had taught her, and made sure to mark each tree she passed with the spearhead she had found on patrol just as Christopher had shown her.

Focusing on the horse’s hoof prints, she followed the trail, doing her best to distinguish between Cantor’s and the other’s, which proved incredibly difficult. The longer she walked, the more frustrating the act became.

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, the firing of a musket not too far in the distance appeared to have confirmed her instincts correct.

Grappling her pistol, she lowered herself to the ground, wincing as another shot was fired, only this time much louder and closer to where she was. Her only recent experiences with gunshots had been at the recruitment base several months’ ago. This was worlds apart from that.

After those two shots, however, everything fell into a deadly silence. She wondered if she had just missed the skirmish, and if this was the standoff, but didn’t allow herself the time to think about it. She needed to move and move fast before whichever side decided that this reprieve was no longer tolerable.

With her pistol at her side, Abigail kept herself low to the ground for cover, hiding behind anything that provided any form of cover that she could. Unfortunately, her luck appeared to have run out when the next expanse of the woods provided no form of shelter apart from the occasional tree.

Her safest gamble relied on getting behind an elevated level of terrain or into a ditch of some sort, but the only way she could access those areas was to cross this long stretch of forest floor.

“Shit, okay,” she murmured, releasing a quiet breath. She could do this. It wasn’t that far a distance from where she currently stood.

With another survey around the area, she gathered all the strength she had and propelled herself forward before she could lose her nerve.

Everything in her line of sight became blurred as she sprinted through the woods, though there was nothing wrong with her hearing when the loud shot of a bullet whizzed past her, striking a tree bark somewhere behind her.

As soon as she could, Abigail dove to the ground, using the elevated terrain as cover. She panted hard, rolling onto her side and squeezing her eyes shut.

From behind her, she heard a voice question, “Oi! Newbie. Friend or foe?”

Abigail’s eyelids snapped open at the all too familiar voice and found herself grinning foolishly in relief. It took a minute or two to catch her breath, but once she did, she remarked, “A friend, I would hope.”

She rolled over to see Caleb grinning at her with confused surprise just yards away from where she resided. Not too far away was a rather disheveled looking man, of whom she wasn’t entirely certain of what to make of him.

“Can you make it over?” the whaler whispered loudly. She began to nod until she looked over at the major lying next to him and the expression on his face stopped her short.

Ben looked utterly furious.

“I’m… not so certain that I should,” Abigail whispered back, mimicking Caleb’s volume. “I’m afraid I’ve already drawn more than enough attention already.”

“Just get your arse over here, Williams.” Caleb gestured to her insistently. “Now’s as good of a time as any.”

Breaking her gaze away from Ben’s face, the blonde waited for any sounds of friendly fire. When she heard none, she pushed herself up just enough to rush over towards them.

It wasn’t until she was jerked down by a sharp tug as soon as she reached them and loud whistling bullet right after the tug did she once again recognize how precarious her position had been.

Though that hardly compared to being nearly nose-to-nose with Benjamin Tallmadge as she was currently.

“What in the hell are you doing here?” Ben hissed. Abigail would’ve been more affected by the intensity of his glare if their intimately close proximity wasn’t already distracting her.

“Following you,” she responded, choosing to state the obvious, which nothing to help his glaring. “And it was a good thing I did, too.”

“Why? So that you can nearly get shot?” he countered.

She did her best not to roll her eyes to the high heavens. “No. Because I found your horse and kept him safe along with mine. Now you have two horses instead of none.” Shifting onto her stomach – because she couldn’t remain just shy of being pressed against his chest while arguing with him – she then turned and added almost as an afterthought, “You’re welcome, by the way.”

Ben made an infuriated noise and was about to respond when Caleb cut in, “And where are these horses? I see none in sight.”

Grateful for Caleb’s interception, Abigail answered him directly over Ben’s shoulder, “I left them tied up a little ways from here. I’ve marked the path, so I know the way back whenever we get out of… this.”

Nodding, the whaler looked as if he wished to say more, but judging from Ben’s tense posture, he decided against it. Abigail took this time to look over at the other man, and after a few minutes of scrutiny, she realized with startling clarity the man was Selah Strong, Anna’s husband. How on earth…

And where was Samuel?

Worn and pale, he appeared to be assessing her, too, eying her with a furrowed brow. “Have we met somewhere before?” he inquired, his voice cracked from assumedly months of disuse.

Abigail stared, lips parting to answer when Ben took care of that for her, “No, you haven’t.” He briefly made eye contact with her, and while he remained furious, he still remembered the importance of keeping her secret. The less people that knew, the better.

---

“Tell me about my brother.”

The high noon had given way to night, without as much as another bullet being fired. However, that still didn’t mean their enemy, namely Robert Rogers, wasn’t still present. During this time, Abigail had learned quietly about the intended ploy on this Rogers’ part to entrap Ben by luring him out with the false impression of releasing Samuel. As fate would have it, however, Rogers had chosen Selah Strong as his impersonator, the man who had grown up with Ben, Caleb, Abe, and her husband Tobias from boyhood.

She had still reeling from the news when Ben had made his request to Selah.

From beside her, she heard Caleb remark, “He has a right to know, Selah.” Having split the duty of keeping watch between the three of them, their previous positions had changed with Selah lying carefully on his side across from Ben, trying not to meet his eye and Abigail herself resting her back against a low-lying tree bark, having just taken over the position of watchman – or rather, watchwoman.

Finally, after what felt like years, Selah spoke quietly, “The Jersey… was hell. We had to fight for food, air to breathe. We became animals.” He pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes, hoping as if that simple act would take away several months’ worth of brutal torture from his memory. After a moment, he lowered his hands from his face and continued, “We curse God, all of us… except Samuel.

“Your brother prayed every night. Convinced me to pray, too. To fight. We protected each other, as much as we were able to.” He paused, bowing his head grimly. “But I couldn’t protect him from dysentery.”

Abigail’s heart clenched inside her chest with each passing word from Selah’s mouth and absolutely broke at the mention of dysentery. Having observed her father’s medical practices and read some of his research, she knew how terrible the disease was on the human body. And to think Samuel had suffered through it all, it was enough to make her sick.

“When… when it was done, I was the one who carried Samuel above deck. I prayed for his soul go to heaven and sent his body to the sea.”

She couldn’t see his face, but she knew from the subtle tremors in his shoulders, Ben was on the verge of tears. She wanted nothing more than to reach out to him, to comfort him, but with their current positions, she was unable to reach him, in more ways than one it seemed.

Blessedly, Caleb did what she was unable to do and pressed a comforting hand to his friend’s shoulder. “Hey, at least he’s at peace now, Ben.”

“Peace?” the young major sniffed harshly, and Abigail’s heart shattered. “What peace? My brother died like a dog… with everything stripped from him. And now, even in death, Rogers… he steals his name to set a trap for me?”

Ben’s face turned upwards toward the mound, expression fixed into a stony expression, an expression Abigail had never seen on him before. “He dies tonight.”

A deadly silence settled over the group. Not long after was Caleb the one to break it. “Do you even have a plan for this?”

Ben nodded grimly. “I do.”

“Yeah? Would you mind filling us in?”

There was another elongated pause before the major finally responded, “Victory or death.”

Caleb stared at him. “No.”

“It’s the only option, Caleb.”

The whaler remarked firmly, “You’re not going out as some decoy.”

“I won’t let you die because of me.” Ben’s eyes locked with Abigail’s briefly over Caleb’s shoulder before his gaze returned over the mound. He cocked his gun, preparing to hoist himself over when Caleb stopped him with a strong hand to his shoulder.

“I’m sorry about Sammy, Tall-boy, I am. And I can’t bring him back like I promised. But I can help you get out of these woods and back to camp.”

Abigail listened to their exchange in uncharacteristic silence, her dread growing with each rejoinder. There wasn’t any part of her that could imagine allowing Ben to act as decoy while the rest of them escaped, nor could she picture a scenario in which Caleb enacted the duty. Both men were vital to the Continental Army. She might not have all of the information to know to what extent, but from the past several months alone, she was able to discern this for herself. And she cared for them both dearly and absolutely refused to let them take on a task such as this.

Which was why, when she nudged Caleb lightly with her foot and got his attention, she mouthed the words “hold him” to him before she quickly rose to her feet, back pressed firmly against the tree.

It wasn’t until she cocked her pistol did she catch Ben’s attention. “What… what are you – no!” Caleb held him to the ground before he could leap to his feet to tackle her himself.

She took a breath, waited a beat, preparing to step out and start shooting when a horse’s whinny broke the silence.

“Shite,” she heard Caleb murmur somewhere behind her. She raised her pistol close to her chest but didn’t take aim, not until she was certain of who she would be aiming for. The closer the whinnies came, the better the view they received of the accompanying riders. Redcoats and lots of them.

Shite indeed.

“Hold the line!” called one of the redcoats as they slowed down to a trot. Abigail hesitated, glancing down for a moment to look at Ben and Caleb before returning her gaze to the redcoats who have yet to spot them.

“We know you’re there. We followed the report of your guns. This standoff must cease and desist by the order of Major John Andre.”

Abigail met Ben’s gaze, which was both a mixture of fury and frustration. More than likely the look wasn’t entirely meant for her, but considering she had been prepared to act as decoy on his behalf, the expression more than partially hers.

“Both parties must put aside their arms and come down at once!”

As was to be expected neither party moved a muscle, neither willing to give an inch until the other side gave in.

Eventually, she heard the mechanical clicking of a revolver not too far from where she stood, and she held her breath, unable to decipher if it had been a cocking of the gun or not. Then the heavy thud jolted her senses and drew her attention to the ground. Nearly right beside her was a pistol, a design of which she was entirely unfamiliar, which meant it belonged to someone on the other side.

The standoff was officially over.

Chapter Text

The brokered truce that dissolved the standoff turned out much differently than Abigail could have ever anticipated. Upon confronting Robert Rogers’ roguish actions, one of the soldiers sent by Major Andre turned to Ben and asked if Rogers had indeed intended to lure him out under false pretenses of releasing his brother. The young major had only confirmed part of the accusations but, knowing Selah would have been recaptured by the British depending on his answer, presented instead that the man they had rescued was in fact Samuel Tallmadge., leaving Rogers in the hands of the British for going against his original orders for his own self-interest.

As soon as the last redcoat had ridden off and after making sure there were no more of the queen’s rangers lurking about in the woods, Caleb had prompted her to lead the way towards the horses, of which she had nearly forgotten about.

It had taken longer than it would have ordinarily would have to find them if it had been daylight, but to have found them at all in the same spot as where she had left them had been a miracle of itself.

The only problem that had been left was the dilemma of two horses and four people. However, the need to get back to camp as soon as possible outweighed the desire for social niceties. This eventually resulted in each pair sharing a horse for the journey, with Selah and Caleb on Ben’s horse and Abigail and Ben on Cantor. She had suspected Caleb had some ulterior motive for this arrangement but had no way of proving it.

Only once they had made it back to the camp did Ben finally turn to her and speak, “Come with me” before dismounting Cantor. He waited for her to dismount as well and began to guide her by the elbow in the direction of the camp and, she assumed his tent but not before hearing Caleb murmur a response to whatever question Selah had posed, “That’s… a bit of a complicated matter. They’re sorting it out.”

As soon as they were alone in Ben’s tent, Abigail braced herself for the impending argument that had been building up for the past several hours. There was so much that needed to be said, but what needed to be said would more than likely get them nowhere, seeing as how incredibly stubborn each of them were. She knew in her heart she was not sorry for disobeying his direct order, and neither was he sorry for having made the order to stay behind. This argument would get them nowhere.

Instead of the barely barbed words she expected to be exchanged, the conversation was surprisingly civil, even as it went just as how she had anticipated. They both refused to apologize for their actions, believing they had been entirely in the right when all they desired was to keep the other one safe. In the end, after what nearly felt like years’ worth of conversation, they managed to reach an acceptance, a mutual understanding that felt as if the very foundation of what Abigail had ever known had transformed, into what she could not say.

Sitting across from him at his desk and he on his cot, Abigail fought the urge to rise and walk over to him as she watched him struggle over his next words, a sight she had never witnessed before tonight. “I’ve made my peace with losing my brother long ago, and tonight’s events don’t change that, although with the news of how he died… I…” Ben stopped himself from going any further, but she knew he would struggle with the revelations of this night for some time. “But the thought of losing you, the possibility I could have lost you tonight… that I cannot bear.”

The pained inflection in his tone, the imploring sincerity in her gaze rendered Abigail breathless. For the first time in many years, the open vulnerability in his face revealed itself, a moment she believed not many people were often privy to.

“I’m not going anywhere, Ben,” she remarked softly, hoping the words didn’t sound disingenuous because, in this world and war they were in, there was no guarantee of keeping that promise. Seeing as how he was ready to challenge those words, she was quick to interject, amending herself, “Not without a fight, anyway.”

Ben’s troubled gaze prompted her to raise from her seat and cross the small distance between them until she was standing directly in front of him, over him. She went to reach forward to cup the sides of his neck when what he did next put a halt to her plans.

Without a moment’s hesitation, he found her hand in his, holding it close between them, and, after a long beat, brought the back of her hand to his lips.

The moment his lips brushed her skin sent an intense jolt of warmth straight through her. Whatever she had intended to say died on her tongue as soon as he had taken her hand. Any trace of thought disappeared from her mind.

His lips lingered against the back of her hand, which did nothing to help that warm feeling. She couldn’t recall the last time she felt so helpless, so uncertain of herself, but it wasn’t a terrible feeling, quite the opposite in fact.

The kiss lasted far longer than what was considered socially acceptable, but neither of them appeared to be too concerned with anything else beyond the tent. She certainly never felt this electrifying sensation from another male friend, who would bestow a fond, friendly kiss to her hand in greeting or farewell. This was different. This kiss was fond but certainly not just friendly.

There was a spark there, a warmth, and she felt it. And as soon he lifted his head to meet her gaze, she knew he felt it, too.
She wanted to kiss him then. The urge was strong and distracting. It was an incredible temptation to give in to, to lean forward and press her mouth to his and savor it, if they only ever had that one time.

There wasn’t a moment she could remember, either in the past several months in camp or over the years of growing up together, where she never wanted to kiss him, either to silence him in an argument or just for the simple desire to be with him. Even in all the years’ worth of distance that had grown between them, the desire to kiss him had never waned. It was suppressed and concealed but never abandoned, even on her wedding day.

And just like that, the thought of her husband, whom she hadn’t seen in over three years, had her taking a slow step back, guilt clawing at her from every direction. She should have felt more wretched at the thought of kissing another man that wasn’t her husband, let alone the burning desire she felt to do so, and the fact that she didn’t made her feel all the worse for it.

The moment was shattered even further upon the opening of the tent flap, which made her quickly put more distance between them. Thankfully, though, it was only Caleb, who came to inform them that Ben was needed to provide an account of the standoff earlier that night, with the possibility that she might be required to give her own account as well.

She nodded, understanding, and slipped out of the tent before the flap could fall shut and kept on walking even after she caught the quiet call of her name behind her.

---

Spring 1777

The weeks following their return from the skirmish with Robert Rogers and the queen’s rangers were filled with development after development. The British still held a steady line of successes along the eastern coasts, still in control of much of the colonies they were so jealously trying to protect. In that time, she and several of the men she arrived first arrived with from the recruitment base in Rhode Island had yet to see battle, but upon observations of the tension weighing on many of the officers’ shoulders, Abigail had a suspicion that wouldn’t last for very long.

While the strategic and tactical fronts with the redcoats remained grim, developments on the personal front were somewhat more optimistic, if not complicated.
.
Ever since the night in his tent, things had been different between herself and the major. It was significantly apparent, at this point, that they were more than aware of the sudden shift in their relationship, but it was also apparent that neither were quite certain how to act about. Nothing went said or unsaid all at the same time, which hardly made any sense, yet it did.

During the last few days, they hardly had any time to be alone, which was both a blessing and a curse. With Ben being assigned increasingly more tasks by Washington and Abigail partaking in increasing numbers of patrol and other camp duties, it was difficult to find to speak privately.

It almost reminded her of those stolen, brief moments when she had first arrived at the flying camp, but there was a stark contrast from their interactions then compared to their interactions now, namely the fleeting, soft looks she almost always caught him with whenever he thought she wasn’t looking. Although, she hardly could place all the blame on his shoulders. If she held a mirror to her face, she doubted she was hardly any better.

None of this changed their circumstances, which were complicated enough already.

It had been hours since Ben and Caleb had set out with a rather sizeable regiment of men. When he had informed her Washington was sending them on a mission, she hadn’t been surprised, telling him all the men had already been assigned to groups in the early hours of the morning but none of them knowing what the assignments were for.

“I’ve been assigned to the group remaining at camp, so you don’t have to worry about me following you again,” she said, lips quirking into barely suppressed smile that only grew wider as he gave her a half-hearted attempt at a stern look.

They hadn’t had time to return to his tent or hers, so they had no choice but to enter the woods for a moment alone.

“I’m not sure when we’ll be back,” Ben remarked, shifting so that he was facing her. “But I felt that I owed it to you to tell you.”

“Thank you,” she smiled softly. “I know you can’t tell me everything but…” Her smile broke off slightly as she released nervous sigh. “Just promise me, you’ll be careful.”

Nodding, he made his promise but only when he asked for her to do the same. As soon as she did, he reached for her hand, and for a breathless moment, she thought he would kiss her hand again, foolishly anticipating for the moment only for him to offer a comforting press before they stepped from underneath the mound to return to the camp.

Rubbing the back of her hand unconsciously, Abigail rose to her feet to prepare for the evening patrol. She wished she could’ve gone with the rest of the men, if only to make sure Ben wouldn’t do anything rash, but she could only do so much. Instead, she decided to refocus her efforts with Christopher for their patrol, which was much more difficult to achieve when the number of soldiers for patrol had been reduced drastically. The challenge was provided her with large enough of a distraction to rid her thoughts of Benjamin Tallmadge.

But only for the moment.

---

“Hey, look at the boy!” Caleb remarked as he approached Selah on horseback as the soldiers marched on foot. “Army life suiting you, Mr. Strong?”

Selah’s lips twitched into a faint smile but a smile nonetheless. The weeks since the standoff with Rogers had treated him well. No longer quite so pale and drawn, he was able to hold himself upright and carry a musket with the best of them now. Perhaps all of the scars from Jersey would not fade, but he was progressing in the right direction. That was all anyone could ask or hope for in his place. “Better since you swiped me a decent pair of boots, I’d say.”

Caleb chuckled and prepared to push further ahead when his childhood friend’s next words stopped him. “How far is the coast?” he inquired, his gaze in the trees and then straight ahead but not quite at him.

The whaler tilted his head knowingly. “The coast? Five miles, give or take.” He observed the other man’s thoughtful expression and couldn’t help but ask, “You thinking of home, Selah? Setauket?”

“Well, with the men we have here, we outnumber Hewlett’s garrison,” Selah remarked, glancing upwards at Caleb to gauge his reaction. “I say we return there, take back what’s ours.”

Caleb remarked after a purposefully noncommittedly hum, “Right, and after we take it, we can stay there till, oh, at least suppertime before the Navy smokes us out.”

The tavern owner shrugged, even with the musket pressing into his shoulder. “It’d be a good meal, though.”

Grinning, Caleb said, “I’m with you there,” before clicking his tongue for his horse to ease into a trot so he could move in front of the line to where the officers led.

As soon as he reached Ben at the helm, he slowed down to a walk beside him.

Turning his head at the sound of his arrival, Ben asked, “Fraternizing with the enlisted men?”

After a moment of adjusting his horse’s reins, Caleb replied, “Not sure he’d be so full of spunk if he knew his wife thinks him dead.” The last word he received from Abe, amongst his updates, had been mention of them learning that Anna Strong’s husband died on board of the Jersey, but as the situation was complicated enough, he hadn’t been able to present evidence to the contrary.

“I coulda sorted this out if your pal Sackett let me and Culpepper meet up instead of his letters stashed in the hollow of an old tree.”

Sensing his tone, the major immediately responded, “Sackett’s procedures are intended to keep you both safe.”

Caleb shook his head, quietly disgruntled. “But these are our friends we’re lying to, Ben.”

After a moment’s pause, Ben remarked, expression conflicted, “They’re agents. They only know what they need to know. Any more could put them in danger.”

Caleb gave him a look. “Right, so Anna doesn’t need to know her husband’s still alive.”

Ben sighed heavily. “This isn’t personal, Caleb. It’s a discipline… a craft, as Mr. Sackett calls it. The more we stick by the rules, the better it will be for all of us.”

“Right and I suppose that a woman having the right to know the whereabouts of her husband isn’t classified as personal,” the whaler commented, after a significant amount of silence. And then, “And I wasn’t just talking about Anna Strong.”

The pointed look Ben received from his friend landed exactly where it intended, the sting harsh and bitter. Clenching his jaw, he replied quietly, “As I said, this isn’t personal,” and nudged his horse to ride further ahead.

“Ain’t personal my arse,” Caleb murmured with a shake of his head and continued to follow the major to wherever Washington was sending them.

---

The subsequent morning, when the first stretches of sunlight barely touched the earth, Abigail and Christopher discovered themselves on patrol once again. They had long established their routine, pushing past their assigned parameters with each patrol. Although they hadn’t made much progress, they had managed to find small quirks of the land that just might give the Continental Army a minor advantage, namely the possible trail they had stumbled across a few patrols back. At this point, any discover, whether significant or insignificant, Abigail considered to be a victory.

This morning, however, felt different than all the previous mornings, a sense of unease she couldn’t quite figure out settling around them. By the looks of Christopher’s demeanor, he felt it as well.

“Are you sure we’re in the right place?” Abigail asked him quietly, adjusting the hold of her musket against her shoulder. Even with nearly spending a year with the Continental Army with a small wince, the burden of bearing the weight of a musket had never lessened.

“Of course,” Christopher assured her, but the slight pause prior to his response suggested otherwise. Extraordinarily self-assured in his tracking prowess, the boy was ordinarily more confident on their other patrols, and he had certainly every right to his confidence. He could identify nearly every leaf, patch of grass, and earthly terrain, which proved incredibly valuable when they had needed to retrace their steps back to camp. In essence, his brief moment of hesitation was telling.

Some mornings, the pair would travel towards the British camp border but would never cross, only observing from a safe distance. They would take note of whatever they could see from their distance, which wasn’t much, but at least they had been able to count the number of redcoats.

This morning, however, there were even less redcoats at the British camp than usual, which had brought them no small amount of concern.

“I don’t feel very good about this,” she murmured. “I think we should draw back, return to our regular parameters for the time being.”

After a moment, Christopher nodded and eased back from his post the small secluded edge of cold, hard earth to push himself upwards.

Abigail prepared to follow suit, hardly a few feet apart from him when the shot rang out, followed by a sharp cry directly from her side.

Jerking her head towards the cry, she watched with horror as Christopher collapsed, knees buckling underneath him. He clutched at his thigh, which was now stained with blood, a large blooming red contrasting starkly with the light color of the uniform trousers.

She instinctively went over to him but stopped herself short, realizing the shot had come from behind them. Rising quickly to her feet, she quickly lifted the musket to her shoulder, pointing it directly at the woods before them, searching for their assailant.

“You need to get out of here!” the younger boy pled, hissing as he attempted to drag himself towards the trees, only to fall flat back to the earth.

“I’m not leaving you here,” she insisted, still scanning the trees for any sign of whoever had shot him.

Groaning, Christopher shook his head. “Just go –”

Before he could finish, a bullet whizzed past her and struck the base of the tree just to her left, missing her head by only a fraction. Her breath caught in her throat.

“Go! Get out of here!”

As more bullets began soaring in their directions, Abigail immediately darted to her right, desperate to outrun the onslaught. She had no intentions of leaving the boy, instead hoping she could lure whoever was attacking them on a wild goose chase but also remaining close to where Christopher remained.

Breathing harshly, she ran as hard as she possibly could, her musket, knocking her breathless with every beating it gave her strapped against her back.

She stopped then, catching her breath for the briefest of moments before drawing her pistol and firing in the direction she had come from. It was a wasteful use of bullets, but if there was even the smallest of chances that she could spare Christopher’s life, she was going to take it.

With the sounds of gunfire vastly approaching, Abigail didn’t have time to dwell on the success of her diversion. Knowing she had to make a choice, she removed the musket from her back and dropped it to the ground, along with her cap. Let them think their second target wasn’t too far from their grasp when she would be, in fact, back at the site of the attack.

Sending a silent prayer to God, Abigail fell back into the trees, going as far back as she dared before racing back to where she had left him, praying that her half-cocked attempt at a diversion had worked, praying that her attempt had not been in vain.

It wasn’t much longer until the sight of his crumpled body returned to her view. She dove for over behind a dirt ledge not too far off, pains piercing her sides and stealing her breath. There were enough bushes to shield her and to assist her in keeping an eye on Christopher, but they hardly brought her much security.

Posing with her pistol pointing directly from the pushes, she was ready to shoot anyone that came his way. He was too young to lose his life this way, and she owed him for everything, for all of the knowledge he had bestowed upon her from their time together, for being the first to befriend her upon entering this war, for simply being a friend.

---

The minutes turned into hours, and the hours felt like years as Abigail kept watch. She wanted nothing more than to go over to him, watching helplessly as he struggled to pull himself to shelter before giving into the overwhelming pain of his wound. He was barely conscious now, and she had to get to him if he had any chance of survival. However, she was also keenly aware of the precariousness of her own situation. If she risked herself and got shot while trying to save him, than it would all be for naught.

So she waited, waited and watched as the early morning eased into noon and noon into dusk. It wasn’t until dusk grew closer did she begin to formulate a plan. Perhaps if she used her coat and attempted to wrap him in a form of sling, there was the possibility she could drag him across the open forest floor. It would take a great amount of effort and strength on her part, but it was better than doing nothing at all.

It was decided at the moment just before night fell she would carry out this plan.

Setting aside her pistol, she shifted from her position on the ground so she was able to slip out of her coat and coil the material so that it mirrored a thick rope. She intended to slip each end of the wrapped up coat underneath his arms, with the center of the coat tucked underneath his back, and drag him into the bushes with her. She had no idea of what her next course of action would be after that.

With the last remaining light dimming the earth, she took this as her sign and slowly crept out of the bushes to step into the clearing, vulnerable and weaponless. Heart hammering in her chest, she waited for a moment behind a tree, carefully scoping the area before crouching down and quickly rushing to his side.

She touched his face and felt the clamminess of his skin with a concerned frown. If they couldn’t make it back in time for camp, she would have to tend to his wound herself. She hadn’t had any experience tending to gunshot wounds, although she had assisted her father from time to time when he had been called to help tend to men who had suffered some rather unfortunate accidents. The only guide she could rely on would be the hazy memory of having “borrowed” one of her father’s medical journals upon which she had discovered an entry of tending to a gunshot wound from a man in the next town over. The details weren’t entirely clear in her recollection, but hopefully, that would have to do.

Almost as soon as she had touched him, Christopher’s eyes opened, and he let out a loud gasp. She immediately clamped a hand on his mouth and shook his head.

“Don’t worry, it’s just me,” she murmured. “You’ve got to be quiet. I’m going to get us out of here. Just…”

Abigail heard the pistol cocking almost at the same time she felt the warm press of metal press against the nape of her neck.

She didn’t dare move or make a sound, completely frozen. There was no sound from behind her other than the workings of the gun pressed against her. She couldn’t think or breathe, let alone attempt any movement.

There wasn’t a moment in her life when she ever contemplated what death was like, what it was like on the other side. Now she would be able to converse with the John Herring, the traitorous executed soldier, herself soon enough.

She flinched violently at the loud blast of the shot and squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the impact.

But nothing came.

Stunned and shaken, Abigail opened her eyes and spotted a form in the distance, lowering their musket. In an unwise action, she turned around to confront her would be executioner only to find him dropped to the ground a mere few inches from where she knelt, dead.

Without the bayonet edge of her musket to stab him to ascertain his death, she remained where she was, frozen and stunned, on the ground as the form in the distance drew closer to them. Even in the growing dimness from dusk to nightfall, the redcoat contrasted brightly amongst the mahogany brown barks of the trees and the dusty earth.

Christopher’s musket laid several feet out of her grasp, and there was no time for her to grab it, even if she were able to move at all. With growing dread, she watched as the redcoat drew closer and closer until he stood merely a foot away from her, raising his musket.

He raised his musket and shoved the blade into the other redcoat. The sound of his fellow soldier’s gurgling groans chilled Abigail to the bone.

“Get out of here,” Christopher pled with her weakly, desperate to catch her attention while she barely was able to process his words. She didn’t feel as if she were in her own body. Everything, every sense she possessed, was muted. She couldn’t form a response.

Instead of replying, she managed to extend a trembling hand towards Christopher’s coat to extract his pistol and stumbled to her feet despite his attempts of stopping her. She needed to at least try to defend themselves, if this was how it was going to end.

“Put that thing away before you hurt yourself,” the redcoat muttered, his back to her as he stared down at the man he had just slain.

The deep, quiet voice sounded so familiar, but she shook her head and began to raise the pistol to aim at the redcoat, cocking it right before he began to turn around, and she could catch a glimpse of his face.

Even though it was well into nightfall, there was just enough light for Abigail to make out the features of his face and immediately recognized the man before her. It had been nearly four years, but how could she not recognize her own husband?

Her husband standing before her in a British uniform.

Abigail breathed. “Tobias.”

Chapter Text

“Lower the pistol,” Tobias entreated carefully, slowly as if speaking to a spooked horse. Of course, the analogy was appropriate, considering the man she had married and the man she hadn’t seen in nearly four years was standing before her in a British uniform. It wasn’t a look she could have predicted she would ever see on him in a millennium.

Abigail’s throat tightened with emotion, shock, hurt, angry, and everything else sending a violent shock to her system. Her hand was trembling as she kept the pistol aimed at him, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t hit something. Back at the recruitment base, Harrison had told her she was a decent shot.

Seeing as how this wouldn’t work, he attempted a different approach. He slowly set his musket to the ground, his gaze remaining firmly on her all the while even as he rose to his feet. Slipping his hands inside his coat, he withdrew a pistol, a revolver, a blade of some sort, and a small satchel of what was assumed to be more ammunition.

He set these on the ground as well as Abigail watched him like a hawk, confused and overwhelmed.

“That’s everything that I have on me,” he said, raising his hands slowly. “You can even search me if you’d like.”

Abigail’s eyes narrowed at what she suspected to be a poor attempt at humor. “Are you trying to be funny?”

“Absolutely not, especially when you’re holding me at gunpoint.”

Her irritation grew, and judging from the slight upwards twitch of the corners of his mouth, he knew it, too. That provided her even more incentive to cock the pistol back, but she didn’t. Yet.

“I’m not here to hurt you, either of you,” Tobias assured her, but the fact he was dressed as a redcoat provided her anything but assurance. “I was fortunate to come along when I did, and you cannot deny that.” His eyebrows raised a little, as if challenging her to prove him wrong. Over his shoulder, she could see the body of the dead redcoat, unbreathing and unmoving, and she knew she was unable to do either.

Still, even with this knowledge, Abigail couldn’t bring herself to lower her pistol, not just yet. However, the sound of Christopher’s pained moan broke the moment.

Tearing her gaze away from Tobias, she peered down at her friend and observed worriedly as he struggled to remain conscious. “I have to get him out of here,” she heard herself saying aloud, though it didn’t feel as if she were speaking at all.

“There’s a small shack not too far from where we are,” Tobias offered, prompting her to return her attention to him. “It’s closer towards the British camp than is preferable, but it’s better than the alternative.”

“Don’t you mean your side?” she asked, tone clipped. She was a little surprised to see him flinch but blessedly held fast. “And why would you help me, help us?”

For a moment, Tobias looked so hurt she wanted to lower the pistol and reach out to him, but before she could even stop herself from carrying out either action, his expression shuttered into a veiled mask. “It’s the best place for cover until morning,” he remarked, noticeably evading the question.

She wanted to push him further, but another pained moan from the boy had her decision made for her. Slipping the pistol back into her pocket, Abigail abruptly turned from Tobias towards Christopher, bending down on the ground beside him. Not long after did she feel his presence beside them, bending down to wrap one of Christopher’s arms around his shoulders and nodded for Abigail to do the same.

With her previously discarded coat tied around her waist, she stumbled to her feet underneath Christopher’s weight, but with Tobias’s guidance, she was able to find her footing as they began the trek towards the shack.

---

“We need to move him to the bed,” Abigail demanded the moment she spotted the small cot in the back room of the shack. It was a small dwelling, as was to be expected, but beggars could not be choosers, especially given their circumstances.

They laid him down as carefully as they could, but it was with great difficulty. The poor boy had long passed out halfway through their journey towards the shack, leaving them to all buy carry him with Tobias bearing most of his weight.

Calling out his name repeatedly, Abigail pressed her hands along his face and leaned in close to his mouth to monitor his breathing, sighing in relief when she heard a raspy exhale from Christopher. “The poor thing’s fainted.”

“That’s probably for the best,” Tobias murmured, stepping back to give her more space to work. “What do you need from me?”

Plenty, she nearly remarked but stopped herself short from doing so. After a half moment of gathering her composure, she responded, “First, I’ll need you to rip open a hole in his trousers but just along the thigh. I need to get a better look at his wound. And then I’ll need something closely resembling some forceps as close as possible to retrieve the bullet if it’s still lodged inside.”

She waited for him to ask if she knew what she was doing, but the question never came. Instead, he did as she requested, retrieving one of the blades he had on his person and swiftly went to cutting a patch more than large enough for her to work with.

Immediately, she pressed her fingers to the wound, probing along his thigh to see if she could feel the presence of the ball underneath his skin. She recalled a passage in her father’s medical journal pertaining to this method and knew it would make her job much easier if she could find it without the use of the forceps.

It was incredibly difficult relying on feel alone and not with sight, seeing as how the only source of light came from the moon pouring through the small window.

A moment or so later, the room filled with light. Initially, she began to think her eyes had grown accustomed to the moonlight already, but when she looked up, Tobias was entering the room with a small lantern lit, though it appeared to have experienced better days.

“I thought you could use the extra light,” he spoke softly, setting the lantern on the small wooden bedside table right next to the cot.

“Thank you,” she responded, tone just as soft. “Did you find –” Her words stopped sort as he produced a blade and what appeared to be a long needle of some sort.

“The best I could find when looking for forceps.”

“Perfect,” she murmured, accepting them with an outreached hand. “Hopefully, the ball isn’t deeply embedded enough to require more than cutting and retrieving it.”

Fortunately, the case was just that. Not long after her eyes adjusted to the light and only after did she clean away as much as of the blood as she could, she managed to find the ball by touch but only after nearly missing it when wiping the blood away.

After making sure Christopher remained unconscious, Abigail took the blade and cut into his thigh, slicing as deeply as she needed to extract the bullet. Removing the bullet took much, much longer, but despite the long hours and preparation, she finally was able to successfully extract it.

Before she could even ask, Tobias had already left the room in search of supplies to dress his wounds and came back with what he could find, which weren’t the most highly recommended items her father or any physician would use, but it would have to do.

Once his leg was securely wrapped in a makeshift tourniquet consisting of multiple layers of cloth, Abigail rose to her feet with the intentions of washing her hands but not before checking on Christopher’s breathing again. Only when she was satisfied did she follow Tobias out of the room, shutting the small door quietly behind them.

“Impressive work, doctor,” Tobias commented. She could hear the smile in his tone even with her back to him as she searched for a spare handcloth. “Is that what they have you doing back at the camp?”

Judging from how forced the words seemed to come from him, she could tell that the smile was gone. She doubted he was happy about her enlisting into the Continental Army, but he had vastly more to explain for himself than she did.

“Not exactly,” she remarked carefully, taking extra care on her hands for both sanitary purposes and the excuse not to look directly at him. “And what is it that you do in your camp? Help ‘rebels’ take care of their own before reporting back to your superiors?”

“Abigail –”

“But what I don’t understand,” she interrupted him before he could say something they both knew he would regret and turned to finally face him, “is how you recognized me, especially from that far a distance. I know I wasn’t wearing that hat or coat, but it’s been one of the burning questions I’ve had for the past few hours.”

Tobias went to open his mouth, but she shook her head. “You know what, don’t answer that until you take that bloody thing off.” She gestured to the redcoat monstrosity with barely concealed disdain and watched as he shrugged off the offensive garment aggressively before tossing it to the side.

“I wasn’t that far from where you stood, considering I was patrolling with the man who shot your friend,” he remarked. “And does it really matter? Do you think I wouldn’t recognize my own wife?”

“Well, I barely recognize my own husband,” Abigail retorted, noting how his jaw clenched but kept going anyway. “Why are you a redcoat? Why join them? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Tobias shook his head, eyelids squeezed shut for a moment before looking at her, pained. “I can’t answer that.”

Not buying it, she took a measured breath before continuing, “If you had really decided to betray everything you had ever believed in – your principles, your country, me – then why did you call the British soldier intent on killing me and my friend? Why wouldn’t you kill us when you had the chance –”

His sudden grip on her arm shocked her back into herself. In her growing fury, she hadn’t realized how their proximity shifted until her face was nearly at his collarbone. She tilted her head back and met his furious gaze steadily.

“No matter what side I may appear to be on,” Tobias spoke quietly, “my allegiance is always with you. My heart is with you.”

Swallowing hard, Abigail took a moment to find the courage to speak, but when she did, she feared her voice would crack. “If what you say is true, please tell me, explain to me, why you’re with them. At the very least, give me some peace of mind. I can’t keep thinking the worst.”

When he said nothing, she shut her eyes and exhaled shakily before slipping her arm out of his loosening grip and walked across the small room to put some distance in between them. She could barely stand to look at him any longer.

---

It was uncertain to know how much time had passed, but for however long it truly had been since she had last spoken to her husband, for Abigail it felt like an eternity.

She tended to Christopher during that period, assessing his wounds and seeing if he had awoken. The boy had still been out cold when she had first returned to the room and had remained that way throughout her examination of his wound.

From what she could see in the dim light, there wasn’t much inflammation, but they needed to make it back to the camp base for a more proper dressing of his wounds. She recalled how scarce medical supplies were in the Continental Army, and the camp base was no exception, but there had to be more appropriate supplies than what she and Tobias had used on him.

“How’s the boy?” Tobias asked quietly as soon as she exited the room, shutting the door behind her.

“He’s still out cold, thankfully,” she murmured, briefly making eye contact with him before busying her hands by preparing more cloths for a tourniquet in the event Christopher’s needed changing.

After a moment’s pause, Tobias spoke, “We need to do something with the dead redcoat. I can take care of the body while you hide the weapons and –”

Abigail finally met his gaze, firm and determined. “I’m not going anywhere with you until you explain to me why you’re with the British in the first place.”

Jaw set, he responded, “Abigail, you can’t be this difficult. This is important.”

Eyes narrowing, the blonde lowered herself into a small rickety chair not too far behind her, crossing her arms across her chest with the strips of cloths laying across her lap, and waited.

So was this.

Sighing heavily, Tobias ran a hand through his hair in agitation, tugging at his shortened locks with frustration. He struggled a minute or two with an internal dilemma until his shoulders hunched over in tired defeat.

“When I told you I was leaving to enlist in the Continental Army,” he began tiredly, “it wasn’t a lie. I had enlisted around the time most of the men with patriotic leanings, including many of our friends, had gone off to enlist. But not long after I was assigned to a regiment did I find myself crossing enemy territory to enlist with the British troops, not as a traitor but as a spy for the Continental Army.”

Abigail’s brows furrowed in confusion. “A spy?” Tobias nodded, and she shook her head. “I don’t follow.”

Grabbing another small rickety wooden chair from across the room, he took a set and began to explain everything. “As far as I was aware at the time, there hadn’t been a ring in place prior to my agreement to enlist with the British, no true system in place for me to share the knowledge I gleaned from the British troops. Instead, I would simply document what I find, keeping the data as simple and ordinary as possible to avoid suspicion and hide them in my belongings or on my person for if ever I met someone from the base. But now…”

He paused for a moment, considering his next words but deciding to plunge forward regardless. “The intelligence initiative has advanced in the past several months alone, at least according to Caleb –”

“Wait,” Abigail interrupted, bringing up a hand to stop him. “Caleb? Why would he know anything about this?”

Tobias pressed his lips together for a moment before responding with, “He’s the courier among the agents, including myself and the head of intelligence.”

“And the head of intelligence is?” she asked, equally curious and nervous to know the answer.

This time her husband’s hesitation was much longer, which only had her curious nervousness burning even more. “Benjamin Tallmadge.” He observed her face closely, searching. “The intelligence collection was Ben’s idea.”

Abigail stared at him, unblinking and unable to fathom this new revelation, but instead of demanding to know why neither of them had mentioned this to her, she found herself asking instead, “Who else is involved?”

Thrown off by her question and her lack of outrage, Tobias asked, “What?”

“You said that Caleb acts as the courier among the agents, including yourself, which suggests there’s more people involved. Caleb’s one. Who are the rest?”

“Abraham Woodhull and Anna Strong.”

“Christ,” Abigail released a startled laugh. “Anna and Fievel (see end notes). Of course.” She was more surprised by the latter than the former, considering how Abe’s wife, Mother Shrew, and his father were proud Torreys. A part of her had wondered whether Abe’s patriotic rebel passions had faded when Caleb, Ben, and Tobias had entered the war, but from the sounds of it, she had been wrong in her thinking.

“What are you thinking in that head of yours?” Tobias asked after an extended silence. She met his imploring gaze and found it incredibly difficult to break away from it.

“I’m… not entirely certain what I think,” Abigail spoke quietly, “but I do know how I feel. I feel lied to and almost… betrayed? Lied to by nearly all of the people I care about and for what?”

She knew exactly why she hadn’t been told and understood it, at face value. She understood it far too well. The less people that knew about the ring, the better it would work, just as how the fewer people knew her true identity, the longer she would remain with the army. But still, she couldn’t help the irrational part of her from revealing itself, and for that, she felt ashamed enough that she could no longer meet his gaze.

There was a soft scraping across the wooden floor as a chair was pushed back, and soon she found her husband kneeling before her and taking both her hands in his. Prompting her to look at him again. The pained, imploring look on his face tugged at her heart. “Secrecy was the only way to ensure everyone’s safety. It’s the only way to ensure the future of the Continental Army in this war. There is no other reason for you not being told.

“But I’ll admit the only reason I’m telling you everything now is for purely selfish reasons,” Tobias continued, squeezing her hands in attempt to comfort both of them at once. “I couldn’t bear the look you have been giving me from the moment you saw in those woods any longer.”

“And what kind of look is that?” Abigail asked quietly.

Tobias smiled sadly. “The one where you think I’m a monster.”

Frowning, she reversed their hands so that now hers were now on top of his. She gave him a short, firm squeeze, momentarily stunned at the feeling of their hands together. She was unaccustomed to the feeling of his rough hands against hers when her hands had always been smooth in comparison to his. Now they were nearly the same texture, although his were still much coarser than hers.

“There are many things I was thinking in that moment and the moments following after,” Abigail remarked, “but thinking of you as a monster had never once crossed my mind.”

Tobias’s smile turned warmer, but from the way the smile didn’t reach his eyes, it was clear he did not entirely believe her but appreciated her words all the same. He rose to her feet and encouraged her to get some rest before returning to the camp base in the morning.

Abigail was unable to sleep, despite his persistence throughout the night and into the hours of the next morning. She divided her time between checking on Christopher to discussing how they would explain their absence from camp with Tobias, knowing that she and Christopher’s absence were more than likely discovered by now. Thus, they began developing a plan, an alibi that would explain her and Christopher’s absence without destroying Tobias’s cover and one the officers would believe.

It was ultimately decided remaining as close to the truth as possible would be in their best interest. The story would go that Christopher and Abigail had been attacked while on patrol, and they had to wait until the following morning before they could make their return. Their lengthy absence would unquestionably be plausible given the boy’s injury. The only problem remaining would be how she was able to carry him to the shack on her own and tend to his wounds.

“Just tell them you carried a blade on you and used strips of your shirt as a tourniquet,” Tobias remarked but paused to inspect the untorn shirt with a small frown. “Though I would suggest cutting your shirt to parallel with your story.”

Nodding in agreement, Abigail untucked her shirt from her trousers, which was comically long on her person and made ripping the material not only useful for their alibi but for her own personal comfort as well. She planned on using the torn material from her shirt to redress his wound before they left.

Still, with the story in place paired with physical evidence, Abigail felt as if she didn’t look as if she had just barely survived an attack, namely there were signs of injury on her person.

A glimmer across the main room caught her eye. Sitting right along the windowsill in the growing morning light sat a small flint knife. Without a second thought, she crossed the small distance to reach for it.

“What on earth are you doing?” Tobias asked sharply, grabbing her arm just as she was bringing the knife to her forehead.

“You know as well as I they aren’t going to believe anything I have to say unless I have physical proof,” Abigail replied. She could hear the nerves in her voice, but this needed to be done. “And that includes an injury for myself. Unless you want to do it.”

“Absolutely not,” he rejected the offer with a vehement shake of his head. Nodding, she returned to pressing the blade against her forehead until he once again stopped her, offering her a balled-up cloth for her to bite into.

She accepted it by opening her mouth and bite into the thick material just as she pressed the knife further into her skin. The first slice stung incredibly, but the deeper she pressed, a painful scream tore its way out of her throat, barely muffled by the cloth she was desperately biting into.

A warm, stickiness trickled down her forehead and dripped down the side of her face. The throbbing pain from the wound, however, paid no mind.

As soon as the first drop of blood fell, Tobias yanked the knife away from her with a barely muffled curse, dropping it to on the wooden table with a loud, metallic clatter before drawing her into his arms. “I think that’s quite enough,” he hissed, face pale as he took in the red droplets down the side of her face.

“I think that’s enough, too,” she agreed, wincing in pain.

Knowing they didn’t have much time left, they quickly prepared for the journey back to their respective camps, all the while unknowing when the next time they would ever see each other again.

---

The journey to the camp base from Setauket was a somber one. Neither side claimed a strong victory, but Ben and his regiment had been able to save the lives of those patriotic men that had been sentenced to death at the eleventh hour. Almost all of them. God rest poor Lewis Brewster’s soul. Ben had to tackle Caleb to the ground as soon as Captain Simcoe had marched out of the church with the gun to the Caleb’s elderly uncle’s head just moments before he had executed him on the spot.

Ben kept an eye on his friend, normally attempting to rouse the spirits of the men, remained silent on horseback, his face drawn and pale. He would continue to keep an eye on the whaler for the next few days, understanding all too well the grief of a familial loss of the cruelest manner.

They arrived back at the base and dismounted their horses when a few of the soldiers who had remained behind came to gather their horses. Ben went to walk over to Caleb, but the other man had already wandered off, possibly for a bottle of something hard hitting despite the fact it was only midday.

With a heavy sigh, the major decided it was best to leave him to it for now and prepared to head towards his tent to prepare a document of his account when he heard someone call out to him.

He turned to spot a familiar face striding towards him with purpose. The soldier was a young man by the name of James Sanford, although the descriptive of young man was rather redundant when compared with his own age. He had collaborated with Sanford on numerous occasions, and while he might not have the charisma to inspire men, his loyalty and bravery were commendable.

Judging from the determined stride of his, however, Ben knew he wasn’t walking over to welcome him back to camp.

“Good afternoon, Sanford,” he greeted him as he approached him.

“To you as well, major,” the soldier replied in kind, “though I wish it were under better circumstances. I have a report to make with you regarding the camp. Perhaps we can speak privately?”

Nodding, Ben guided him in the direction of his tent, knowing that any information pertaining to the camp could easily get around as misconstrued gossip, which was something he wanted to avoid.

As soon as they were in the confines of his tent, Sanford continued, “Morning and evening patrols were carried out according to protocol in your absence. However, when the morning patrol group returned from their posts, two soldiers were missing. I suspect they may be deserters, sir.”

“Christ,” the major sighed heavily, pinching the bridge of his nose. Just what he needed, just what the Continental Army and Washington needed. “Give me their names, and I’ll investigate the matter.”

Sanford removed a piece of parchment from his pocket and unfolded it carefully, smoothing out the edges. “The soldiers that failed to return from the morning patrol are a Christopher Morgan and Thomas Williams.”

Ben stared at him, uncomprehending. “Can you… repeat that, please.”

“Christopher Morgan and Thomas Williams, sir.”

It felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him, and he struggled to maintain his composure. “And how long have they been missing?”

“They were present for the morning patrol, but they never returned with the group. This was yesterday morning, sir.”

A full day. The two had been missing for a full day. Abigail had been missing for an entire day.

He dug his nails into his palm to keep himself grounded. “All right. May I have the parchment?” Sanford passed it to him without a fuss. Staring hard at the script, he added, “Do you have any other record of their names anywhere?”

Sanford shook his head. “No, sir, I do not. I only wrote them down to make sure I remembered their names precisely to inform you.”

Swallowing hard, Ben folded the parchment and tucked it inside his coat pocket. “Don’t breathe a word of this to anyone. I will handle this. We… we can’t have news of this getting around camp. Morale is low enough as it is.”

“I understand, sir, and I won’t tell a soul.”

“Good, man.” He clapped him on the shoulder and walked him out of the tent.

As soon as Sanford was out of sight, the major made a direct beeline towards center of camp, knowing fully well that’s where Caleb would be. It was where the liquor was usually exchanged, unless under the direct supervision of an officer.

 

Discerning the whaler’s figure amongst the small group of men having gathered for drinks, he walked briskly towards him and placed a hand on his shoulder, catching his attention immediately, a sure sign he hadn’t consumed any alcohol yet. Praise the Lord.

“I need to speak with you,” Ben murmured to him, gripping his shoulder urgently before heading towards the side of the house for a chance of privacy.

Caleb followed him without question, an uncharacteristic feat.

“I just received word of two possible deserters the moment we returned to camp.” Ben removed the parchment from his coat pocket and held it for Caleb to take with a slight tremor to his hand. “Go ahead and read it.”

He watched Caleb unfold it hurriedly and curse rather carefully as soon as he read the names on the paper, echoing his thoughts precisely.

“Jesus,” the whaler breathed out, peering up from the parchment with wide eyes. “Where do you think they went off to?”

“All I know is that they went on the morning patrol and haven’t been seen since yesterday morning,” Ben answered, each word tumbling out of his mouth increasing his dread and fear. He suddenly possessed a strong urge to punch something but faintly acknowledged that would only make matters worse. “Neither of them are deserters. Abigail…” He stopped, took a measured breath. “She wouldn’t do that.”

“Aye,” Caleb agreed softly and looked down at the page as if he had read the names incorrectly, but the moment he read them again, it only made the situation even more real.

“If they went on patrol and didn’t come back, something must’ve happened,” Ben continued, giving voice to his thoughts in a nervous stream of narrative. “Something’s wrong, terribly wrong.”

The heavy, supporting weight of Caleb’s hand suddenly on his shoulder helped ease him down from his growing panic but only for the moment.

“We’ll find her, the both of them,” the whaler promised. “Come on. I happen to know the patrol routes. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find them if they’re still around.”

Nodding, Ben followed Caleb from the house and through the center of camp to head towards the woods just on the edge of the outlier of the camp.

They were just approaching the edge when a bright flash in the distance stopped the major short. Stopping Caleb, Ben pulled out his spyglass and peered into the distance, adjusting the device just in time to spot two stumbling forms heading in their direction. He couldn’t make out their faces, but it appeared that one of them was holding something in the air, something that was shiny enough to catch the light of the mid-day sun, and it was then he knew, he just knew it was them.

“It’s them,” Ben breathed, lowering the spyglass. He passed it to Caleb without removing his gaze from the pair. “And it looks like one of them is injured, or perhaps both. Gather some men.”

Before Caleb could get a word in edgewise, Ben took off across the field towards the stumbling pair, not heeding to Caleb’s calls. He didn’t look back to see if anyone else would follow, having only two emotions that was propelling him forward. Relief and fear.

He ran and ran until he was only yards away from them and watched in horror as Abigail collapsed with the younger soldier he deemed to be Christopher Morgan to the ground.

Kneeling to the ground in front of them, Ben seized her frantically by the arms and pulled her up she was no longer lying on the ground. She fell forward into him, exhausted, and he caught her, instinctively wrapping his arms around her protectively until he remembered where they were.

“Are you all right?” he asked urgently, easing back so that he could try to catch her gaze. He exhaled sharply at the long streaks of blood down the side of her face, unable to look anywhere else for the longest time. When she didn’t respond, he forced himself to look away to return to trying to catch her gaze. “Abigail – Williams, look at me. Please. Just look at me.”

“He was shot,” she murmured sluggishly. He cupped her face to obtain her attention, but her current befuddled, lethargic state prevented her from focusing. His concern only grew. “Christopher, he was shot. I… we need to help him.”

Ben opened his mouth to respond when Caleb cut him off, having arrived just in time to hear her spoken words. “It’s all right. We’re going to take care of him. Come on, men, lets get the boy some medical attention.”

The major could see a few of soldiers surrounding Christopher to prepare to carry him to the camp’s makeshift infirmary, but his main priority remained on the woman in his arms. “See? He’s being tended to. The Morgan boy will be all right. I… look at me, Williams. I… dammit!”

Abigail finally did manage to look at him directly, but the moment was fleeting as her eyelids fluttered shut before she fell forward into his arms, exhaustion pulling her under.

---

Abigail awoke the latter the next morning, rested but famished. As soon as she opened her eyes, she discovered she wasn’t in her tent but was lying on a cot in the base’s medical tent. Pushing herself into a sitting position, she eased her legs over the side and stumbled to her feet, making her way towards the tent flap and pushed it the side, cringing at the brightness of morning that greeted her and carefully allowed the material to fall back to give her eyes some time to adjust.

Apart from herself, there was only one other soldier currently residing in the makeshift infirmary who remained soundly asleep. She didn’t spot Christopher, and initially she feared the worst before realizing that perhaps he had been brought in for questioning as soon as he was treated and fed.

Selfishly, her mouth practically watered at the mere thought of food, prompting her to lift the flap to the tent again. She felt guilty for having taken up a space where she felt she hadn’t deserved. Let some other unfortunate soul have the cot she had taken temporary residence in.

It was nearing the end of breakfast by the time she arrived. She received her rations happily and did her best not to devour them on the spot, the memory of Bartholomew, Jasper, and Decory massacring their lunches back at the flying camp still fresh in her mind.

A little while later Caleb found her and offered her a protective but thankfully brief hug, which was made even briefer when she released a small hiss of pain. The soreness of her muscles was only announcing its presence with time.

When she asked about Christopher, he assured her that he was fine and would be on the mend thanks to her. She asked him to clarify, and he told her that during his questioning with the officers, the boy had told them she had saved his life by removing the bullet and bandaging his leg with the tourniquet. She nearly asked what else did he say but realized she had to trust that Christopher would remember the story she and Tobias had come up with but of course not reminding him of her husband’s presence. He had acted as if he had no recollection of Tobias. Why disturb a good thing?

Caleb then told her he would escort her to the house to provide her account whenever she was ready, which she provided the confirmation that she was before he led her in the direction of the house.

The questioning lasted not nearly as long as what she had anticipated. Their questions were basic and simple, and she answered every one despite her nerves’ best attempts of getting the best of her. Ben’s presence there was a much-needed comfort although he uttered not one word during the entire questioning, but his protective gaze spoke volumes on its own.

At the half hour mark, she was dismissed, and she hardly dared to breathe until she was out of the house back into the warm, noon air.

Abigail wanted to return to the infirmary tent to check on Christopher, whom she assumed would have been returned there after his questioning, but her bindings were constricting and pressing into her rib cage, so she took the quickest detour to the tent she shared with him.

Once inside, she lifted her shirt to adjust her bindings underneath, loosening them just enough to give her some relief. Inhaling generously, she released the breath, relishing in the painless action, and smoothed down the ripped edges of her shirt.

She wasn’t alone in the tent longer than five minutes when she heard the tent flap open behind her. Turning around, she discovered Ben stepping inside and realized he must have followed her back.

Puzzled, Abigail began to ask if they needed her again for further questioning when her words were cut off by the sudden presence of his mouth on hers.

Over the years, she had often wondered what it would be like to kiss Benjamin Tallmadge. Many imagined scenarios had been conjured in her youth, progressing from wanting to silence him in an argument to simply expressing her desire for him. Never had she imagined their first kiss would happen like this.

Nor had she imagined that Ben would initiate it.

The kiss was firm and demanding and just shy of desperate. Her body thrummed with a warm, excited-nervous energy, causing her to tremble ever so slightly, but she didn’t care.

Almost as soon as he kissed her, she melted into him instinctively, relishing in the strong, solidness of him. She nearly fainted when his arms wrapped around her, pulling her closer, holding her securely against him, protectively. It was everything she had ever wanted.

It was everything.

They kissed for what felt like an eternity and not all at the same time when they finally part for air.

Abigail licked her lips subconsciously, her mouth still tingling from the press of his mouth.

She wanted to ask him a question – what question, she was unable to formulate – but noticed his gaze fixated on her forehead, where she realized her self-induced incision dwelt.

She hadn’t had the chance to inspect the damage but knew it would turn into a rather unpleasant looking scar with time.

Ben brought his hands to gently cup her face, with one hand brushing back some stray strands of hair to lightly inspect her scar. His touch was so light, so careful that she didn’t even wince in pain.

“I… I had to see for myself that you were okay,” he admitted softly, his thumb caressing her cheek tenderly.

Sucking in an emotional breath, Abigail leaned into him, and he held her close. She didn’t want him to let her go, and, after today, she highly doubted he would.

 

There was so much they needed to talk about – what really happened, why it happened, and what she had learned after it happened – but in that moment, Ben was all she could think about.

“Stay with me, please,” she requested quietly, so quietly she half wondered if he had even heard her.

By some miracle he had because he gently nudged her in the direction of the cot, easing her down onto it with a gently kiss to her forehead. She reached out towards him and drew him closer so that he was lying on the cot beside her, holding her close and shielding her from the dangers of their world, if only for the moment.

Chapter Text

Morristown, New Jersey

In the several days following Abigail and Christopher’s incident in the woods, Washington had ordered for the camp base to be relocated to Morristown, New Jersey. Every last item had been gathered and stored away in the preparation of the move, not wanting to allow their next location to fall into enemy ends.

Nearly a week had passed since the new Continental camp base was established, and many rules had altered regarding to camp duties and protocol, namely patrol protocol. It would be next to impossible for Abigail and Christopher to continue with their extended patrol boundaries now, considering how each pair would be accompanied with an off-duty officer. However, given the extent of Christopher’s injury and Abigail’s uncertain patrol status, she suspected they would be performing very little patrol duties for the foreseeable future.

After having assisted some soldiers with unloading a few crates filled with camp necessities, Abigail found herself walking through the center of camp when she spotted Caleb – or heard his mouth, rather – straddling atop what appeared to be a barrel of imported wine, and by “imported”, she meant smuggled.

She observed him quietly with a small, concerned frown, recalling everything she had heard about the standoff in Setauket. Her heart broke for Caleb and his uncle. She had known the man well and had often considered him the grandfather she had always wanted. The man had always had a kind, gentle soul, and for it to be snuffed out so cruelly was enough to make anyone’s blood boil.

Unfortunately, she never had the opportunity to speak with him about it due to multiple extenuating circumstances that prevented her from doing so.

Still, Abigail observed him as he encouraged the Native American soldier to throw his tomahawk at the barrel, using so many provoking, lewd comments she couldn’t help but roll her eyes. That was the Caleb Brewster way, after all. However, the desired result was achieved, with the blade embedded into the barrel between his legs, prompting a loud whoop from the whaler.

She just shook her head and was prepared to head off in the opposite direction when Ben approached the pair, placing a hand on Caleb’s shoulder. The blonde felt her hear leap inside her chest and knew her cheeks must have been a rather dangerous shade of pink just at the bloody sight of him. Fortunately, he hadn’t appeared to have spotted her because she suddenly felt like a foolish, lovesick girl.

However, come to think of it, when had she been anything but for him?

“I assume you put in the proper request for all these supplies?” she heard Ben ask and decided to make herself scarce, at least physically. She had no problem with eavesdropping. It had never served her wrong in the past, although it had provided some startling revelations.

“Huh? Request? No,” was Caleb’s somewhat distracted reply, though she couldn’t see the interaction, having ducked behind a rather towering stack of crates, pretending to sort through them on the off chance she would be questioned. “No, these are my gifts to the cause.”

Abigail smirked to herself. So she had been right about the smuggling after all.

“Oh, I see. The black market, then,” the major remarked, unsurprised yet amused. She could picture the exact expression on his face and silently admonished herself for the fond, fanciful thought.

“Yeah, you do see!” Caleb remarked, voice sounding as if he were traveling forward, in her direction.

Dammit! She immediately crouched behind the boxes for good measure, knowing it was wise to be overly cautious than not. Yes, both men were her friends, but she still didn’t want to be in a position where she was caught.

“Well, perhaps you might be getting the itch to make another trade tonight,” Ben said, voice also sounding significantly closer. “Maybe visit our old hometown, visit an old friend.”

Abraham, she realized. Ben wanted him to visit Abraham, for information, for the intelligence ring. In the past week, the information Tobias had shared with her had never once left her mind. Her emotions were less unorganized as they had been upon the spy ring’s reveal, betrayal and hurt having replaced by a surging curiosity and intrigue. She had intended to ask Ben about it himself but that would lead to more questions on how exactly she had discovered the ring’s existence, opening doors to more answers she wasn’t willing to divulge just yet.

And the moment in the tent hadn’t helped her decision either.

“Nah, not tonight,” Caleb responded. Abigail blinked in surprise at the unexpected response and the light tone accompanied with it.

Apparently, surprised was Ben also as he said, “I… I’m afraid this is not a request, Caleb. It is an order.”

“An order?” Caleb asked.

“That’s right.”

“I think I’m done with those.”

There was a pause before Ben spoke again. “Done?”

“Yeah.”

“What, done with orders?”

“Orders, Culper, army. I mean, it’s all a bit of a tail chaser, yeah?”

“Oh, no,” Abigail mouthed to herself, pressing a hand to her face. This was not good, not good at all.

The whaler continued, “But with this here, whale oil, plucked from a fat Tory skiff off of New Haven and resold for a 12 on Devil’s Belt… that’s the kind of profit that can make a man think about quitting the army and applying to Congress for a license to privateer. Loyal subjects harass at my pleasure and make a bit of coin on the side. And the best part, the best part is the only one I’m risking is me.”

Throughout his entire speech, Abigail knew that Ben was doing his best to rein himself in, to hold his tongue until his friend finished speaking, but inwardly, he must have been struggling, conflicted between his duty as an officer and his duty as a friend. But she knew as well as he did that, as she had come to learn within the past year, this war was bigger than any one person, and that everyone must do their part. However, she also understood how difficult and trying these times could be on the soul. So, the only thing she could really do was sit and listen to their arguments and wait it out, feeling as unhelpful as ever.

“Look, Caleb, this is not my order. It’s Washington’s.”

“Oh, Washington,” she heard Caleb murmur bitterly, a tone she had never once associated with the man before. “Well, you’ll just have to tell him that you’re following protocol. See Culper doesn’t signal unless it’s safe, and he ain’t signaled in two months. So, it aint’ safe.”

“Caleb, listen to me –”

The piercing sound of something piercing the tree startled her, nearly jolting her to fall back against the stack of boxes. She looked over to her right and noticed the tomahawk embedded into a nearby tree. “I am listening, Ben. I’m listening now like I should have listened before. Like when you ordered to let Simcoe live. I should have listened to reason and put my hatchet in his head. But I didn’t. And he survived long enough to kill my uncle. Now that’s on me.”

Caleb paused just long enough for his impassioned breath to even out. “You want to get Abe killed? That’s on you.”

After a moment, Ben called out his name quietly, almost too quietly for her to catch, but she knew in that moment Caleb had walked away.

---

 

“I want to go in Caleb’s place.”

Ben started with surprise at the sound of Abigail’s voice and watched with a puzzled expression as she let the tent flap fall closed behind her. It had been nearly an hour since his unsuccessful discussion with Caleb, and he had been deliberating on approaching him again when she had made her unannounced entrance into his tent, breaking his line of thought.

After barely a moment’s pause, he processed her words and then remarked, “It’s a special mission and specifically requires Caleb. I’m afraid there’s nothing you can do here.”

Abigail pressed her lips tightly together and fidgeted uneasily with the cuffs of her coat, as if internally battling with something inside her before she blurted out, “I know about the spy ring. I overheard your conversation with Caleb, and I… I want to help.”

For the longest time, Ben stared at her in disbelief until he finally asked, “How much did you hear?”

“Enough to know that you need someone to return home, to Setauket,” Abigail admitted. “To meet with this Culper, or Abe rather.”

Before he could even open his mouth to ask, she added, “Caleb mentioned Culper and Abe in the same breath. It wasn’t difficult to figure out.”

“You and your eavesdropping,” Ben murmured, already feeling the beginnings of a headache blossoming at the back of his head.

She was so close to making a smart remark but wisely chose to refrain. Instead, she continued, “You said so yourself the order came from Washington, which means this has to be very important to him, which means this is very important to you. If Caleb can’t act as courier, then let me go in his place. Who else is familiar with Setauket –”

“Wait,” Ben stopped her right then and there. “How did you know Caleb was the courier? I don’t recall either of us using that specific word.”

Taking a breath, she berated herself for revealing herself far too easily but knew, in the end, this unintentional slip was perhaps for the best earlier rather than later and composed herself so that she could articulate a response. “I haven’t been completely honest with you about what had happened in the woods that day.”

She paused, waiting for an outburst that never came. When all he did was stare at her sharply, she continued, a bit unnerved under his scrutinizing gaze, “Everything I reported to the committee was true, but I had left something out. It’s clear just from the size of me alone, neglecting the fact that I am a woman alone, that it would have been incredibly difficult of me to carry Christopher all on my own. There… there was someone else who helped us.

“Tobias found us and helped us,” she said, watching him closely as a range of emotions flashed across his face – shock, anger, confusion, and… jealousy? – but forced herself to continue, “He saved me from a bullet to the head by another redcoat. And after helping us relocate, he did tell me about the ring but nothing much. He had only told me enough to explain to me why he was wearing a British uniform and with the British army. Which you should have informed me of, by the way.”

Ben’s jaw clenched, and he looked away, but she refused to back down. “I need to do this. And you need me to do this, seeing as how Caleb can’t.” Or won’t, rather, but it didn’t seem far to suggest any form of implication on their friend’s part. The man had been through enough.

“You have no idea what you’re volunteering for,” he insisted, shaking his head with deep disapproval.

“Then teach me everything I need to know,” Abigail pushed back. Arguing with Ben was second nature to her, practically a craft she had been honing over the years. As frustrating and infuriating as the practice was, she was able to read his face like a book, every shift in his expression that gave her insight into where the argument was leading and knowing when to back off or riding straight ahead, mostly the latter than the former.

“This is dangerous,” Ben remarked evenly. Abigail couldn’t prevent herself from rolling her eyes, which only irritated him even further. “You don’t – don’t you roll your eyes at me! The very nature of this is dangerous and is no place for a wo-”

He cut himself off before he could complete his statement, whether it was in the off chance someone was listening in or the unimpressed look she was giving him, as if daring him to finish what he was about to say. Wisely, or perhaps foolishly, the major continued his argument from another route, “There’s hardly any time to learn what you need to know. And this is a very delicate situation.”

“I understand that, and I’m willing to learn as I go,” she persisted. “And didn’t you say these orders came from Washington himself? This means you need someone to get to Abe, gather any and all information from him, and return. You’re desperate for this. I can see it in your face.”

Judging from the way he gritted his teeth, she knew she had just struck a nerve. “I’ve known Abe and Anna as long as you and Caleb have. And yes, I know she’s part of it, too. There’s already relationships of trust there.” At least, she could speak for Anna. With Abe, she wasn’t entirely certain, as she had hardly seen him in recent years, apart from that moment his father had him swear an oath of loyalty to the British crown in the middle of Setauket. “Please. Just let me do this for you, for the cause. You can count on me.”

“Abigail, it’s not that I don’t trust you,” Ben began, his expression earnest, “it’s the gravity of the situation, not to even mention the danger. I couldn’t bear it if something were to happen to you while you’re on a mission because I sent you.”

She walked over to him carefully and took his hand, lacing their fingers together easily and naturally. “I can’t promise that nothing will happen, but I can assure you I will do everything that I can to come back, to you.”

Ben looked into her eyes, deep and searching, looking for any sign that she might waver in her decision. After discovering nothing, he sighed heavily and incredibly reluctantly agreed, knowing that someone had to carry on the mission, someone who could be trusted and knew the agents well. Abigail was more than capable in both areas.

However, as soon as he agreed, he also informed her they needed to go over spy protocol before she set out for Setauket. The rest she could learn after she returned. They agreed that she should return to his tent later that evening and begin her studies then.

As unhappy he was with her risking herself, there was a small glimmer of hope that he could perhaps return to Washington’s good graces with gathered intelligence to get them one step closer to ending this war.

---

Abigail did manage to return to Ben’s tent later that evening, when many of the other soldiers who weren’t on duty retired for the evening, and considering Christopher was still healing from his injury in the infirmary tent, sneaking away wasn’t at all that difficult.

As soon as she arrived, they got to work on what she needed to know before her journey. They sat close at his writing desk, hunched over a shared journal filled with codes addressing specific persons, locations, and the like. Instead of returning to Setauket, she would be traveling to New York, which was both a blessing in and a curse regarding the secrecy of her identity.

Given such close proximity, the accidental grazes of fingers and shoulders were inevitable and were ever so distracting enough to give them both pause before they spoke. Every now and then, she would glance over in his direction with looks that weren’t circumspect, at all, but on more than one occasion, she would notice her receiving such looks in return from the major and took comfort in the realization she was not alone in her distraction.

“Explain to me again about the boiled egg trick,” Abigail requested, peering over his shoulder to observe his actions with the quill and invisible ink.

Ben turned over the egg in his hand, poising the quill on the shell in preparation to write, only pausing to consider his choice. “It’s one of Mr. Sackett’s cleverer inventions. The purpose of it is to get a simple message to the agent in question but in plain sight. If the agent is aware of how to properly inspect the egg to retrieve the message, then the egg has served its purpose. It’s rather ingenious, actually.”

“Very impressive,” she murmured, indeed impressed as he allowed the ink to dry. “What did you write on the egg anyway?”

“You’ll see soon enough,” Ben remarked, setting the egg down to allow the ink a moment or two to dry. “Impatience is not a good trait in a spy.”

“A great tragic flaw in my character, I am well aware,” she bemoaned dramatically, grinning as an amused smirk threatened to break his disapproving expression. She nudged him gently with her shoulder and grinned more fully as the reluctant smile of his became more pronounced. A victory indeed!

After a few minutes had passed, Ben reached for the egg and held it over the candle, allowing the flame to brush along the egg but only for a moment. He then proceeded to peel off the shell, an act that was a bit messier than anyone would like, but finally managed to remove enough to read the message he had written. He handed her the egg, so she could get a better look.

Trouble,” she read aloud, raising a brow slightly with a soft laugh. “Am I meant to read between the lines here?”

“No, but you are meant to read beyond the shell, however.”

“Very amusing. You’ve missed your calling as a writer with that wit.”

Ben grinned and turned his head to speak, but the simple act alone made Abigail realize just how close they were, their faces barely a few inches apart. His lips parted for a moment as if to speak, but whatever he had been prepared to say appeared to have died on his tongue. However, she couldn’t fault him for that since she was having a challenging time articulating anything herself.

For the longest time, they didn’t move, frozen in that moment. Neither had the strength or courage to speak. They had not once in the last week discussed their kiss back in Trenton nor had there been any more kisses since. Even with this in mind, being this close to him, she could practically feel his lips against hers, the warmth of his breath against her skin…

Before either of them could do something they might regret, Abigail was the one who finally broke their gaze, clearing her throat awkwardly before settling back into her seat beside him. “Perhaps we should resume my lessons in the morning. I’m sure I’ve taken enough of your –”

Her attempt at returning to normalcy were interrupted by Ben, who spoke suddenly, “I’m sorry.”

Brows furrowing slightly, Abigail asked, “For what?” She didn’t understand what he would be apologizing for in that moment.

Sighing heavily, he shifted in his seat so that he was now properly facing her. His knee unintentionally knocked into hers and remained there, his pressed against the inside of hers. It was nearly enough to drive her mad. “For what happened last week, the… I know things have bene difficult for you since Trenton, and I wanted to apologize to you for a while now. It was a moment of weakness.” His expression was an unhappy one, with the corners of his mouth turning downwards into a frown. “It won’t happen again, I assure you.”

Abigail sat very still and did not speak for the longest time until she managed, “Was it?” To her own ears, her voice sounded strangled, but she couldn’t bring herself to think too much about what she wanted to ask next. The desire to know far outweighed her pride. So, against her better judgement, she added, “Did you read the letters I had given you for Christmas?”

Thrown off by sudden shift in topic, the major began after confused stammer, “I’m… I’m not sure what that has to do with –”

Abigail rose to her feet, not needing to hear the rest of his answer. What he had just said was enough. “That’s all I needed to hear. Because if you had, I believe you would already know how I feel about the kiss. But since you’ve made it abundantly clear it was a mistake, perhaps I was mistaken.”

“Abigail…”

“Good night, major.”

She turned on her heel and exited the tent, face burning as she cursed herself for her foolishness.

Inside his tent, Ben did the same, taking the book of parchment he had been holding on his desk and pitching it across the tent in a fit of frustration.

---

By the time dusk settled upon the camp the following evening, Abigail transferred her humiliation and hurt into matters of productivity. She assisted with the most menial tasks, cleaning up after camp meals and organizing camp equipment but only after she had made sure she was prepared to travel to New York. Anything to keep herself distracted from the awful turn of the previous night’s events.

She even insisted on redressing Christopher’s wounds himself when she had visited him at the infirmary. Seeing as how the camp doctor was effectively busy tending to another soldier, she managed to convince Christopher to accept her offer.

“You must be incredibly stressed,” the young soldier commented, wincing periodically as she cleaned his wound.

“Why would you say that?” she asked, looking up at him with a puzzled expression.

Christopher smiled with amusement. “When you’re stressed, you’re unbelievably productive. Not that you aren’t normally, but you just seem a bit more determined than usual.”

She had wished she could have told him her reasoning for it but instead had turned the conversation back to his recovery and when he believed he would return to service.

Camp meals were not the traditional fair that she had grown up with, but over the several months after enlisting in the Continental Army, she had grown accustomed to them, knowing that rations were scarce during these times.

She had just finished off the last piece of bread from her plate when two soldiers sat down with theirs. They were talking quietly amongst themselves, and she was hardly paying attention to them until their conversation took a turn at the mention of Officer Pita himself.

“He should’ve known better than to read that aloud,” the scruffier looking solider remarked, shaking his head. “To have a soldier drunkenly reciting incendiary letters of the commander in chief and an officer no less! The fucking fool.”

“Blimey, I thought Major Tallmadge would’ve beaten him unconsciousness if Brewster hadn’t stepped in,” replied the other and took a sip from his mug.

Abigail hadn’t lingered around to hear anything more.

Uncaring if she appeared a fool, she walked briskly through the center of camp, heading directly towards Caleb as soon as she spotted him. She immediately asked him what had happened and if Ben was all right, and perhaps her line of inquiry was a little too loud, considering how he guided her by the arm to pull her off to the side to have their conversation privately.

He assured her that he was all right, saying that he was “a little worse for the wear, but for the most part, he’s still walking upright.” That didn’t make her feel any better, which only made her more resolved in seeing him for herself.

Grabbing a mug filled with water and swiping a washcloth from a nearby table, Abigail marched directly to his tent, only after Caleb confirmed that was the last place he had seen him, and opened the flap to let herself in just in time to see him wince while attempting to manage his split lip.

Her heavy sigh garnered his attention when she remarked, “I leave you alone for half a day, and you get yourself into a brawl.” Her smile was gentle and teasing and only grew when the tension in his shoulders appeared to ease.

“Brandon had it coming,” Ben remarked with a scowl, recalling the incident with perfect clarity. “I suppose it’s around the camp by now that you’ve heard?”

Abigail nodded grimly. “Unfortunately, yes. But if it makes you feel anymore, the talk is mostly positive about Officer Pita being put in his place.” Her eyes widened as she realized her verbal slip.

“My concern still – wait. Officer Pita?” he stopped and looked at her with confusion.

“Um… yes?”

Ben raised a curious eyebrow, waiting until she finally caved. “It’s Brandon’s… Officer Brandon’s nickname around camp. It stands for ‘pain in the arse’.”

He snorted but did his best to veil his amusement. Ultimately, he failed and began to laugh only to groan as the ache in his jaw reprimanded him for it.

“Let me help you with that,” Abigail remarked and walked over to him with the mug of water and cloth in hand before he could attempt to protest. Dipping the cloth inside the mug, she began to clean the cuts on his lip and side of his head, doing her best not to hold back any lectures of his lack of self-preservation only to realize that she wasn’t one to speak of such things.

Instead, she found herself saying, “I’d hate to see the trouble you get yourself into when I’m gone for a few days and not only a handful of hours.”

Ben made a quiet noise, which she wasn’t was meant to be thoughtful or displeased but continued to carry on with tending to him. He didn’t appear that harmed apart from the few cuts to his face, although she highly suspected there would be spectacular bruising along his jaw in the morning, after gently assessing the tenderness with a press of her fingers along his jaw.

“I’m concerned with news of Brandon’s drunken indiscretion getting around the camp,” he expressed but then scoffed, “although I suppose it already has. Morale has decreased among the soldiers enough already, and to have an officer make these claims… Everything could fall apart.”

Nodding with understanding, Abigail commented, “I believe the men’s faith will be restored in time. You’re doing the best that you can do.” She lowered the cloth from his lip and looked down with a tiny frown. “I know my words aren’t providing you any solace but…”

“No, they do,” Ben insisted, reaching down to take her hand in his. When she finally looked at him again, she noted the earnest expression across his face, the sincerity in his eyes. “You asked me last night if I had read any of your letters, and the answer is yes, every single one of them. Sometimes even two or three times in one sitting. Your words inspire me and give me hope. Never, ever, doubt that.”

His fingers laced with hers, his thumb caressing the back of her hand in gentle circles, each brush igniting a spark inside her. There was no doubting his words, not when he was looking at her with such raw feeling and tenderness. So, it was hardly surprising that she had little choice but to lean forward and kiss him, mindful of his split lip.

The kiss was soft and tender, unlike their previous kiss which had been passionate and raw. This kiss didn’t lack any of the previous kiss’s passion by any means, but there was something lying underneath, a familiarity and intimacy that warmed and comforted but excited her all at once.

Their interlocked fingers parted so that their hands could settle on the other’s form, his hands resting against her hips and hers slipping up his shoulders towards the back of his neck.

The moment their lips parted, Ben pulled her closer, holding her securely when she nearly tumbled onto him. Both smiled sheepishly.

“I suppose we should inform Caleb of the new development,” Abigail said as soon as she regained the ability to speak. “For the intelligence gathering, I mean.”

Nodding, the major murmured, “He already knows. I mentioned to him after the incident with Brandon.”

“Me traveling to New York in his stead?” she inquired, already knowing his response but unable to keep herself from teasing him.

“Yes. Unless you had something else you had in mind to share with him?”

Abigail pulled a thoughtful face, glancing upwards briefly and shook her head lightly after some consideration. “I don’t believe there’s anything else I need to inform him of.”

Ben smiled up at her fondly, which invited another temptation to kiss him.

However, the need for the spy ring eventually drew their attention back into reality, prompting them both to leave the tent in search for the whaler to discuss the trip to New York.

And find Caleb they did.

After moving to a more discreet location, the three worked out a system in which Abigail and Caleb would share the courier duties. As displeased as Ben appeared to be about this new development, she was still pleasantly surprised he was even agreeing to it.

When Caleb asked how she was going to get Abe to recognize her, she replied, “I don’t think I’ll have a problem getting Fievel to recognize me,” prompting a huff of laughter from Caleb and an amused grin from the major.

Instead of leaving in the morning, Caleb suggested that she left that night. It would make it more difficult for anyone to spot her, redcoats and possible Torrey citizens alike. Seeing the wisdom in his words, Abigail agreed and returned to her tent to change into civilian’s clothes, the very ones she had taken from her father’s home. She was gripped by an intense wave of pained longing and quickly changed inside the tent.

Once dressed, she slipped out into the night. She expected to see Caleb waiting nearby as she went to retrieve Cantor when she discovered it wasn’t the whaler who was waiting for her.

It was Ben who was waiting for her instead, holding the reins of an already saddled Cantor. At her look of surprise, he told her he had someone retrieve and tack the horse for her, knowing she needed to be ready as soon as possible.

“I can hardly believe he would behave for someone to saddle him,” Abigail commented, amazed as she stroked the muzzle of her beloved, dramatic horse.

Ben chuckled quietly. “I never said it was an easy task.”

Cantor snorted and pawed at the earth, effectively ending the moment.

During their walk towards the forest trail, Ben offered her many words of advice and warnings, reviewing as much of what they had discussed the previous night as he could. However, it didn’t take her long to realize he wasn’t just trying to be helpful. The man was stalling.

“At ease, major,” Abigail remarked with a reassuring smile as soon as they made it to the trail, or as reassuring as she could be while her body was full of anxious, nervous energy for what was to come.

Ben chuckled, sensing he had been caught. “I… I don’t know how to do this,” he admitted. “Letting you go.” He gazed into her eyes, looking terribly conflicted.

“I’ll be back before you know I’m even gone,” she assured him, smile softening. Before she could stop herself, she rose on her toes and pressed a chaste kiss to his lips soft and fleeting. “Enjoy your dinner with the commander in chief, and your fellow officers. And knock some sense into Brandon while you’re at it.”

He rolled his eyes half-heartedly at her poor attempt at a joke and then moved to the side of the horse so that he could help her mount the saddle. She was more than capable of accomplishing this on her own, but she didn’t object to Ben’s arms around her, for the briefest of moments.

After another a few more minutes of bittersweet exchanges, the major stepped back as she clicked Cantor into a walk, heading down the trail into a trot with another nudge of her thighs. She didn’t allow herself to look back and to only look forward, riding forward down the path that would lead herself and Cantor to New York.

Unbeknownst to her, with her departure from the camp brought on the arrival of another. At nearly a quarter past eight, Benedict Arnold arrived at the Continental base.

Chapter Text

York City

It took Abigail much longer than she had anticipated to find Abe in York City. For all her previous experiences with growing up with him, Abe had gotten rather good at covering his tracks, making it that more difficult for her to find him. A surprising talent he had seemed to hone over the years, especially since he had been the least subtle creature ever to grace Setauket. She could still recall with perfect clarity how the boy had literally tripped over himself and fallen into a mop bucket when he had first caught a glimpse of Anna walking through town.

Since there was much difficulty in tracking Abe, or Culper rather, the mission had to be extended a few more days than what was originally intended. There was no way she would be able to send word to Ben or Caleb to alert them of this development, at least no way that would reach them in time. She recalled Ben telling her if that she was unable to locate Abe within three days’ time to return to the camp, and Caleb would go in her stead. She had agreed, already knowing she would refuse the order.

A week already passed, and she had yet to find him. However, that didn’t mean no progress had been made during this time. She took notes in her journal, which was tucked away in the inseam of her rucksack away from suspicious eyes, noting the increasing naval wharf in the city. The number of canons rolled in by the British seemed to increase in number with each passing day, along with their appraised value, which she also carefully documented in her journal.

The amount of safeguards the British were taking to protect their stock was alarming. Guards heavily armed were stationed at the docks at all times, at least whenever she passed by on foot. She couldn’t risk riding Cantor while in York City. He tended to draw more attention than she could afford, whether it was intentional or unintentional on his part she was never quite certain. Instead, the proud stead currently resided in a small but comfortable stable adjoined with the boarding house where she currently resided, a particularly interesting development in this mission of hers.

Upon her arrival in York City, Abigail had quickly realized she wouldn’t be able to last very long within the city without shelter and money. The little money she’d had previously from her travels prior to enlisting with the Continental Army along with the small stash Ben had given her in case of an emergency had all been spent on bribing a British officer to grant her entry despite the fact she’d had a permit, although a forged one.

Thanks to Mr. Sackett and his remarkable techniques, the permit had been forged so well that, when compared to the real document, it was next to impossible to detect the forgery. However, she hadn’t wanted to risk the change of the forgery’s discovery and had given the British soldier what she had to gain access into the city. When he had suggested for more, she had reluctantly given him her father’s money as well, leaving her penniless when she was officially allowed to pass into the city.

With a plan in mind, she had tied Cantor to a hitching post outside the first boarding house she had come across and headed inside straight to the front desk as soon as she spotted the young man walking his way back to the desk. Sensing a new customer, the gentleman had lifted his gaze as she approached him and asked if he could help her.

“I should hope so,” she remarked, adjusting the strap of her rucksack on her shoulder. “I’m looking for a place to stay and a job to go with it. And I’m hoping you can help with both.”

Boldness was not very far from her nature, but this was by far the boldest request she had ever made. Perhaps her disguise as a man was influencing her behavior. Judging from the man’s unsurprised face, she determined perhaps her demand wasn’t quite so farfetched. If she had been a woman, she suspected this request would have been handled differently.

After a moment or two of consideration, the gentleman remarked, “There may be an opportunity for you here.” He went on to discuss how the young man who cleaned tables for the boarding house had recently taken some time off to visit family in a neighboring colony and wouldn’t be returning for a few weeks at the least.

However, he did impress upon her that the job would be temporary, which she was more than happy with.

“I understand,” she replied. “I’m only passing through myself. Just in need of some money and a place to stay before I set out again.”

The gentleman smiled faintly, a sight she suspected was uncharacteristic of the man before they went about setting up the position for her.

They had exchanged introductions, with her introducing herself as Thomas Williams and himself as Robert Townsend. She would work cleaning tables and serving the boarding house’s patrons during whatever shifts she was needed while residing in one of the smaller rooms the boarding house had unless there was high demand for rooms.

The week passed by without much incident. Disguised, Abigail worked interchangeable day and nights shifts at the boarding house. Often, she would walk about the town to make other observations but mainly during her day trips. At night, she usually remained at the inn either for work or busy compiling her notes.

It wasn’t until mid-day Sunday did she finally gain an advance into her original mission.

While cleaning off a table and counting down the minutes until the end of her shift, the blonde caught a snippet of conversation between two British officers. At first, she didn’t pay them any mind until the talk took a turn in which she could not ignore.

“Amongst all the problems and rebels that little town has suffered from,” one of the officers remarked, “it’s a relief to know that not all of its youth are foolhardy and troublemakers.”

“So, it is true then?” inquired the other, tone coloring with interest. “That the son of Setauket’s magistrate has returned to further his legal studies?”

Abigail paused in her cleaning, stunned upon this revelation. Just when she had begun to lose a little of her faith, Abe had returned to York City after all.

“Of course, it’s true. He even has a personal escort from his lodgings here to the college.”

Abe was staying there, in this boarding house? How on earth had she not noticed? When had he arrived?

Biting her lip to keep from making a sound, she focused with renewed determination on her cleaning, reaching for one of the candlesticks to polish. She made a mental note to look over the patron entry books at some point during the day whenever no one was around. It was hard to imagine that she would have missed his arrival, given how long she had been there herself. The only reason she could think of was that perhaps he had arrived during the day while she had been on one of her day trips in the city.

As soon as her shift ended, Abigail returned to the desk to sign herself out. Behind the desk, she caught glimpse of the open book and, unable to help herself, turned the page over to see the previous day’s check-ins. And she was not disappointed.

Abe had indeed arrived during the day she had been in the city, noting the time and day as Saturday at ten thirty in the morning. Elation burst inside her but did her best not to show it, carefully returning the book to its original place before signing out on her time sheet and returning to her temporary living quarters.

However, before she made her ascent upstairs, Abigail made quick detour to the kitchen upon when she requested a dozen boiled eggs to be made for her, saying she would pick them up herself to save the cook a trip. When she raised a curious brow at the gentleman’s amused huff of laughter, the cook remarked he would soon be running out of eggs at this rate, considering how he had just boiled a dozen not too long ago.

Abigail said to just cut hers down to half a dozen then, doing her best to hold back her excitement. Success was soon within her grasp.

---

 

Sighing heavily Abe returned to his room to collect his belongings before they could be taken care of for him. The meeting with Robert Townsend hadn’t gone well at all, considering he had just demanded he leave his inn at once upon his discovery of Abe’s true intentions of recruiting him. He had known trying to convince Townsend would prove difficult, but he hadn’t anticipated the degree of difficulty it would be.

He decided to leave it alone for now, to grab his things, and return to Setauket. Another attempt to try and change Townsend’s mind could be worked out during his next visit to York City.

Igniting some candles for some much-needed light, Abe grabbed his bags from underneath his bed to pack his things when he noticed something on the writing desk that had not been there previously.

With a puzzled frown, the former farmer walked over to the desk and peered into the basket, his frown becoming even more pronounced at the sight of six eggs inside. He retrieved one and examined it closely, realizing with a jolt of surprise that it was a boiled egg. Upon further examination, they were all boiled eggs.

Had Townsend already changed his mind?

Hurriedly, he ran his fingers over the egg and brought it towards a candle to warm it. After a few minutes passed, he went to work on cracking the shell and peeling back its flakes until the entire egg was deshelled. There was only one letter on the egg.

“F,” he read aloud. “What the blood hell is that supposed to mean?”

Grabbing another egg, he cracked and peeled off the shell only to reveal another letter, “I”. He repeated his actions until each egg was deshelled. Each egg bore a singular letter, none of which made any sense, no matter how many combinations he attempted.

Cursing quietly, he began to pace, folding his hands behind his back as his mind raced. What on earth could this mean? Was Townsend messing with him? Or was someone else? Was there someone else that was on to him and trying to set him up?

There were too many scenarios to consider, too many possibilities. A headache threatened to blossom at the base of his skull.

After another few rounds of pacing, he stopped to look at the lettered eggs, a thought occurring to him. He walked over to them and lined them up to form a word, out of sheer curiosity. Initially, he didn’t think it could work, but with each letter he lined up to form the word, he realized that was the only possible thing it could mean.

“Fievel,” Abe read aloud, incredulous. What could this mean? There was only one person in his life that ever called him that, and he hadn’t seen this person since…

“It’s about damned time,” came an irritated voice from behind him.

Abe nearly leaped into the air like a startled cat, a strangled yelp coming from the back of his throat that didn’t destroy the analogy either. There at his dressing cupboard stood a rather thin looking man, or what appeared to be a man, with a cap nearly concealing the entirety of their face.

“Do you know how long I’ve been hiding in your cupboard? It’s rather uncomfortable and awfully dusty,” they complained, dusting off their shoulders with a disgruntled tone.

Abe continued to stare in amazement, completely unaware of what to say or do. There were hardly any times in his life where he had been rendered speechless, but this moment certainly qualified as one of those times.

There was a stranger hiding in his room and was talking to him as if nothing were out of the ordinary.

Although that voice sounded awfully familiar… and not exactly masculine either…

“Oh, sorry. I thought you would have figured it out by now.” The stranger removed their hat and looked directly at him and…

“Abigail?” Abe demanded loudly, perhaps too loudly as she walked over to him to slap a hand over his mouth with an impressive looking glare.

“You can’t call me that here,” she hissed, briefly looking around. “These walls have ears. Enemy territory and all.”

Whyareyoudressasamanandwhyareoyuraskfj?” he demanded, but with her hand pressed against his mouth, it all sounded like a stream of gibberish.

She retracted her hand and asked quietly, “What was that?”

“Why are you dressed as a man and why are you here?” he asked, keeping his voice at a more acceptable volume or at least that’s what he took from the fact she hadn’t slapped her hand over his mouth again.

“I’ll explain everything to you as soon as I can, but I need you your information for Ben first,” Abigail remarked, which only made him more confused.

“What are you talking about? My information for Ben?” he asked. He eyed her suspiciously. “What’s going on here?”

“Abraham, your information…”

“I’m not giving you anything until you give me some answers.”

The blonde pinched the bridge of her nose, taking a measured breath before deflating. “All right. Just don’t interrupt me until I’m finished.”

He nodded in agreement, and then she launched into a summary of the events of the past year, how she had joined the Continental Army in her father’s stead, having disguised herself as a man and that’s how she had enlisted. She described to him how Ben and eventually Caleb had discovered her and how they were both protecting her secret. When she arrived at the spy ring, he could tell she wasn’t telling him everything, only that she found out about it only recently and how she and Caleb would now be sharing courier duties until further notice.

When she finally stopped talking, Abe just stood there, blinking for several minutes until he finally uttered, “I think I need to sit down,” and did so unceremoniously onto the bed.

But not for long, since Abigail reached over to pull him up by the arms. “Oh, no you don’t. You can sit down all you want after you give me what you’ve got.”

Recalling just how persistence the blonde could be, he decided it was best to do as she asked and went to retrieve his notes from his bag, which thankfully appeared to have not been disturbed during his stay at the boarding house.

She looked over his notes and remarked that his observations matched the ones she had also documented and pocketed them securely inside her coat. When she asked what he was doing there in the first place, Abe then told her that his returning to King’s College had been all a rouse to try to contact Robert Townsend and convince him to serve as the York City agent, seeing as how his time in York City was now limited due to his father’s growing suspicions.

Abigail accepted all of this with a grim and sympathetic expression and much more maturely than he would have given her credit for but kept that last part to himself. It seemed that everyone had changed over the past few years, including Abigail Williams.

Once they both shared everything that needed to be shared, they agreed that she should go before either of them get caught lingering about. She assured him she would be leaving in the morning to head back to the camp and that the information would go directly into Ben’s hands.

She was turning to go when he saw her pause out of the corner of his eye. “As long as we’ve known each other, I know it’s ridiculous of me to ask,” she began, tucking a loose blonde strand behind her ear, “but since my position in all of this is perhaps just as precarious as yours, I want your word will not breath a word of this to anyone.”

“Of course,” Abe remarked almost immediately, giving her a mildly incredulous look. As if he would endanger one of his closest friends, especially considering the amount of deceit she must have exchanged in on a near daily basis. He couldn’t imagine what the punishment would be if her identity were discovered. “No one will hear about it from me.”

Abigail smiled gratefully at him, her hand resting on the doorknob. “Thank you, Fievel.” She gave him an exaggerated tip of her hat, which had him rolling his eyes lightly.

“You make a terrible man,” he remarked, lips quirking upwards in jest.

“And you make a God-awful spy. Good evening to you,” she whispered before slipping out of his room in the blink of an eye.

Chapter Text

Morristown, New Jersey

While the journey to York City had been less than ideal, the journey back to the camp had gone much smoother, with no trouble delaying her any further. The moment she arrived she dismounted Cantor and led him towards the stables where the other horses were kept, greeting the boy who worked the stables with a warm smile. He offered to take Cantor off her hands, and she gave him a few schillings for his trouble, knowing just how difficult her horse could be.

“And there’s more waiting for you if he doesn’t knock you around too badly,” Abigail remarked with a wink.

“Thank you, sir,” the boy said gratefully as he stuffed the coin into his pocket. She smothered a laugh, still unaccustomed to the new forms of address, and left him to his tasks.

Her journal along with Abe’s were tucked away in her rucksack, no longer within the inseam for much easier access. She had removed them from their hiding place only after the camp had come in sight and allowing Cantor a short break of grazing and rest.

Now she adjusted the strap along her shoulder walked into the directions of the tents but not her own just quite yet. There was another destination she had in mind first.

Bypassing a few soldiers handling equipment, Abigail reached the major’s tent not long after. She wasn’t entirely certain if he would be there but decided to try her luck regardless.

“Ben…” she started but quickly corrected herself. “Major Tallmadge?” There were far too many soldiers present in the camp to speak in such familiar terms with him. Any unintended slip was dangerous.

For a moment, she feared he wasn’t there, that he was on some sort of mission for Washington himself or, worse yet, leading his squadron to the battlefield. So much could happen in a week, especially with no possible form of correspondence.

But no sooner had fear gripped her heart did the flap open and a hand reached out to grasp at her wrist, pulling her inside.

Abigail scarcely had the time to look at him properly before Ben’s arm wrapped around her waist, strong and steady, to draw her close before his lips found hers.

Inhaling sharply, she kissed him back and slipped her hands along the sides of his neck, assuring herself that this was real. Feeling his grip on her tighten, she suspected he was doing the very same thing.

After a moment or two of indulgence, the kiss was broken, neither of them very happy to do so. Unfortunately, there was important business to discuss, other important business that didn’t involve kissing.

 

“I’m sorry for being away so long,” she apologized. “Navigation through the city took a lot longer than I thought.”

He shook his head, dismissing the apology. “I’m just happy you’re okay,” Ben replied. He reached up to tuck a stray curl behind her ear, making her heart race from such the tenderness of the act. “I… I was worried when you didn’t return after those first few days, but Caleb was quick to assure me that you could handle yourself.” He paused before giving her a mild look of exasperation. “And I suspected you wouldn’t listen to me if you couldn’t find Abe in three days to leave.”

Abigail smiled. “You suspected correctly.” She held back a laugh as he gave a quiet sigh, nodding knowingly.

“I take it you have something for me.”

She retrieved her journal and Abe’s from her rucksack and handed them to him. They sat down at Ben’s desk, after he pulled a seat for her right next to his. She said nothing of the chivalrous act, though the small smile of hers said enough for her.

Before going through Abe’s notes, she informed him how she had spent her days while waiting for Abe to appear, taking notes of British activity during her day trips and listening in to British soldiers who stayed at the boarding house.

“Much of my notes coincide with Abe’s as you’ll see,” she said, having opened her journal to gesture to where the numbers of canons had been documented on a particular day to cross reference with Abe’s notes, which Ben was currently studying.

“This is very good, very useful,” he commented, impressed by the details of both of their journals. “Having two accounts of British status in York City gives us more leverage to go with. Well, as soon as Washington approves of your involvement, of course.”

Abigail looked at him, raising an eyebrow. “You haven’t told him yet?”

“There hasn’t been enough time, but you don’t have to worry. He’s given me the discretion to do what I see fit with intelligence collection.” He cut himself off, muttering lowly at whatever he read in the notes. She couldn’t quite blame him for it. The British were advancing in their control of their city with each passing day. It was growing more and more difficult for anyone to enter, if her experience had anything to go by.

This was when she decided to bring up Robert Townsend, and Abe’s intentions of bringing him into the spy ring. She could verify the man would make a good addition to the ring, although he had rejected Abe’s initial outreach. It made sense, having someone else within the city while Abe remained stationed in Setauket, and who wouldn’t be suspected of consorting with the Continental army.

 

It didn’t take much convincing for Ben to agree this, knowing the logic behind the reasoning was sound. He said he would speak to Caleb when he got back from Setauket. Apparently, Anna had signaled him for a meeting, whatever the meeting was about was Abigail’s guess. In the meantime, he prepared to pass along both her and Abe’s notes to Washington directly, rising to his feet to do just that.

Taking this as her cue, Abigail took her leave but not before pressing a soft kiss to his cheek, a rather daring risk, especially with the soft look she received in return. She felt warm and happy as she turned to leave, but upon stepping out of the tent, she was hit with a wave of guilt and shame.

Her husband deserved better than this.

Benjamin deserved so much better than this.

---

It didn’t take Abigail too long to reunite with Christopher. Over the course of the week she had been gone, the young soldier had made considerable progress in his healing. No longer confined to his cot or the infirmary tent, he was able to get around unassisted. He even walked a few steps to appease her, which made them both laugh in delight.

The past month alone, without any strenuous physical activity, certainly helped the boy immensely. However, he commented he still wasn’t cleared to return to patrol duties quite yet, so more than likely she would be assigned to another soldier temporarily while he continued to heal. But that was a potential problem she would handle later.

“How was your journey?” Christopher then asked, after they had sat down with their dinner rations. They sat near the outskirts of the unofficial meal station of the camp, to give themselves a better attempt of more privacy. It was also partially influenced by their desire to remain as far from the more unpleasant soldiers neither of them could tolerate being around for prolonged periods of time.

Abigail paused in lifting her mug to her lips and thought of an acceptable response she could give him. There was only so much she could tell him, now that she had involved herself in Washington’s spy ring. She didn’t dare breathe a word of the ring’s existence to anyone, unless they were a part of it. However, she hated keeping secrets from Christopher and felt guilty for every untruth that fell from her lips. The boy was so kind, patient, and understanding, loyal perhaps to a fault. She wished she could confide in him more, but ultimately, the mission and her secrets had to come first.

But he spared her any trouble in coming up with a story, assuring her, “I understand you can’t tell me, of course. Secret mission and all. I’m only curious to how that horse of yours, Cantor, behaved himself. He’s not used to galloping about lately.”

Grinning, Abigail remarked, “Oh, he loved it. He usually doesn’t care for being saddled, but I think he was able to overlook the saddle when he realized he was going somewhere that wasn’t a pasture.”

They talked about her journey to where she had been sent and back with no other details going beyond that, which served them both well. He admitted to experiencing some envy and found himself growing a little stir crazy as of late, which made sense considering his injury and the limitations that came with it.

She wasn’t surprised by his restlessness, having experienced it more often than she would have liked to admit. There was a recurring theme among the rest of the men in camp, for those who never set foot onto the battlefield. It wasn’t at all difficult finding a soldier expressing these very views. Their discovery would be as easy as falling off a log, requiring no exertion or any form of skill to weed them out. The attitude was common, becoming increasingly more so with each passing day she feared.

Hopefully, with time, the mindset would fade.

---

When Abigail had appeared to perform the morning patrol the following day, as what grown to be her routine, she had been told she would remain off patrol duties until further notice, taking her mission into consideration. She was then told if she had any questions, she should present them to Major Tallmadge.

The blonde accepted the order with a nod and did her best not to shake her head in mild exasperation. Of course. She should have expected this from him eventually, using his influence when the opportunity presented itself. It was more surprising that Ben hadn’t done this sooner.

She had every intention of asking him about it, but every time she saw him, he appeared either stressed or cross. The frustration lining his face caused her concern, but she believed that perhaps giving him space would be better assistance to him.

However, as day the carried on, Ben appeared to grow even more tense, the frustration extending itself in his interactions with officers and soldiers that appeared to be trying what little patience he appeared to have left.

As soon as she saw Officer Brandon approaching, Abigail took it upon herself to intercept this interaction, recalling just how well the two men’s previous encounter had gone.

“May I speak with you for a moment?” she asked once within earshot, forgetting any form of formality and military hierarchy. Fortunately, no one, apart from Ben, appeared to be paying her any attention.

Giving her a brief nod, he agreed to meet with her inside the barn in ten minutes.

When he did arrive to the barn, she had only been waiting five minutes.

“Are you okay?” Abigail asked as soon as he had slid the barn door shut, voice and expression full of concern. He exhaled sharply and didn’t respond right away, which she took as her answer. “If you say that you’re fine, I’ll know you’re lying.”

The major walked over to one of the tables, cluttered with devices she was not familiar with, and rested the palms of his hands along the tabletop. “I… There’s just so much I wish I could get Washington to…” he trailed off, struggling to find the right words. “This entire process is just frustrating.”

Abigail observed him carefully with a sympathetic gaze. “I’ve noticed, and I’m worried. It’s not good for you to bottle all your frustration and agitation. It’s going to blow up in your face if you don’t find an outlet for it.”

Ben laughed humorlessly. “If only I could. I would love to air out my grievances, but to do that and express them to the people who should hear them would cause more trouble than it’s worth.”

And that was the crux of it all, wasn’t it? Hierarchical structure created an atmosphere of impossibility when essential information needed to be passed along. Protocol and procedures, while valuable in theory, were impractical in practice, especially in times such as these. They served their purpose and were important, but when it came right down to it, it seemed they were more of a hindrance than a safeguard, at least in her own opinion.

She knew she couldn’t even come close to understanding the pressure that Ben was under. There was no way for her to, but from what she observed of him within the past day, it wasn’t serving him any good in smothering it down. He did need an outlet.

… and she may have just thought of one.

Pushing herself away from a wooden beam she had been leaning on, she walked towards him, her steps slow but sure, until she there was only about a foot’s worth of distance between them. She took a quiet breath and spoke, “The moment you feel your frustration becoming too much for you to handle… come to me. Talk to me.” She paused for a moment, considering, and then added, “Take it out on me.”

The major’s gaze snapped to hers, horrified and affronted, “I’m not going to put my hands on you just to make myself feel better. How could you even suggest that I hurt you –”

“No,” she interrupted, chuckling a little as she fought the urge to pinch the bridge of her nose or to press a hand to her face. He had completely missed her meaning entirely. “No in that way of course.

“What I meant was…” she stepped into his space, running her hands over his coat lapels until they rested against his chest, one placed just above his heart. “What I meant was take your frustration out by kissing me. I’ll be your outlet, your distraction.”

Ben’s eyes darkened, whether at her proximity or her words or perhaps both, but he shook his head slowly. “Abigail…”

“It’s okay,” she murmured, her fingers running over the cotton material of his shirt. The undeniable warmth of him, the solidity of him, was enough to get her heart racing. “I know what I’m offering, and yes, it is wrong, but…” she licked her lips unconsciously and immediately noted how his darkened gaze tracked the movement.

Steady girl, she thought, though the rest of her seemed to ignore the request.

“Unless you believe Caleb to be a more suitable partner, although I find his beard would be too much –”

Ben cut her off her words with a searing kiss, so searing in fact it sent a jolt of warmth from her lips straight to her toes. She gasped sharply against his lips, unprepared for the soundness of the kiss, despite the fact she had initiated the invitation.

She stumbled backwards until one of her hips bumped into the sharp edge of a wooden tables, and she didn’t even wince or curse, too consumed from his lips and just the very presence of him as matched her step for step.

Ben’s arm encircled her waist, pulling closer to him, as the other ran up her back so that his hand could entangle in her hair, or of what little he could as it was tied in a loose bun. As for her own hands, they fought for purchase against him, alternating between tugging to pull him closer or to just run her hands over him greedily, wantonly. She couldn’t decide. And from the way he was clinging to her, it was something he was struggling with, too.

They continued to kiss even as they parted for her, their lips hardly a hairbreadth apart. An impulse struck her then, the urge so powerful and strong that she easily gave into it without a fight. During one of their brief moments of breath, the blonde leaned forward and captured his lower lip between hers and tugged.

The low, guttural moan that act drew from him was well worth the risk, and she almost felt compelled to repeat it, if not for the way his lips slipped away from her mouth to press firmly along her cheek, her jaw, and… oh.

She had always known Ben possessed a talented mouth, but she had never imagined he would so skilled at this, given his lack of experience.

His lips attached to her neck, kissing along the little expanse of skin exposed by the collar of her shirt. She could feel him panting against her neck, and she was weak. Thankfully, there was a table behind her, otherwise her already trembling knees would have given out from underneath her.

The amount of frustration built up inside him, that she had been expected. What she hadn’t expected was just how much of it could be translated into passion. She was not prepared.

But that didn’t mean she wasn’t enjoying herself.

Chest heaving with labored breath, Abigail tried her best to rein herself in, before things got even further out of hand, but his kisses, opened mouth and insistent along her neck, were slowly driving her to the brink of insanity. How was she even supposed to think?

It wasn’t until something clattered to the ground right beside them did they both come to their senses, although somewhat languorous and delayed.

They remained entwined in their embrace, with her still leaning against the table and Ben having crowded into her space. The spark faded into a mild simmer, though the intimacy lingered. She pressed a soft kiss to the side of his neck, hiding a smile into the crook of his neck at the soft sound he made in response.

“Feeling better?” Abigail asked, giggling breathlessly. She felt him shift against her, preparing to step back, and all she wanted to do was pull him closer. Leaning back, she nearly jolted with surprise as her head made contact with the wall. That certainly explained why the table hadn’t moved an inch since their… talk.

“Yes. Much better, actually,” Ben remarked, sounding just as breathless as she did. She took no small amount of pleasure in that discovery.

Abigail didn’t realize she had closed her eyes until she felt a hand cup her face, prompting her to open her eyes and meet his warm gaze. The look in his eyes threatened to take her breath away, again.

Another giggle escaped her, despite her best efforts, including biting her lower lip to conceal them, which unintentionally drew his gaze once more to her mouth. The giggling faded but not altogether, not even when Ben leaned in to kiss away the laughter from her lips.

Fortunately, or unfortunately rather, this second kiss didn’t set off another round of passionate embracing. Instead, this kiss was soft and fleeting, just shy of teasing, but aware their time together in the barn was limited, brief.

---

Having received Anna’s former servant’s message pertaining to General Lee’s true nature, Ben, partnered with Caleb and Mr. Sackett, devised a plan to expose the general’s treachery. He forged a letter from General Gates, keeping the letter as vague as possible while denigrating Washington. As much as writing the words sickened him, he knew it had to be done, otherwise the plan would not come to fruition. As it turned out, General Lee did write back, and upon the major’s interception of the letter, its contents were incendiary, horrendous, and in every way indicative that Lee was, in fact, a traitor.

However, upon his second meeting with the commander-in-chief himself, with evidence firmly in his grasp, presenting this news had gone less than well.

“Washington will not go. He must be pushed,” Ben read aloud, glancing up from the letter to ascertain Washington’s reaction. The man’s expression was carefully concealed, giving him no indication into his thoughts. He glanced back down and continued, “If the Congress will not rid us of this demigod, I pray a higher power will intervene.” He scoffed in disdain. The gall of this man, a supposed ally.

“I have heard enough,” Washington spoke quietly, still rooted to where he had stood when Ben had first arrived.

The major folded the letter, tucking it back inside its envelope. “I wanted you to see General Lee’s nature with your own eyes.” He paused for a moment. “That part about a higher power sounds like he’s calling for your death.

Washington admitted, “It is damning.”

Ben nodded. “I agree. And I think more than sufficient to relieve Lee of his command.”

“I wasn’t referring to the general.” Washington raised his eyes towards him, in a way that Ben felt he was being assessed. “How did you obtain this?”

After a moment of hesitation, Ben had confessed to forging the letter as Gates to provide Washington with evidence of Lee’s treachery, and the commander had not taken kindly to his initiative. He was reprimanded severely for his actions, which would only cause the army more harm than good, now that France’s eyes were on them now, considering an alliance. That, Ben hadn’t been expecting. He had tried to apologize, beseechingly, but his apology had fallen on deaf ears.

Washington was now more disappointed in him than ever, and the only person Ben had to blame was himself for it.

He intended to go to Caleb, to inform him of their failure, but remembered his mission to retrieve the busk. The next person should have been Mr. Sackett, but his feet were moving of their own accord, walking past the gentleman’s tent towards the center of the camp, hoping he would see another certain face.

As soon as their eyes locked, Ben signaled Abigail to follow him with a tilt of his head towards the barn. She followed him without question, an unusual action on her part, but he was grateful for it all the same.

Once inside with the door securely shut, he told her everything that had happened, starting with the news he had received from Anna’s former servant Abigail about General Lee to his plan of exposing the general through forged letters, concluding with Washington’s increased disappointment in him when he learned of how he had obtained Lee’s letter. He even revealed the reason of the commander’s anger, with France considering an alliance with them, knowing that she wouldn’t breathe a word of whatever was said to anyone.

She remained quiet throughout his confession, giving him the time to talk it out without interruption or interjection, not until he was finished.

Ben talked until he could talk no more, venting his guilt, humiliation, and frustration with himself on his foolishness, wondering how he just couldn’t have predicted this.

It wasn’t until he lowered himself into one of the rickety wooden chairs, gazing downwards with despair, did Abigail finally make her move. He felt her hands slide up the sides of his face, gently coaxing him to meeting her gaze. When he did, he saw her standing right over him, with a gaze so open and kind he knew he didn’t deserve it, any of it, but it stop him from reaching out to her, his hands settling on her waist of their own volition.

“You were only doing what you thought was right,” she spoke softly. “Like you always do.” She brushed her fingers lightly against his cheek to tuck a loose strand behind his ear. He closed his eyes and angled his face into the movement, desiring the warmth of her touch. “You couldn’t have known this would happen. No one could have predicted this. Unless your name was Nostradamus.”

Ben released a huff of laughter despite himself, sounding more bitter than he would’ve liked. “I know, but now I fear I’ve made things even worse with Washington.” He hadn’t even thought would have been possible before tonight.

“Hey, look at me.” Her request, soft yet firm, compelled him to open his eyes to stare up at her. The look she gave him was so full of belief, devotion, certainty. It wasn’t a look that suggested she believed he could do no wrong but instead showed she believed he would do the right thing no matter the odds. In the past, she had absolutely no qualms telling him when she thought he was wrong. He even suspected she had sometimes taken pleasure in proving him wrong. But this was different.

“I know you think you may have made of mess of things,” Abigail said, “and yes perhaps they are for now, but there was no way you could have predicted this. I know I wouldn’t have anticipated France considering coming to our aide. And I don’t have the answer to what you should do, but I know what you will do, however.”

Ben gazed up at her, enraptured. “And what is that?”

“You’ll make things right, in your own way,” she said simply, smiling sympathetically. “I know that doesn’t provide much comfort but…”

“No,” he shook his head. “Don’t do that. Your honesty is what I need.” He turned his head a little further to press a kiss along the inside of her wrist, lingering to cherish the softness of her skin against his lips. “You mean more to me than simply a warm body to take my frustration on as well, no matter how pleasurable it may be.”

The major felt his cheeks grow hot, and he could only imagine how red his face was. The sound of Abigail’s quiet laughter, however, was more than worth his pride.

“While I’m glad to hear you say that,” she said, her lips threatening to reveal a repressed grin, “I wasn’t offering myself to you with that intention, or, well, not only with that intention, I suppose. I was concerned. You needed some sort of release. I would do anything for you. That’s what you do for someone you… care for.”

And that, those last few words, was something he hadn’t realized he desperately needed to hear until they were said. There wasn’t anything he could say in response that would even compare (although there were three specific words sitting right on the tip of his tongue), so instead of speech, he chose action.

Rising slowly to his feet, Ben stretched out a hand to settle along the side of her neck, thumb caressing the soft skin found there. He leaned forward, pausing for a moment at the sound of her breath hitching at their proximity, and then kissed her, allowing his lips to express everything his mouth couldn’t.

Chapter Text

“Stop fidgeting.”

“I’m not fidgeting.”

“Yes, you are, and it’s distracting.”

“I am not!”

“You are to!”

“Very mature, Major Tallmadge. Washington is incredibly fortunate to have an officer with the maturity of a two-year-old.”

Ben glared from his position beside her in the bushes. It was difficult to observe the severity of his glare in moonlight, but Abigail could only guess it was mild, at best. She smiled sweetly in response, which only managed to irritate him further, which was the point.

She had volunteered to go with Ben to deliver his message to Abe and Anna in person. With Caleb was currently on an assignment, Ben had felt obligated to meet them himself. Of course, when she had presented the idea of traveling with him, he had objected, to which she had simply responded, “Either I go with you or I’ll follow you. Care to choose the easier option here?” And there they were.

Unfortunately, what neither of them had considered just how long their wait would be. Ben had believed Abe would check the drop off point in the woods at week’s end, but the day had come and gone with Abraham Woodhull nowhere to be seen. And seemingly with each passing hour, the major was growing more and more agitated, with her in particular it seemed.

She huffed quietly, untucking her legs from beneath her to prevent any potential cramping. While the night didn’t provide much light, it was still close enough to dusk that she could make out his profile. During the week they had traveled together partnered with their wait near the drop off point, his appearance had grown a bit more disheveled, partially to disguise himself but mostly due to the lack of amenities for personal grooming. His hair was loose and more than a little wild at his shoulders. The stubble had grown considerably over the past few days, nearly making him unrecognizable.

Not once in her life had the blonde ever seen him in such an unkempt state, especially with an unshaved face. It was a little disconcerting, not the sight of him in such a state but her own reaction to it or her body’s reaction to it more specifically. It wasn’t a terrible look on him, not at all. Was there anything that could be done to make her less attracted to him?

Pulling her coat closer to ward against a cool breeze, she noted his impatient shifting and did her best to refrain from making a retort regarding which of them was actually fidgeting. It was odd to see him so unsettled, impatient, since he was one of the most infuriatingly patient men she knew.

“Are you okay?” she asked. “I know this hasn’t precisely gone to plan so far, but…”

Ben made a dismissive noise, choosing to instead keep an eye out on the road by pushing back some of the branches with his hand.

Unperturbed, Abigail continued, “Far be it from me to pry, but I think that maybe you –”

Abruptly, he turned towards her and hissed, “Stop distracting me.”

Before he could even return to his attempts of serving as lookout, she asked, completely confused, “How on earth am I distracting you? I haven’t spoken a word since we had arrived here. Also, there’s nothing else happening here, if you couldn’t tell.” Why was he acted this way? It hardly made any sense.

Then the realization dawned on her. “Oh.” Abigail slowly grinned, like the cat who cate the canary. He hesitated a glance in her direction to bear witness to the full sight of her grin. “How exactly am I distracting you? It is my mouth or our proximity that’s the problem?”

She didn’t need daylight to know Ben was blushing nor did she need for him to verbally confirm or deny her words. His silence spoke volumes.

Deciding to show him some mercy, she made to raise to her knees and move backwards, to put some distance between them, when she heard him murmur, “Who said you could move?”

Smiling to herself, Abigail paused, mentally composing her reply, when they heard footsteps approaching them, the crunching leaves and snapping twigs drawing their attention back to their surroundings.

Ben brought a finger to his lips before peering out from the bushes, careful not to rustle the leaves to observe the newcomer. After a few minutes of observation, he pushed himself to his feet and out of their hiding spot before she could even blink.

“Ben? Ben!” Abe. Thank God.

The major groaned. “Christ, what day is it?”

“It's Monday.”

“Wait, how long have you been out here for?”

“I don't know. Two, three days maybe.”

“I thought you checked the dead drop at week's end.”

“No, no, I check it when I can. Do you want to tell me what the hell you're doing here? Why is Caleb not here?”

“Sorry, he's on assignment in New Jersey. And this can't wait. I need you to go get Anna and bring her back here. I need to brief you both.”

“Both? No, no. You tell me what you have, and I pass that along. This place isn't safe.”

“Well, if it were that simple, I'd have written a letter. This has to be in person. Besides, I come bearing gifts.”

Taking that as her own cue, Abigail decided to make her presence known, mimicking Ben’s earlier actions by pushing herself off the ground and out of the bushes, only pausing to grab rucksacks of the so-called gifts that had just been mentioned.

“And I,” she announced, doing her best not to stumble as she dodged a particularly nasty thorny branch, “am one of those gifts.” Her grin widened at the look of utter disbelief on Abe’s face. “Good evening, Fievel.”

“Good evening, yeah, all right,” Abe remarked, startled into an incredulous laugh.

Seeing as she was struggling with one of the bags against a rather stubborn branch, Ben came to her aide, purposefully ignoring the quite colorful stream of murmured curses tumbling from her lips. With a hard pull, the bag came detangled from its capturer’s grasp, and as soon as they gathered everything they needed, the trio made set to relocate to Abe’s suggested meeting spot.

---

“Look, I know, the codebook, the egg, they're not safe. But this, this is.” Ben bent over the desk, after having dipped his quill in the ink bottle, and wrote across a sheet of parchment, the text invisible.

Abe peered over his shoulder, impressed. “That's brilliant there, Ben.”

Ben smiled and continued with his demonstration, “Look, this clear fluid is called the agent. And the green is the reagent. Now you apply just a little bit with a very fine brush. It took us months to acquire this much. There. Just wait.”

Abigail observed the childhood friends with a fond smile from her seat across from them. Before their departure from the camp, Ben had shown her everything he was currently showing Abe. The ingeniousness of Mr. Sackett and his inventions would never cease to amaze her.

Their relocation to Abe’s partially concealed cellar hadn’t been a particularly trying journey, though the explanation behind it was difficult to process. Hearing of the terrible confrontation between Abe and his quartering British soldier Officer Brandon, she had forsaken any type of propriety and hugged her friend on the spot. She understood all too well the increasing danger he had landed into. However, the shock had only hit her when she had learned of Mary’s involvement, how it had been her idea to burn down their home and the story behind it for others’ ears. It had almost been enough to change Abigail’s opinion of the woman, and perhaps it had but only partially.

The door to the cellar creaked open, followed by an all too familiar voice, “Abe?” Anna Strong.

The three shared a look, with Ben suddenly grinning with a mischievous gleam. He held up a hand for Abe to keep his silence and moved quickly and quietly towards the door, hiding behind the wall at the base of the staircase. Abigail bit her lip to keep from laughing, enjoying the brief moment of childish hilarity, and proceeded to hide herself as well. Catching a glimpse of his approving grin, she knew she made the right choice.

Meanwhile, Abe had sat down at his desk, making himself look busy while clearing his throat. He called out, “Yeah?”

From her vantage point behind a cluttered bookcase, Abigail spotted the bottoms of Anna’s skirts as she descended the stairs and saw her fully when entered the room.

“I came as soon as we closed,” the barmaid announced, tone a bit breathless. She paused and frowned after a brief survey of the room. “What have you done to your root cellar?”

Seizing his opportunity, Ben pounced from his hiding place and wrapped his arms around her with a loud, playful growl, which was swiftly lost in the volume of Anna’s surprised squawk. Abigail snickered and chanced a glance at Abe, who was chuckling heartily as Anna smacked Ben’s shoulder before embracing him.

“Anna Strong,” Ben greeted with a fond chuckle, returning her hug.

“Oh, come on! He’s filthy!” Abe protested, his laughter clear in his voice.

Slipping from her place behind the bookshelf, Abigail joined Abe at his desk, leaning against the back of his chair as she remarked, “I tried convincing to bring some extra supplies with us, but no! He insisted on traveling light.”

At the sound of her voice, Anna parted from Ben and turned to face her, expression startled yet seemingly unsurprised. “Abigail!” she exclaimed, crossing the cellar to throw her arms around her, hugging her firmly.

The blonde hugged her back just as fiercely, an ache blossoming inside her chest she hadn’t known existed until that moment. She had missed her friend dearly.

“I’m assuming Abe told you everything, about me, I mean,” Abigail remarked, purposefully loud enough for all parties to hear. She gave Abe a pointed look and was rather pleased to see the sheepish expression cross his face. “He always does.”

“Yes, he did,” Anna replied, her hold tightening on her briefly. “I could just smack you for what you’ve done, but that wouldn’t help matters.”

Abigail knew Anna all too well that she was telling the truth and purposefully held back a chuckle at her words, suspecting that would only tempt her further.

As soon as they parted, the group settled into the matters of business. Ben presented a gift for Anna to bring to her former servant Abigail, claiming it was carved to appear as if her son had crafted it. Upon telling her that they needed to create a code for her former servant, Anna was adamantly against it, claiming she had made arrangement with the other woman herself, not as to set her up as a spy for Washington. Ben insisted that she was vital to the spy ring, and that her intelligence would grant them access to York City, but Anna refused.

It wasn’t until they reached a stalemate that Abe brought up Townsend, claiming he would be their man in New York. Abigail looked over at Ben and remarked that was the man she had met and told him about when she had gone to track Abe in York City. He admitted that Townsend was not aware that he had volunteered for this position yet, a remark that Ben did not particularly care for, but assured Ben that he would get Townsend on their side and told him to report back to Washington that Culper found their man in New York.

Abigail remained mostly silent during this exchange, apart from her coming to Abe’s aide regarding Robert Townsend. She was still mulling over what had just transpired when Ben had called them out regarding whatever tension there was between Anna and Abe. The tension was palpable the moment Anna had first arrived in the cellar. Their glances towards each other when they thought the other wasn’t looking weren’t at all circumspect, and this only made Abigail’s curiosity grow.

Something was certainly going on there. Or had been going on, rather.

After they had settled on a tentative solution, the group broke off in pairs, with Ben and Abe returning to the writing desks for more demonstrations of Mr. Sackett’s techniques while Anna guided Abigail towards the far side of the cellar, so that they might speak privately, or as privately as they could get. The cluttered bookshelf provided them with only partial privacy.

The moment they sat down Abigail found herself asking, “What’s going on between you and Abe?”

Blinking in surprise, Anna remarked, “That’s funny. I was just going to ask the very same question about yourself and Benjamin.”

The blonde’s face felt a few degrees warmer but admitted nothing. She didn’t have to. The knowing look on Anna’s face suggested her silence had spoken for her.

“Abe and I…” the barmaid trailed off, pausing for a moment before sighing heavily. “Abe and I have… rekindled our relationship, to put it delicately, or had rekindled it rather. We slept together on multiple occasions, more times than I care to admit.” The sudden rosiness of her cheeks suggested many things, too many for Abigail to pinpoint to a precise reasoning. “I… you know how I feel about him, how I’ve always felt about him, how I’ll probably always feel about him. But circumstances got in our way, complicating and making things even more painful.

“And I know you realize why I’m admitting this to you now,” Anna continued, her expression full of sympathy and understanding. She understood all too well. “I can see it in the way you interact with each other. You look at him when you think he’s not looking at you, and when you turn away, I catch him looking at you in the same way.”

“And what way is that?” Abigail asked quietly, her hands tucked gently between her thighs and the wooden stool she currently sat on.

Anna smiled with a twinge of sadness mixed with mild exasperation. “With longing, complete adoration. The way he’s always at you, and the same look you’ve given him. The one you’re wearing right now.”

Abigail’s gaze snapped back to Anna, having not realized she had let her eyes wander until her eyes rested on the major’s form, hunched over Abe’s writing desk. It was an instinctive action, one that she no longer consciously thought about, only acted on.

“We’ve only kissed a handful of times,” Abigail admitted, dropping her voice even lower as her gaze flitted up to meet her friend’s. “I can actually count them on one hand. It hasn’t gone any further than that.” Apart from that one time in the barn, where his lips and touch had nearly driven her wild with desire, but she decided to keep that to herself.

“It always starts out that way,” Anna mused, her expression appearing far away for a moment, as if recalling her own experiences with Abe before lightly shaking her head, dispelling the cloud. “I’m not in a position to judge you, and I never would, but I recommend slowing things down with Ben, at least until you decide what your next course of action.”

When you’re ready to divorce your husband. The words went unspoken, but Abigail could hear them nonetheless. Just the implication was nearly enough to make her stomach plummet, but really, she should have seen this coming. To be perfectly honest, the notion had always been in the back of her mind, but she had refused to acknowledge it, knowing just how much hurt would be caused by it.

But how much hurt was she willing to risk by allowing this to continue?

Sensing her internal struggle, Anna shifted closer and placed her hand on top of hers, giving it a comforting squeeze. “I understand what you’re going through, and I know the guilt you must be feeling, how deeply it must be clawing at you. But consider this... Ben isn’t married to someone else, nor does he have a family depending on him. You’re not breaking up a family.”

Abigail’s chest ached empathetically. “Oh, Anna.”

The barmaid shook her head firmly. “That’s not why I’m telling you this, Abigail. I’m not looking for sympathy. I just… want you to consider your actions and the choices that you’re making before things get even more complicated. Don’t follow down the path Abe and I have found ourselves on. There’s still hope for the two of you.”

“And there’s hope for you and Abe as well,” Abigail replied, squeezing her hand back firmly. “I believe that, with all my heart.”

The two women embraced, allied through their impossible situation they had found themselves in. A few moments later, they reconvened with their men briefly before the group parted ways, with Anna taking her leave first followed by Ben and Abigail not long after.

---

Their journey through the Setauket woods would be a long one. Normally, conversation would help pass the time, but for Abigail, speech was an impossibility. Distracted by her thoughts, she couldn’t bring herself to drum up a conversation. Anna’s words of advisement and warning still rang in her ears persistently.

Using her situation with Abe as a cautionary tale, Anna had given her the ultimate testament to their friendship, imparting such personal experience so that she could avoid the circumstances Anna now had to live with. While Abigail felt for her friend, she considered their conversation carefully, mulling every word exchanged. Whether she wanted to believe it or not – although she couldn’t deny that she did believe it – Anna was right. While she was still married, whatever had developed between them couldn’t go any further than it already had, at least not until she was willing to go through with the divorce of her husband.

But the crux of it was, Abigail knew that she was in fact willing, and that only made her feel even worse. How could she do that to Tobias? He had been nothing but loyal to her, and this was how she repaid him?

But he had known of your feelings for Ben from the start, a treacherous voice objected. Hadn’t he convinced you of the impossibility of the return of your feelings so that he could court you himself?

As quickly as the thought came, she cast it aside, pushing it as far back inside her mind as far as she could. No, that wasn’t true. She had fallen in love with Tobias of her own volition, with no coercion on anyone’s part.

But why were those words so unconvincing?

The sudden presence of a warm weight on the small of her back drew Abigail’s attention upwards to Ben’s concerned face.

“Are you all right?” he asked. “You’re usually never this quiet.”

“I’m fine,” she managed the lie, although it sounded false to her own ears. Judging from his unbelieving expression, she doubted he hadn’t heard the falseness behind the words either. She sighed quietly, considering her words carefully. “I’m not quite sure how to go about this.”

“What do you mean?”

Silent for the moment, she thought over what she would say, what she should say. It was incredibly difficult, knowing what she had to do, but ultimately, she knew she couldn’t let her selfishness continue to cloud her judgement any further than it already had. The warm, comforting pressure of his hand against the small of her back was nearly driving her to distraction.

Quietly, Abigail stepped out of his reach, doing her best not to frown at the loss of his hand along her back. She took a measured breath before stopping near an old, gnarled tree, both for an excuse of rest and to put some more distance between them.

She didn’t have to look to know that he had stopped too, waiting for her explanation.

“This is incredibly bad timing, and I do apologize for it,” Abigail began quietly, slowly leaning against the tree for support. “But I’ve been thinking, over the course of our walk and, perhaps even before tonight, that…” Frustrated at her sudden lack of ineloquence, she pinched the bridge of her nose with a small irritated huff of laughter. “Great, I can’t even be articulate for this.”

“Hey,” Ben murmured softly, stepping half a step towards her. His hand reached out for hers, hesitating for a moment, before allowing his fingers to brush against hers. “You can tell me anything, you know that.”

Nodding, Abigail granted herself a moment or two of comfort from his touch before finally speaking again, “I know what I said and what I offered to you at the barn a week ago.” She paused, a half grin instinctively tugging at her lips at the sight of brief duck of his head, indicating he was in fact attempting to hide a blush. Fortunately, the night did the work for him. Her smile faded as she continued, “But… I really think we need to take things slower. And by slower, I mean ending this… whatever it is, before it goes too far.

“And before you say anything else,” she interjected, already seeing he was preparing to speak and held up a hand to prevent him from doing so, “just know that this isn’t some act of nobility on my part. I know how selfish I’ve been, how selfish I am. No matter how and what I feel about you, I’m still married.”

She trailed off, feeling his finger graze along her ring finger, which was barren. Upon her enlistment, she had removed her wedding band, knowing it would only draw more questions than she would have been able to provide answers to. The silver band currently resided in her rucksack back at the camp, tucked away along the inseam of the bag, securely hidden. Out of sight but not out of mind.

“But you must know, I do know what I want. And who I want,” Abigail concluded, finally daring a chance to return her gaze to his. “But as long as I’m bound to another, we cannot continue as we have been.”

The look in Ben’s eyes was what she had anticipated – pained but resolved, upset but understanding – and it only made her feel worse. He stood close enough now that when she lowered her head for a moment, her forehead grazed his shoulder. “I’m so sorry. You must think I’m an absolute tease.”

“No, I don’t,” Ben replied firmly. He brought a hand to her face, coaxing her to meet his gaze with a gently brush of his fingers underneath her chin. “You shouldn’t harbor all of the blame for this. I’ve had just as much of an active part as you, a more than willing and eager role.” His lips quirked upwards self-deprecatingly, which Abigail mirrored faintly. “No matter how long it takes, I will wait for you.” He trailed off for a moment, his fingers grazing her cheek with no small amount of affection. “You’re worth the wait.”

She released a quiet, shaking breath at that, nodding to herself. Of course, he had to go and say something like that, making things unintentionally more difficult but wonderful at the same time. He was so unbelievingly patient and kind, even with their long history of bickering and driving each other crazy, and she wondered what on earth she had done to deserve such a man?

Sensing her inner turmoil, the major stepped forward, pressing firm, comforting kiss to her forehead. He lingered, perhaps longer than he should have, and she heard him release a quiet exhale before ultimately letting her go. They had a long journey ahead of them back to the Continental camp, which proved to be even longer given the conservation moments prior.

Abigail knew, on some level, that they were doing the right thing, ending things before anything could truly began. In her heart, she knew what she had to do from there. She just hoped that God provided her with enough strength and conviction to see it through.

Chapter Text

Morristown, New Jersey

The camp bustled with activity in the grey morning. Preparations were being made for the journey towards their next destination, Valley Forge. It was expected they would have the new base set up by December.

Abigail had yet to return to patrol duty, even after Christopher was seen fit to return to duty. When she had tried to insist she was more than capable of performing her duties, the officer remarked that she would have to take up the issue with Major Tallmadge himself.

“Oh, I intend to,” she muttered under her breath, turning from the gathering soldiers to walk the familiar trek towards the major in question’s tent.

With a great deal of purpose, she brought herself up to the front of the flap and called out his name quietly, making sure to keep any sliver of agitation out of her voice, conscious of the amount of activity surrounding them.

After a moment or two, the flap was pushed back, and she stepped inside, the move becoming practically second nature given the number of times the act was performed.

Whatever Abigail had been prepared to say died on her lips when she took in his appearance, fully dressed as if he had just returned just moments before she had arrived. Curiosity overcame her irritation, prompting her to ask if she had arrived at an inconvenient time.

“No, of course not,” Ben assured her, though he appeared to be rather busy, thumbing carefully through a notebook of some sort while periodically glancing in her direction. “I’ve just returned from a meeting.” He paused, his face settled into a considering expression before setting the notebook back on his writing desk. “A few meetings, rather. There’s been a recent development, which may perhaps hold some potential.”

Abigail reined in her increasing curiosity, keeping her expression carefully veiled before asking, “Is it pertaining to the Culper ring?”

“No… yes, er… perhaps a little bit of both.” The major leaned forward and flattened his hands across the desk, staring at the cluttered mess with a look of contemplation. “I… I haven’t spoken of this to anyone, but I’ve been speaking with General Benedict Arnold.”

She instinctively cringed at the sound of the general’s name and would have scolded herself for it if he had been paying any attention to her. Grateful for that fact, she did her best to school her features on the off chance he did decide to look in her direction again.

The name Benedict Arnold was not a name she was particularly fond of hearing nor was she particularly fond of the individual who bore that name. Never having interacted with the man himself, she had heard of other soldiers’ accounts with him, both on and off the battlefield, and none of these accounts painted him in a positive light. And now to hear that Ben had been speaking with him, a feeling of impending dread settled over her.

“About the ring itself?” Abigail asked cautiously, though she doubted he would ever discuss Culper to anyone other than those involved. Or so she hoped.

Ben shook his head firmly. “We never discussed Culper specifically, though he knows I’m head of intelligence gathering, which he finds rather… beneath me, as I suppose you could say.”

“Oh?”

Whether he ignored her pointedly interjection or not, she could only guess, but he continued as if she hadn’t spoken, saying how the injured general desired a camp aide, to be kept informed of the camp’s inner workings and any other information he felt compelled to know. The longer he described their interactions, the deeper the frown formed on her face. It was clear from what Ben was describing that Arnold didn’t want Washington’s involvement in their new arrangement, and that perhaps was the most unsettling feeling about this.

The moment his narration ended Abigail blurted out without a second thought, “Tell me you’re not actually considering this.”

Ben’s brows furrowed in a mixture of confusion and something else. “Why shouldn’t I? He’s right. I’m of little use to Washington while I’m on constant desk duty, and as of late, I haven’t exactly been in Washington’s good graces doing what I’ve been doing.”

“Ben,” she protested gently, taking half a step forward. “You’re doing what you believe is best, and you’ve said so yourself that you’ve been given discretion to do what you see is fit with Culper.”

“But at what cost?” Ben demanded with a gesture towards the camp outside the tent. “What good is it for me to continue to serve as head of intelligence when we are hardly making any progress?”

“There’s Abby, Anna’s former servant –”

The major interrupted her with a shake of his head. “It doesn’t go with the protocol, and that’s precisely my point.”

“No,” Abigail remarked, “that’s Arnold’s point. Why are you allowing him to get to you? I’ve heard things about him, Ben, and none of them are good.”

Wearing a frown matching hers, Ben said rather brusquely, “He’s a general in the Continental Army with an impressive tactical history. Saratoga –”

“I don’t give a flying fig about who he is or his skills on the battlefield!” Abigail exclaimed. Her increasing agitation at the hint of belittling tone in his voice influenced the increase in volume. It was more of the reminder of their surroundings by a nickering horse as opposed to his stern glare that prompted her to lower her voice. “And the fact that he doesn’t want you to inform Washington of this doesn’t strike you the slightest bit troubling?”

“Be careful there, lass,” Ben warned her lowly. His use of “lass” nearly threw her for a loop. Not once had he used that term of endearment since she had first set foot inside the Continental Army, which was perhaps a good thing. She hadn’t realized how much she missed it until the word fell from his lips, no matter the glare that accompanied it. “You’re coming dangerously close to crossing the line, which you have done multiple times if you may not have noticed.”

“I just want you to exercise some caution when you’re around him,” Abigail replied, choosing to ignore the jab in favor of providing him some much-needed perspective. He certainly could benefit from it. “I don’t know much about General Benedict Arnold, that much is true, but from what I’ve heard from the men around camp, he has a certain… way about him.”

Exasperated, the major turned to face her fully, his posture stiff and muscles tense. “I understand what you’re saying, and your intentions are pure, but I don’t appreciate you questioning my judgement at every turn.”

Abigail sighed heavily, torn between the urge of smacking him and walking right out of the tent. Wisely, she chose the latter but not before making a quiet retort, “I only question your judgement when I think you’re making a mistake. Perhaps, coming to see you was mine.”

It didn’t occur to her until hours later that she hadn’t gotten around to confronting him on her initial reason for visiting him.

---

Valley Forge, December 1777

How Caleb had managed to make it back to camp was anyone’s guess. The man had an unnatural knack for achieving the impossible when the odds were stacked against him, which only demonstrated his skills and lack, though most would consider the latter more likely.

As soon as he arrived at the new camp base, the whaler approached Ben and Mr. Sackett, presenting the smuggled letter from the busk of King George III with barely concealed delight. Upon receiving the letter, Mr. Sackett made a mad dash towards Washington’s tent with Ben and Caleb hot on his heels.

The letter revealed damning information of their English enemies, namely their current financial upheaval. This war was costly for the redcoats. England was all but bankrupt due to the financial costs of the war. This information was what Washington had been waiting for, and the commander in chief said as much as soon as he read the letter, exuding enthusiasm for the first time in several months. He informed his servant to invite the French commissioner to dine with them, so they could begin the official negotiations of establishing an alliance.

After the meeting with Washington, the three men went in their separate directions, with Mr. Sackett returning to his tasks of reorganizing his materials after the switching camps while Ben and Caleb set off in the direction of the camp supplies, all the while discussing this exciting development all thanks to Caleb’s delivery.

However, there was an odd sort of energy his friend was giving off, Ben noted. While he appeared excited, there was a slight nervous edge to his mannerisms, which he could no longer ignore.

“Is everything all right, Caleb?” the major inquired, glancing over at his friend with a hint of concern. “You seem sort of… I don’t know, quiet.”

Caleb gave a little huff of laughter. “Oh, there’s nothing wrong with me, Tall-boy. Nothing at all. It’s only…” He trailed off, taking a quick observation of their surroundings before gesturing for him to follow with a tilt of his heads towards the edge of the woods.

Once they made the short trek there, Caleb continued, “Along the way back from retrieving the letter, I was signaled by someone from the ring.”

Alert, Ben took a step forward, asking quietly, “Culper?”

Caleb shook his head, gauging his reaction carefully, “John Smith.”

Ben blinked, his surprise clear on his face. Not once had they ever had a signal from John Smith in all the years he had been part of the ring and for very good reason. It had taken several months to a year to establish his place inside the British army. Any form of signal would have compromised his cover. Why would Tobias signal Caleb now?

To make matters worse, Caleb continued, “He requested a meeting with you personally. Wouldn’t tell me why. But he was pretty insistent about it.”

“It would risk his cover to have a meeting with him,” Ben insisted. “It would potentially compromise the entire ring. How could he even think this would be smart?”

“Yes, it’s a risk,” Caleb agreed, “but if he’s willing to risk exposure, it must be important, right?”

Pressing his lips together for a moment, Ben said he would consider the appropriate time and place for establishing a meeting with Tobias. As much of a risk as it was, whatever information Tobias had, they needed to know, and if he had to meet him personally, he would. When Caleb asked if he should tell Abigail, he gave an immediate shake of his head, telling him he would tell her about it after the meeting. It was apparent Caleb didn’t appear happy with this decision but acquiesced to go along with it regardless.

---

During the next few days of camp establishment of the new base, Abigail managed to keep herself busy. Despite the fact she was essentially grounded from patrol duties, that didn’t stop her from being productive when she could, assisting with even the most menial tasks such as equipment inventory and meal cleanup.

It wasn’t until she witnessed a few injured men being brought into the infirmary tent that she came to a rather enlightening realization. If she could prove her skills useful, perhaps she could assist the camp physician with his work and other duties. In exchange for the much-needed assistance, she could learn from him the techniques and medicines he possessed at his disposal. It was one thing to learn from books and the occasional observation; it was another thing entirely to learn by performing the tasks at hand. As good as she was with books, she had always been better at learning with her hands.

It was with this idea in mind that she approached the man in his tent early in the morning before breakfast, reintroducing herself to him by reminding him of the time he had treated herself and Christopher from their alleged attack on patrol.

Dr. James Anderson, who remained mostly silent during her what could be best described as a poorly concealed attempt at persuasive diatribe, accepted her offer immediately as she paused to take a breath. Before she even knew what was happening, he asked her if she was knew the botanical name for bee balm.

Fortunately, that was one of the herbs Abigail was familiar with. “Monarda didyma,” she responded after a brief pause, thrown by the abruptness of the question but not the question itself. “It’s also referred to as bergamot, Oswego tea, or Indian plume. It’s helped used to treat colic, fever, or colds.”

Pleased with her response, he asked her how she came to know this. She informed him that her father was a physician and sometimes dabbled in herbalism when the case called for it.

“You’ve passed your second test,” the physician remarked with a wry smile as he examined a set of vials on his desk.

A little bewildered, Abigail asked, “And what was my first test?”

“Surgically removing that young man’s bullet after your attack.” He paused briefly in his ministrations to peer at her from over the rim of his glasses. “That was you, wasn’t it?”

She nodded mutely just before he grabbed her by the forearm and led her off to begin her work.

Apart from the occasional wounded soldier, Abigail’s tasks essentially focused on correctly identifying herbs and organizing them into their proper vials and drawstring bags. Often, she was also tasked with the creation of salves once she memorized the ingredients, though secretly she had tucked away a small notepad inside the pocket of her jacket to keep track of each medicinal recipe, a cheat sheet if you will. Better to be prepared on the off chance of avoiding a mistake than wasting ingredients by making it incorrectly.

This new development proved to be one of the better decisions she had made over course of her enlistment into the army. Not only did it provide her with something to do, it also provided her with a sense of purpose. For the first time in a long while, she felt useful in the camp. Having yet not set foot onto the battlefield (which she wasn’t entirely troubled over) nor having been allowed to return to patrol duties, the blonde had been close to climbing up the ways of her tent, which would have proven rather difficult considering the instability of the soldiers’ tents. Gratefully, her unofficial apprenticeship with Dr. Anderson had saved her from the destruction of her and Christopher’s shared provisional residence.

Between her work with the camp physician and Culper, perhaps Abigail had finally found a place for herself in the Continental Army.

It wasn’t until Abigail was nearly finished cataloguing the physician’s herbs did she finally pluck up the nerve to check in on her next assignment with Culper. Ordinarily, she would have gone to Caleb first, but knowing him, he would only point her in the direction of a particular major’s tent, a destination which she was doing her best to avoid.

Ever since their argument in Morristown, she and Benjamin had hardly spoken. What little information she learned of his latest deeds was gleaned from Caleb, who served as the reluctant messenger between herself and the major even though they never sent direct word to each other. If Ben continued to entertain the idea of serving as General Benedict Arnold’s camp aide, she had little to say to him, and Ben, she assumed, had little to say to her.

But it wasn’t fair to Caleb to keep him in the middle of… whatever form of standoff in which they were currently engaged. So, with her decision in mind, she pushed herself away from her desk to make the trek towards Ben’s tent. The path was different, considering the different base site and new terrain, but the destination was always the same.

However, Abigail didn’t make it far. She only managed half a dozen steps beyond the infirmary tent when she nearly collided with face full of blue and white uniform jacketed chest.

With a glance upwards, she met Benjamin’s startled gaze with her own, blinking in surprise. “Oh…”

“Oh…” he echoed before pulling himself out of his startled state. “I was just coming to look for you.”

“Funny,” Abigail remarked. “I was just going to say the same thing.”

He huffed out a short, amused laugh, prompting a small smile on her face until she took in his distracted, pensive expression. She frowned, their argument from Morristown and the unfolding events which led to their undisclosed silence entirely forgotten. “What’s wrong?”

Instead of answering directly, Ben lead her in the direction of the new location of Mr. Sackett’s inventions, yet another barn. It was the only suitable and logical place to store them. At least this barn didn’t possess reminders of their last meeting, which had not gone precisely to plan. Or perhaps it had, considering the offer she had extended to him that day.

Casting the memories aside, Abigail allowed herself to be led inside the barn and once inside put a respectable amount of distance between them. At first, she thought he was going to inform her of any Culper updates, but when he began to provide details of the camp’s latest visitor, she couldn’t help but lean a little forward, both with increasing curiosity and intrigue.

He informed her of the redcoat’s arrival along with the arrival of a civilian and his dilemma. Apparently, the redcoat had arrived first, forewarning there would be a civilian who sought audience with Washington to inform him of a potential attempt on his life. However, the redcoat had warned them to not be deceived, that he was in league with the British. When she asked how the redcoat could be trusted, Ben answered the red coat was allegedly seeking refuge in their camp, wanting to denounce the British and enter the war on their side.

“And what are your thoughts?” Abigail asked, once he concluded recounting the past day’s events.

Ben sighed heavily. “I don’t know what to think. On the one hand, there may be a very real chance of an attempt on Washington’s life, while on the other, this could be the British’s attempt of subterfuge by sending in a civilian to distract us.” His gaze was drawn to one of Mr. Sackett’s new inventions and took a half step in approach of said invention but at the last second thought better of it, instead choosing to remain where he stood, his back once more pressed against the barn post.

“I thought perhaps an outsider’s perspective could shed some much-needed light on the matter at hand,” he went on to say, though he hesitated for such a length of time she cocked her head in askance, “so I’ve considered bringing this to General Arnold’s attention.”

Abigail pressed her lips together in barely suppressed frustration before saying, “Ben, no. The man cannot be trusted. He’s far too hot-headed, and his temper wouldn’t help matters, at all.” Before he can even interject, she shook her head in exasperation. “I don’t wish to start another argument. I just only wish you could think this over carefully and tread lightly. Arnold would only hinder your ability to do so.”

She paused for a moment and then remarked, half-teasing, half-serious, “And I’m more than a little insulted you would go to him for an outsider’s perspective than come to me, but I suppose that’s just the way things operate in this military hierarchy.”

“First of all,” Ben remarked, eyes narrowing slightly in jest only from the intended humor in her tone from her previous remark, “it was only a consideration of going to General Arnold, not that I would actually go to him. From the numerous interactions I’ve had with the man, I do find his temper rather… unsettling. I only wondered if presenting this to him would give us any information we may have overlooked. But I admit that you’re right. His temper and impatience would be a hindrance.” Abigail’s brows raised with no small amount of surprise, but he held up a firm hand. “I’m not finished.

“Secondly, you’re not an outsider. You’re as much a part of Culper as I, Caleb, Abe, and this Townsend are. Your perspective is just as valid as any of ours.” His hands shifted at his sides, as if instinctively reaching towards her but instead remained firmly at his sides.

“I always value your input,” he added softly, “even if I may not always like what you’re saying.” His lips quirked upwards into a faint smile.

Abigail smiled in return, this time more genuine than her previously strained smile. It wasn’t as if she didn’t know his words to be true, but she didn’t realize until he had spoken those words just how badly she had needed to hear them.

“Thank you,” she replied, her smile still in place. “You didn’t have to say any of that but still… thank you.”

Ben smiled. “I’ll say it again if I have to, however many times it takes for you to believe it.”

This was the closest they would come to an apology but seeing as how they had returned to speaking terms, this resolution, after weeks of not talking, was long overdue and more than acceptable.

---

In the evening, Ben gathered Caleb and Mr. Sackett to discuss the case of the red coat and the civilian, a premise that would make a compelling novella, though she wisely kept this comment to herself.

Initially, she had kept her distance from the three men, listening in on their conversation under the guise of cleaning her musket. Right in the middle of her attempt of making sure it wasn’t loaded, Ben abruptly halted in his discussion, walked over to where she sat, and plucked the musket from her hands, commenting how she should join them before she accidentally shot herself accompanied with a disapproving frown.

Barely concealing a roll of her eyes, the blonde obliged, rubbing the gun powder off her hands before making her way to take a seat at the fire. Mr. Sackett, knowing she was now a part of Culper, merely moved his belongings from a spare log to make room for her, and continued to speak candidly.

Caleb was in favor of warning Washington of the immediate danger while Ben remarked how the civilian, Shanks, had said everything that Sutherland, the redcoat, claimed he would and believed it was possible he was lying to gain their favor. While the idea of informing Washington did warrant some consideration, he couldn’t bring himself to do it, stating that he was already on thin ice with the commander-in-chief as it was. There was also the development of the alliance with France to consider as well, to which Caleb remarked, “An alliance won’t mean shite if we ain’t got a chief to lead the army.”

Abigail’s gaze was torn between Caleb and Ben’s exchange to the contraption Mr. Sackett was tinkering with, some sort of mechanical device that did not look entirely pleasant. Judging from how he held the device, with his fingers resting on the metal bar and how the screws tightened its hold downward towards his fingers, she drew her own conclusions as to what the device would be used for.

“Besides, what if it’s the bloody-back who’s lying?” Caleb added.

“What if they’re both lying?” Mr. Sackett asked, his attention fixated on the contraption in his hands without glancing in the direction of the whaler who huffed out a laugh of disbelief.

“Jesus, Sackett. Do you even trust yourself?”

Mr. Sackett paused, throwing him an amused, brief glance. “Not for years.”

“Unbelievable.”

Abigail held back a snort and just shook her head. Men and their idiocracy.

Not even a moment later did Caleb volunteer to lead the decoy to Baltimore. At her apparent look of confusion, they explained how Washington devised a plan to distract Robert Rogers, who was fervently tracking Caleb down to retrieve the letter he had stolen from the busk of King George. The plan was to send the cavalry out in force and split the detachment in two, with one heading to Portsmith and the other would go to Baltimore. From what she could gather, the decoy was the detachment to Baltimore.

After a brief exchange, the young major gave his approval for Caleb to lead the Baltimore group, but before the latter could start off in the direction of gathering the troops, he pulled the other man into solid hug, each clapping each other on the back before Caleb set off.

---

The moment Abigail greeted Christopher at their tent were the summoned by one of the officers to meet at the center of the camp. Once there, the large gathering of soldiers was then divided into two groups, one lead by a nameless officer and the other by Caleb Brewster. They weren’t informed of where they were going or what the mission was for, but Abigail already knew, even before she was assigned to decoy group heading out to Baltimore. The Portsmith group would leave first thing in the morning. As for the Baltimore group, they were to leave within the hour.

Abigail caught Caleb’s gaze, and they shared a brief, silent exchange. He gave her a brief nod, already knowing her line of thought and watched as she turned on her heel in the direction of Ben’s tent, hoping to catch him before his and Sackett’s interrogations.

She deliberated whether she should inform Ben of what happened, not to get herself out of it but to give him some peace of mind. However, knowing that she would be part of the decoy would provide him anything but solace. In fact, she suspected he would attempt to get her out of it, if his absolute refusal to release her to on patrol was any indication.

Apparently, luck was on her side tonight, or rather it wasn’t, considering her recent conscription. Ben was still in his tent sitting at his desk, the tent flap drawn back to reveal his profile. With her decision still not made, she stepped inside as soon as he spotted her and closed the flap at his signal.

“I was hoping to catch you before you and Sackett started,” Abigail said, purposefully keeping her wording vague and knowing he would understand her meaning. “I wanted to check in with you and see how you were doing, considering…” She gave a vague, general gesture with her hand, which somehow made sense to him.

“Yes, well,” Ben said, turning in his seat so that he was now facing her fully, “I can’t say for certain just how I feel until the interrogations are carried out.”

“But you do have an idea of who the culprit may be, don’t you?” Abigail asked knowingly. She recalled both their meeting in the barn and the talk with Caleb and Mr. Sackett, suspecting that the major held a belief of the truth of this mystery.

Ben frowned a little, considering. “I think I may have an idea,” he admitted reluctantly, “but it would be unwise to jump to any conclusions before all the evidence is presented.”

Nodding, Abigail agreed with him. “Whatever you decide to do and whatever conclusions you draw from your interrogations, just trust your instincts. They rarely steer you wrong.”

The smile she was received was a tired one but one filled with gratitude for the confidence she had in him. It appeared as if he was going to say more but at the last minute decided to change the route of his next words. “I’m assuming you’ve been assigned to one of the groups being dispatched.”

His expression turned grim, frown growing when she gave him a rather reluctant nod. Wearily, he scrubbed a hand down his face, his words somewhat muffled as he asked, “Which group is it?”

“Portsmith,” Abigail lied smoothly. The lie was an impulsive decision, one she knew that would come back to bite her later. As for now, she didn’t wish to worry him more than probably already did. “First thing in the morning,” she added, anticipating his inquiry of when she had to leave.

Nodding to himself, he released a breath he didn’t seem to realize he had been holding, and she immediately knew she had made the right choice. Better to have his mind clear during his interrogations than be distracted by her departure.

“You better go get your rest,” Ben advised with a nod towards the tent flap. “It’ll be a long journey, and you’ll certainly need it.”
“I will, but,” Abigail remarked, taking a step forward before pausing and then crossing the remaining distance between them so that she could stand directly in front of him, “I wanted to tell you something, just in case I didn’t get the chance to see you before I go.” She reached down and cupped the side of his face, a gesture she had done her best not to indulge in ever since their trip to Setauket. The contact filled her with longing, after having denied herself his touch for so long. From the way he leaned into her touch, it was apparent he shared a similar sentiment.

“You should know that what you do matters, no matter the outcome.” She let her thumb brush lightly along his cheek, taking comfort from him being underneath her touch.

Expression growing soft, Ben gazed up at her with a growing smile. “I believe I read that in a letter somewhere.”

Abigail’s lips twitched into a smile matching his. She knew precisely what letter he was referring to and did her best not to dwell on the rest of those letters’ contents. And the fact that he had read every single one of them. “I think you should take that letter writer’s advice. They sound wise beyond their years.”

Chuckling softly, he turned his face against her hand and pressed a fleeting kiss to her wrist. Her pulse jumped at the unexpected act, and she wondered if he felt it.

“My apologies,” he murmured. “Just following my instincts.”

It was hard to figure out if he was actually sorry for what he did, but she nearly suspected that he wasn’t. And to be honest, she wasn’t either.

She took her leave of him before things could escalate further, though she knew very well that Ben was a gentleman, that he would never push for anything more than she was willing to give. That was the crux of the matter. She was all too willing to give him things she ought not to give, which was why she had put a stop whatever they had before it could go any further, until she decided what to do next.

But as she stepped out of his tent and headed to where her group was assembling for the night’s journey, Abigail knew that her decision had long been made, perhaps even before Setauket. She knew where her heart belonged, where it had always belonged.

---

Among a series of twists, the decoy trip to Baltimore proved unnecessary. Rogers had found the Frenchmen along with his escorts, murdering him on the spot upon the retrieval of the damning letter of the state of British finances.

Another twist occurred in the camp with the case of the redcoat and the civilian. As it turned out, Shanks had been telling the truth and Sutherland, or Gambles rather, had been a spy, sent to seek out information specifically pertaining to their intelligence. Mr. Sackett bore the brunt of this tragically fatal error in judgement, which rested on the shoulders of Washington, who had never been the intended target. While in the middle of an interview with Mr. Sackett, Gambles had managed to murder the man in cold blood while stealing vital information pertaining to Culper specifically. It was nearly impossible to determine just how much information he had been able to steal before making his escape.

Chapter Text

Abigail paced back and forth, biting her thumb out of nervous habit. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Caleb tilting back his bottle of liquor and wished she had the gumption to take some for herself. Ultimately, she decided against it, figuring at least one of the two of them should remain sober.

The Baltimore group hadn’t made it far when they had been flagged down by one of the camp officers, calling for them to return to camp. It took more than half a day to make it back, and when they did, they learned of the death of Mr. Sackett and the treachery that had befallen the camp, more specifically the intelligence.

She had wanted to go out in search of Ben immediately but had been halted by Caleb’s hand on her shoulder, telling her that the major would find them in due time. Reluctantly, she had agreed, and together they waited along the edge of the camp, with herself unable to keep still and he unable to keep his mouth from his bottle.

There had barely been time to bury the unfortunate Mr. Sackett before Washington had called Ben into a meeting. Whatever meeting that needed to be arranged was anyone’s guess. She only hoped that considering recent events it wouldn’t create more harm. How could things get any worse?

The sound of footsteps approaching from behind drew Abigail’s attention towards the edge of the trees. Her chest filled with relief instantly at the sight of Ben approaching them, but upon seeing the incensed look on his face, her growing smile turned quickly into a concerned frown, which only grew as he reached for Caleb’s bottle and took a healthy swig from the neck.

“Right, so I guess it didn’t go well then,” Caleb remarked dryly while observing his friend carefully.

Ben wiped aggressively at his mouth with the back of his hand. He appeared to prepare to hand him the canton back but then thought better of it, as he began to walk. “I’m being transferred.”

Caleb and Abigail followed him immediately, hot on his heels as the former demanded incredulously, “He’s dismissing you from camp?”

“I’m no longer head of intelligence,” Ben remarked flatly.

Abigail’s eyes widened. “I… can he do that?”

“He’s the commander-in-chief. He can do what he likes, what he sees fit.” At this, the major took another swig of the canton’s cantons, a longer drag than his previous indulgence, and barely concealed his grimace at the strong aftertaste of the bitter liquor on his tongue.

“Just goes to show he ain’t got no head for intelligence himself,” Caleb remarked, pushing past a thorny patch of leaves. The blonde made a noise of assent and walked a bit faster so that he didn’t have to hold back the thorns longer than he had to for her sake.

“He blames me for Abe going rogue. If he can’t trust me to maintain control over the actions of my friends, he can he trust me with any other asset?”

Abigail wasn’t entirely certain of what actions they were referring to where Abraham was concerned, but it was clear from Ben’s words, tone, and stance that it was serious.

Ben continued with a frustrated sound, “Come the new year, I’m being sent to Boston to appraise the status of their defenses. What horse shite!” With an act of aggression she rarely saw in him, the major threw the bottle across the field where it shattered on impact against a tree.

“It’s a good thing Abe’s in prison,” Benn seethed, “otherwise I’d strangle the bastard with own bare hands.” He turned to face them, throwing his arms up in exasperation. “How could he just lie to us like that?”

Sensing another outburst, Abigail quickly intervened, slipping between the two men to wrap a hand around his arm. “Come with me for a moment.”

At first, he refused, instead preparing himself for another rant when she gave a firm tug on his arm to draw his attention to her.

Abigail looked up at him, eyebrows raised. “I wasn’t asking.”

Seeing as how she wouldn’t release him, he allowed himself to be led off. She caught a glimpse of Caleb’s nod of approval before all but dragging the major back towards the camp in the direction of the barn.

Once they were alone inside, she turned to him, remarking softly, “Talk to me.”

They were standing close enough that he could easily draw her into a comforting embrace, which was exactly what he did, almost as if by instinct. He pressed his face into the side of her neck, releasing a shaky exhale along her skin, and she did her best not to shiver at the warmth brush of his breath as she wrapped her arms securely around him, allowing him all the time he needed.

After several minutes of silence, she heard him murmur, “It’s over, lass. It’s all over.”

Abigail frowned and pulled back so that she could properly see his face. His defeated expression disturbed her more than words could express. “It’s not over, not by a long shot,” she insisted. “I’m sure there’s something. Caleb is probably devising a plane right now as we speak. It can’t be nothing short of creative.”

Ben’s mouth curved upwards into a reluctant smile, though his expression remained weary. “It’s not that simple.”

“Yes, it is,” Abigail replied. “You and Caleb will figure out a way to fix this, and we can go from there. It’s as simple as that.”

He gave her a look of mild exasperation mingled with a hint of amusement. “Do you always have to play the contrarian?”

She delivered him a confident grin. “But of course. Though in this case, there’s nothing contrarian about it. I know you, and I know Caleb, and with the unfortunate knowledge from growing up with the both of you, I’d say the odds are in our favor.”

Most of the time, she was never certain if whatever she said brought him much comfort, but seeing the shift of expression in his face, the increasing ebb of defeat from his face, she knew she must have said something right.

“While my position of head of intelligence has been revoked,” Ben remarked after a pause, “there’s still one matter I must attend to, though Washington doesn’t know about it. Perhaps whatever information gathered from this source will be enough to change his mind.”

Interested, Abigail cocked her head to the side slightly. “Am I allowed to know what this matter pertains to?”

Ben smiled an enigmatic smile, a sight she wasn’t used to witnessing. She did manage to decipher a few possibilities – amusement, bitterness, resignation? – but it was nearly impossible to determine the rest. “I’m afraid it’s classified, but…” He reached up to tuck a stray curl behind her ear gently. “I promise to tell you about it when I return. You have my word.”

She nodded with understanding, lips upturned with barely suppressed curiosity. If there was one thing she knew about Benjamin Tallmadge – and she knew a hell of a lot about the man – she knew that whenever he gave his word to someone or something, he did not give it lightly.

---

Returning to camp, Ben found Caleb, and the two men spoke privately. Caleb suggested they should take a detour towards Boston on the new year and free Major Hewlett if he was still alive, neither believing the man capable of the war atrocities he was accused of – namely killing a high-ranking Continental Army officer, writing a note in his blood signed with the redcoat’s signature and pinning the slain officer’s tongue to the sheet. It hardly seemed befitting of the man who had released Ben’s father, arrested Simcoe, and upheld their truce during the British-rebel standoff in Setauket.

The major agrees with Caleb’s plan but reminds him of their meeting with Tobias that had already been arranged prior to the new camp setup. Ben was to meet him himself on the outskirts of Kent, part of the Lower Counties which had gained their own governing assembly prior to the war with Great Britain. They were very much inclined to patriot sentiments, though neither of them would dare to arrive in their uniforms, choosing to instead meet in civilian attire. This arrangement suited them both for obvious reasons, especially for the other man, who would suffer more trouble for wearing his British uniform than was needed.

Caleb volunteered to accompany him, which Ben initially declined. However, the whaler’s next remark provided sound argument.

“Yeah, you need me to go with ya,” Caleb said. His face lit up with a mischievous gleam. “We can’t have you challenging your rival to a duel over the affections of a certain fair-haired maiden.”

Ben glared at him, unimpressed but ultimately saw the value in his presence during their meeting. “Fine. But keep the running commentary to a minimum.”

“All right, but I make no guarantees!”

---

The journey to Kent went relatively smooth. The weather was in their favor, no signs of snow or sleet impending their travels. Nor were there any major obstacles, namely any encounters with redcoats or loyalists, impeding their progress. All conditions appeared to be in their favor.

Even though the day’s ride had been sunny and clear, a dark foreboding cloud perpetually hovered over Ben’s head. Thoughts of meeting with his childhood friend, after years – and more – dividing them, he wasn’t particularly eager to see him. Once, he had Tobias Hawkins had been the closest of friends, with the man considered just as much of a brother as he considered Abe and Caleb to be. They had schooled together, practically partners in crime to their early adolescence.

But that had been before he had met her.

Almost the moment he had lain eyes on her, there had been a shift in Tobias, one that he had not recognized right away. It was that moment, in hindsight, where his friend became his rival.

The changes had been subtle at the time, but looking back at those days with a wizened gaze, he realized the subtlety was hardly that. Tobias had played a clever game, choosing to become Abigail’s sympathetic ear whenever she and Ben had an argument, no matter the intensity. Whether it was a minor bickering exchange or a full out argument, Hawkins was always there, ready to serve as a shoulder to cry on or, what was more common, to serve as someone to which she could vent her frustrations to. Every time this happened, Caleb and Abe went to Ben, saying how he better pull his head from his arse to realize what was happening, but he had been too full of injured pride to pay it any attention or any mind. Tobias had long since known his feelings for Abigail. He wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that.

Oh, how the major wanted to shake his younger self.

They arrived in Kent without much trouble, thankfully a reflection of their travels thus far. Caleb remained optimistic throughout the journey, carrying the bulk of the conversation while Ben remained mostly silent, consumed with too many thoughts to contribute much to the conversation. Thankfully, Caleb was more than willing to pick up the slack.

They dismounted right on the edge of the town and tied their horses’ reins on a low-lying branch to continue on foot, not wanting to risk any trouble on the way in or out. Dusk colored the sky above, and soon the land would be concealed in darkness, which they welcomed. It lowered the risk of associating with anyone with any loyalist leanings, though Caleb had his doubts as it pertained to the people of Kent. But it was better to be safe than uncertain and sorry.

It didn’t take long to locate him, considering how there were only so many taverns the county housed. With a little bit of luck, they managed to find Tobias sitting at one of the tables, his pint of ale untouched. Once he caught their eye, he gave them a subtle nod before flagging down the owner to pay his bill. The three men relocated to a more remote location, with Ben and Caleb leaving first and the other man not too far behind them.

Almost as soon as they were alone, Caleb walked over to Tobias and gave the men an amicable hug, which the other man returned in kind. They briefly exchanged insult laden pleasantries as if they hadn’t seen each other in years when they had only recently met roughly a month or so prior in which Tobias had requested the meeting.

Ben observed the pair with barely suppressed impatience until he inquired after the information that Tobias had for them. The interruption was rather abrupt, but he cared little about the way he asked. This was all a matter of business.

Tobias shared with them the amount of ammunition, number of new recruits, and other camp supplies his camp had obtained in the past year, along with the current spirits and sentiments of the officers at even the hint of a potential French alliance with the rebels.

“They’re nervous, practically affright,” he continued, eyes practically glowing. “They try their best not to show it, but they are. It’s clear from their mannerisms and routines now. Of course, they don’t word of that getting around. They’re still licking their wounds from Saratoga.”

“Serves them right,” Caleb remarked, sounding just as gleeful. “Those stuffy toed bastards.”

“While certainly this is valuable information to have,” Ben remarked for the first time since his meeting-led inquiry, “this doesn’t appear to be significant enough to risk meeting in person.” He met Tobias’s gaze levelly. “Unless you have something you haven’t told us yet.”

Tobias’s expression remained carefully veiled, but even in the dim light of dusk, Ben could see the flicker of dislike in his eyes. “I do,” he remarked quietly. “It’s important enough to warrant meeting face-to-face. Two pieces of information to be precise, which I think would require your immediate attention.”

Caleb jabbed him lightly in the arm. “Well, then, out with it, man!”

Feigning injury to the whaler’s playful punch, Tobias remarked, “General Howe resigned and has been replaced by a General Sir Henry Clinton. He’s considering evacuating the troops from Philadelphia back to York City sometime in the new year. It’s to increase the British defenses in New York against the alliance with France.” He paused. “According to a reliable source.”

Both Ben and Caleb perked up at this, expressions both mirroring alerted keenness at this new piece of vital information.

“How confident are you that this is to be certain?” Ben demanded.

“I’d be willing to take it to the bank,” Tobias remarked confidently. There was no hint of doubt in his face.

While Caleb appeared close to breaking out in the direction of the horses to get the news to Washington as fast as humanly possible, Ben was less enthused and more suspicious. He had no doubt the information wasn’t factual. It was only the way Tobias had been able to obtain this information he questioned.

For a while now, this concern had been at the back of his mind whenever he had received word from him over the years. In the beginning, Tobias’s information had been already anything at all, but anything insignificant had been better than nothing at all. But as the years had gone by, anything he had passed onto him through Caleb had gotten progressively better and significant, impressively so, so much in fact it might have helped them secure victories the Continental Army hadn’t been expected to win.

So, it was only natural for him to wonder just how the man with strong Loyalist familial ties had procured such vital information. He had a few guesses, none of which particularly surprised him. Infuriate and upset him to the very depths of his being, yes, but surprise him? Absolutely not.

Tobias’s loyalty for the cause was never the question. Ben had no doubt the man’s intentions were anything other than pure and patriotic. Having grown up with him most of his life, he knew that all too well. What he also knew was former childhood friend’s tendency towards moral ambiguity, especially pertaining to chastity and virtue.

“And what’s the second thing?” Caleb inquired, eager to know more so that the major and himself can set off back to camp at once.

At his words, Tobias’s expression shifted into a cool mask, his eyes hardening. “Ah, the second thing. Well, I believe this is the most important out of the two, though it may not mean anything to you it seems.” He paused before turning his cool gaze onto Ben, eyes narrowing. “Or perhaps I should correct myself and say that it does, as it pertains to my wife.”

Ben’s gaze refused to break from his cool one, knowing the other man knew all too well where Abigail currently resided. He recalled Abigail’s recount of the occurrence in the forest back in Trenton but the additional information pertaining to her husband only came later when she had confronted him about Culper. He hadn’t had the chance to inform Caleb of this and knew this discussion would be better with only the two of them.

“Caleb, can you give us a moment?”

The whaler took one look at the tense profiles before him and immediately shook his head. “I really don’t think that I should,” he remarked doubtfully, eying both Tobias and himself as if he were waiting to see who would strike the other first. Considering the growing animosity between himself and the undercover Continental agent over the years, it wasn’t totally farfetched.

“It’s fine, Caleb,” Ben assured him. “We won’t be that long. Besides, it’s best if at least one of us is ready with the horses to return to camp with this information.”

Reluctantly, Caleb nodded and turned to head in the direction of where the horses were left but not before throwing a suspicious glance at Tobias before he departed. This grimly satisfied the major.

Once alone, Tobias demanded, “Is she still with you then?”

Reluctant to break her confidence but also knowing that – no matter how much he loathed to admit it – a husband had a right to be informed about the welfare of his wife, Ben replied practically through gritted teeth, “Yes, she is.”

Tobias glowered. “So instead of sending her back, you decided to keep her for an entire year, in the army where it’s dangerous for any man, let alone a woman. With you.” He shook his head in derision. “Oh, bravo.”

Ben’s eyes narrowed at his tone and his words, not acknowledging the heavy implications behind his use of “with you”. However, it was clear that both present knew all too well of what he had implied, and he, for one, did not appreciate the insinuation. Instead, he continued rather coolly, “And what would you have me do? Send her away right when battles are becoming increasingly frequent? When it’s dangerous to send a lone soldier into the woods without getting attacked, let alone like a woman as you said? I think you should know better than I that could easily happen again to her. Sine you were there.”

And since he had saved her life. Ben could and never would grudge him for that. Tobias had saved the woman he loved, who also happened to be the woman he loved as well.

“I understand that, but you should have sent her away as soon as she first arrived,” he insisted, to which Ben scoffed.

“Yes, that would have been easy for me to accomplish. Send her away when she and a fresh batch of recruits have only just arrived in time when the army needed them most. Send her away while in uniform and let her be caught by any number of enemies, let alone being spotted by one of our own and have her being reported as a deserter.” Ben leveled him with a pointed glare. “You do know what the sentence is for desertion is, don’t you? I would imagine it to be the same for the British as it is for us.”

Tobias glared back. Despite the increasing darkness from the waning dusk, Ben could see that the other man’s face paled and knew he was picturing the very image of his wife, disguised as a Continental solider, hanging from the gallows. The image alone made the major feel violently nauseous.

After a moment or two of silence, Tobias returned, apparently have just collected his bearings, “But you cannot tell me you’ve allowed her to stay purely out of the goodness of your heart. You may be a reverend’s son, but even I know that you may have trouble with the commandment ‘thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife.’”

He gritted his teeth, unable to deny the accusation entirely because that would be a lie, another sin against the Commandments. But he did not appreciate the underlying message Tobias continued to send, that he was simply biding his time before pouncing on her in a moment of unrestrained lust. He flushed, the images of his and Abigail’s intoxicating kisses resurging in his mind, but forcibly removed them from his thoughts, his heart thudding inside his chest in increasing tempo at the memory. But no, he knew that what Tobias was suggesting was more than kissing, and he was rapidly reaching his breaking point in his tolerance.

But still, Ben remained calm, saying, “She hasn’t stepped foot from camp, not since the events in Trenton. She also hasn’t returned to patrol duties either. I won’t allow it.” He paused, wondering if he should tell him of Abigail’s involvement with the Culper ring but quickly decided against it. “She remains safe.”

He had noted the relief and approval on Tobias’s face as he learned she no longer performed patrol with the other man nor had she been on the battlefield. However, his expression hardened as he stated bluntly, “Yes, she remains safe, but what’s to stop her from becoming your whore?”

The moment the words left his mouth Tobias’s eyes widened imperceptibly, regretting the words immediately. Not for the affect they would have on the other man but for carelessly disrespecting and denigrating his wife with the loaded term.

Without even a moment’s hesitation, Ben advanced on him and slammed his back into the nearest tree, his arm pressing dangerously firm against his throat. Insult his own honor for all that he cared. He knew in his heart just what kind of man he was, no matter the moments of doubt and crisis of faith he suffered. Others insulting his honor had never perturbed him. But insult Abigail Williams’ honor…

Ben pressed his arm more firmly against his throat, his glimmering in barely restrained anger as the other man gave quiet wheeze, though he made no attempts of struggle. They both knew that Tobias was in the wrong here.

“I have a question about your ‘reliable source’,” Ben remarked coolly, the press of his arm remaining firmly at his neck. “Well, I suppose it’s really more of a hunch than it is a question. I’ve always wondered how your intelligence collection had improved so dramatically well within the past year, especially in the past few months to be exact. We needed vital information, and you said you could do it. And, to your credit, you did. We couldn’t have won that battle without you.

“But I’ve always wondered,” he continued, almost conversationally if he hadn’t continued to hold the other man firmly in his grasp, “exactly how you got it, what your methods were. No other soldier or spy for that matter could have gotten such detailed information, let alone an officer. Now tell me, what exactly happened when you attended that redcoat gala back in York City, when you introduced yourself to one of the women there. Rumor has it, you two got along quite well and still carry on. It’s been at least six months, hasn’t it?”

Ben barely finished speaking when Tobias broke from his hold and aggressively shoved him backwards. There wasn’t enough force to knock him down, but there certainly was enough that he had to catch himself before nearly toppling over an above ground tree root.

He hadn’t said anything directly accusing him of any form of indiscretion, but judging from the way he was breathing heavily in his anger but with the absence of a denial, the major knew he had landed on target.

“So, I find it very rich coming from you,” Ben concluded, countering Tobias’s heated, angry expression with an icy expression of his own, “for you at call any woman a whore, especially her. If anyone fits that description here, the title belongs to you.”

Eventually, he thanked him, albeit a bit sardonically, for the information he had provided and would be returning to camp with the news. Or at least he would figure out how to present this news, considering how he was no longer the head of intelligence. He turned to leave when he heard the defensive voice from behind him, “I did what I had to do for the cause.” He couldn’t hold back a scornful scoff even if he tried.

“A better question is, are you going to use this information against me for your own personal gain?”

“No,” Ben replied quietly, hardly glancing at him over his shoulder. “I’ll leave that up to you, when this is all over. Unlike her husband, I refuse to be the cause of her heartbreak.”

Chapter Text

Valley Forge
January 1, 1778

The new year had arrived sooner than Abigail had expected it would. Like the previous year, the first day of January had snuck upon them as a surprise. Time dragged on slowly within the parameters of the camp, though she supposed she was rather fortunate for having yet to see battle – although it was only a matter of time before she did. Now that she had work with Dr. Anderson in lieu of patrol duties, the passage of time was not nearly as stagnant as it had the previous year.

Ben and Caleb had already set out on their transfer to Baltimore the day before the new year. None of them were sure how long they would be gone for, but it was long enough that she knew she would worry for them both.

But on the day they had returned from their meeting, the major had requested to meet with her alone in the barn so that he could speak with her privately. It was there he told her that the source he had traveled to meet was her husband. Shocked by the news, she had asked what any good wife would ask of her husband – his welfare, how he looked, etcetera – because even after everything that had happened, she still cared for Tobias, although her heart belonged to someone else.

Ben had answered every one of her questions patiently, though there had been an underlying layer of tension the more he spoke of her husband. Abigail suspected the reason to be the obvious but for some reason felt there was more to his tension than that. For once, she didn’t push, instead allowing the conversation to be turned to the news Tobias had shared with them.

With all this new information plaguing her mind, Abigail had no time to sort it all out. Dr. Anderson, having grown more confidence in her capabilities as a future physician, now entrusted her with more responsibilities, which meant more tasks and duties to consume her time, of which she wasn’t entirely ungrateful for. With the increasing numbers of injured soldiers, the camp physician allowed her to help tend to the sick on her own when she proved competent and resourceful, though he still insisted on working with her when tending to the wounded.

She brewed teas with medicinal herbs for the soldiers to drink to help alleviate fevers and created salves from Anderson’s recipes to be applied to any rash or sore to decrease their pain. One morning, she had been doing just that for a soldier whom she had nearly suspected to be in the initial stages of smallpox, forcing a mug of tea into his reluctant hands. At the feeling of the warmth between his hands against the January winter winds, he had accepted it rather easily after that.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” the soldier mentioned as she applied the salve to his skin. “You’re very good at what you’re doing. But it seems you have a woman’s touch.”

There was surely meant to be a compliment in there somewhere, but Abigail wasn’t certain where to start. Instead, she snorted indelicately and gave the ill soldier an amused grin, remarking ironically, “I should take that as a compliment, seeing as how healing a woman’s touch can be. Although I’m afraid I can’t be of assistance in the way that phrase most often suggests.”

At this, the soldier laughed so heartily, she had to thump him on the back to keep him from choking on his tea. She always had a problem with speaking before thinking, but at least this time it hadn’t landed her in much trouble. Quite the opposite in fact.

Most of the ill Abigail tended to generally possess some level of humor, though there were of course one or two crochety old men that would give her a challenging time and being sick only made them worse. Overall, however, her experiences with working alongside Dr. Anderson provided her with a renewed sense of purpose, a sense that most people never seem to really find in this life. She was fortunate to be one of the few who found it.

---

The day descended into dusk which soon became night. After a long day’s worth of work, Dr. Anderson all but shooed her out of the tent, insisting that she should get some rest. “Heaven knows when you’ll be able to get some next,” he had remarked wryly before actually giving her a light shove out of the tent.

She ate dinner with Christopher in front of a crackling fire surrounding by a handful of fresh faces to whom he introduced her to. Two of them she remembered seeing before around the camp, but the other soldier sitting beside them she most certainly did not recognize. It turned out the young boy was a recruit at the age of fifteen, even younger than Christopher himself. She tried very hard not to let her pity show on her face although she was incredibly tempted to scoot closer towards the boy, wrap her arms around him, and protect him from the world.

For the most part, she let the other men do all the talking, too perturbed by this baby-faced soldier to strike up a conversation. There was talk of whispering rumors that with the increasing presence of officers in the camp, there would be a higher demand for tents, which meant the non-ranking soldiers, meaning their group included, would more than likely wind up sleeping in the fields without even the flimsy tarp material of their tents to shield them.

Abigail should have been more concerned about this, but she was too focused on the young boy Ernest beside her to pay any mind. Over the course of their meal, he had sported a decent attempt of an expression of bravado, but the longer the other soldiers talked, the paler his already porcelain pallor became, even in the flickering lights of the fire.

Meeting his gaze, she gave Ernest a sympathetic smile and passed him her cup of ale, untouched. He accepted the cup with a nervous but grateful smile.

After dinner, Christopher invited her to join them to peruse some of the smuggled crates that Caleb had brought in a week or so ago, but she politely declined the offer although she fondly referred to them as troublesome miscreants before departing.

She should have gone straight to her tent to rest, while she still had one, but as tired as she was, she felt an odd sense of restlessness. Her mind felt detached from the rest of her body, her feet propelling forward without her mind’s consent.

Soon enough, Abigail realized where she was when a row of larger tents appeared ahead, General Washington’s tents. She wondered if the information Ben had given him, Tobias’s information, had been enough to reinstate him as head of intelligence, if Ben had the time to inform Washington at all. She hoped he had, but given the circumstances, she wouldn’t have been surprised if the news hadn’t reached Washington’s ears.

Or if it had, it needed to be confirmed through the proper protocol, of course.

Abigail was just rounding the log cabin when a vicious grip on her arm yanked her forward. Suddenly, the force that grabbed her slammed her into the side of the cabin. She wheezed harshly from the impact but made no other sound. Whoever grabbed her was a large, imposing form, at least from what she could tell from her limited view. It wasn’t until the form stepped back did she get a good look at her assailant, and once his face registered, she gaped.

Abigail’s eyes met with the intense, furious gaze of George Washington himself.

“I…” she tried to speak but no words came out. What could she say? She had never met the man in the flesh before, at least not face-to-face. He was just as impressive and just as imposing up close and much closer than she would have ever thought.

Just as quickly as it came, the furious intensity of the grey fox’s eyes shifted into startled bewilderment, reflecting her own gaze.

“Are you all right… your excellency?” Abigail asked, her voice sounding choked to her own ears, but it had nothing to do with his grip on her throat, where there was none.

A look of recognition flashed in his eyes. General George Washington recognizes me? she thought in a daze, but before she could even utter those words, he released her at once.

“I… I heard a noise from behind me and thought someone was coming to attack me,” the commander-in-chief murmured, completely abashed. “My apologies, young Thomas.”

Abigail stared at him even more incredulously. Given his rank and general reputation, she never expected George Washington to apologize for anything, let alone for fending off what he believed to be an attempt on his life. “A completely understandable reaction, your excellency,” she replied. “Given the circumstances.”

The commander-in-chief smiled briefly at her kindness before unconsciously drawing himself to full height – as if he wasn’t already tall enough – and departed from her company. She remained against the log cabin, as if still pressed against the hard word by strong, solid form.

The crunching of his boots in the evening snow drew out her curiosity. She pushed herself away from the cabin and poked her head around the side in the direction she had last seen him. She spotted his tall, proud form heading in the direction of the forest, unaccompanied and unarmed.

Suppose if an enemy soldier lurked about in the woods waiting for such a golden opportunity? To kill or even capture the grey fox himself?

What if a traitorous Continental decided to take matters into his own hands?

As quickly as she could, Abigail took the shortest possible route to her tent and grabbed her pistol and some extra ammunition just in case before walking out into the wintery night to retrace his steps. It was much to risky and would waste too much time to grab the musket.

---

The trek towards the forest was dark and dreary, as the cliché always goes. But only that, it was dark and dreary and painfully cold, cold enough to see her own breath in front of her face. That alone could have alerted anyone to her presence, but still Abigail persisted, determined to see this self-assigned mission through.

Somehow, she managed to successfully keep good enough distance away from him to keep his profile in her line of sight but far enough to not alert him to her presence. Of course, this was a silly presumption, one that she oddly enough hadn’t considered, too stubborn to not to try.

They were now on the outskirts of the camp, close to approaching the frozen pasture where the horses normally grazed and dozed. More than likely they were all housed cozily in the stables, Cantor being among them. The proud little beast was probably lying in a pile of warm hay at that very moment while Abigail was trudging through the snow, the melted patches of icy water seeping into her boots.

“If you’re going to continue following me, Williams,” Washington remarked dryly, “you may as well own up to it.”

Abigail stopped as soon as he spoke, frozen to the spot and eyes widened in shock. She wasn’t shocked that she had been found it. It was apparent she hadn’t gone to great lengths, apart from distance, to conceal herself. But the fact he paused to address her, that threw her off entirely.

He turned his head slightly, observing her over his shoulder before giving her an encouraging nod to come closer. Stiffly, she forced herself to move forward towards him, and upon closer inspection, she noted a muted expression of amusement on his face.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Abigail apologized quietly, face flushed. “I saw that you were approaching the forest unaccompanied, and I become concerned for your safety.” The fact that he had shoved her against the cabin only half an hour prior because he had thought she had been an assailant went unsaid, but both had heard the words regardless.

For a moment, he didn’t say anything but merely observed her carefully. His expression turned thoughtful. “I think I could use the company this evening,” he decided.

She stared at him in amazement and then walked towards him so that they were now walking together towards the forest.

They discussed numerous topics along their journey, despite his initial desire for privacy and solitude. When they passed the stables, she couldn’t help but make a passing comment about the horses, saying at least someone could be warm, which made the commander-in-chief chuckle.

The conversation than turned to the topic of horse breeds, and Abigail admitted that she was perhaps a bit biased in this area, mentioning Cantor and his interesting flare. When Washington inquired about his breed, she told him that Cantor was a Narragansett Pacer.

He smiled widely at that. “I owned a Narragansett Pacer a few years back. Wonderful breed of horse, a true pacing breed. I raced one in ’68.”

---

The moment they entered the woods, the silence descended upon them, weighing down like a heavy blanket, though not as comfortable. Still, Abigail willingly maintained the silence the further they walked, sensing Washington desperately needed to be alone with his thoughts in some form or another. With a quick scoping glance of their surroundings, she kept pace with him for several more minutes until she felt a heavy hand on her shoulder.

She hadn’t realized they stopped moving until he spoke softly, “I must go the rest of the way alone. You can stay, if you like, but this… this I must do alone.”

Abigail wasn’t certain what he referred to but nodded solemnly in agreement. She watched him travel several yards further into the forest until he reached the clearing, halting all movement and taking in his surroundings.

Although the distance between them equated to his form being slightly larger than the size of her thumb, the commander-in-chief remained firmly in her sights. Perhaps that was how he intended it to be, knowing more than likely she wouldn’t leave and realizing that it was wise to have someone else there with him to keep an eye out.

She divided her observations among their surroundings and Washington himself, her pistol ready at her side should she require need of it. The bitter winter winds nipped at her skin and was the only thing keeping her awake, apart from her characteristic stubbornness to be certain of his safety.

Several yards ahead of her, Washington was speaking, to whom she did not see. Shifting from her position, she stepped a few paces back, hoping to see she could see the person with whom he was conversing. She walked back as far as she dared without Washington leaving her line of sight, but from the looks of it, there was no one else there.

Confused, Abigail observed this exchange with this invisible person, unable to hear any sides of the conversation, although the wind occasionally carried a word to her ear, such as “…everything…taught me… brother.”

Without any form of context, the blonde was unable to come to any conclusions, so she remained stubbornly at her post. Despite her overwhelming curiosity to learn more, she respected the man’s privacy and knew it wouldn’t be right to pry into what was evidentially a private matter, a moral dilemma.

When he fell to his knees into the snow, Abigail instinctively began to run toward him but stopped herself just short from going to his aid, knowing whatever inner battles Washington warred with were his and his alone. Any interference on her part would only debilitate the situation, not help.

She had gotten close to hear his next uttered words of despair and torment, “I’m not who they think I am,” and once again, she became immobile.

Those words. Those words struck a chord inside her, making her chest ache with sympathy and her own self-pity. She wasn’t who everyone thought she was either, in a more literal sense. She was not the medical prodigy that Dr. Anderson thought she might be (for one thing, she wasn’t male, which hindered her changes of that completely). She wasn’t the brave soldier that Christopher thought her to be. She wasn’t even the brave, wonderful person that Ben considered her to be, and he had known her all her life.

The truth was that she was a foolish, lost girl who didn’t know her place in the world. She pretended to know all that there was to know, yet she knew absolutely nothing. Her truth hid underneath an act of make believe, a dangerous one at that.

So yes, Washington’s words resonated with Abigail more deeply than she ever could have anticipated.

After a time, a considerable amount, the commander-in-chief, the grey fox, composed himself and rose to his feet. He took carefully measured breaths, his face expressing the last few remnants of his struggle before smoothing into a decisive expression. Whatever decision he had made, she could not guess, nor would she attempt to.

He turned to Abigail when she was close enough and requested quietly that she would not speak of these night’s events to anyone. She promised him sincerely she would not breathe a word of this to anyone, and on her life, she meant it.

The two made the journey back to the camp in silence, both contemplating the night’s turn of events from their own perspective. Whatever had transpired that evening, no matter the level of involvement, was life-altering.

By the time she reached her tent, Abigail was all but dead on her feet. As soon as she reached her cot, she already had her decision made. It was the right thing to do, no matter the risk.

The moment she could get him alone, the blonde would enlist Caleb in helping her get her divorce.

Chapter Text

Continental Outpost

By the time they arrived at the continental outpost, Ben knew their cause was lost. The sight that greeted them was nearly too horrific for words. Fellow soldiers were strewn along the ground, bloodied and unnaturally contorted. Nearly everything else was destroyed as well and saturated in blood. The work of the Queen’s Rangers no doubt.

The sight was sickening and blood-curdling, even after all his years serving the army. One would think witnessing things like this would become customary, but to the major, they never would.

Not far from where he dismounted, there was a stone erected in what appeared to be a grave. He approached the grave and halted in his movements as soon as he read the words. His blood froze in his veins.

“‘Here lies Major Hewlett’,” Ben read aloud, “‘the devil incarnate’. Christ.” He covered his mouth and turned away as Caleb walked over to examine the grave himself. He heard him curse colorfully from behind him and wholeheartedly agreed with the sentiment.

Ben then told him how Washington had written a letter pardoning the major, thereby saving Abe from his own careless actions that had landed him in British custody. Apparently, word hadn’t reached the outpost quick enough, since the British major was murdered in cold blood, and they could not even investigate since the Queen’s Rangers appeared to have taken matters into their own hands.

Abe’s life was now over. Ben said as much with a sickening twist in his gut.

“Not if I can help it,” Caleb remarked after a few minutes of silence. When Ben gave him an inquisitive look, he said he would go get the rascal himself. He wasn’t entirely sure how he would go about it, the whaler admitted, but he absolutely refused to allow their friend to rot in a British prison, knowing fully well it was essentially their roping him into the spy ring that had landed him there in the first place.

With little argument from the major, the two began to formulate a plan, willing to do whatever it took to save their friend from the gallows. Caleb would travel to York City to retrieve Abe while Ben would return to the camp, though the decision to inform Washington of their plan or not remained strictly with Ben.

---

Valley Forge

The officers couldn’t enforce the soldiers to carry out their assigned duties in the camp throughout the day, but Abigail suspected they hadn’t the heart to do so. Ever since the news reached the camp about the establishment of the treaty of alliance between France and the United States, there had never been such a low level of productivity. But, then again, there had never been such high spirits and morale within the troops either.

Spirited whooping and shouting carried on throughout the night, so much so it was a wonder that no one had gotten hoarse. Mugs of ale and other smuggled forms of alcohol were shared generously throughout the camp, and with the officers’ seeming reluctance to squelch the celebration, the sharing was overly generous indeed.

Abigail refused to partake in the indulgence, although she eagerly wanted to. Every time Christopher or another soldier she was somewhat familiar with offered her a mug, she politely turned them down, using her position in the infirmary tent as an excuse to remain sober. This was a smart decision, considering how she had witnessed Dr. Anderson partaking in some of the celebratory drinking himself. She knew she was in for a long night.

Not drinking didn’t stop her from feeling the effects of the high spirits of the other soldiers, who desperately needed to hear something as monumental as this. With increasing reports of Continental defeats and British gains, despite the amount of victories of their own side, morale had significantly plummeted, especially coupled with the worsening conditions of soldiers.

With the increasing presence of soldiers in camp, there also came an increase with officer presence as well, which meant the needs for officer tents came in high demand. Many of the soldiers who had first enlisted and had shared tents from the beginning, herself included, had to “temporarily” offer the use of their tents for the officers until the request for more supplies, i.e. shelter, could be made. Though not all the soldiers were as highly educated as the officer who had made this request, they all knew this temporary offer was anything but.

To avoid any trouble, Christopher and Abigail had been among the first to volunteer their tents for officer use. As far as where they slept now, it was either the fields or stables, depending on several factors which determined the ease of access. During the wintery nights, the stables were significantly warmer than the fields.

Despite these recent events, Abigail did her best to look forward to the future. Accompanied with the news, it was also learned that Major John Andre and the British troops in Philadelphia had been ordered to evacuate from the city, which proved Tobias’s information to be true. Whoever his source was, she felt compelled to thank them.

Abigail stepped out of the infirmary tent, cleaning her hands of the grime that often came with combing through those fossilized medical tomes of Dr. Anderson’s. She was just thinking she ought to tell him to make a request for newer editions, so their books wouldn’t fall into disrepair – though she already suspected how that conversation would go, it wouldn’t – when the sound of galloping hooves drew her attention towards the outskirts of the camp.

It was difficult to tell who the solitary form was in the distance among the nightfall, but the answer to her silent inquiry was answered for her as a soldier paused in his footing right in front of her.

“I suppose that’ll be Major Tallmadge,” he remarked passively before his face suddenly lit up. “I wonder if the news of France has reached him yet.” The excitement of spreading the news was clear on the young man’s face, but Abigail already had her decision made.

“I’ll go tell him myself,” she remarked, tossing the cloth to the side. Before he could interject, she added, “Why don’t you go fetch some ale? He deserves to take part in the celebration after his travel.”

The soldier grinned and headed off in the direction to resume the merriment of the night’s festivities, though she suspected he wouldn’t return with ale for either of them, if he hadn’t already drunk them first.

He had barely left when she broke out into a run, uncaring of any of the odd looks she received, though she doubted there would be many. It was a night of victory after all.

Before long, she made it to the edge of camp, stopping to catch her breath. The stupid binds made endurance a challenging task.

However, her wait wasn’t a long one. By the time she stopped running, the major had already dismounted and was walking towards the camp. When he spotted her, he paused briefly before heading in her direction. Once he noticed it was her and not another soldier, his pace quickened.

The closer he approached, the better she could see his face and his increasing expression of bewilderment at the loud whooping and boisterous sounds of the men in camp. She could see the questions forming in his eyes, but before they were spoken, she found herself asking breathlessly, “Any word on Abe?”

Ben told her of the events at the continental outpost, of the Queen’s Rangers attack and the grave they found of Major Hewlett. Abigail felt her face growing increasingly paler with every word, but he was quick to reassure her Caleb had gone to retrieve him by any means necessary, which explained the whaler’s notable absence.

When he voiced his concern about the possibility of him not returning, Abigail assured him, “If anyone can get out of a sticky situation, it’s Caleb.”

Ben gave a reluctant smile, which became more genuine at her insistent expression. Another series of high-spirited, brash hooting from the center of camp regained his attention. “What’s going on? What’s happened here?”

With the news of the French alliance refreshed in her mind, Abigail’s flushed with excitement, thankful for the night’s darkness to conceal the warmth in her cheeks. She fought back a smile and answered him, “Word has gotten around the camp about a… certain alliance, as you may already be familiar with. But it’s not just the news that has the men so excited.” She gauged his suddenly intent gaze, knowing she ensnared his undivided attention, adding, “Apparently, word has reached the ears of the British, who have been ordered to evacuate from Philadelphia, just like Tobias said they would, which means…”

“Negotiations with France have finally begun,” Ben finished for her, eyes widening.

She wished his expression was more visible, but what came with the benefit of concealing her rosy cheeks, the darkness made it all but impossible to see his face properly.

But she didn’t have to worry about that for long when she felt his arms wrap around her, drawing her against him before she quite literally swept off her feet. She released a surprised squeak as he spun them around in a half-circle, his laughter of disbelief and joy warming her heart. She tightened her arms around his neck and giggled softly into his ear, far too elated to care about subtlety. The risk of suspicion be damned.

He set her down back on her feet, his hands steadying her as she stumbled against him, her cheeks warm and only just shy of hurting from grinning. The soft, tender look in his gaze caused her heart to race and ache all at once. There was nothing she wanted more in that moment than to close the distance between them even further.

Noticing his similar warring desire in his gaze, she knew he was feeling the same.

The moment grew somber, not completely but the excitement and delight from moments ago gradually faded into the background. There were too many witnesses around them, no matter if they weren’t paid any mind or not. Just being as their intimately close proximity was enough of a risk, but in that moment, nothing else mattered.

And yet…

Ben murmured softly, tender and restrained, “I would really like to kiss you right now.”

Unconsciously, Abigail licked her lips and noted with no small amount of pleasure and guilt as the major’s keen eyes tracked the movement. “I would really like to be kissed by you right now,” she replied in kind, her hands untangling themselves from around his neck to slide down and settle against his chest. Oh, how she desperately wanted to tell him about her intentions for her divorce, how as soon as Caleb returned, preferably with a saved Abe in tow, she intended to ask for his assistance in the matter. But she couldn’t do that, at least not that. Why ruin a perfectly joyous occasion with the reminder of their situation?

However, it would seem from the way they stood so close but remained so far was more than an indication their situation still weighed heavily upon them.

Before either of them could say anything more, Ben leaned forward and pressed his lips to the crown of her head, settling for this small display of affection in preference over than none at all.

“Should you put a stop to the men’s revelry?” Abigail asked, teasing after a few precious moments of silence. “Caleb will not be pleased to find his stash liberated.”

She felt his smirk against her forehead and shut her eyes briefly to savor it. “Caleb will get over it, once he learns the news. Besides, I don’t think it would do me any good to put a damper on the festivities. They’re well-earned after all.”

Parting rather reluctantly, the two made their way back to the camp, keeping a respectable distance between them. Even with the distance, Abigail felt the effects of his warmth and lips throughout her entire being, providing her with a warmth she hadn’t realized she had been missing until now.

She was so very in love with Benjamin Tallmadge, and she could not regret it, even if it afforded her nothing but trouble.

---

Two Weeks Later

By the time Caleb managed to return, the revelry had long subsided, though there were still few cases of mild drunkenness which now dealt with more severity than the previous week of permissiveness. Though when he did arrive, Abigail hadn’t even recognized him, too accustomed to his typical unkempt appearance to expect anything different. Even as he made his way into the camp, she had paid him no thought, though the instinctive curiosity had prompted her to glance up in the newcomer’s direction when he had passed her.

It wasn’t until they approached Ben and herself did she realize it was, in fact, Caleb himself.

“Sorry for the delay,” the familiar timber of Caleb’s jovial voice pulled them both out of their conversation to stare in mutual confusion. The man before them could not be Caleb Brewster. How could it be?

Caleb’s voice trailed off as he noticed their staring and frowned. “What?”

Abigail was the first to speak, prompted out of her stupor by his questioning look. “Your face.”

“What about my face?” Caleb retorted.

The blonde blinked. “It’s… visible!”

“What… oh that.” Caleb brought up his hand to his completely shaven face and frowned deeply. “Well, we all make our sacrifices, don’t we?”

Shaking his head, Ben couldn’t help but ask, “I’m sorry but what the bloody hell did you do to your face?”

The whaler threw his hands up into the air. “Is it that much of a dramatic change to warrant such a response from the both of ya?”

Neither of them hesitated to that question. “Yes.”

He chuckled, a tad rueful. “Fair enough.” He proceeded to fill them in on his plan to retrieve Abe from the British by disguising himself as a redcoat to blend it. Of course, his usual appearance would draw in too much suspicion, which meant he had to part with his beard. And oh, Abigail would have gladly paid money to have witnesses this transformation. Yes, she loathed the redcoats as much as any of them, but just the thought of Caleb walking around pompously in a white wig and a freshly cleaned face was nearly too much to contain her laughter.

“But the little shite decided to stay,” Caleb concluded, shaking his head in dismay. He informed them of Abe’s intentions, but he himself had decided to stay longer on the off chance the shite changed his mind.

And it was a good thing he had stayed too, he added, as word reached them that apparently Major Hewlett had managed to escape the outpost at some point during the Queen’s Rangers’ raid and had returned to his Setauket post, which meant Abe would be receiving his pardon from the British major any time now, if he hadn’t already received it.

Abigail breathed a sigh of relief, nearly collapsing from the weight of it as Ben and Caleb embraced with echoing laughter of disbelief over this miraculous turn of events.

Abraham Woodhull would live to see another day.

---

“Caleb, may I speak with you for a moment?” Abigail asked quietly. It had taken a few days after his arrival to determine how to best to approach him, but ultimately, she decided to find him that moment he didn’t appear busy.

Glancing up, the whaler gave her a smile. “Of course. What is ya need, las… laddie?” He pressed his lips together firmly, obviously an attempt to keep hold in his laughter, which she couldn’t help but mirroring. And his beardless face did little to help matters.

“Privately?”

He agreed, and together they relocated to a more remote location. As soon as she felt it was safe to speak candidly, Abigail decided directedness would be the best option for her request.

“Has Abe completed his legal studies?” she asked suddenly. The question was out of the blue, and judging the confused look on his face, it was a question Caleb hadn’t anticipated.

“I’m not sure,” he remarked carefully, “though more than likely he knows enough to get stuff done.” His gaze became wary. “Why?”

Abigail took a deep breath, steadying herself by silently reciting a prayer of forgiveness. “Is it possible to secure a divorce if you’re in another country? I mean, technically speaking of course, since I’m not where I’m supposed to be, namely in Ireland with my Aunt Claire.”

She didn’t want to look at him, fearing for the judgement and incredulity in his eyes, instead, choosing to look anywhere but at him. “I know it’s completely selfish of me to ask, which was why I’ve tried to wait as long as I could before asking, especially giving everything that’s happened in the past two weeks with Abe and the British.”

“Well–”

“And you must think I’m a truly awful person but I–”

“Oi!” Caleb seized her by the arms, drawing her reluctant attention to his face. To her amazement, there was no judgement on his face, though there was a hint of stunned astonishment on his face. Astonishment but not judgement. “I have a few bones to pick with you over what you just said, but to save us time, I’ll settle for the highlights. First, yes, I think we can get this done. There’s a good chance we can make this work. We can come up with a plan that Abe and I can work something out on my next trip to Setauket.”

“But you would be risking yourself on my account…”

The whaler shook his head. “I’m happy to do it. Besides, with my face, no one’s going to recognize me anyway. You certainly didn’t a few days ago.” He grinned and waggled his eyebrows, which drew out a reluctant laugh from her. His grin widened at the intended effect, but it dimmed as his expression sobered. “Secondly, you’re not an awful person. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot of those in my life, and I don’t believe you fall into that category.

“You’re brave, kind, and one of the least selfish people that I know,” Caleb added, lifting his eyebrows challengingly as if sensing she was ready to make a rebuttal. “And don’t you dare ‘but’ me there. Because you ain’t got one.”

Abigail’s mouth dropped in shock, knowing fully well what he meant, and instinctively reached out to smack him, which he immediately deflected with a cheeky grin. Another attempt to distract her from her distress, but she wasn’t going to let that comment slide.

“Nah, actually, you’ve got a pretty great arse, not that I’ve been looking!” Caleb corrected himself, taking several steps backward when it she prepared for another swing at him. He chuckled good-naturedly, though he narrowly missed another half-hearted attempt for a swing. “Don’t tell Tall-boy I said that. He’ll skin me alive.”

“I’ll just add that to the list,” Abigail remarked dryly, though she was trying her best not to grin despite everything and failing miserably. Her grin died down when she reconsidered his words. “Actually, that’s another favor I need from you.”

Caleb’s amusement faded into a knowing look. “You don’t want to tell Ben about this.”

The blonde shook her head slowly. “No, not until it’s finished. Just… just in case it doesn’t go according to plan. I don’t want to get his hopes up.”

The whaler smiled sympathetically and walked over towards her. He wrapped a comforting arm around her shoulders. “Just as I thought,” he remarked. “One of the least selfish people I know.”

“Don’t be so certain about that,” Abigail replied ruefully, leaning into his comforting presence. “But all things considered… thank you, Caleb.”

He smiled. “What are friends for?”

Chapter Text

Within a day of Abigail’s request of him, Caleb had set off for Setauket. He had brushed aside her insistence of not making a special trip just for her and had reassured her that the trip was primarily to check on Abe’s welfare and any possible information he may have gleaned during his time with the British and any time after.

Neither of them had come up with a plan for how to acquire the divorce, but he insisted it would all work out, despite Abigail’s uncertainty. The only choice she had left was to leave it in their hands and the hands of fate, the latter of which she was very unaccustomed. She preferred a less fatalistic approach to life.

Over the course of the next few days prior to Caleb’s departure, Abigail kept herself busy, which wasn’t a challenging task to accomplish. More soldiers arrived with more serious injuries, which demanded both her and Dr. Anderson’s full attention, though the increasing number of serious cases wasn’t a drastic uptick.

The most serious case was ruled an accident where a soldier, in a fit of buffoonery in Abigail’s opinion, had been playing around with his pistol and had forgotten the bloody thing was loaded and shot himself in the foot. Dr. Anderson had been busy tending to another patient suffering from gunshot wound to the shoulder, leaving her with the task to dig out the bullet with the forceps and bandaging the wound with a makeshift cast for his foot. She gave her patient more alcohol than she would have liked, but it had been the only way to keep his overly embellished howls to a minimum.

When she wasn’t in the infirmary tent, a rarity these days, the blonde spent most of her free time with Christopher, realizing she hadn’t been around much lately with Culper and her new position as Dr. Anderson’s assistant. It was high time she made up for that, and there was no time like the present.

She hadn’t seen much of Ben either over the past few days and thought it perhaps it was for the best. A major’s duties were hardly ever done, and considering the recent number of more serious cases she and Anderson attended to, Ben had more pressing matters to attend to. That didn’t stop her from missing him, but just catching a glimpse from him in camp was enough comfort for her, as silly as it sounded.

Christopher shared with her of his most recent activities, apart from the assigned patrol duties and the like. He had been assigned to mentor the young Joseph Martin, the young soldier of fifteen she had met not too long ago, to show him the ropes and to make his transition into army life more stabilizing.

“They probably think we’re a good match because of our ages,” the raven-haired boy remarked, “but they’re not fooling me.”

Abigail raised an eyebrow. “Oh no?”

Christopher shook his head, grinning in amusement. “They’re pairing us together because we both have the youngest faces in camp, possible the entire army. I overheard an officer tell another that us learning to shave together would bond us.” Considering how many of the soldiers, with the exclusion of the officers, sported stubble or fully-grown beards, this wasn’t a surprising remark to be made. Not once had she ever seen Christopher pick up a razor, and he had just made it to his early twenties.

She bit back a grin and gave him a sympathetic pat on his shoulder, though she paused when he added slyly, “Though I’m nearly certain it was between either you and myself, if that was the only requirement.”

Abigail laughed and gave him a playful shove as they headed towards breakfast.

Over their morning rations, the pair discussed an array of topics, many of which were rehashed from conversations past. Though they had each developed other acquaintances among the soldiers – more so Christopher than herself – it was nice to return to the company of an old friend, although they had only known each over for two years.

But all things considered, their near constant proximity had led to the creation of an intimacy only developed after several years, if not decades, of friendship. She felt as if she knew everything there was about him, from how much he talked about his childhood and family, and despite the number of secrets she had to keep from him, she felt as if he knew her, too, although perhaps not as well.

They had developed something that went beyond the realms of friendship. There was a sense of kinship between them though, although it was rarely verbally acknowledged. From the very beginning, Abigail had the protective motherly instincts to keep him under her wing, and it was a struggle every day not to manage those feelings. However, from time to time, those mannerisms emerged, much to Christopher’s great amusement as well as quiet appreciation for those protective gestures.

Christopher wasn’t like family. He just was, as she was to him. They didn’t have to speak of it to know the truth, but she couldn’t help herself and told him so. Her heart warmed as he responded in kind.

There was such an openness about him, an innocence often lost within the first step of entering war, yet somehow, he had managed to keep it. She prayed that fifteen-year-old Joseph Martin would be able to do the same under Christopher’s guidance.

---

Waiting for the end of Washington’s meeting with Major Bradford, General Lee, and the other generals, Ben considered the best course of action of approaching the commander-in-chief. Ever since his dismissal from head of intelligence, he had been hard pressed to even getting near Washington, let alone find a way to speak with him privately. It concerned him greatly that he was currently presiding at a meeting with the man who proved himself to be a traitor.

Now if only he could open Washington’s eyes to that.

Scarcely half past the hour did the flap of the tent push back to reveal the exiting generals from the meeting, with Washington stepping out last, with his servant Billy Lee close behind him. Ben took half a step forward when Washington saw him, but as quick as the glance came, his attention was drawn elsewhere.

The major began to approach him just as Washington and the others crossed his path. He barely got out a quiet “sir” before he was looked over completely.

Billy stopped him before he could attempt to follow him. “I'm sorry, sir. He won't see you.”

Ben suppressed his frustration but barely. “Does he still hold me in such contempt he won't even meet my eye?” He prepared to turn to go, where exactly he wasn’t certain until the other man placed a restraining hand on his arm.

“Wait. I never done this before, talk behind his back,” Billy began quietly, his face expressing his conflicting struggles, “but he been through some rough times and I worry about him.”

Ben frowned, his gaze honing on Washington’s servant vigilantly. “Well, what is it, Billy?”

With his decision made, Billy looked around their surroundings briefly before dropping his voice for the major’s ears only. “The general, he just gave General Lee half the army. Gonna go attack the redcoats while they retreat.”

Ben looked at him with disbelief. Maybe he had misunderstood. There was no way General Lee would be trusted with that many men, whether Washington believed in Ben’s efforts or not. “Half the army? Are you sure?”

Billy nodded grimly. “If I didn't hear it with my own ears, I wouldn't have believed it myself. I know you don't trust that man, and I don't neither. But the general…” He released a sharp breath, rubbing the back of his neck anxiously. “I think he was fooled by his apology.”

“Lee apologized?” Ben asked, incredulous. He couldn’t imagine the man ever would. From what he had gathered, Lee had been unapologetically blasphemous in his letters regarding Washington. It had to be a rouse. “You were right to tell me this, Billy. But whatever you do, don't tell anyone else.”

---

Later in the evening, Abigail found herself making that ever familiar trek to Ben’s tent, a walk that, no matter where they relocated, she knew like the back of her hand. It was hardly a surprise for her to be seen traveling in that direction to the casual observer. Christopher had already confirmed long ago word got around that she was friends with Ben or at least had his ear. If nothing else was suspected, she didn’t mind this piece of information being public knowledge.

As if anticipating her arrival, the flap to his tent was already opened. She took this as an invitation and stepped inside.

Abigail took one look at lines of frustration coupled with worriment in the major’s face and shut the flap of the tent securely so that she could embrace him comfortingly.

“You looked like you needed one,” she said, voice somewhat muffled against his shoulder. She felt his arms slip around her waist securely, as if finding an anchor to stay afloat. His face pressed the crook of her neck and sighed, whether out of frustration or contentment she wasn’t certain since she couldn’t see his face.

“I really do,” Ben replied into her neck, his lips brushing along her neck with every word formed. She fought back a shiver, though unconsciously stepping closer.

Several minutes passed before she finally asked him what was wrong. Unable to contain himself any longer, he confided his frustrations and worries regarding Washington and the war, mostly for the former.

Apparently, he remained in the commander-in-chief’s ill graces, and it was difficult to determine how long he would stay there. She asked how he could still be upset about Ben’s rouse to lure out Lee, but he said there was more to it than that, though that was perhaps what had led him down this uneasy road with Washington thus far.

“There’s information that he needs to know, but it’s increasingly difficult to get Washington to actually see me,” Ben remarked, beginning to pace back and forth in the tiny space that was the tent. Abigail had taken to sitting at his desk, watching with him a concerned, thoughtful gaze.

He informed her of how Washington had stonewalled him after his meeting with the generals and what Billy had shared with him after Ben had attempted to speak with Washington.

Abigail bit her lip, recalling that New Year’s evening walk she had shared with Washington. As much as she wanted to lambast the man for being so unhearing to Ben’s warnings – and yes, she recognized her own personal biases in the matter – she could not in good conscience bring herself to do so, remembering that private moment she had witnessed of Washington in the woods. Nor would she break Washington’s confidence over what had transpired. She still never mentioned anything to Ben, nor would she, knowing even that would break her word.

Still, the blonde remained sympathetic to her…what was Ben towards her now?

Friend hardly seemed sufficient.

Best friend was closer but didn’t hit the mark.

Lover… not quite, but depending upon the success Caleb found in Setauket, that could be changing rather soon.

There wasn’t really a term to describe just what they were to each other, in that moment in time, but she knew it extended well beyond the realms of friendship and perhaps even lovers. There was so much she felt for him, for so many years, but so much she couldn’t act upon, at least not just yet.

She would do just about anything for him, even if it meant risking herself for him.

With her thoughts running along these lines, Abigail considered something for a moment, a seed of a passing thought slowly blossoming into a potential course of action.

If Washington was unwilling to meet with Ben, perhaps she could find a way to pass along Ben’s information herself.

It was a risk, of that much she was certain, but she thought an even bigger risk was giving the man who scorned Washington which read as treasonous in the written word half of the army to serve in battle. Another risk had been Benedict Arnold’s presence in the army at all, and even with his transfer to head off the recapture of Philadelphia, she felt wary of him, even though she had never met the man personally. She considered herself lucky for that alone.

Still, the idea of trying to pass long information to Washington on Ben’s behalf did have its appeal.

“What precisely do you intend to tell Washington?” Abigail asked cautiously, keeping an observant gaze on his face.

For the first time since she stepped into the tent, he hesitated. She knew it was something confidential or as close to as confidential as it could be. Normally, he felt comfortable in confiding even the most privileged information, if not to seek her council, but if it was something he hesitated or was unwilling to share, it was implied the information could get her into trouble or hurt.

Still, she held his gaze steadily, stubborn to the end, until Ben sighed heavily before beginning to speak. He wasn’t completely forthcoming, which proved her theory correct, but he gave her a vague description of what he planned to inform the commander-in-chief.

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you,” Ben remarked. “It’s for Washington’s ears only.” He paused before adding wryly, “Though I know I’ve already told you too much already.”

Abigail’s lips twitched upwards. “Don’t fret too much about it. I’m a compelling audience.”

The major snorted at that, making her grin grow wider. For a while, they settled into a comfortable silence, until he asked the reasoning behind her asking of what he wanted to tell Washington.

“What makes you think I have an underlying motive?” Abigail inquired.

Ben gave her a knowing look. “Because I know you, and you’re hardly an innocent wallflower fishing for conversation topics.”

“Fine, you’re right,” she conceded, noting his surprise at her quick yielding but choosing to not address it. Instead, she offered to attempt to slip everything he had just told her to Washington somehow. She hadn’t thoroughly considered just how she would accomplish this and admitted as much, since the thought was only brought into fruition a few minutes prior, but she was more than willing to try it. It was better than doing nothing at all, she reasoned.

After a moment of silence, Ben commented doubtfully, “I’m not sure how you’ll be able to do this. You don’t have a rank. And secondly, you would be opening yourself to exposure.”

“Oh, give me some credit,” Abigail remarked. “There are ways of getting around that ranking business. Besides, I’ve survived this long, haven’t I?”

“Barely,” he interjected, eyes narrowing further. “By the skin of your teeth as I recall.”

She knew exactly what he referenced to, the very reason he had essentially grounded her from patrol duties. He needn’t remind her of that day. The faint scar on her forehead, self-inflicted or not, was reminder enough.

“I’ll be fine,” Abigail insisted gently, rising to her feet once he stopped pacing. “Obviously, I wouldn’t approach Washington myself. I’m not that foolish. It would have to be someone close to Washington. And before you think of saying it, approaching any of the other officers wouldn’t be wise. So that narrows down the list easily enough.”
Ben raised a questioning brow, prompting her to answer, “Billy, Washington’s servant.”

“I’m not sure about this…” he said, though he appeared less unconvinced than he had been when she first brought up the idea. That was some progress at least. “You don’t have the full extent to the information I need to share with him. Who knows if he’ll take it into consideration?”

Abigail shrugged. “Then I’ll tell Billy exactly that – that I don’t know all the information, that you were reluctant to share information with a solider without a rank and had sworn me to secrecy. However, out of concerned conscience, I felt compelled to inform Washington, and the best way I knew how would be through Billy.”

Ben stared at her with amazement before chuckling to himself. “You would make a great politician or even a lawyer, wouldn’t you?”

She smiled with a hint of irony. “Maybe in another life. For now, I’ll settle for being a physician.”

After she left the tent and went in search of Chris, she was struck by a moment of clarity. It struck with such force it could have easily knocked her off her feet.

He’s mine, she realized, and I’m his.

That was all she needed to know.

---

Although the information she had been given would hardly garner Washington’s consideration, Abigail decided to see her plan through regardless. Though she didn’t receive Ben’s approval verbally, her decision was already made. Besides, what harm could it possibly do?

Fortune appeared to be on her side the following morning. As she prepared to head towards breakfast, the blonde spotted Billy Lee amongst the men, carrying what either appeared to be correspondence or laundry in a large, brandless sack. She couldn’t judge from this distance as it which it could be.

Seizing this opportunity, she quickened her pace and offered to help him carry his load, which comprised of three sacks, not one, and all appearing rather heavy. Grateful for the assistance, though somewhat embarrassed, he sheepishly took her up on the offer and handed her one of the three sacks, taking her small stature into consideration before walking in the direction of the commander-in-chief’s tent.

“I’ve been hoping for the chance to run into you,” Abigail commented, lowering her voice when the passed by some soldiers.

“Have you?” Billy asked, sounding mildly surprised but also lowering his voice to match her volume. “Can’t say I hear that kind of thing often.”

Abigail smiled sympathetically, quelling the urge to give the poor man a hug before launching into the story she had told Ben. She began with she had news for Washington, but she wasn’t sure of the proper channels to speak with him. Knowing none of the officers would believe her, considering her lowly position as a foot soldier, she realized her best option would be to consult with the man closest to Washington, Billy himself.

“Going to the man that does his laundry and has his ear,” Billy mused, lips twitching slightly in amusement. “A clever tactic if I ever heard one.”

She didn’t rise to accept that praise except with a smile before continuing. Washington needed to know that Lee was not to be trusted by any costs, and that he should look again at the intelligence that had been gathered on him. She couldn’t say more beyond that, nothing more than what Ben had told her, and used the limited knowledge to her advantage, claiming she couldn’t very well in good conscience let this information go unheard, even as she had been sworn to secrecy.

Recalling Ben’s mention of Billy’s concern for Washington, she knew there was a good chance he would help them, if not to ensure Washington’s welfare above all else.

“I’m hoping you can pass this information along in some way,” Abigail concluded quietly just as they approached his quarters, knowing their conversation was well approaching the end. “If it helps, I can give you my name for verification of my reliability.” She knew Washington knew her name – well, her alias, anyway – ever since her recruitment into Culper. That would hopefully be of some assistance.

“Thomas Williams,” she remarked when he inquired of her name.

Billy’s face lit up in recognition of her name after a moment or two of puzzlement. “I’ve heard that name before… Ah, yes. I believe he mentioned you some time ago. Around New Year’s, was it not?”

Feeling like a deer trapped in a hunter’s gaze, Abigail nodded mutely, hoping the feeling didn’t show across her face.

Billy set down his bags and took her hand in his, giving it a firm squeeze. “Thank you for that evening,” he spoke softly. “I’m glad he wasn’t alone, that night. After everything… well, I’m sure you’re aware, on some level about it of course.”

Knowing just what he referred to, she nodded again. Once she recovered from her momentary shock, she squeezed his hand back before their hands returned to their respective sides.

“As far as getting your message to Washington,” Billy continued, “I can’t make any promises, but I do promise to try.”

Abigail smiled. “That’s all I can ask for, what any of us can ask for. Thank you, Billy.”

Chapter Text

Every capable man was tasked with gathering all camp equipment – supplies, tents, and other necessities – before the first light of day. Abigail and Christopher paired themselves together when faced with the daunting task of heavy lifting. While both were individually weaker in strength when compared with the other men, their combined efforts would allow them some progress, Abigail reasoned, a logic filled with both amusement and sense.

The previous morning, the soldiers had been divided into groups – those who would follow General Lee, Colonel Branford (Colonel Pita), and Major Benjamin Tallmadge. Those assigned with General Lee and Colonel Pita served essentially as the reinforcements to Ben’s dragoons, who would serve at the forefront of the battle. Many of the men, including Bartholomew, Jasper, and Decory, had been assigned to Lee and Branford. Those remaining would serve as additional footmen in the dragoons.

“I suppose we’ve got what we wanted,” Christopher remarked ironically, passing part of the folded tent into her hands. “We’ve always wondered what it was like outside of the base. Now we’ll find out, eh?”

Abigail and Christopher had been among the remaining soldiers of the drawing pool, which meant they would serve under Ben. She took comfort in the notion he wouldn’t be far from her sight, but considering her obscene amount of luck thus far, it seemed that very luck was close to running out.

She wondered if Ben knew that she had been assigned to him. After his meeting with the generals and colonels, they were supposed to meet in his tent as soon as they were able. Once the camp equipment appeared to be in good hands, she managed to slip away to the major’s tent unnoticed, though she suspected she felt Christopher’s curious gaze on her retreating form.

His tent, or what remained of it, was one of the few tents left untouched. They weren’t to set out until later that morning, which was much too soon for Abigail’s liking, but the earlier they left, the better, as was the best interest for the army’s chances.

Within moments of seeing him, Abigail knew instantly he had no knowledge of her assignment nor was she inclined to inform him quite yet. His mind was on other things, focusing on the upcoming battle as he should. Her presence would only distract him, that much she knew.

That was why, in those first few moments, she thought it best not to tell him.

Now remained one more thing she wished to tell him, but she wasn’t certain how to do it. What was the best course of action of announcing one’s impending divorce?

“The base will more than likely serve as a temporary flyaway camp, at least during the battle,” Ben remarked, “before relocating back to Valley Forge, as far as I’m aware.” He hadn’t stopped talking the moment they were alone, giving her pieces of advice and information he felt it vital for her to know. From his almost nervous chattering, she deduced this came from the notion they might not see each other again for quite some time… if not at all. The thought alone held an icy, cold grip to her heart.

“Why do I get the feeling you’re trying to say goodbye to me?” Abigail asked softly. Knowing time was precious, especially then, the decision to be direct was the best option in that moment.

“That’s not…” he trailed off helplessly, closing his eyes as he sighed. Not bothering with the pretense, he opened his eyes, and the look her gave her was so pained, she had to bite her lip to keep from making a sound. “It’s just a precaution. There’s nothing more that I want than to keep you safe. Your safety is my main priority, Abigail.”

Oh, if only you knew, she thought regretfully but kept her mouth shut. With the knowledge there would be no roll call due to the urgency of moving out as soon as possible, she knew there was little chance for Ben to realize where she would be. Not until… not until after.

So, yes, it was best that he didn’t know.

“I understand,” she said, then added more firmly, “And your safety is mine.”

Taking her by the arm, he drew her towards him, unable to help himself. The need to reach out and touch her had grown too great, and she shared that same feeling by pressing closer to him, taking comfort in his warmth even as she herself felt like a bundle of nerves. For more reason than one.

His lips brushed her forehead by instinct, an act he had bestowed so many times she lost count, but every time he did, it sent a rush of warmth through her body.

There was a rather large opening in his shirt, an unusual state of dress for him, large enough to reveal a good portion of his chest. Before he could realize his error and button his shirt, Abigail leaned forward and pressed a kiss right above his heart, his skin comfortingly warm and alive under her lips and cheek.

It was an incredible temptation to reach up and kiss him, to refamiliarize herself with the taste of his mouth on hers. The memory of their last kiss – tender, passionate, and oh so loving – felt so long ago, but she could still easily recall how easily the kiss filled her with pleasure.

It was one of the very reasons why they avoided the barn and the stables for their more recent meetings. The tent gave them some form of privacy, but there was only the thick material that separated them from the camp.

With her lips barely a hairbreadth away from his chest, she wondered if maybe she just told him, told him of what she had asked Caleb to do, that perhaps it would be all right. Having received no word from Caleb of any trouble from his procurement, she felt in her heart he must have succeeded, otherwise he would have sent word if something had gone wrong as he had promised he would.

Just maybe then…

“Ben…” Abigail murmured, her lips brushing against his chest as they formed his name. She smiled a little as she felt his barely repressed shiver. Reluctantly, she took a step back so that she could see his face and even more reluctantly watched as he slowly went to the task of rebuttoning his shirt.

“There’s something I have to tell you,” she began, pausing for a moment. “Something I think you should know.”

Nearly finished with the task, Ben took in the serious, almost nervous look on his face and stilled his actions, allowing his hands to fall at his side. “What is it?”

Taking a steadying breath, Abigail’s lips parted. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this for a while now, but there hasn’t been the right moment to mention it, until now I think. Caleb’s –”

“Major Tallmadge?” The soldier’s voice disrupted the moment and whatever she had been prepared to say. Hardly a second passed when the flap was opened, revealing an officer, a new one from the looks of him, who claimed Ben’s presence was requested at once.

Ben thanked the officer and saw him out before turning to Abigail with an apologetic gaze. “I’m sorry, but I must go. Do you think we can table this conversation for when I get back?”

There were too many meanings behind his words for her to sort through, but all she could do was smile. “Of course. What I have to say can wait.”

Although, she would wonder later, should she have told him sooner?

---

Kerr Farm

The journey from Valley Forge towards Ker Farm was a long and strenuous one, especially for those who weren’t on horseback. After enduring the horrible winter months at Valley Forge, it was a miracle the men were even capable of being upright, let alone making the long trek towards Monmouth, New Jersey. While many of the men appeared to have recovered, that didn’t mean there weren’t lingering effects from the prolonged period of near starvation, illness, and desperation - and not just from physical injury.

Abigail overheard some men murmuring bitterly about the officers having horses while the rest of them had to walk on foot since they were “piss-ons”, as many had made the case. She had wisely chosen to keep her mouth shut whether their complaints were shared with her directly or not. Animosity towards the officers, while understandable, was increasing among the regulars, and many of the newer recruits were getting drawn into their web, preaching about the deplorable conditions and defaming officers like it was the holy scripture.

Christopher and herself, along with a very small minority of other soldiers, did their best to keep out of it, knowing that it would only do more harm than good to get caught up in a simmering pot. Sooner or later, it would overflow, harming anything and everyone in its path once it boiled over.

They walked alongside each other towards the back of Ben’s dragoon, which she believed to be a good thing. She was able to keep him in her sights while she remained out of his.

Guilt clawed at her already frayed nerves, but she did her best to thwart them. It wasn’t as if she had lied to him, but she had kept something from him. That in itself didn’t sit well with her. However, would it have made a difference if she had told him?

Yes, it would have made a difference but not a positive one.

Instead of dwelling on her guilty conscience, she decided to focus on the task at hand - mainly keeping one foot in front of the other and preserving a strong grasp on her musket, which pressed uncomfortably heavy into her shoulder.

With a brief glance towards her left, she could tell Christopher was faring no better, not even double her size in build. His usual pale countenance was now a faint hue of pink from exertion, which she deduced was from the combination of the journey and the heavy weight of the musket along with everything else they must keep on their person, namely ammunition. She felt equal parts of pity and assurance at his struggle, as terrible as that sounded. At least there was someone that shared her burden. She couldn’t imagine how poor Joseph was managing.

There was an uneasy silence among them as they marched on, a tension so thick a bullet couldn’t pierce it in one shot. While many of the men had seen battle, a lot of them hadn’t, and the silence only brought on more questions that plagued their minds:

What would happen to them? How would they fare against the British? Would this be another victory to be claimed, or would it be another loss?

How many of them would survive?

Abigail would be lying if she wasn’t pondering those very questions herself.

---

Caleb had nearly missed them by a few hours. Fortunately for him, his connections in Setauket were very good at what they did, otherwise he wouldn’t have reached Kerr Farm when he had.

Beyond telling him about checking up on pain in the arse Woodhull, the whaler didn’t tell Ben anything else about his trip to Setauket. Abigail had asked him not to, and he was a man of his word, at least to his family and friends. He hadn’t breathed the word “divorce” to the major, though how it would come up in casual conversation was anyone’s guess.

Well, there was an obvious answer there, but it was none of his business.

With a click of his tongue and a kick of his heels, Caleb pushed his horse into a swift gallop as soon as he caught a brief flash of a Continental uniform. Soon enough, they caught up with the dragoon, galloping past the rows of soldiers standing at the major’s command. For a moment, he thought he spotted a familiar face among them, but the thought quickly passed as he made his way towards his friend.

With the British only several yards away, it was clear the battle was imminent, their numbers appearing to outman them even with the most cursory gaze. Grimly, he pushed his horse even faster, and the poor bugger acquiesced. The shout of a soldier announcing his presence as courier drew the major’s attention in his direction, and soon enough he was close enough to ease the horse into a trot.

Imperceptibly, he patted his side until he felt the slight bulge of his coat pocket, his fingers tracing the outline of the leaflet of parchment tucked securely inside his coat – the divorce papers which he planned on delivering himself once the day was done. But first he had to get to Ben.

Upon his arrival, the major took one look at him and chuckled. Caleb looked at him with a raised brow, to which his friend replied, “I’ll never get used to seeing you with such a boyish face.”

Caleb huffed with feigned irritation. “That’s it. I’m growing it back out, and I’ll never shave ever again, even if I look like a creature you’ve read about in your classics.”

Ben grinned mildly at the retort, but it didn’t linger long as they got down to business. Caleb had information from Long Island, an unexpected extension of his trip which turned out to be invaluable considering the dire importance it presented.

“Well, anyway, have I got a story for you. Read this,” Caleb remarked, holding out a folded sheet of parchment towards him.

Ben told him to hang on for a moment before ordering the men into a forward march.

“Where's Washington?” Caleb asked as he and Ben followed the men as they marched forward to meet the British.

“He's with the main company, a day behind us.”

Oh, boy this wasn’t good. The whaler turned to Ben, insisting, “Ben, he's in danger. It's an inside job.”

A look of dawning horror overcame the major as he took in their surrounds. Filled with dread, he murmured, “Oh, God. I knew it.”

Caleb frowned. “What do you mean? I just got it from Long Island.”

Ben looked around just in time to see redcoats beginning to spill over from the forest’s edges, stepping out from the trees to enclose them. With a quick glance to his right, he observed the same occurrence on their other side. They were being surrounded. “It's a trap. Lee's marching us straight into it.”

---

Not after this alarming discovery, the major had spotted Colonel Branford’s group falling back and heading into the trees even as the shooting began. He had called for the men to remain on the battlefield, ordering them to remain where they were with Caleb echoing his orders in a mighty bellow.

Many of the men ignored his orders and retreated into the safety of the trees – under other orders no doubt – deliberately ignoring Ben and his shouts. By the time the retreating soldiers made it passed the trees, only a dozen or more soldiers remained on the fields, forcing Ben to call his men to fall back.

If General Lee and Colonel Branford wanted a confrontation, who was he to disappoint them?

By the time he spotted Lee, Ben was already fuming but did his best to contain much of it as he trotted his horse to reach him.

“General Lee, sir!” he called out as he approached, prompting the Lee and Branford to a halt. “Generals Wayne, Scott, and Maxwell are withdrawing through the orchard, and all of our men are falling back at once.”

“Yes, I know,” Lee remarked, “I ordered them.”

Ben maneuvered his horse to cut them off from moving any further with Caleb right behind him and insisted, “But, sir, if we do not rally the men and form a defensive line, we will not be able to hold them.”

Lee demanded, flabbergasted, “Hold them? Hold them how exactly? Clinton has sprung a trap, and we are outnumbered. Retreat is our only option.”

“Washington expects us to hold,” Ben persisted, refusing to back down from Lee and his traitorous heart.

Lee sized him up before addressing Branford beside him, not once breaking eye contact with the major, “Colonel Bradford, if Major Tallmadge does not clear the road, he is to be hanged from that tree as a deserter.”

Bradford smiled twistedly, the smug son of a bitch, and there was nothing Ben wanted more than to punch his teeth in.

“A deserter?” Ben demanded angrily.

Bradford released his sword from his hilt. Caleb wasted no time in raising his gun in retaliation.
The tension was immense but not enough to keep the quiet murmuring of the soldiers from occurring. The news quickly traveled from man to man until it reached the very back of the lines where Ben’s dragoon was catching up.

As soon as the words “Lee”, “Bradford”, “Tallmadge”, “hanged”, and “deserter” were uttered, Abigail grabbed her musket and began pushing her way through the dragoons, ignoring Christopher’s cry, “Thomas, wait!” to try and stop her. If Ben was in trouble, she was going to help him, consequences be damned.

It wasn’t until she heard horses approaching did she stop but only for a moment. The sound of new arrivals made her instantly wary. Were they friend or foe?

But taking one hard look at the familiar long, dark cape and the strong, broad-shouldered figurer underneath it, she felt the breath go out of her as if in one blow.

Washington.

Washington and a company of men arrived, just how many she wasn’t certain. The sight of him provided her with much needed comfort. She knew immediately that his presence would save Ben, but this didn’t stop her from getting closer to make sure everything went smoothly. But what could she do on her own if not?

“General Lee,” Washington greeted him with a frown, “I’ve had a most disturbing report from a young fifer traveling in the wrong direction from the battle.”

Lee stared at him, mouth agape before stuttering out, “Sir, I… I thought you a day behind us.”

Washington’s frown deepened. “Why are your men in retreat?”

“They… there has been some confusion, sir.”

“Clearly, there remains some,” the commander-in-chief remarked scathingly. “Why are your men in retreat?”

Lee answered that he believed they lacked a “proper advance” and thought it best not to pursue the battle, as he stated, “a major action was not in the best interest of America at this time.”

Although she might not be very knowledgeable in military strategy, Abigail felt she had a good sense of character in others, and she sensed bullshit coming from Lee.

Apparently, Washington sensed the same thing and ordered Lee to fall into the rear of his company but only after giving him a verbal lashing.

Good riddance, asshole, Abigail thought with no small amount of satisfaction as Lee directed his horse to do just that.

Washington then asked Bradford far away was their cavalry, to which Bradford remarked they were fifteen minutes away. Nodding, he ordered both of their detachments into the woods to ambush the nearer British columns.

He then turned to Ben and ordered him to ride out to Generals Wayne and Scott and have them hold up the enemy while he himself formed a defensive line with artillery, which Ben accepted with a respectful and emphatic, “Yes, sir.”

Abigail’s heart, which she had thought nearly stopped at the sight of Bradford and Ben with their swords drawn, thumped heavily against her ribcage, which only increased at the realization the battle was only moments away.

Before she could be spotted by any familiar faces, she slipped back into the lines and made her way back to Christopher to share what she had learned.

It would be their last chance to speak to each other before hell reigned down upon them.

---

Future historians would refer to that day The Battle of Monmouth – the name which would come from Clinton’s withdraw from the Monmouth Court house in retreat. Although there would be a British retreat, it historians would still look upon that battle as essentially a draw, that no side truly outmaneuvered the other, at least according to written accounts several decades or even centuries prior to their own scholarship.

Like many of the battles and wars of history, they would be glorified with beatific terms such as honor, dignity, and glory. They would be used for future politicians to both inspire and manipulate public sentiment, to sustain national pride even if to a fault.

But Abigail wouldn’t describe battle as glorious, dignified, and honorable. It was chaotic, harsh, and hardly honorable.

It was hell on earth.

Washington’s strategy was carried out before her very eyes. Two divisions of men descended about the British’s rear with no warning, the element of surprise serving them well – at least for the moment.

Recovering from the surprise attack, the British met the onslaught head on with vigor and a great amount of skill. Swords clashed and bullets whizzed through the air, often missing their intended targets but striking some unfortunate soul nearby. If it was the enemy, it made little difference to them.

Not that any thought went through the soldiers’ heads as they fought of their lives. It was pure instinct that was acted upon, and they couldn’t be blamed for it.

Abigail did her best to keep to the woods, the trees being the only shield between herself and British fire. This line of thought appeared to be echoed among others as she, Christopher, and a handful of others fired at the British behind the trees.

Smoke sparked from several muskets across from them, and soldiers from both sides fell. Just a few yards from her, a redcoat grabbed one of the rebel soldiers and ran him through with the sharp blade of his bayonet. Abigail held back a scream, biting her lip so hard she could taste the coppery tang of blood. Before she knew what she was doing, she aimed for the British soldier and fired. She coughed against the smoke from her shot, eyes watering as she kept her gaze forward.

She wasn’t sure if she hit him until the smoke cleared from her vision. In the moment, she hadn’t been sure which part she had been aiming for, knowing all she wanted was to hit some part of him.

Instead of checking to see if her aim had been true, she turned her attention back to the chaos before them, knowing it was only a matter of time before the redcoats figured out there was a line behind the trees.

And that moment was now. A line of British soldiers, perhaps five or six, charged in their directions, arms at the ready and began shooting into the woods. They were trying to draw them out and into the open, otherwise they would be killed on the spot.

A soldier right next to her and Christopher dropped suddenly. She didn’t have to get closer to see the bullet wound to the head. Realizing what they were doing, Christopher gestured for her to follow him, out into the clearing. It was an insane move, one that would get them shot certainly, but she trusted Christopher and his instincts.

Besides, bullets were descending upon them anyway. What difference did it make if they were shot on the field or waited to be shot in the trees? At least this way, they could take some redcoats down with them.

They didn’t make it far before Christopher dropped to his knees with a startled cry, his musket on the ground beside him. Abigail’s gaze snapped to meet his before quickly trailing down to the large blooming patch of blood high on his thigh. It was nearly the same spot where he had been shot in Trenton. Or had it been Morristown? She could hardly think.

“Oh, God, Christopher,” Abigail gasped. She went to lower herself next to him, but he adamantly shook his head, giving her a painfully rueful smile.

“You can’t save me this time,” Christopher Morgan said in a poor attempt at comfort.

“No,” Abigail shook her head. She refused to believe it, looking around them frantically to see if she could safely relocate him. Even in her harried state, she noted there were significantly less soldiers around them, at least those who were on their feet. It looked as if the British retreating. Did the rebels win?

She couldn’t think of anything beyond Christopher right now and began to reach for him when a thunderous shot from behind her nearly destroyed her eardrums.

One moment Christopher had been kneeling a few feet from here, and the next, he was lying on the grass, a dark red mark spreading across his forehead, his blue eyes open staring at the sky without seeing.

Abigail jerked around in the direction of the shot and lifted her musket at the British soldier who was preparing to aim for her and shot him before he could finish loading. He fell with a sharp cry, clutching at his side before dropping his musket.

Trembling violently, she lifted the musket once more and walked closer to the soldier who had taken her friend’s life. The weapon, already heavy for her small form, felt even heavier as she held him at point blank, which proved to be even more difficult by her violent tremors.

“Do it,” the redcoat hissed, clutching at his die with pain. “You don’t have the balls.”

Abigail wanted to laugh, feeling the hysteria bubbling inside her but did her best to squelch it.

“You’re right about that,” she admitted. After a moment, she gave up on the musket, tossing it to the ground and reaching for her revolver instead.

A sound like thunder and a force like lightning threw her to the ground. Met with the hard earth, she tried to suck in a breath and found that she couldn’t do so easily, having the wind knocked out of her.

With a groan, she forced herself to roll onto her side, despite that every inch of her ached in protest.

The summer sun shone down on her unmercifully. She squinted at the glare and brought a hand to shield herself from the sun’s rays. When she was capable of receiving air in her lungs again, Abigail realized she needed to move and find safety.

Something warm and wet dripped onto her cheek, drawing her out of the shock of her fall. Blinking against the sun, she drew her hand closer to her body to prevent drawing attention to herself, but when she drew it closer, she noticed a strikingly dark red covered her hand.

She hadn’t tended to Christopher before… before he had been shot the second time.

Her body throbbed with pain, but there was one area that demanded attention especially. With some difficulty, she curled in on herself to get a better look and felt herself grow pale.

Right in the center of her abdomen, blood pooled quickly, a striking contrast with the stark white of her shirt. She bit her lip and cringed. It was one thing tending to others’ injuries; it was another entirely to witness one’s own.

Swallowing, she pressed a hand to the wound and grimaced as that only seem to make it bleed even more. Possible internal hemorrhaging, and if the bullet was still instead… if it hadn’t already shattered…

Millions of medical thoughts swarmed in her mind, but it did nothing to change the facts. She had to get out of there. But the question was as to how.

---

From the woods a distance away, a Queen’s ranger lowered his musket with satisfaction. He hadn’t seen who he had struck, but knowing that it had been a rebel was enough for him.

“Good shot,” Simcoe commended him with a satisfied expression. He knew he would receive flak from Andre for firing after being ordered to withdraw, but it didn’t matter much to him. What harm could he have possible caused? One less rebel scum was certainly justified in his book.

Chapter Text

Not long after the battle was won – a symbolic victory, as Washington would call it – Ben and Caleb had devised a plan to draw Bradford out. It had been clear to both from the beginning Colonel Bradford had held some part in Lee’s traitorous deeds; they only hadn’t been sure just how deep, until now.

The task of luring Bradford out hadn’t been at all difficult. He reacted just as they had anticipated he would when Ben had purposefully made a provoking remark – he had taken the bait like the foolish fish that he was. The heavy stench of smuggled liquor on the colonel’s breath, a result of the camp’s impromptu celebration of the day’s perceived victory, served as a help to their plan and a hindrance to Bradford’s self-preservation.

Once Caleb had Bradford safely secured, Ben immediately set off for Washington’s tent. At first, he wasn’t allowed entrance, but upon hearing his voice from inside the tent, Billy stepped out and said Washington wished to see him and allowed him inside.

The major and commander-in-chief discussed the day’s battle, which eventually segued into the topic of Lee, of whom Washington remarked he knew was in communication with the enemy. He had known of this communication ever since Ben had passed along the message from agent 355 in Philadelphia, Abigail, Anna’s former servant. All he had to do was wait for the proper time to deal with him and proper amount of discretion. Better to have Lee court-martialed as a failure than a traitor.

Ben then shared with him of news regarding to Culper, more specifically Abe’s release upon Major Hewlett’s return to Setauket after having managed to escape the Continental Outpost during the Queen’s rangers’ raid. He also informed him of their new man in York City, Robert Townsend, who they now refer to as Sam Culper Jr., and how Townsend had discovered a conspiracy against Washington. The letter he received through Caleb detailed Townsend’s findings, which he passed to Washington as soon as he stood to receive the letter.

He called for Washington’s guards to enter the tent and shared with Washington that one of the conspirators was on lockdown, and the name of this conspirator was Colonel William Bradford. Instead of Washington going to confront him personally, the major turned to the guards and asked if they could quietly retrieve Bradford and bring him in. The younger of the two quickly volunteered, and under Ben’s observant gaze, exited the tent to retrieve Bradford.

As it turned out, the young guard didn’t have any intentions of returning Bradford alive. Anticipating the betrayal by one of Washington’s guards, Caleb had volunteered to stakeout the small stoned cabin to play witness to any foul play. He hadn’t been disappointed, interrupting the guard’s intention of slitting Bradford’s throat but only barely. If he had lingered a minute or two longer, Bradford would have met his maker.

With both conspirators secure, the whaler met with Washington and Ben to share the news. The major assures Washington there were other charges that could be brought upon them, so if they were to be hanged, no one would be none the wiser. As Washington said, discretion was their utmost priority during these trying times of war.

---

“Have you seen… Williams since you’ve come back?” Caleb asked, catching himself just in time from saying Abigail’s name. While much of the men were in various stages of revelry, it was never a bad thing to exercise caution, just in case they were to be overheard – however, considering the overly generous passing around of cups, it was highly doubtful they were being paid any mind to.

But Washington was right about discretion, and from there on out, caution to be exercised more expressly, even in the smallest of measures. However, Ben would never consider Abigail’s safety a small matter.

He tried to recall if he had seen her around the camp when they had returned, and his frown deepened upon the realization that he hadn’t.

“No, I don’t believe I have,” he remarked slowly, a sense of unease creeping upon him but did his best to push it down. They had been so busy with the matter of the conspirators he had all but forgotten to meet Abigail at their previously agreed upon location – a barn of all places – to check in with each other. Being familiar with the flexibility of her patience – as flexible as a piece of wood – he knew he was in for a world of trouble and said so as much when he mentioned heading towards the barn.

But Caleb intervened. “Actually, I need to speak with her first. Alone.”

Ben paused and gave him an odd look. “Alone?”

The whaler shifted awkwardly from foot-to-foot, not meeting his eyes directly. “It’s… a private matter.”

“Private?”

“Yes. You know, private – remote, sequestered, limited to people in the know of a matter that’s not meant for public consumption –”

Ben interrupted him with a hand raised in exasperation. “I believe I know the definition of private, Caleb.” He lowered his hand and his voice before adding, a touch of concern coloring his voice, “I only wonder what it could possibly be that she wouldn’t tell me herself.”

For several minutes, Caleb looked at him, frowning, before looking away and back again. It was highly suspicious, and Ben continued to stare him down, knowing that sooner or later his friend would crack, which was incredibly odd considering Caleb’s position in Culper.

“All right, fine,” Caleb relented, sighing heavily. He shoved his hands deep into his coat pockets, searching his pockets. The sounds of ruffling papers drew Ben’s attention even more but made no further comment until he explained himself. “I figure you’re going to hear about it soon enough anyway.”

He pulled out a packet of papers, turned them around, and inspected them carefully before covertly passing them into Ben’s waiting hands. The night made it nearly impossible to read, but even in the dimness of the camp fire could he make out the calligraphed title pertaining to divorce. Without hesitation, he flipped through it until he found both signatures of the parties in question: Tobias Edward Hawkins and Abigail Elizabeth Williams Hawkins.

Ben stared at the signatures until they blurred.

He wasn’t even aware that Caleb was talking until he finally looked up to see his friend nervously gesturing with his hands.

“She wanted to tell you but thought it would be better,” Caleb explained, “until it was done. Not wanting to get either of your hopes up. So, it was better in her mind to let fall on her and not you.” His expression was contrite when he added, “I’m sorry for not telling ya, Tall-boy, but I promised her.”

“Aye,” Ben croaked out but quickly cleared his voice. “She didn’t sign this.” He held up the packet. “I know her handwriting.”

“Yeah, about that…” Caleb trailed off, a strange combination of giddy and apologetic. “Her signature had to be forged or well, it had to be signed by someone with given expressed permission to sign. Since she’s supposed to be in Ireland and all. Trust me, it wasn’t easy seeing this through, but Abe and I managed just fine.”

“Abe knew about this?!”

“Well, of course. He’s a lawyer, ain’t he?”

As far as Ben was aware, Abe hadn’t completed his legal studies at King’s College, but he didn’t have enough information to point that out. Instead, he sat there, staring at the legal documents – what appeared to be legal anyway – and realized exactly why she hadn’t told him about this, apart from Caleb’s verbalized rationalizations.

“She did it for you, mate,” Caleb spoke quietly, speaking Ben’s thoughts. “She did it for the both of you, so that you could finally have a chance, after all of this,” he gestured to the camp around them and even more so to the ongoing war outside of the camp’s walls, “is over.”

Folding the documents carefully, Ben held them for a moment before saying, “I’m going to go find her.” He returned the documents to Caleb. “Hold these until we figure out what to do with them.”

“Absolutely.” Caleb accepted the documents and tucked them securely back into his coat. He suddenly grinned, even batting his eyelashes playfully. “‘We’ is it now? Oh, you two!”

The only dignifying response Ben gave him was a punch to the shoulder before heading off, smiling with no small amount of satisfaction at his friend’s exclamation of pained indignation.

---

The moment he stepped into the barn and didn’t see her, Ben knew something was wrong. After receiving no response from his knock on the barn door, he let himself in and called out, “Williams,” hoping she would answer him. When she did not, he called out her name. Still, no response. His nervousness grew, but he forced it down. Surely, she would arrive in a few minutes.

Ten minutes passed, then fifteen, and there was still no sign of her. With each passing minute, he became increasingly anxious when he doesn’t catch a glimpse of her profile entering the barn and soon found himself pacing, unable to fully contain his nervous energy. He had only felt this way once before, and it had been a scenario very much like this, with her disappearing without a trace and him nearly putting his fist through a wall with worry.

Only it was much worse now. He could feel it.

As if the walls were closing in on him, the major surged out of the barn and headed straight to the center of camp, stopping just short from searching every place and interrogating everyone on her whereabouts like a madman. It was possible that Abigail was just fine, that perhaps she was off celebrating with that friend of hers, Christopher, and had forgotten to meet him.

That sounded nothing like Abigail.

Swallowing back a lump of increasing panic in his throat, he called out to Caleb as soon as he spotted him and gestured for him to follow. Once they were alone, he told him Abigail hadn’t shown up and asked if he had seen her among the men. Caleb shook his head, his expression turned somber, as he reported he hadn’t seen her at all since his return.

It wasn’t in her nature to disappear without a trace, at least not willingly. There weren’t many reasons for her to leave camp. She hadn’t been on patrol duty with the others in little over a year. He wouldn’t allow it after Trenton.

“I could ask around,” Caleb suggested, “see if anyone knows the whereabouts of Thomas Williams?”

Ben shook his head firmly. “No. That wouldn’t be a good idea, especially after her last disappearance with that friend of hers. They would’ve been marked as deserters if James Sanford hadn’t come to me first with their names. What’s to stop someone else from going to someone above me with her name?”

It was the most disturbing sense of déjà vu he ever experienced. Everything was just like it had been a year ago: returning from a battle only to discover she was missing, only this time there was one difference. No one had approached him to inform him of any missing soldiers.

Well there was another difference. Nearly all the men from the camp had been drafted into the battle, with only less than a handful remaining behind, if any. Had Abigail been part of the recruited?

Ben’s blood ran cold at the startling realization. Of course. That was it. Of course it was. It was the only logical explanation he could think of as to why…

“Christ, Ben, you look like death warmed over,” Caleb observed, eying him with great concern.

“Don’t say ‘death’,” Ben begged, pinching the bridge of his nose as the icy grip of fear tightened on his heart. “I think… I think she may have been at Kerr Farm, with one of the… detachments…” He couldn’t finish the sentence, but he didn’t have to.

Catching his meaning, Caleb let out a colorful string of curses, and Ben was not far behind from echoing them. Immediately, he turned around and made a mad dash for his horse, with the whaler hot on his heels.

He had to go back. He had to go back and find her. Consequences be damned. He had to see if she was all right, if she was injured, if she was even…

No, no. She was alive. There was no alternative that Ben would allow himself to consider.

---

Abigail had been grateful when dusk had begun to descend on the battlefield. Sweat trickled down her face uncomfortably and had her clothes clinging to her like a second skin. She felt entrapped in her own damp uniform. The stickiness was even worse further down across her abdomen, and a fresh round of lightheadedness struck her before she could attempt to take another look.

The fields of Kerr farm were eerily silent, the silence broken by an occasional groan, whimper, or curse. But even those had grown rare. It was a wonder if any of the soldiers were alive. If their wounds hadn’t killed them, the unforgiving heat of the summer day most certainly had. The night would be even worse.

She considered more than once as she waited for dusk whether to strip herself of the thick material of the blue Continental coat and weighed her options on keeping it versus its removal – an attempt to keep her mind focused on something other than the throbbing intense pain of her wound as well as something to distract her as the time slowly passed on. If she removed it, it certainly lowered the risk of suffering heat stroke. It also provided her some disguise in that she couldn’t be identified by the enemy as a rebel soldier.

But that also came with the problem of any Continental soldier not being able to identify her either, if they didn’t recognize her.

Soon enough, her discomfort won the argument. Shifting with a quiet hiss, she began to unsuccessfully slip her arms out of the coat and found it increasingly difficult to manage it. With every movement, her wound throbbed and, as if as a reminder, more blood blossomed across her shirt, encouraging her to give up the endeavor.

In the process of giving up, she stopped herself just in time to keep from toppling over onto her front and onto the prostrate form next to her. She squeezed her eyes shut, breathing laboriously from her foolish efforts, and did her best to not open her eyes. She knew exactly whose body she was all but pressed up against. A deep shudder run down her spine, and her heart ached with grief.

She wished more than anything that she could take him with her, when she attempted her escape from the battle’s death field, but as much as it pained her, she knew it wasn’t feasible. Christopher had been right. She couldn’t save him now. Those words, his final words to her and the world, would haunt her for the rest of her days.

Moments before they had assembled to set out from Valley Forge, Christopher had gestured for her to come closer to him. As soon as she had, he had pulled out a locket from underneath his shirt, opening it to reveal two portraits. One was a picture of his family, and the other was dedicated to a lovely young woman. She couldn’t have been much younger than Christopher himself.

“That’s Grace, my sweetheart,” Christopher had answered her unspoken questions, smiling down at the portrait with such fondness it was nearly heartbreaking. “She had this made for me when she learned of my intentions of enlisting. She…” he choked up, blinking rapidly before clearing his throat, his voice catching. “She wanted me to have something to hold onto, when things go to hell.

“I want you to do something for me,” he continued, his gaze imploring. “If anything happens to me, I want you to take this. Take this and find her. Tell her… there was never a day that I never thought of her. I’ll love her to the day I die, even if that may mean today.”

With this promise in mind, Abigail opened her eyes and barely suppressed a sob at the sight of his pale face and opened eyes, staring at the sky without seeing. Biting her lip, she forced herself to scoot closer to him, and, with trembling hands, she reached for his shirt, touching him carefully until she felt the outline of the metal locket underneath the thick material.

Managing to remove the locket after some time, she clutched pendant until it dug into her skin almost painfully before slipping it inside her pants pocket.

Reverently, she placed a hand over his eyes, gently closing them shut. She brushed his thick, black hair over his forehead, covering the ugly gaping hole in his forehead. When she moved her hand, she blinked and took a breath. It almost looked like he was asleep. But she knew better.

The sun settled low into the horizon. Knowing this was her moment, perhaps her only chance at survival, she knew she had to go. Leaning forward, she pressed a tearful kiss to his cheek and sniffled quietly.

“May you be in the arms of the angels, brother,” she murmured. After sending a silent prayer above, she bid goodbye to the young soldier who had saved her life in more ways than one. The boy, turned man, who had come to be like her brother.

---

Abigail had barely been able to crawl her way towards the forest edge, hindered both by her wound and the nearly paralyzing fear of being shot down again by a redcoat, or even worse yet by someone else. The act alone had been tiring and had taken more time than what it ordinarily should, but with every rustle of leaves or a shifting body, she had halted, bracing herself for assault. Only when none came had she begun to move again, until the cycle happened again.

Once inside the woods, she had slowly pushed herself into an upright position, using the base of a tree for support, the old gnarled bark digging into her sides as she pushed her way up. Risking precious seconds to catch her breath, she then shoved herself away from the tree and began to run – a task that proved rather difficult but boy did she try. Putting any amount of distance between herself and the field had to be beneficial on some level.

Unfortunately, she didn’t make it as far as she would have liked. It couldn’t have been more than half a mile, perhaps even less, when she had grown winded and needed a rest. Taking this as an opportunity to assess her wound, she had looked down and had cursed at the sight of it.

Not only was the front of her shirt covered in dark patches of blood, even more blood was now seeping through the material and down her thighs. It was then she knew she had to stop. If not, she would lose more blood. Any more vigorous activity was not conducive to blood loss.

Her options had been very limited and in poor supply, but ultimately, she forced herself to make a decision, which prompted her to find a reasonable hiding space – one that wasn’t too far from the path that she could signal for help but not so close that she couldn’t keep herself hidden from trouble. So she had lowered herself behind the largest tree so could find, with only a handful of bushes that would only partially conceal her. It didn’t really matter at this point. The chance of survival was growing slimmer and slimmer with each passing minute.

As dusk settled into early evening, Abigail contemplated how best to treat her would. Remembering her father’s medical knowledge and her experience with Anderson, she tried her best to think of the best course of action to remove the bullet, if it would be wise at all.

She didn’t have access to a forceps nor anything sharp on her person. She could have used the blade of a bayonet of a fallen soldier if she had thought to take it but even that would have been a stretch of logic.

Besides, with nightfall, it would be next to impossible to attempt searching for the bullet even by touch. There was too much blood and possible inflammation for her to really tell, apart from the fact it would be more difficult to treat herself than someone else.

The only thing she could consider using was her revolver. If she could take it apart, perhaps than it could serve as a temporary forceps somehow. Either she let the bullet stay inside her and eventually die from lead poisoning or get the bullet out and die from potential hemorrhaging. Even if the left the bullet inside her, there was a significantly good chance she would bleed out, having lost a significant amount already.

So yes, from a medical standpoint, she knew she was done for.

Slowly, she shrugged out of her coat and pressed the heavy material to her abdomen, hoping to stop the bleeding while giving her more time to consider her options. She would have to come to a decision quick.

Night drew out its animal brethren not long after night descended on the earth. Cricket chirps and rustling feathers of nesting birds synchronized in a peaceful woodland melody. The calmness helped her to relax, the tension in her muscles easing little by little until the tree all but replaced her spine, keeping her upright.

The pain was almost secondary as numbness settled over her. With the comforting sounds of nature accompanied with this feeling, Abigail felt herself drifting, her eyelids feeling increasingly heavy…

The blonde started at a loud whickering. It sounded very close, coming certainly from the path.

She tried to search for her revolver, but her limbs felt detached from her, moving at a sloth’s pace. Whoever would find her wouldn’t be at a disadvantage. She could hardly search herself. How would she could defend herself?

“Oh, let them come,” she murmured tiredly. There wasn’t anything she could do.

But that didn’t stop her from finally managing to slip the revolver from her pocket and placing it directly by her side. The appearance of the weapon was better than none at all, even if she doubted she could handle it in her state.

“Wait, I think I heard something,” a voice came from the darkness. She tensed, tightening her grip on the revolver.

“Do you think it’s wise?” a second voice asked. “You don’t know who or what is in these woods.”

With a quick dismount, the stranger disregarded his companion’s warnings. The sound of footsteps approaching her spot had her heart beating wildly inside her chest. This was it. This was how she was going to die.

Finding what little energy she had, Abigail adjusted the revolver in her hand so that it rested on her thigh. She refused to go down without a fight, even if it was a short one.

“She could be here,” the first voice insisted stubbornly. More than a hint of pain colored his tone. “If she’s not, we… we’ll keep going.”

There was something familiar about the timber of the stranger’s voice that gave her pause. She frowned, cocking her head slightly to the side, and concentrated. The voice sounded so familiar… but there was no way…

Could it be?

It was well worth the risk of finding out.

“Ben,” she croaked out but found her voice was hoarse and too low to be heard.

The footsteps paused a moment after. While too quiet for even her own ears, he must have heard something. Hope bloomed inside her chest. Clearing her throat, she shifted a little against the tree and summoned up all the energy she could muster. “Ben, is that you?”

“A… Williams?” the voice demanded, breath caught in his throat.

She nodded, then realized foolishly he couldn’t see her. “Yeah… it’s me.”

No sooner had the words escaped her did twigs snapped and leaves rustled furiously as the footsteps reached closer at an increasing speed. In two slow blinks, she gazed up at a dark looming form over her, but the shadowy figure quickly made his identity know, squatting down beside her and cupping her face so tenderly she didn’t need sunlight to know who it was.

“Abigail,” Ben breathed, his hands trembling slightly as he cupped the sides of her face. She could have wept with relief at the sound of him, at his touch, and nearly did when his mouth found hers.

The kiss was brief but frantic, and before she could truly savor it, he pulled back search her face for any signs of harm. With her eyes having adjusted to the darkness, she could just make out the lines of his face and noted the fear warring with relief in his expression as he asked if she was hurt.

At this, Abigail huffed in amusement, causing Ben’s brows to furrow. Was she hurt? Now that was a loaded question. Loaded like a gun. She held back a snort at the pun and pressed her coat more firmly against her.

“It’s only a scratch,” she replied, smiling faintly with irony, which faded slightly at the sight of his growing frown.

Ben took her in more fully until he noticed her coat pressed against her abdomen. Alert, he said, “Let me see,” already moving her hands aside to get to the coat. She didn’t even make an attempt to fight him on it, which prompted him lift the coat more insistently.

A string of alarmed curses escaped him. Suddenly, she was grateful for the darkness.

“‘Only a scratch,’ she says,” Ben muttered, the trembling in his hands increasing nearly tenfold as they pressed down on her wound. She hissed, and he quickly withdrew his hands, making a pained sound as if he had been the one shot.

It was clear from the stark silence he was staring at his own hands, which were now covered in her blood.

“Son of a bitch!”

Abigail glanced upwards to see Caleb hovering over Ben’s shoulder, face full of horror. She hadn’t realized the other voice had been Caleb’s. She felt foolish for not piecing it together.

“We have to move her,” the whaler remarked, squatting down to assess the situation. “How bad is it?”

“Very,” Ben replied faintly before pressing her coat back over the wound. “There’s still so much blood.”

The pain in his voice was palpable. There was nothing more she wanted in the world than to reach out and tell him everything would be okay, but she had never been a good liar in her life. She reached for his hand and found it clammy, though it was still much warmer against her clammy skin.

Instead, she spoke quietly, “The moving might be tricky, considering any vigorous riding would only make the wound bleed more. It’s already bled more when I attempted running for half a mile or so before I had to stop. Jostling the bullet any further would only make things worse.”

She rattled off her assessment in a detached voice, which was only assisted by her fatigue. Both men absorbed her words with deepening frowns, with Ben’s grip tightening on her hand with reassurance, for her and himself.

Ben then ordered Caleb to go back to camp and gather some men so they can tend to the dead, and if there were any other injured men, they could be transported back to camp via wagon. His gaze pointedly landed on her before returning to Caleb, who promptly rose to his feet to carry out the task. When asked what he would do, Ben said he would remain with her until Caleb returned with the wagon.

Abigail began to protest, but the words died on her tongue when the major shut her down, “No, don’t even think about it. I’m not leaving you.”

The words “not again” went unspoken, but everyone heard them.

---

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Abigail made an inquisitive noise, lifting her head from where it had been resting against Ben’s shoulder, and looked at him. From this angle, the outline of his clenched jaw was clear, even in the night. She knew he was angry, and he had every right to be, but she wasn’t about to apologize for keeping this from him. It had been in his best interest, and she told him as much.

“What good would it have done if I had told you?” she asked. “You had so much on your mind already, and this would’ve only served as a distraction.” At his silence, she added pointedly, “Am I wrong?”

“I could’ve done something,” he persisted, though he hadn’t denied her point. “I could’ve prevented this. You shouldn’t have been out there.”

“And where precisely would you have me?” she asked incredulously. “Stay behind and disobey a direct order to risk being branded as a deserter? I think we know what the alternative would’ve been if I had.”

Caleb had set out find help back at the camp what felt like hours ago but what was most likely an hour at the most, perhaps less. Both Ben and herself were leaning against the tree, with him shielding her from any harm, whether from mother nature or an enemy soldier. Now if only he could protect her from herself.

He scowled into the darkness, knowing she was right. Her situation had always been precarious. Perhaps he had grown too comfortable with the idea of her being in camp that he hadn’t realized the possibility of her getting pulled into battle could easily become reality. And so it had.

And to have her join Culper on top of it…

“I know you’re upset with me for keeping this from you,” Abigail murmured. She returned to resting her head on his shoulder. His grip tightened around her protectively, his heart skipping a beat as she sighed quietly, content. And then she added quietly, “I am sorry for that.”

Ben pressed his lips together before taking a deep breath to calm himself. Conceding in an argument absolutely went against her nature. She was being almost… passive, and it unsettled him.

“Don’t think that I don’t know what you’re doing.”

Turning, he looked down to her smiling up at him, an alarming combination of sleepy and serene. “You’re trying to provoke me to keep me awake, aren’t you?” she asked knowingly.

“… maybe?” He felt more than heard her chuckle against him, which quickly turned into a small hiss of pain as she shifted. “Don’t move,” he scolded. “Moving is only going to make it worse.”

He doesn’t have to see her to know she rolled her eyes.

*

“Tell me a story,” Abigail asked a little while later, her head nestled comfortably into the crook of his neck.

Ben pressed his lips against her forehead. “What kind of story?”

“Any kind of story,” she said, deferring to him, “if it isn’t a stupid one.”

He huffed in amusement, shaking his head. “That limits my choice in stories then, doesn’t it?”

“I believe in you. It’s time to put your education to good use. And God help you if you go with Shakespeare.”

There was no love lost between Abigail and the bard, so Ben knew that the classics were disqualified from consideration.

When they were younger, he had once compared her with the triple goddess of Irish lore, a symbol that represented the maiden, mother, and crone. Each figure represented a different aspects of femininity: the maiden as enchantment, youth, and energy; the mother as power and stability and the crone as wisdom and compassion. It had been the closest he had come to revealing his feelings to that point, and every time he thought about it, he wanted to smack himself. He had been spectacularly drunk when he told her that but to be fair so had she, which perhaps explained her indignant fixation on incorrectly called a crone.

So mythology and lore were excluded from his options.

Instead, he decided to tell her about a story of a boy who was friends with an incredibly infuriating girl. He grinned as she pinched his thigh in warning but carried on in spite of it. The boy and girl had several arguments over the years, evolving in frequency and tone as they progressed into adolescence.

Every now and then, Abigail interjected, with a comment to correct him or to defend the actions of the nameless girl. Talking helped take their minds from where they were, bringing them back to a time when things were simpler, though unfulfilled.

As the story progressed further, Ben noticed her interjections decreased over time until they ceased altogether. He glanced down and saw that she was beginning to nod off. Alarmed, he shook her gently awake, mindful of her injury, and reminded her to stay awake.

Not long after, this became a frequent occurrence, with Ben giving up on storytelling and focusing his attention on keeping Abigail awake.

“Abigail, stay with me, please. Caleb will be here any minute… Abigail!”

Blearily, she opened her eyes, her gaze a little unfocused. Ben swallowed down his panic and pulled her close to him, bringing himself forward to catch her eyes. “Stay with me. Please.”

“Sorry,” she mumbled. “S’tired.” Her words slurred together, and it was a matter of time before she fell asleep against him.

“Christ Jesus,” Ben murmured, feeling the color drain out of his face. “Just a few more minutes. I swear to you, love. A few more minutes, and Caleb will be here with the wagon.”

Cupping her face, he swallowed hard. “Please. Just stay with me, love.”

Blinking slowly, she stared at him, for a moment not comprehending, but finally nodded her head. “I’m trying.”

“Don’t try, do,” he almost retorted, his fear nearly getting the better of him, but he managed to rein it back and kissed her firmly on the mouth. “Just a few more minutes,” he promised. He repeated the promise until the words nearly lost all meaning.

After what felt like a handful of years taken off his life, a chorus of hooves, whinnying, and rolling wheels drew his attention back to the path. For safe measure, he reached for his closest weapon, shielding her from whoever it was.

Not long after did Caleb appear with two other soldiers, ready to move her. It took some convincing on the whaler’s part, but he finally rose to his feet, allowing them to take her, barely footstep a behind them. The sight of the wagon and the men made him breathe a little easier. She would get the help she needed.

“Don’t leave me,” Abigail murmured once safely inside the wagon, her hand reaching for him.

Ben took her hand and squeezed it, stopping himself from lifting her hand to press to his lips. “I’m not going anywhere,” he swore passionately, keeping his voice low for her ears only. With a quick glance at Caleb, who have him an affirmative nod, he hopped into the wagon and sat beside her, clutching her hand between the both of his, hers having grown much colder in the passing hours since they discovered her.

The major was faintly aware of other wagons moving in the opposite direction, back towards Kerr Farm. His eyes were for Abigail and for her alone as Caleb hopped into the driver’s seat of their wagon, urging the horses into an energetic trot.

If she wasn’t all right after this… Ben would never forgive himself.

Chapter Text

Somehow, Abigail managed to stay awake through the journey back to camp, but by the time they stopped the wagon, she was drifting, and when the major hopped out from the wagon to pull her into his arms, her head rolled to the side, unconscious. Panicked, he leaned forward to assess her breathing, and sighed in relief at the sound of her breathing, though it was shallow.

Scooping her up into his arms, Ben rushed her into the infirmary tent, with Caleb hot at his heels, and called out for Dr. Anderson, the camp doctor and Abigail’s mentor.

The good doctor jerked up with a start, and with one look at the three of them, he leapt to his feet and had them lay her down on the nearest cot.

“What happened?” Anderson demanded, tilting back Abigail’s pallid face. A look of recognition lit up his face, and he murmured a brief curse.

“Gunshot wound,” Caleb remarked. “From a redcoat most likely, at the battle.”

“The battle the ended that ended well afternoon?” Anderson noted. He gave them a questioning glance. And you’re just bringing him to me now?

The question didn’t need to be spoken, but everyone heard it, especially Ben, whose gaze hadn’t left Abigail’s limp form the moment they had lain her on the cot.

With a quick glance at the ashen faced major, Caleb answered for them both, describing the conditions of finding her as Abigail had told them on the ride back to camp – that she had managed to crawl her way out of the battlefield and into the woods a little after dusk and had stopped to rest when the pain grew too much for her to keep running.

Anderson continued his assessment during the whaler’s narration, taking in the blood dampened shirt with a frown before reaching for the material and ripping the shirt open just above her navel and down. He prepared to give the rest of the shirt the same treatment when Ben’s hands snaked around his wrists, his grip tightening like a python’s.

The doctor looked up at him with a mixture of alarm and indignation. “What on earth –”

“You don’t want to do that,” Ben remarked, eyes glinting dangerously, his stance protective.

Anderson frowned. “I need to examine the full extent of the wound, to see if there’s potentially other damage.”

Ben was at a loss, something he wasn’t accustomed to. If he didn’t allow the doctor to operate, more harm would come to her, perhaps fatal harm. If he did allow it, then she would be exposed, with one more person knowing her true identity – a person who very well could easily report this to another officer or to Washington himself.

But his decision was already made for him. He could protect her from everyone else, including Washington himself, if only she lived.

Ben went to open his mouth, but Caleb intercepted for him, apparently having followed to catch his train of thought. He briefed him on the highlights of her situation, keeping it as vague as he possibly could – that she was really a woman who had entered the war of her own volition and was an important asset of intelligence gathering.

As Caleb elaborated, Ben maintained a shrewd eye on the doctor’s face, searching for the slightest sign he would bolt.

To his credit, Anderson didn’t react at all and calmly said, “I’ll need my hands to tend to Williams.” Ben immediately released him and watched as he retrieved the forceps and his other supplies, his gaze torn between Abigail and the doctor’s probing hands.

While the doctor began to operate, Caleb excused himself to check on the status of the other men, hugging the major and whispering to keep him informed about Abigail’s welfare. He knew that Ben would absolutely refuse to leave the tent, even with Anderson in the know. Abigail had asked him not to leave her, and he made a promise he wouldn’t leave her.

---

A few days passed since Abigail’s surgery. Having the fortune of not suffering from infection or fever, she began to heal in relative peace.

During these first few days, she remained in the infirmary tent under the combined watchful gaze of Anderson, Ben, and sometimes Caleb when he was able. It was a little unnerving, the amount of scrutiny she was under, but she supposed it was justified, after coming close to dying and all.

Knowing that the major would be busy now that he was back in Washington’s good graces, Caleb didn’t mind taking it upon himself and babysitting – her word, not his, because that was essentially what he was doing. Ordinarily, Abigail would have found this more annoying, but she was much too tired to consider being annoyed, let alone feel that emotion.

When she was deemed healthy enough to no longer be housed in the infirmary tent, the unfortunate situation of her lack of a place to go came to the forefront of her and Ben’s next conversation.

To his appalled dismay, she very reluctantly admitted to him that a few months back, many of the soldiers’ tents had been taken to house more officers, leaving the majority to either sleep in the fields or find shelter elsewhere, which was when she mentioned she and a friend would take to the stables whenever they could. She couldn’t bring herself to say his name, but the mere image of Christopher’s boyish grin in her mind’s eye caused her heart to clench.

Outraged, Ben promised he would get to the bottom of this, not only on her behalf but for the other soldiers’ as well. There was so much more that he didn’t know, but she wisely chose to keep her mouth shut. It wouldn’t do much good to tell him, knowing that there had been attempts to make things easier in the past but nothing had come through.

“Meanwhile, you’re going to stay with me,” Ben insisted, raising his eyebrows in anticipation for a challenge, “while you recover. And maybe even after that.”

Sighing, Abigail replied with a mumbled “fine” before allowing herself be escorted by not only Ben but Caleb as well, walking on each side of her nearly like human crutches. She didn’t make a comment about this either, another uncharacteristic behavior that had the two man sharing concerned glances over her head.

Once inside, they helped ease her down onto Ben’s cot with as much gentleness they could muster. Caleb took a step back as the major sat down by her side, an arm settling over her thighs which were tucked underneath a few layers of blankets.

“If you’re going to tuck me in like a child,” Abigail muttered, shifting a little even under his protective grasp, “I really must protest. Spare some dignity, won’t you?”

Ben’s lips twitched upwards, with Caleb huffing in amusement somewhere behind him. “There’s no dignity lost in being injured,” he assured her and took her hand in his. The warmth of her skin against his was an incredible comfort, the pulse at her wrist steady, strong, alive.

“That’s funny coming from you,” Caleb observed, mischief in his voice, “considering how petulant you were the first time you were cast to the sidelines due to an injury.”

Abigail raised a questioning eyebrow, and Ben shook his head in discouragement before leveling Caleb with an unimpressed look, to which their friend took with an unapologetic shrug.

At her persistent stare, Ben said, “It was a long time ago. Nothing for you to worry about.”

She made a quiet noise of discontent but said nothing more about it, especially as he brushed her hair away from her face with his other hand.

It was then she was told that the men were being gathered for another execution. Since officers were required to attend, Ben would be leaving soon, and Caleb planned to follow. With her injury, she wasn’t required to attend, of which she was immensely relieved. She’d had her fill of executions for a lifetime, the memory of the condemned Trenton soldier still haunting her two years later.

When she asked if it was anyone she knew, both men hesitated before filling her in on what she had missed. With each word, her eyes grew significantly wider. Apparently, Officer Pita was much more than the camp acquired moniker gave him credit for. He and his accomplice, who had been Washington’s personal guard, were set to be executed towards noon for theft and other charges, not for treason. It made sense, to be discreet in the name of France and their enemies.

Afterwards, Caleb would stop by and check on her while Ben attended a meeting with Washington to discuss official business. As much as she loved Caleb, the thought of not seeing Ben for a few more hours nearly made her frown.

“I mean, you could always just skip it,” Abigail suggested hopefully, “and just lie here with me instead?” She wanted to add more – snuggling and the like – but seeing Caleb’s eyebrows nearly disappear into his hairline prevented her from doing so. Barely.

“Are you trying to bribe me?” the major asked with a grin, which completely ruined his attempt at indignation.

She blinked innocently. “Maybe?”

Ben’s grin softened, his next words intended for her ears only, “You don’t have to bribe me. Holding you is a privilege.” He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to the crown of her head. She shut her eyes with a contented sigh.

“You two are sickening,” Caleb observed. “Seriously, I think my teeth are rotting from the sweetness.”

Ben and Abigail shared a brief grin before he leaned back and told her to get some rest, that he would be back before she knew it. She let him go reluctantly but was soon distracted by Caleb leaning over to give her affectionate peck to her cheek, making a playful remark she didn’t have the energy to swat him for before following his friend out of the tent.

And in one blink, then two, Abigail felt herself drifting back into sleep.

---

She drifted in and out for the rest of the day. By the time she was fully awake, it was nearly nightfall. With a quick survey of the tent, she knew Ben hadn’t been back since they had left, which was understandable considering military developments. Caleb was supposed to be there when she waked, to keep an eye on her in no small measure of protectiveness from either of them, but apparently, he was shit at his job since as soon as she woke up, she was alone.

Tired of being cot bound, Abigail hauled herself out of the cot, dressing herself to the best of her ability – which isn’t a hell of a lot, considering she didn’t have much beyond the clothes she had been changed into after her stay in the infirmary tent.

With some minor difficulty, she stepped out of the tent and inhaled deep breath of the summer evening air, wincing slightly on the exhale. Giving herself a few moments to steady herself, she took a careful step away from the tent, then two, until she was far enough away to allow the flap to fall closed behind her.

No one paid much attention to her once she had stepped out nor did anyone try to approach her when she progressed further away from the tent. Taking this as a sign, she decided to take a walk around the camp, not the complete circle of course. If she could make it even half way, that would be a miracle.

Slow and steady, she strode past the rows of tents and around the few campfires which lit up the base. It was a lot more quiet than usual, with the men’s normal boisterous loitering transformed into somber murmuring, a difference stemming from the result of the mid-afternoon hanging.

And not just any hanging; a hanging of Colonel Branford and one of Washington’s personal guards, the former of which more startling than the latter. The only reason for this was because the men had grown accustomed to Branford’s ways and presence within the camp. While he was (mostly) despised by the soldiers, there had been a small bloc of soldiers that had warmed up to him or at least kissed up to him to receive special treatment, at least initially.

From what Abigail could see now, whatever Branford’s sentiments were seemed to have spread to his little band of merry followers, which was slowly threatening to blossom into a faction within camp. She needed to keep an eye on the situation whenever she could, recalling having witnessed three abhorrent soldiers of men, Bartholomew, Jasper, and Decory – who she always had issues with from the very beginning of enlistment – within this group as she passed. She maintained a safe distance whenever they were around, especially now.

There wasn’t much she wouldn’t put passed them.

Stopping to catch her breath, she leaned against a stack of crates and shut her eyes. Okay, she had pushed herself more than she should’ve. Maybe it was time to turn back.

She opened her eyes just in time to see two soldiers setting boxed items to the ground before making their way back from where they came. Curious, she observed the pair make the rounds, disappearing with empty arms and returning with boxes to set on the ground next to the others before disappearing again. Some of the items looked familiar, though. A pocket watch, a cap, some playing cards, a… copy of A Treatise of Military Discipline.

“Do you mind some company?” she asked lowly as soon as she approached the boy. She noted one of the manuals opened in his lap and smiled. None of the other enlistees seemed to be particularly bothered with them, especially the younger and middle-aged groups.

Jumping slightly, the boy peered up startled only to smile in relief. “No, not at all. You can have the top if you’d like. I’m nervous about rolling off and falling onto my face.”
Abigail grinned and set her satchel on the bed to stake her claim. “Well, if I do roll off, feel obliged to use me as a rug when you rise in the morning.”

His laugh was muffled by the roaring laughter from the other side of the cabin. She couldn’t help but jump a little at just how loud the others were and hoped no one would notice. “You seem like the quiet sort. I’d prefer your company over those lot,” he remarked lowly for her ears only. “My name’s Christopher. Christopher Morgan.” He extended his hand out to her.

These were boxes of discarded items, discarded items of fallen soldiers.

She slipped a hand inside her trouser pocket, feeling the warm press of the metal chain digging into the palm of her hand as she tightened her grip. His locket felt heavy inside her pocket.

Feeling sick and growing several shades paler, she stared as the soldiers continued gathering his belongings as well as the others who had fallen at the battlefield, leaning more heavily against the stack of crates beside her, suddenly dizzy.

A touch that felt suspiciously like fingers brushed along her arm, but she ignored it, transfixed by the sight in front of her. It wasn’t until the touch turned into an insisting grip did she finally lift her gaze to acknowledge the offending party, and her breath caught in her throat when she saw Ben staring down at her.

“Now, I don’t think this is what doctors refer to as bedrest,” he commented dryly, his expression hardened with severe disapproval.

She met his gaze levelly, undeterred by his disapproving gaze. “I just needed some fresh air and just needed to move around a little,” she confessed, not entirely apologetic. “I was going to head back, I was. But then I saw this…”

As she trailed off, the major looked in the direction of where she had been staring, an expression of recognition quickly lighting his face. The disapproval was quickly replaced by understanding and sympathy.

“Come on,” he spoke quietly, softening his grip and tone, “you really shouldn’t be on your feet right now.”

Ben guided her in the direction of the tent while they talked quietly along the way, with him carrying most of the conversation. He apologized for not being there when she woke up. Before she could dismiss his apology, he didn’t give her the chance, instead explaining he had more business to discuss with Washington than he had originally anticipated.

By the time he had managed to make his way back to her, it was only to discover she was gone. With another year or three taken off his life due to fright, he had immediately searched the camp for her until he found her where she had been resting. She gave him a sheepish look and apologized, regretful for having sent him into a fright not once but twice in the past seventy-two hours.

Caught up in the tumultuous waves of guilt, Abigail hadn’t paid any attention to when they were going, so when they walked through the rows of tents and passed his tent, she hadn’t thought anything of it. It wasn’t until they stepped into the woods did it give her pause.

She gave him a questioning look, to which he replied, “You said you needed air, so I thought there would be no place better here.” He gestured to their surroundings before dropping them to his side. “Under supervision, of course,” he added.

Abigail held back a smile at his poor attempt of subtlety and walked over to a fallen log. She nudged it lightly with her foot, assessing the sturdiness of it, and when it didn’t budged, she began to ease herself down into her newly acquired seat, with Ben quick to come to her aid. He sat down beside her, whether it was a protective stance or to give her someone to help steady her was anyone’s guess.

More than likely, it was both.

“When I saw what they were doing, with the boxes,” she began softly, “I saw something that belonged to someone... someone who’s gone now.”

Abigail removed the locket from her pocket and held it in her hands, turning it over gingerly in between her hands. She kept it close to her before opening her hands so that Ben could have a better look. “This belonged to my friend Christopher. Don’t worry. I didn’t steal it so you don’t have to worry about hanging me for theft.” The comment sounded dry and hollow and didn’t sound as amusing as it had in her head.

Ben wasn’t amused. He frowned. “That’s not even remotely funny.”

Nodding, she grimaced slightly. “No, I don’t suppose it is.”

Eventually, she began to tell him about Christopher, who he was, and how much he had helped her ever since their enlistment. He had been the younger brother she had never had, so young and kind and loyal and sweet.

When she began to tell him how he died, her throat constricted. She felt like she couldn’t breathe.

Ben shifted closer to wrap his arm around her, his thigh pressed against hers. The contact steadied her, calming her enough to finish. His grip tightened around her when she described how he died, so suddenly and callously beside her.

When she told him what her friend had told her, about her not being able to save him, the major remarked that he was right, that there was nothing she could have done to help him, more than she already had by taking the locket as she had promised Christopher she would. She knew that, both at the time and now, but that didn’t stop her from feeling guilty that she was alive and he wasn’t, but she kept those thoughts to herself.

Somehow sensing her thoughts, Ben pulled her closer, pressing his face against the top of her head. “I know what you’re going through. There’s nothing that can be said to make what you’re going through any easier. It gets better in time though, dealing with it. All you can really do is try to live your best day to day. And let the people around you help you when you need it.”

She stifled a groan. She should’ve known he would throw that last part in. With a quiet sigh, she attempted to hide her face against his shoulder when he suddenly pulled back, forcing her to meet his gaze.

“All this time,” Ben began, his gaze troubled and tender, “you have taken care of me, even if it meant risking yourself.” He hooked a finger underneath her chin to coax her gaze upwards when he sensed she considering looking away. “When will you let me take care of you?”

“Ben…” she started tiredly but he shook his head.

“We’re heading back, and you’re going to rest.” Rising to his feet, he turned and extended his hand towards her. “This time, I’ll be there to make sure you actually do.”

He had that stubborn glint in his eye. In all the years she had known him, she knew there was no arguing with that look, even from her.

Slipping her hand inside his, Abigail let herself be pulled up from the log and leaned into him as he led her back.

With his arms around her a little while later, they lied together on his cot. It was a rather snug fit, but neither of them didn’t appear bothered by it. She insisted on curling against him, and he allowed it but only as it didn’t disturb her wound. There was so much more they needed to talk about, but the talking could wait until morning.

Chapter Text

Abigail woke slowly. It wasn’t anything in particular that stirred her, no disturbance from the outside world which was what usually the cause. No, it was one of those moments when one just happened to slip back into consciousness for no outright reason. This should have been more vexing, but she found herself much too comfortable to complain.

Turning her head to the direction of the quiet sounds of her bed partner, she found herself smiling at Ben’s peaceful, sleeping face, his head barely inches away from her own on their shared pillow. His arm was warm where it rested along her rib cage, heavy but in a comforting way, an act that brought her side more firmly against him.

The major was curled protectively against her, blocking her from view from the tent’s entrance, which she suspected was a purposeful maneuver. Still, she snuggled further into his warmth and smiled to herself as his grip tightened instinctively. Even asleep he was determined to protect her.

He looked so peaceful she wanted to press a kiss to his cheek but feared waking him. He had always been a light sleeper, even when met with exhaustion.

It had been roughly a week since their conversation about her divorce. She didn’t know what made her think of it now, other than lying in the arms of the man she l… cared for, had always cared for, for as long as she could remember. Of course, she had wished she had told him sooner, but her reasons for not having done so earlier had been valid and still remained so.

Thankfully, she hadn’t needed to fully recount her reasoning.

“I wanted to tell you,” Abigail began, “That’s what I was trying to tell you, before we were interrupted. And then there was everything that happened, afterwards…”

She attempted to explain, about why she hadn’t told him to begin with, but Ben quickly interjected, “Caleb already explained, though he didn’t say much. He was very reluctant to break your trust.”

She wasn’t angry with Caleb for telling Ben. In fact, she was quite relieved, that at least while everything else had happened, at least he knew. Now came the conversation that was long overdue.

“Maybe I don’t have to explain how, but I should still explain why,” Abigail continued, folding her hands carefully across her lap. She was in his cot, sitting up despite his many protests. This wasn’t a conversation where she could let herself lie flat on her back, gunshot wound notwithstanding.

And so she told him. Everything. She told him why she had to do it, that she had done it for them, so that they could finally have a real chance. When the war was over, they could finally start a life together, the life they should have had without circumstance or other people coming between them. Inside her heart, she knew she had made the right decision and perhaps she had known it long before the decision had been made. It was the right thing to do, not just in the sense of morality but for them, for their future.

She wasn’t accustomed to making herself so vulnerable. It wasn’t a feeling she fancied very much, but if she wanted to do this, she had to be completely willing to allow herself to lay her heart on the table, no matter the consequences.

Though she stopped herself short from uttering those three little words aloud. She wasn’t quite that brave enough for that yet.

Abigail paused to catch her breath, fighting the urge to resist his gaze. Ben stared back at her, a mixture of several emotions surging across his face.

After a prolonged silence, Ben spoke softly, “What you’ve just described… There’s nothing that I want more.” He crossed the short distance between them to kneel down beside her next to the cot, his hands covering hers. “It’s something worth fighting for – God only knows how long I’ve…” He trailed off with a half choked laugh, prompting a soft smile from her. “But I think we’ve waited long enough.”

With such gentleness, he reached over to cup her face, his expression so tender it nearly made her breath hitch. She felt his thumb lightly graze her lower lip, and that time her breath did hitch quietly in the back of her throat.

She wasn’t sure who leaned in first, but soon their mouths found each other in a soft but lingering kiss. She settled her hands along the nape of his neck, steadying herself before drawing him closer.

They had shared kisses before, but this was the first time they weren’t shackled by anything else – near death experiences, arguments, or even husbands, or rather ex-husbands as the papers demonstrated.

Abigail could still feel that kiss, warming her straight down to her toes. She nestled more closely to the man beside her, content and happy. There wasn’t anything holding them back now, aside from the obvious restraints placed on them by her situation.

But knowing there wasn’t anything else to prevent them from being together, for the first time in a long time, she felt a blossoming sensation inside her chest. Hope.

---

It was barely dawn when Ben woke, stirring them both as he rose to prepare for the day. There was much work to be done and meetings to be had. Abigail didn’t envy his position and observed him from his cot. While she was healing, there wasn’t much for her to do duty-wise, so she was able to lie back and pose the occasional comment. Perhaps getting shot and nearly dying did pose some benefits.

She didn’t realize she voiced the thought aloud when she met his steely glare, which she easily dismissed as she drifted back to sleep.

Unfortunately, the rest of her day didn’t last this way. By the time she woke again, it was near mid-morning. She could hear the bustling of camp activity outside the tent walls and felt a strong yearning to join them, having been cooped up for nearly two weeks now.

Was it possible to grow weary from restlessness? Now that was a conundrum.

With her decision half made for her, Abigail rose to her feet and got herself ready. Her strength had returned enough that she found dressing to provide her no great difficulty, though it took her much longer than it ordinarily would have.

The desire for activity was far too great for her to ignore. Purposefully ignoring Ben’s adamant insistence she could practically hear at the back of her mind, she walked out of his tent and headed straight for the infirmary tent.

She hoped to regain her position as his assistant, but from what she had been told, Anderson now knew her identity. It had to be done, if he had intended to save her life. As the weeks went on, there had been no mention of this reveal to anyone, no whispering about the camp that could’ve reached their ears. It had taken a week of quiet observation, but she knew she could trust the doctor.

Still, with this in mind, the encounter remained a bit awkward when coming face to face with Anderson. However, he didn’t appear to act as if anything was amiss, only making a wry comment about her being up and about when she should be recuperating.

“If by ‘recuperating’ you mean to coop me up like a hen, then I believe I’ve recuperated quite nicely,” Abigail remarked dryly, once again her mouth getting the best over her head. There was nothing to fear, seeing his lips twitch faintly upwards at the retort, and she knew her secret was safe with him.

Grateful for his discretion, she then asked if he needed any assistance. Her reasoning was twofold: first, she was indeed growing stir crazy and needed to do something productive and secondly, it only made sense to be physically active if she wanted to get better faster. She used both of these reasons to appeal to his medical nature, vaguely worried he would insist otherwise.

“The most common medical opinion would be to discourage any type of physical activity until your wound was safely healed,” Anderson commented, looking her over with an assessing eye, “but I suppose I can’t ignore that logic.”

He agreed to let her come back to work with him on a few conditions: that the work would not be physically strenuous and if she felt any ill effects of any kind, she would inform him. She agreed instantly, eager to be of use once again.

---

Over the course of the next few days, Abigail was able to establish a balance between working with Anderson and recovery. Having grown familiar with Ben’s routine, she found a way to work around it but always making sure she returned to the tent in time for whenever he returned to check in on her, a very challenging task in itself. So far she had managed it surprisingly well.

During these times, Caleb dropped in and provided them with Culper updates after asking how she was faring. With each update, Abigail grew increasingly concerned about Abe and the challenges he was facing. It was a wonder he hadn’t been discovered before, and now it sounded as if his position was compromised.

From the looks of it, the whaler had been carrying out more and more courier duties within the past few days, if not the last couple of weeks. Courier duties she had initially volunteered to share with him, but Caleb was now bearing the brunt of the work. Guilt settled in the pit of her stomach, as foolish as it was. Of course, she hadn’t planned on getting shot, but she still felt guilty all the same.

Just the thought of performing courier duties, doing something active and giving Caleb a hand, gave her the very goal she needed to get better faster. Even more so, she wanted to see Abe was all right with her own eyes, but she knew she didn’t have the strength for that just yet. But still, this provided her with a tangible goal, one she always kept in mind as she snuck out from Ben’s tent to assist Anderson.

Her secret trips to and from the infirmary tent proved to be rather beneficial for more reasons than one. Primarily, the walking did wonders for her health, both physical and mental state of being, the latter she found even more important. But perhaps even more importantly, it helped reestablish herself among the soldiers, reconnecting with acquaintances she had met through Christopher and on her own.

It was a good idea to revisit these social channels. They were the very reason of how she had learned of Benedict Arnold returning to camp.

To say Abigail had never been a great admirer of the man would have been putting it lightly. More often than not, she had actively despised him, even though it was mostly on hearsay rumors, at least according to Ben when she had originally brought up her issues with Arnold.

However, the problem she had taken with that particular term was that the best way to understand a man’s character was through the eyes of others and how they viewed him. Although not the perfect measure to assess a person’s true nature – because there were a great deal amount of flaws by solely relying on group opinion – it did provide an indication of what the man was like without meeting him herself.

And by all accounts in the last year, she hadn’t heard one kind word from any of the soldiers, not one. Even in group settings when discussing him, there had not been one soldier willing to come to the man’s defense. That had to mean something, right?

Maybe she wasn’t being completely fair in her assessment of him. It was possible she could’ve been asking the wrong people and not getting to the heart of the matter. There was a possibility she had it all wrong.

But there was also the possibility that pigs could sprout wings and fly out of Arnold’s arse as well, but it was highly unlikely.

Whenever she caught a glimpse of the proud general’s powerful stature, she did her best to conceal herself and avoid him, whether it meant nearly knocking the wind out of her by ducking behind a pile of ammunition or simply turning her back on him altogether.

Unable to let well enough alone, she took it upon herself to conduct some more field research between her shifts with Anderson, to learn all that she could about the man and general Benedict Arnold. She didn’t dare risk asking any officers herself, and meeting Arnold was absolutely out of the question. That only left her with making inquiries of the soldiers again, which, yes, limited her pool of inquiries, but it was the best she could manage under the circumstances.

It was apparent from the soldiers she spoke with that none of their opinions of Arnold had changed much in the past year. In fact, if any change was present, it was their opinions only became more negative. Apparently, a few of them had word from friends stationed in Philadelphia, where rumors about Arnold was gradually gaining momentum. His arrogance and entitlement were increasingly getting the better of him, causing him to become more alienated within the Philadelphia social scene, both military and society.

Unfortunately, there was nothing Abigail could do with this new information. As much as she loathed to admit it, the information did carry the burden of being labeled as hearsay. Without anything tangible to prove these rumors true, there was nothing she could do with it. However, that wasn’t going to stop her from sharing her concerns with Ben, even if it led to an argument. The more important question that needed answering was just how she would go about broaching the topic.

---

Another one of Anderson’s conditions to accepting her back had been an unspoken one, though she really should have anticipated it. With each day she arrived to assist him, the doctor would examine her, redressing her wound and checking for any signs of infection or inflammation. She had no qualms about this condition, acknowledging this was very much for her benefit.

The problem only made itself known days later. They had been too busy tending to other wounded soldiers and officers for Anderson to examine her, and by the time she had returned to Ben’s tent, she had thought he had long forgot. However, at the sound of the knock outside the tent had drawn to move back the flap to see the doctor standing there, with his bag ready and walked in without being invited inside to begin the examination, which was fine.

Fine right up until the good doctor was leaving the tent just as Ben was returning. Abigail heard the exchange from inside, more specifically hearing Anderson comment, “Williams is doing remarkably well. It’s a great help that she’s been getting herself up and about camp these last few days.”

She glared at the shadow of the man’s retreating form. There was no way he hadn’t done that purposefully.

With a quiet sigh, the blonde braced herself for the major’s ire, settling down on the cot just in time as Ben pushed back the tent flap and entered, gazing at her pointedly.

“What have you been up to?” he asked.

Abigail blinked innocently. “I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, I’m sure you don’t,” he remarked dryly, letting the flap fall shut behind him. He pulled out the chair from his desk and sat down to face her, as if getting ready to interrogate a wayward soldier. Though considering the circumstances, that was probably an apt description.

Relenting the charade, Abigail admitted to having gone to Anderson and asking for her position back. It gave her something to do, plus a reason get exercise if she ever wanted to get back on her feet.

As expected, he didn’t react well to this, claiming it had more to do with her lying to him than her not resting .She then countered back with if she hadn’t lied to him, would he have been upset with her working then, recalling that the last time he had found her walking around camp he hadn’t been happy.

“If you hadn’t lied to me, I wouldn’t be upset,” he remarked, eyes narrowing into near slits when she snorted.

“Look who’s lying now,” Abigail retorted, raising a challenging brow. He opened and closed his mouth repeatedly like an angry fish before ultimately pressing his lips together in a tight, unhappy line.

Abigail sighed, rubbing her eyes tiredly. “I didn’t wish to start an argument with you. I just… knew you wouldn’t like it if I told you about my plans. I thought it would be for the best if I didn’t tell you.” She offered him a small, tentative smile, “I am sorry for that, for lying to you, but I’m not sorry for why I did it.”

“I understand why you did it,” he admitted reluctantly, “but it doesn’t mean I like it. I don’t want you to push yourself too hard because you feel as if you need to prove something.”

Abigail shook her head. “I’m not trying to prove anything. It’s helping me. Walking around camp and helping Anderson is helping me. I’m getting stronger every day.”

As if to prove her point, she shifted her weight so that her feet rested on the floor. Before he could gear himself up to protest, she managed to get herself to her feet and walked over towards him, placing a hand on his shoulder before easing herself down onto his lap.

“See?” Abigail asked cheerfully. “Progress.”

Ben frowned, but she could see his stubbornness easing slightly. Another sign of progress. “I just don’t want you taking unnecessary risks.” He wrapped his arms securely around her waist, drawing her closer to him so that she wouldn’t fall. A soft smile tugged at his lips once he felt her nestle closer to him. “I want you safe. Is that so wrong?”

“No, it isn’t,” Abigail replied, her fingertips touching his jaw. She wanted to tell him that she wasn’t a fragile doll either, but given the circumstances, the claim wasn’t substantiated by much. Instead, she leaned forward and pressed her mouth to his, kissing him gently until his frown faded into a soft smile.

The information about Arnold could wait. For now.

Chapter Text

Over the course of the next two weeks, several things happened at once.

With Caleb’s news from Townsend that the camp’s Reverend Worthington was in fact spying for the British, a plan had been set in motion for Ben to deal with him in a discreet manner, which of course had been approved by Washington himself.

Ben hadn’t been forthcoming with Abigail on just what kind of manner that would be, but from just the tension radiating from him, she had known Washington had given him permission to kill Worthington. It would have to be as quietly done as possible, staged as an accident of some sort to avoid suspicion, but it was without certain that Reverend Worthington would meet the creator who he often spoke for.

Among the many changes occurring in the camp, there was also the integration of women, many of whom were the wives and lovers of the soldiers. Washington had given permission for women to be join the camp but under very strict stipulations.

First, they were assigned to reside just outside the camp and weren’t allowed to step foot outside those boundaries unless under official orders. Secondly, if they were to reside in camp, they were to earn their keep, which meant performing tasks which kept the camp functioning – cooking, washing, making new uniforms, and other such tasks.

Abigail had a rather strong opinion on this second stipulation, considering how many of these tasks had originally been performed by the soldiers themselves. She hated to think the women’s presence would be taken advantage of, but apparently, this worry was a little too late.

That didn’t prevent her from suggesting the women should be paid for their efforts to Ben every chance she was able, even if the conversation had nothing to do with that particular topic. When he asked if she would ever let this go, she always responded with, “When they start getting paid, I will.”

And so they were but very meagerly. The only reason she hadn’t pushed the issue any further was the fact the army wasn’t getting much money from the Congress in the first place. So she didn’t have much of a choice to let bygones be bygones. For now.

A few of the single women brought into camp found alternate paths to augment their meager salaries, seeking the physical comfort and pleasure from soldiers for a discounted price. The higher the rank, the higher the price, which could hardly be blamed.

Abigail discovered this growing trend for herself when she and Caleb had been passing through the women’s camp on their way to discussing courier duties in a more remote location. Caleb had stopped to examine a trinket an older woman was selling when Abigail herself had been approached by a younger woman. She hadn’t been dressed as scantily clad as what most had been described to her in the past, but seeing as how it had been early morning with the wind’s crisp chill, there hadn’t been much sense in that.

“Care to show a girl a good time?” the woman had purred, batting her eyelashes suggestively. She tried pressing herself against her, but Abigail was quick to put out her arms to prevent her for stepping any closer.

“No, thank you,” Abigail murmured, her face aflame. “Perhaps you can find a man more suitable for your, erm, activities.”

“Playing hard to get,” the woman remarked, her grin growing more salacious. “How adorable.” She reached up a hand and began to stroke the blonde’s face. “And such a pretty face, too. I normally don’t do this, but the first round is on me.”

Abigail’s eyes widened. “Um…”

The woman pressed further, taking advantage of her stunned immobility. “You won’t find a better offer.”

When she began to reach between Abigail’s legs, the blonde leapt back with a squawk, which prompted Caleb to return to her side and help ease her out of the woman’s clutches, checking to make sure she was all right once they were on their way with a concerned frown.

“Thank you,” Abigail murmured as they walked away briskly, purposefully ignoring the woman’s pouting expression as they made their escape. Her face was still burning a bright scarlet.

“What can I say,” Caleb replied, lips quirking into a smile, “except that you’re welcome.”

After that little misadventure, Abigail did her best to avoid the women’s camp.

With her job with Anderson nearly fully reinstated coupled with her recovery, she had her hands full. More soldiers arrived who needed tending to along with the gathering of more herbs required in Anderson’s medicines, the ones that could be readily located at least. So much of her time was occupied by the bustle that she had nearly forgotten about the Worthington plot.

That was until Abigail spotted Ben observing the reverend in camp. It didn’t take her long to figure out what would come next.

---

“Reverend,” Ben greeted as he made his approach. Worthington looked up, a bit taken aback before settling into brief smile. “Good morning.”

“Ah, Benjamin,” was all he received in return as he continued walking forward, adjusting his satchel on his shoulder – the sight not escaping the major’s notice.

Falling into step with him, Ben inquired, “Will you be traveling along with the camp?”

The reverend’s footing faltered briefly as he paused, an odd reaction to such an innocent question, but Ben knew precisely why he would act in such a manner. After a brief moment, the reverend responded, “No, no. I’m off to Fairfield.”

“What, New Jersey?”

Worthington nodded. “Yeah, the good Reverend Martin has been ministering my home church in my stead. He hasn’t been paid in quite some time. Riding out after the morning benediction to see it done.”

Ben frowned. “That means you’ll be crossing through no man’s land. That’s far too dangerous.”

The reverend insisted, his tone a little too hard, “I can’t abandon my duties because the road is rough.”

“Reverend, you haven’t read the scouting reports,” the major insisted right back. “Tory cowboys hunt for men traveling alone. Let me send an escort along with you.”

Worthington shook his head in refusal. “I’ve made the trip before, my son.” Reaching over, he clasped his shoulder, an attempt to reassure him. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back before the camp reaches Middle Brook.”

The reverend released him and headed in the direction of the soldiers waiting for the benediction. Ben stared after him, barely concealing his grim determination. After a moment or two of observing the reverend and his flock before heading in the direction of his own tent. He didn’t have long to change into his civilian clothes before Worthington would set off.

The reverend may have made the trip before as he had claimed, but he had no way of knowing that this trip would be his last.

As the major prepared himself for the mission, another soldier prepared herself for the journey. Having moved a bit closer to better overhear the conversation, it hadn’t taken long for Abigail to figure out what Ben had planned. The reverend’s chosen path provided the perfect opportunity to eliminate him. What better way to stage an accident than in no man’s territory? It would be next to impossible for the reverend’s murder to come back to Ben, let alone back to Washington’s orders.

Still, it would provide her with a world of comfort if she could see to Ben’s safety for herself. With this in mind, she had causally grabbed the first pair of clean civilian clothing she could find, swiping them off the nearest clothes line and slipping inside the infirmary tent to change, where there was oddly enough no patients or Anderson to be seen.

With her uniform stuffed into a bag, she carefully tucked it away underneath a crowded workbench, knowing Anderson wouldn’t find it in all of his clutter. It was a miracle he was able to find any of his basic instruments at all with his lack of organizational skills. Perhaps that was the reason he kept her around.

Shaking her head to clear her mind, Abigail returned to her back to grab her father’s pistol and pocketed it. It was the one consistent weapon she kept with her at all times, and the rest of hers remained in Ben’s tent. And that wasn’t an option for her at the moment.

Just as she slipped out of the tent, the blonde spotted the reverend making his way towards the forest, unawares that the major was keeping his distance in his pursuit. She counted to herself, calculating enough distance just as he had done before she followed.

Ben would be furious once he found her out, but then again, was that anything new?

---

Ben followed Worthington further into the woods, unknowing that Abigail wasn’t much further behind him. It was a miracle he that he hadn’t, considering his experience and expertise, but she wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth by questioning her blessing.

Instead, she remained hidden in the trees, only stepping beyond them when she absolutely had to in her pursuit. Thankfully, those moments were few and far between.

It wasn’t much longer until she brought herself to a halt, watching Ben watch Reverend Worthington leaving a note at a dead drop. She smothered down an angry noise but barely. How could a man of the cloth commit such an act of betrayal?

Apparently she was not alone in her thoughts as the major stepped out from the trees, saying, “You’ve strayed from the path, Reverend.”

Startled, Worthington rose to his feet. “Benjamin. What are you doing here?” He looked as if he might make a break for it but ultimately reconsidered, seeing as he was being held at gunpoint.

“We received word that you were a traitor,” Ben remarked as he approached him, his grip on the rifle steady and ever present, “but now I have the proof.”

“Proof?” the reverend asked, forced confusion coloring both expression and tone. Abigail barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes.

“Oh, no, this… this isn’t what… let me, let me explain,” he continued, voice pitching higher in his poor attempt of sincerity.

Not buying it, Ben demanded, “Explain what? How you were paid by Royal Governor Tyron and Mayor Matthews to spy on our camp?”

The reverend shook his head. “No.”

Ben raised his eyebrows. “No? Well, perhaps the contents of that letter,” he gestured with a nod and a lift of the gun towards the letter the good reverend had carefully concealed underneath the pile of leaves near a rotting tree log, “can clear things up, eh? Why not read it to me?”

Slowly, Worthington dropped to his knees to retrieve the letter and took his time rising to his feet. He brushed the dirt from the letter and smoothed out the creases but had yet to open it. It seemed he was putting off reading its contents for as long as he possibly could.

Sensing this was the case, the major pressed forward, demanding through gritted teeth, “Read. The. Letter.”

Stuttering, the reverend incredibly reluctantly read the letter’s contents, revealing Washington’s movements to the British. He admitted to writing of the new location of the main camp as Middle Brook, which was near the Bridgewater Township.

When he finished, Ben demanded to know why, why he had betrayed them. The traditional motives – money, politics, simple greed – felt too light in the act of his betrayal, and coming from a man who had appeared nothing but a good man, there had to be something else lying beyond any material gain.

“As an act of grace,” Worthington admitted quietly, dropping the confused, innocent act as soon as he had finished reading his letter aloud. It was replaced by a resigned weariness, one that Abigail had witnessed far too often in the camp among the soldiers. “I see their agony while I pray for their deliverance.” His lips pressed into a sudden sneer. “Washington is a fool.”

His sentence barely made it out of his mouth before Ben fired the rifle. The bullet struck the man with a thunderous sound, so thunderous it rocked Abigail to her core. Instinctively, she clutched at her stomach, a flash of a blistering summer sun and her blood soaked hand entering her mind at the mere sound. It had been a little over two months since she had last heard such a sound, the last time being on a body laden field of Kerr Farm.

Glancing down, she removed her hand, half expecting to find the wound open and bleeding, but all that remained was a scar underneath the rough cloth of her shirt – a long, deep, nasty looking reminder of that horrid day. A physical reminder of who she had lost and what it had nearly cost her.

But it was also a reminder of the very fact she survived, that she still lived. A reminder to not take anything for granted.

Distracted by her overwhelming thoughts, Abigail hadn’t registered the shocked expression on Worthington’s face at the shot nor had she heard the fall of his body once he collapsed to the ground, dead.

It wasn’t until Ben lower his rifle to the ground to move Worthington’s body to the river did she finally regain her senses. Instead of following him to the riverbank, she remained in the woods, keeping an eye on him from the underbrush. She wouldn’t reveal herself until he returned safely onshore. Besides, it was a better option to remain where she was, so she could keep an eye out for any strange persons who may happen to come across him, enemy or no.

That was until a tall, strange man approached the river’s edge, with his gun drawn. Breath catching in her throat, she wanted desperately to call out to Ben, to warn him, but the stranger did that for her. “Now that’s no way to treat a man of God.”

Fear gripping her heart, Abigail watched helplessly as Ben turned slowly to face the stranger, his expression carefully blank as he addressed him. As it turned out, the stranger was Worthington’s contact who had arrived to collect his information from the dead drop. Not only was he Worthington’s contact, but he had also been the redcoat who had arrived to warn Washington of the civilian’s alleged threat to the commander-in-chief, the very redcoat who had actually been a spy all along. Gamble was his name, Lieutenant Gamble.

The lieutenant than ordered for him to turn around and keep his hands raised to where he could see them. Oh God. Was he intending to execute him right there, right in front of her?

Sick with terror, she hurriedly grabbed her father’s pistol from the inside of her coat. She knew it wasn’t a smart option, but it was her only option. She wasn’t going to let Ben die, not when there was someone she could do to prevent it, no matter how small that chance was.

Unable to look away, she lifted her pistol and aimed at Gamble, keeping her gaze focused on him even after Ben had already turned his back to him upon his request. She readied herself to shoot him square in the back, if not the head, whatever came first.

But instead of raising his gun to shoot him, Gamble brought down the blunt end of his musket into the base of Ben’s skull, knocking him unconscious into the water.

Abigail stood there, stock-still and breathless as Gamble retrieved his body, assessing her options. Whatever Gamble’s intentions were, he intended for Ben to remain alive, of that much she was certain. Wherever he took him, she knew she had to follow, no matter how far and long it took her to trail them.

The opportunity would present itself for her to intervene, and when it came, there wouldn’t be any time for hesitation.

---

By the time the major woke, nightfall had settled on the earth. Head pounding with a fury, he tried to ease himself up, only to find himself incapable of movement. Blinking, his gaze adjusted enough, thanks to the crackling firelight, to realize that he had been bound and slung over a horse – Gamble’s no doubt.

“Ah, he wakes!” exclaimed the man in question with mock joviality. Turning his head in the direction of the voice, Ben watched as he settled his bowl and spoon onto the log beside him. “Hungry?” He grinned provokingly, but Ben chose to ignore it.

“Where are we?” Ben demanded, unfamiliar with their surroundings. They were still in the woods, that much he was aware, but where exactly they were was difficult to determine.

“You’re on your way to meet Major André,” Gambles remarked. “That’s the least you could do for me, seeing that you fouled my mission.”

“I won’t talk,” Ben insisted. “You might as well kill me now.”

The lieutenant grinned wolfishly. “Oh, I’d love to. Give you a second smile like I did for your old man. Sackett, was it?”

The memory of Mr. Sackett still haunted him to that very moment. His loss would forever be felt by him, a loss that could have easily been prevented. As much as the memory of the man still cut into his heart, he couldn’t let himself be too affected by Gamble’s provocation.

A shadow not too far from where Gamble sat immediately seized Ben away from his thoughts. He wasn’t sure if it was a figment of his imagination or if there had been something there. As the shadow moved again, coming closer, his gaze focused on it. He wasn’t hallucinating then. Now was the shadow friend or foe?

“But I got chastised, you see,” Gamble continued, unaware of Ben’s shifting attentions, “Won’t make the same mistake twice.”

The closer the figure came, the more easily Ben was able to make out their features. The firelight provided him with a better glimpse. Realization dawned on him with nearly enough force of a musket to the back of his head. He knew exactly who it was.

Abigail brought her finger to her lips, eyes widening in warning. Ben pressed his lips together firmly, determined to keep her safety his priority while his anger warred with his senses. Why was she making a habit of risking herself?

“Though after the major gets done with you,” Gamble continued, “I’ll expect he’ll have me see you vanished.”

She crept closer, close enough that she was now in physical danger with her proximity. Ben gritted his teeth in frustration and began an attempt to remove the rope from his wrists, hoping this would distract the man enough to keep him from looking over his shoulder as Abigail stealthily retrieved his abandoned musket and rose to her feet.

“After all, you’re not in uniform, so the rules are off the table.” Those were the last words that came from Gamble’s mouth before Abigail slammed the butt plate into the base of his skull with a loud crack with all of her strength.

The British officer collapsed the ground with a low grunt. Abigail didn’t linger to witness the effects of the assault, instead dropping the musket to rush to Ben’s side. She fished out a blade, one she must have swiped from Anderson no doubt.

“Are you okay?” she asked breathlessly, her hands immediately setting to work on his binds.

“What are you doing here?” Ben demanded, his voice near choking on his anger and disbelief.

Abigail huffed. “What does it look like?” Her hands shook as the blade cut into the rope, which had loosened slightly from his earlier efforts. Knowing they didn’t have enough time for it, he had her put the blade away and maneuvered himself to get into a (mostly) sitting position on the saddle.

“Can you pull yourself up?” he demanded urgently, throwing a cursory glance over his shoulder. Gamble remained prostrate but was slowly stirring.

Abigail nodded hastily, reaching for the pommel and ungracefully pulling herself into the saddle. She had only barely managed to pull herself up behind Ben when he kicked the horse into a gallop, barreling deeper into the woods. Knowing the ruthlessness of the man they had just abandoned, it was clear that wouldn’t be the last they saw of him.

Chapter Text

Galloping at a near breakneck pace through the woods, the major pushed the horse as far as he dared, with Abigail’s fingers digging into the material of his brown tweed jacket, her arms wrapped around his waist to keep from falling over.

Above them, the sky rapidly transformed into a whirlwind of sound, quite literally. Rumbling thunder clapped above them and the winds picked up speed, even as they raced through the trees. If it weren’t night, she suspected the sky would have been a rapidly darkening grey, ominous and threatening, mother nature’s warning for a terrible brewing storm.

It wasn’t long after she felt the first droplet on her face did the torrential downpour rear its ugly head. The ground quickly became sloppy puddles of mud. The horse slipped more than once underneath them, hooves skidding through the slop enough for Ben to ease him down into a trot and eventually into a walk.

The rain was so thick it was near impossible to see whatever lied before them. She shouted over the roar of the rain, asking what were they to do now. Ben shouted back they needed to find shelter to wait it out, his voice barely heard over the howling winds and the pounding rains, and she was practically plastered against his back.

He kicked the horse back into a brisk trot despite the weather. They needed shelter quickly and going any slower would only serve as another obstacle. Abigail kept a sharp eye out for anything that could harbor them for the duration of the storm, a depilating shack, a bloody cave if anything else.

With her clothes clinging to her form, she began to feel the stirrings of a chill against her skin. Every inch of her was drenched, even her bindings which felt more restricting with the absorption of the water. At the first opportunity, she was going to take that bloody thing off, consequences be damned.

Almost like a desert mirage, a looming dark shape appeared through the curtain of downpour. With rain clinging to her lashes, she blinked rapidly, hoping against hope the shape wouldn’t fade into obscurity. It didn’t.

Grip tightening on Ben, she drew his attention towards it and promptly tightened her grip on him as he spurred the horse towards it at an elevated speed.

The closer they came, the shape became more visible. It was a logged cabin, small in size but seemingly relatively secure. Not even half a yard away was a stable, or what seemed to be a stable in this near blinding downpour, which was not even the quarter of the size of the cabin, but this was more than they could ever ask for.

No horses or other forms of life appeared, with the exception of small garden bed, which was all but drowned now. At a glance, the place looked abandoned.

Ben hoped off the horse and asked for her to remain there while he checked to make sure the coast was clear. Abigail began to protest, in favor of joining him instead, but the steely look he gave her silenced her almost instantly. Even in the rain, she could spot the dangerous fury in his gaze. So he was still annoyed with her then. Stifling her protests, she begrudgingly nodded in agreement, pulling out her father’s pistol at his suggestion, and watched him head inside.

After several miserable minutes, he jogged back out to meet her, saying everything appeared sound. Abigail quickly dismounted and led the horse towards the small stable, the poor beast looked as much of a drowned rat as they did.

Ben decided to untack the poor bugger once they were inside, acknowledging it looked like it likely be awhile before the rain cleared up. It was clear from his tone and stance he intended to go at it alone. Knowing better than to agitate him when he was in a mood, she agreed but insisted that she would examine him the minute he set foot into the cabin, referring to the blunt force knock to the head she had witnessed Gamble deliver to him.

One her way out, she could’ve sworn she heard him mutter, “Something you wouldn’t have witnessed if you hadn’t followed me,” along with a few choice words she couldn’t quite make out but was much too tired to deal with it.

Making a mad dash towards the cabin, she grasped the rough wooden door and pushed inside, shutting it soundly behind her. The coolness which greeted her prompted a shiver down her spine. Whoever owned this place must not have returned in a long time. The lack of warmth encouraged her to blindly search the darkened space for a candle and match of some sort, anything to provide her with light.

She knocked something over in her hasty search and immediately picked it up. It felt cool and waxy beneath her fingers. Upon further examination by touch, she was delighted to find a candle. Miraculously, it didn’t take long to find a match to light it.

With the discovery of the candle, it made it that much easier to find the rest, lighting each candle with the original until the cabin was lit in a soft, warm glow.

The setup was simple and functional. A small table with two chairs sat in the center, a few shelves built along the walls not far behind them.

Across from the table and chairs a short distance away stood a very basic kitchen with a proportionally sizes fireplace, a small wooden counter for cooking space, and a few pots and pans that appeared to have seen better days.

Propped up next to the fireplace were a few stacks of firewood, which she would certainly revisit soon, along with the sacks of what appeared to be food poking out of the storage cupboard – whatever was salvageable.

But her eyes were all for the clothes tucked away in the corner dresser in the small cabin bedroom, a discovery perhaps more delightful than that of the candle. Without much thought or fear of consequence, she stripped herself out of her wet clothes, beginning with uncomfortable, cloggy rain drenched leather boots which were already too large for her person.

It took some considerable effort, but she managed to peel off her clothes and laid them out to air dry on the available space of the shelves, shivering even more so as the cool cabin air nipped at her skin. She shivered even more with the removal of her bindings, her nipples stiffening when the cool air greeted them.

Grabbing the closest dry article of clothing, she unfolded it to reveal a white shift of somewhat rough material but a shift nonetheless.

Dear Lord, she could hardly remember a time where she hadn’t worn trousers, tunic, and a soldier’s uniform coat. As much as she appreciated (and actually preferred) the practicality of men’s clothes, a small yearning stirred inside her for something familiar, a memory of her former life.

Without another moment’s thought, she lowered the shift over her head, tugging the material over her body until the shift covered her completely. While significantly better than being in the nude, the material hardly brought her any warmth.

Searching through the clothes, she happened across stays and stopped herself short from hissing at the sight, specifically choosing to ignore the wretched constraining device as she reached for the under petticoat – a skirt-like undergarment which tied around the waist and reached just below her ankle – made from what she suspected to be wool. She used it to layer for warmth and sighed happily. That was much better.

Of course, her feet were cold, too, so she couldn’t help but reach for a pair of stockings, rolling them eagerly up her legs, an act she hadn’t realized how much she missed until that moment.

Removing her hair tie, Abigail let her hair fall loosely along her shoulders. The drenched tendrils fell a little below her collarbone. She knew she would have to get another haircut if she wanted to keep up appearances, having gotten away with putting it off for the past few years by simply tying it back, but there were other matters to attend to know, namely assessing the kitchen supplies.

There wasn’t much in the cupboards, as was to be expected, but what she did discover was better than nothing. Small sacks of turnips, cucumbers, and walnuts had been tucked away in deep inside the bottom of the cupboard, perhaps attempting to mirror the preservation effects of cold storage of a basement or root cellar. There were a small number of potatoes as well, but she eyed them suspiciously, not trusting their state of edibleness.

The shelf above housed some rudimentary cooking ingredients – flour, salt, pepper, a few other recognizable spices, and cooking oil of some sort. Paired with the vegetables and walnuts, the quantity was nearly scarce, but it was enough that she could manage something with it.

She felt a twinge of guilt as she looked over the pots and pans, knowing that she was essentially plucking at their unwitting host’s food supply. However, it was apparent the cabin’s residents hadn’t returned in quite some time. If the food wasn’t eaten, it would eventually spoil, whether it was preserved or not. That logic was enough to soothe her guilty consciousness. Well, almost.

The sudden sound of gusting rainy winds drew Abigail’s attention towards the door, which nearly slammed against the wall if it had not been for Ben’s intervening hand. The wind had gained traction, picking up speed with rain splattering onto the wooden floors before he managed to slam the door shut behind him.

Lowering his coat collar he had used to try to shield himself from the worst of it, Ben began to toe his boots off, apparently coming to the same decision she’d had moments ago regarding the desire for the removal of uncomfortably wet attire. He shook out his hair, sending even more rain droplets splattering along the table and God only knew where else.

She didn’t have the heart to reprimand him, although the instinct to do so was present. It was a habit picked up from the years of being a wife. Although she was no longer Tobias’s wife, the remnants of that role still lingered, leaving an imprint on her psyche she wasn’t sure she could ever shake. But the presence of the instinct to scold him, the domesticity of it, didn’t bother her at all, not when it came to Ben.

Ben, who was now standing there inside the cabin, his clothes clinging to him like a second skin. The stubble sprouting along his jaw and neck added to the disheveled look, but… it was quite a nice look on him. Even appearing half-drowned and unkept, he still managed to look so very attractive. Blast him.

Forcing her gaze away, Abigail cleared her throat a little, finding her mouth having gone suddenly dry. She made a mental note to fetch some water, which shouldn’t be a problem considering their current predicament. “There’s some clothes in the bedroom, towards the back,” she spoke quietly, though it sounded almost deafening in the quiet atmosphere of the cabin, even amongst the howling winds of the storm. “You should really get out of those clothes, unless you want to catch a cold. I’ll look you over once you’ve changed.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him turn in her direction to address her, but when no sound came, Abigail lifted her gaze towards him and found him staring at her, whatever words he had been about to deliver dying on his tongue.

She slightly raised an inquisitive brow but received no response. After another few minutes of silence, she asked, tilting her head to the side, assessing with growing concern, “Or maybe I should examine you now?”

Blinking, Ben started slightly before shaking his head. “No, it’s not that. It’s just… ah,” he paused, gaze sweeping down her form before snapping back up to meet her eyes, his cheeks suddenly scarlet, “that.”

Abigail’s mouth formed a small “o” in realization, glancing down sheepishly at her poor attempt at dressing herself. It wasn’t the completely finished result of a proper woman’s attire, with nearly half a dozen articles of clothing and accessories missing from making her presentable.

At least she had the forethought to put on the under petticoat and stockings, but her top consisted of the shift and nothing else. The shift fitted a loosely along her form already, which she attributed to the weight loss from the meager soldier’s scraps of army life. With the petticoat waist strings tied around her, it drew attention towards her waist and everything above it. The shift would have fallen off even further off her shoulder had it not been for the lack of binding which helped fill her out.

Abigail tried her best not to think about it, although the heat of his gaze made it difficult to forget. Instead, she chuckled, though it sounded a bit strained to her ears, “You haven’t seen me in one of these things in a long while.” She paused, considering. “Though, I suppose you’ve never seen this much of me before either.”

Ben made a strangled noise in the back of his throat, which he made a poor attempt of concealment as a chuckle. He then took her advice and went to change but not before walking straight into the wall. Flushed, he gave her brief glance, sheepish and something else, and disappeared behind the wall in search for dry clothes.

---

While Ben changed in the other room, Abigail went about setting up in the kitchen, giving herself a task to focus on. Since there were enough ingredients, she decided to make fried cucumbers and boiled turnips, if they manage to light the fireplace. If not, they would just have to settle for walnuts and raw vegetables, but beggars could not be choosers.

With everything she needed laid out on the small counterspace, she took a bucket from the corner and set it out on the porch where it fill in no time, considering the wind and rain, to boil the turnips on the chance the fireplace could be revived.

Shivering a little, she reached for a well-worn quilt tucked away neatly in the corner and brought it around her shoulders in a makeshift shawl, both serving as protector from the cold and an attempt at modesty for both of their sakes – though it still seemed rather foolish. It wasn’t as if she had been naked in front of the man.

But with societal expectations for women, modesty, and the like, she might as well have been.

Squatting in front of the fireplace, Abigail observed the kindling with a small frown. Interestingly enough, the fireplace was quite large for a cabin so small. She placed her hand along the stone mantle, wondering if it would be even possible to light, let alone cook anything over it. Still, she had to try. Giving up just wasn’t in her nature. She possessed a stubborn streak that could make the most patient person throw up their hands in frustration. Ben knew this better than anyone, although he was already the most patient person, at least not when it came to her.

Though she would never admit it, a good bit of his impatience towards her was well earned.

She began to clear the sooty, used logs to make room for the fresher ones when she heard Ben remark, “Here, let me take care of that.”

Before she could properly look up at him, he walked over to the fireplace and squatted beside her, taking the logs from her hands and setting them near the hearth. He took her hands in his, turning them over and rubbing his thumbs against her palms until the dark smudges faded from her skin.

She lifted her gaze and found her eyes locked with his, for one charged, breathless moment before he unceremoniously dropped her hands and turned his attention to the fireplace and hearth, leaving her more confused than ever.

They worked together in strained silence, with him finishing clearing out the pit to make more room for the hearth. She passed him the logs when he asked for them but noticed he was careful not to touch her again.

At one point, she leaned forward to point at something, her chest brushing against his back, her loose hair accidentally grazing his neck. She felt him stiffen beneath her, and for a moment, she couldn’t understand why, until she recalled once again she was no longer wearing her bindings. If the sight of her in a shift and petticoats wasn’t apparent of that, this was more than a confirmation of it.

Whatever progress that had been made came to a halt, at least momentarily. Ben’s head turned slightly in her direction but not much more than the slightest shift. If he were to turn more than that, their faces would only be a hairbreadth apart, and they both knew it.

Ben cleared his throat nervously. “Could you… could you just, um…” She was close enough to see the redness of his cheeks, the blush stretching down his neck. It would’ve been so easy to press her face to the side of his neck, to nuzzle into that heat for herself, maybe brush her lips against his neck, his cheek…

“Get you something to clean your hands off with?” Abigail finished for him, as if that had been the true request. Ben grunted quietly in assent, only daring to move, breathe even, after she went off in search for a clean cloth.

While he worked, Abigail began cooking preparations, starting with the turnips. She reached for a small knife and began paring the turnips, peeling away the purple and white outer layer until the vegetable remained bare. She repeated the action with the rest of the turnips she deemed edible, cutting the larger ones into quarters and setting them into a bowl along with the others.

Initially, she thought she wouldn’t be any good at this, her cooking skill unused for a number of years now, but she was pleasantly surprised at how easily she fell back into the motions of cooking, of chopping and paring the vegetables with relative ease. It brought her back to a different time, a simpler one, though a far more restrictive time.

Even so, this sense of familiarity was welcomed. It gave her something to do with her hands, wielding a knife in meal preparation, not in self-defense on the battlefield nor cutting into the flesh of a wounded soldier. She had always enjoyed cooking. The activity of bringing multiple ingredients together in one recipe to create something for the consumption and pleasure of others wasn’t something she realized she would miss until then. The saying “you don’t realize how much you love something until it’s gone” was a funny thing.

After multiple attempts, the fireplace crackled with newborn flames, which greedily devoured the new wood with a single-minded determination. Before she could even ask, he grabbed one of the larger pots and set it on one of the hooks along the lug pole which stretched across the hearth.

“What’s for dinner?” he asked, a light grin lighting up his face. Thankfully, the tension from earlier had eased, at least for the moment, and she found herself grinning back with amusement. She told him of her plans of fried cucumbers and boiled turnips, the latter of which she planned on cooking first since it needed more time to boil. While it boiled, she planned on checking him over, whether he liked it or not, and she told him that.

To her surprise, he agreed. “But how exactly do you plan on boiling...” he trailed off when she retrieved the bucket from the porch, which was practically overflowing with rain water. She already knew he was going to make the inquiry and had already set off towards the door before he could he was even halfway through his inquiry.

She placed the bucket onto the floor with a small thud and gave him a facetiously sweet smile. “I’m more than just a pretty face, you know,” she remarked, tone teasing with a slight undertone of challenge in her voice.

“Trust me,” Ben said, grabbing the bucket of water to fill the pot, “I’ve known that for years.” After a moment, he added, “And you’re right. You’re more than a pretty face. You’re beautiful.”

Now it was Abigail’s turn to blush, and she was quick to hide it, busying herself with the bowl of turnips to hide her flaming cheeks. She could’ve sworn she saw him smile out of the corner of her eye, but by the time she reached him, the smile was concealed. But barely.

As soon as the turnips were added into the boiling water, she led the major over towards one of the chair, encouraging him to sit with a gentle but insistent shove to his shoulder. He sat down without much of a fuss, which was a little more than she expected from him.

She asked him what he remembered prior to waking up on Gamble’s horse. After a moment or so, he recounted the events with relative accuracy, beginning with his mission to deal with Worthington up until Gamble had discovered him in the river after disposing of the reverend’s body.

While he talked, Abigail looked him over for any physical symptoms. His color appeared normal, if not a little flushed. She gently touched his face before sliding down the side of his neck. His skin was warm and vibrant underneath her hands, not at all clammy and pale.

He stumbled a little over his words as she stepped closer so that she could examine his pupils but pulled back a little with a small concerned frown at his sudden difficulty at speech.

“Are you having trouble remembering?” she asked kindly, her fingers comfortingly stroking the side of his neck.

Breath hitching, Ben murmured, “No. It’s not that.”

His pupils told a different story, blown wide and dark. If one had been larger than the other, she would have feared a concussion, but they were both equally round and dark. Frowning, she asked, “Does anything not feel right? How about dizziness? Are you tired?”

“No, I’m fine,” Ben insisted, frustration seeping into his voice before he sighed. “Sorry. I am fine. Just the back of my head smarts a bit.”

Disregarding his retort and the apology the quickly followed it, she slipped her fingers into his hair, pressing against his scalp lightly until he finally winced. That was to be expected, considering the heavy bulkiness of the musket butt. No wonder.

Overall, he appeared fine, but with the tenderness at the base of his skull, they would have to keep an eye on it for the next few hours, which meant little sleep for either of them, and she told him as much. Besides, it wasn’t like they would get much sleep anyway, seeing as how the storm still raged on, if not having picked up speed and strength in its rage.

She prepared to release him when Ben brought his hands up to cover hers, keeping her close. “I’m sorry if I’ve appeared to be acting strangely for the past few hours,” he murmured, meeting her confused gaze steadily. “It’s just… seeing you, like this. It’s just… different.”

Abigail tilted her head, confused. “Because I’m wearing a dress?”

“No… yes, I mean,” he paused, frustrated at his sudden lack of eloquence. “It’s only because… I haven’t seen you, like this, in years. Fully dressed of course, not like…” He made another frustrated noise, and she smothered a smile.

“I understand,” Abigail replied as she took pity on him.

He smiled gratefully before taking another breath. “It’s only that, seeing you standing there, like this… It takes me back to a time where I… I wanted you, but I knew that I couldn’t have you.”

And that was the crux of it all, wasn’t it? A series of ill-informed choices and unforeseen circumstances that had led them to this moment.

She thought of it all the time, if she had chosen differently, if he had acted when he had chosen not to, how different things would be. It was futile to look back and wonder about what could have been. There was no changing the past.

Even if it were possible, she honestly didn’t know if she would change anything, not if it brought them here. Even though she was divorced and thereby ruined in society’s eyes, Abigail wasn’t bothered in the least, now that she had the knowledge that her lifetime’s worth of feelings for this boy, this man, weren’t in vain.

“You can have me now,” Abigail spoke softly. Her blue eyes widened as the implication registered. “Oh, not… You know what I mean.”

“I think I do,” Ben remarked, teasing. She grinned a little and joined him in a quiet chuckle, slightly uncomfortable at the unintended double entendre.

Not because of the inappropriate nature of it, but because, while neither of them were willing to admit it, it was something desired very much.

---

Not long after the charged moment did she manage to put some distance between them, if only for a short period of time. She kept a careful eye on him as she tended to the turnips and wasn’t even covert in her observations, not even bothered that he had caught her multiple times.

She began her work on paring and slicing the cucumbers once the turnips were nearly done. Drying them with a clean cloth, she then floured them liberally on each side before setting each finished slice into a smaller pan filled with oil, which hung next to the pot of turnips.

He offered to help her numerous times, but she refused every time, although she appreciated every time he offered. Instead, she turned around the conversation back to how they would return to the camp base if the storm didn’t abate anytime soon.

“I’ve already made some contingency plans with Washington, if something were to happen,” Ben remarked, idly running a hand along the spines of the few books sitting on a bookshelf. “If anything were to go wrong or anything to prevent me from getting back to camp before the move to the next site, it was agreed I would just meet them at Middlebrook.”

“Hm,” Abigail hummed after popping a walnut into her mouth. “It’s lucky you’ve found yourself a horse then.” She grinned cheekily at his exasperated expression as she passed him the small sack of walnuts to hold them over until the food was ready.

“Yes, quite lucky,” Ben remarked dryly, accepting the sack to procure a few walnuts for himself before passing it back to her. He popped one into his mouth and then quickly another. Neither of them had eaten anything since the previous evening. It was a wonder how neither of them hadn’t attacked the vegetables on sight.

Not long after the cucumbers were put on the fire, Abigail checked on the turnips and found they were tender. Pulling the lug pole towards her, she attempted to lift the pot without splashing any of the boiling water onto her, but before she could manage a good grip, Ben was there beside her, easing the pot away from the hearth and set it on the limited table space in the kitchen area.

Carefully, she spooned out the turnips into a bowl, allowing them to cool before turning her attention back to the cucumbers, which needed to cook until each side turned golden brown.

Soon she was grabbing a thick cloth to wrap around the handle, easing the cast iron skillet off the hearth and away from the flames so that she could more easily transfer the cooked cucumbers into a waiting dish.

Just as she was preparing to, she felt more than heard Ben walk up behind her to peer over her shoulder and observe her handiwork with an appreciative glance. “It’s done,” she told him. She couldn’t hold back her giggle as he leaned closer and sniffed, more loudly than needed for effect. “Just give it a few minutes to cool. Then you can… oi!”

The blonde playfully smacked his hand away as he reached for one of the turnips. At least he had the forethought not to attempt to reach for the one thing she had just taken off the hearth.

“What was that for?” he asked, laughing and ruining his attempt at feigned indignation.

She shook her finger at him, eyes narrowing, partially teasing. “I told you to give it a few minutes. Am I suddenly speaking to Caleb and Abe?”

Growing up, out of the three of them, Ben had the most self-control when it came to eating after a long day’s work, but Caleb and Abe on the other hand were in a league of their own, wolfing down their meals as if they hadn’t eaten in weeks even though they had breakfast earlier that morning. And they always went back for seconds, sometimes thirds if their stomachs permitted.

“Now that stings!” he complained.

“Well, if the shoe fits!” she countered easily, a grin breaking out across her face.

She was about to turn back to their dinner when she caught the sudden shift in his expression, the dip of his gaze as it softened. Tilting her head, she asked, “What?”

“What?” he echoed back innocently.

Abigail huffed, unable to suppress her amusement. Then she asked again, meeting his gaze directly, her smile still in place, “You’re looking at me like…”

“Like?” he prodded.

“Like you have something to say, so you should say it.”

Stepping closer, his hands settled on her hips, his fingers resting heavily along the ties of the petticoat. Her heart skipped a beat, and she did her best not to let it show. “I could do this for the rest of my life.” He dropped his head so that his chin rested on her shoulder. She hummed in assent. “The verbal back and forth, me being out of line and you putting me in my place.”

Abigail grinned and bit her lower lip as she leaned into him, unable to prevent herself from saying, “But don’t we already do that?”

“Yes, but not quite like this. Squabbling over dinner, living together, sharing our lives together. This,” he confessed, his arms slipping around her waist tenderly, protectively, “is what I want. What I’ve always wanted.”

“Me, too,” she admitted softly. She turned her head to the side so that her lips brushed against his temple. “And now, we can have it. When the war is over, we’ll have it.”

The strength and solidness of his body drew her further into him, generating near explosion of heat that practically stole her breath. The tension from before returned with a vengeance. All of her senses fixated on him, making it impossible to ignore her growing desire.

Licking her lips, she took a breath, an attempt to calm herself and her racing heart, though with his hands on her he was hardly helping. She heard his breath catch as she accidentally shifted against him, and she knew, right then, she needed to put distance between them.

The problem was, however, she didn’t want to.

With a controlled breath, she suggested that maybe he should set the table. There were enough plates and cutlery in the cabinet for two people, which more than suggested the owners of this cabin were man and woman, strongly implying husband and wife if their clothes inside the bedroom were anything to go on.

The major agreed, but judging from how slowly he took his time in releasing her, he would preferred staying right where he was. And to be honest, she very much would have preferred the same.

Chapter Text

The fried cucumbers and boiled turnips were devoured with a barely restrained zeal, hunger nearly consuming their every thought as soon as the crisp cucumber met their tongues. Abigail could hardly prevent herself from wolfing it down. By the time the food filled her, she reached for her second helping with a calmer state of mind.

As they ate, the pair discussed what their next move would be. The storm had let up in the past hour but not by much. Ben said they needed to leave by first light or whenever the storm dissipated, whichever came first. She agreed. It was the most logical plan, given the circumstances. It only made sense.

Besides, she grew rather fond of their current accommodations, and the knowledge they didn’t need to travel any time soon was more than appealing.

Suddenly parched, she rose with the intention of filling some cups with water. As delicious as the cucumbers were, salt wasn’t conducive for a dry throat.

When she voiced her intentions, he offered to do that himself, insisting that she sit, since she had prepared the meal The least he could do was get them drinks.

“Found any good wine?” Abigail teased a few minutes later, eyes twinkling with mischief as he placed a mug into her hand.

Lips twitching into a grin, Ben remarked, “Unfortunately, no. The cabin’s quite dry, though I really suppose we shouldn’t push our luck in search liquor.”

“You’re no fun,” she remarked, feigning a pout, “but I suppose you’re right.” She took a sip from her mug, welcoming the water to counteract the drying effects of the salt.

It was probably for the best that alcohol wasn’t in visibly in reach. The last time they had gotten spectacularly drunk together had been the night before Ben had left for Yale so many years ago. And that night had been very interesting to the least. The night remained a blur, but the feelings that had been stirred within her that night – the longing, excitement, arousal – those were hard to forget, let alone ignore.

Feelings that had never diminished over time either, which certainly didn’t help her in their current situation, stuck in a cabin in the middle of a torrential storm and isolated from the rest of the world, at least for the moment. They were going to be in for a long evening.

Once Ben reclaimed his seat at the table, the conversation turned to sleeping arrangements, which became quite awkward upon the realization there was only one bed.

Even in the dim candle light and firelight, Abigail could make out the growing pinkness in his cheeks, and for once, she found her own warming as well.

“You need your rest, far more than I do,” she insisted. “It’s been a few hours, and your symptoms haven’t gotten any worse. It doesn’t appear you have a concussion, so you could definitely use the sleep.”

“And what about you?” Ben asked, incredulous.

Abigail shrugged. “I can keep watch while you rest, though I hardly think anyone will be dropping in during a storm like this.”

The major gave her an unimpressed look. “You need rest, too. Do you really think I’m that selfish, to claim the bed while you remain up for all hours of the night?”

“I’m not the one that nearly had my bloody skull crushed from a musket butt,” she countered back, eyes narrowing further to match his own narrowed gaze.

“I’ll remain on watch, and you take the bed. That’s final.”

“Your stubbornness knows no bounds, doesn’t it?”

“Look who’s talking!”

“Very clever. I’ll make sure to write that rejoinder down in my journal as to remember to throw that back at you next time.”

Ben’s jaw clenched in irritation. He appeared as if to make another retort but ultimately thought better of it. Instead, he took measured, calming breaths, his chest rising and falling slowly with each calculated breath. She recognized this technique immediately, having witnessed him using it on well more than one occasion with her. She was well aware she inspired his irritation readily but couldn’t find it in herself to feel guilty about it. Usually, he brought it on himself. Usually.

Finally after some time, he took a sip from his own mug and set it down tiredly, the fight all but fading from him. She observed him keenly in anticipation for a victory. Instead, he took her by surprise and said, “I think we can find a compromise here.”

Abigail asked, puzzled, “Compromise?”

“Yes.” He took another glance at his mug before grabbing it once again, draining it of all its contents as if it had magically turned into rum before setting it down firmly to the table. “Since we’re insistent on the other to take the bed and it seems neither of us are willing to budge, we’ll just have to share.”

“Share… the bed?” Abigail asked, eyes widening a little.

Ben nodded, appearing a little less confident now. “Yes.”

The blonde’s heart began to race at the thought, though she found it incredibly silly. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t slept together before, literally having slept next to each other countless nights now in the camp. How was this any different?

After a moment or two of hesitation, Abigail agreed. A little surprised but pleased with her agreement – though there was a flash of nervousness in his gaze, he returned his attention to his plate, and she forced herself to do the same.

However, she didn’t miss the furtive glances he threw in her direction when he thought she wasn’t looking, but only because she was doing it, too.

The rest of the meal carried on in relative silence and not a completely comfortable one. There was an underlying tension that hadn’t been present before, or at least if it had, it hadn’t been noticed. Now, though, oh now it was noticed, but neither were willing to acknowledge it. As soon as they were finished and the dishes were put away, they knew the bed would be waiting for them, and the thought was nearly overwhelming.

While yes, they had shared sleeping accommodations before, this was by far drastically different. A cot was a cot, and a bed was a bed. That was a very important difference.

---

The storm raged on outside the cabin walls, the howling winds clashing with the loud claps of thunder. Some water managed to trickle down from the roof, but the droplets were few and far between. Apart from that, the cabin was sturdy, a safe haven in this wild storm. Not for the first time since stepping foot inside the cabin Abigail thanked her lucky stars for their discovery of the cabin. God was looking down on them kindly, it seemed.

Or perhaps He had a more mischievous intentions in mind.

The warmth from the fire in the hearth, partnered with the dim candlelight glow, created a cozy, comfortable atmosphere. She tugged the blanket from her shoulders and draped along the back of the chair on which she sat, the chill from the storm having long since disappeared from her skin.

After they were finished and contently full from their meal, Abigail rose from her seat so that she could gather their dishes and wash them. It was the fair thing to do for their unknowing hosts.

“I can manage it,” she said when he offered to help, stacking her plates together carefully on the table. But he was already standing to help, despite what she said, reaching for a plate at the same time as she did.

Their fingers brushed, his warm skin against hers. Her breath caught in her throat, and she turned to look up at him but found that they were so very close. She looked at him from underneath her lashes over her shoulder, which grazed his chest.

As if broken from a spell, Ben’s gaze moved away from their hands towards her, his blue eyes meeting hers. The tension from before returned with a vengeance, stealing her breath and causing a stuttering of her heart.

Now there were only so many of these moments a woman could handle.

Before she was aware of what she was doing, Abigail faced him fully and drew him in to a searing kiss.

His lips met hers without any hesitation, and her world narrowed down to only him and this moment. The cabin seemed to disappear, the storm outside fading into a distant echo.

His arms were around her, his grip tightening on her waist as he pulled her closer. Her hands sought for purchase against his chest, her fingers curling into the material desperately. She faintly thought it was a good thing she hadn’t been holding any dishes when she kissed him, otherwise they most certainly would have dropped to the floor. But none of that mattered, not now.

Her hungry mouth fused with his, matching his growing passion with her own. The tip of his tongue grazed hers, insistent, and she parted her lips for him all too willingly, welcoming intense wildfire of emotions racing through her body.

They had shared kisses before, some verging on this level of intensity and heat, but they all paled in comparison to this. It was full of need and desire. It was too much and not enough. The kiss was all lips and tongues and some teeth but not at all sloppy. It was too much and not enough all at once. She didn’t want it to end. She wanted more, craved more.

By the time their mouths parted, they were both breathing hard. Ben’s eyes were dark with desire, the blue in his irises a tiny ring in contrast with his blown pupils. His lips were red and swollen, his face flushed with ardent excitement. If she had access to a mirror, Abigail would have seen she didn’t look much different.

She saw the look in his eyes, the raw desire, and knew precisely in that moment what he wanted, what they both wanted. But still she had to ask. “Are you sure?”

Ben tucked a golden curl behind her ear, his fingers lingering against her cheek. Abigail’s eyelids threatened to flutter shut instinctively. “I’ve never been more certain of anything,” he answered. “Perhaps I should be asking you?”

The flicker of nervousness in his gaze prompted her to lean forward and kiss him softly, careful not to spook him if he were so inclined to be spooked. As far as she was aware, neither of them had been raised to engage in sex before marriage. Out of the two of them, only Abigail had been married.

The kiss started as a soft press of lips, before transforming into another kiss, and then another before Abigail guided him towards the bedroom, kissing him all the while.

It seemed tonight would be full of firsts.

Once inside the bedroom, they kissed again, hungry and hard, but Abigail broke the kiss without stepping back, physically incapable of doing so. She breathed hard and took a minute to calm himself, though seeing him standing there looking like that, looking at her like that, it was all she could do not to throw herself to his mercy.

“I have to know,” the blonde began softly, “And please be honest with me.” The only sounds in that room were their harsh breathing. Suddenly shy – which went completely against her nature – she forced herself to keep his gaze. “Does it bother you that I’m not a virgin?”

A woman’s reputation relief heavily on her virginity. If there was an unmarried woman and her virginity was questioned, whether or not the rumor was true, the damage to her reputation would be irrevocable. Not that Abigail gave a damn about her reputation anyway – although it was probably shot to hell if word of her divorce reached any gossip seeking ears and mouths – but she knew that there weren’t many men who thought kindly of nonvirginal women.

The blonde also knew better than to think Ben as most men, but still the doubt lingered, distracting her from her lust.

“No, it doesn’t,” Ben answered honestly. The complete and utter sincerity in his eyes was doing dangerous things to her heart. Then he added, a tad sheepishly, “As long as it doesn’t bother you that I am, of course.”

Abigail had suspected as much, but to hear his confirmation brought in a rush of feelings she hadn’t anticipated, namely pleasure. She would be the first woman he would ever see in the way that Adam had first met Eve – though that analogy was a rather terrible one, considering how that story played out.

She would be the first person he would ever be with, in the most intense and vulnerable expression of intimacy that any person could share with another. A surge of satisfaction swelled inside her chest, but she did her best to squash it. Now was not the time for such foolishness.

Instead, Abigail took a step back, strongly aware of the increasing beating of her heart. She brought her hands to her waist, her fingers finding the ties of the under petticoat. Ben’s eyes were all for her, gaze tracking each and every movement with a soldier’s keen observation. She licked her lips as she untied the petticoat ties with slightly trembling hands, hardly able to contain her desire. With a quick manipulation of the strings, the petticoats came undone and pooled at her feet upon her release. She was in her shift and nothing else.

Lips parting, Ben observed her mutely, his hands clenching and unclenching reflexively at his sides. He reached for the collar of his shirt and pulled the white, rough material over his head, all the while keeping her gaze firmly.

Unable to keep herself still, Abigail walked towards him, watching as the shirt slipped from his hands. She ran her hands over his chest, her fingers trailing greedily over his muscles in growing fascination. Oh my, army life had done his body wonders, in more ways than she ever could have imagined.

Ben shivered in pleasure with each and every brush of her fingers. She felt every tremor underneath her fingertips. Suddenly, he gripped her waist and pulled her against him. She could feel the heat of his hands through the thin material of the shift. It was as if he was practically touching her skin.

He bunched up handfuls of the thin material right at her hips, and as if sensing his hesitation, Abigail nodded her approval, smiling. He eased the material upwards, exposing more and more flesh in the ascent but adamantly refused to look at her, propriety and chivalry still stubbornly intact. With a fond huff, she lifted her arms to help him along and let the shift fall to the floor beside their other discarded clothing.

She was left completely nude, with no article of clothing to speak of concealing her form. Before the war, she knew she looked better, her body fuller and more vivacious then. She was thinner now, but her breasts remained round and full, a feat most woman would covet though she often cursed, mostly due to her need for tighter bindings prior to her enlistment. Her nipples had stiffened into hardened peaks, aching for attention, as was the rest of her.

Her heart pounded even faster, if that were even possible. Facing his transfixed scrutiny, she felt overwhelmed, yet she felt no desire to shield herself from him. She had never been ashamed of her body, and she wasn’t going to start now.

As he continued to stare, her desire drove her forward. While incredibly pleased with his awed expression, she preferred to experience more of a physical sign of his appreciation and pressed herself against him to act on this line of thought. Her breasts pressed against the bare flesh of his chest, and it took all of her strength not to shudder.

Abigail could feel his arousal pressing against her and smiled a bit coquettishly to herself. Well, she had desired a physical sign of his appreciation.

Their mouths met eagerly as Ben led her back towards the bed. Abigail followed his lead, blindly walking backwards, trusting him to keep her steady.

They fell onto the mattress in a graceless heap, with her giggling against his mouth and the major kissing away her giggles with a grin on his own face. Soon enough, the laughter turned into quiet moans and other sounds of pleasure as he began to nuzzle downwards, starting at the crook of her neck, kissing the soft skin there, and then traveling down to her collarbones. Abigail’s breath hitched, arching her chest upwards in anticipation for his mouth on her breasts.

But apparently he had other plans.

Drawing back onto his haunches, Ben’s gaze never left her, trailing down her form as if awestricken. He gazed upon her as if she were the only thing in the world to gaze upon, and that notion alone did things to her and not just her heart.

He reached down her stocking clad legs and carefully slid them down her calves one by one. The act was so incredibly sensuous, so seductive she half wondered if he had ever done this before, but feeling the slight tremor in his hands, she believed his admission even more.

Reaching for him, Abigail’s fingers found their way to the front of his trousers but only at the hem. She reveled at his gasp and tugged him forward, encouraging him to come down and over her, though she didn’t have to pull very hard. He came to her all too willingly, eager and wanting.

They were soon kissing again, deep yet tenderly. Her hands ran down his back. She felt him shudder underneath her roaming hands and decides to lightly scrape her nails down his back, enough to elicit another shudder.

Then, she dipped her fingers just under the hemline of his trousers at his waist and paused, both teasing and cautious. He made an impatient noise at the back of his throat and nipped at her lower lip, encouraging and surprising her. No more encouragement was necessary.

Abigail eased his trousers off his hips and assisted in pushing them down his thighs until he had to pull back to kick them off impatiently.

The sudden look of annoyance flickering across Ben’s face when his foot caught in the material had Abigail biting her lower lip to conceal her giggling. He caught the sound in spite of her efforts and smiled, sheepish, before returning to cover her body with his.

He was nervous, that much she could tell, as he hovered over her, kissing her so thoroughly while his hands lingered at a respectable distance, one in which she had no desire for distance.

An idea sparked inside her. “Do you trust me?” she asked softly, reaching up to brush her fingers tenderly along his jaw.

“Always,” he responded without hesitation, with complete sincerity. “With my life.”

Smiling, Abigail encouraged him to lie on his back, and he did, pressing into the mattress. She draped half of herself against him, waiting. “If you’re not comfortable with anything at any time, you can say no. You won’t offend me.”

Ben pulled her close and kissed her, encouraging her to continue, which she did.

She began kissing his chest. The very warmth of him drew her in further and encouraged further exploration. Her hand slid up his side and rested against his chest, fingers grazing his nipple with the lightest of touches before circling the stiffened nub with her thumb.

He inhaled sharply, lips twitching upwards when he met her gaze steadily. She grinned coquettishly.

Then slowly, she moved downwards, kissing her way down his chest and taking her time about it, so much so every now and then he squirmed a little with impatience from her purposefully slow paced ministrations. She watched him the enter time through her lashes, maintaining eye contact with him, right to the moment when positioned herself between his thighs and lowered her mouth onto him.

“Christ,” Ben gasped, his head falling back onto the pillows. She would have smirked, but her mouth was otherwise occupied.

After a moment, she removed her mouth from him so that she could drag her tongue up the root of him, making sure she absolutely took her time. She then swirled her tongue around the tip, enticing and a little bit cruel. His flushed face lifted to stare down at her, his eyes growing even darker with desire.

Smiling, Abigail brushed a light kiss against him before once again taking him into her mouth, little by little until he began to writhe.

Meanwhile, Ben absolutely no idea what to do with himself. He was nearly, utterly gone. As she continued her ministrations on him, her blonde head bobbing lightly between his thighs, he quickly found himself becoming a trembling mess. A stream of curses, moans, and gasps of pleasure tumbled out of him, as if torn from the very center of his being. He had no idea it could be like this, just how tantalizing the act truly was. Now he understood why lust was considered one of the seven deadliest sins.

Being enveloped by her wet heat of her mouth, the intense pleasure, was intoxicating.

Two warring desires battled inside him – to shut his eyes and lose himself completely or to keep his eyes on her, to move her hair away from her face to witness the very magic with which she was using to bewitch him. He kept lifting his head to stare at her, transfixed, before closing his eyes and allowing his head to fall back in his pleasure with another gasp.

Soon enough, too soon, he felt the telltale signs of heat pooling in the pit of his stomach. Every inch of him was abuzz with the energy, every nerve ending taut as a piano string. Although he had never lain with a woman (or anyone else for that matter), he knew what was rapidly approaching and reached down to thread his fingers through her blonde locks, which made her hum in pleasure.

“Fuck,” Ben gasped, hips twitching upwards of their own accord. Her blue eyes were on his, and good Lord above, was that effective and not at all helpful to what he was trying to accomplish. “Wait, Abigail. I – ah Christ, God – I need a moment.”

She released him immediately, her brows furrowing in concern. Concern for him. He wanted to hit himself. Before she could ask, he shook his head. “Trust me, I didn’t want to stop you, but I had to. I’m afraid… I was coming to the quick, rather quickly.”

A flash of relief flickered across her face before being replace by flirtatious grin. “I thought that was the idea?”

The major was already flushed as it was, so he knew the increasing warmth of his cheeks from her comment wouldn’t be noticed. “It would be,” he said, “but I wouldn’t be able to continue if you kept carrying on as you were.”

Catching his meaning, Abigail continued to smile as she crawled up his body and kissed him as soon as she was able. Then, she was on her back with him pressing her gently into the mattress.

She let out a surprised noise by the maneuver, but she wasn’t complained. Nor was she complaining when she felt him against her.

She parted her legs for him and kissed him hard as she felt him against her entrance.

When Ben entered her, they both gasped, overwhelmed. He entered her slowly, carefully, making sure to balance his weight on his forearms, which rested on either side of her head.

They stared at each other, enamored and open and utterly trusting it nearly took both of their breath away. It was a moment neither had experienced before, certainly never Ben nor had Abigail. Even on her wedding night, she had never felt quite a connection as this. It was as if he owned her soul, and she wasn’t sure she ever wanted it back.

After a long pause for her to adjust to him, Abigail wrapped her arms around his waist, encouraging him to move. And so he did.

Ben began moving slowly at first, her legs entangled with his, sliding with his with each and every thrust of his hips. She clung to his him, gripping at his arms, while he kissed her with urgency, each thrust pressing her further into the mattress.

The storm raging outside the cabin was nothing compared to their passionate embrace, the sweaty tangled limbs, each grasping at the other in desperation. Need and desire overrode everything else, their senses all focusing on the other – the feeling of heated, soft flesh, the sight of mussed hair and flushed skin, the sound of every little gasp, moan, and noise of pleasure, and the smell of the strong scent of sex. The world didn’t exist. It was just them, in that moment.

When her legs slipped around his hips, their grip tightening in encouragement, he began to move faster. Abigail whimpered, clinging to him for dear life as his thrusts increased in speed and strength. She was very vocal in her encouragement, which she nearly shouted into his shoulder whenever he hit a particularly good spot.

He was hardly the silent lover himself, swearing so colorfully it was difficult to believe that he was a reverend’s son.

“Ben,” she gasped when she felt herself getting close, “Ben, kiss me. Please.”

Ben kissed her firmly, meeting her desperation with his own. He had been struggling to fend off orgasm ever since she had taken him into her mouth. Feeling her trembling all around him, the desperation in her kiss, he realized she was close and quickened his pace to have her meet him at the edge.

Abigail arched into him, keening in pleasure as she tumbled over the edge, shuddering and gasping in sharp spasms of pleasure. Her body shook as wave after wave of pleasure washed over her until she was left in the warm afterglow, her body going all but comfortably limp.

She hadn’t realized he had stilled until she opened her eyes slowly, glowing. Ben continued to look at her in that same way that had nearly made her want to hide, that she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life.

“Keep going,” Abigail murmured, nodding a little for him to continue.

“Aren’t you sore?” he asked, concerned, though she could see and feel the strain he was experiencing to keep himself still.

“I’ll be fine.” She lifted her legs, planted her feet on each side of him before pressing her thighs into his sides insistently. “Come for me.”

It didn’t take him long to finish. Only a few stuttering thrusts had him joining her over the edge. She watched him the entire time, committing the image of his pinched brows, squeezed shut eyelids, and lips parting to memory. He shuddered violently against her, his arms threatening to give out on him in any moment.

She was prepared for when he did and welcomed his full weight happily. To be honest, she thoroughly enjoyed having him completely on top of her, with nothing separating them. Maybe it was selfish of her, but she couldn’t care less, instead pressing against him and nuzzling into his overheated flesh, much like a purring cat waiting for a rub.

After the aftershocks of his orgasm faded, Ben returned to himself. He shifted so that he was on his back, relieving the burden of his weight from her. She curled against him instinctively once the settled, her legs entangled with his. Their harsh breathing began to ease in time with the slowing of their pounding hearts.

No. He hadn’t just witnessed the most beautiful sight in the world. That privilege belonged to her, having this beautiful man in her arms. A man who was almost too good for this world.

Chapter Text

“Does it still hurt?”

Abigail lifted her head from where she rested against Ben’s chest and gave him a mild inquisitive look. She was about to ask him what he meant when his hand grazed her side, fingers brushing near her stomach, just below her scar.

The blonde shifted a little, causing the blankets covering them to slide further down her form, but she didn’t mind.

It had been over two months since Kerr Farm. She knew that she had made more progress than most that had been in her condition, pushing herself to become more active to get better, perhaps pushing herself a little too hard some would say – Ben would say. But even if it did still hurt, it wouldn’t prevent her from lying next to him like this.

“It doesn’t hurt as much as it used to,” she replied softly, almost afraid to disturb the peaceful stillness consuming the room. “But it’s healing. It’s getting better.

She leaned forward and kissed him, basking in the warm softness of his lips in contrast to the growing stubble along his jaw. A curl fell over her face as she pulled back, and she blew it back. “I’m going to need a haircut soon. It’s getting too long,” she said, not really expecting a reply from him.

“Don’t you dare,” Ben murmured. He reached for the stray curl, stroking it fondly. She didn’t bother to stifle a giggle. As reluctant as she was to cut her hair, he seemed even more adamantly against it, even if it was only a logical necessity for her to make.

“What is with you and the fascination with my hair?” Abigail demanded playfully. “You used to tug on my hair all the time when we were children. I thought you’d have quit that habit by now.”

“You know what they say,” Ben said casually, running the curl through his fingers, “old habits die hard.” As if to prove his point, he tugged gently, and she huffed in mock irritation. Before she could say anything else though, he leaned in forward for another kiss, which she happily gave him.

“My hair must be your favorite thing about me,” she remarked, eyes twinkling with mirth once she pulled back. “You can’t seem to prevent yourself from touching it.”

Ben grinned. “While I do admit I’ve always been fond of your hair, there are other things I admire about you.”

Intrigued, Abigail scooted impossibly closer and rested her chin on his chest. “Such as?”

He chuckled incredulously. “You actually want a list?”

“I certainly do,” she replied, grinning.

Ben looked upwards, feigning a look of intense concentration before settling into another chuckle as she lightly scraped her nails against his side. “Of course, there’s your hair. All golden curls and wild.” He paused before adding playfully, “This is in no particular order, mind you.”

“Of course,” she nodded seriously, puckering her lips into a ridiculous pout enough to make him laugh.

“Then there’s your eyes,” he continued, once the laughter escaped him, though the smile remained. His arm that was around her shoulders pulled her closer, his hand slowly tracing circles along the smooth, bare skin of her back. “They’re just so blue, practically the color of larkspur. I could just lose myself when looking at you. It’s probably half of the reason you’ve won many of our arguments. Driving the opponent to distraction.”

“Really? I thought it was my cleverness and wit that stumped you,” she teased.

“You’d like me to admit that, wouldn’t you? Ah, well, where next? Oh. I know. Your heart. That definitely tops the list. You care so much about others, your friends, family. You’ve always had the biggest heart, even when it could lead you to trouble – which it has, I’ve noticed.”

Face growing warm, she pressed her face into his chest with a dramatic groan. Oh, that smooth bastard. He had always been such a talented speaker, knowing exactly what to say to stutter her heart. But she knew deep down that he meant every word.

Sensing her internal struggle, Ben grinned and pressed a kiss to the crown of her head. “Your legs,” he continued after a moment.

Peeking upwards, Abigail laughed. “Seriously?”

He nodded sagely. “Oh, yes. Trust me, seeing you walk around camp in trousers has been absolute torture. Now, though, I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to keep my hands off you, now that I’ve seen them in all their glory.”

Stifling another giggle, she promised she would try not to make it too unbearable for him any longer, though her grin absolutely ruined her sincerity. He nipped her lower lip in reprimand, smiling despite himself.

Soft kisses were exchanged for quite a while, slowly and languidly as if they had all the time in the world. In that moment, they did. Nothing else mattered other than the two of them. This was all she had ever wanted. It was more than she could have asked for.

“Is there anything else?” she asked curiously. She poked him lightly in the side in jest. “I feel like you’re holding back on me.”

Ben pressed his lips together, his face suddenly red. Abigail was even more intrigued. Oh, this was interesting. He had just described how much he liked her legs. What else could he admire that would make him blush?

“Your arse,” he admitted, chuckling nervously.

Abigail stared at him for a moment before laughing in shocked delight. She wasn’t sure why, but the thought of the major admiring her arse brought her no little amount of amusement. Or pleasure.

He was blushing but began to grin as she rolled herself on top of him, his hands settling on her hips. His fingers twitched a little against her skin, as if they wished to explore but were restricted by societal propriety.

Sensing this, Abigail pressed her mouth against his, murmuring with a teasing grin, “Don’t be shy, love.” She placed her hands on top of his, which still remained stubbornly on her hips. “You weren’t an hour ago.”

Slowly, she brought his hands downward to cup her bottom, a hand on each cheek. She hummed contentedly as he began to palm her with little hesitation after that. His hands were a decent size, and they cupped her perfectly.

“I can’t blame you for admiring it,” Abigail teased, pulling back a little. “I have it on good authority that I have a ‘pretty great arse’.” She had Caleb Brewster to prove it, the whaler having bestowed the title upon her himself. Not that she would ever admit that to Ben though.

“And who’s this authority?” Ben asked, playful at first but when she stubbornly refused to answer, his eyebrows arched in suspicion. “Seriously, who said this?”

Abigail shook her head. “A good spy doesn’t betray her sources.”

His eyes narrowed even further, and he demanded to know who said it. She leaned forward and pressed her mouth to his, kissing him to distraction.

He kissed her back instinctively, and for a moment, she thought she had earned victory.

But then, he asked, “No though, who was it? Was it a man?”

Abigail pulled back to rest her forearms across his chest. She brought her fingers to her lips, making a locking motion with her hand before tossing the invisible key over her shoulder. Before he could say anything more, she rocked her hips against his, grinning sharply at his gasp.

Caleb was safe once again.

---

The major awoke to sunlight filtering through curtained windows, the warmth from the sun stirring him back to the land of the awakened. The complete and utter stillness outside the cabin prompted him to open his eyes and lift his head to peer out of the window without disturbing his bed partner.

The dark, thunderous storm clouds had faded in the night, replaced by the greyish blue hue of a cloudy morning.

The storm had come and gone over the course of the night. It was difficult to assess the damage from his vantage point, but that didn’t concern him. All that mattered was they could finally get moving.

Dropping his gaze from the window, Ben shifted further down into the bed, having been careful not to disturb the sleeping form beside him. With his arm securely around her middle, he was wrapped around her comfortably, protectively, perhaps even greedily. There was nothing more that he wanted than to burrow himself into her soft warm, and so he did.

Unable to help himself, he dropped a kiss to her shoulder, exposed a little by the shift she had changed back into the night before when she had claimed to be cold. The soft, pale expanse of her neck was all too inviting, but he resisted the urge to continue kissing her awake, though barely. While they needed to get moving as soon as possible, he was reluctant to wake her, knowing that upon their arrival at the new camp base, sleep would be a rare commodity.

He couldn’t recall the last time he had slept so well. The reason could easily be amounted to the previous night’s activities, but it was much more than that, although he didn’t discredit that fact, not at all. Lying there with the woman who always had his heart, the woman he had just given all of himself to, nestled securely in his arms brought out an overwhelming surge of emotions he hadn’t expected to feel, namely in the form of one word which kept thrumming in his mind.

Mine.

Giving in to the urge, the major began softly peppering her neck with kisses, smiling against her skin as she stirred in his arms. She sighed quietly, contently after a while, subtly arching her neck against his mouth in such a manner he knew she was almost awake and continued to carry out his dutiful task.

After a moment – more like several, Abigail stirred further and turned so that she was lying on her back, careful not to slip from underneath his hold. He pulled her closer, and she smiled at him sleepily, causing his heart to swell so much inside his chest it was nearly fit to burst. “I love you, I have always loved you, and I can’t imagine loving anyone else the way I love you.”

The words went unspoken, but with every gentle touch, every kiss they were expressed. Actions spoke louder than words, as someone wise once said, though later Ben would discover that words were just as important.

He leaned in to kiss her warmly, his hands pressing into the soft, morning warmth of her back. Getting ready could wait.

---

Eventually, the pair did get up, as unfortunate as it was. They had to get moving as soon as possible, and they couldn’t afford to linger any more than they already had.

Ben rose from the bed and went in search from his clothes prior to the storm, which would now be blessedly dry. Abigail lingered a moment to admire the view she received in return but eventually forced herself up and out of the bed before she instigated something neither one of them would regret.

While he dressed, Abigail took it upon herself to clean and put away the dishes, which she had neglected to do the previous night, though for very good reasons. It was the least she could do by trying to clean up their mess, not knowing when the cabin’s original occupants would return. They had been fortunate they hadn’t returned already, which she took as a blessing.

Once they dishes were cleaned and stacked, she returned them to their original places in the cabinet, already having returned the ingredients to storage the previous night. There wasn’t enough time to do a thorough job of cleaning, especially with the bedroom, but surprisingly – or perhaps not too surprisingly – she was much too happy to care about that.

By the time Ben reemerged, Abigail was folding a blanket carefully and tucking it back to where she had originally found it. He walked behind her, settling his hands low on her hips and dropping a lingering kiss to the nape of her neck. Abigail’s eyes shut briefly at the contact, smiling.

“Is this your idea of leaving immediately?” she asked. Her leaning into him, pressing herself against his chest contradicted the poor attempt at a reprimand, and they both heard it.

“Are you complaining?” She could hear the smile in his voice but more so felt the smile against her neck, threatening to send a shudder of pleasure through her.

“No,” she sighed, smiling, and turned in his arms so that she could wrap her arms around his neck.

Abigail looked at him, really looked at him. The blissfully happy expression on Ben’s face nearly stole her breath and stopped her heart. There was nothing more than she wanted in this world for Ben – apart from his safety and well-being – than for him to be happy, whether it was with her or not. But just seeing the look on his face and even suspecting she had some part in putting that expression on his face…

“I love you.” Those three little words sat on the tip of her tongue, ready to tumble past her unwilling lips for so long. In the past few years alone, there had been many opportunities for her to say them whether in a quiet murmur or a confession, but she never had, whether it was from cowardice, self-preservation, or both.

But those words were all she could think about. She knew it was much more than the effects of afterglow because she was more than well acquainted with this feeling, of loving someone so much you put their needs above your own.

“What’s wrong?” Ben asked, his smile fading a little at her brief turn into distraction.

Smiling more fully, Abigail shook her head. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. In fact, I think it’s about time I tell you this now before any more years are wasted.”

She was just about to tell him, the words more than ready to reveal themselves, when suddenly there’s a heavy pounding on the door.

Jolting apart, they faced the door with growing dread. From behind her, she heard Ben take a few steps back, and when she looked over her shoulder, she found him grabbing a rifle that had been hanging along the back wall.

“Hide yourself,” Abigail urged when there’s another insistent pounding on the door. A sudden stroke of inspiration sparked inside her, and she knew she had to see it through. She pressed a hand to his chest and pushed him back, but he wouldn’t budge.

“What about you?” he demanded, his tone quiet but firm.

Abigail shook her head and retrieved the blanket to cover herself. “I have a plan. Go hide. Just in case it’s someone who recognizes you. Go.”

“Abigail…”

“Ben, what if it’s Gamble? What if he’s searching for you? Think,” she insisted, wrapping the blanket around herself more firmly. “Now if I don’t answer the door by the time they knock a third time, they’re going to kick the door in and find the both of us here squabbling. I have my father’s pistol on me, so I have protection. Please, go.”

Ben didn’t like where he suspected this plan was going but knew there were no other options for them. He hid himself behind the wall before she walked towards the door, watching her like a hawk.

Abigail took a calming breath and quickly approached the door, her hand on the knob. She grabbed a knife on her way and tucked it carefully into the pocket she had tied around her shift, her father’s pistol still in her coat pocket in the bedroom, and opened the door.

It took every ounce of strength she had not to gasp at the sight of Gamble standing before her, looking as disheveled and sleazy as she had ever seen him. Behind him stood two other men, assumedly British soldiers in civilian clothing or Tories at the very least.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, ma’am,” Gambles apologized, though it didn’t appear as if he sounded all the sorry about it. He should attend acting classes if he wanted to appear more believable. “May we come in?”

Before she could even ask, he pushed himself inside, nearly shoving her into the wall as he and the other men entered the cabin.

Catching herself, Abigail pressed forward to make sure she was standing right in front of them, preventing them from coming in any further.

“You don’t have the right to come in like this. What is the meaning of this?” she demanded, her frayed nerves making her tone higher pitched with alarm. Given the circumstances, it was understandable, and from the looks of the men, they understood this, too, at least the other two. Gambles didn’t appear to give a shit.

“I’m sorry to cause you any disturbance, ma’am,” the younger one remarked, his tone sounding sincerely apologetic. Now him she actually nearly believed. “We’ve been going from cabin to cabin asking those residing there if they had seen a pair of strange men running about. Now we’re asking you.”

“Asking me what?” she asked, burying her hands into her makeshift shawl to hide the sudden tremors in her hands.

“Asking,” Gambled remarked impatiently, “if you’ve seen these men? They’re dangerous rebel soldiers, one of them is a rebel officer. It’s hard to tell about the other. I was a little indisposed when he arrived.”

“You mean you were knocked out on your arse when came up behind you with your own musket,” the other man, taller and ganglier, supplied, his near toothless grin dying when Gambles fixed him with a glare.

Abigail barely hid her smile. Barely.

“I haven’t seen any men by your description,” she responded. “I never left the cabin all evening due the weather. I assume you know there had been a nasty storm last evening. If there had been anyone foolish enough to run about out there, I’m sure they hadn’t made it far from where you left them.”

Adjusting the blanket over her shoulders, Abigail continued, “My husband will be returning any minute and wouldn’t appreciate you barging in here like this, especially those who may fall into his regiment.”

Gamble’s brows lifted questioningly. “Are you saying your husband’s a British officer?”

“I surely am,” Abigail asserted, though that was only a partial truth. Her husband was in the British army when she had been granted her divorce. What these men didn’t know was that he was truly serving for the Continental Army, but that was obviously not something she was going to admit.

Impulsively, she added boldly, “He’ll be arriving her on his way to meet Major Andre. Wrote it to me himself in a letter. Would you like to see for yourself?”

That was a major bluff she had just made, so risky in fact she nearly cursed herself for making it. Somewhere not too far from where they stood, she knew Ben had overheard everything, including what she had just said. She had a feeling she would never hear the end of it from him, if they managed to make it out of there unscathed.

For several minutes, the trio assessed her suspiciously, trying to gage if she was in fact telling the truth or if she was just bull shitting them. Abigail tilted her chin upwards a little in defiance, another bold move, which each man took in with a little flicker of surprise. The longer the silence stretched, the more nervous she became. She did her best not to show it.

Finally, after what felt like ages, but was more than likely a few minutes, Gamble grunted a little. “That won’t be necessary, madam. We’re sorry to have intruded.”

He and the men turned to head for the door when Gamble paused and turned back to stare at her, gaze piercing, “If you could mention it to your husband,” he paused purposefully before continuing, “if you recall seeing any strangers in the area, please tell him to let us know. These men are dangerous and need to be captured.”

“Of course,” Abigail replied. And just because she couldn’t let it slide, she had to get one final dig in. “I’ll let the major know as soon as he arrives.”

She was almost certain that Gambles was a lieutenant himself. Judging him upon first impression, he seemed like a power seeking bastard of sorts, desiring to work his way up as fast and dirtily as he needed to. So knowing that her alleged husband outranked him must have burned him up on the inside.

The shorter man tugged at Gamble, whose glaring gaze refused to leave hers, until the pack leader ducked his head through the doorway before shutting the door behind him.

Pushing back a curtain slightly, she watched as they approached their horses, Gamble looking far from pleased as the shorter of the men tried to talk him down.

As soon as they mounted and rode off, Abigail rushed into the bedroom to change back into her male civilian clothes, bindings and all, after a clipped remark from Ben that he would be tacking the horse for their departure.

Soon enough, in record time, they were riding away from the cabin, on Gamble’s horse, with little nothing more than the clothes on their backs and the few weapons they could manage to “borrow.” Unfortunately, it was doubtful they would ever be returned.

Chapter Text

Middlebrook, New Jersey

The journey to the new Middlebrook camp had been blessedly uneventful. There hadn’t been any more run-ins with Gamble and his men nor had there been any other delays preventing Ben and Abigail to reach Middlebrook other than the storm.

It had been a few days since they made it back to camp, and soon they had fallen back into their patterns of every day camp life. With each of them returning to their duties, they were lucky to catch glimpses of each other, let alone speak or have a moment alone. There was nothing they could do to about it, which made it all the more frustrating.

Even more so that whenever Abigail saw him now, she remembered his hands on her bare skin, his mouth against her breasts, the way his brows pinched together when he…

She slammed Anderson’s old copy of medical procedures closed with more force than was necessary, her body growing warmer than the morning air permitted.

The camp doctor had loaned her a copy to allow her to further her knowledge, with absolutely no fuss. It was a little surprising, now that he knew who she was. There was a part of her waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for him to discourage her from asking about some medical question a woman shouldn’t be privy to or anything a woman shouldn’t be knowledgeable about – something she found completely ridiculous, clearly. But so far, Anderson continued to answer all of her questions and instruct her as he had always done, not once treating her any differently. Maybe he was open-minded. Or maybe he was in denial. Whatever it was, she wasn’t going to mess with this opportunity, and that included taking better care of his books.

Tucking the book carefully under her arm, Abigail rose from her seat, about to return the book back in the hands of its owner when she spotted Ben walking through the center of camp. Walking towards her with such a single-minded purpose she couldn’t help but meet him halfway. The silly book could wait.

“Morning, stranger,” Abigail greeted as soon as she reached him, lips instantly turning upwards into a smile.

Ben grinned, asking, “Is that how it is now?”

Abigail shrugged, eyes twinkling with mischief. There was so much more that she wanted to say – so much she wanted to do, actually – but given they were out in the open in the camp, a certain protocol had to be maintained, especially between a soldier and his superior, perhaps even more especially due to her disguise as being male. “How am I supposed to react? You don’t write, you’re never around, you… Oh, you shaved.”

The complete absence of stubble for some reason derailed her from her intended line of teasing. His jaw and neck were smooth and bare, completely unlike how he had appeared when they made it to Middlebrook. The last time she had seen him, had actually spoken to him, he had still sported the stubble, which she couldn’t deny looked rather attractive on him. Not that he wasn’t attractive when he shaved, but there was just something about the scruffy look that… well…

Maybe it was for the best he had saved after all.

He brought a hand to his face, almost self-consciously, and let out an almost nervous chuckle, bless him. “Yeah, it was about time for that look to go. It’s not exactly a look I can pull off. Besides, I don’t want Caleb feeling threatened, now that he’s growing his back.”

Abigail snickered quietly, ducking her head a little to avoid any direct eye contact with soldiers passing by them. “Yes, we wouldn’t want to do that.”

After a moment, she looked up, giving him a quick assessment of appreciation before quickly veiling the expression on her face. “Though I’m not sure that I agree with you on one point, major. I think you carry the stubble look quite nicely.”

Nodding, Abigail prepared to take a step forward, hesitating for a moment to see if anyone was watching them. Only when it was apparent they were not being watched, she stepped closer and added lowly, for his ears alone, “I like the way it feels between my thighs.”

She watched as the major’s lips parted, his eyes growing darker, and was very much looking forward to his response when out of nowhere an officer approached them, a Lieutenant Murphy to be exact. He apologized for the interruption, but he had a quick question for Ben, who looked ready to stuff the man into a box and ship him off very far away. Abigail couldn’t blame him. She shared the exact sentiment.

Sensing this quick question could take a while, Abigail figured she should make herself scarce. “I’ll leave you gentlemen to it,” she remarked, excusing herself from the conversation which would promise to be incredibly interesting – not. She never met the man before, but Caleb had told her that Murphy tended to be a long-winded fellow, which wouldn’t have been so terrible if he wasn’t also so extremely dull, or so she heard. Apparently, the middle aged lieutenant had the personality of a dead fish.

Ben fixed her with an partially envious glare as she made her escape, with more than a hint of barely concealed frustration in his face for more reasons than one. She pressed her lips together to conceal her own smile and turned around to head over to Anderson’s tent. Only when she was a half a dozen steps away from them did inspiration strike.

“Oops,” Abigail murmured as the doctor’s book slipped out of her grasp and landed on the ground with a resounding thud. She took her absolute time to retrieve it, too, bending low at waist so that her fingers brushed along the rough tome until she had a decent grip.

She heard a sudden choking sound from behind her. Peeking over her shoulder, the blonde spotted Ben’s very flushed face and watched as he struggled to maintain his composure. Fortunately for Ben, his conversational companion didn’t seem to notice, the lieutenant still carrying on with his monotonous monologue.

Abigail smirked a little to herself and straightened to her full height. Brushing some of the dirt off the book, she continued her walk towards the good doctor’s tent, knowing fully well she was going to pay for that little stunt later.

And she was looking forward to it.

---

After her mild indiscretion, Abigail managed to return the book to Anderson in one piece, thankfully with no physical damage apart from the signs of the early stages of a weathered, well-worn old book.

The most common cases seen in the camp were usually a result from illnesses and other physical ailments aside from battle injuries, which were less common than one would think. One of the worst shifts she had assisted Anderson with had been in the early days of her unofficial apprenticeship, back in Valley Forge during the harsh winter months when diseases and hypothermia ran rampant coupled with dangerously low food supplies, leading to starvation deaths of many. During that time, she had run on little sleep, practically up to her neck with ailing soldiers. How she and Anderson hadn’t contracted any of the diseases themselves had been a miracle in itself.

No such drastic number of cases did they have to tend to that day. In fact, the few patients that visited the infirmary tent had complaints more so dealing with arthritis. Abigail took over tending to them when more serious cases came to the doctor’s attention.

She assisted him when she could but for the most part helped treat those suffering from sore joints by rubbing their joints with a piece of dry flannel. Each of them confided in her that they preferred her touch to Anderson’s, who tended to be rougher in his massages than hers. She could’ve sworn she had spotted a flicker of a smile on the doctor’s face, but when she turned to face him fully, he had returned to treatment to his own patient.

Anderson dismissed her at noon as soon as her patients left. Accepting the unusually early dismal before he could change his mind, Abigail stepped out of the tent and didn’t make it ten steps before she ran smack into Anna Strong.

Abigail gaped. “Anna?

Even with the smudges of dirt along her skin and sweaty tendrils clinging to the sides of her face, she could easily recognize an Anna Strong when she saw one.

Anna stared back, equally shocked. “Ab…” she stopped herself short, shaking her head a little. Her shocked expression slowly gave way to a growing grin. “Williams,” she greeted her, emphasizing her correction which only made the blonde laugh.

The two embraced but quickly, mostly in part to not draw too much suspicion. Wiping her hands on her skirts – she had been assigned to digging with some other women, hence her exhausted, grimy appearance – Anna then led her somewhere where they could speak more privately, an act that was very difficult to accomplish these days.

Soon enough the two women found a place in the woods, sitting on an old tree stump that provided enough room for two.

“What are you doing here?” Abigail demanded. It wasn’t that she wasn’t happy to see her friend, her best friend, but to say she was floored by Anna’s sudden presence would have been a major understatement.

The barmaid, or former barmaid now she supposed, tucked a stray dark curl behind her ear. “So much has happened in Setauket since you’ve gone, more than you realize.” She told Abigail of everything that happened after Abe’s release from the British prison, and his current standoff with Major Hewlett, the deterioration of her and Abe’s relationship along with it, but not for the reasons Abigail began to think.

“Mary Woodhull fell in love with Hewlett,” Anna said, pressing her lips together in displeasure. “While Abe had been in prison, I suspect.”

Abigail stared in amazement, her lips parting in shock. “I’m sorry. I don’t…?”

Anna nodded, understanding her shock all too well. “I didn’t see it coming either, but I feel like I should have, considering how much time they had been spending together, how much he doted on her.

“Apparently, Mary had the divorce papers ready for Abe as soon as he arrived back at Whitehall, claiming she wanted a divorce based on Abe’s past indiscretions… with me.” And Abe had apparently agreed, signing the papers with only the concern for their son on his mind.

No one had anticipated Mary announcing her engagement to Major Hewlett a few days later.

Of course, when the news reached Abe, chaos ensued.

“What about Thomas?” Abigail asked, the news so distressing she couldn’t keep still. She rose to her feet and looked at Anna with dismay.

Anna replied regretfully, “That’s a huge battle between them right now. As of right now, Thomas is currently in Abe’s father’s custody until they sort everything out. Mary wants Thomas to go with her and Hewlett to marry in Scotland, his home country, while Abe, understandably against it, wants to keep Thomas with him.”

“Christ, what a mess.”

“You’re telling me.”

Abigail hesitated before asking softly, “And how’s Abe holding up?”

The brunette’s hands clenched the material of her skirts. “I… he… I don’t really know. He’s pushed me so far away during these past few months, I don’t know where his head is anymore. I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried so hard being there for him, but he’s determined not to let anyone in. He thinks he needs to do all of this alone, but he’s not alone. I’ve tried to make him see that.”

A tear trickled down her cheek, which she stubbornly rubbed away with the back of her hand. Abigail’s heart ached for her. This wasn’t the same Anna Strong she had last seen on her and Ben’s last meeting with her and Abe. The woman who sat before her looked so completely, utterly defeated, the remnants of her broken heart clear on her face.

Kneeling at her feet, Abigail took Anna’s hands in hers and squeezed them reassuringly, hoping to provide even the smallest amount of comfort. Anna smiled gently at the gesture, her lips quivering to keep the tears at bay.

It took her several minutes for Anna to collect herself, which was an impressive feat in itself. Then again, her name wasn’t Anna Strong for nothing, whether she inherited the name through marriage or not.

“And so I thought since Abe no longer needs me,” Anna continued after a measured breath, “I decided I could better serve my country here.”

“First of all,” Abigail said, squeezing Anna’s hands, “Abe will always need you, no matter what he’s going through or how thick-headed he’s acting.” She smiled a little as the brunette huffed out a reluctant laugh. Goal achieved! “Second of all, and most importantly, it’s good to have you here. You’re needed here.”

Anna smiled gratefully as she slowly came back to herself.

Abigail suddenly grinned. “Now all we have to do is get you a uniform, a pseudonym, and enlist you, and you’ll be ready to go.”

“Don’t give her any ideas,” Ben remarked, drawing both women’s attention over Abigail’s shoulder. They watched as both Caleb and Ben approached them. Apparently they had been searching for them for some time.

Abigail ignored the jab and rose to her feet, countering cheekily, “Finally got away from chatty Murphy, huh?”

Ben sighed heavily, a look of intense relief flickering across his face. “Yes, all thanks to Caleb for intervening.”

The whaler grinned before bringing up a hand to his own ear and leaned towards Ben. “I’m sorry. I don’t believe I quite heard that. Thanks to who now?”

Ben huffed and aimed a playful punch towards Caleb’s arm, which the latter managed to dodge with perfect ease.

Anna shook her head. “It’s nice to see you’re still humble, Caleb.”

Caleb removed his hat and gave a half-bow. “I always aim to please.”

Abigail and Anna grinned while Ben was just left to shake his head.

When Anna asked what they could do for them, Caleb said they were actually looking for Anna. At her suddenly perplexed look, he said, “We were gonna offer you a rest from the digging, but it looks like you’re already doing that.”

Anna smiled sheepishly while Abigail lifted a brow as if to say, “And what’s your point?” Then Anna insisted, “I was on my way to find more shovels when I ran into her, quite literally actually. Besides, I don’t mind the work.”

“Yeah?” Caleb asked, amused. “Give yourself a once-over. You’ll want to wipe the grime off before you meet him.”

Abigail had been about to give Caleb a talking to when she found a twig caught in Anna’s dark locks. Whoops. She quickly plucked the twig out of her hair before Anna reached up to self-consciously brush at her hair and caught Ben’s amused gaze. She narrowed her eyes at him playfully, shaking her head just as Anna asked, “Meet who?”

Ben and Caleb shared a look, which they briefly extended to Abigail when they both chuckled. “General Washington, of course.”

Anna’s eyes widened. “Wait… you mean…”

“General George Washington, the Grey Fox? Yes,” Ben confirmed, smiling.

Abigail was grinning now, too, and placed a steadying hand on Anna’s shoulder. “Breathe, Anna. You haven’t even met him yet.”

She did acknowledge it was easier said than done. When she had first encountered Washington, she had felt just as breathless and startled by the sight of him. But then again, the commander-in-chief had had just pinned her against the wall, believing her to be a potential assailant, so there had been that, too.

Realizing that Anna was already overwhelmed, Abigail decided the best thing to do was not go with them to introduce Anna to Washington. She didn’t want to add to the intense mixture of emotions she was already feeling.

Abigail didn’t phrase it exactly like that, but she made her excuses not to join them when Anna rose to her feet and followed Caleb to return to camp. Ben lingered behind to catch Abigail by the arm, pulling her close to say, “Don’t think I don’t know the reason of what you just did.”

Abigail smiled innocently. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

She went to leave, but he pulled her a closer still, his eyes narrowing slightly, “And don’t even think I don’t know what you did earlier either.”

The blonde smiled angelically at that, “I really don’t know what you’re talking about.” She winked, ruining the poor attempt at faux innocence, and easily slipped out his grasp to make her escape.

 

---

Abigail didn’t see much of the trio until late into the evening when Caleb came to fetch her. When she asked him if anything was wrong, all he would say that Anna and Ben were waiting for them, and they shouldn’t delay. Needless to say, she didn’t waste any more time asking questions and followed him to where Ben and Anna were waiting for them.

It turned out Robert Townsend, or Culper Jr. rather, uncovered a rather insidious plot the British were cooking up and managed to report as much through the techniques Abe had taught him for when he need to get his message across. Counterfeiting racketeer. That’s how low the British had sunk to. Circulate false money enough to make the Continental Congress go bankrupt, thus defunding the Continental Army, and thus ending the war where the British essentially win by default. So much for integrity and honor during times of war. It appeared those ideas have long since died, at least on the part of the British. Oh, how very ironic.

Were the British so in desperate financial strain themselves that they would resort to this? Apparently so, which meant that nothing was off the table any longer.

Since Anna had been in enemy territory the longest out of the four of them, Caleb believed she was the next best thing to a British solider, having been acquainted with how they think and their usual patterns due in large part to having associated with them for the past few years. Especially with Simcoe and a few other British officers having been quartered in her home.

“Well,” Anna began after examining the documents they had brought with them, “I’ve been thinking about where the shovers would do their shoving. If they have all this money to unload, they can’t just spend it at some general store. They’d need someone who could take thousands in one go and spend it fast.”

“Well, loyal Tories, right?” Ben suggested. “I mean, they could spend it, but they’d have to do it over time.”

Caleb shook his head. “No, no, too slow. The British need a flood, not a trickle.”

Abigail observed a sudden spark light up Anna’s face and leaned forward, asking, “What is it?”

“When Maarten DeJong bought Selah’s tavern,” Anna remarked, “he switched to buying cheap rum from privateers so Patriot privateers have access to our lands and waterways. They trade on the black market with anyone.”

Ben and Caleb shared a look as Anna spoke, realization dawning on the both of them. Abigail asked, “So they might be greed enough not to ask questions about who they’re selling to or why?”

Anna nodded, smiling at Abigail. “Precisely.”

“Christ,” Caleb spoke, amazed. “She’s… she’s got it Ben. She got it!”

The whaler walked over to Anna, cupped her face, and kissed her on the crown of her head. “You got it!”

Anna laughed while Abigail beamed in pride for her friend. With his arm around Anna’s shoulder, Caleb turned to Ben and said, “All right, last week I heard a couple of whip jackets who do business in Moodna Creek, right? They closed their shop. They stopped selling. They pulled all their tobacco off the London trade.” He looked at each of them emphatically. “They pulled all of it.”

“Wait, how much did they have?” Ben demanded.

Caleb shrugged. “A shit ton, give or take.”

Abigail held back a snort but barely, knowing that wouldn’t be very productive in that moment. Instead, she remained quiet as the three continued to talk. That was until she remembered one relatively important detail just as Caleb and Ben were hammering out the details to go with a few soldiers to intercept and observe the counterfeiters’ hideout and report back to Washington. “I think there’s one thing you’re forgetting, boys.”

When she received blank stares in response, Abigail pointed out, “Abe? You were supposed to meet him, right?”

“Ah, shit, she’s right!” Caleb exclaimed, after murmuring a curse. “Well, he’s going to have to wait, until we see this through.”

“Or maybe not?” Abigail said. “I can go while you and Ben go take care of the counterfeiters.” Anna and Ben both frowned at her while Caleb took on a more considering look. “And before you say no,” she added directly to Ben, raising her eyebrows a little, “need I remind you that’s what shared courier duties are for, right?”

As usual whenever she volunteered, Ben looked displeased, but this time Caleb helped her out. “I think this could work out. If we each left tonight, she’ll probably beat us back here. Don’t you have that thing in Philadelphia soon?”

After a few rounds of persuasion – which she was honestly surprise didn’t take longer than that – Ben acquiesced. “Fine. That’s what we’ll do then.” He turned to Caleb and asked if he could make the arrangements for each separate mission, to which the whaler agreed with happily and left the tent with bounce in his step, a little too eager to see the looks on the British faces when they discovered the rebels had bested them, of that Abigail had no doubt.

Before Abigail went to follow, Ben asked if she could meet him in his tent before she left, to go over some notes he wished to give Abe. But Abigail knew better.

There were no notes, at least none that she was aware of.

She didn’t say of this, instead agreeing that she would meet him there, barely concealing her smile as she walked in the direction of the major’s tent.

---

The moment the tent’s flaps were firmly shut, Ben’s mouth was on hers, demanding and desperate. She matched him with equal fervor, wrapping her arms around her neck while his snaked around her waist pulling her closer. She grinned sharply against his mouth when she felt his growing arousal against her and suppressed a shudder of delight. It had been nearly a week since they had first lain together, which was far too long for her liking. Judging from his eagerly roaming hands, he agreed.

They were on borrowed time, the minutes ticking down against them with every passing second. Shoes were kicked off and trousers quickly removed and discarded and not much time for anything else, apart from loosening of Abigail’s bindings so that she could arch her chest against his eager mouth.

When he finally positioned himself at her entrance, Abigail met him halfway, moving forward just as he entered her, making the movement one, quick thrust. They hid their gasps of pleasure against the other’s mouth, knowing they needed to be quiet as well as quick.

Only one of the two was a realistic scenario.

It was rushed and frantic, hot and desperate all in one. There were so many things Abigail wanted to do for him, so many things she wanted to teach him. If only they had the time. But she was more than happy to have this, feeling his harsh ragged breathing against her neck, hearing his constant stream of “mine, mine, mine” no matter how hard he tried to muffle them against the pillow.

She loved it, every single time that word tumbled past his lips. She clawed at him eagerly, murmuring incoherent mumblings against his neck. Her hands slipped underneath his shirt, nails digging down his back until he shuddered violently against her.

By some miracle, they manage to stay relatively quiet, apart from the harsh panting and half-choked moans as they tumbled over the edge, one behind the other. They lied there together for a few precious moments, half-clothed limbs tangled together as they caught their breath.

“I think,” Ben remarked when breathing returned to him, “I should feel more embarrassed than I actually feel.”

Abigail giggled, and he pulled her closer as he kissed the top of her head, grinning sheepishly. “I think you get a pass, considering time constraints.” She looked up at him with an impish smile. “Besides, do you hear me complaining?”

Unfortunately, the afterglow couldn’t last. With the reality of their impending journeys lingering over their heads, they got dressed quickly, or as quickly as one could when the other kept coming in for distracting kisses – Abigail.

All there was left were their shoes, which Abigail found hers right beside the cot. She didn’t worry too much about her appearance apart from the obvious reasons; she was going to have to change into civilian clothing before she left anyway. Still, she carefully tied back her mussed hair into a careful bun. There was only so much she could do to conceal the… after effects of what they had just been up to. It was a very good thing it was well beyond dusk.

“I really don’t like that you’re going,” Ben remarked from his place beside her on the cot. He looked over at her as he laced his boots. “I’m sure you know that, but I felt it needed to be said, just in case.”

“Oh, I know how your mind works,” Abigail remarked, reaching over to tuck a stray lock behind his ear. Her fingers lingered as she caressed the soft skin just below his ear. She smiled as he relaxed under her touch. “I’ll be back before you know it. Cantor isn’t known for his glacial speed, you know.”

He snorted indelicately. “Oh, that I know. I still have bruises from when he threw me off when your father and I first tried to break him.”

Abigail suppressed a smile by hiding her face against his shoulder, recalling easily how an overconfident fourteen year old Benjamin Tallmadge had been given a lesson in humility by that dramatic beast of a horse of hers, at the tender age of one year no less. He hadn’t suffered any physical injuries thankfully, but from what she remembered ,the only injury he had suffered was his pride.

“I’ll admit,” Abigail murmured, resting her cheek against his shoulder, “I don’t really like you going either, but we have our jobs to do. And we can’t let Washington done. Besides, contrary to popular opinion, but I don’t actively seek out trouble. It… just has an unusual way of finding me.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Ben remarked wryly. He took both of her hands in his and brought them to his lips. She shifted a little so that she was now facing him fully. “Please, just be careful.”

“For Culper?” she asked.

“For me,” Ben said, giving her hands a firm squeeze. “I just got you to myself. I’m too selfish to give you up now.”

Abigail smiled and leaned forward to press a kiss to his lips, sealing the unspoken promise with a kiss. “Now, go off and be a hero, major. Give them hell.”

Chapter Text

As soon as she dressed in civilian clothing – consisting of dark brown trousers with an equally dark brown coat over her loose fitting uniform shirt and a brown cap to conceal her face – Abigail laced up her boots and set off towards the stable. She could only imagine how eager her horse Cantor would be for an adventure, having been pasture bound for the better part of two months, at least. He was probably giving the poor stable hand a fit, which meant she owed her dramatic beast a carrot and the unfortunate soldier that had to manage him a few more coins, the usual arrangement.

Only when she arrived, her horse was nowhere to be found. Oh, the soldier was there, nodding to her in greeting while holding onto the reigns of horse that decidedly was not Cantor. First of all, the horse was a mare. That was her first second clue. Her first had been the grey and white dappled coat.

At her puzzled expression, the soldier explained, “They finally managed to find a farrier to came care for the horses’ hooves. Yours was on the list to get his hooves done, and we didn’t think he would be done in time before you had to go, so we got you Penny.”

“Penny,” Abigail said, observing the mare warily. She didn’t have a good history with mares. One had refused to walk anywhere, no matter how hard she tried to coax or kick the horse into action. The second mare refused to let anyone but men ride her and always gave her trouble, why she had no idea to this day. Oh and another had apparently been in beginnings of her cycle, and every male horse whinnied and rushed after them to get to her. That was a fun time. These experiences coupled with several more accounts served as the foundations of her only riding geldings, i.e. Cantor.

“Penny”, the dappled mare, looked awfully young. She could see the whites in her eyes as the horse looked around, snorting quietly as she pawed at the earth. How long had it been since she had been broken?

As if reading her mind, the soldier said, “She’s a very smooth ride but is pretty skittish. She’s about two years old. And broken in about… three months ago? Maybe six?”

Three months at two years old. Christ. Oh, this wasn’t going to go well for either of them.

“All right,” Abigail sighed heavily, accepting the reigns from the soldier. She dropped the coins into his hands for his trouble but not without saying, “Consider this as a down payment on my funeral if I don’t return.” She smiled in jest, though she had to wonder if she was actually joking at all.

The soldier accepted the coins while a low chuckle and promised he would get on it. He returned to the stables after she mounted Penny, who shifted nervously from foot to foot underneath her weight. Horses sensed the moods of their riders, and often their own moods reflected whatever feeling they senses – confidence, energy, fear, nervousness.

Abigail took a calming breath and steadied herself, recalling this and doing her best to keep herself calm, more for this newly broken mare than herself. She eased the mare into a walk, laying the reins lightly against her and clicking her tongue.

Penny stubbornly didn’t move, and Abigail sighed irritably. Bloody mares. She tried again, and the horse didn’t budge. She then gave a slight nudge of her heels into her side and had to hold herself upright as Penny broke out into a trot with absolutely no warning.

The trot was rough and terrible. It took a few minutes for her to adjust, and when she did, the trot wasn’t any better when she had her balance.

“Smooth ride, my Irish arse,” Abigail murmured through gritted teeth. All she could do was hold on and guide when she could as the mare trotted down the trail.

---

The ride was rough and not at all fun, just as she had predicted. Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy all you like, but Abigail liked to call it intuition and instincts. And her instincts were telling her Penny didn’t particularly care for her. Well, sweetheart, the feeling’s mutual, she thought bitterly as she clutched the reins.

Somehow, they were making progress, with the horse’s inclination for brisk speeds and disclination to stop whenever Abigail prompted to give her a break. Fine with her. Whatever got them to Setauket faster.

One of the problems they encountered was Penny’s skittish nature, something the soldier had actually been truthful about. The mare jumped at the slightest sound – twigs snapping, owls hooting, the rustling of leaves. Just about every sound found in nature the mare found offensive and suspicious.

Each time a bird squawked, the mare came to an abrupt halt. The first few times, Abigail had nearly fallen off head first over the saddle’s pommel. Now she was better prepared, bracing herself for the inevitable noise that would spook Penny.

How in the hell had this poor beast end up in the Continental Army of all places? Newly broken horses didn’t seem like the smartest idea, considering how many of them would be assigned to officers going into battle. There was no way Penny would be able to handle that.

Then she remembered someone in the camp mentioning getting a few new horses that were only recently broken. Looking down at Penny, she had to wonder again, what else had the solider had fudged to get her to take this horse.

Throughout the journey, despite the many setbacks, Abigail kept speaking to the mare in soft, soothing tones. She presented a calm front when all she wanted to do was hop off and continue the trek on foot.

“That’s a good girl,” Abigail murmured encouragingly when the mare remained at a consistently brisk walk for longer than five minutes. A mighty accomplishment! “As soon as we get there, I’m going to swipe you so many sugar cubes you’re not going to know what to do with yourself.”

Penny snorted, though her ears perked up with interest. Abigail grinned. Now she had her.

She reached over to run a hand over her mane in praise. But apparently she spoke too soon. Penny broke into a trot, a rather brisk one. Abigail sighed. Apparently, she didn’t like walking, and from the looks of it, Penny much preferred to gallop, if the tension in her muscles underneath her was anything to go by.

Against her better judgement, Abigail clicked her into a gallop with the barest press of her ankles. Penny shot off like a bat out of hell, her longs extending out as she pushed herself into a full out gallop. So the mare was runner. And it didn’t seem like she had much of a choice, so she went with it, although she was holding onto whatever she could for dear life, her heart clenched with anxiety for the duration of the ride.

---

By the time they began to approach Setauket, Abigail was all but exhausted, the tautness in her muscles from holding herself together leaving her all but aching. Penny, on the other hand, had settled down considerably, even easing down into a walk whenever Abigail asked, her nerves eased after that night brisk run. Abigail wished the same could be said for herself.

After this, she would gladly ride Cantor exclusively, even with his quirks. At least he listened to her when she asked him to do something. Usually.

Though Penny kept twitching nervously at every little sound, twigs crackling and leaving shuffling along the woodland ground. Abigail soothed her each and every time, having more than grown accustomed to the mare’s nervous demeanor. Remembering the carrot, she retrieved it from her pocket and risked a stop so that she could lean forward and offer it to her, to which the mare accepted happily.

Abigail eased her forward into a walk. They proceeded further into the woods at this pace for some time when after a while the blonde took notice of something for the very first time. Having gotten used to Penny’s skittishness, she had learned to keep her eyes and ears sharp for any sight or sound that could disturb her. It was something she had gotten used to during the past several hours, which made the sound of silence even more palpable.

Who knew the sound of silence could be so deafening?

“It’s okay. It’s all right,” Abigail murmured, now to assure herself more than the mare. She grew more nervous, despite her best efforts, and she knew Penny could feel it too, from the renewed tension in her thighs.

Then out of nowhere a sudden light sparked, catching Abigail’s eye. Not even half a second after a thunderous noise followed, piercing the stillness. Gunfire.

Penny snorted loudly, throwing her head up and began backing up rapidly, dirt flying out rapidly underneath her heavy hooves.

“Come on, girl, steady,” Abigail coaxed, tightening her hold on the reins. She tried to get her to stop, but the mare wouldn’t listen, powering backwards until her rump bumped into a tree, startling her even more.

“Shh, shh. Easy!”

Before she could get another word out, Penny reared up, her front legs kicking out as she whinnied in alarm. Abigail lost her grip and slipped out of the saddle, landing on the hard ground, the wind nearly knocked out of her.

“Son of a bitch,” Abigail cursed under her breath. She winced as she forced herself up and approached the young mare cautiously, hands raised. The mare’s head swung around nervously, her gaze fearful and alarmed.

Penny still snorted nervously as the blonde finally managed to get her hands on the reins. Abigail pulled her head down, whispering soothing encouragements, though the mare wasn’t having any of it. She was on all fours, but that didn’t mean she was any closer to calm. The whites of her eyes were on full display, a sure sign of trouble from any horse. Among other things.

After several attempts, Abigail thought she had finally regain control. That was until another shot was fired, this time much closer. Sensing this, Penny reared up again, her hooves dangerously close to her head.

Abigail dove down and out of the way before she descended, narrowly missing a hoof to the skull. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quick enough to miss the one to her shoulder, and she went down hard.

But she managed to curl herself up and roll out of the mare’s path, her shoulder throbbing like a mother fucker.

When she was able to lift her head from the protection of her arms, Abigail spotted the mare’s retreating form far in the distance, galloping away to leave her in the dirt.

Great. Now what was she supposed to do?

She had to be close to Setauket, that much she knew, but how close was close, it was impossible to tell.

Wherever she was, she knew she had to get out of the line of fire and fast. Gritting her teeth in pain, she pushed herself up onto her hands and knees before rolling back onto her heels.

Reaching a low hanging branch, Abigail pulled herself upwards, leaning against the tree in support.

She prepared to turn around when she felt the all too familiar press of a gun muzzle against her back. Even through the material of the coat, she could feel the heat of the metal. The gun had been fired recently.

“Don’t even think of turning,” the armed stranger ordered. “Not until I tell you to.”

Who was this person?

Was he a redcoat? He sounded like a redcoat.

Or a bandit, which was also possible. It wasn’t unheard of for them to hide out in the woods, waiting for some dumb, unsuspecting idiot to plunder. Someone like her apparently.

Abigail held her breath, waiting for him to remove the gun from her back. The heavy press of her father’s pistol was pressed comfortingly against her side, hidden inside the inseam of her coat. All she had to do was get her hands on it, then turn around and face her assailant. Or turn around to face her assailant and get her hands on her pistol. Preferably in the original order.

“Are you holding any weapons?”

“No, I’m not,” Abigail remarked, lying through her teeth. Well, technically, it wasn’t a lie. He asked if she was holding any weapons, and currently, she wasn’t holding any, at least not presently.

“All right. Keep your hands where I can see them and turn around.” He pressed the gun further into her back for emphasis before stepping back. “Slowly.”

She did as he asked, keeping her hands where he could see them as she slowly turned around. The first sight she caught a glimpse of was red. She stopped herself short from cursing out loud.

Of course it was a redcoat. Of course, it was.

The soldier in question looked young, very young. Nearly as young as the young Joseph Martin, the fifteen year old soldier that had arrived at camp a year or so back, give or take a few months. Taking in his nervous expression and his awkward hold of the bayonet in his hands, he couldn’t have served with the British for too long. That and the fact he hadn’t searched her for any weapons and taking her at her word that she hadn’t any weapons.

Maybe she could use this to her advantage.

“What are you doing out here?” he demanded, gaze narrowing, His grip tightened on his weapon. She hoped with his inexperience he wouldn’t accidentally set the damned thing off.

“I was traveling home,” Abigail answered him, her breath coming out short, “when my horse got spooked by the gunfire. A mare. She ran off. And here I am.” At least that was the truth.

Before the boy could ask another question, two more redcoats cleared their way through the bushes. When they spotted the two of them, they approached them with a purposeful stride, each carrying lit torches. Abigail bit her lip to keep from cursing. More redcoats. Wonderful.

How was she going to get out of this now?

“What’s going on here?” the closest redcoat demanded. There was a hint of grey in his hair and a touch of wrinkles across his cheek. Judging from the difference in uniform style between himself and the other two redcoats, he was their superior, which meant he was an officer.

Well. Fuck.

“I found this man on his own on the trail,” the boy soldier replied proudly. “I thought it best to detain him and ask what he was doing here.”

The redcoat officer observed her carefully and asked without removing his gaze from her, “And his response?”

The boy repeated her response verbatim, making the officer to smile briefly in amusement. “Now why, my I ask,” he asked her, “are you traveling out in the middle of the night? On your own. Not a very smart move for a civilian.”

Panic seized her chest, but she refused to let it show. She couldn’t. “I’m a doctor. I was summoned to tend to a patient in the next town over. I was on my way home when my mare got spooked.”

The officer raised a brow. “And where is your medical bag, doctor?”

“On the mare,” Abigail remarked flatly, unable to help herself.

“Which has long abandoned you, yes?”

“Obviously.”

The redcoat officer smirked a little before turning to the boy soldier. “Does he have any weapons on him?”

The boy shook his head. “No, he said he didn’t have any.”

The officer’s gaze zeroed in on him. “You mean, you didn’t search him?”

“He wasn’t holding any weapons –”

“Jesus Christ, Jacobs, search the man, would you?”

The soldier named Jacobs approached her, staking his torch into the ground so he could better search her. Abigail tensed and waited with bated breath as he patted her down her sides, her chest constricting with anxiety. She wasn’t sure what would be worse: if they discovered her weapon first or the fact she wasn’t a man. A part of her hoped for the former.

“Ah, ha!” Jacobs grinned, patting the side of her coat where her father’s pistol rested inside her coat. He was quick to fish it out and held it out underneath the torch light.

The officer nodded in approval before looking over at the young soldier, eyebrows raised. The boy protested, “I didn’t know he was armed!”

“Clearly,” the officer remarked dryly. “I’ll deal with you later.” He nodded to Jacobs discreetly.

Before Abigail knew what was happening, she was forced to her knees by a heavy hand on her shoulder. She went down with a hard thud, hissing as her already sore limbs were once again jolted.

“Let’s take him in,” the officer ordered. He sized her up on the ground before him, his gaze calculating. “I believe a sufficient charge can be made against him. How does espionage sound, gentlemen?”

Chapter Text

Abigail’s arm struck hard stone with a bone-numbing blow as she was shoved across some sort of threshold, the sharp jab of the butt of a musket digging into the small of her back. Wherever they were now was shrouded in near darkness. She could practically smell the damp coldness of the place, which shouldn’t have been possible though she highly suspected the smell was mildew coupled with something else.

She didn’t have time to rub her sore arm or back for that matter before she was roughly shoved forward once again. They made brief, rare stops along their journey down the narrow corridor, their main reason of stopping was to exchange the stiff, rough thickly wrapped twine around her wrists for heavy, cold, clanging chains that nearly dragged her down. The cool metal did nothing to help the angry red blisters around her wrists. In fact, all they did was agitate them.

The journey from Setauket to wherever they had taken here had been brutal to say the least. Having been all but hog tied and thrown onto the back of a horse for half a day’s journey, her muscles had protested every shift of the horse’s haunches with every step the poor beast had taken. She had remained silent for the most part, even with their purposefully provoking remarks to get her to speak, just so they could discipline her for any perceived slight. The fight had been taken out of her when they had first asked for her name. When she had initially refused, each soldier, with the exception of the youngest, had taken turns beating her until she had finally, reluctantly, croaked, “Thomas Williams.”

So willing herself not to rise to their baiting retorts, while an unnatural feat in the blonde, had come rather easily after that.

After what felt like ages – at least to Abigail’s sore bundle of muscles and limbs, the officer and two soldiers led her towards another soldier, a prison guard as it appeared. She stopped herself short from squinting in the dimly lit corridor, but she didn’t have to see his full features as he assessed her, as if wondering the purpose of her existence. That was fine. In that moment, Abigail was wondering the very same thing.

The officer informed the guard that she was being charged under suspicion of espionage. Without any questions, he allowed them to pass, and the heavy feeling of dread landed hard in the pit of her stomach. She often had heard tales of the British’s overabundance of discretion when it came to so called “law and order” and justice. With vast power at their disposal, they could slap a charge on anyone they pleased, and that person could remain locked away unless either they decided to drop the charges or if the arrested person in question knew someone high in British ranking officers.

Charges of espionage, however, was an entirely different beast in itself. She had a feeling there was no easy way to get herself out of this. The most common result of a charge of espionage was not a public trial and a finding of guilt or innocence.

What was it Benjamin Franklin said? “We must all hang together, or we’ll all hang separately?”

Well, depending on how many other charged persons for espionage they had in their custody, she would be hanging either way.

Unless she could find a way out.

As she was being escorted down the corridor towards the containment area, which apparently housed all of the prisoners in one open area – ranging from poor debtors to violent murderers and suspected spies, as reported the soldier who had discovered her father’s pistol on her person informed her rather smugly, hoping to inspire some fear inside her (oh, he didn’t have to worry about that. It worked) – she spotted a few soldiers rounding the corner, walking in their direction. There was a familiar figure among them, but with the low lighting, she couldn’t figure out why. Perhaps the soldier had been quartered in Setauket?

The closer the two groups came, the realization became increasingly apparent as to why the soldier seemed so familiar. The tall height, the strong yet lean build, the heart shaped jaw… brown, sharp eyes.

Oh, Christ.

Tobias.

Her husband, or ex-husband to be more precise. The man she hadn’t seen since he had helped her and Chris hide from their British assailants back in Trenton. The man she had divorced nearly over a year ago, whose signature had somehow been obtained for the legal documents Caleb and Abe had drawn up for her upon her request – she had seen the papers herself; she had been married to the man for over three years and knew him for far longer than that, she was well acquainted with his handwriting.

The man who stared at her now, filled with alarm and dismay before schooling his features into a calm, detached mask. Even though he might have others fooled, she could see the swirl of emotions in his eyes. He could fool the world, but he couldn’t fool her; he never could. The shock and horror ran deep, that much she could tell.

Abigail craned her neck as Tobias’s group walked past them, unable to unlock her gaze from his, both essentially helpless in that moment. There wasn’t anything he could do. If he did, his cover would be blown. Years upon years of entrenching himself would have been wasted if he did.

Abigail felt the slam of the butt of the musket against her back and wheezed out a painful breath, stumbling over her feet just as the officer hissed behind her, “Keep your eyes forward, scum. And keep walking.”

The last glimpse she caught of Tobias was a brief flash of indignant rage in his eyes, his eyes narrowing into a cool, calculating gaze upon the officer’s back before a member from his group managed to draw his attention, though Abigail knew better.

For the first time crossing over the prison’s threshold, hope began to stir inside her chest.

Maybe she stood a chance after all.

Maybe.

---

“Ah, fresh meat, boys!” declared a gruff, dirty looking man from a corner of the large, open area cell the moment the door shut behind her. It was difficult to pinpoint the origin of the voice, considering just about every single prisoner was worn, disheveled, grimy, and more than a little worse for the wear.

The cell was large but dank and overcrowded. There was hardly any standing space, let alone a place for anyone to sit. Considering how the tougher looking prisoners appeared to commandeer the rare seating arrangements, it seemed a safe bet that she wouldn’t be sitting at any time soon. But that was the least of her problems at the moment.

Her top priority was not getting within touching reach of any of these men, though given the current situation, that would be very difficult. She wasn’t a fool. She knew what she looked like to these men – young, fresh faced, and slender, a young man that could easily pass for a woman (who actually was, in fact, a woman). She also wasn’t naïve about the ways of men, if over two years serving in the Continental Army surrounded by men was any indication. She heard the stories of men in prison, men deprived of many liberties and comforts of their former lives, of decent food, proper hygiene, and a woman’s touch. The latter of which often gave such men only two options: either fulfill one’s needs with another man, willing or unwilling, or take care of such matters into their own hands.

And judging from the faint, grunting sounds from around her, some of the men were more than happy to carry out that second option. She quickly turned her head away from one older, malnourished gentleman, whose hand was furiously moving about underneath his trousers. It was highly doubtful he was counting his change that frenetically.

She felt equal parts embarrassed and nauseous, though those were quickly forgotten when she felt a hand grope her arse appreciatively.

“Oi!” Abigail squawked indignantly, jerking around and leaping away from the roaming hands.

The man who grabbed her grinned toothlessly, “Looks like we’ve got a feisty one.” She recognized the voice as the one who had made the “fresh meat” comment. She swallowed hard at the sheer size of him, large, bulking and threatening. There was nowhere she could go to escape him. She missed the presence of her father’s pistol like something fierce.

The grizzly bear of a man took a step forward, looking her over with a quick roaming gaze. He adjusted himself briefly inside his trousers. Abigail wanted to vomit. “I call first dibs.”

“You’ll do no such thing,” Abigail snapped, panic and fear rising inside her. She looked around the room, looking for an escape route and found to her growing horror that her calculation from before had been correct. There was none.

Christ, God above.

The man chuckled darkly. “Keep talking like that, boy. You’re making me excited.”

“Leave him alone, Saul,” came another voice directly behind her. Both the man named Saul and Abigail turned to look for the source of the voice and found a British soldier standing in the room, with two others standing in front of the door preventing inmate escape, his revolver was drawn and pointed at the much larger man. “Or would you prefer it if your hanging was scheduled for this evening instead of three weeks from now?”

Saul grunted. “What difference would it make? You’re going to hang me all the same.”

“True,” the redcoat remarked, “but a lot can happen in three weeks’ time. The decision is yours.”

After a moment’s consideration, the large man backed off, returning to his corner of the cell. Abigail took a step backwards, not taking an eye off him until he bullied another prisoner into moving from the spot that had been “rightfully his” and then turned her attention back to the redcoat. “Where on earth did you come from?” she demanded, the first words she could think to formulate tumbling out of her mouth. Not quite what she had intended to say, but the sight of a redcoat, any redcoat, set her nerves on edge. Couldn’t imagine why.

“Not quite the ‘thank you’ I was expecting,” was the redcoat’s retort before he set a firm grip on her arm. “I have orders to collect you and remove you from this cell. Unless you have any objections.”

“None,” Abigail remarked immediately, which had the redcoat’s lips twitch imperceptibly upwards before he led her out of the cell.

As it turned out, arrangements had been made that she would be housed separately from the rest of the inmates in the facility, mostly because she was considered a person of special interest due to the nature of her charge – espionage. The redcoat assured her, as he guided her towards her solitary cell, that this was no luxury. “In fact,” he pointed out as he opened the door to push her inside, “some would consider this a fate much worse than for the others.”

If the corridors and open area cell had been dimly lit, this room succumbed to complete and utter darkness. There was so sliver of light to speak of. The draft was colder and wetter than the corridor had been. She pressed her hand against the wall only to find damp, cool stones against her fingertips. The only sounds she could hear were the jangling over her chains and the occasional drip-drip-dripping of water from somewhere in the cell. Complete sensory deprivation, enough to drive a person to madness.

No wonder the redcoat had said what he said.

The reason behind her segregation from the rest of the population was obvious. They wouldn’t want her talking to anyone else in the open area cell. This way, she wouldn’t be able to make any contacts or find someone she knew with whom she already had a connection to.

Placing her hands against the stones, Abigail took a careful, hesitant step forward, then another, all the while keeping her hands pressed to the stones. She wanted to have some sort of an idea of how large the cell she was in, or if it was a cell at all, even if she couldn’t see it. Gaining more confidence that she wouldn’t trip over anything, she kept walking until her hands finally pressed against the wooden door, its rough texture contrasting from the smoothness of the stones. There was no doorknob. The latch must have only been on the outside.

Her best guess would have to be that the cell, room, wherever she was, was definitely circular. Just how large it was would have been more difficult to determine, but that didn’t stop her from her from trying to figure it out. No matter the size, she knew there was no ceiling, at least no ceiling she could reach with her fingertips.

All of this pondering and brainstorming kept her distracted, kept her mind focused on a puzzle she desperately needed to preoccupy herself. Lord knows how long she would be kept in there, or even how much time had passed since she had been in there.

With her jacket confiscated, there was only the thin material of her shirt to keep her warm. Rubbing her arms, she crossed them over her chest as she continued to pace, keeping herself busy for more reasons than one.

Abigail tried her best not to think of Ben, but inevitably her thoughts drifted to the major. Not long after his dragoon’s raid of the counterfeiter’s location, he had to report to Philadelphia with Washington and a handful of officers with little to no delay. He wouldn’t know she wasn’t there until he returned from Philadelphia, which would be days later, if not a week.

Now the question was, would she still be around by then?

“Oh, stop it, you foolish girl,” Abigail murmured to herself, giving her face a light slap to snap herself out of those dreary lines of thought. “You will get out of here. Being negative won’t get you anywhere.”

But it did belie the forced notion that everything would work itself out. She wasn’t a cynic or an optimist; she was a realist. And realistically, she couldn’t allow herself too much hope.

---

Creeek

Abigail’s head jerked upwards, her arms folded across her drawn up knees, breath catching in her throat. Her sight had adjusted to the dark, and now she could vaguely make out the shape of the door.

Someone was undoing the latch.

Scrambling to her feet, Abigail kept her eyes locked on the door, her back pressed against the stoned wall, the chilled dampness seeping through her shirt, her heart pounding inside her chest.

The door eased open, and a figure slipped inside, proceeded by a bright lantern in front of them. The shock of light caused Abigail to blink rapidly in succession and flinch away, an unwise but instinctive maneuver.

Once her vision readjusted to the light, she found Tobias standing before. He placed the lantern on a metal hook a few inches above his head. Now the room was cast in a dim glow. The room was roughly the size of an alcove, no more than seven feet wide all the way around. There was no furniture in the room, as what she had expected from her brief blind sweep the room – no bed to speak of, let alone any sort of basic necessities a prisoner might need, say a chamber pot. But this was the British and the charge was espionage. She should’ve expected even less.

With the door carefully shut behind him, with a small piece of lumber wedged between the door and wall to keep himself from being locked out, Tobias slipped out a canister from his coat and held it out to her. “It was all I could manage to sneak out on my way down here,” he said, his expression apologetic. He then added softly at her startled expression, “It’s water.”

Abigail hesitated for a moment, and a moment only, before accepting the canister from him, shakily, quickly, removing the cap from it. Bringing the bottle to her lips, she drank greedily, choking a little as she swallowed a bit more than she could handle before lowering it and wiping at her mouth.

“Thank you,” she rasped gratefully, screwing the cap back on before handing it back to him but he shook his head. He told her to hold onto it before he left. There was still more water in the container. She nodded gratefully.

There was a beat of awkward silence that followed after that, with neither quite sure how to proceed from there – one from the guilt over breaking the other’s heart and the other shame for finally having his years’ long affair with his informant revealed – or so he thought as he stood there, observing her quietly, painfully.

Before he knew what was happening, Abigail flung herself into his arms, hugging him as fiercely as she could, which wasn’t a whole hell of a lot given her weakened state. It was an awkward shifting due to her chains, but with that taken care of, she wrapped her arms around his neck and his arms around her waist. He dropped his head against her shoulder, absorbing the warmth he hadn’t felt in a little over six years, taking comfort in the sight of her he hadn’t seen in at least three.

Of course, he knew the circumstances were different know, but that never did stop him from loving her still, despite everything he had done leading up to their divorce. There were many things he regretted, but in his mind, he knew he wouldn’t have changed a thing. He owed it to his country.

But what had he owed his wife?

Or ex-wife, rather.

“You’re the one who pulled the strings,” Abigail said, her voice mumbled against the material of his coat. He had to strain to hear the rest. “You’re the one that convinced them to bring me here, didn’t you? To separate me from the rest of the inmates.”

“I wasn’t about to let you stay in there with those men,” Tobias replied fiercely, his grip on her tightening. “This isn’t exactly a place for a woman.”

“Aye, I’ve already come to that conclusion,” she remarked, chuckling dryly. She gave him another squeeze. “Thank you.” She leaned back a little and gave him a soft, tired smile.

In the dim glow of the lantern, Tobias could see the changes in her face, the slight discoloration of her cheeks, the cut to her lip. “May I?” She nodded lightly, and he brought a hand to her face, turning her head slightly to the left and right, assessing the damage. His frown deepened with every imperfection, knowing that within a day’s time, the bruises would be black and blue.

Taking a step back, Tobias’s hands dropped down to her wrists to where the chains rested heavily on her slender wrists. He pushed back her sleeves and the oversized metal wrist pieces and barely stopped himself from cursing aloud at the sight of her wrists, blistered, bruised and bleeding. He could only imagine what the rest of her looked like.

“That son of a bitch,” Tobias swore venomously under his breath.

“What?”

“Tallmadge,” he hissed. His brown eyes glimmering in barely suppressed rage. “I’m going to kill him.”

Abigail shook her head. “Tobias…”

“No,” he insisted. “The next time I see him, I’m going to kill him.” He took another look at her wrists and this time didn’t censure the stream of curses from coming out of his mouth. “This is all his fault.”

She blinked. “I rather think it’s more of the fault of the redcoats who brought me here in the first place.”

He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Of course it is. I’ll deal with them, too, eventually. But overall, this is Ben’s fault. And I’m sure he bloody well knows it.”

“No.” Abigail shook her head firmly. “My choices are my own. I volunteered for Cu…” she nearly said Culper but thought better of it, correcting herself quickly, just in case, “this on my own. My actions are my own. So are my mistakes. And I take full responsibility for them. None of this falls on Ben.”

Tobias glared stubbornly at the ground. Clearly, he disagreed but knew better than to continue arguing his point. It was futile. Besides, he was already on borrowed time as it was. After having convinced Officer Hastings, the officer responsible for bringing her in, to remove her from the general population, he had managed to convince the soldiers he had been with he would interview the new prisoner himself, to see if he could get anything out of “him.” What they didn’t know was that whatever information Abigail gave him, he was taking with him to the grave.

“I’m going to get you out of here,” Tobias promised, squeezing her hands comfortingly. “It may take some time, but I will get you out of here, if it’s the last thing I ever do.”

Abigail bit her lip. “Don’t you put yourself in danger because of me.”

He shook his head firmly. “This is nonnegotiable. You can’t talk me out of this.”

After another pause, she added quietly, “You’ll need to get out of here, too, as quick as you can. They’ll suspect you had something to do with my disappearance, since you suggested moving me in the first place. Your position will be compromised.”

Tobias couldn’t say anything to the contrary. He couldn’t disprove her point. More than likely, Abigail’s prediction would come true. If he did manage to get her out of there, suspicion would automatically shift to him. There was no way around that. Plus, his cover would be blown. All the years built up establishing his place, would be wasted.

But was all of that worth Abigail’s life?

The answer was no. He couldn’t bear it. He wouldn’t put his duty before her, not again, not when it could cost Abigail her life.

Tobias might have been accused of being a slow learner, but he did learn, after all was said and done.

Chapter Text

Abigail wrinkled her nose in her sleep – or an attempt at sleep – as drop of water landed on her nose.

She rolled onto her other side along the cold, hard, stoned ground, conscious of her tender ribs where one of the redcoats had landed a solid punch. All it had taken was one punch for her to crumble to her knees, much to the amusement of the redcoats, who had taken great pleasure in taking the piss out of her, making jabs at her manhood.

Considering she had no such things, their words had done not insulted her; their blows, however, had been another story.

Stirring, unable to full sleep, the blonde opened her eyes and stared upwards at the ceiling, or where she assumed the ceiling would be, in the darkness. Her stomach rumbled pitifully, even though she had just eaten what Tobias had managed to smuggle to her a few minutes ago. Or was it a few hours ago? A day? Days?

Everything passed by in a blur of darkness, pierced by rare flashes of light whenever Tobias would bring her smuggled food and water. She remembered him promising he would visit her at least once a day, more often if he could manage. She lost count of his number of visits already, which made it nearly impossible to know for certain how long she had been locked away in that solitary cell.

Nearly impossible.

If she had to hazard a guess, based on his numerous visits alone, it must have been at least a couple days since she had been brought to the prison. Just how many was more difficult to estimate.

The familiar sounds of the door being unlatched coaxed her into pulling herself up into a sitting position. The door opened, followed by a long, groaning creak. The harsh glare of the torch caused her to turn her head away, blinking rapidly to adjust to the light. But when she turned around again, it wasn’t the sight of her ex-husband that greeted her.

It was two of the redcoats who had arrested and brought her there.

“We’ve been ordered by the lieutenant to retrieve you,” the youngest one remarked before she could prepare to use her rarely used vocal cords to ask about their sudden presence.

Struggling to get to her feet, Abigail leaned against the stone wall for support and after a moment, asked, “And pray tell, what am I being retrieved for? Or is this another matter that the English don’t find fit to disclose to the accused?”

Tobias had warned her not to give any lip, but she couldn’t really help herself. Tired, hungry, and thirsty, it was a miracle she was even standing, let alone speaking. How could one expect for her to fight her natural born instincts on top of that?

Choosing to ignore her sarcasm, the one who had searched her in the woods walked over to seize her by the arm in order to personally escort her out the chamber himself. Meanwhile the youngest of the two held the door open for them. As they passed him, the boy redcoat remarked, “He’s expecting your arrival promptly. Don’t dally about.” And then, he added with an unusual tone, “He’s eager to meet your acquaintance again.”

Abigail began to turn to him, frowning, when the other redcoat shoved her forward, so much so it nearly threw her off balance. Luckily for her the corridor was narrow enough she caught herself against the wall before they began to move.

After that minor kerfuffle, their journey went relatively smoothly and surprisingly quickly. She was led into a much better lit room, a room that appeared roughly 10x10 – much improvement from her previous quarters, although anything would be really. In the corner stood a writing desk and a wooden chair, with no paper or quills or ink to be counted for. Across the room was a cot, or what appeared to be a cot, a long, wooden rectangular figure with a mattress consisting of a few layers of well-worn sheets.

What in God’s name was this place?

“Up,” ordered the redcoat at her arm, jerking her forward until she fell into step with him. She was led to the center of the room where a large, rusted iron hook was embedded into the ceiling. The redcoat forced her arms up so that her hands were above her head, and she realized what they intended to do, only she was too short for even her fingers to brush the hook’s edge, so they had to procure a heavy crate from somewhere for her to stand on.

“And up you go.”

Abigail’s shackled arms were forced upwards after her as soon as her second foot set on the crate. The chain that held metal cuffs together hooked easily over the crook of the iron hook. All the redcoats had to do was kick the crate from under her, and she would be dangling like a helpless kitten in mid-air. For a moment she was grateful for their starve-the-prisoner-out technique.

She wisely kept her mouth shut during the entire process, knowing that any and all prepared remarks would only land her in more trouble. For once, she heeded Tobias’s advice and kept her words to herself, an unnatural act, yes, but one that might very well save her neck.

Not a moment too soon did the door to the room open. The lieutenant in question no doubt. She rolled her head to her side, wincing a little as the crick in her neck ached further as she attempted to get a better look but to no avail. If she could get a good look at him, that was all the more information she could glean and deliver to Ben once she made it out. If she made it out.

No, she thought determinedly as the chains above her rattled a little as she shifted her weight. I will get out. Come hell or high water, I’ll get out of here.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Williams,” a familiar voice spoke quietly. Too familiar. “Though I doubt you’re very pleased to meet me.”

It took everything in her not to yank her arms down from the hook, jump down from the crate, and face the man, but she knew by doing so that would accomplish nothing short of a bullet to the head.

Instead, she refused to rise to the bait, refused to turn around. She waited for him to take his cue, and so he did without hesitation. She could hear his approaching footsteps coming up behind her in a confident, deliberate stride.

“I didn’t realize we captured a mute spy,” the lieutenant remarked sardonically. “No matter. You’ll be talking soon enough.”

His voice was much closer now. Before she could contemplate turning her head towards the sound, the man now stood before her. It didn’t even take her a second to wonder where she knew him from. Abigail could never forget such a face.

Gamble. Lieutenant Gamble.

The redcoat who lied his way into the Continental base and murdered Mr. Sackett, stealing several of his notes and journals pertaining to Culper. The man who had been Reverend Worthington’s contact and whom the late reverend had been set to meet before Ben had killed him. The man who had then taken Ben with the intentions of bringing him back to enemy territory before she had knocked him out with his own musket. The man who had tried to intimidate her back in the cabin when she had refused to be cowed by him.

That Lieutenant Gamble.

She had gotten a good look at the man’s face that day. She only hoped he hadn’t gotten a good look at hers.

Gamble assessed her with an inquisitive gaze. She then realized that her face decorated with various hued bruises and dirt, perhaps she stood a chance of him not recognizing her. It was a ghost of a chance, but she latched onto it desperately.

“Perhaps,” he carried on, nonplussed by her silence, “you would be interested in my investigation. Top secret business. Something a spy like yourself would chomp at the bit to access. Do you mind if I sit?”

Oh, sure, go ahead, Abigail thought dryly, make yourself comfortable. At least one of us is.

Gamble retrieved the chair from the writing desk and placed it right in front of her before sitting himself, undoing the button of his coat as he did so. “So where to begin,” he considered, pausing for a moment. “Well, I suppose to start at the beginning. That makes the most logical sense of course. Originally, this investigation did not belong to me, though it was more or less handed to me after Captain Simcoe had been court-martialed in Setauket. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? You had been on your way to Setauket, hadn’t you?”

When she refused to answer, the lieutenant carried on, as if his question had been in fact rhetorical, “Funny thing, though, the investigation had been his idea. Simcoe’s. Some believe it was his personal vendetta, though others, while a minority, found it to hold some merit, which was why it was passed along to me.”

Sliding down a bit in his seat, Gamble made himself more comfortable, observing her almost casually, though she knew better. His expression might have been disinterested, but his eyes were sharp, calculating. She remained immobile, knowing that at any moment he could kick the crate from underneath her, then she wouldn’t have either leg to stand on. “The investigation was about looking into the families with the strongest rebel ties. The Tallmadges and Brewsters more specifically.

“Most notably the Williams family,” he added, almost as an afterthought as he began to pat himself, searching for something on his person until his fingers found what he had been searching for, a folded up piece of parchment, the edges crumbled and torn. “In his initial observations, Simcoe had disclosed to the major stationed in Setauket at the time how very close these three families seemed to be, at least from what the townspeople had told him when he had approached them. Though quite a few people noted the closeness between the Tallmadge boy and the Williams girl – or Hawkins, as I suppose I should say, since she had gotten married when Tallmadge had set off for Yale.”

Tobias had given another surname upon his entry into the British ranks. Of that, she was absolutely certain, which was why she did her very best to keep her expression as blank and devoid of any emotion as possible, even though her heartrate steadily increased inside her chest, a cold sweat forming at the nape of her neck.

“Apparently, this Williams – well Hawkins girl as I should call her now, out of respect for her married status of course – was sent to Dublin by the girl’s father after both her husband and friend joined the war effort.” Gamble dropped his gaze to the parchment in his hands. The sound of the crinkling of the parchment somehow managed to add to the building tension of his narrative. “And, what has also been discovered, the girl’s father and the girl have kept in touch. For all these years.”

He held up the parchment after another moment of inspection nearly under her nose. “This is a letter from the girl’s father. Thomas Williams, I believe. Sweet and endearing man, or so it would seem from the contents of his letter.” His gaze upon her sharpened infinitesimally, but his eyes betrayed his interest. “It’s touching really. Just how much he loves his daughter.”

Abigail met his gaze defiantly, even as the backs of her eyes burned with threatening tears, even as her heart was fit to burst with guilt, longing, despair. She hadn’t heard or spoken to her father in nearly three years, not since he had arranged to send her off to Dublin to stay with his sister until the war was over – or so he had thought. She had sent the young blond house servant, Iris, in her place, a beautiful girl of sixteen or seventeen at the time, knowing how much the girl had longed to return to her mother country, knowing how many similarities they shared in their physical appearance.

“But I won’t trouble you with the letters contents,” Gamble rose to his feet with a quiet groan. “I wouldn’t want to bore you.” He walked over to one of the torches and brought up the letter to meet the torch’s flames. She watched helplessly as the flames licked at the parchment, the edges turning brown and then black from its devouring heat. A painful “no” remained caught at the back of her throat as she watched painfully as the lieutenant dropped the burning letter to the sand covered floor, the letter burning at their feet.

“So I took it upon myself to send someone to Dublin to inquire about the girl,” Gamble continued as if nothing had happened, as if he hadn’t just burned the one connection to her former life. But then his words began to register inside Abigail’s mind, of what he had just said. She listened with bated breath, waiting for whatever he said next. “It didn’t take long to find the aunt’s house. The problems of living the life of a socialite, no? So many people know your name and where you live.

A slow spreading smile crept across his face, chilling her to the bone. “And what do you know, after over two years of investigating and inquiry, we found the girl.”

He went on to say how he had intended to bring her back to the States, to lure out Tallmadge – because what better way than to get to one of Washington’s most trusted men? But then Gamble fell into another infuriating, pulse-racing pause. “However, girl, under extreme duress, claimed she was not Abigail Williams-Hawkins but was in fact a mere house servant that had been sent to Dublin in her place.

“She confessed to everything,” the lieutenant murmured, his voice dipping into a near purr. His face had taken a nearly glazed over look as he recalled every detail of the interrogation of the poor girl, almost as if he were relishing in it. Abigail wanted to vomit. “About how her mistress had no desire to leave the war, not when she feared for her father’s intention upon entering the war himself. The Hawkins girl wanted to save her father from a military life, knowing that his health was precarious enough without the harsh conditions of battle and camp life.

“The girl intended to take his place.”

All the blood rushed from her head, leaving the blonde lightheaded and almost detached. It nearly felt like an out of body experience, as if she wasn’t there, that she was watching this happen to someone else. But she was there and it was happening to her. And she had been caught.

It was all over.

“She begged so prettily after that,” Gamble smiled with great satisfaction. “She had told us everything we needed to know and so desperately wanted to live. She realized, not long after she had done so, that she was going to die anyway. And so she did, but she didn’t go quietly, even after I bludgeoned her over the head. It wasn’t until I heard the sound of her skull cracking under the final blow that I knew she was dead.”

Gamble took a step forward, then another, until he was standing right in front of her, his gaze full of evil and malice as he delighted in his tale. The fucker was enjoying this. “There was another person with me, a civilian, who had helped track down the Irish girl. He had heard everything the girl had confessed before her untimely end.” He lifted a hand to touch her jaw, and she was too numb, too overcome, to shake it off. “So I put a pistol into his mouth and pulled the trigger.”

“Why?” Abigail choked out, tears running freely down her cheeks but was too far gone to care. Why would he kill his partner? Why would he kill Iris, after she had cooperated with him? Why tell her all of this in the first place? There were too many questions, too many whys whirring inside her mind that she had no idea what she was asking.

But Gamble decided to go with the most obvious question. “To keep the information to myself. To use this information to my advantage further down the line.” He paused and smiled, a feral flash of teeth. “Though I hardly expected to reap the rewards so soon.”

He leaned in close, his hot breath against her ear making her skin crawl, and whispered, “To finally get that Tallmadge bastard back for all the trouble he’s caused me.”

Gamble pulled back for a moment, considering before taking another step forward. “Though I suppose that none of this means anything if I can’t confirm my suspicions.”

With her arms chained and above her head, the blonde had little recourse to fight him as he stepped even closer and pressed his hand against her, cupping her firmly through her trousers. Abigail felt choked with fear, rage. Gamble grinned wolfishly. “Ah, there it is. Or should I say, there it isn’t.”

Abigail spat in his face, causing him to take a step back in shock. Before he could recover, she channeled all the strength she could muster and kicked him hard in the stomach. He stumbled back several steps, but he didn’t fall over, not as she would have liked, but she tried to take advantage of the distance while she could, rising on the tips of her toes to get the chains over and off the hook as soon as she could.

No sooner had she managed to succeed was she grabbed viciously by the shoulder and yanked down from the crate so that he now towered over her, dangerous and imposing.

Gamble then slapped her so hard she saw stars, knocking her to the floor in a painful heap.

“Leave us,” Gamble ordered sharply towards the two redcoats, who had merely observed the entire exchange with mild interest at best, as if they witnessed this sort of thing every day. “Guard the door. Shoot anyone who tries to enter.” Without an argument, the two left the room to stand guard outside the room, the door shutting with a sound click.

“Customarily,” he remarked as he began unbuckling his trousers, “I don’t condone going to lengths such as these. But since you’re not a man, I suppose I can make an exception.”

Abigail backed away as quickly as she could, looking around the room wildly for any way of escape, anything that could help her escape him. Anything of use was just out of reach. Even if she made a mad dash for it, he would descend upon her like a fury, of that much she was certain. Her only true option was the door. Whatever she could grab along the way to fight him off, anything at all, would be welcome.

Before she could fully push herself up to her feet, Gamble seized her by the hair, forcing her back down. Tears stung in her eyes at his painful grip and the harsh slam of her knees against the stone floor. He stood before her, his pants at his ankles. Nausea threatened to overwhelm her.

Forced to her knees with nowhere to run, she began to believe there was no way out when a thought struck her. She wasn’t at all familiar with the structure of this prison nor was she certain just how far away they were from other guards or prisoners. Gamble’s investigation into Setauket patriot families and herself by extension was of high secrecy within the British ranks. As far as she knew, only a select few knew of the investigation itself, even less knowing the results of his tireless efforts. By following that logic, the only ones who knew what Gamble had done in Dublin were the other two redcoats and herself.

But that also meant that no one else in the prison knew what was going on. They didn’t know that she was a woman.

What she did next was incredibly risky, alerting anyone outside of those four walls and drawing attention by exposing herself. But it was a risk she had to take, if she wanted to save herself.

With her mind made up, Abigail took a brief, steadying breath before opening her mouth and screaming as loud as she could. The loud, anguish, almost angry cry pierced the veil of quiet hostility and intimidation Gamble had created, filling the room from wall to wall and trickling through the door to where the other redcoats remained guard. She hoped they heard her. She knew they did. Let them know what Gamble was capable of, how truly evil and vile of a man he could be, that he was.

Surprised flickered across Gamble’s face before settling into a look of rage. He slapped her again to silence her, realizing exactly what she had done. “Don’t think that accomplished anything,” he hissed. “No one can save you. You can’t even save yourself.”

No sooner had he slapped her was there a sudden commotion outside the door. They both froze. Loud, angry voices turned into shouts and heatedly exchanged curses before a shot was fired, then another, before the door was kicked ajar.

Through a billow of gun smoke and dust, the youngest redcoat stumbled backwards into the room, clutching his side as he fell to the floor. Tobias stormed in after him, his face dark with rage as he aimed his pistol at the fallen redcoat.

Before he could shoot him again, the other redcoat grabbed him from behind, pressing the base of the musket to his throat in an attempt to choke him. Tobias slammed the back of his head into his assailant’s and took advantage of his loosening grip to turn on him in a blur of fury.

As soon as the boy redcoat had fallen, Gamble had moved away from her to reach for his weapon, stumbling over his trousers that were still around his ankles. He cursed and quickly bent down to pull them up. This was the opportunity Abigail had waited for; Gamble with his pants down, or at in this instance, Gamble attempting to pull his pants up.

Ignoring her aching muscles, Abigail rose to her feet and surged forward, stretching her hands as far apart as she could until the chain was in a taut line, the perfect replacement for rope.

Gamble’s lowered height gave her the advantage she needed to bring the shackled wrists over his head and around his neck. She crisscrossed her wrists as firmly as she could, drawing him back and against her before he could reach for his gun.

The lieutenant gurgled and gasped, clawing at the metal against his throat. She tightened her grip and did her best to hold on as he tried to slam her into the stone wall to shake her off. She held on precariously, even as the air was knocked out of her, her head slamming against the hard stone. The pain was barely felt, the adrenaline pounding through her system helped her redirect her focus to the task at hand.

She couldn’t see anything beyond Gamble’s neck and the chain pressing even further into his flesh. The other noises in the room – Tobias’s fight with the other redcoat, the blows of fists and sudden glimmering of blades – were secondary. She felt and heard Gamble’s pained, ragged gasps as he fought for air, struggled for his life.

Exactly what Iris had done when he had killed her.

The thought of her former servant had Abigail’s hold tighten further, the metal digging so painfully into her fingers they might have bled.

She looked up just in time to see the other redcoat fall, a large patch of blood blossoming across his chest. Tobias stood there, breathing harsh and ragged, before his eyes landed on them.

His gaze flickered down to Gamble’s inappropriate state, and his gaze hardened further. His fists balled at his sides. The knife he had wielded against the other guard glimmered slightly under the torch light, stained with blood.

“Do it,” Abigail gasped, struggling to maintain her hold on Gamble. “I’m not sure how long I can keep hold of him.”

Tobias stalked towards them, raising the knife towards Gamble, who managed to choke out angrily, “Go…ahead…traitor. Do it.”

“Don’t mind if I do.” Tobias needed no further encouragement and drove the blade straight into Gamble’s heart.

The lieutenant’s body shuddered violently against her before sagging almost instantly, dragging her down with him. Tobias caught her before she fell directly on top of him, pulling her arms from around Gamble’s neck and towards him.

Abigail stared at his body, shell-shocked and numb. Her gaze then traveled to the other bodies scattered about the room, blood spreading from their wounds across the floor. She felt a sticky substance trickling down her shirt, and she knew that the blood wasn’t her own.

Before she could give into the urge of falling to her knees and getting sick, Tobias grabbed her by the arm firmly. “We’ve got to get out of here,” he urged, and before she could say anything else, he was leading them out the room, only after they made sure each and every one of the fallen was dead.

Somehow, the pair managed to make their way through the winding corridors undetected. They both knew they only had minutes, perhaps less, before someone would stumble across the room and realize what happened.

But before anyone could begin to put names and faces to who had caused such an atrocity, a so called atrocity which resulted directly from self-defense, they planned on being long gone.

After making their way through a series of secret passageways Tobias had gleaned from his time at the prison – though Abigail hardly paid attention to where and how they managed to get out, the horror of Gamble’s body and what he had intended to do to her sending her straight into shock – they headed straight to the stables so they could steal a horse but not before Tobias snapped the chains of her shackles in half but was unable to remove the shackles themselves. They didn’t have the time.

Abandoning his red coat but managing to keep his weapons holster on his person, her grabbed the first saddled horse he could get his hands on. When she moved too stiffly to bring herself up, he slipped his arms around her and pushed her up into the saddle before hauling himself into the saddle in front of her.

He asked her for the location of Washington’s camp, and she told him without hesitation, wrapping her arms around him, her entire body breaking out into quiet trembling. She had no choice but to trust him now. He had just completely blown his cover to save her. Disclosing the camp’s location was a necessity, if they wanted to make it back out of enemy territory.

Everything that Gamble had learned of her, of whatever else he had discovered, remained in that room. Her secret, once again, remained safe.

After all, dead men told no tales.

Chapter Text

Roughly over a day had passed since Washington, his servant Billy, and Ben had returned from Philadelphia. Initially, the trip had begun as a visit to Congress to inform them of the British’s counterfeit scheme, but upon hearing their arrival into the city, Benedict Arnold had decided to host a ball in honor of Washington, delaying their return to camp by a day or so as originally planned. Unable to refuse, the commander-in-chief and agreed to attend the ball, inviting Billy and Ben to attend as well.

Arnold’s ball had certainly been an interesting affair. Having met the socialite Peggy Shippen and a number of other Congressmen in attendance, the major had been largely impressed with the ball’s turnout and Arnold’s having spared no expense to ensure a nice reprieve from war and an enjoyable evening. That had been what he had meant when he had found the man himself and offered him his praise. However, Arnold, having misinterpreted his praise for insinuations, had lit into him like short-tempered bear.

This had only added to his growing apprehension of the Philadelphia stationed general. After his first argument with Abigail about him, the major had discreetly begun his own investigative work of his own, casually asking among the men, mostly fellow officers of similar rank or lower, of their opinions of Arnold. And just as were the results of Abigail’s questions of the unranked soldiers, none of their opinions had been good either. If anything, many of the officers had been reluctant to say anything good as well as bad about Arnold, which only confirmed his growing suspicions, the seed of which had been planted by Abigail herself.

Speaking of whom, where on earth was she?

Adjusting his jacket collar, he stepped out of his tent, getting ready to meet with another officer to assess the needs of the camp when he spotted Anna heading towards him, making a poor attempt at concealing her eagerness to meet approach him as quickly as possible. Taking pity on her, he decided to meet her half way.

“Good morning, major,” Anna greeted with a warm smile. “How was Philadelphia? Insightful, I hope.”

“Very,” he remarked dryly. He tried to return his smile, but his distracted thoughts limited the amount of warmth going into it. His gaze briefly skimmed the land around them, unconsciously seeking out a familiar blonde. When he saw no such person, his gaze returned to Anna, a sense of unease beginning to settle upon him. “How were things in Setauket? With… you know.”

He referred to Abe, and the fact that Wished desired to end his role in the Culper Ring. He couldn’t imagine the young farmer taking that well, considering how much he had sacrificed and how much time he had devoted to the ring. While he had disagreed with Washington about his decision – and still did – it wasn’t his place to question him, not when they were such a precarious situation in the war as it was.

Anna sighed heavily. “It went about as well as you would think, but there were some interesting developments.”

Now she had his attention. “Tell me.”

Once they relocated to a more remote area, Anna summarized the events at Samuel Townsend’s home, the home of Robert Townsend’s father, the father of Samuel Culper Jr. of the Culper Ring, and everything that transpired thereafter. By the time she arrived at the conclusion with Townsend throwing them out of his father’s house, declaring he no longer wanted any part of the ring, Ben was pinching the bridge of his nose, a headache threatening to overtake him. Now he had two problems on his hands: the removal of Abe, aka Samuel Culper, upon Washington’s request and now the apparent departure of their New York Man, Townsend.

Well, actually, there was a third problem, one that he dreaded to consider. But he had to know.

“And what of Abigail?” he asked. “What did she make of any of this?” Anna’s brows furrowed in confusion, so he added, “When you caught up with her. She left for Setauket days before you and Caleb. Surely, you must have crossed paths.”

“I… we never saw her,” Anna spoke slowly, her eyes beginning to widen with slow dawning horror. “We thought she had returned to camp. I thought she had gone straight to you this morning when you and Washington returned.”

The impending headache blossomed into a full-blown migraine. “That’s what I was afraid of,” he groaned before rising from the old tree stump he had taken as his seat when they had first arrived. “We should find Caleb. Maybe he’ll know where she is.”

“I’m sure she’s around here somewhere,” Anna assured him, following close behind her. “I mean, there aren’t many places for her to go around here.”

Ben let out a bitter chuckle. “You’d be surprised by what she can get herself into.” It wasn’t like this was Abigail’s first time at this.

For the love of God, he hoped this wasn’t another case to add to that list.

It didn’t take long to find the whaler, who apparently had been on his way to find them. Before either of the men could speak, Anna turned to Caleb and asked if he had spoken with Abigail recently, as in the past few days recently.

“No,” Caleb remarked, his concern etched into his face. “That’s actually what I was coming to find you for. I got a chance to speak with Abe, after… everything.” He looked over at Anna, who nodded, as if to acknowledge she had told Ben everything about that night. Then he continued cautiously, “Before he got off the boat, I managed to catch him off to the side, asking if Abigail had gotten the information he had needed to send to us. I don’t know what made me think of it at the time, but I asked anyway.”

Unblinking, Ben demanded urgently, “And?”

“Abe said he waited at our usual meeting place, which Abigail knows where it is since she’s accompanied me on a few courier trips. He waited several hours, well beyond midnight.” Caleb grimaced. “She never showed.”

Ben closed his eyes and tried to focus on his breathing. Losing his mind would solve nothing, although he was on the precipice of doing just that.

While she did possess a disturbing talent for finding trouble – or rather trouble finding her, as she had so infuriatingly pointed out, before, of course, she went missing, again – somehow, some way, Abigail always found her way back to him. That notion alone was the only thing helping him preserve his sanity.

The faint drumming of hoofbeats at a distance prompted him to open his eyes and perform a sharp turnabout, with Caleb and Anna doing the same. They spotted a figure on horseback thundering towards them at a near breakneck pace, the rider clutching at the reins as if their life depended on it.

“What on earth…” Anna murmured in dismay as Caleb took a step forward while Ben fished out his spyglass from his jacket pocket.

Extending the instrument into its full length, Ben brought the spyglass to his eyes and focused the device on their new arrival. After a moment or two of adjusting, he could make out the dark hair, the strong clenched jaw, and the familiar outline of the rider’s face. It took another few moments for him to process what his brain already knew.

Tobias Hawkins, riding towards them as if he were escaping hell itself, and out of his British uniform no less.

What on earth indeed.

“Tobias,” Ben remarked, a little more than stunned, speaking aloud more so for Anna and Caleb’s benefit than his own. Extreme confusion coupled with instinctive indignation and several other emotions swirled inside him, rendering him nearly incapable of explaining anything beyond the man’s name.

“What?” Caleb demanded, all but squawking in dismay. When Ben explained nothing further, the whaler snatched the instrument from his hands so that he could have a look. He released a surprised noise. “Well, slap me twice, and call me Sally!”

Anna barely acknowledged Caleb’s unusual exclamation and snatched the spyglass from him so that she could catch a look, not wanting to be excluded. When she saw it was in fact Abigail’s ex-husband riding straight towards them, she gasped quietly. “Now what’s he doing here? Isn’t he supposed to be with the British, undercover?”

“Yes, he should be,” Caleb remarked, his tone growing increasingly worried.

He kept sending rather not furtive looks towards the major, who hadn’t moved an inch since he had the spyglass taken from him. Caleb wondered if he was even breathing. Though judging by the growing high flush in his cheeks, he suspected his breathing was just fine, though he suspected his temper was another issue entirely.

What had Tobias done?

Once within half a dozen or so yards of them, they watched as Tobias maneuvered the horse so that he was coming up behind the stables, which was all but empty given this time of day, with the horses grazing in the pastures. With this change in position, it was easier to see there was someone else with him, a person of slender build and of much smaller frame, clinging to Tobias’s back as they began to ease into a slow trot. The brief glimpse of golden hair in the early morning light had Ben dashing towards the barn without a second thought.

Anna and Caleb were hot on his heels.

By the time the trio made it behind the barn, Tobias, already having dismounted and tied his mount to the nearest hitching post, was just finished easing his riding partner off the saddle and into his arms, cradling her against his chest carefully and apologizing every time the move jostled their aching limbs.

Caleb was the first one to speak at the sight of Abigail in his arms, looking much worse for the wear. “Jesus Christ.”

Ben stumbled forward, his heart caught in his throat. Slowly, he reached out to touch her gently, as if approaching a half-starved, wild kitten – which sadly wasn’t far off from a physical description of her at the moment – and purposefully ignored who was holding her. As much as he would have loved to indulge in his baser desires and pull her into his own arms, away from her former husband, away from the man who so keenly wanted to take what was his (a thought he would feel somewhat foolish about later, considering how he never had a possessive bone in his body; somehow, Abigail managed to bring out the protective instincts in him).

The animosity between him and Tobias could be dealt with later. She didn’t need that now.

“Abigail?” he murmured, brushing away a golden curl away from her face. “Love, can you hear me? It’s Ben.”

Tobias stiffened at his words, his tone, or perhaps it was the combination of the two. Ben couldn’t care less about the other man at the moment. His main was concern was the woman in his arms. His second concern was how to get her out of them.

With a quiet noise of recognition, Abigail stirred a little but not enough for her to be dropped accidentally. She opened her eyes slowly before turning her face so that she could see him fully. A soft, happy, if not delirious smile settled on her face when she saw it was him, but that wasn’t what caused Ben’s sharp intake of breath.

The various darkened hues of purple scattered along her face and the split him, however, ensnared his attention, much to his horror.

Swallowing down the urge to break something, he maintained his focus on her, returning her smile painfully, tears stinging at the back of his eyes, “That’s right. It’s me.” Never before had the blonde looked so delicate and frail. The only other time he could recall her being close to this state was when he and Caleb had discovered her on their way back towards Kerr Farm, where she had been resting against the trunk of a tree, her uniform coat pressed against her abdomen, her face drawn and pale.

That was one time too many.

“Can she walk?” Ben asked Tobias without looking away from her.

The other man remarked just as quietly, “I’m not entirely certain, but I doubt it. She’s recovering from shock and is still pretty weak. She hasn’t eaten much in days.”

“I’ll go fetch her something then,” Anna volunteered. She nodded towards Tobias. “And for you as well.”

Tobias shook his head firmly. “Don’t worry about me. Just see that she’s taken care of.”

Anna nodded towards him again and set off back to camp, already planning on bringing more than enough food for two if she could help it while Caleb took it upon himself to usher the rest of them inside the barn, knowing better than to linger out in the open for longer than necessary.

Once inside, Tobias attempted to set her down on her feet upon Caleb’s suggestion. She barely made it half a step before nearly falling on her face. The only thing that saved her from making direct contact with the ground were both of the major’s and her ex-husband’s strong arms supporting her.

With her safely back in Tobias’s arms – just for this final time – Ben and Caleb did their best to come up with a cot alternative for her to rest. The best they could come up with in such a short amount of time were a few pairs of tied off hay and several layers of discarded blankets to make it more comfortable. Seeing as how she had spent the past several days on the stoned floor of a British prison cell with nothing but her own arms as a pillow, they would get no complaints from her.

As she rested in a restless doze, Tobias began to tell them what he could, about how he had seen her being brought into custody by three redcoats under the charge of espionage. Knowing he’d had to act fast before she remained in the open area cell with the rest of the prisoners longer than she ought to have been, he had managed to arrange to move her into a separate cell away from the general population, solitary, which hadn’t been an ideal solution, but it had been better than leaving her in there with the rest of those men.

He also told them how he had visited her as often as he could, mostly to bring her food when he could smuggle some down to her. That had actually been what he was going down to her cell to do when he had spotted the two redcoats removing her from her cell and escorting her into another room, one in which interrogations were most commonly performed. So of course he had followed, with this knowledge in mind.

Only when the two redcoats that had escorted her had stepped out of the room to guard it did Tobias go and confront them, asking to know what they were doing. They wouldn’t tell him, and he persisted. It turned into an argument, and he was just about to threaten them further when he’d heard Abigail scream.

Tobias’s face took on a haunted look, his eyes glazing over slightly as he recalled that moment all too clearly inside his mind. “After she… after I heard the scream, I kicked down the door to get to her. I wasn’t even thinking anything when I did it. All I could do, all I could think, was that try to get to her before the bastard does anything to her, if he hadn’t done so already.”

He unclenched his fists, not realizing that they had balled up into fists almost as soon as he had begun recounting the day’s events. “I took the youngest down first, the one who had been closest to the door. Then, once I was inside, the other tried to grab me from behind, but his grip wasn’t any good, which made it easier to break away from him.”

Ben stared at him hard, demanding, “And you killed them? The both of them.”

Tobias nodded grimly. “Not just the two of them. The third one, too.” He misinterpreted Ben’s cool gaze as one of disapproval, and his jaw tightened. “I had to. And I don’t bloody regret it either.” He pointed a finger at him accusingly as he hissed out his next words. “If you had heard her scream and then saw that fucking redcoat bastard with his pants around his ankles, you would have done exactly same thing, and you know it.”

All the blood drained from the major’s face. It was as if all the warmth had escaped his body altogether. Choking on his barely contained rage, he managed to get out through gritted teeth, “…did he…”

Tobias leveled him with steady stare, a look filled with muted rage and pain that was beyond words. “I honestly don’t know.”

---

A time later, Abigail began to wake. Her stirring and shifting created a rustling of the hay which was currently used as her bed. By the time she was fully awake, Ben had already moved to sit beside her, reaching out to touch the crown of her head in soft, soothing strokes. The comforting presence of his fingers running through her hair nearly made her close her eyes and drift back to sleep.

Anna had already returned with food and drink as promised. Apparently while she had slept, she had managed to convince Tobias to eat something, much to his chagrin. Although she was still displeased by how little he ate, she still considered it a minor victory that he had eaten and drunk anything at all, so she kept her thoughts to herself.

The brunette tried to coax Abigail into eating, but the blonde refused with a slow shake of her head. She did, however, accept cannister of water, which she drank happily as soon she sat up with the help of Ben and Caleb’s steadying hands.

Once she had her fill of water, Abigail brushed away the droplets from her mouth with the back of her hand and took a careful breath before asking, “So what do you know already?” referring to what Tobias had told them, if he had told them anything at all.

“Just that you were brought to the British under an espionage charge,” Caleb answered, his arms folded over his chest as he leaned against the wall beside her, “and what happened right before you two escaped.”

Abigail nodded carefully. “I suppose it’s time for me to fill in the rest then.”

Tobias began to shake his head. “Abigail, you don’t have to right…”

She shook her head firmly, silencing his dissent. “No, I have to. They need to know.” She looked up at him. “You don’t even know everything either.”

With Ben and Anna seated on each side of her, she began to tell them everything, beginning with how she had been given a newly broken mare, Penny, to take on her journey and how the young mare had gotten spooked and had thrown her from her saddle, leaving her in the woods. She admitted she couldn’t have been far from Setauket when she had been thrown, when the redcoats had found her.

She didn’t want to mention the redcoats knocking her around until she gave them her name or alias’s name rather, but she knew if she didn’t, one of them – Ben most likely – would ask how she got her bruises. So she described it in as brief of terms as she could. Feeling Ben tense beside her, she pushed forward as quickly as she could, knowing it would only get worse the further she made it through her account.

When she got to the part where she had been brought to the prison under the charge of espionage, a charge which the British officer had made up on a whim, mind you, Abigail decided to bypass the one of the inmates’ attempt of making a pass at her (a poor choice of words to describe that, she knew) and instead picked up around where Tobias had left off, with her being escorted from the nice, cushy solitary cell towards the interrogation room.

“They wouldn’t tell me what it was for, of course,” Abigail remarked after taking another deep swallow of water. “Something about an officer having questions for me? I really can’t remember. Anyway, they brought me to this room, where they had me stand on this crate or something. And they forced my arms above my head, so that the chain could go over the hook that was embedded in the ceiling.”

“To keep you off balance,” Caleb remarked grimly. “Keeping you literally on your toes.”

“Quite right,” Abigail smiled mirthlessly. Then she continued as she felt a hand slide down along her wrists, until her fingers interlaced with theirs. Ben, who remained quiet throughout most of her narrative, squeezed her hand in reassurance, whether it was solely for her or for them both she wasn’t quite certain, though she wasn’t about to shake it off. “Then the other one came in. A lieutenant.”

She took another pause before looking over at Ben, repeating a silent mantra to remain calm. “It was Gamble. He was the one to come in and question me.”

Ben blinked, stunned. “Gamble? Are you sure?” he demanded.

Abigail nodded. “I could hardly forget the face of the man who had so viciously murdered Mr. Sackett, could I? Nor could I forget his face since our last conversation.”

While the others appeared a little confused at her last statement, the major was quick to pick up on her reference and her meaning. His jaw clenched in anger.

She began rubbing firm circles along the back of his hand with her thumb, all the while bearing the brunt of Tobias’s heavy gaze on the side of her head. But she couldn’t worry about that. There was still much more they didn’t know.

After another few precious moments to compose herself, Abigail then told them everything Gamble had revealed to her, about his investigation into patriot families of Setauket, of the Tallmadges and Brewsters specifically. Seeing both Ben and Caleb’s shared looks of alarm, she added, “He never mentioned looking any further into either your families. As far as I know, he gave up on that idea when he discovered an angle he could properly run with.”

“New angle?” Ann asked, confused.

Abigail’s gaze dropped to her hands, looking from the one which rested on her right knee before looking over towards her other hand, which was still held tightly between Ben’s. “Looking into the Williams, since our families are so close. Apparently, that part was Simcoe’s idea.”

Caleb looked very close to spitting nails. “Simcoe. I knew I should’ve killed that bloody bastard when we had the chance!”

Before anyone could say anything else, Abigail pushed forward, desperate to finish disclosing everything and not wanting to hold this information inside any longer than she had to. She informed them how Gamble had been assigned the investigation after Simcoe had initially been court martialed by Hewlett a few years back. To be fair, Simcoe had no involvement in this apart from it being his original idea. She didn’t know why she was defending the man to herself, but for the sake of fairness, she needed to let that be known.

When she got to the part where Gamble had traveled to Dublin, after learning about her connection to Ben through the townspeople, Abigail couldn’t help but find Tobias’s gaze. To his credit, he didn’t look indignant or angry or bitter; while there might have been a slight hardening of his gaze, his expression only expressed her growing concern, the slow dawning realization of horror settling into his features when he began to realize where she was going next.

“Gamble went to Dublin with the intentions of finding me and bringing me back to get Ben,” Abigail spoke quietly. A slight tremor ran through her, starting in her hands and steadily spreading through her. “Only he didn’t realize the girl he found wasn’t me. It was Iris. And even when she had told him everything, about why she was there and why I was not, after she had given him everything he could have wanted to know, he… he murdered her anyway. Out of fucking spite.”

Trembling, she sought out the cannister, which Anna passed to immediately when she realized what she was looking for. Abigail took a deep swallow, wishing intensely how much she wished it was something a bit stronger. She faintly heard Tobias swearing colorfully and perhaps the sound of something breaking? It was difficult to tell, as she tried to once again gather her composure.

And she hadn’t even made it to the one of the worst parts of it yet.

“You need to get some rest,” Anna implored, voice filled with emotion. Abigail felt her hand settle at the small of her back and start rubbing soothing circles. As much as she loved her friend for it, she could barely stand anyone’s touch at the moment while at the same time she did want them to let go. A swirl of contradictions and no solutions.

“No,” Abigail sighed quietly, which sounded more like a quiet groan than actual sigh. “There’s more.”

“More?” Anna echoed. Her brown eyes widened in alarm.

The blonde nodded tiredly, then slipped her hand from Ben’s so she could run her hands through her unruly golden locks. “Yes.” She snuck a brief glance in his direction and regretted it almost immediately.

At the beginning of her account of the past week, his face had increasingly grown flushed with barely suppressed rage, particularly when she had explained how she had acquired her bruises. But now, he was almost naturally pale, all color having drained from his face. Realizing that if she hadn’t enlisted with the Continental Army under her father’s name, if she had gone to Dublin as her father had wanted her to, she easily could have suffered the same fate of the young servant girl, or perhaps even worse.

It was almost as if she was damned if she did, damned if she didn’t. Either way, the odds never really seemed to be in her favor.

“After he burned the letter,” Abigail continued, picking right up where she had left off, “he came towards me. He… he, uh, wanted to confirm his suspicions. To make sure he had the right person.” She swallowed nervously and shut her eyes. That night she had acted on adrenaline. The fight or flight instinct presented itself, and she had chosen fight. She had no idea where that bravery came from, but she wish she had a little bit of that now.

“Well, he grabbed me… through my trousers,” Abigail admitted through gritted teeth, her chest seizing with anxiety, which only increased. “And I spat in his face and kicked him, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the smartest idea.”

She could still feel the force of Gamble’s blow as she recounted his retaliation, that he had knocked her to the ground. But when she got to the part when the lieutenant had begun to unbuckle his pants and what he had said while he was doing so, she could barely get it out but somehow she managed to choke it out before burying her head in her hands.

Unable to keep still any longer, Ben surged forward, fury and anguish tearing through him. He barely heard her utter he hadn’t gotten the chance to get his hands on her before Tobias had forced his way into the room, all the blood nearly rushing to his head but hear her he did.

But while those words brought him some intense relief, it didn’t change anything that she had gone through. It didn’t make her any less safe. And this knowledge didn’t provide him any sort of solace.

The one consistent thought running through his mind somehow managed to ground him. And the amount of anger and hatred in it should have scared him, but it didn’t.

He was glad that Gamble was dead. His only regret was that he hadn’t killed him when he’d had the chance.

If he had, Abigail wouldn’t have gone through any of this.

Overwhelmed in his own thoughts, Ben didn’t hear Caleb come up behind him nor did he even feel him clasping him on the shoulder. He looked over at him and found his own muted anger and horror mirrored in his best friend’s gaze.

“What are we going to do about this?” the whaler murmured. They shared a look before turning towards the others. Tobias was pacing in agitation, muttering barely concealed curses. Anna was flush against Abigail’s side, murmuring words of comfort while the blonde had her head between her knees, trying to control her ragged breathing.

Ben had sudden difficulty swallowing.

“I don’t have the faintest idea,” the major replied quietly. His gaze returned to Caleb’s, his blue eyes hard as stone. “But we will figure this out.”

“Aye, we will,” Caleb agreed firmly.

---

It took some time, but Anna convinced Abigail to eat something, at least a few bites here and there. With some food in her stomach and water to hydrate her, the blonde was able to rise to her feet without much trouble. Only after walking well enough to his satisfaction, Ben asked Anna if she could bring her to the infirmary tent to look her over. Anna agreed but then asked what were the three of them going to do. All Ben was willing to say was that they needed to figure out their next step, now that Tobias was no longer with the British, and figure out arrangements for him, much to his own displeasure.

Anna did as she was told, leading Abigail down the narrow path towards the infirmary tent, making sure to keep her distance when they came into view of the camp and its residents. The entire journey back, the brunette had a sneaking suspicion that something wasn’t right, something the men hadn’t been quite forthcoming about.

So as soon as she saw to it that Abigail was safely under the camp doctor’s care, she made her way back up towards the barn, camp duties be damned.

Taking a moment to catch her breath after the steep hike, Anna smoothed down the fronts of her skirts and hurried forward until she found a spot where she could hear them easily but without them spotting her – a difficult feat which she somehow accomplished.

From the sounds of it, she arrived towards the tail end of the conversation, with Ben and Tobias’s minds already made up while Caleb trying to make them see reason, to come up with a different course of action.

Brows furrowed with concern, Anna pressed as closely as she dared, straining to hear what she could and to get a better idea of what the hell they were plotting.

There were several rows of bickering, mostly between Ben and Tobias (unsurprisingly) where Caleb more or less served as mediator. But as the conversation was nearing its end, the former two seemed more in line of agreement than Caleb was with either of them, which made her feel even more confused and concerned.

But quickly, she began mentally putting the pieces together while trying to pay attention to what they were saying at the same time. It was certainly headache-inducing, but it had to be done. Though the conclusion she was slowly drawing was perhaps even more perplexing.

From what she could gather, Tobias and Ben had been trying to develop a story to inform Washington of what had transpired that had allowed Tobias to return to camp, after several years immersing himself among enemy lines. It was better to stick with the truth as much as possible, because being caught in a lie was extremely easy to do, but at the same time, they wanted to protect Abigail and keep her involvement out of it as much as possible.

However, with her out of the equation, it didn’t give Tobias much of a leg to stand on. Without Abigail as a defense, that he had gone in guns blazing to save her, he looked more like a rebel spy having gone rouge. And that was hangable offense all on its own.

Tobias didn’t seem the littlest bit bothered by this. His fate was sealed, and it didn’t seem to bother him at all. What he seemed against was Ben’s trying to help make his situation as bearable as possible, even if it meant throwing himself under the cart to save his neck. Tobias being sentenced to hanging for killing three redcoats without alleged prompting was certain. What would be more unclear was what Ben’s fate would be if he incriminated himself, claiming to have encouraged his actions in anyway.

Definitely he would be stripped of his head of intelligence position, if not his officer position of major altogether. Even worse yet he could hang beside Tobias in the alleged aiding of such an atrocity, as was the most probably conclusion that could and would be drawn by the a military court hearing.

This was the very argument Caleb kept pushing, but his words appeared keep falling on deaf ears. Ben and Tobias were willing to do whatever it took to protect the woman they loved, even if it cost them everything, even their lives.

Horrified, Anna stumbled out of her hiding place, staring at the barn as if she was staring directly at them in accusation. She had half a mind to go in there and smack them, to demand if they thought this was what Abigail would want, if they were actually thinking of her at all.

But she did neither of these things. Instead, Anna did the only thing she could think of. The right thing.

She turned and hurried down the hill, heading towards the infirmary tent. There was little time for her to reach Abigail, recalling Ben and Tobias had agreed to speak with Washington near dusk.

---

Abigail was going to murder them, Ben and Tobias both.

With Anna’s frenzied words ringing in her ears, the blonde had convinced her friend she was going to have a conversation with them as soon as Anderson had given her the okay. Having ingested a few cups of calming chamomile tea and some liquid medication she hadn’t been entirely familiar with, she had already began feeling like her usual self by the time Anna had returned to the tent. So when the brunette had left and Anderson had disappeared somewhere, Abigail naturally had abandoned the cot for greener pastures, namely for one tent in particular.

And that tent wasn’t Ben’s. Nor was it Caleb’s.

With her frustration with those two fueling her, Abigail walked her way through the camp, making sure to keep her head down as to not draw any attention towards her face. She had Anderson to thank for that, whose cap she had swiped from his desk before leaving his tent.

It didn’t take her long to find Billy, who rarely strayed far from Washington’s tent, especially as of late. She waved at him when he happened to look in her direction. He waved back cordially in greeting, his smile quickly fading into a frown when he got a better look at her face.

“Good Lord, what happened to your face?” he asked, the words coming out of his mouth before he could stop them.

“Funny story,” Abigail started. “That’s part of the reason why I’m here.” She breathed deeply and exhaled slowly before adding, “I have something to tell him. Some news that he may find deeply troubling. News that he must know right away.”

“Why then by all means,” came the familiar, deep voice from behind her. Both she and Billy peered up to see the commander-in-chief stopping short at his tent, having caught the last bit of her words. “Let us speak privately.”

He nodded for her to follow him, and with a rolling stomach, Abigail followed him inside, doing her best to keep her nerves from getting the better of her. She could do this. Everything would be fine.

If Ben and Tobias were determined to do something stupid, she was going to stop them. Perhaps by doing something just as equally stupid. Or more.

Chapter Text

Before either man had stepped one foot inside Washington’s tent, their story was well-rehearsed, or as well-rehearsed one could be when having only so many hours to spare. While neither man no longer particularly cared for the other – actively loathing and despising one another didn’t even begin to describe the animosity between them – the one thing they could agree on, was Abigail’s welfare, and that was more than enough to see it through.

Washington had accepted Ben’s request for a meeting with little delay when the urgency of the situation was properly conveyed. Once Tobias had gone to somewhat hasty lengths to make himself more presentable, the two men had set off to meet with Washington while taking appropriate measures to take a more discreet route and away from the curious gaze of the camp soldiers, who seemed more apt to gossip than a group of society women.

He kept his expression neutral when Ben brought Tobias in, making it difficult to assess what the man was thinking. It was a particular talent the man had, which helped make him a gifted leader and commander-in-chief.

“It’s good to see you, Mr. Hawkins,” Washington remarked, “though I didn’t expect to be reacquainted with you so soon.”

Even underneath Tobias’s tanned skin, the major could see the other man pale a little from Washington’s blunt statement and the underlying implications, but under Ben’s advisement, he kept his mouth shut – the one time that Tobias seemed to actually value his advice.

“There is an explanation for this,” Ben intervened before Tobias felt inclined to speak on his own behalf. “An explanation which you really need to hear, as it may significantly impact our intelligence gathering.”

Raising his eyebrows slightly, Washington gave a permissive gesture of his hand. “Well, by all means, major, please continue.”

Tossing a cursory glance towards the other man behind him, Ben launched into the narrative they had prepared, beginning with the most obvious. “First, and most importantly, his position with the British has been compromised.”

When Washington didn’t respond, he took that as his cue to continue, though he began to feel sweat building at the back of his neck. He explained everything but the reason why Tobias’s position was compromised, instead choosing to argue that they needed to protect him since his information of the British had been invaluable to them thus far. Whatever else Tobias might have learned but had not been able to convey to them through Caleb was too much of a risk to lose.

To say he was not precisely Tobias Hawkins’ most adamant supporter was such an incredible understatement, but the man had saved the life of the woman Ben loved, who was also the woman that he loved, too. For that, he couldn’t fault him, even if the manner in which the other man had pursued her and swindled her away from him he downright despised… But that wasn’t the point here.

Ben couldn’t in good conscience allow Tobias to be punished for something for saving her life, especially since, if he had been in his shoes in that moment, he would have done exactly the same.

When he came to the end of his argument, he took a breath. Now was the moment of truth.

“You may be wondering the reason for his compromised position,” Ben said.

Washington shook his head. “No, not at all.”

Ben’s mouth hung open for several seconds before he remembered to snap it shut. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Tobias experiencing the very same struggle with keeping his jaw from falling to the floor.

“I’m sorry?” Ben asked, staring.

Washington, not moving once form his hands clasped in front of him on his desk, remarked, “I’ve been informed of everything. I’m sure we can handle this as discreetly as possible.”

The commander-in-chief looked at his documents on his desk for a moment, thankful for having already established the workings of a plan on dealing with this mess. “Mr. Hawkins will remain within our regiment until further notice. Unless the man in question has any objections.”

“I… no, I do not,” Tobias croaked out before clearing his throat, clearly stunned. “Thank you for your generosity. And your leniency.”

“Oh, don’t thank me,” Washington remarked. “Thank your former wife.”

---

A few hours prior

“Now, what is it that you wished to discuss with me?” Washington inquired, expression benevolent but firm.

Abigail clasped her hands in her lap, hidden underneath the table at which he had invited her to sit, her heart nearly caught in her throat. She forced aside her growing anxiety and instead focused on the reason why she was there, the reason that made it all that much easier to see this through to the end.

“That’s a complicated question, but I suppose we need to start somewhere,” she answered, lips twitching upwards into a nervous smile. After another brief moment of gathering herself, she continued, “To be perfectly honest, I’m here to prevent two very important people to me from doing something completely idiotic, I’ll preface this by saying that now. And if you feel the need to comment or interject, please wait until I’m finished.”

Washington’s eyebrows raised slightly, though the corners of his mouth twitched in amusement. She took this as a good sign. “I’ll take that into account. Please continue, Mr. Williams.”

And that was the issue right there. “Thomas Williams is the name of my father. My mother died during childbirth.” The thought of the mother she would never knew made her heart ache fiercely, but she continued, “He told me my mother wished that name to be passed down to me, if I had been born male.” Not giving into the temptation of closing her eyes, she pushed forward, “My true name is Abigail Williams, your excellency, the daughter of Thomas Williams of Setauket, Long Island. His only daughter, no siblings, no brothers to be more precise.”

She told him everything, about who she really was, the lengths she had gone through to get where she was, about her learning of the spy ring and having participated in obtaining information to and from certain agents, about how she now shared courier duties with the Culper Ring’s current courier.

Then she arrived at the very reason for why she was there speaking with him now. She also told him of her most recent encounter with the British on her courier route back to Setauket and how that had led to her imprisonment. When she discussed how Tobias had saved her from Gamble and his redcoat guards, Washington’s eyebrows practically disappeared into his hairline, but she briefly paused in her narrative to defend Tobias’s actions.

“If there is one thing that is right about our world, your excellency,” Abigail began, “is that prison is no place for a woman. I was held there, confined in a room full of deplorable men having done even more deplorable acts until Tobias had convinced the guards to transfer me to solitary, to keep me from physical and perhaps mortal danger. And a few days later I was brought into a room and was questioned by the murdered officer in question. Do you want to know how he tried to get his information from me? Because I can. Chaining me to a hook on the ceiling and balancing on a box to keep me at his mercy was nothing to what he really wanted to do to me.”

She recounted Gamble’s initial investigation, the murder of her former house servant Iris, and the events that followed, how he had grabbed her between the legs to “confirm his suspicions” and everything that followed after.

To his credit, apart from his brief eyebrow raise, the man’s expression hadn’t changed once. She couldn’t read his expression, of whether he was shocked or furious or even surprised. It was somehow a small comfort to her, which made it more possible for her to continue. Perhaps that was the reason for his veiled expression, to give her the courage to continue.

“And he killed them, the two redcoats standing at the door, when he heard me scream,” Abigail said, having grown increasingly numb as she approached the conclusion. “But when it came to Gamble, he wasn’t alone in killing him. He may have driven the blade into his heart, but I was the one that held Gamble, wrapping the my shackles around his throat to hold him still. It’s possible I may have killed him before Tobias stabbed him.”

Washington blinked, unable to contain himself any longer, “I hope you realize you’re implicating yourself.”

“I realize perfectly well what I’m saying,” Abigail informed him. “I realize that everything I’ve told you thus far could a hangable offense alone, more so this than anything else. I acknowledge that.

“What would you do if your wife were in my place?” she asked suddenly, leaning forward as she pressed her arms on the table. “What if you had been sent to spy on the enemy in their ranks and witnessed as one of their officers placed their hands on your wife without her consent? Would you have acted any differently, if it had been Martha?”

Abigail was crossing the line, and she knew it. In fact, she had gone far so past the line, she wouldn’t have been able to see it if she had turned around and looked for it. It was a risk, but it was one she had to take, if she had any hope in protecting Ben and Tobias from their own foolish plan.

She knew the moment her words struck him was when Washington abruptly pushed himself away from the table and to his feet, walking to the corner of his tent while bringing a hand up to his face. She couldn’t see his expression but noted the tension in his shoulders, the uncharacteristic slump in his ever present perfectly sturdy posture. Her words had gotten to him. As guilty as she felt for bringing up his wife, she couldn’t bring herself to regret from doing it, not if it meant it could potentially help.

The silence dragged on for so long she wondered if she should have left but thought better of it and remained in the chair, her nails digging into the backs of her hands with anxiety.

“How many others know?”

The words were spoken so softly Abigail had to strain to hear them. Turning around in her chair, she looked up just as he turned his head in her direction, staring directly at her, as if daring for her to lie to him.

She answered him honestly, “Ben, Caleb, Abraham Woodhull, Anna Strong, Tobias, and now you, sir.” She bit her lip and then added, “And I suppose the two redcoat guards and Gamble, but they’re dead. They can’t share anything they know now.”

Nodding slowly, Washington returned to the table and to his seat. “Of all the things I thought we would be discussing,” he remarked, his expression finally revealing how stunned he truly was, “I never would have predicted to bearing witness to your account of all this.”

Abigail smiled, understanding far better than anyone could have guessed. “Believe me, I never thought I would have divulged this much information either. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe you shouldn’t know, but it was to protect myself. But telling you now, today, it’s to protect someone else.”

After a moment to digest everything she had shared, they managed to come up with an arrangement that best handled the situation, as discreetly as possible. If the French had caught wind of such a scandal, it wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility for them to reconsider their alliance with the United States, which would have disastrous consequences. This piece of information alone had been what she was counting on when she had made her decision to meet with Washington.

Since there had been little to no information coming from Anna’s former servant, Abigail, as of late since her son Cicero had come to live with her upon her employer’s request, Washington decided to assign the blonde to assist her with her observations of Major John Andre. “As a woman,” he emphasized, raising his gaze to her pointedly.

Abigail nodded in agreement. “And to avoid any confusion between us, I’ll go by my middle name, Elizabeth. That’s how Abigail refers to me anyway, back in Setauket before the war.”

“Good, good,” Washington murmured while looking over his documents. He also agreed to keep Tobias in their ranks, acknowledging his wealth of information on the British was too valuable to lose.

Abigail then told him of Ben and Tobias’s intentions to speak with him, he told her that he would speak with them about their plans upon their meeting. Once their plans were solidified, he requested for to remain there when he summoned Billy inside, requesting to him to summon one of his guards to escort her back to the house.

While she might have just saved the major and her ex-husband, she knew very well she hadn’t made it out of the woods just yet.

“I trust you can take care of yourself, especially with all the years you acquired in the military.” Washington made this comment with a wry smile, and after a moment, Abigail realized she hadn’t disappointed him at all.

---

Back to the present

Before either of the two men could process what was going on, Washington proceeded to inform them of his intentions with Abigail. She would become acquainted with Major John Andre. It was her job to infiltrate his inner circle, to get the know the man, watch his every move and to monitor any British activity as it pertained to the man and his position. In exchange for her confession and willingness to cooperate with his plan, Tobias would remain in their ranks upon her request.

Washington dismissed them before Ben could get a word in edgewise, but not before telling him he was to escort Tobias to the holding quarters for the evening until arrangements could be made for Tobias’s reintegration into the camp.

When the major demanded to know what would become of Abigail, of when she would relocated and how, Washington informed him that he and Caleb would escort her to a drop off point close to York City. Tobias would remain behind, of course, being too much of a liability due to the bounty there was bound to be on his head.

Even with the briefest glimpse at the taller man’s profile, he could see that Tobias’s jaw as clenched, fighting to urge to make retort knowing that he was already on thin enough ice as it was. With a brief nod, he allowed himself to be led out by the major once Washington officially dismissed them, though as he did so, Ben could practically feel the white hot glare on the side of his head. And he knew for a fact that it wasn’t Washington’s.

---

Dusk had given way to nightfall by the time word of Abigail’s predicament reached Caleb’s ears. As soon as he heard, the whaler took it upon himself to investigate himself after Ben’s multiple unsuccessful attempts to try and see her. Deciding that it was probably for the best that the major shouldn’t try to work Washington’s last nerve, Caleb volunteered to go another way about it, not by going directly to Washington himself but to Billy instead.

Billy was surprisingly forthcoming, despite the incredible amount of discretion in which Washington desired the situation to be handled. It was apparent from talking to the man that he wasn’t aware of what Abigail had done to be placed under house arrest, but he was aware of the logistics of her holding. Apparently, after having spoken with him, Washington had him fetch one of his guards to escort her into the house and into one of the guestrooms where the guard would remain outside her door. When he asked Billy how long she was to remain there, Billy replied that until Washington said otherwise.

“Oh, this is not good,” Caleb mumbled to himself as he left the house, after trying to determine what room Abigail resided in and ultimately failing.

He looked up and watched as Ben strode purposefully towards the holding quarters where Tobias was being held, his jaw set in agitation. Caleb sighed internally. Oh, this wasn’t good at all.

Making an executive decision, he took a brief detour to procure Anna, hoping that her presence would deter either man from attempting to kill each other.

By the time the pair reached the small cabin-like structure, both Anna and Caleb heard the beginnings of an escalating argument. Whose voice he heard beginning to shout was quickly cut off by the other, making it impossible to determine who was doing the shouting.

“Oh, fuck me,” Caleb swore. After one look at Anna’s disapproving face, he turned sheepish and mumbled an apology before forcing their way inside.

The sight before them was hardly surprising but still alarming nonetheless. Ben and Tobias weren’t coming to blows, but judging from the tension radiating from both of them and how there was hardly any space between them, with Tobias glowering down at him with the intensity of a thousand suns, they weren’t far from it.

“This is absolutely your fucking fault!” Tobias accused, his dark eyes glittering with anger. “If you had sent her home as soon as you knew-”

“And do what? Send her off on her own in unfamiliar territory? Have her be cast as a deserter?” Ben demanded incredulously. “Are you seriously that thick?”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Caleb cried out over Tobias’s dark growl and quickly forced himself between them, shoving them apart with his hands, made only easier when Anna yanked Ben back by the tail of his coat. He looked over at her indignantly to which she responded with a raised eyebrow.

“Before you two men kill each other,” Anna began, looking at both men with equal levels of dismay and disappointment, “wouldn’t you like to know all the facts?” She looked over at Caleb and nodded for him to continue.

Throwing her a grateful look, Caleb remarked, “I didn’t find out much, but from what Billy told me, they’re not releasing her from the house, per Washington’s orders. And when I went to inquire inside, they wouldn’t even let me step foot inside the house, let alone try to speak with her privately. So I reckon letting any one of us inside is out of the question.

“Not until it’s time to bring her to the drop off point anyway,” Caleb finished, his gaze fixed on the major. He knew better than anyone how deeply being incapable of taking control of a situation was cutting into him. He had witnessed it several times over the years, even more recently. However, this time it was much more personal. And this must have been killing him. Caleb could see it in his eyes. There was nothing more he wanted to do than to help his friend, the man who was a brother to him.

He couldn’t imagine what Ben was going through. And having the love of his life’s former husband taking shots at him, hitting him directly in his sore spots, wasn’t helping either.

Tobias jabbed a finger in his direction, furious. “This, this is your fault. Every injury she’s sustained, every time she’s been put in danger, I hold you personally responsible for all of it.”

To his credit, Ben didn’t back down from Tobias’s burning glares and barking tone, but at the same time, he didn’t deny his accusations. There wasn’t anything to disagree with him there, as Ben saw in his own mind. There wasn’t even a hint of untruth. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t saying what he had been thinking of himself more than a dozen times with every misfortunate that befell Abigail. The most infuriating part of it was that he couldn’t argue against him, because Tobias was correct.

But that didn’t stop Anna from coming to his defense. “That is not fair, and you know it,” she insisted. “How dare you blame him!”

Tobias’s narrowed gaze briefly flickered to her. “How dare I? I’m not the one who –”

“Oi!” Caleb shouted over him, effectively cutting him off. He gave him a measured look. He didn’t want to appear to be taking sides, but it was already clear whose side he was on, whose back he always had. “Listen, mate. I know you’re upset, and you have every right. But don’t make this situation any worse. Besides, you should be thanking Ben, for protecting Abigail when he could.”

A small, bitter smile settled on the other man’s mouth, and his gaze shifted its focus back to Ben. “Yes, thank you, Ben. For being in love with my wife.”

The major gritted his teeth before retorting, “She’s no longer your wife, friend.”

“Now, how on earth is this being productive?” Caleb demanded tiredly after jumping back in front of Tobias to keep him from lunging at Ben.

“Caleb’s right,” Anna remarked, giving Tobias a look so severe it was a wonder he hadn’t been scalded. “None of this right now is helping Abigail. And both of you are better than this.”

Growing up, she had admired Tobias a great deal, though as he had begun to show his true colors in how ruthlessly he had pursued Abigail at his former best friend’s expense had quickly changed her view of him. And now, his cruel, scathing words only solidified her opinion of the man. Or should she say snake?

---

Inside the Middlebrook camp house, Abigail sat on the floor, her legs drawn up to her chest and her arms around them, her back pressed against the wall. There was a bed not too far from where she sat, as well as a writing desk and chair, but she didn’t feel right utilizing either of them.

She’d been sitting in the same position on the floor as when she had first arrived with the guard. Granted, this time the escort was a legitimate escort, nothing like her previous “guides” had been. That much she was thankful for at least.

Did she regret going to Washington? Absolutely not. She would have done it again if she had to. It was worth it in the end, no matter the trouble it cost her, either presently or in the future. At least she could still serve inside Culper, if Culper even existed any longer. At least she could be of some use to the cause, even though her life as a Continental soldier was now over.

She had set out to protect both Ben and Tobias, and that was just what she did. There was no going back now. To save the man who had saved her life and the man who owned her heart, who saved her half a dozen times over, there hadn’t been any other choice for her to make.

Still in her uniform, the guard had no idea of her true identity. Washington wanted to keep it that way. He had already made arrangements to have someone approach Anna to retrieve the proper necessities for her travels. Not long after the brunette would arrive with a dress, cloak, and her other belongings that were possible to bring with her, there wouldn’t be much time before Washington would send Caleb to fetch her before he and Ben would bring her to York City.

Just the thought of not seeing Ben every day, even if she was only caught a glimpse of him, was Abigail’s only regret.

Chapter Text

A few hours into her stay in the guest room, Abigail heard a light knock at the door. Her stomach flipped at the sound. Had Washington sent someone to fetch her already?

But when the door opened, Anna was allowed inside by one of Washington’s men stationed outside her door. She looked at him curiously as he walked off with some parchment in his hands, and before she could ask, Anna explained that the letter had been from Washington, granting her entry to do the house laundry.

Once the door was closed, however, she uncovered the basket she had brought with her and set it on the bed. Inside wasn’t a mixture of undergarments and uniforms. Instead, there was a bag with a cloak and dress tucked away inside. Abigail stopped herself from pulling out the dress, to touch and examine it at a closer proximity.

Just the sight of the dress alone was almost a foreign feeling, after not having worn a dress in the past three years, at least not a complete dress.

She and Anna talked briefly before Anna had to depart, to avoid any suspicions upon the guard’s impending return, but not before the brunette gave her a fiercely warm hug.

Abigail wouldn’t change until after Caleb came to collect her and once they were certain they were out of sight from anyone from the camp. There was the barn, which was just on the outskirts of the camp, where she could change and dress before they set off for York City, as per Caleb’s suggestion through Anna.

It was a quarter to midnight when there was another knock on her door, this time accompanied by Caleb’s quiet voice.

At the initial sound of his voice, Abigail immediately hurried to open the door and was greeted with the whaler’s kind yet serious expression, the latter of which was usually atypical of the man.

“You ready?” Caleb asked quietly.

With a pasted-on smile, Abigail nodded, the words caught in her throat. She refused to let her nerves to get the best of her, even though there was an intense rolling, fluttery feeling in the pit of her stomach.

She went to retrieve her bag but paused when a thought struck her. “What about the guard?”

“Washington called them off when he’d called for Anna to come to you,” Caleb answered.

Nodding jerkily, she grabbed the bag from where she had stowed it away, underneath the bed on the off chance someone came in.

Before she could follow him out, Caleb reached out and stopped her, his hand resting comfortingly on her forearm. Abigail gave him a mildly curious look.

“I just wanted to let you know,” Caleb began, voice serious and soft, “that what you did was a very brave thing. Stupid, perhaps but still brave nonetheless.” His lips twitched upwards into a lightly amused smile around the word “stupid”, which prompted her to smile as well.

“I know it was stupid, but I had to. And I think you know the reason,” Abigail remarked. She bit her lip, pausing for a moment. “Though to be perfectly honest, I don’t feel very brave,” she admitted quietly, huffing out a laugh with a slight tremor.

With a gentle shake of his head, Caleb walked over to her and enveloped her in a warm, tight hug. Abigail return the embrace with another watery laugh and sniff. She allowed herself the opportunity to gather herself, but in the back of her mind, she knew those spare moments were precious, and time was not on their side.

As if sensing her line of thought, Caleb took half a step back but not before giving her an affectionate bump to her nose with a light tap of his finger. Both grinned lightly as Caleb took the bag from her while they left the room.

---

It didn’t take long for them to reach the barn, even more so due to the fact there had blessedly been no distractions or interventions in their path. With Caleb off to prepare the horses, Ben remained outside the barn as Abigail got herself ready for the journey ahead.

Even upon her former in-laws’ insistence of having servants, Abigail had always gotten herself ready herself, even right down to the tying of stays of her corset – though to be perfectly honest, she had always cheated and had never really tied them at all, because the idea of women in restrictive corsets to the point of fainting always seemed ridiculous to her.

However, over the past three years, she had grown quite out of practice, which made getting herself dressed all the more difficult. Fortunately for her, the dress had belonged to one of the camp’s women, which had been discarded because of its well-worn appearance, which was a relatively generous description. Overall, the dress was a dull brown. The skirts were stained beyond a good washing, and there were too many holes to be saved by any amount of sewing The stitching in the dress was all but coming loose, with more than a few rips and tears along the neckline and sleeves.

In other words, the dress was perfect for Abigail’s plan, one she had yet to inform Ben and Caleb about. It was a plan she and Washington had devised as to how she would approach Major John Andre. The plan was incredibly risky and downright foolish, but it was also the smartest idea, at least in her mind. The perfect cover required remaining as close to the truth as possible, which made the dress a perfect accomplice.

There wasn’t much to the dress, especially underneath. Anna had been dismayed at the lack of a shift, but she had assured the brunette that it had been fine, that it actually might assist her. She wished she could have provided a better explanation than the one she had given to Anna’s skeptical expression, but in the end, there hadn’t been anything she could say without implicating her friend further.

“Damn,” Abigail cursed under her breath as she struggled with the stays at the small of her back. She kept missing loops, and every time the edge of the stay missed the knot, she wanted to scream in frustration.

Making a frustrated noise, she relinquished her hold on the corset and tugged her hair loose from its perpetual bun, letting the golden waves spill out a little past her shoulders, wild and unkempt.

“Are you all right?” came the hushed tone of Ben’s voice from just outside the barn door.

Abigail released a tiny, frustrated laugh. “Sort of. I… I think I might need some help.” She brushed her hair away from her face, then added, “With the stays.”

Not even a moment later she heard the barn door slide open and heard the quick, quiet footsteps approaching her.

“What do you need?” he murmured softly.

“Just, just tie them as best as you can,” Abigail replied, glancing at him over her shoulder. She just realized that her entire back was exposed to him, from the nape of her neck right down to below her waist. If she hadn’t managed to tie the skirts, there would have been a lot more to see, though nothing Ben hadn’t seen before.

“But not too tight,” she added almost as an afterthought, once she felt his settle at the small of her back.

With every brush of his fingers along her skin, a fresh patch of goosebumps rippled across her back. There was little time so he made a quick work on lacing her in. That was until she felt him pause behind her. Another realization that a very good bit of her body was still covered in bruises from the redcoats’ physical assault. She hadn’t stopped to consider the evidence would still appear on her back, even though sometimes she still felt the blunt blow of the musket butt slamming into her back.

To his credit, Ben didn’t comment on her bruises. He knew far too well how she had gotten them.

The major pulled a little too tight on the strays, causing Abigail to suck in an audible breath. He apologized profusely, flustered and ashamed, but she was quick to forgive him, though she did threaten to box his ears if he did it again, mostly an attempt of jest. When she caught a hint of a smile on his face over her shoulder, she considered her attempt a success.

Once her dressed was fully together, Ben remarked, “I’m not going to ask you why you did what you did, mostly because I think I know why.”

Abigail smiled. “Good. Because I’d hate to think you didn’t know me by now, after all this time.” She heard him sigh heavily and turned around to see his lips twitching into another reluctant smile.

She accepted the cloak from him when he offered it to her. The fabric was dark and thick, the perfect element of concealment. Ben gestured for her to turn back around to which she responded with an inquisitive brow. “Just humor me, please.” She complied, hiding her smile as she pulled her hair to the side just as he slid the heavy material onto her shoulders.

While tying the cloak closed, Abigail turned back around, remarking, “I know this isn’t quite my best look, but it’s fitting for the plan.”

Confused, Ben inquired, “Plan?”

“The one Washington came up with,” she replied. She didn’t mind fully crediting Washington with the plan, even though she had contributed a more than a few minor details. When Ben continued to look at her expectantly, she launched into her explanation, about how she planned on getting to Andre. Once in York City, she planned on turning up on Andre’s doorstep, completely disheveled and in a state of panic, begging for help. She would claimed that she had been assaulted by some rebel soldiers on the outskirts of the city and had managed to escape. If the British major was a man of honor as she had suspected, he would have to let her in.

By the time she concluded the story, Ben’s expression was a mixture of consideration and concern. “That’s incredibly risky for you. It could work, but… I don’t care much for it. Because of the risk.”

He took her hand and held it between the both of his, gazing at her imploringly. “What if they push you for more information? What are you going to do then?”

Abigail lifted her chin stubbornly. “I don’t think they’re push a woman in hysterics for more information, at least for that evening. That would give me more time. But even so, the most important thing is to try to stick as close to the truth as possible. You and Culper have taught me the importance of that.”

Besides, it wouldn’t be that difficult to sell her devised story. All she was really doing was changing names and sides of the faces in her tale, with only some minor alterations and some obvious omissions.

After all, she was sticking as close to the truth as possible.

---

Typically, the journey from Middle Brook to York City would have taken a little more than half a day’s journey on horseback, but considering the significance upon the fulfillment of the plan, the journey took a complete twenty-four hours to complete, so that by the time they made it to York City, it was nightfall.

Dressed in civilian clothing, the group had only stopped once during their travels. Caleb had gotten in touch with one of his contacts and managed to land them a place to stay, at least until the sun had gone down. When Ben had suggested that he and Caleb take turns keeping watch, the whaler had pulled him to the side, speaking in hushed tones, “You only have a handful of hours left with her, mate. Make them count.”

Needless to say the major hadn’t left Abigail’s side again until they departed at dusk.

As soon as they got within a mile or so of York City, they had no choice but to maneuver their horses of course and into the woods. Abigail’s grip instinctively tightened around Ben’s middle as he eased the horse – not Penny, thank God – into a brisk trot, with Caleb’s horse not far behind them.

Ben and Caleb dismounted to give the horses a much deserved a break, albeit a brief one, before they reached York City. Little did either man know, Abigail had no intentions of being brought all the way into the city.

“You should leave me here,” Abigail suggested a few minutes after the major had helped her dismount. She was sitting at the base of a tree, observing without really seeing, her thoughts nearly a thousand miles away, which was humorous considering the circumstances.

Ben frowned. “We’re only a mile away. We can bring you closer than this.”

Abigail shrugged. “I can travel the rest by foot.”

“But that’s a mile away!”

“I thought you said it was only a mile away.”

Ben gritted his teeth in agitation, and before he could say something he could possibly regret, Caleb quickly intercepted. “It isn’t safe to leave you alone here. To travel alone, at night, towards a British occupied city, wouldn’t be safe.”

“I’ll be fine,” she insisted. Or as fine as she could be as an eighteenth century woman traveling alone at night, just as Caleb had said. But she knew that if they didn’t separate now, it would be much more difficult to part later.

It’s clear from the unhappy expressions on their faces they didn’t feel comfortable leaving her there, alone and unarmed, but what choice did they have? This way, there was less of a chance of them getting caught returning to Middlebrook, and she presented this argument to the men, who very well couldn’t argue with that logic, though she suspected that wouldn’t stop Ben from trying, for her sake.

Abigail was thoroughly versed in arguing with Ben. So much so it was practically second nature. She knew his ticks, his tells, how to predict and counter his next words. She could argue with him for hours, but they didn’t have hours. They didn’t have time to argue, and judging from the frustrated look in his eyes, he knew it, too.

Instead of pursuing an argument, Ben walked towards her and extended his hand towards her. Without a moment’s hesitation, Abigail accepted it, cherishing the warmth of his skin against hers and allowed herself to be assisted to her feet. And he took his time about it, too, and she smiled sadly, knowing the reason behind his reluctance. Neither of them knew when they were going to see each other again, if they would be seeing each other again at all.

No. She refused to think like that.

Abigail was about to speak when Ben looked down and away from her. He procured something from his coat, a carefully wrapped object in dark cloth. Whatever it was could fit in the palm of her hand, though upon closer inspection, it was a bigger than that.

He passed it to her, and she unwrapped it curiously. When the object was revealed, her breath caught in her throat. She currently held her father’s pistol in her hands, the very pistol that had been confiscated back at the British prison.

“Where… how…” Abigail began multiple times to formulate her question, but with every attempt, her throat tightened with emotion.

“Somehow Tobias managed to grab it,” Ben replied quietly, “when you were first brought down. He told me it was completely by chance that he discovered it, and once unsupervised, he retrieved it. He’s had it on him ever since.” He took in her watery gaze and smiled gently. “I think he planned on returning it to you himself, but he never got the chance. He wanted you to have it.”

Choked up, Abigail said, “Tell him…”

“I will,” he promised. His sincerity shone in his eyes, and she knew that sincerity ran deep. He never broke his word. If he had to, it was usually for a very good reason, though he loathed to do so. He was a man of honor in a world where that quality in a person was startlingly disheartening rarity.

It was one of the thousands of reasons why she loved him.

Tucking the pistol back in its cloth, she slipped it underneath her skirts and used this as a distraction to keep herself from looking at him. Because if she kept looking at him, her reluctance to leave him would only grow. “I’ll be seeing you.”

With a heavy heart, she turned around and walked away from him. She only made it a half dozen steps when she felt a hand on her wrist, jerking her around so that she was pressed up against a solid form.

“I… sorry,” Ben apologized breathlessly. He pressed his forehead against hers and squeezed his eyes shut before opening them again. A bleak smile formed along his lips. “I just wasn’t ready.”

Returning his smile, Abigail slipped her hands around the back of his neck and pulled him in close and pressed her mouth to his.

The kiss was tender, desperate, and far too brief for either of their liking, but it had to end. Closing her eyes, she murmured against his mouth, “Go.” She brushed one final kiss to his lips before rising on the tips of her toes to press another kiss to his forehead, unable to help herself.

She watched as he managed half a step backwards, his pained expression shaking her to the core. In that moment, she realized she was the one who had to leave. So without saying anything more, she turned on her heel and began to run, towards York City, towards her new, uncertain future and away from the (relative) safety of the Continental camp, away from Anna and Caleb, away from Ben.

Her tears ran down her face as he feet pounded along the forest floor. Whatever lied ahead of her now meant absolutely nothing as much as what she was leaving behind.

Chapter Text

Abigail awoke to the several things she had grown unaccustomed to, at least over the past three years: solid four walls and a feather bed mattress. Her head rested comfortably against a pleasantly plump pillow, one of perhaps the highest quality in the colonies if not imported directly from England itself.

She had been given one of Abby’s (Major John Andre’s current servant) borrowed nightgowns so that she could rest more comfortably after a delightfully warm bath and had been treated as chivalrously and as respectfully as any other woman, which said a lot about the British major’s character.

However, even with all of his gracious generosity, Abigail couldn’t quite shake the feeling of unbelonging, if that was even a word – of course, after much thought of course it wasn’t but it very well damned should be – a feeling that she wasn’t where she was supposed to be, not where she belonged. Not with who she belonged.

That person was worlds away from her now, and she had no one to blame but herself for it.

Even though she currently resided in room of comfort that only the best money could afford, she hadn’t slept well, barely a wink since she first arrived. Still sore and aching from her treatment in the British prison accompanied with days on horseback from the journey as well as the mile run through the woods to get inside the city, one would think she would have fallen fast asleep before her head had it the pillow, but it hadn’t. Instead, her mind had raced a thousand thoughts a minute, wondering and worrying and plotting and thinking until she eventually slipped into a fitful doze.

She sat up in bed, the comforter falling from across her chest and into her lap, before shifting so that she could place her feet firmly on the floor. The first thing she noticed in the room was the floor length mirror. Upon closer inspection of her reflection, she really did look worse for the wear. Dark circles under her eyes, her face pale and bruised, she looked every bit the part of the damsel in distress.

She could easily recall the look of deep pity in the major’s gaze as he had gotten a better look at her once she had managed to collect herself, his eyes kind, sympathetic promising of swift justice in her honor.

With a glance at the clock, she noticed it was nearly half past noon. Was that right? Had it been more than twelve hours since her arrival? Somehow, it felt a lot shorter than that.

But then again, last night would be one time could never make her forget.

---

Twelve Hours Prior

With a heavy sigh, John Andre adjusted the cufflinks of his uniform jacket, perhaps for the umpteenth time. This might or might not have had any reflection on his severe reluctance of attending the dinner this evening. It was nothing pertaining to official business, nothing to do with the war effort or intelligence gathering of any sort, nor was it an update on the current counterfeit plot to bankrupt the rebels. It had been merely a friendly gesture on part of the general, and if he hadn’t been John’s superior, he would have declined the invitation and felt no qualms about it.

But since the man was his superior, he felt obligated to attend, though there were other places he would rather be – in his study with a glass of brandy and wallowing in misery over a certain Philadelphia blonde socialite and what could have been.

“Now where have I put my…” John murmured, patting himself in search for his pocket watch. Blast, it wasn’t in his coat.

Spotting his servant Abigail’s son, Cicero, he greeted him with a somewhat distracted smile. “Ah, Cicero. Have you seen my…”

He trailed off when he looked up and saw the young man extend his hand out, the pocket watch resting in his palm. “Pocket watch. Good man.” John smiled gratefully. “Where was it anyway?”

Cicero remarked, “On your desk in your study, right next to your inkpot.” As if anticipating his suspicion, the boy’s eyes widened a little before hastily adding, “Not that I was going through your things.”

John smiled kindly. “I didn’t think you did.” Fishing out a schilling from his coin purse, he placed them in Cicero’s hands. “Take this for your diligence.”

Pleased, the boy smiled, “Thank you, sir,” before stepping into another room.

The British major had just pocketed his watch into his breast pocket when a sudden, furious knocking drew his attention towards the front door. “What on earth…”

He had his pistol drawn before he made it towards the door, but as soon as he opened it, the hand with the gun falling to his side in dismay.

Before him was a woman, battered and bruised, who gazed up at him with skittish, fearful eyes. She must have been resting heavily against the door, because when he opened the door, she pitched forward fell forward, prompting him to discard his weapon so that he could catch her before she crumbled to the floor.

“You must help me!” the woman begged him breathlessly, her slim body trembling tremendously. “Please. I… I don’t have anywhere else… to go. I… Please.” Her breathing became increasingly labored. “Don’t let them take me again!”

“Who?” he demanded, alarmed, but the only response he received was a choked off sob.

Gently, as if he were approaching a spooked animal, John tried to calm her and did his best to attempt to extract the full story from her, but when her breathing threatened to turn towards hyperventilation, he abandoned this tactic.

Instead, he shut the door and guided her towards the parlor. As he guided her, the woman apologized for her sudden appearance, but she had nowhere to turn. From the little information he gleaned from her in those few moments, she had apparently just escaped from her rebel captors and had nowhere to turn.

There wasn’t much else he could learn, given that she was half hysterical, and he wasn’t going to push her, not when it was apparent she had suffered a significantly traumatic ordeal already.

Once he helped eased her down into one of the plush, leather chairs near the fireplace, John summoned Cicero when he caught a glimpse of the boy passing near the foyer and asked for him to prepare a pot of tea. “Chamomile, preferably,” he added thoughtfully, recalling the calming effects of that particular tea blend. “Soothes the nerves and calms the spirit.”

“Yes, sir,” Cicero agreed, briefly eying the bereft woman with a mixture of wariness and curiosity before heading towards the kitchen to brew the pot of tea.

Now that the woman was sat in front of him, the British major had a better look at her. Her dress was all but in rags, torn and hanging from her frame as if something – or someone, he corrected darkly to himself – had tried to remove it from her. With her hands covering her face, he only caught glimpses of it, but he saw enough to know there were dark bruises coloring her cheeks, maybe even a cut along her bottom lip. Had she been struck perhaps? Punched?

His keen gaze caught sight of her wrists and barely concealed a sympathetic hiss at the sight of them, raw and black and blue. They must have been tied with something rough, like thick rope or perhaps even shackles.

John did his best not to push her while she composed herself. Experience, along with basic human decency, taught him well to never verbally accost someone who might have experienced sexual assault or attempted sexual assault, especially if that person was a woman. Chivalry and honor might no longer have had their place among those in the colonies, but for John, they were the fundamental truths that every man should abide by, should own and nurture.

Patiently, he waited and observed her quietly as her sobs gradually eased into sniffles. He reached inside his pocket and offered her a handkerchief, which she accepted gratefully, an almost sheepish smile settling at the corners of her mouth. His lips twitched upwards instinctively at the sight, which provided her expression which much more animation than she’d had several minutes prior.

By the time Cicero arrived with the tea tray and pot, the woman managed to compose herself long enough to provide an introduction. She introduced herself as Elizabeth Williams from Setauket. As he poured her a cup of tea, he must have made an inquiring expression, for she nodded and admitted that yes, she knew she was a little ways from home.

Once she had a bracing cup of chamomile tea in her system, John began gently, “I know you must have been through quite an ordeal, but I need you to tell me what happened, as much as you can and as much as you can remember, if we are to properly deal with these… men?” He hazarded a guess of the sex towards her captors. Judging by the woman’s shudder, his guess had been correct.

“I would hardly call them men. Beasts would be more like it,” Elizabeth Williams remarked softly. “Though that’s hardly a fair comparison on actual beasts.”

She then proceeded to tell him everything, about how rebel soldiers had captured her on her journey home to Setauket, how they had roughened her up before she unwillingly complied to go with them, and how they had kept her in solitary until they decided what to do with her afterword.

The fair-haired woman then described to him with detailed precision how they had strung her up, with her shackled wrists bound above her head, as one of the rebel soldiers had grabbed her between her legs, at which point John drew himself straight, his jaw tightening with growing disgust.

Throughout her account, John grew increasingly horrified and enraged at her treatment by these low lived men. Instinctively, he wanted to demand for physical descriptions of each of her captors, right down to the shape of their cuticles but thought better of it. As much as he wanted to see his men hang for this, it would be a crime – although perhaps not a legal crime – to push Elizabeth any farther than she had already managed to go. How she managed to escape her captors also crossed his mind, but that was another conversation best left for the morning.

“I promise you I will do everything in my power to see these men pay for their debauchery,” John swore, his eyes glimmering like a hound anticipating the hunt. If there was one thing he prided himself in, he was a man of his word. He never made promises he couldn’t keep.

“Thank you,” Elizabeth smiled faintly, her cheeks tear-stained and red. “I think I believe you. Forgive my hesitance, but I’m not in the best frame of mind at the moment, as I’m sure you understand.”

Nodding gravely in understanding, he offered her another cup of tea, which she accepted immediately, clutching the cup greedily as the warmth from the cup warmed her small hands. The poor thing must have had no rest for a number of days, let alone food or water.

“Do you have any family in the city?” he inquired gently.

Elizabeth shook her head slowly, her lips quivering slightly. “No. They’re… all sort of spread out. It’s only my father and I, and he’s traveling. He’s a doctor, you see, so it’s difficult to say where he would be.” After a moment or two, she added, her expression settling into one of guilt, “I was married, before all of this, but my husband abandoned me to join the rebels, leaving me with absolutely nothing.” Her guilt increased tenfold, and she dropped her gaze towards her cup.

John’s heart went out to her. To not only be attacked by rebel soldiers and have no family in the city but to lose her husband to fight with the very men who had attacked her, it was a wonder how she could even sit here and talk to him at all.

After a moment or two of deliberation, a decision formulated in his mind. “You can stay here, for as long as you need. At least until these men are apprehended.”

Elizabeth’s lips parted in a silent “o” of surprise. “But, sir, you don’t even know me. I mean, of course, I appreciate your generosity, but how can I impose on you in such a way?”

“You wouldn’t be imposing, since I had just made the offer,” John remarked, smiling kindly. “If it makes you feel better, you can just stay the night, and we can talk about your accommodations in more detail in the morning. But just so you know, my offer still stands.”

She bit her lower lip, conflicted. Gripping her hands together in her lap to control their trembling, she murmured demurely, graciously, “Thank you, sir. If there is any way that I can ever repay you…”

“Your safety and welfare is more than enough,” he responded, his kind smile still in place, “to give me peace of mind.”

Once the teapot was drained of its contents, John showed her to the guestroom where she would be spending the night. He asked Cicero to retrieve one of his mother’s night gowns from her quarters and promised to personally replace it while making a mental note to send Abigail to retrieve a dress for their guest when she returned tomorrow. He had a feeling Elizabeth’s exhaustion wouldn’t allow her to wake until well past noon.

Before the boy went off to retrieve it, he told him he would assist him in drawing a bath for their guest, realizing it was only fair for him to assist Cicero, after he sent a letter to the courier to deliver to the house of Officer Sanders to apologize for his absence from that evening’s dinner.

Although the circumstances were very unfortunate, John couldn’t help but be grateful for the reprieve. Elijah Sanders was a talented and efficient officer, but as a dinner companion, the man’s conversational skills left a lot to be desired. In short, the man was an absolute bore. He highly doubted that opinion would be highly contested among the rest of York City’s British elite either. His longwinded stories even inspired the most devoted Quakers to overindulge in drink.

---

Present Time

A gentle knock at the door lured Abigail out of her reverie.
Padding towards the sound of the knock, the blonde opened the door to reveal an all too familiar face.

“Elizabeth!” Abby exclaimed. Her eyes widened a little at her volume and immediately dropped a voice to a lower decibel.

Overwhelmed by the sight of a familiar and friendly face, the blonde embraced her without any warning, her arms wrapping around her middle. She heard Abby give a small noise of surprise but felt her return the hug nonetheless, even though whatever the other woman had been holding pressed between them.

Back in Setauket, the two women always had a fondness for each other. They had agreed to refer to each other by a shortened version of their name and their middle name respectfully to avoid any confusion. The blonde had always enjoyed this, feeling as if they had secret language that no one could break. Abby was the only person who ever referred to her solely as Elizabeth. Even the blonde’s father never had used her middle name unless it accompanied her first name whenever she had been in trouble.

“It’s been too long,” Abigail said after they broke away from the hug. “There’s so much for us to talk about.” She paused with a brief glance around their new surroundings. “Though I suspect we’ll have enough time to sort out a place to speak privately.” Recalling the mention of Cicero, the blonde added warmly, “I know you must be happy beyond words, now that you are reunited with your son.”

Abby’s smile was just shy of blinding at the mention of her beautiful son. Though their circumstances were less than ideal, her son was with her now, and that was more than she could ask for – although freedom and equality in a white male affirming world such as theirs would have been nice as well.

Her smile dimmed when she took in the sight of her friend’s face, however. “Oh, dear! What happened to you?” she frowned with worry.

Abigail shook her head a little, smiling slightly. “It’s for the best you don’t know about that, just in case you’re asked about it.”

She looked down and noticed the garment bag in the other woman’s arms and inquired curiously, “What do you have there?”

Holding up the bag, Abby remarked, “A new dress, compliments of Major Andre.”

With the door shut, Abby removed the dress from the bag and spread it out for inspection. It was a rather finely made dress, and on such short notice as well! The sleeves, bodice, and top skirt were a light golden color with in red and green floral patterns etched into the material. The underskirt was a shade lighter than the rest, with some sort of intricately designed etching strategically placed all around it.

Abby helped the blonde slip into the dress. Much to Abigail’s surprise, the dress fit almost perfectly. When she met her incredulous gaze in the mirror, Abby smiled, a little conspiringly, “When Major Andre mentioned the dress was for an Elizabeth from Setauket, I took a chance, since I remembered your measurements.”

Ordinarily, the blonde felt strange about being assisted with dressing and preparing for the day, but realizing this one would be one of the rare moments they would ever be alone, she gave in, letting Abby brush out the tangled mess that were her golden locks until they resembled the loose ringlets they had been once upon a time.

Culper was never mentioned in name, but they did touch upon the topic. Abigail didn’t go into as much detail as she would have liked – such as how exactly she had gotten involved in the first place – but she did mention she was a part of it and was tasked to help Abby in any way that she could. In the mirror, Abigail observed the other woman’s reaction carefully, and while she might not have appeared to have reacted much to her news, she could have sworn she detected a bit of relief in Abby’s warm brown eyes as she worked on a particularly stubborn lock with the brush.

At least the both of them had a friend on the inside now, someone who they could trust in a world where trust was difficult to find.

---

Over the course of the next two weeks, Abigail managed to find herself a making progress. Not the kind of progress that would necessarily be of use to anyone, such as information for Culper, however.

During her first few nights spent in Major Andre’s residence, she had awoken the household with her screaming from night terrors.

With each episode, she had been incredibly embarrassed and apologized profusely to the major, who had never failed to rush to her aid.

After assuring Abby and Cicero to return to bed when everything settled down, he would lead Abigail to his study, the pair of them still in their nightwear though conservatively concealed in their respective robes, and would pour them each a glass of brandy to calm the nerves. Then they would talk until she grew tired, which sometimes hadn’t been until the sun began to peak over the horizon.

During these moments, she learned a lot about the man himself, but nothing that would truly benefit Culper, though that didn’t necessarily bother her.

The sleep terrors became less and less of a frequent occurrence, which she considered a miraculous blessing, though it seemed both she and John had grown used to their midnight talks. She could tell he was pleased with her progress and not just from the night terrors. The bruises had nearly faded away, and she was much less skittish and frightened as she had been when she had first arrived.

Much to her growing dismay, Abigail had grown rather fond of the British major. This would only make her mission much more difficult, but she had no choice but to persevere, despite her feelings.

Of course, he was quite an attractive man at that, but she absolutely refused to allow her mind to go there. She had enough man trouble for a lifetime. Besides, hear heart belonged to someone else, another major and head of intelligence at that.

What on earth was that all about anyway?

Over the course of the second week, John had invited her to accompany him on some outings in an attempt to get her out of the house. The invitations were never prodding or insistent but instead were gentle and perhaps a tad persuasive. Initially, she had kindly turned down a few of his offers, uncertain whether or not she wanted to risk a chance of stepping outside the relative safety of his home. To him, it was because of her fear of her captors still running free, but to herself, it was much more complicated than that. What if she happened across someone who recognized her from Setauket? Or better yet, if someone recognized her from the camp?

This morning, however, would provide a different set of circumstances to be considered.

Every meal served under the major’s roof was nothing short of spectacular. Breakfast was no exception. Growing up, she and her father Thomas Williams, having never employed or partaken in the slave trade to have someone else cook for them, had always fended for themselves. Well, she had taken care of the meals as soon as she had been old enough, since her father had barely been able to cook a thing. But breakfast, that had been one of his very few areas of cooking expertise, although it hadn’t consisted of much – bread, cornmeal mush, and milk directly from their own cows.

Breakfast with John Andre, however, was a different experience. Poached eggs cooked to perfection accompanied with slices of savory ham and thick slices of artisanal white bread served with the heavenly aroma of black tea. It was a menu fit for members of the upper class and certainly fit for a royal officer. And if it tasted as half as delicious as it smelled, it would do in a pinch for the blonde.

And judging from past meals in his company, she already knew it would taste scrumptious.

“Every year around this time,” John remarked while buttering a slice of bread from his plate, “a group of us” – by “us”, she assumed he referred to redcoats, and as it turned out, she assumed correctly – “get together to put on a theatrical production of the failure of Guy Fawkes.”

Abigail raised her eyebrows with interest after lowering her tea cup from her lips. She licked away the remnants of the Lady Grey from her mouth. “A theatrical production? Is that a required component of royal officer training?” She smiled, teasing. “Training with weapons, becoming familiar with military hierarchy, reciting a little Shakespeare?”

Huffing out a surprised laugh, John turned his focus back to his plate a tad sheepishly. “Yes, it sounds odd, but it’s a way good way to promote solidarity, a small reprieve from the war.” He paused in slicing into the ham on his plate before asking, “I was wondering if you would like to accompany me.”

Judging by the slight lilt in his tone, Abigail figured he already anticipated what her response would be, given past experiences. She couldn’t blame him for that.

A twinge of guilt shot through her. Every time he extended an invitation to join him on an outing, she turned him down every time, and every time she did, she could have sworn she saw a spark of disappointment in his gaze every time. She hated to think she caused him any disappointment.

After taking another, considering sip of tea, Abigail remarked lightly, “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a live production.”

She caught a glimpse of his look of surprise out of the corner of her eye and hid her smile behind her cup as she agreed to accompany him. The production wasn’t until Friday, which gave her plenty of time to prepare. She suspected she would need another dress. Now all she had to do was figure out how to pay for one, not wanting to impose even further on the major’s generosity. More than likely, she would have to dip into her emergency stash of coins she had smuggled with her. Figuring out how she acquired the dress to him would have to wait until later.

After breakfast, the blonde headed outside into the gardens, the sight of lovely plants and creative landscape putting her at ease.

She hardly set foot into the garden when she felt a presence at her side. Cicero stood there, carefully sliding a small envelope into her hands.

“I was instructed make sure this reached your hands directly,” the boy answered her curious look.

“And who instructed you?” she inquired.

“One of the young street urchins in the market, ma’am.”

“And who told them to deliver this to you?”

“Whoever has connections with the letter writer, I believe, ma’am.”

Abigail had half a mind to insist on not calling her “ma’am”, but she realized it was a futile attempt. Instead, she accepted the letter and tucked it securely into her dress pocket, smiling gratefully at him. She thanked him with a light peck to his cheek and smothered a chuckle at his bashful reaction before he disappeared into the house.

Finding a remote location in the garden, Abigail covertly opened the letter and read its contents. It was clearly in code. Thankfully, she still remembered the majority of the coding lessons Ben had insisted on giving her when she had first expressed an interest in partaking in Culper.

The thought of him made her heart ache, but she quickly pushed the emotion aside, instead focusing on the signature at the letter’s conclusion.

B. Rooster. Who in the hell was B…

B. Rooster. Brewster. Oh, for heaven’s sake!

Shaking her head in mild amusement, she pocketed the letter and rose to her feet to return to her room, mentally composing a response for Cicero to return through Caleb’s unique communication channel. Caleb had written to more or less a request to establish a meeting of some sort, to check on things and receive any updates if she had any. She was to write a reply if she was able to meet.

Fortunately for them both, Abigail had the perfect meeting in mind. What better way to start off a night of theater than a secret meeting, preferably with the curtain falling without anyone breaking a leg. Or a neck.

Chapter Text

The theater was nearly filled to full capacity by the time Abigail and John arrived. Society ladies and gentlemen exited their carriages and trickled inside the building. Redcoats of various rank and size surrounded the building, scoping the area for sign of trouble before gradually making their way inside. She couldn’t recall the last time she saw this many redcoats in one place, except for the battle on Kerr Farm.

She had thrown herself to the mercy of the dressmaker, who had made the dress Abby had brought to her after her first night in the British major’s house, trusting the older woman’s instincts to tailor a dress to her person.

Well, perhaps she should have given the dressmaker a bit of direction after all. There was nothing specifically wrong with the dress; actually, it fit quite perfectly, a little form fitting perhaps. Lace tastefully trimmed the square neckline, which was slightly more revealing than she preferred, as well as the three quarter inch sleeves. The color of the dress itself was a two tone deep red. The rich red color drew in the eye, but the style and cut of the dress caused the eye to linger. With her golden locks brushed back into a delicately crafted bun where a few golden tendrils framed her face, she looked the picture of a society Loyalist lady, a look she neither wished to exude or found inconspicuous.

Besides, blue was by far her better color.

When she and John made it inside, they were approached by a few of his fellow officers, who greeted them in various stages of intoxication – or at least that was what she assumed from the smell of them. Imperceptibly, John eased himself between her and the men, picking up on the potential for trouble. Ever the perfect gentleman, even if he was a redcoat.

Introductions were dutifully made between herself and the three gentleman – a James Randall, a Gregory Smith, and a Lionel Edgar, all of whom held different ranks within the British army. Abigail mentally catalogued their names for possible future reference.

“Good to see you again, Major Andre,” intoned Lionel Edgar, the eldest of the trio. His white wig had been apparently buggered off to greener pastures, and his cheeks were bright with merriment and drink, his beady eyes practically dancing with amusement, which could only be found at the bottom of a bottle. “I hear some rumors flying about that our leading man may have fallen ill – some sort of stomach bug. Maybe you would like to take up the reins and show them how it’s done.”

John smiled with amusement but replied humbly, “I’m willing to offer guidance if needed but surely this is what understudies are for, yes?”

“Amateurs,” Gregory Smith mumbled into his ale, “who barely know the difference between their cock and a pistol, let alone the difference between upstage and down.”

John’s gaze sharpened on him. “I would ask you to hold your tongue, sir. There are women present.”

His gaze shifted back towards Abigail in apology, along with the sudden embarrassed and regretful expression of the younger man who uttered the slur, but the blonde was quick to brush away the offense. “No, I believe Mr. Smith has a point. If you don’t know how to cock your weapon, how on earth is one supposed to strut about on stage?”

Her words startled all four of the men, each staring at her in various stages of shock before the trio of men burst into laughter. Even John coughed lightly to conceal his chuckle.

“My, what a sharp tongue you have!” exclaimed James Randall, clearly the youngest of the men. He turned to John with a cheeky grin. “But that’s hardly a surprise, given Major Andre’s taste for sharp witted blondes.”

A hush fell over the group just then. Lionel and Gregory appeared uneasy and more than a little unnerved, both casting discouraging looks in young Randall’s direction.

Curious, Abigail observed the interesting reactions of the men before chancing a glance upwards at her companion only to discover the dark flush rising in John’s cheeks – whether from anger, embarrassment, or indignation was difficult to determine.

Sensing the potential catastrophe looming over all of their heads, she took this as an opportunity to intercede, pressing a firm hand on John’s arm while suggesting they should try to find their seats. After all, she didn’t want to miss a thing since it was her first play.

Grateful for her quick thinking, John excused himself from the group but not before throwing an icy glare at James Randall, who had grown rather subdued from his realized mistake.

“You are an angel of mercy,” John thanked her once they were a safe distance away from them. “And one of tolerance of that. I apologize for their behavior, Smith and Randall specifically.”

“The strange behaviors of men aren’t lost on me, major,” Abigail remarked, “having grown up with a rather interesting lot myself. My sensibilities aren’t easily offended.”

Especially from serving three point something years in the Continental Army and observing more crass talk than she would have liked, but now wasn’t the time to bring that up.

---

Roughly a little more than half an hour before the production was due to begin Abigail felt a light tap on her shoulder.

She looked over from her seat to see a tall, lanky lad right next to her, no older than the age of sixteen, eighteen maybe. His hair was almost perfectly coiffed if it weren’t for a stubborn ginger curl refusing stray from his forehead.

“Beg your pardon, madam,” he apologized quietly. He gave a brief cursory glance around the seating area before leaning forward, but as he did so, his pale, freckled cheeks became rosy. Abigail bit her lip to keep from smiling, already guessing why. “I believe there was a mix up with some of our women’s bags. A woman had returned with a bag, claiming to have made a mistake when looking for hers. Would you mind accompanying me to make sure nothing is out of place?”

Abigail caught a glimpse of his lapel as she considered his words, noting the green neckerchief tucked messily around his neck. It hardly matched the rest of his outfit, but the reason why he wore it was an obvious one, at least to those who were privy to its meeting.

“Of course,” Abigail agreed and rose to her feet to follow him. John had been cajoled and dragged backstage to attend to meet some of the actors, all redcoats apparently, so she wasn’t too concerned about losing him. As long as she returned before the curtain opened. “And what is your name, may I ask?”

A little taken aback, the boy stumbled over his words until he finally managed, “Seamus.”

“Ah, Seamus,” she smiled warmly. “A proper Irish name.”

Seamus flushed from her praise and led her through the small boxed seating area, and down the corridor, passing by the room which housed men’s jackets, and women’s cloaks and handbags. Abigail never brought a purse with her that evening, and the pair of them knew it.

It had been all previously arranged in the letter Caleb had sent her – Seamus, the green neckerchief, and the story to lure her away from prying eyes and listening ears. Everything else – the when, where, and how – had been left to her choosing, which she had promptly written him back.

And now their plan was coming to fruition.

They slipped out the building through the servants’ entrance, which guaranteed that no one would follow them. Seamus led her through the small, winding corridor and out the back door towards the connecting building of what she could only think could be an office for the owners of the theater house, though she wouldn’t place any money on that bet, if she had any money left to bet that is.

Once inside, Seamus turned to her and informed her he would give a distinctive three tap knock on the door to alert her if anyone was approaching. She thanked him kindly and suppressed another smile as he smiled shyly before slipping out the office.

“My, my. I think you’ve bewitched that poor lad,” came an all too familiar voice from behind the desk.

Abigail turned around sharply and watched as Caleb poked his head from underneath the desk, his beard having returned with a vengeance. She couldn’t help but ask, “How long have you been under there?”

“Too bloody long if you ask me,” he grumbled as he struggled to his feet, sighing in relief as he stretched his aching muscles. “Let me tell you, riding horseback at a breakneck speed and directly crawling underneath a desk with no respite ain’t an easy task.”

Once the pleasant grumblings aside, Caleb rounded the desk and met her halfway for an enthusiastic, warm hug. “It’s good to see you, Williams.”

“Likewise, Brewster. You have no idea,” Abigail responded in kind, tears prickling at the back of her eyes. Having grown accustomed to seeing the man just about every day in camp for the past three years, it was quite a shock not to see him as often. Now that he was there again, his friendly, humorous presence was a much welcome familiarity she desperately needed.

“It’s too bad I never took up drawing or painting,” Caleb remarked a moment or so after they broke apart. He appraised her with interest, which only made her raise a questioning eyebrow. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but Torey red suit you very well.”

“Oh, stop it!” Abigail groaned quietly and gave him a playful smack on the shoulder, which he took the full brunt of. Good man.

“No, no! I’m completely serious. I’ll have to commit as much of this as I can to memory,” he continued cheekily, “so I can give a proper account to the men back at camp. Give them some inspiration to keep on fighting.”

Abigail rolled her eyes, though a hint of a smile lingered on her lips. After serving in the army surrounding by a bunch of touch starved men – or at least women touch starved – his words did little to dismay her. However, she couldn’t help but wonder if he had intended for them to implicate two men in particular.

As if sensing the question in her mind, Caleb toned down the playfulness and offered her a sympathetic smile. “They’re both doing just fine, though Ben has remarked on more than one occasion how he would like to kill him, but I wouldn’t worry about it that much. Tobias vents the same to me whenever it’s just him and I.” He extended his arms in mock exasperation. “I have become the mediator.”

Abigail bit her lower lip guiltily, smiling faintly. “Not an easy task, I imagine.”

“It’s no picnic, that I can tell you, but that’s what we’re here to talk about.” Caleb pulled up a stool for her to sit before grabbing one for himself. As soon as she sat, he followed suit. “We’re here to talk about you. To make sure you’re all right. After everything.”

Her smile became more genuine. “Like a checkup?”

Caleb shrugged nonchalantly but his smile gave him away. “More or less.”

“I’m fine, now at least,” she said. “In the beginning, it wasn’t so… smooth. I had night terrors for first few nights. Woke up everyone, including the major, Abby, and her son.” She huffed out a tiny, humiliated laugh. “I felt so wretched for it.”

“But it was out of your control,” Caleb murmured, smiling gently. “It’s completely understandable.”

Abigail gave him another small smile before shifting to another topic. She informed him that she hadn’t gained much progress in knowledge collection, but she had gotten to know John Andre, the man himself rather than the British major and head of intelligence. Accepting his invitation to for the Guy Fawkes production had been the first step in the right direction.

By becoming more familiar with John’s inner circle and the workings of the British hold of York City, she believed she would have access to a vast wealth of information, and when she shared this with Caleb, he readily agreed.

With every possible detail considered, the pair agreed to biweekly letters with any updates she had for him as well as face-to-face meetings towards the end of each month. Caleb told her she needed to find an excuse to get away from those meetings, as discreet as possible so that she wouldn’t blow her cover. Nodding, she agreed and promised to come up with something.

She managed to return to her seat right before John returned from backstage minutes before opening curtain.

---

By all accounts, Abigail’s attendance had been a surprising, resounding success. The next morning over breakfast John shared with her all thoroughly she had managed to charm the three officers she had met as well as many of the other guests in attendance, so much so in fact that her presence had been requested to join a group of women for high tea.

Attending a society tea with a bunch of gossipy biddies was the last thing Abigail desired to do, but realizing this was an opportunity to glean more information on the redcoats – through their wives, fiancés, daughters, and sisters – the opportunity was too good to pass up.

However, after her first (ever) tea with these women, she actually contemplated if this opportunity was actually worth it.

These women, ranging in age but all sharing the commonality of vast wealth, discussed nothing of significance. Instead of discussing war efforts to best assist their men, the dominating subject of conversation was the scandalous affair of Penelope Halliwell having the audacity to apply too much rouge on her cheeks, especially considering she was married to Richard Halliwell, a prominent sort of fellow who came from some sort of old money or other.

Abigail hadn’t really paid much attention beyond delicately inhaling cup after cup of tea.

As much as she would’ve loved to cut her losses, she continued to attend these daily teas, partially because it gave her some sort of structure to her day but mostly it was due to the fact it gave her more opportunity to properly acquaint herself with York City society.

On one particularly sunny Thursday afternoon, Abigail reached her quota of pretentious, useless gossip and decided to make a suggestion, a rather counterproductive one at least on her part.

“While I agree there should be standards of propriety and… social responsibility,” Abigail began, coming on the heels of the conclusion of Mrs. Jenkins condemnation of the latest neckline style on dresses, which she believed to be far too revealing, “perhaps there is another route we can travel in discussing such matters.” A more productive way, she nearly said but knew that wouldn’t travel well with these women.

Beatrice Taylor, a comely brunette and closest to her own age and perhaps one of the more somewhat down to earth women of the group, eyed her with interest. “And what are you proposing?”

Suddenly, eyes of every woman present zeroed in on her, causing Abigail to shift slightly under the sudden attention. She wasn’t used to such scrutiny, often used to holding her tongue as the others discussed various hot topics of the day. For some reason, she couldn’t manage to keep up the routine.

“I’m proposing,” the blonde remarked, considering her words carefully, “that perhaps we can hold some sort of benefit or create some charity to support the Cause. Each one of you has a man fighting in the royal army. A husband, fiancé, brother, son. Shouldn’t we do something to help them? Wars can be awfully expensive.”

She paused for a moment, observing as she let her words soak in. After another pause, she continued, “We have a full room of intelligent, capable women,” all right, that may have been a bit of a stretch, “so surely we can figure something out, if we pull our resources together.”

Quiet murmurs of private discussions spread among the women like wildfire, their eyes alit with interest, though all discussion ceased when the frail yet regal hand of Mrs. Jenkins suddenly came up. Abigail bit her lip, nervous all over again.

A faint, rare smile slowly lit up the prim and proper older woman’s face. “That is a marvelous idea.” She gave a brief glance towards the ornate clock residing on the fireplace mantel. “One we’ll discuss in further detail at tomorrow’s tea.”

Abigail and Beatrice were the last to step out of the tea parlor and into the foyer where she spotted Major Andre himself approaching Mrs. Jenkins house through the large veranda window.

Apparently, Beatrice spotted him as well. She lightly grabbed Abigail on the arm, dropping her voice in a quiet murmur meant for her ears only, “I’ve heard from a little bird that a certain major is quite taken with you.”

Abigail blinked in surprise, her thoughts instinctively going to Ben, but then she remembered where she was. “And what major would that be, if I may be so bold to ask?”

The brunette lifted her chin in John’s direction with a barely suppressed smile. Abigail released a small huff of laughter and shook her head in mild dismay. “I hate to break it you, Beatrice, but the only feelings there are platonic. Major Andre was kind enough to take me in when I needed shelter. He’s a very kind man.”

“Mmm,” Beatrice hummed thoughtfully. “A very nice man who has abruptly visiting his other blonde lady friend around the time of your arrival.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Not Peggy Shippen of course,” Beatrice continued, as if she hadn’t spoken. “That little tart blonde prostitute who used to frequent his apartments.” She eyed Abigail coyly. “It seems his affections have shifted to another.”

Abigail’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t care for the implication, nor will I give any credence toward it.”

The brunette’s eyes widened, as if she realized what she had just said. “Oh, I would never imply that you were a woman of the evening, dear! I’m so dreadfully sorry if you thought that was my intention.”

Although she sounded completely sincere, Abigail was far too annoyed to give her a response, instead choosing to withdraw her arm from Beatrice’s hold and meet John half way up the walk towards the house.

“Ah, Ms. Williams,” the British greeted her, face brightening upon her arrival.

Abigail couldn’t help but smile, though her amusement clearly shown through. He lifted an inquisitive eyebrow, as if sensing her amusement, and more than a little curious.

After her first tea with those society women, he had asked if she had enjoyed herself. She had paused, asking if he truly desired her honest opinion, and when he had cautiously said yes, she had given her honest opinion, which had startled him into a near violent fit of laughter. Ever since, she would return from each tea and repeat very salacious detail to a surprisingly intrigued John Andre, especially when the gossip pertained to his fellow officers. It certainly provided to some insight into those who worked for him and above him.

So seeing his barely suppressed curiosity at her amused grin, Abigail felt inclined to indulge him. “It’s come to my attention that apparently you’re quite taken with me. Since you’ve been kind enough to take me in, of course.”

At John’s suddenly unreadable look, she continued, perhaps a little hurriedly, “You are a man of generosity and honor. I would never assume your feelings from idle gossip.” She paused carefully for a moment, considering her next words, before adding softly, “Especially since you have feelings for another.”

It obvious to discern a man who was in love versus a man who wasn’t. The way John carried himself, how he talked about the subject of love itself, it was very much apparent the man was in his own love story, though perhaps a tragic one.

“I promise not to speak of it again,” Abigail promised when his carefully concealed expression remained on his face.

After a moment, he blinked but then his expression cleared. “Well, let’s give them something to really talk about then, shall we?”

Before she knew what was happening, he lifted her hand and pressed his lips to the back of her hand. His eyes glimmered with mirth at her look of startled surprise.

From somewhere behind her, there was a collective feminine gasp, but Abigail refused to give them the satisfaction of turning around. Realizing what he had done, a slow grin slipped across her lips. “You’re just asking for trouble, aren’t you, major?”

He attempted a look of nonchalance, though his amused eyes gave him away. “Trouble has always plagued me. Why not entertain it a little?” He offered her his arm. “Ready to go, my dear?”

“Definitely,” Abigail murmured, still smiling at their inside joke as she accepted his arm and allowed him to escort her away from the house, away from the gossipy harpies.

---

Since the weather was warm and lovely, John and Abigail agreed to make the journey back to his home on foot. She eventually told him how the women had decided to do something to support the war effort, and from her stolen glance towards her walking companion, she could tell that John was pleased.

“And who do we have to thank for presenting this idea?” he asked as they passed a pair of society women being assisted into their carriage.

“It was a group decision,” Abigail remarked, though it hardly could be referred to as that. “Everything will be discussed in further detail at the next tea. Though it would be very helpful to get a relative idea of what we’re hoping to achieve – if your men are in need of more food rations, uniforms, or money, and the like.” She looked up at him hopefully and not at all circumspect, which she highly doubted she would have been able to pull off even if she tried.

Abigail knew she was being forward, a risk to her cover, but she would be foolish not to make such a request from a perfect resource. Under the guise of wanting to raise support for British troops, she would theoretically have access to their inventory, their financial state, and any and all amenities their men required, not to mention supplies. You didn’t necessarily have access to general’s battle plans and strategies. Having knowledge of their resources and exploiting that to the rebel’s advantage was just as important, at least in her eyes.

“I’ll see what I can scrounge up for you,” John remarked after barely a moment’s consideration. “Since it’s for such a very helpful cause.”

“Thank you,” Abigail replied, gratefulness radiating from her smile. Grateful for more reasons than one, though there was a twinge of guilt that lingered within her. She did her best to ignore it.

They had just returned to John’s estate when the thundering of hooves drew their attention back towards the property entrance. A redcoat, a relatively young one at that, eased his horse down into a trot and hardly gave the poor beast a chance to come to a complete halt before dismounting.

“Major,” the young redcoat greeted, panting. “I have some news from the general.”

Which general he was referring to way anyone’s guess, but Abigail wasn’t too concerned about what he had to say. What did concern her was the pallor in his cheeks, how he couldn’t seem to be able to hold himself still.

“Are you all right?” Abigail asked, unable to contain herself. She eyed him shrewdly, instinctively assessing him for any sign of ailment or injury. Pale, breathless, and swaying. That could be a number of things.

The young redcoat nodded, a bit slowly. “Yes, ma’am. Just been riding a bit of a ways. Ran into some trouble coming in. Nothing to worry about.”

Oh, yes, certainly nothing to worry about, even as he was beginning to slur his words.

“What kind of trouble?” John demanded. He was beginning to arrive to same conclusion Abigail was coming to.

The boy murmured something about a note and began to pat himself down almost absentmindedly. It wasn’t until he pulled back his hand, his palm was covered in a sticky red. A hit.

“We need to bring him inside,” Abigail urged, adrenaline kicking in. “I’ll alert Abigail to gather some hot water while Cicero…”

“Abigail has gone to Philadelphia, and Cicero has gone with her.”

“Well, then, grab this gentleman and bring inside, and I’ll look gather supplies myself.” Abigail rushed towards the front door and held it open so that John and the boy could stumble through, shutting it behind them as soon as they were inside.

Since she wasn’t sure what she was dealing with, she only went for the basics: clean cloth, a bucket of warm water, and brandy, both a rudimentary substitute for pure alcohol for cleansing a flesh wound as well as a decent pain numbing agent for the patient in question.

John had settled the boy on the first comfortable couch they had come across. The poor boy’s face was now covered in a sheen of sweat. It was a miracle he hadn’t bled out thus far over his travels.

She knelt beside him and rolled up her sleeves. While he was a redcoat and therefore an enemy, the blonde couldn’t very well in good conscience allow him to suffer or die, not if she was capable of helping him.

With her attention fully on the boy, Abigail hadn’t heard the footsteps or even registered the newcomers’ voices until she practically felt someone breathing down the back of her neck. And call her crazy but she had a feeling that person wasn’t John Andre.

“Let a doctor tend to him, madam,” a gruff voice suggested right over her shoulder. “There’s no reason to dirty yourself.”

She then felt a hand at her arm and immediately jerked it away before fixing the speaker with a remarkably cool glare. The speaker was yet another redcoats – blimey, they bred like flies, didn’t they – whose expression turned startled at the intensity of her glare.

“If you’re through interrupting me, perhaps I can help this man,” Abigail remarked coolly, her cover forgotten. Her patients came first. Turning her back on the redcoat, she continued to examine the boy, peeling back his layers of clothes until the wound was exposed.

A gunshot wound of course. She began to probe around the area of the wound carefully with her fingers, searching for any sign of a presence of the ball inside him. A flash of memory of her performing the exact same procedure on Christopher entered her mind, and with a great amount of pain, she forcefully pushed the memory aside.

He must have just gotten shot, considering the wound appeared relatively new. There was yet to be any inflammation around the wound, at least not that she could see. Informing the group as much, she requested supplies to help patch him up without even removing her gaze or probing hands away from her patient: clean strips of cloth, sewing string, a sewing needle, scissors, a forceps – if they had one, if not than a letter opener perhaps – and brandy. The brandy itself would serve as a numbing agent for the boy as well as helping her clean the wound.

When she heard only one pair of boots (John’s most likely) scuffle along the floor in search of her supplies, she added over her shoulder, “You can have the remaining bottle of brandy once I’m finished with it.” That seemed to be enough motivation to inspire the other redcoats who had only just arrived to kickstart their search.

Bloody British twats.

Roughly half past the hour, she had the majority of the supplies she needed. With John shrugging off his coat and kneeling beside her – the only other person to volunteer his assistance, mind you – together they worked, with the British major dutifully following her direction to a near perfect science.

The boy kept wincing and shifting underneath her probing fingers when she had initially assessed him. When she had picked up the forceps, he absolutely blanched in mute panic, which was why John took the initiative to ply him with as much brandy as possible. By the time John was through with him, the young redcoat could barely keep his head up or his eyes open, which was probably for the best.

It took a quite a bit of time and careful precision, but Abigail finally managed to get the ball out, although in pieces and shards. She hadn’t been able to locate one ball and had suspected the ball may have shattered when he had been struck. Her suspicion had been proven correct. She could only thank the high heavens nothing had been ruptured due to the shattered ball. That was a miracle in itself.

“Where did you learn how to do this?” John asked, fascinated and impressed as he continued to observe her ministrations.

A few hours had passed since the removal of the bullet, long enough to make sure inflammation wouldn’t set. She had hardly risen to retrieve some oil to dip the cloth in order to allow the fluids to escape the body more easily when the other officers had been all but insistent upon traveling to the next city over and even more insistent on bringing the boy with him. As much as she had protested he needed his rest, the gruff one that had tried to pull her off him just told her to stitch him up so that he could make the journey on his horse, giving his word the boy would get checked by a doctor as soon as they had gotten to their destination.

Abigail had been extremely displeased but did as he asked, knowing she could only do the best she could for the boy. Everything else was out of her control.

She poured a bit of the brandy into a small glass before dipping the needle into the glass, allowing the alcohol to cleanse it before reaching for the string in preparation to begin on the boy’s stitches.

“My father is a doctor,” Abigail began without removing her attention from her task. “He traveled often, performing house calls whenever he was summoned. Many times as a child, I would wake up early in the morning to see him off, remaining home with my mother and waiting eagerly for his return.” Her mother had died during childbirth, which was the falsehood in her story, but the rest of what she had shared thus far was true. A good lie was deeply rooted in being as close to the truth as possible.

Holding the needle by its flat side, she continued, “Sometimes, he would allow me to assist him but only on local calls.” Carefully, the thread went through the sewing needle after two attempts, and she pulled it through a bit more until it was adequately wrapped on the needle. “When he discovered I had an interest in healing, he allowed me to peruse his medical books, starting with the easier ones of course. He would only allow me to start proper procedures, suturing for instance, on injured animals that needed tending to.”

With a brief glimpse at the boy’s face to ascertain his level of consciousness, Abigail brought the forceps towards his skin, exposing the flesh towards the end of the right side of the wound, which granted her a better view and avoiding hitting any muscle she could possibly avoid. “It wasn’t until I was older did my father allow me to assist him with patients, starting out small of course.”

“Of course,” John remarked quietly, watching unflinchingly as she punctured the right side of the skin. It was roughly half a centimeter down from the end of the wound between the skin and the needle, twisting her hand ever so slightly clockwise for nearly half a circle. Slowly and carefully, she inserted the needle through the boy’s skin, making certain it exited on the inner side of the skin and went no deeper than half a centimeter or as close she could get to that measurement.

Her narration ceased, her need to concentrate outweighing everything else. She had only stitched a handful of patients from the Continental base, but even with that experience behind her as well as what she had just described to the major, anything could go wrong. This was why she often chose to remain on the side of caution.

The thread pierced through the skin, and she carefully continued to lace him up with the in-and-out pattern until the wound was sutured shut. Fortunately the wound had been a relatively small one, despite the ball had shattered inside him.

She took her time stitching him up, going even more slowly as she tied the string, cutting it off with the scissors, though she knew the boy would have to at least need a few hours to sleep off the effects of the brandy John had administered to him. Otherwise the young redcoat would fall off his horse before stepping out onto the street.

With this in mind, Abigail turned to the young redcoat’s fellow soldiers, superiors, whoever they were, and informed them as much that he was not fit to ride anywhere in his current condition and that perhaps they should allow him to sleep off the effects of the alcohol at an inn or wherever they had previously been quartered so that he could regain at least a quarter of his strength to ride.

When it was clear they didn’t like to be ordered about by a woman, John reiterated her orders in a more commanding manner, drawing himself to full height and rank at that. It was clear from the exchange between the three men he far outranked them. “I suggest you do as Ms. Williams suggested, in her own medical opinion, or perhaps I shall have you court-martialed for disobeying a direct order.”

“For disobeying a demand from this woman?” the older redcoat demanded, baffled.

“No,” John remarked, his smile unfriendly and sharp, “for disobeying a direct order from me.”

Needless to say, the other redcoats didn’t put up much of an argument after that.

Chapter Text

In a world where communication depending heavily on a system where a written response could take days, even weeks, to reach to someone, word traveled unusually fast in York City. Over the course of a matter of days, word had gone around of the blonde angel of healing who had saved a young redcoat’s life – believe her, those were not her words.

Before she knew what was happening, she began to follow in her father’s footsteps, arriving to calls when she was summoned, although she was not familiar with anyone who called her. However, that didn’t prevent her from making the rounds – from prominent redcoat families, merchant families, and to the destitute poor. Ranging from various ailments to physical injury, Abigail was certainly putting her experience and skills to the test.

With this new level of access, for the prominent redcoats and the wealthy class in particular, the blonde took full advantage in obtaining any information that she could get her hands on.

However, at the same time, she wasn’t above accepting money from her patients for her services, although she had never charged a patient before.

Before you judge her too harshly, she only charged the redcoat and wealthy patients, perhaps to a near point of exploitation, but considering their backgrounds of wealth, prestige, and the fact they were Torey bastards, she didn’t have any qualms about it. For the merchants who weren’t exactly Loyalists but were difficult to determine exactly what side they were on, she hardly charged them a thing. For the poor and destitute, whether Torey or Patriot, she never charged them a thing, knowing they were in no position to pay but also knowing it was the right thing to do.

The charges for her services weren’t for her own personal gain, at least not initially. The idea was to earn enough money that she felt appropriate would cover her stay with John Andre. It was the fair thing to do after all, so she believed.

When she had enough money to cover for rent, more than enough and a little bit extra to be more precise – because overcharging wealthy Torey families who could more than afford it was actually rather enjoyable – Abigail presented the money to John one evening in two small but full coin sacks and offered to him as rent.

Unfortunately, though predictably, the man was a stubborn mule and politely refused to accept her money he believed she rightfully earned. Although she tried to reason with him, her words fell on deaf ears, and she gave up relatively quickly, which of course was unusual for her. She had already made her mind up that she would return to his study and hide one of the purses in his desk drawer. Hopefully, he wouldn’t discover it until she was long gone, after the war was over.

The rest of the money she used to purchase more supplies – herbs, ointments, and the like which would be very useful to help her treat patients. At the apothecary she frequented for said purchases, she had her eye a medicine box the owner kept on display, knowing it would be perfect for her to travel with all of her medicines, herbs, and surgical tools. Within a few weeks times, perhaps a month, she would be able to afford it. Fingers crossed of course if it hadn’t been sold by then.

With this traveling healer-doctor job she obtained for herself, it gave her much better access to the city, which was also the perfect cover to sniff out Patriot inclined individuals. Secretly, she hoped to gain access to the Sons of Liberty, but she suspected she wouldn’t. They were a very difficult group to find it seemed.

It also provided her the perfect opportunity to continue her meetings with Caleb without raising suspicion.

Another two weeks had passed before Abigail received word of their next meeting. Same location, same time, at least what she read from Caleb’s coded letter delivered by Cicero – the office just over a dozen steps from the city’s theater building.

Fortunately, Abigail managed to formulate a plan which granted her the opportunity to attend the meeting while giving her a plausible cover for her absence from her dinner with Major Andre.

So at her tea with York City’s society women, she suggested hosting a charity event for British troops at the theater, a soiree of some sort. By all appearances, all the women seemed thrilled at the idea. Abigail volunteered to visit the theater later that evening herself, so that she could get an general since of the theater’s capacity and any possible fees for the theater owners.

What she hadn’t anticipated was Beatrice Taylor requesting to go with her as well. The Beatrice Taylor who had all but implied she was John Andre’s whore. Wonderful.

She warily agreed to meet her at the theater at six o’clock sharp. Her meeting with Caleb was at seven. It would be cutting it rather close, and she knew she would be a nervous wreck the entire time. Hopefully, none of that would come across to her new companion.

Abigail arrived at the theater nearly a quarter to the hour only find the comely brunette waiting for her inside her carriage, stepping out when Abigail came into her line of sight. The two women headed inside, initial attempts of conversation all but forced and strained. However, once they were inside, the focus shifted to the charity event, the tension forgotten.

While Beatrice might have thought the tension derived from her remarks from their previous tea, that was the furthest thing from the blonde’s mind. She glanced at the time every chance she managed a furtive look. Each minute that ticked away brought her meeting that much closer, making her all the more anxious to rid herself of Beatrice, thus keeping her true intentions hidden.

When it was nearly five minutes to seven, Abigail made multiple attempts to politely wrap up their evening, but infuriatingly Beatrice would keep finding topics to distract her with – level of security during the event, seating arrangements of donors and soldiers, and whether or not refreshments should be offered in the theater or if they should be presented in the theater annex.

With her keen sense of observation and organizational skills, Beatrice was the perfect socialite planner in training. Mrs. Jenkins would be so proud.

However, Abigail didn’t give one lick about any of it, although the charity had been her idea. And why should she? The charity was meant to help the enemy, and she wasn’t exactly a proud and true Torey. Contrary to compliments of her dress she wore to the Guy Fawkes production, she never considered red to be her color.

She had always been partial to blue.

When the brunette suggested going to examine the theater annex for the refreshment area, the very place Caleb was waiting for her, at least for fifteen minutes now – Abigail smoothly cut her off at the pass and steered her away from the theater annex with what she hoped was a convincing calmness. Inside, she was a bundle of anxiety.

“I’m sure we can make arrangements with the theater owners in the morning, yes?” Abigail suggested. “You must be exhausted, traveling all this way by carriage. You live outside the city, yes?”

“A little over a mile or so, yes,” Beatrice replied. “A lovely little manor in the countryside.”

“A good thing about a lengthy journey,” Abigail continued, “is that it gives one plenty of time to think. In your case, you have a lot of planning to do.”

“Planning?”

“For the charity event, of course. Clearly, you have a much better eye for detail than I. Plus, you have far more connections than I could ever hope to obtain.” She placed her hand on Beatrice’s arm as she began to walk her out the theater.

With her finding herself following her father’s footsteps, Abigail had little to no time to plan a charity event, but what she did have time for was pawning off the tasks on someone else. That someone being Beatrice. Perhaps buttering her up with flattery and self-deprecating remarks would convince Beatrice to take up the task. And if she were being honest with herself, which she usually was, this was a task at which the brunette could excel.

She could see that the seed was planted, but it needed a bit more to grow, so she added, “I’ll be with you every step of the way. Major Andre has already agreed to give me the figures of supplies the sold… our men need. That much is taken care of. But the event itself, the décor, the food, the security, the seating – any vital components of any successful charity event – is in your capable hands.

“And if you need any advice,” Abigail concluded once they stepped out into the evening air, “I’m sure the other ladies from our tea will be more than happy to help you, seeing as how many of them have experience in organizing such events.”

“That’s true,” Beatrice murmured, expression thoughtful and more than a little pleased with Abigail’s praise.

Mission accomplished.

As soon as they made it to the brunette’s carriage, Abigail feigned forgetting something in the theater and needed to retrieve it. When Beatrice asked if she wanted her to wait for her, the blonde waved her off, claiming her ride was arriving at any moment. The other woman accepted her words at face value and stepped into her carriage without a second thought.

It wasn’t until she was out of sight did Abigail turn on her heel and scurry back inside, walking briskly through the theater, into the annex, and towards the office.

She knocked three times, as per the agreement, before quietly and quickly letting herself inside, shutting the door behind her.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” she apologized, sighing heavily. “There were some complications…”

“Well, I’m glad that you’re here now. Though you did have me worried for a while there.”

Lips parting in surprise, Abigail’s grip tightened on the doorknob.

That wasn’t a voice she expected.

She whirled around and stood there, eyes widened in shock. “You’re not Caleb.”

“Not exactly the reaction I was hoping for,” Ben replied, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards slightly, “but I should know better than to try and predict you by now.”

Without uttering another word, Abigail launched herself towards him, her arms going around his shoulders. She nuzzled her face against his neck, sighing contently as she felt his arms snake around her waist and pulling her against him in a near vicelike grip. She didn’t mind his grip. In fact, she welcomed it and snuggled even closer.

“Hi,” she said, her voice muffled against his coat collar.

“Hi,” Ben repeated softly, squeezing her tight. “I know I’m not Caleb, but I had to see for myself that you were all right.”

Abigail pressed a kiss to the side of his neck and smiled when he inhaled sharply. “A month is far too long.”

“I couldn’t agree more.” She nestled against him, stubbornly refusing to release him, but he didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he shared the sentiment, not once removing his arms from around her waist.

She felt a gentle nudging against her neck, then a little higher along her jaw. It didn’t take her long to figure out what he wanted, what they both wanted.

What they both needed.

Their last kiss had been in the forest when he had been forced to drop her off for Washington’s plan to transfer her to York City. Every night since then she found herself remembering the kiss, the press of his lips and the warmth of his breath against her mouth before sleep lured her into its clutches. Even after the nightmares first plagued her, just thinking of Ben and his protective, warm embrace comforted her.

Ben kissed her within an inch of her life, and she returned his fervor with fire. She nipped at his lower lip and was very much satisfied when he gave a quiet grunt of approval.

An all too familiar warm, tingling feeling burned deep in her belly, though as much as she wanted to give into the temptation, neither of them could afford to do so.

Ben seemed to be of the same mind about it, as reluctant as he was to release her. She didn’t step out of his arms completely, only putting enough distance so that she could fully see his face.

Before they could get down to business though, Abigail couldn’t help but notice something she definitely should have noticed while she had been kissing him. “You’re scruffy again,” she remarked as she touched his jaw.

“I didn’t have time for a shave before I set out,” he remarked, “though I seem to recall you liking this look on me.”

Abigail grinned. “I really do. But you’re not helping matters any now, are you?”

Ben’s grin was sharp and wicked. He leaned forward to steal another kiss, but Abigail leaned back, evading him while placing a finger to his lips. “Ah, ah. At ease, major.” She suppressed a giggle but barely. “Don’t you want your information or not?”

“I do, but first…” He brought his hands up to cup her face, dropping his playful demeanor to assess her carefully.

She knew what he was doing without any explanation. She looked almost starkly different from the last time he had seen her. The bruises had long since faded, with the cut on her lower lip healing quite nicely. With a more consistent diet of breakfasts dinners, she looked healthy, almost as healthy as she had been prior to her enlistment. It was amazing how much difference a month could make.

But if it meant giving up any and all personal progress to be with him again, even if it meant returning to camp as Thomas Williams again and all of the struggle that came with it, she knew without a doubt what her choice would be.

She remained silent while he continued to look her over, enjoying the gentle brushing of his fingers far too much but regretting it for a moment. It wasn’t until she caught him frowning that she realized her eyelids had fallen shut.

“Caleb told me about the nightmares,” the major spoke softly, his expression pained.

“They’re not so bad anymore,” she assured him, running her hands down the front of his dark grey coat. Her attempt at a smile was weak at best. “I hardly have them now.”

“I wish I could’ve been there for you. I should’ve been there for you.”

“You’re here now,” she said, snuggling closer to him. “You being here is more than enough.”

Eventually, they managed to shift the conversation back to the intention of the meeting at hand. When asked if she had any updates for him, she began with her patching up a redcoat soldier and how it had presented her the opportunity of the homes of wealthy Torey families and redcoats. She smiled a bit cheekily when she mentioned overcharging the bastards and grinned even more when Ben had to duck his head against his shoulder to smother his chuckles.

“But that was after I suggested starting a charity at a high society tea to raise money for the boys in red, of course.”

The major’s chuckles ceased, and he pulled back to look at her with a frown. “And why, may I ask?”

“Wellll…” Abigail began, perhaps a bit too lightly given the situation. Almost absentmindedly, her hands slowly worked at the collar of his coat and took her sweet time smoothing it down. “I figured if I couldn’t get any battle strategies out of Andre, I figured obtaining information on their supplies would be a start. Material for uniforms – cotton for shirts, trousers, metal for buttons, leather for shoes, etcetera – food rations, materials for tents, camp cooking supplies, and the like.”

Smoothing down an invisible crease along his shoulder, Abigail continued, “Honestly, the idea was spur of the moment and not a calculated tactical maneuver, but I thought why not.”

There was a prolonged silence. The longer he didn’t respond, the more nervous she because, but she refused to let it show. But when he finally returned her gaze, she could see more than a hint of pride in his gaze. “That’s actually rather brilliant.”

“Thank you. Now hopefully my efforts don’t help them.”

He snorted lightly. “Yes, let’s hope not.”

She then told him of her progress with Major John Andre, and she spoke of him honestly.

“It’s… this is much more difficult than I thought it would be,” Abigail admitted, lowering her gaze. “I’ve gotten to know the man. Not just John Andre the British major and head of intelligence but the man himself. He’s been incredibly kind to me.”

She hid her face against his chest and groaned. “Why does he have to be a redcoat?”

“Reconnaissance is a very difficult road to travel,” he murmured. He began to rub soothing circles into the small of her back, slowly and firmly. It was wonderfully relaxing. “I tried to warn you.”

“I understand just how difficult it can be, trust me. But I never thought it would be like this. Maybe that makes me a fool, I don’t know.” She sighed. “Even though he’s the enemy, I still feel guilty. I didn’t ask to find out he’s actually a good man.”

She felt him tense against her briefly, but she caught it nonetheless. “And just how close have you gotten to him?” he asked carefully after some time of silence.

Abigail pulled back, frowning at him. “What exactly are you implying?”

“Should I be worried?”

Irritation flared inside her, but for once, she was far too exhausted to start a