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To View Me With Indulgence

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The elevator in the Gender and Sexuality Studies building is out of order again, and Alexander is fairly certain it may be the result of the impatient way he bounces on the balls of his feet every time he rides it up to the third floor. Its isn’t exactly his fault the rest of the world moves too slowly for him. Strands of his black hair slipping out of his ponytail (which had, for the record, been immaculate just hours before), he bounds up the staircase two steps at a time.

The halls of the university’s humanities building are as familiar to him as the lines on his palm. It isn’t really his ideal plan, staying behind at Liberty University for a Master’s degree after having already completed his undergrad there the year before. But his student loans are piling up, he has a steady part time job at the library, and moving across the country – paying the tuition at the university he wants to be at – would have bankrupted him before he even boarded the plane. No, he thinks, blowing a puff of air out of the side of his mouth as he moves at a steady clip down the hallway. It isn’t ideal, but there’s only one way to get a full ride to study at the Bersani Institute, and he’ll be damned if he takes that shot before his hand is steady. Another degree, a publishable thesis, and few more community service projects won’t hurt. So, here he is again. Another crisp fall morning to start the semester, this time as an interdisciplinary MA student in Sexuality Studies and Political Theory, somehow already bone-weary and over-caffeinated.

“Alexander!” Eliza’s chipper voice breaks through the silence of the faculty offices as soon as he enters the reception area. A sunny grin breaks out over his own face, and he slides Eliza’s favourite chai latte over the reception desk to her with a cheesy bow.

“Ms. Schuyler, light of my life, best thing about this department, savior of my unmanageable timetable,” Alex smiles, taking a swig of his own black coffee and leaning jauntily against Eliza’s reception desk.

“I would say I missed you, if you hadn’t been in here every week of summer break pestering me about breaking to assistant professors’ offices to steal you the overdue library books you wanted,” Eliza says with a glint in her eye.

“In my defense,” Alex starts, raising a finger to begin his tirade about poor hiring decisions and the questionable work ethics of temporary staff.

Eliza grabs it. It’s nothing she hadn’t heard (weekly) before, Alexander knows. “I know,” she says. “Tell me about your application. Did you get it sent off? I know you wanted to have it off of your plate before classes started.”

A parade of emotions cross Alexander’s face, from wild hope to premature defeat to a determined resoluteness. Despite his bravado, he knows Eliza can see right through him. “Sent it all off this morning,” he says, recalling his shaking fingers and his first cup of coffee at his tiny, cramped desk in his tiny, cramped apartment. “My CV, my transcript, my personal statement, and all of the reference letters.” He makes a show of wiping his hands on one another with a forced smile. “Now we wait.” For something that will inevitably end in disappointment and with me burying yet another dream, he adds silently. He doesn’t want to think about the scholarship application right now. He just wants to do what he does best: keep his head down and work.

“So,” he says a bit louder than is strictly necessary. “You got the stuff?” he quirks an eyebrow to make Eliza smile, throw her off the scent of the panic that has been simmering under his skin. Eliza, to her credit, reaches for a dossier that she has at the ready on her desk. Bless her, Alex thinks. Always knows when to stop pushing it.

“Voila. Your office assignment, your final class schedule, your teaching assistantship information and your tutorial group and, most importantly, your thesis supervisor appointment.”

Alex rips it open, grateful to have something solid under his hands, something concrete to prepare himself for the weeks ahead. He’s been waiting for this. He flips through the stack of papers. He’ll be sharing an office with his roommate and best friend, John Laurens, and TAing for an undergraduate introductory class on the politics of sex ed. Score. He skips past his class schedule (which he has already memorized), landing finally on the stack of papers that detail his thesis supervision and requirements.

He scans down the page, reading a mile a minute. 50,000 words, MLA format, formal defense scheduled for April 2nd, blah blah blah. He knows all of this, had sought out the information when he was restless and had started working on it already in his spare time. He continues flipping until he reaches the final page. He freezes.

Thesis supervisor: Dr. George Washington.

“Uhhhh, ‘Liza?” he stutters, only partially realizing that his confusion is registering out loud. “Who approved this?”

Eliza tilts her head, scanning over the page from across her reception desk.

“I mean I know the department assigns supervisors but who…? Was it Dr. Schuyler – er, Angelica? Dr. Washington never takes MA students. Like, he rarely ever takes PhD students, never has the time, rarely has the interest, as he says,” Alex rambles, feeling heat spread along his cheekbones for a reason that he can’t quite pinpoint. “Has he been informed or do I have to…?”

“Ah, that. No, actually Dr. Washington requested you, Alex. He seemed quite genuinely interested in your idea, and in your previous work. And you know Angelica. She was only too happy to sign off on it, after all the extra energy that she usually has to spend convincing George to take supervisions.”

Alex looks up and searches Eliza’s face for some deeper meaning, but there’s nothing but her openness and her annoyingly persistent compassion.

He suddenly feels very young, remembering all of the moments during his undergrad when he’d interrupted Eliza’s workday mid-afternoon to complain about his exams or to beg for a spare office to catch a five-minute nap before he collapsed, bringing her a latte in return. He remembers how he’d sought out Eliza’s warm maternal energy, not even being able to name that which he so sorely lacked. “Right.”

He will do better this year. He has to. No weaknesses, no interruptions. Head down. Work. Especially now that Dr. Washington –

“Don’t worry,” Eliza says softly, seeming to read Alex’s worry in his eyes. “I know he’s intimidating but once you get to know him, you’ll see. He’s going to love you.”

“Sure,” Alex says. He shoves the rest of the papers haphazardly into his cheap messenger bag, and brushes a strand of hair away from his face, feeling a dark resoluteness settling behind his eyes. He’d been downplaying it before, even to himself. There is so much on the line this year, and he needs to ace this thesis. Work harder than he ever has before. Blow them all away, one last time. Blow Washington away. “I gotta go Eliza, thanks for everything.”

He’s bounding back down the stairs before his mind can catch up.

-.-.-.-

When Alexander walks through the door to his apartment after a day of running errands, buying books, and thinking about Dr. Washington, John has two take-out containers of Thai food on the counter and Netflix loaded on his laptop. Knowing that he’ll have to start saying no as soon as the semester ramps up, Alex gratefully concedes to John’s offering of a relaxing night in.

He’s happy like this – as happy as he figures he can be. He feels the kind of peace that you feel watching thunderclouds roll towards you – the feeling of knowing that, just for a moment, he’s safe inside, can watch the storm pass from behind the windows. John sits behind him on the couch, his deft fingers massaging the knots that have already started to form between Alexander’s shoulder blades. As he listens to his roommate chatter happily on about his own thesis (an ethnographic study of the gay POC behind the grassroots protest movement in DC), he tries to get out of his own head.

“I just can’t believe that Dr. Schuyler herself agreed to supervise me. I mean, did you know she was one of the organizers of the immigration reform protests in 2006? This year is going to fucking rock.”

“Yeah,” Alex says half-heartedly. John halts his massage and spins him around, the forkful of noodles still hanging out of Alex’s mouth.

“Okay, what happened today? You left the apartment walking easily fifty miles an hour, but ever since you got back you’ve been killing me with the puppy dog eyes.”

Alex sighs. “Nothing happened. Well, I found out that Dr. Washington is my supervisor. But it’s nothing. Right?”

John slaps Alexander on the shoulder, an infectious freckled grin spreading over his face. “What! Why the fuck does that warrant puppy dog eyes? You’re telling me you just bagged the most influential queer theorist in the country as your supervisor and you’re, what, upset about it? The Alexander Hamilton I know would have burned through seven books right now in preparation for your first meeting… no, he would have just barged into G. Wash’s office and started a meeting! What’s the deal?”

“Okay, do you remember when you and I met in first year?” Alex quips, desperate to wipe the smirk off of John’s face. “Remember how I decided that I was going to write an undergraduate thesis in second year just so I could start applying to present at conferences?”

“Yeah, and I remember how you did it.”

“On my own. Unsupervised. But before I started, I sort of… did barge in to Washington’s office. As a first year undergrad with absolutely no impulse control wearing a baggy sweatshirt that I hadn’t changed out of in about six days. Gave him an impromptu pitch about the politics of AIDs memorialization and how it intersected with the temporality of social media without stopping for breath. Yeah.”

“Shit,” John’s eyes widen. “Bet that went over well.”

Alexander rolls his eyes, sinking back into the couch cushions. “He gave me this look, like he could see right through me, and like he wasn’t seeing much of anything. After staring at me for a good two minutes, he told me to come back when I had ‘digested some of that knowledge’. And then he actually got out of his chair, came over to me, and escorted me out of his office. Definitely my finest moment.”

Alex remembers the burning shame that had lingered behind his cheeks for days afterwards, the anger that had settled in his clenched fists.

“So… so what? He probably doesn’t even remember you. It was five minutes, four years ago.” John ran a hand through Alexander’s hair, an old technique from before that always comforted him. “You’ve changed a lot since then, Alex,” he says gently. “Just walk in there, and show him who Alexander Hamilton has become.”

Alexander’s stubborn silence makes his skin itch.

“What would you be doing differently if any other professor was your supervisor?” John asks.

“I wouldn’t be doing anything differently…” Alex trails off. It isn’t about what he has the capability of doing, he knows that. He knows he’s one of the top undergraduate scholars in his field, he had fucking worked for it. And he’d done it all with Washington’s cursory dismissal plaguing him, driving him on like a cattle prod. He had spoken to the man once. And yet, for three years, it had been the searing memory of his dark brown eyes that kept Alex up at night, that had kept him going for one more paragraph, just one more chapter, just a little more than he thought he had to give. It had never been to impress Washington. No – that burning anger and the trademark clench of Alex’s jaw gave it away. He had built himself up to show Washington that he had been wrong for underestimating him. He wanted the man to feel the opportunity he had missed. He wanted Washington to not be able to stop thinking about him.

And now, after four years of controversial papers, gratuitous public rants and inopportune campus protests, it’s Washington requesting to work with him. And if he’s being honest, he can’t parse how he feels about it. He doesn’t know whether he can live up to the ephemera of himself that Washington’s lingering essence had made him into. “I just have a lot to prove.”

“So prove it,” John says simply. “You’re Alexander fucking Hamilton. You’ve blown everyone out of the water in every single possible way already, and this year is not going to be any different. You’ve always told me that the reason you gravitated towards queer theory is because it was the only field where fucking up people’s bullshit assumptions was the mandate, and pleasure of expression was the vehicle. So go fuck some shit up, and then write it so eloquently that the politicians you’re lobbying don’t understand that they’re having their own egos shoved up their asses. And you know that’s what Washington is good at too. You’ll be perfect for each other.”

John’s phone vibrates loudly on the coffee table, and he reaches for it, Alex catching a glimpse of the Grindr logo as it whizzes by his head.

“Ooh,” John says, flipping the phone around to show Alex a photo of a well-built man with a buzzcut pulling a generic pose in front of a mirror. “Chris, 24, Beyoncé lyrics in the bio. I think he would look good on me, what do you think?”

Alex shoves a forkful of noodles into his mouth so he doesn’t have to fake a smile, and nods his approval.

“And he wants to go dancing at Jack’s first. Damn.” He looks up from the response he’s typing to spare Alex a glance. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Nah, go have fun,” Alex says, missing John’s closeness already. “I do have a thesis meeting to prepare for, after all.”

John’s already pulling his hair up, shucking his sweatpants to replace them with skinny jeans. Alex watches as he moves through the apartment, making sure the eyeliner he applies is perfect, and comparing two identically tight v-necks. It reminds Alex of the bright spots of their brief relationship, which had given way to a much more comfortable friendship after a few tense months. John’s beauty – that grace he knows he will never quite get over – still stuns him sometimes, and now it prompts a gnawing emptiness in his stomach. He can’t ask John to stay. They’ve had this talk many times – if they aren’t going to be anything beyond platonic, there can’t be any jealousy or interference whenever one of them wanted to date, or fuck. And Alex likes that, really. He had done his fair share of the latter over the years, one night stands to keep the edge off. Now isn’t the time for separation anxiety.

He quietly disappears into his room before he has to watch John leave. He pushes the books he’d fallen asleep reading out of his bed, clearing the space for himself. His body feels numb – he doesn’t know what he needs. Instinctively, he reaches into his boxers and curls a hand around his cock, trying to mirror the deftness of John’s fingers and the care in his touch. His stomach recoils at the idea, cutting down the timid beginnings of his arousal. The fantasy feels empty, because it is.

This isn’t care, he decides. It’s just the fantasy of it, and there isn’t much more pathetic than that.

He’s missing something. He has been for a long time, he thinks. He can’t articulate what it is, but he feels its absence looming over him like a thunderhead, threatening to crack.

He sighs deeply, frees his hand from his boxers and sits up, winding both of his arms around his knees. At the very least, the electricity crackling beneath his skin propels him out of his pity, and back into the pace his mind is used to working at. He flicks on his lamp, sets himself up with a book.

He has work to do. He has someone to finally and unequivocally prove wrong. 

Chapter Text

Two days pass, the semester starts in earnest, and Alex sleeps three hours total, maybe. The closer he gets to Thursday – the day Eliza arranged for his first meeting with Washington – the more he realizes that it isn’t necessarily the thesis meeting he should be worried about.

It’s the vetting that immediately proceeds it.

Dr. Schuyler looks immaculate, as usual, in her dark dress and blazer. When she had replaced Abigail Adams (a staunch second-wave feminist who had been subtly discriminating against queer professors for decades under the safety of tenure) as the head of Gender and Sexuality Studies two years prior, the whole department had flourished. Alexander has a good relationship with Angelica, if he’s judging by the knowing looks she gives him whenever she has to extend a stiffly formal congratulatory letter to mark his achievements, or by the number of times they’ve run into each other at protests. Still, she has a wicked cold poker face (one that she’d had to sharpen into a weapon to make it through the world as a feminist of colour), and it terrifies Alexander just a little bit.

“Mr. Hamilton,” she says, the moment he steps into her office. “Welcome back.”

“Dr. Schuyler,” he smiles. “Pleasure, as always.”

“This is just a standard meeting to ensure that we have everything in order for your thesis, and to go over any concerns that arise,” Angelica begins. 

Alex knows exactly what’s coming. It’s why he did so much work during the summer, and why he has three completed research papers in his messenger bag.

“As you know, Alexander, a thesis topic like this never would have flown in this department a few years ago. And while you know I am personally in support, I need to do my due-diligence to ensure that you are not, in fact, doing this for the pleasure of riling up our more conservative colleagues.” She meets his eyes, and reads the working title he’d noted on his proposal paperwork. “Cultural Representations of Intergenerational Desire in Among Queer Men and the Politics of Sexual Citizenship.”

Alexander sucks in a deep breath – enough, he hopes, to last him through the rant he’s prepared. “As you know, Dr. Schuyler, I’m a double major student in political theory – ”

“Is there a reason you’re not doing this thesis in that department then?” she interrupts.

“Yes. Because the political science faculty are all assholes and I’m using them for their books.” He sees the quirk of a smile creep onto Angelica’s face at that. “Political theory – or, whatever the hell those idiots think those two words mean – ground to a halt in the 80s. Systems have been stalling, there’s no new knowledge moving forward, not really. Doing something like this with someone who already sees the value of queer theory, while still slipping their techniques and frameworks into the background so its transferrable, that’s the only way to break into the old boys’ club over there. They faint as soon as you start talking about gay sex. If you throw age difference in there they have coronaries.”

Alexander produces the first paper he had prepared, slaps it onto Angelica’s desk. Political Theory and the Erosion of Queer Intellectual Intervention: A Generational Study by Alexander Hamilton. Angelica nods curtly.

“Writing this thesis would have the effect of actually demonstrating how particular types of sexualization in public discourse effect political processes. If you re-read Gayle Rubin’s Thinking Sex,” Alexander barrels on, “you’ll see that queer relationships with age disparities remain the final taboo that our society refuses to engage with. Everything else – sex outside of marriage, interracial relationships, gay sexuality, transgender identity – has been at least taken up publicly in the past ten years. And yet sex that crosses generational boundaries remains a phantom to summon when you want to send the masses into a moral panic, even it occurs legally between consenting adults. Why? That’s what I want to figure out.”

Angelica gives him another nod, motions for him to go on.

“And that leads to queer politics. The sexuality of gay men was historically demonized and linked to pedophilia” he says as he produces the second paper he’d written, A Historical Study of The Social Construction of Queerness and Pedophilia by Alexander Hamilton, “and civil activists worked to erase this for decades as they moved towards assimilation politics. It still lurks beneath conceptions of gay identity, though, paradoxically as the predatory behavior of straight men becomes more widely recognized.”

“If you say the name Weinstein in my office I will punch you,” Angelica mutters. Alex winces remembering the number of media calls she’d had to field when the story broke. It was one of the few times the media had sought out feminist academics, and Angelica had been put through the wringer by a number of media outlets.

“Right. The funny thing is, a lot of the new generation of politically queer people still won’t touch intergenerational relationships with a ten-foot pole. Openly, at least. It conflicts too much with consent-based analyses of sexual power dynamics, which prevail on forums like Tumblr. And of course, all this is happening just as straight people can’t seem to stop glorifying sugar daddy culture.” He lays his third paper in front of her. Discourse, Daddies, and Dirty Little Secrets: A Corpus Analysis of Intergenerational Sex on Social Media by Alexander Hamilton. Yeah, that one had been fun.

“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen though,” he says, pulling the only paper he didn’t write out of his bag. “These are statistics taken from a study from the Kinsey institute showing how many queer men had been in erotic relationships that crossed generational boundaries over the course of their lives. There’s this… eroticism about it that’s always been a thing in our communities.” Alex starts to talk with his hands, leaning forward until his elbows meet Angelica’s desk.

“That’s where you’re going to get pushback, Alexander. Nothing you’ve said has been wrong, and that’s precisely the problem. No one talks about it. There’s a reason for that.” Angelica says, her face expressionless.

Alexander tries to discern whether “there’s a reason” means Angelica thinks he’s asking an interesting question or whether it means that Angelica herself thinks it shouldn’t be talked about.

“Exactly,” Alexander ventures cautiously. “And my point is that this is having an effect on political processes in terms of the negotiation of identity within bids of sexual citizenship. Which then splits political alliances, undermines a hell of a lot of activism, and gives the religious right leverage over all of our communities. This research will expose that, and – if I can mobilize it – it will help put us on equal footing.”

Angelica sighs, but Alexander can sense that it’s a sigh of concession and not frustration.

“So you’re making the statement that – ”

“That consenting adults should be able to explore whatever sexual power dynamics and fuck whoever they want? Yes. And that it’s a highly political act that we can use to our advantage? Abso-fucking-lutely.”

“You’re shooting for the full ride at the Bersani Institute, yes? I wrote a reference letter for you.” Angelica meets his eyes fully. She doesn’t look exasperated like she sometimes does after his rants. She just looks concerned.

“Yes.” Alex gulps.

“Do you think a thesis of this nature will affect the legitimacy of your candidacy for that scholarship in any way?”

Alexander can sense the question that she’s really asking. If he thinks the topic might screw his reputation for the scholarship, there’s every risk of it damaging the reputation of the GSS department at Liberty.

“Not at all,” Alexander says, returning her stare with equal intensity. “I think it will show them that I’m willing to do the kind of work that it takes to move things forward. In fact, I think its exactly what they’re looking for.”

“You know I don’t make a habit of rejecting thesis proposals, Mr. Hamilton.”

Alex holds his breath.

“And I’m not about to start. If there is anyone with the mind to make this work, its you. But please keep in mind the internal politics that we have in a department like this. Not everyone is going to agree with you, and you’re diving into a moral minefield in terms of the political stances of this university. That being said,” Angelica hands him back his papers, trusting his work enough not to need to read them, “if anyone gives you trouble, send them directly to me.”

A smile breaks out over Alexander’s face, reaching right to his eyes. “I won’t let you down, boss.”

“Oh, I know,” Angelica says. Alexander begins to walk out of her office, glancing down as his watch. Five minutes until his meeting with Washington.

“And Alexander?” Angelica says as he leaves. “I can see why George wanted to work with you.”

He doesn’t have time to process what that means.

-.-.-.-.-

Alex lands in front of Eliza’s desk with four minutes to spare until Washington, rapidly pulling his hair out of its loose ponytail and reworking it into a bun, tucking stray strands behind his ears as he goes. Eliza regards him as he smooths his black blazer over his chest, tucks his shirt into his jeans for the third time, and repeats the process.

“Alexander, you look fine,” Eliza says. “You look great. If you needed to dress up for thesis meetings. Which you know you don’t.”

He tried to tamper the blaze of panic building like a headache behind his eyes. “First impressions,” he mutters, tugging at his collar.

Eliza chuckles. “Second impressions, isn’t it? And trust me, literally anything you could wear would top first-year-Alex, king of slouch, sworn enemy of laundry.”

Alex straightens his spine, raises his chin. “Ms. Schuyler.” Gives Eliza his most dazzling smile. “Kindly shut up.”

Eliza winks at him playfully. “Only if you stop worrying. You did just make it through my sister, after all. The worst is over.”

-.-.-.-.-

He tries to pretend that he doesn’t stand outside Washington’s office door for two minutes deciding whether to knock, having flashbacks to the last time he’d stood here and imagining every way he could get himself escorted out again. If I’m not good enough

He breathes. Builds himself up. Reminds himself, in a quiet voice that most of him refuses to hear, that the cockiness has only ever been an act, anyway. An act that he needs to slip into, quickly, no matter how small he’s feeling. Fake it till you make it had served him well, and he has to rely on it now. He squares his shoulders, finds his bite.

He knocks.

“Come in,” a deep baritone comes from behind the wooden door. Softer than Alex had remembered. Shit.

“Dr. Washington, sir,” Alex pushes open the door, walks into the office. He would have offered his hand to shake – that had been his plan, anyway – but the professor is seated behind his sizable mahogany desk, a pair of reading glasses mounted on his nose, lost in a stack of papers that he’s reading, tracing one line of text with a fingertip. Alex’s breath catches in his throat, and he fights the urge to cough. To overanalyze.

It’s a good ten seconds before Washington finishes his sentence, removes his glasses, and looks up. Something flashes in his eyes as they meet Alexander’s, holding his gaze for a beat too long. Seeing right through you, something in Alex’s brain broadcasts. Just like last time. But Alexander steels his expression, remembers to breathe.

“Sit down, my boy,” Washington gestures, his eyes kinder. “Make yourself comfortable.”

Alex obeys the former. He isn’t sure he could accomplish the latter if he tried. Washington isn’t dressed the way that most of Alexander’s stodgy political theory professors dress. Instead, the man wears an expensive looking black shirt under a fitted canvas jacket which betrays the muscle evident in his arms. The fit of the jacket reminds Alex of the fact that Washington had served in the army, which he’d learned scouring Washington’s Wikipedia page for the eighth time last night. He reads the remnants of that lifestyle in the set of Washington’s jaw, too, and in his stoic shoulders.

Alex feels overly formal and underdressed all at once. Fuck. He fidgets in his seat.

“Eliza has been kind enough to inform me that you’ve done quite a bit of prep work already.”

“Yes, sir,” Alexander produces his stack of reflection papers, as well as the bibliography he’d started to compile. “I assume you’ve read the proposal, so what I’ve done here is –”

Washington cuts him off. “Relax, son. I’ve read your proposal. I read through most of what you’ve published. It’s been a while since I’ve taken on a Master’s student, let alone one with your accolades. I wanted to make sure that we would mesh.” He accepts the stack of papers that Alexander placed in front of him, skimming them. Alex thinks he sees an impressed look flicker across Washington’s features, just for a second, before he sheaths the papers in his desk drawer. “I’ll read them tonight. Now, I’m more interested in getting to know you, and getting a better feel for your goals here.”

“What’s your story?” Washington looks at him expectantly, so Alexander goes with the short version.

“I grew up in Nevis, my mom and I ended up coming to the U.S. as climate refugees after a hurricane hit. We got lost in the system, she ended up getting sick and we couldn’t afford healthcare. After she was gone I bounced around the system for a while. School was sort of my only stability. I made it out of high school with good marks, thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I decided to do liberal arts here as a pre-law, but couldn’t stop getting into arguments with the law faculty because they’ve all got identical homophobic sticks up their asses. Ironically.” He pauses, surprised, when Washington lets out an amused chuckle.

“I happened to be in a GSS elective at the time,” Alex continues, “and it was the only place I could find anyone with informed enough opinions to debate. Not to mention the only place other people were willing to actually get up and do something to fight for what’s right, not just sit and write policy about it. I figured it was the best place for me.” He looks up at Washington, realizing that he’s still listening. Alex is used to having to work harder for that, and it throws him.

“I would concur,” Washington says simply. “So the thesis?”

“Something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.” Alexander launches into the spiel he gave Dr. Schuyler, explaining the intersection of politics and the cultural depiction of intergenerational gay desire. Washington listens.

“You’re missing something,” the professor says when Alex finishes. “You’ve got this sophisticated theoretical basis and your analysis has a strong political direction, but this feels like a political science thesis, not a queer theory thesis, son.”

Alexander can feel his hackles rise, his defensive nature come out of hiding. He opens his mouth, meaning to dig deeper into the theory, meaning to clarify the intersections.

Instead, what he says is “I’m not your son.”

Washington watches him, a question etched into his face. He doesn’t ask it. Instead, he says, “You’re missing the lived element, and you’re missing the eroticism. If you’re going to write this as a queer theory thesis – under my supervision – that’s what has to come to the forefront. Because it’s clear to me, as it should be to you, that the fact of that eroticism is the crux of the issue here. Is it not?”

The fight is there, balled in Alexander’s fists again, but it doesn’t boil over. He needs this to go well. He has a hell of a lot to prove, and to assume that he knows more than Dr. Washington on the first day would be fatal. He nods. “Yes.”

Washington stands, and Alexander’s heart stutters, fearing another escort out the office door, a condescending hand on his shoulder. It doesn’t happen. Instead, Washington finds two books from the shelves that line the wall behind them. He hands them to Alexander. “You need to start with the history. It’s a community thing. Intergenerational sex has a lot to do with the passage of information through gay communities in particularly homophobic time periods. These should help.”

Alex glances at the titles. A historical survey, a novel by Edmund White, both Washington’s personal copies. He hasn’t read either. “Thank you, sir.”

“You’re ahead already, s-” Washington bites off the word before it comes out, seeming to remember Alexander’s request. “I’m quite impressed.”

As much as Alexander yearns for praise, he never quite knows how to respond to it. An empty beat of silence passes before Washington speaks again.

“Alexander, I would like if this could be more than just an academic supervision.”

Alex blinks.

“By which I mean,” Washington continues. “I’ve read through your application for the Bersani Institute. I knew the man who founded it, actually. And when you get invited to interview – and you will get invited to interview – I want to be able to help you with that. It takes more than brains to be an academic. It takes a bit of polish as well.”

Alexander wishes he could pinpoint the source of the blush spreading up his cheeks, if only so he could cut it off more quickly. “That’s incredibly generous, Dr. Washington, you don’t have to…”

“I don’t have to. I would like to.” Washington states. “I think that we should meet weekly, rather than biweekly, to give us more time. Would you be amenable? Does this time work for you regularly?”

“Yes,” Alexander breathes.

“Good.” Washington crosses the office towards him, finally offering his hand to shake Alexander’s, pulling him out of his chair. “Let’s cut things short today. I want to have time to go over your papers tonight. You go home, read those. Let me know your thoughts.”

“Yes sir,” Alexander lets himself be steered towards the doorway by his supervisor’s hand on his shoulder. It's the déjà vu he’s been dreading, but somehow it doesn't sting as much as he thought it would.

“Have a good afternoon, Alexander.”

Alexander nods, walking away as the door shuts behind him. He places Washington’s books in his bag, tugs his hair out of its bun, letting it fall around his shoulders. He exhales.

The warmth of Washington’s hand lingering on his shoulder, he runs to the university centre, buys a coffee, and reads until the sun goes down.

Chapter Text

If Alexander finishes both of Washington’s books the night he receives them, its because they’re good books. Nothing more than that. And if he makes his way through the library stacks afterwards, checking out another volume of Edmund White’s short stories, its because he’s taken off guard by how the narrative sweeps him up. He’s never really been one for novels, especially ones centered on relationships, and he much prefers theory he can sink his teeth into. But there is something about White’s steady prose, his unabashed honesty and the tangible desire that marks the pages that works its way beneath Alexander’s skin. It makes him think; displaces everything he thought he knew.

He supposes Washington was right.

He is missing something.

He stumbles home later than he should, and John is already asleep. He brushes away the pang of disappointment he feels; he knows he can’t expect John to wait up for him, and even if he had – even if he’d asked about Alex’s day – Alex isn’t sure what words he’d be able to summon to tell him. Even worse, he can’t seem to pinpoint why it is that all of his reliable words have suddenly abandoned him.

Knowing he has a class to TA in the morning, Alexander strips off his clothes quickly, trying to ignore the fact of his body, which is stiff from hours sequestered in a crappy library chair and feels inexplicably warm, like there’s a low flame still being stoked beneath his skin. He showers, brushes out his hair, decides to leave the stubble. Lays in bed and forces himself not to read – he knows he needs sleep – but a narrative runs through his mind like a motion picture regardless. In it, there is too much soft skin against hard muscle, helplessness against calloused hands and a sharp sense of protection, possession. He recognizes its resonances from the novel, and remembers why it was that he stopped reading them in the first place.

-.-.-.-.-

In the morning there is coffee, an all-too chipper John rushing off to some fundraising board meeting, and Alexander desperately trying to memorize the names of the five students in his tutorial group before he heads off to his first lecture.

It’s Aaron Burr that Alexander is TAing under, which he had known going in but had conveniently forgotten until Burr starts his lecture by insisting that the students call him “Professor Burr”. He’s been in the department for almost 4 years now trying to finish his dissertation, and Angelica had finally caved and given him an intro class to teach. Fiddling with his pen, Alexander almost mutters to the student seated beside him that only nervous PhD candidates with imposter syndrome and multiple sticks up their asses want to be called “Professor”. He stops himself, barely. He is a TA now, after all, not the shit disturber he’d been the last time he was in this lecture hall. If there’s one thing he misses about being an undergrad, it’s that: not having to bite his tongue.

He plans on taking lecture notes to help him run his tutorial group – he wants to be good at this, wants to prove his teaching skills as a matter of principle. He doesn’t plan on everything that comes out of Burr’s mouth being so asinine that he can’t do himself the disservice of seeing it written on paper.

The class is on the politics of sexual education, and the first lecture is – of course – on abstinence-only education in the southern states. And Burr – fucking slimy-ass-won’t-stop-smiling Burr – decides this would be a great first topic for a group discussion.

The freshmen are mostly too terrified to speak up, especially on something as contentious as the sex-ed that most of them had probably only just finished going through. It doesn’t take long, though, for the ends of the spectrum to emerge.

It starts with a smarmy white guy – the type who only takes gender studies classes to pick up girls – making an argument for religious freedom. “If our perception of sex is built on a system of morals, and morals are defined by the collective, shouldn’t their primary service be to the community? If coming together around a religious belief about sexuality brings a community together, that’s going to be in the best interests of everyone, economically speaking. You can’t just force people to defile their kids based on some unfounded secular morality.”

Just as Alex is thinking that he’d really like to wipe the smug smile off of the guy’s face, and before Burr can cut in, someone in the front row nearly jumps out of their seat. “Defile their kids, are you fucking kidding me? The Christian faith has a long history of sexual assault by clergy members, and if we were to do away with this mask of morality maybe people would have enough knowledge to actually understand and be able to defend themselves against literal rapists.”

A series of nervous titters goes through the room. Alex remembers this kind of classroom debate. He had been, after all, usually the one on the defensive. This should be about when Burr steps in, the tension teetering just on this side of respectful for academic debate. But he stands there, looking impervious, that stupid blank smile on his face.

“That’s a little extreme, isn’t it?” the white dude shoots back, a snarl building in his voice. “First of all, that statistic has probably been blown way out of proportion by some liberal propaganda rag. Second of all, even if you could argue that comprehensive sex ed can be a protective measure, that doesn’t speak to the harms that would follow from exposing young children to lifestyle choices like homosexuality.”

The reaction from the class is mostly shocked silence this time, though the student next to Alex mutters a quiet “what the fuck” under their breath. Alexander stares at Burr, waiting for him to interject. He knows exactly what he would say were he standing at the front of the room, knows just how to redirect the discussion back to the lecture material, but it isn’t like he can undermine Burr’s authority in front of a hundred undergrads in the first week.

The girl in the front stands fully now, turning back to face her classmate. “Did you seriously just say we need to protect kids from homosexuality? So you’d rather just shove oppressive ideology down their throats than present a realistic picture of a free society?”

“If you call sodomy realistic – ”

“Okay!” Burr claps his hands like a kindergarten teacher. Still smiling. “You’ve both made great points,” he says.

What in the fucking world? Alex tightens his grip on his pen.

“Let’s circle this back around to politics. This gentleman is right that the meanings we attach to sex and sex education are culturally relevant. Even though most of us may hold more liberal views, does that mean we should impose those views on other cultures?”

What kind of centrist bullshit…?

“Compromising cultural autonomy is ultimately a disruption of choice,” Burr drawls on. “So how do we balance what may the in the best interest of a few kids, and what has proven to be in the best interest of the community?”

What are you even saying, Burr?

“Excuse me, Mr. Hamilton?”

Shit. He hadn’t meant to say that out loud. He’s about to apologize when he catches the insufferable look on future-southern-congressman’s face and forgets how to keep his mouth shut.

“I said you’re not saying anything. If you’re going to mount that argument, isn’t absitance-only education also an erosion of the free choice of the students? Empowerment can only be accessed through knowledge, and constrained choice is never fully choice, so if we’re talking about safety and best interest, its hard to see how this is even up for debate.”

Burr looks like he wants to bore a hole straight through Alex’s skull. That paired with his terrifyingly constant plastic smile isn’t exactly a good look.

“Well, that’s what this class is for,” Burr beams at the room. “Learning through friendly debate.”

Friendly debate?” Alexander scoffs. “I’m all for debate, but before we do that we need to recognize the ideologies that are framing our comments here.” He glances around quickly. All eyes on him. It fuels him. “You’ve also left unacknowledged an openly homophobic comment in a class on sexuality, which seems a bit worrisome even for you, Burr. Good debate can only happen on equal footing and that doesn’t seem to exist right now, so may I suggest we return to the lecture?”

What he’s said is tame, by Alexander Hamilton standards, but it definitely wasn’t his place. He knows he’s overstepped, but fuck does he love seeing it written all over Burr’s stupid face.

“A good suggestion, Mr. Hamilton. But may I remind you – ”

Alex doesn’t plan on sticking around to have his ass handed to him in front of these students. He grabs his bag and starts towards the door. He can see Burr’s hackles rise.

“I’ll see you in my office after class, Hamilton!” Burr shouts, an edge to his usually schooled tone.

Alex stops in the doorway. Turns back. “You don’t have an office, Aaron,” he says with the smarmiest fake smile he can muster. “You have sad little room that you share with all of the rest of the PhD students whose funding has run out. See you next week!”

He leaves, his heart pounding. He knows, deep down, how royally he’s fucked himself, but the adrenaline keeps him mercifully numb to it.

-.-.-.-.-.-

Alexander is really not one for the gym – its usually John’s game, and he’s gone once or twice to spot him – but after his exchange with Burr he desperately needs to blow off steam. He needs to not think about walking about into that classroom next week, or ever. Needs to completely erase the possibility of being chastised by Angelica. Of this becoming somehow blown out of proportion before his scholarship application goes through. He figures his choices are either running on a treadmill or running into moving traffic, at this point, so he walks briskly to the rec centre, grinding his teeth the whole way. He doesn’t notice himself picking at a hangnail on his thumb until there’s a small smear of blood rushing towards his palm. He hadn’t even felt it – all he can feel is the pounding of anger in his head and the numbness of his frustration.

He remembers he really does hate the gym the moment he steps inside the locker room. Alexander knows he isn’t unfit, per se, but he’s no work of art either. He shoves his bag in a locker, takes off his sweater, and heads upstairs, ready to scream. He eyes the machines but feels like mounting one of the shiny, overstated stationary bikes would feel a bit too much like surrender. He just wants to run. To move. Wants to feel the potential of running away, pounding out his indignity on pavement.

His fitted khakis and the black t-shirt he’d been wearing under his “I’m-a-real-academic-I-swear” sweater aren’t exactly proper workout attire, but he can’t bring himself to care. He heads for the running track that loops around the skating rink, liking the feeling of the chilled air against his hot skin. He runs. He runs hard, faster than he probably should, having not even bothered to stretch. He knows he’ll be sore tomorrow but he stops giving a fuck once his breath surrenders to its own control and he feels his mind begin to clear. He doesn’t mind the pain, really. He wants to hurt.

He doesn’t know why he closes his eyes. He doesn’t even really notice that they’re closed until he hits something hard. Then he’s flat on his back with a hurdle he hadn’t noticed looming in front of him, and embarrassment creeping up his cheeks. Wonderful. He can’t bring himself to look around to see if anyone noticed. So he just lays there on the track. Absolutely amazing first day. You’re a fucking champ.

“Oh my god, are you okay?” the warm, slightly-accented voice comes from above him. Alex reluctantly squints one eye open.

Alex had only ever taken one Classics class, but the man kneeling next to him causes his brain to rapidly start rhyming off the names of Greek gods.

“Uhh…” Alex tries to sit up. His stomach flips (probably from the head rush, he justifies). “Yeah. Sorry. Yeah, I’m okay.”

The man cracks a brilliant smile, highlighting the creases around his eyes. He stands (jesus christ he’s tall, Alex notes), offers Alexander a hand. As Alex stands he can’t help the eyeful he gets of the man’s body, clad in black leggings that are tighter than they have any right to be, and a muscle shirt which is extremely well suited to its purpose.

“I’m Gilbert,” the man says, as Alex finally pins down his provincial French accent. “I appreciate your Danny Zuko moment. I’ve always wanted to wear a poodle skirt.” He winks and chuckles to himself, which has the effect of washing away Alex’s embarrassment in one fell swoop.

Okay, he thinks. So maybe bad days can get better.

“I’m Alexander,” he says, squeezing the hand that had pulled him off the ground because a full handshake feels too formal. “And I appreciate it. Does this mean I get to take you to the big dance-off?”

Its cheesy. But god, it’s been months since he’s properly flirted with someone. He hadn’t realized how strangely tense he’d been since the whole Washington supervision had started, how unmoored he had been feeling. Gilbert – with his accent and his shining eyes and his friendly eagerness – seems to ground him somehow. Not to mention those muscles… but Alex barely lets himself look, keeping his eyes fixed on the taller man’s.

“Only if you’ve got a pretty car outside,” Gilbert winks again, releasing his hand but holding his gaze. “So, Alexandre, do you come here often?”

Seeing the way that Gilbert casually leans against the track’s fence, the easily beautiful arc of his spine, the angle of his sharp hips beneath the thin fabric of his leggings, makes Alexander want to say yes. “Just blowing off some steam, actually,” he settles against the fence, tugging a bit at the messy ponytail he’d pulled his hair into. “Rough day at the office, I guess you could say.”

The taller man regards him for a moment, his eyes gently sweeping over his body (which Alex wishes he could mask, or fix, or make harder, somehow). The hint of a smile plays on his lips. Finally, seeming to consider his words carefully, he says “I am just heading to a yoga class. Would you like to join me? Perhaps it would help you unwind a little.”

It’s not a good idea. It’s really not. It doesn’t stop Alexander from wanting to follow this man wherever he feels like leading, from wanting to delve into that intoxicating ambiguity, the sense of something he’s not quite able to pin down. He’s fascinated. But he really can’t do yoga, and doesn’t feel like falling flat on his face again. And he does have a lot of work to do. And, mostly, he can still feel his anger simmering under his skin, and he’s been known to make historically bad choices when he’s worked up like this.

It’s hard but, he forces it out anyway. “I can’t today. I would like to. But I can't.”

Gilbert almost looks disappointed, but shrugs good-naturedly. “Perhaps another time? I come here quite often.”

He doesn’t offer a phone number, or anything beyond a loaded look which pierces through Alexander. It’s enough, somehow.

“It’s a date.” Alexander smiles, grasping onto the last vestiges of the high of the other man’s energy. “I’ll bring the poodle skirts.”

“I’ll see you around, Alexandre.”

There’s no schedule set, but it doesn’t seem to matter. It can't be about that for Alex anyway. Gilbert – whoever he is– is astronomically out of Alexander’s league. Which isn’t to say he can’t appreciate the interest. He does. But he knows potential disaster when he sees it, and Greek gods aren’t really supposed to sleep with mortals, anyway.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-

Alex packs up quickly after that, wanting to get home, to bury himself in some distraction that has nothing to do with Aaron Burr’s attitude problem or gorgeous men at the gym. As he’s walking out of the rec center he catches a glimpse of a green army coat and tries to ignore the whiplash in his heartrate that seems to follow from the sight.

Since when do I fucking care if Washington goes to the gym? Alex presses two fingers against the pulse point on his neck, an old technique he uses to ground himself back into his body. Unmoored.

There’s less than a week until their next meeting. It’s the nerves, Alex decides. They’re still not fully under control but Alex knows he’s getting there. He knows that flying feeling in his stomach whenever he thinks about his supervisor will stop, eventually. He picks up the pace, suddenly driven to get back to the stack of books sitting next to his mattress.

And if he can’t stop picturing how Washington’s muscles would look in the tight muscle shirt Gilbert had been wearing, it’s probably some weird fucking psychoanalytic juxtaposition bullshit. Nothing more than that.

Chapter Text

By the time Thursday rolls around, Alexander has molded himself into a state of perfect focus. Since the Burr incident, he’s had good enough reason to avoid campus (and his inbox, which is full of multiple emails from Angelica requesting a meeting, requesting he apologize to Burr, and requesting any sort of response at all, as well as one from Eliza asking if he needs anything). The repulsion he feels when he thinks about dealing with that particular mess propels him into working on his thesis non-stop.

He continues working through his reading list, organizes outlines, writes down discussion points he wants to take up with Washington. Damn if he’s going to be caught speechless in front of him again. This time, he’s going to be eloquent, he’s going to be Alexander Hamilton, even if he has to spoon-feed himself his own words ahead of time.

He dresses in the nicest pair of navy slacks he has, a white button-down, his favourite belt. He had bought them in second year, after he’d realized that looking halfway professional did in fact grease the wheels if he wanted more seasoned academics to take him seriously. They’d served him well, and he doesn’t exactly have the money to buy new ones, so he forgives the fact that they're just on this side of too-tight. He pulls his hair up into a bun, determined that there will be nothing messy about this, not this time.

He doesn’t let himself think about the meeting beforehand. He doesn’t wait around on campus. He blasts stupid music into his ears at dangerously high volumes and only strides into the GSS building a handful of minutes before his scheduled meeting time. Eliza isn’t there (which part of him is grateful for, because there’s nothing he wants to talk about less that Burr right now), so he leaves her usual latte on her desk with a hastily doodled sticky note with a lion and a heart on it. He doesn’t let himself stop moving to feel the chaos of his heartbeat – just adjusts his messenger bag over his shoulder and strides into Washington’s office.

His professor is sitting at his desk, cell phone in hand, seemingly waiting for Alexander. Alex doesn’t allow his movement to stutter this time – he just projects the confidence that has almost entirely abandoned him and slides into the chair before Washington’s desk without greeting.

“Well, if it isn’t Liberty’s rogue teaching assistant,” Washington smirks, and Alexander is fairly certain he reads approval somewhere in there.

“In my defense!” Alexander starts, but doesn’t feel the need to continue when he’s met with a warm chuckle. It’s the second one he’s earned, he notes somewhere deep in his brain. It feels like an accomplishment.

“No need to defend yourself, Alexander. Seeing Burr break down even peripherally is quite enough of a reward.”

“Oh my god, did he cry?” Alex leans forward, rests his forearms on Washington’s desk.

“No, unfortunately,” Washington shakes his head. “But he did pace around our reception area for about half an hour muttering to himself furiously about how you’re relentless and have nothing to lose, or something in that vein. It was amusing.”

Alexander snorts. “Mission accomplished, then.”

“From the buzz I’ve heard since, it sounds like you were doing the right thing, in any case.”

Alexander nods, doesn’t give into the temptation to rehash the scene in front of his supervisor. Washington already knows, sounds like he’s on his side, and Alex remembers that while it may be cannon fodder for bonding here, not everyone in the department sees it in a humorous light. “I hope so, sir.”

“Don’t worry about Burr,” Washington adds. “He can be unbearable and persistent, but in the end he’s harmless. I once turned him down for a supervision and, while I’m told he’s still stewing about it, he’s been decent enough to do his stewing at a distance. And, between you and I,” Washington leans in closer, softens his voice, “Dr. Schuyler finds this whole thing hilarious. She has to follow department protocol, but she told me that she’s having Maria cross-stitch your office quote to hang on her wall.”

Alexander’s entire body relaxes with the relief that, while he might have to suck it up and apologize, he won’t be ostracized from the department. It’s a relief that he’s sure he might enjoy more fully if he hadn’t realized, in the moment, that he and Dr. Washington are mere inches from each other, having both leaned in. He feels the gentleness of Washington’s breath, threatening to draw him in further. Dangerously close.

Alexander sits back quickly, something in his throat tight. His fingers itch to find his pulse point, old habit, just to ground himself, but he keeps his hands in his lap.

Washington regards him for a moment before sitting back in his own chair, adjusting to the distance. “So, how did you find the books I lent you?”

“They were excellent, sir,” Alexander says as he fumbles to produce them from his bag, laying them on the desk between them. “The historical survey was very helpful, it grounded a lot of my thinking in terms of how the progression of sexual culture aligned with the progression of politics and civil rights.”

“If you put that in dialogue with the reflections you’ve already written, I think you’re really getting somewhere,” Washington says. “And the White novel?”

Alexander pauses. He’s not sure what to say. He could stay completely literary, or he could admit how deeply it had made him think about why bonds like the ones White had described had almost completely ceased to resonate in younger gay communities. Or he could try to describe the emptiness it had left deep within his stomach, a kind of gnawing hunger for something he hadn’t known he’d needed before that book had offered it back to him.

He isn’t sure what Washington wants from him, so he says “Enlightening,” and hopes that whatever he leaves out is still there, somehow. Judging by the way that Washington’s eyes linger on his lips for a beat after he says the word, Alexander is sure that the man is seeing right through his opacity.

“There are several more like it,” Washington says, after a moment. “If you found that you connected with the narrative I would be happy to share them with you.”

“I would like that very much,” Alexander says, unsure why he has to work so hard to steady his voice. To break the thickness of the moment – whatever it had been – he pulls a paper out of his bag. “I wrote this as a reflection on the historical work, weaving through the concepts I used in my earlier stuff… I just wanted to make sure I was on the right track.”

Washington takes the paper from him. “You did this in a week?”

“Yes.”

Washington’s gaze is steady but betrays a clear interest as he flips through the paper. “This is good, Alexander. Let’s go through it, shall we?”

Alexander breathes, forces himself back into the focus he had so carefully cultivated. “Absolutely.”

-.-.-.-.-.-.-

They work through Alexander’s paper for almost an hour, Washington stopping after nearly every paragraph to recommend a text that Alexander should read, or to work though a concept that Alex had been employing. Alexander keeps pace with most if it – this is what he loves, after all, what he stays up to do every night – but every once and a while he stumbles over something. They work their way though Rubin, Sedgewick, most of Berlant’s work, weaving them in through Alex’s political claims and feeling their way through the results. The sun sets through Washington’s office window as they work, and Alex watches the distinctive late-fall oranges streak through the sky as he realizes over and over again the scent of Washington’s skin. It focuses him.

The conversation between the two of them is sharp, quick, and full of theoretical turns that remind Alex’s mind of the joy of movement. Working with Washington like this feels good, he realizes, in the way that theory had felt good when he first started reading it. Like streaks of wild colour over the grey background of the institution. Like the life of it. He starts to feel relaxed by the end of the hour, and a little more sure of his own mind.

“You’ve got a masterful grasp on most of this, Alexander,” Washington comments when their discussion naturally loses its vigour. “You’ve got many places to go from here, but I’m very happy with this so far.”

Alex still can’t hold the praise closely, so he tries to distance himself, focuses on Washington’s grey v-neck and the indent it exposes at the top of his sternum.

“I don’t want you to lose that thread of experience, though. It would be a shame if this became a dry theoretical treatise – it needs that spark it in. I’ll give you the rest of the novels I’ve got. I think it might help with knowledge translation in terms of turning your analysis back into an active part of a queer politic.”

Alexander mentally writes off the rest of his week as Washington walks around the stacks of books in his office, pulling several by White, and some by older writers like Isherwood and Forster. It’s a lot, but Alex feels only hunger for it. Washington sets the stack in front of him, and Alexander absentmindedly runs his hands down the spines of the books.

Washington sits back down. There’s a drawn-out moment where Alexander wonders if he should go, if he’s overstayed his welcome already, and if he’s taking up too much of Washington’s already in-demand time. He fidgets under Washington’s gaze, which feels heavier than it had before. Feels all-encompassing. He wonders whether his stuttering might be better than these silences that seem to eat away at the space around them. He opens his mouth to speak, but Washington beats him to it.

“Do you have anywhere to be, son?”

The title makes his skin prickle, as it had last time, but he can’t bring himself to buck it. He lets it settle over him, like something that Washington is offering to him. He knows that if he asked again, Washington would stop. He had stopped last time. But Alex suddenly doesn’t want him to.

“No, sir.”

He isn’t sure if it’s the right answer.

He waits for Washington to give him direction, to either kick him out or start a new discussion, but he doesn’t. He just watches Alexander with soft eyes and an aura of something which Alex can feel radiating through the room but isn’t able to name.

The silence weighs on him so much that he opens his mouth again. What comes out is, “How did you get into this field in the first place?” Something he hadn’t realized he wanted to know about Washington’s life, but now that the question lingers between them, he craves the answer.

“Why do you ask?” his professor says, removing the glasses from the bridge of his nose and revealing, more deeply, the brown of his eyes.

Alexander reminds himself to stay relaxed, as he had been when they were talking through the theory. There’s nothing strange about this, he reminds himself. Everyone you know is close with their advisor. You’re building cred. This is allowed. This isn’t wrong.

“I’m just curious. I’ve always wondered about the people who defined the field, before it was something you could really “do”. I know you were in the military before.”

Washington tilts his head.

“Wikipedia,” Alex explains. “I swear I wasn’t stalking you, I just wanted to know your background before walking in here.” The ‘I wanted to impress you’ is implicit, and he’s certain it doesn’t escape Washington. It’s a lot for Alexander to admit, but there’s something about the orange sky and Washington’s soft praise that makes him feel safe enough.

“I was in the military,” his professor says, letting the sentence out with a long sigh. “I grew up in Virginia, and I didn’t come from means. I knew I wanted to go to college, but there was no way I could afford it. So I enlisted the summer after my graduation.”

He pauses and looks at Alex, as if he’s gauging interest, calculating how much to offer.

“I served for 4 years,” Washington says. “I did a few short tours in Libya in the early 80s. There was a group of us – and this was before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was ever instated – who were in the closet. Had we ever been caught there wouldn’t have even been a discharge hearing. When DADT was introduced in the 1990s it actually seemed like progress because, at least for those who were happy in the closet, there was harassment protection. Back then, though, it still didn’t stop us.” Washington smiles fondly.

“Why did you leave then? If there was a community, even a provisional one.”

“I hated the job. I hated the culture. And at the end of the day, the sneaking around was only a thrill in the moment, and hell in the morning when you weren’t allowed to look each other in the eye.”

Washington pauses here. Alex can see the edges of discomfort on his face, and he wants to interject, wants to somehow let the older man know that he doesn’t owe Alexander anything. But at the same time, he wants to hear this. He wants to know as much about George Washington’s life as he will allow him to. He stays silent, leaning in just slightly to try and convey the genuineness of his interest.

“There was the beginning of a movement stirring to try to organize from within the forces – to form recognized groups, fight for rights, and all that. But most of us didn’t believe in what we were doing there, anyway. And at that point I was just coming into myself, and I had been reading about how a lot of the men who served in the world wars would develop queer erotic lives overseas and not bear to return back home to their wives and kids and small towns when it ended. Throughout the 20th century, military transport ships docked in San Francisco. Anyone who didn’t want to go back would get off the ship, change his name, and settle down there.”

“So that’s how it became the gay mecca,” Alexander concludes.

“Exactly. I figured I wouldn’t be happy with whatever gains we were able to make if I stayed, so I left. Moved to San Francisco, because I wanted to feel connected to that tradition. I didn't have much else to cling to. I didn’t change my name and I wasn’t exactly leaving anything behind, but…”

“A fresh start.”

“Yes.”

Washington has leaned forward on the desk again, but it’s a tired gesture this time. It’s the most prominent that Alex has ever seen the subtle laugh lines around his eyes. It's not an age thing so much as it is a bone-deep weariness sort of thing, Alexander thinks. But he doesn’t comment on it.

“I didn’t stay there long,” Washington continues without Alex’s prompting. “I got my heart broken a few times, and eventually got sick of the place. I moved to New York on a whim, at the end of 1989. I had just turned 23, I didn’t know a soul, and I walked right into the firestorm of the AIDS crisis.”

“Jesus,” Alex breathes.

“That’s what really changed me, I think. I got involved in ACT UP, mostly because I didn’t know what to do with my anger, and also because I wanted to feel some sort of connection to somebody. Anybody. I worked with a lot of artists there, but I had absolutely none of the skills to carve out a place in the art scene, so I became a culture writer for some of the independent magazines. I worked freelance for long enough to finish my degree by putting myself through night school, but most of what I learned about what we’d eventually start calling ‘queer theory’ I learned in those ACT UP meetings, or at demonstrations. Those were probably the hardest years. I had worked my way up to sessional instructor by the mid 90s, working on my PhD at the same time. I’d give lectures in the afternoons and organize at night. And after that I just never stopped.”

They’re close again, closer than they probably should be across the span of the desk, but Alexander doesn’t move away this time. He wants to say something meaningful, something that will make Washington understand how much these small admissions have meant to him, but he hadn’t prepared for this in his script.

“Anyway,” Washington undercuts the moment deliberately. “None of that has anything to do with your thesis, and I’m sure you don’t want to waste your evening listening to me blather on about my life.”

“No,” Alexander says, a bit too forcefully. “I want to hear all of it, I…” he stops himself before he can say what he wants to. I want to know everything about you. “It has everything to do with it,” he settles for. “The time and the places that Edmund White writes about, you lived through that. You walked those streets, you had those conversations.” Alex clasps and unclasps his hands, channelling his nervous energy into finding the words. “You keep saying that you want this thesis to be connected to some sort of experience, to the lived reality of this type of eroticism, to a deep understanding of why people have these relationships and, sir, I could learn that from you just as well as I could from any book.”

He sees Washington stiffen before he fully processes the words that have come out of his own mouth. His hot blush blooms over his face at the same time that Washington casts his eyes down onto the desk, and clenches his jaw so noticeably that Alexander can see the muscles move. I didn’t mean it like that, he wants to add, but it seems futile, or unnecessary. Or like he would be breaking something of the careful intimacy that had come with Washington letting him in as far as he had.

So he doesn’t say anything. He lets the heaviness of the moment hang in the air. He rests his fingertips over the pulse on his wrist.

Washington raises his head and, to Alex’s surprise, he’s smiling as if he’s about to tell a joke. “You want the rest of the ‘back in my day’ stories,” he says, on the edge of laughter. “I guess I just never thought about myself as being old enough to tell those. And no one has ever really bothered to ask for them.”

The smile he gives Alexander breaks the tension like a wave. He returns it. Sees something longing in Washington’s eyes and feels it paralyze him.

“Well, back in my day,” he starts, maintaining his humour. He leans back in his office chair, stretching both arms above his head. Alexander's eyes involuntarily flash to the strip of skin it reveals beneath his sweater. “Back in my day, it was a sign of low social standing to sleep with people your own age.”

Alexander quirks an eyebrow. He knows this, he’s read the ethnographies, but it sounds different coming from Washington’s mouth.

“Having fumbling sex with someone your own age in the backseat of your car was considered the most naïve thing you could do.” Washington’s still smiling, as if reliving some distant memory. “If you really wanted to be known as good in bed, you’d find someone older to ‘teach’ you, and you’d make sure everyone knew it. It was fascinating – there was still that judgement, but that illicitness was so tied to queerness that it became completely subcultural. But it was the best kept secret. I think a lot of it died out when – ”

Alexander’s rapture, the stirring in his veins he had been trying to ignore, is interrupted by a knock on the door. Eliza appears on the other side.

“Hi Alex! Dr. Washington, it’s past 7 so I’m locking the department doors, would you be able to use the side door when you leave?”

Alex hadn't even realized how long they'd been sitting there. Washington sits up straighter, composing himself. “Of course, Ms. Schuyler. Have a good evening.”

“You, too. And thanks for the latte, Alex!”

He waves as she leaves, wishing he could somehow rewind, salvage the rest of whatever Washington had been about to share with him. His mind is full of messy images of backseats and warm skin.

“It is after 7, Alexander. We should probably call this.” Washington says. Alexander guesses he doesn’t hide his disappointment sufficiently, because he follows up with “We always have next week.”

“Of course. I’m sorry to have kept you, sir.”

“It was my pleasure, Alexander.” Washington turns to pull another book off of the shelf, and says so softly that Alex can barely hear him, “I think you know that.”

At this point Alex can’t ignore the throbbing of his own heartbeat in his ears. His blood is running too hot again. Washington places a leather-bound volume in front of him.

“I’m sure you’ve read this already,” he says. “I’d assume that if you’re applying to the Bersani Institute that you’ve probably taken the time to read through his corpus. This is an original, I had it bound myself. For next week I want you to start thinking about the discomfort and repulsion piece at a psychological level. One of the reasons intergenerational sex makes people so uncomfortable is the power dynamics inherent in it, but that’s also what can be most erotic about it. Bersani’s discussion of self-shattering – ”

“The ecstatic suffering into which the human organism momentarily plunges when it is pressed beyond a certain threshold of endurance,” Alex recites from memory. The words echo strangely in the office, with an electricity that hadn’t been there when he’d read them off of the page. It was one of the first queer texts Alex had read, and the poetic account of gay sex and erotic penetration had lingered with him, coaxing his body towards a different kind of knowledge. 

“So you have read it.”

“It’s foundational. Movement between a hyperbolic sense of self and the complete loss of that self – in opposition to everything that defines what men are supposed to be in this culture – it helped me understand a lot.” He swallows. “About myself.”

Washington speaks slowly, choosing his words. “I think a lot of this has to do with that moment of shattering. It’s known but never acknowledged; it’s a moment of intense power, and a whole politics unfolds around that. But ultimately we always come back to the same thing. Being undone by someone.”

Washington’s eyes meet his and something jolts through Alexander’s body, through every single one of his nerve endings. He looks away, not quite able to sustain the intensity. That, for whatever reason, disappoints him more than anything.

Washington moves closer to him, and his mind blanks. But all he feels is the light brush of Washington’s hand against the small of his back as the professor guides him towards the office door, just like the last time he had exited the office. This is beginning to become a habit of theirs, he supposes. He finds he doesn't mind. 

“I’ll see you next week, Alexander. Email me if you have any questions.”

Alex promises that he will, even though he knows that he’s leaving with questions that he’s not sure Washington will be able to answer.  

Chapter Text

There’s a gnawing feeling in the pit of Alex’s stomach.

Its harsher than butterflies, but not as destructive as the thick dread that sometimes plagues him. Rather, its the feeling of the floor dropping out from beneath him, the feeling of falling fast, of wanting to brace for impact and not being able to find a foothold.

He wakes up with it every morning after his second meeting with Washington. The feeling has a voice, too, and it sounds like longing, sounds like whisperings of undoing and a soft baritone repeating “I think you know that” until Alexander feels ready to break apart.

So he throws himself into his work. If he’s going to hit the ground, he figures, he may as well make the biggest impact he possibly can.

He rises early, does his seminar readings, writes essays in his and John’s shared office. John isn’t there often – he’s usually caught running between class and organizational meetings for the plethora of activist groups he’s involved in – so Alexander has one place on campus that is blessedly quiet.

He apologizes to Burr in an email as dryly as possible, cc’s Angelica to prove that he’s done it, and continues to attend Burr’s lectures. The man doesn’t so much as acknowledge him (probably afraid I’ll make him look like a blathering idiot again, Alex suspects), and once they move into policy and similarly benign topics, Alexander manages to keep his mouth shut during class. His tutorial group – the five students that he meets with for an hour on Tuesday afternoons to go through questions about the readings – usually get an earful, but they seem amused and interested, and Alexander is more than happy to inject a bit of passion into their educational experience, as they certainly aren’t getting it from Burr.

The freshmen in Alex’s tutorial are bright and opinionated, and they remind him of how he’d been in his own first year. Knowing it was the one shot he’d been given to rise above his station, Alex had never once turned down an opportunity to debate, to write as much as he could, to publish his rants, to talk his professors’ ears off, or just to read constantly and widely, everything he could afford to get his hands on. He hadn’t focused on much else that year – not his growing reputation or his dishevelled appearance or his general unpalatability in social scenarios. His friends had to force him to eat.  He’d tried to hack himself out of sleep with coffee (he is, if he’s honest with himself, still trying) and spent manic days with bags under his eyes and exhaustion biting at his heels.

He’d masked it with overconfidence – that feeling that he wasn’t alright, that he was just barely on the precipice of surviving. Washington’s rejection had been his first failure. Whether he’d known it or not, the man had begun to tame Alex’s frenzied energy before they’d had a proper conversation. He remembers forcing himself to slow down, forcing himself to stare at his own face in the mirror, and to start thinking about what impact he could make outside of his own chaos. About how much more he might be able to gain with a little discipline.

He doesn’t think he’d recognize his present self if he’d met himself all of those years ago. But now, he feels pent up again. He feels himself edging back towards pandemonium. He feels too big for his own skin, and everything that touches him seems poised to rip something open inside him.

In the evenings he reads Washington’s novels. He usually sits in his office, avoiding the implications of bringing the shred of intellectual intimacy that Washington offered back to his bedroom, into his bed. In his office, he can at least pretend that he can distance himself from the subject matter – pretend that he can’t feel every single description in those books, that they don’t linger on his tongue long after he whispers the passages into the empty room, that he doesn’t imagine things all too similar every night as he tries to trick his body into sleep.

One of the nights that Alexander stays late, John bursts into the office unceremoniously, carrying a gigantic shipping box full of condoms, lube packets, and dimebags.

“Jesus,” Alexander jokes. “You could have told me we had plans, I would have brought candles or something.” He sets down the book he had been reading – Christopher and His Kind – and tries not to feel interrupted. Exposed. It is John’s office too, after all.

John rolls his eyes, drops the box of supplies down on his desk. “You wish,” he scoffs. John runs a hand through his hair, sending it sticking up in several directions. John’s stress has always looked good on him, Alexander thinks. He wears it like a rush, looks satisfied even as he books it from meeting to meeting, seems to gain energy from it. His stress isn’t dark and suffocating, a black hole that leaves him constantly gasping for air, like Alexander’s. It had been something they’d never been able to understand about each other.

“I’m stuffing safe sex bags to hand out at the AIDS Walk for Life tomorrow,” John explains, shrugging off his jacket and throwing himself down into his desk chair. “The connection centre is short on volunteers so I said I’d help out.” He regards Alexander, taking in the discarded book and the darkness under his eyes. “Wanna lend a hand? Get out of your head for a while?”

His words are gentle, but Alexander knows John sees more than he lets on. He has always been able to.

“Yeah, sure,” Alex says. “You know I’m a sucker for safe sex.”

He stands up, stretches and hears the vertebrae pop in his back, groaning a little after several hours in his chair. He walks over, follows John’s lead, and starts filling the bags with two condoms and two lube packets each. They work in comfortable silence for a while, the rhythm of their breathing the only real sound in the empty halls of the department.

“You haven’t been home a lot lately,” John says out of the blue, and its true, Alex hasn’t. More than any other year he feels magnetized to campus. When he’s here, he feels a spark of possibility. If he’s being honest with himself, it’s the one place that he and Washington share, the one place where he chances running into the man who seems to have taken up permanent residence in his thoughts. He likes being close to that feeling. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Alexander waves a hand in the air to brush of the notion in between stuffing bags. “Everything’s great. I’m just busy with this thesis. It gives me a lot to think about.”

“You’ve always been busy,” John gives him a tired smile. “It just seems like something is… I don’t know, like you’re off somewhere else a lot of the time. You’re usually so present. Like, you stand at the edge of things waiting to throw yourself into an argument any chance you get. Now you just hole yourself up in the office and only come out for coffee refills. You didn’t get home until, like, two this morning.”

There isn’t any judgement in John’s voice, just a smothering kind of concern, but the whole thing pisses Alexander off anyway.

“I’m fine,” he says curtly. “I need to do well on this. You know that. And it’s better if I’m somewhere that I can’t stop and relax.” He’s better when he’s somewhere he’s forced to focus, where it would be inappropriate if someone walked in on him with his hand down his boxers, slowly jacking himself off to the thought of Washington reading the same erotic descriptions laid out before him and thinking of Alexander, thinking that Alexander might enjoy them enough to warrant a recommendation.

He needs to be somewhere where he has a reason to stop himself from that.

John looks disappointed in him, and gives him a look full of all of their history and all of their usually-unproductive ways of caring for each other just a little too much.

Alex can’t hold his gaze. He casts his eyes down, keeps his hands busy. He and John are no strangers to arguments, and he’s usually not one to hold back. What the fuck is wrong with me?

John sees this, changes the subject. “So, how are things going with Washington? Have you completely wooed him yet with your magical brain powers?”

Alexander sighs, pushing away the memories of all of Washington’s small bits of praise for his work, pushing away the sensation of Washington’s hand low on his back that clings to him.

It makes him angrier, somehow, that he’s let himself get so caught up in this. And his reaction to John’s wording – the fact that he so immediately lets himself get lost in the images of Washington’s large hands against his body –seems to confirm something that he’s been pushing back against all week. Something that he really, really doesn’t want to think about right now.

“I haven’t ‘wooed’ him,” he says, spitting out the word. “And I’m not trying to. I’m trying to get through this thesis, get an impossible fucking scholarship, and maybe make something of myself. Washington is… convenient. He’s smart, we work well together. But that’s all it is. That’s all I need from him.”

“Jeez, Alex, I didn’t mean…”

“I know. I know you didn’t mean it like that.”

John looks at him warily. It hurts.

“Look,” Alex pinches the bridge of his nose. “I’m sorry. I’m being ridiculous. Its just that… I’ve been reading all day and my mind is swimming. And I’m already kind of in shit because of the Burr thing, and I have this irrational fear…” he pauses, almost stops.

He doesn’t know why he’s saying this, doesn’t know where its coming from. But at the same time, he does. And he figures he owes John at least this much.

“I have this fear that if Washington and I work too well together, on a project that eroticizes power differences, in a context where, well, you could leap to those conclusions. I’m worried that… people will leap to those conclusions. And that it will fuck things up for me.”

I’m worried that I’ve already leapt to conclusions, he doesn’t add. And it’s fucking with my head.

“I can’t think,” he does add, in a broken voice that he doesn’t realize emerges from him until the words have been spoken. “I’m worried that I’m going to do everything, give everything I can, and that it still won’t be enough.”

John’s arms are around him before he’s finished speaking, and a big part of him wants to break out of the gentle hold, but a bigger part of him wants to be held.

“Is this about the scholarship?” John asks. Alexander feels queasy. He hasn’t been thinking about it, purposefully, and everything that hinges on it. He’s supposed to hear whether or not he’s been offered an interview by the end of the week. He hasn’t heard anything.

“No. Yes. I don’t know, I just…”

He lays his hand overtop of John’s arms, encircling him. He feels the throbbing edges of a breakdown building in his temples, and is grateful that John is here, that he can trust him. But he hates that John is the only person that he can trust. He hates relying on it. And he doesn’t want this right now.

He pushes away. “I’m fine,” he reiterates. He swallows the ache in his throat. “I just want to get some more reading done tonight. Okay?”

“Okay,” John nods. “You want the office? I can take this shit home. I don’t mind.”

John doesn’t wait for Alexander to answer, and Alex is grateful that he doesn’t make him kick him out. He bundles the safe sex supplies up in his arms, giving Alex a peck on the forehead. “Just… talk to me, Alexander. Whenever you want. About whatever. You know I won’t judge you.”

“I know,” Alexander croaks. John shuts the office door behind him, leaving Alexander alone.

The silence hits him like concrete hitting his open palms. It stings. He thinks about what he’d said to John – that connection that he had never let himself think out loud. But its always been there, since the moment Eliza had handed him his orientation package.

A man that he barely knows, at least not in any meaningful sense. The one person who is, for so many good reasons, absolutely an impossibility. He wants Washington. He wants so viscerally that it swirls like a sickness. He wraps his arms around his own waist, drops his head, and waits for the feeling to pass.

He stays in his office that night.

-.-.-.-.-.-

Alex gets through the rest of his week, trying to avoid the volume of his own thoughts. He signs up for the late shifts at his library desk job after his talk with John, adding to his list of excuses not to be home have several similar ones. He knows he’s isolating himself, but he also knows that he deserves it.

He’s mixing his feelings with his work, which he knows is a one-way ticket to disaster. He knows its wrong – not objectively or morally, but personally. Preoccupied isn’t a good look on him. He needs to find a way to get over it, as quickly as possible. He needs discipline.

He works the library’s front desk Wednesday night, closing shift. Not too many people usually check out books when its late, so he hides his own book behind his computer monitor and reads. He gets so caught up in it that, when someone approaches the desk and drops a stack of oversized hardcovers in front of him, he nearly jumps out of his skin.

“Shit, sorry,” he mumbles, scrambling to grab the barcode scanner. “Find everything you were looking for?”

Oui, merci. And I’m quite happy with what I’ve found here, too.”

Alex looks up, the voice instantly tweaking his memory. It’s Gilbert, from the gym, leaning against the desk in an impeccable wool coat and tight black jeans, his collar upturned and hair pulled back in a way that highlights his cheekbones. He’s got a smile on his face, as if he’s genuinely pleased to see Alexander again. Alex can’t take his eyes off of the laugh lines around his mouth.

And maybe, he thinks, this is exactly what he needs.

“Gilbert,” he slips back into the lull of the language he’d spoken as a child. “ça va?

The taller man doesn’t answer, just says “You never came back to the gym. It is nice to see you again, Alexandre.” There’s a heat to the way he speaks, beneath the effusive eagerness that seems to characterize his personality. A fire low in Alex’s belly is stoked at the fact that Gilbert remembers his name, that he rolls it around on his tongue as if he wants to make it his own.

Alex knows he doesn’t have much going for him – that he doesn’t have the looks or the tact, really, to have a similar effect on Gilbert. But he angles his head anyway, looks up at Gilbert sweetly, relies on the expressiveness that he’s never been able to keep out of his eyes. “I haven’t. Mais il semble que j'ai raté.

The corner of Gilbert’s mouth quirks up, and slides his library card forward for Alex to scan. Alex notices that it’s a guest card rather than a student or faculty card.

“You don’t go here? Or work here?” Alexander asks. He’s not sure what he’d assumed either about Gilbert’s (rather ambiguous) age, or about his standing at the university.

Non,” he answers simply. “Mais my work is… how you say… unpredictable, and I know many people here. When I have free time, I come. It is more interesting than sitting at home. I meet interesting people.” He winks.

Alexander can feel himself blush, and he looks down, ashamed of how easily he’s been letting people get under his skin lately. He scans the books that Gilbert has selected, which include one that is almost entirely photographs of Greek statuary, several collections of contemporary photography, and one Roland Barthes text.

“You’re a photographer?” Alexander gleans.

Gilbert tilts his head and looks at him quizzically, and Alexander has the distinct feeling that he’s missing something. “Yes, you could say that.”

And he can’t get over the fucking perfection of Gilbert’s face. He can’t get over the way that he’s still smiling at Alexander so generously. He can’t get over the fact that he’s being flirted with by this gorgeous man, purposefully, for the second time, so he swallows his insecurities and says, “Well, if you’re ever practicing your nudes and happen to be looking for a model…”

He grabs the due date slip that’s printing beside him and scribbles his number on the back, sliding it over the desk before he can lose his nerve. Gilbert’s fingers brush his as he takes the paper, and Alexander’s heart hammers in his throat.

He looks up in time to see the look on Gilbert’s face: a nearly unreadable combination of pleasant surprise and something that threatens to devour Alexander whole.

“I would like that, Alexandre,” he says, with a quiet intensity, his voice low and gravelly. “I would like that very much.”

Gilbert’s phone goes off before Alexander is forced to come up with a response, before he’s forced to fight the thrumming in his veins and the stirrings in his cock that the force of Gilbert’s gaze had wrought.

Jesus, he thinks to himself. He shouldn’t be this worked up over a conversation. He needs to be fucked. He needs someone to fuck him so hard that he finally, finally, stops thinking. Through the fear of being entirely out of his league, he suddenly hopes beyond hope that Gilbert calls.

Gilbert finishes his conversation, makes a show of slowly tucking Alexander’s receipt in his pocket, and picks up his stack of books. “I have another engagement, I apologize. But I very much hope to be seeing you soon, Alexandre.”

He strides out of the library, and Alex feels just as wrecked as before, but a little less trapped in his own mind.

-.-.-.-.-

He sleeps well that night, for the first time in a long time. He wakes up on Thursday morning, the day he’s set to meet with Washington, feeling like he might be able to hold things together. Like he might finally be regaining control.

That cushioned feeling lasts through a quiet breakfast with John, through his walk to campus, and right up until the moment that his phone dings with an email notification. He flicks the app open with one thumb as he strides into the GSS building, opening doors with his elbows, a coffee in his other hand.

Dear Mr. Hamilton, it reads.

I am pleased to confirm that the Bersani Institute Scholarship Selection Committee wishes to invite you to interview on Saturday, December 1st at the University Club, San Francisco…

“Fuck. Fuck.”

He can’t read the rest.

He closes the email, the mix of elation and fear and nausea hitting him like a hurricane, making him realize the fragility of whatever naïve semblance of control he thought he’d had.

Chapter Text

Alexander sits on the first-floor landing of the stairwell in the Humanities building, his coffee sitting neglected beside him, his thumb hovering over the email in his inbox. Flag. Delete. Forward it to someone who would actually know what to do with something like this, like Eliza. He’s glanced over the rest of it, telling him that he’s responsible for booking his own travel to California for the interview weekend, and that he would be expected to attend a formal reception the evening before his hour-long panel interview in front of seven of the country’s leading academics.

Shit.

He thinks, for some reason, of his mother, of whether or not she’d be proud of him. Because there is something bursting in his chest like pride, but its swallowed by the vastness of Alexander’s own inadequacy. It can’t get enough oxygen to sustain its own flame. He aches for his bravado, wishes that it was as simple to slip on as his ‘professional academic’ clothes, wishes that every single fucking success he had didn’t feel like a knife sinking in deeper, pushing him forward further, never letting him be satisfied.

So they’d liked his application enough to want to meet him. So he suddenly stands a chance to get what he wants. And now he has that much more to lose.

He wants to talk to Eliza, but at the same time he doesn’t want her excitement or her gentleness. He wants to be pushed, and wants someone who will understand that. He has over a month to prepare, but so does every other candidate, and he wants to outshine them all. Needs to. Doesn’t think he’ll be able to live if he can’t.

Before he fully processes what he’s doing, he bounds up the remaining flights of stairs, slips in the side door of the department, and knocks on Washington’s closed office door.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-

He barely waits until he hears Washington clear his throat before he throws open the door. Washington looks surprised, glancing up abruptly from the document he’s typing.

“Alexander,” he says evenly, glancing at his watch. “You’re three hours early, we aren’t meeting until four.” Alex watches as his professor examines him from behind the desk, Washington’s face still expressionless. Alex is amazed at how simply the man’s proximity alters his sense of his own body, but he pushes all that away. He came here for a reason. “Is everything alright?”

“Are you free?”

“Well… yes. I suppose I am.”

Alex takes that as all the invitation he needs to sit down in the wooden chair that he usually occupies, watching the beginnings of concern creep into the corners of Washington’s eyes. He needs, he decides, to cut that off as quickly as possible. He doesn’t need concern, he needs to be put through the paces, and he knows Washington is the only one who can do it.  

“What are you working on?” Alexander asks bluntly. “As in, what are you researching right now? I know you got a big grant last year but you never talk about your project.”

Washington looks puzzled but willing. He removes his glasses from the bridge of his nose and places them on the desk in front of him. “Queer kinship structures,” he says simply. “Family.”

“Your argument?” Alexander volleys back.

His professor hesitates, and Alexander can tell he’s trying to read the situation, but Alexander schools his face into nonchalant interest until Washington finally gives in. “That ephemeral queer familial models were forced into being during the AIDS crisis, in terms of the structures of emotional labour and care that were established between lesbians and gay men, and that the neoliberal queer family today rearticulates these structures while adapting normative reproductive practices to suit queer desires.”

Great, Alexander thinks. Something he knows absolutely nothing about – just the kind of curveball that might be thrown at him in an interview and he would be expected to engage with.

“Don’t you think that ignores an entire branch of queer theory? Queer negativity, the idea that queer people having kids just means we’re assimilating back into what straight society expects of us?” He’s talking a little faster than he probably should, his frantic energy winning out over the torrent of other emotions clashing in his chest.

Washington knits his brow together. “Not ignores, Alexander. Critiques.”

“But, sir, you can’t use a political term like ‘neoliberal’ and then totally ignore the economic and social imperatives that make queer people want to start families, there’s an entire ideology – ” he rattles off, the coldness of his own voice making him sound distant and tinny in his own ears.

“That’s a reductive reading,” Washington interrupts him.

Alexander just keeps talking, needing desperately to get Washington to cede to his view, just to prove that he’s articulate enough, that he knows enough. “ – surrounding the reproduction of culture, and to think that can be recreated within the world of playgrounds and soccer practises is just – ”

Washington stands, his face sterner now. “Alexander,” he says, the command of stop clear in his voice. “What are you doing? What are you hoping to gain from this?”

“I just wanted,” he begins, but the command in Washington’s eyes stops the words in his throat. “I wanted to test my knowledge. Sir.”

“By barging into my office and trying to tear apart my research?” the hardness has dropped from Washington’s voice, but the concern remains an undercurrent.

Most of Alexander still wants to push, just keep pushing Washington and pushing his own ideas until Washington snaps and starts pushing back. But the more he talks, the more he can feel the quiet intimacy he’s become used to in the office breaking apart, exposing its fragility. Talking a mile-a-minute, citing ideas that he doesn’t fully understand – it’s exactly what he had done when he’d walked into this office in his first year. He’d shown Washington that he wasn’t ready, that he wasn’t mature enough to shut up and think, and that he wasn’t worthy of working with. And now, here he was, repeating his mistake.

Fuck. What the fuck am I thinking?

If he’s stupid enough to do this again, knowing what sort of reaction it had earned him last time, what’s to say that his hot-headedness won’t make an appearance at the interview – like it usually does when he feels threatened – and lose him his one shot at having a future in this?

I can’t do this, he decides.

Washington walks out from behind his desk, crosses behind Alexander, and closes the heavy office door that Alex hadn’t realized he had left open.

Wonderful. The whole fucking department heard that.

Alex drops his head into his hands, leans his elbows onto his knees, feeling his breath work itself into an uneven panic. He hears Washington sit down again across from him, and hears his voice, almost painfully gentle. “Let me be clear, Alexander, that I am more than happy to have you critique my research at any time. I value your thoughts. But the process does generally require… a bit more patience. That’s something you develop, and if you – ”

 “I got the interview.”

Alexander lets the silence hang heavy between them, not lifting his head from his hands.

“Ah. I see. Congratulations.”

“You don’t have to say that,” Alex says, the back of his throat thick.

“We should start preparing.”

“I don’t want… You don’t have to…”

Washington huffs out a breath of air, betraying an impatience of his own, breaking his careful demeanor. “Alexander, do you want this scholarship?”

Alex wants to raise his head, to look Washington in the eyes. His hands, though, are getting wetter with silent tears that he hadn’t realized he was crying. And he can’t – he can never – let Washington see that. “Yes,” he keeps his voice as steady and poised as possible. “More than anything. Its my only chance at being able to afford my PhD, my only shot at making something of myself.”

Alex feels warm fingers brush his wrist, just for an instant, before they’re gone again. He stiffens. He fights the urge to move his hands from his face just to touch the tingling spot left behind, to trap the feeling there.

“Do you think you deserve this scholarship?” Washington asks, and Alexander can’t stop a sardonic, wet laugh from bursting out of him. He sniffles, needing to breathe, even if it gives him away.

“Are you really going to make me say it out loud?”

Washington sighs deeply.

Alexander can’t stand sitting at the desk anymore, feeling Washington’s eyes on him. He stands quickly, so that Washington can’t see his face, and moves to stand in front of the office’s single pane glass window, gazing out over the rest of the campus through the blur of his own emotion. He leans the heels of his palms on the window ledge.

“Sometimes,” Alexander starts, and his voice is so small that he knows he should stop, knows that throwing all of his vulnerability at Washington is irresponsible and pathetic. He can’t though. He knows he can’t just leave, not at this point. And something about Washington makes him feel like he won’t be hurt if he opens up. He trusts that feeling. “Sometimes I feel like it all clicks. Like I get it, you know? Enough to have something important or intelligent to say. But most of the time…” he loses his breath, staring at his reflection in the window, at his pitiful red-rimmed eyes.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” Alex continues, pressing his fingertips harder against the ledge. “I’m either obnoxious, or I can’t form an articulate sentence, just like every time I walk into your office, and I don’t want to have to watch myself fuck this up. Watch everything slip away, just like always. And I don’t want to waste your time, sir, on trying to help me when I have nothing to give.”  

Washington doesn’t answer his confession, and he tenses, worrying for a minute that he’s said too much or exposed a part of himself that Washington doesn’t want to see. The man rises from his desk again, crosses to the small coffee machine he keeps in the corner, and sets a cup to brew. Alexander watches him in the reflection of the window as he finishes his task and then slowly walks to stand behind Alexander.

Alex’s breath hitches in his throat, but its quiet enough to hide as Washington seeks out his eyes in the glass. Washington stands only an inch, maybe two, behind Alexander, and doesn’t touch him – Alex can only feel his body heat radiate against the backs of Alexander’s thighs as Alex watches their reflection. Washington, a full head taller than him, his face almost unreadable but something intense in his eyes. A hot, swirling desire settles over the mess of Alex’s feelings faster than he can curse it away, and he prays that the embarrassing redness of his cheeks isn’t readable as anything other than the results of his crying. He’s already embarrassed himself more than he wants to admit, but – as if he’s drawn to them – he stares into Washington’s eyes in the glass.

He watches as Washington settles his broad hands on Alexander’s shoulders, watches the thoughts that play openly on his face as he makes the decision to, but his body still stutters at the contact.

“You,” Washington says, his voice low and close to Alex’s ear, “have a beautiful mind, Alexander. One of the most impeccable and inimitable minds I have ever had the pleasure to engage with.”

The sounds of the coffee dripping into the mug in the other corner only punctuate the intermittent silence. Alexander feels his heart jump into his throat.

“You,” Washington continues, “are the only one holding yourself back.”  

Alexander feels Washington’s thumbs press into the curves of his shoulder blades, sensing the tenseness of the muscle there in the ghost of a massage. He winces as Washington hits a knot that’s been bothering him for months.

“You’re tight,” Washington breathes, and Jesus, Alex’s cock twitches at that. He digs his fingertips into the concrete of the windowsill, hoping to nullify that sensation, hoping that Washington can’t sense the dirtiness that Alexander is reading onto his act of kindness.

Washington works his hands over Alex’s back in earnest, slowly and steadily, and Alexander chances a glance up at the window only to see himself – a mess, his face red and blotchy – and Washington, composed as always, with a darkness in his eyes. He can feel the heat pulsing in his groin and he drops his head, looking away, willing himself to think of literally anything else. He wants to turn around, face Washington, do something absolutely stupid.

He doesn’t. He bites his bottom lip, hard.

“You need to trust yourself, son,” Washington’s says, his voice low. “You have so much to give.”

Alexander barely hears him, lost wondering if Washington can see, over his shoulder, the outline of his hardness, or the man can sense the effect that he’s having on Alexander. He doesn’t have to wonder for long. Washington works his hands gently up over the knobs of Alexander’s spine, coming to rest on either side of his neck. The moment his thumbs press into the tense bundle of muscle there, Alexander lets out a helpless moan, his nerve endings alight with Washington’s touch and his entire body craving more pressure, more contact.

Washington freezes as the sound of Alexander’s moan cuts through the room, a broken sort of cry, giving away far too much.

“I’m sorry, I…” Washington seems to struggle for the words, the warmth fading from his voice. He takes a step back.

“No, I…” Alexander swallows. Curses his lack of control. “I don’t mind.”

The coffee finishes brewing, and the silence is deafening as Washington walks away to pick up the mug. Alexander takes his chance to sit back down while Washington has his back turned, crossing his legs and begging his body to stop crying out for more of… whatever that was.

Washington sits too, his features pointedly blank, as he places the coffee mug in front of Alexander. Alex raises it to his mouth, just to have something to do with his hands.

“What I… meant to express,” Washington says, “is my unwavering belief in you. And my willingness to help you prepare for this, in any way I can. I am here for whatever you need, Alexander.” He clears his throat, looking down at his desk, distance between them.

Alexander marvels at the whiplash – how they’d gone from stilted debate to massages and whispers to the poorest semblance of ‘normal’ that Alexander has ever seen. He grips his coffee mug tighter.

“I think you should take today off. Cancel our meeting. Go home, relax.” Washington says. “You certainly need it.”

“Yes, sir,” Alexander breathes.

“Are you free tomorrow, around noon?” Washington asks suddenly. “I know Friday isn’t our usual meeting day.”

“Absolutely,” Alexander answers a little too quickly, grasping at the offering of a comfort zone. “I have everything ready, but I’ll go over it again tonight, and then when we meet – ”

“Not for that, Alexander. For lunch.”

“Oh.”

“If you’re comfortable with that, that is. I don’t want you to feel as if we’re crossing any boundaries you would rather not cross.”

“Oh, um.” Alexander says stupidly. Is he really asking me to lunch? “No, I don’t – I’m not concerned.”

“Good,” Washington says. “Because there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”

Ah. Not that kind of lunch. Alexander bites the inside of his cheek. Maybe that’s for the best.

“Let’s say we meet at noon, on campus, at Einstein’s. There are usually fewer students there, we may have more luck with privacy.”

“That sounds good,” Alexander says, his wit having abandoned him beneath the layers of anxiety and lust. He only vaguely wonders who it is Washington wants him to meet. “I’ll see you then, sir.”

“I know you’ll make me proud, Alexander,” Washington says as he leaves. His certainty sits on Alexander’s shoulders, lurks in the places where he’d touched him.

He starts to walk home, barely making it two blocks before his phone buzzes. He expects it to be John, asking him to pick something up for dinner, but it’s a number he doesn’t recognize.

alexandre, mon petit, is there any chance you are free tomorrow night? i have an opening in my modelling schedule I am desperate to fill ;)

Gilbert. He deliberates for a while, before he eventually shuts the message without responding. He wants to, and god knows he needs to. And he might, still, later. But he’s barely processed the look in Washington’s eyes as he touched him, hasn’t stopped thinking of the tone of his voice next to Alexander’s ear, and he decides that it’s probably safer – for the time being – not to text Gilbert back if he can’t guarantee whose name he’d be moaning in his bed. He knows he has no chance with Washington, but he’d be stupid to fuck that up too.

He tables his desire, shoving his headphones into his ears and setting a crisp pace. He has a lunch meeting to prepare for.

Chapter Text

Alexander dreams of a hard body pressed up against his back, of the strength of gentle hands, of unbearable heat. When he wakes up early, covered in sweat, he showers, scrubbing the feeling of dirtiness off of his own skin. He pulls on the outfit – white dress shirt, grey pants, his leather belt – that he had decided on the night before, hoping that its proper enough to impress whoever it is that Washington wants him to meet.

I don’t want you to feel as if we’re crossing any boundaries you would rather not cross. Washington’s words play on repeat in his head, along with his professor’s expression, the hint of uncertainty in his eyes.

And yet, it isn’t as if they are going to be alone. Not like Alexander so desperately wants. Those boundaries that Washington had brought back into existence, the ones that Alex’s own mind had been slowly chipping away at, must be more stringent than he thinks, if Washington’s concerned about meeting in a public place for a purely academic lunch.

Or maybe he knows how you feel, and he’s trying to protect himself, something in Alexander says. Pushing you away as gently as possible, without having to say the words.

He puts an end to that line of thought, replacing it with the things he knows he should be worrying about as he heads to campus.

-.-.-.-.-

He’s never actually been to Einstein’s. A small eatery with a distinct coffee shop vibe, it’s shoved away in the back of one of the life sciences buildings (which he generally does his best to avoid). As Washington had guessed, it isn’t crowded, full mostly of exhausted graduate students nursing coffees and professors wrapped up in their own work. Alex walks in, his nails digging into the leather strap of his messenger bag as he scans the crowd. He sees Washington first, already in conversation with someone, and continues to walk towards him, taking in the stretch of light blue fabric across the muscles of his back. He allows himself this, this one glance, before he shoves that feeling down where it won’t embarrass him any more than it has.

It isn’t until he gets closer, until Washington’s companion looks up, that he realizes who it is. And by then, its too late to turn back, to run out of the café and away from the uncomfortable juxtaposition that his life seems to delight in throwing at him.

Gilbert’s eyes widen the moment that he sees Alexander, but there’s only mirth there, none of the panic that’s coursing through Alexander’s body. He can’t imagine what his own expression looks like, but he knows that his mouth is open, a half-formed question on his lips. But he said he didn’t work here? Why would Washington…?

Before either can say anything, Washington turns around, a slight smile on his lips that falters almost unnoticeably when he sees Alex.

“Ah, Alexander. I’m glad you made it.” Washington stands, pulls out the free chair for Alexander to sit.

He doesn’t, frozen in his own bewilderment, not sure who he should be greeting or how. Washington doesn’t seem to mind, instead circling back around the small table to stand next to Gilbert’s chair, looping his arm around the other man’s shoulders and letting his large hand come to rest over the breast pocket of Gilbert’s shirt. “I’d like to introduce you to Lafayette. My husband.”

Oh. Christ.

The breath all but leaves Alexander’s lungs, and he tries to remind himself that he knew this, he knew Washington was married, somewhere in the back of his mind. The Wikipedia article, and the heavy gold ring on his finger…

But it’s Gilbert who shocks him, the easy way of leaning his head back against Washington’s chest and meeting Alexander’s eyes with his own, and Alex can’t stop thinking of his suggestive smile, of the way he’d drawn him in at the gym and the library with his accent and… fuck. Now, Gilbert’s eyes are less obviously hungry, and seem to be reflecting the confusion that Alexander knows is characterizing his own.

Alex gulps in a breath, and realizes four things in rapid succession.

The first, that Gilbert – or whoever he is – had lied to him. Washington had used another name, meaning that the man had obviously given him a fake one, meaning that he evidently spent his days prowling the campus for people to pick up right under Washington’s nose.

Which meant, secondly, that Washington was being cheated on, and that Alexander now knew, had proof of it on his phone, and could singlehandedly destroy his advisor’s marriage. Or protect it.

The third, that Washington had set up this lunch so Alexander could meet his husband, which was the clearest rejection Alexander could fathom, if Washington had begun to suspect any part of his feelings. That one stings more than he has the time or capacity to deal with, standing silently in front of them both.

And fourth, that the two men whose names he had been dripping off of his lips as he came in his own fist last night are both incredibly, undeniably off limits, for more reasons than he can now articulate.

Fuckfuckfuck.

For some reason he can’t name, it’s the first one that trips him up.

“You – you said your name was Gilbert,” he stutters slightly, his eyes stuck on the place where Washington’s thumb is stroking over the fabric of his shirt. Alexander feels sick.

“You’ve met each other?” Washington asks.

“At the gym,” the seated man explains. “And it is Gilbert, mais – ”

“He gets tired of English speakers calling him Gilbert,” Washington says, overemphasizing the ‘t’, bastardizing the French pronunciation that had rolled off of both Alexander and Gilbert’s tongues.

“I started using Lafayette to avoid that, when I got to America. It’s an old family name,” he explains, his accented voice gentle, as if he’s trying not to scare Alexander off. “But I pride myself on being able to tell when someone speaks French, someone who I can share my name with. I figured you did. And I was right.” Lafayette offers him a small smile, a peace offering, Alexander guesses. “But George here, he sticks with Lafayette. It is who I was when we met, so…” He shifts his gaze to Washington, above him, and offers him the same warm smile.

“Oh.” Alexander says.

Washington steps back from the table. “Shall I get us some coffee?”

Oui, mon cher, merci,” Lafayette dispatches him with a squeeze to his upper arm.

Alex waits until Washington is out of earshot before dropping down into the chair that had been left open for him. His emotions are swirling, beating against his chest in patterns that he can’t interpret. Lafayette is still smiling at him, creases around his bright eyes. “Look,” Alexander says quietly, even though he can see Washington standing a good distance away in the line. “I know we’ve only met a couple of times, and I know that I probably have no right to be asking you this, but what the fuck is going on here?”

“What do you mean?” The look of sweetness, of innocence, on the taller man’s face makes Alexander grind his teeth.

“Did you know this meeting was going to happen? Did you know I’m his student?”

“No. I didn’t, not before now. He just asked me to come and meet the student he is supervising. He talks about you often. He does use your name, but I never put two and two together.” Gilbert raises his hands as if in surrender. “I swear to you that is the truth.”

Alexander shoves that fact that Washington talks about him to the back of his mind, focuses on the issue at hand.

“And does he know you’ve been hitting on me?” Alexander hisses, coming off harsher than he means to, but not willing to sit through a lunch without answers. “Or do you expect me to just pretend I don’t have a text from you on my phone inviting me over tonight? He’s my thesis advisor, Jesus Christ. You’re married.” Alexander presses his palms against his eyes, removing them in time to see Gilbert sigh deeply, cast a glance over to Washington’s position in the line. He’s barely moved. “Look, Gilbert – Lafayette – whatever, I can’t be caught up in the middle of this, if there are issues between you and Washington, just… find someone else to fill that because I can’t – ”

“Alexandre, stop,” Lafayette lays a hand on his forearm. “Just stop talking and listen. Yes, George and I are married. We’ve been married for almost ten years. It has been an open marriage since the moment it began. It is what we both want.”  Lafayette pauses until Alexander nods, conceding. Prompting him for more. “Our arrangement,” he continues, “is that – if ever we feel the urge – we may approach others. We tell each other when we want space, or time. It is only ever casual, and always with permission. It never goes beyond sex, or the occasional coffee. If either of us has questions, we answer them honestly. That is the whole of it.”

“So you’re not…”

“Cheating?” Lafayette laughs, a sound as bright as the rest of him. “Non, non absolument pas. Just living as we wish to. Living a fulfilling relationship alongside other things that fulfill us both. Do you understand?”

Alexander wants to say yes, but instead he asks, “Does he know it was me, specifically? That you tried to pick up?” He doesn’t want to imagine what that conversation might have been, and he isn’t sure if its because he doesn’t want Washington to know that his husband had all but completely seduced him, or if its because he doesn’t want Washington to think about him being interested in someone else.

“‘Tried’ to,” Lafayette chuckles again. “No, he doesn’t.” He raises one of his long fingers to his dimple, closes his eyes in thought. “Though, he would have, if you had come tonight. You may have run into each other at the door. Or perhaps he would have come across your photograph, after…”

“Stop,” Alexander says, something like want thick in his voice. He hadn’t realized how hard he’d been digging his fingernails into the tabletop. Knowing that Lafayette had meant to bring him into his home, into Washington’s home, maybe into their bed, to sleep with him. Knowing that he could have had this man and still left traces of himself for Washington…

It didn’t matter now. None of it mattered now.

“Why does he want me to meet you?” Alexander asks hoarsely.

“He told me you needed time outside of your books. Some interview you are preparing for. And he said that some of the work I do may be helpful to your research. I don’t know.” Lafayette releases his hold on Alexander’s arm.

“Okay. Let’s…” Alexander heaves an exhale. “Let’s keep it to that, then. I don’t need this to become any more complicated than it already is.”

“Do you find my attraction to you complicated, Alexandre?” Lafayette asks disarmingly. The heat is back in his gaze. Washington is paying for their coffees at the till. “It is not complicated for me.”

“I…” Alex swallows. Fights back the bursts of desire that explode beneath his skin. “I just can’t… I understand why this is okay for you, Gilbert, but I can’t put myself in the middle, not while I’m…”

“Not while you’re his student. Yes.”

“It would be…”

“You’re right. I understand,” Lafayette says heavily.

Alexander stares at Washington, in conversation with the cashier, a casual air to him that Alexander only rarely glimpses in his office. He watches for a while, savouring a rare moment of getting to look without Washington seeing. He allows himself, finally, to feel the disappointment that he had been staving off with fantasy.

When he turns back to the table, Lafayette is still looking at him deeply, as if he’s seeing something of Alexander for the first time.

“Just promise me that he doesn’t know,” Alex pleads, as he sees Washington start to walk back towards their table. “That he won’t know.”

“Oh, Alexandre,” Lafayette murmurs softly. “George does not know. It appears he does not know the half of it.”

-.-.-.-.-

Seconds later, when Washington returns to the table with a tray full of coffee and plate full of pastries, Alexander has brought down a barrier between the reason he’s here (interview prep) and the reason why, in another lifetime, he might want to be (the way that Lafayette’s still staring so intensely at him with the corner of his lips quirked, the way that Washington fixes Alexander’s coffee so carefully, as if it’s a precious act).

He distracts himself by running over his script in his head, the lines he’d prepared for an ambiguous meeting, describing his thesis work, his career goals. None of it seems pertinent anymore.

There’s small talk, the usual asking about each other’s weeks and workloads, but Alexander goes through most of it on autopilot. It isn’t the way that he had wanted things to go – he wants to be present, to fully experience what its like to see Washington outside of their usual four walls. But he can hardly hear himself speak. His attention is entirely caught up in the way that Lafayette’s hand rest on Washington’s thigh, and the way that Washington’s fingers trace lazy circles where they come to rest over Lafayette’s collarbone. To anyone else, Alex figures, it must look so casual. They certainly aren’t making a show of themselves – its nothing more than the comfortable, well-worn affection of people who have been in love with each other for a long, long time.

But Alexander can feel every single touch.  

And he wishes more than anything that he could just sit back and enjoy the view, the radiance of the room when these two men are in it, the literal gorgeousness of the way that their bodies take up space, the warmth that radiates from them. He wishes he were impartial to it. But he can’t stop his heart aching for what he never had, for what he now never will, and he can’t stop wondering why the hell either of them would ever choose to seek anyone outside of the perfection they already seem to have found in the other. He can’t fathom it. He knows he can’t, because he wants it too much.

Its everything he can’t have, and everything he’s ever lost, bundled up in one.

“How did you meet?” Alex blurts, realizing too late that he’s cut off a story that Washington had been telling about a university senate meeting. His cheeks redden, not wanting Washington to think he hadn’t been listening, and not wanting either to tell him that the sight of Lafayette leaning slightly into his broad frame is deafening. Alexander plasters on a smile, desperately trying to corral his own thoughts. “It just seems like there’s a story there.”

“Not much of one,” Washington says, an easy smile on his face. So much of the tension that usually keeps his back ramrod straight has left his body, and Alex wants to drink in how relaxed he is. Wants to bottle it and use it to fuel fantasies he knows he shouldn’t have. “We met in New York, in the spring of 1999. I was teaching, then, but I still had connections to the art scene. The world was finally waking up to what we’d been going through, and some of my friends were getting gallery showings. I went to an opening one night, saw Lafayette from across the room, and the rest is history, as they say.”

“Oh god,” Lafayette moans, “could you make it sound any more boring? You left out parts. Let me tell it.”

Washington looks amused, rolling his eyes and eventually letting them settle on Alexander while Lafayette speaks. Alexander burns.

“I ran away from France when I was twenty,” Lafayette explains, leaning forward out of Washington’s arm, towards Alexander. “My modelling career was, how you say… at a peak. But I was tired of everyone knowing my face, and dreading the day they decided I was too old for magazine spreads, and wanted to be somewhere where nobody knew my name.”

“So you were a model, then?” Alexander asks.

Oui, did you doubt this?” Lafayette tosses his head playfully, campily.

“So humble,” Washington says under his breath, shooting a secret smile at Alexander. He returns it, his body not giving him much of a choice, completely captured by the rarity of it. Like Washington is letting him into something.

“I wanted to do something else with my life, and I fell in with an avant-garde crowd and began to train in photography. I wanted to see what other people saw behind that lens. But I had no way to earn money, so occasionally I posed for shoots. All underground, never commercial again. I never assumed they would go anywhere. And they didn’t, for the most part.”

“I was teaching a seminar on contemporary erotic visual culture at the time, and was searching out works as case studies,” Washington adds, his eyes still on Alexander. “I had purchased a set of portraits from an amateur photographer, and among them were a triptych of Lafayette.”

“Completely nude,” Lafayette adds with a wink, dragging out the words. Alex feels like he’s about to break, both of their attention laser-focused on him even as they tell their own story.

“Yes. And, well, I was quite taken with them. I ended up publishing a paper analysing their composition. They even hung in my apartment for a time. Eventually, they were replaced by some other piece, and I forgot about them. But the evening I walked into that gallery opening, almost two years later, it was as if I was seeing an illusion. Some sort of phantasm made flesh. I had to talk to him. If only so I could know the voice behind the face I’d been staring at for months.”

“That’s… wow. That sounds really sweet,” Alex says. He tries to hide the fact that, through all of it, he’d been imagining himself in Lafayette’s place. Imagining Washington’s eyes on him more intensely than they were now. All over every part of him.

“It really wasn’t,” Lafayette laughs. “I was seeing someone else at the time. George had more emotional baggage than either of us could carry. I was immature. Neither of us could figure out what we wanted.”

Washington finally turns away from Alexander, giving Lafayette a look somewhere between fondness and admonishment. “That may be a bit beyond the scope of this conversation,” he says.

“Nonsense,” Lafayette says. “Alexandre asked. He wants to know.”

“He asked how we met,” Washington says, turning back to Alexander. “I’m sure he doesn’t want every sordid detail of our life together. We do have more worthwhile things to discuss, after all.”

“I think you would be surprised what Alexandre wants,” Lafayette responds, quietly. The words hang in the air for a few seconds too long. Washington goes still, and Alexander looks at the table, suddenly feeling more like an intruder than someone who had been invited in so generously.

Desperate to avoid whatever threatens to come out of the silence, Alexander says, “Yes, Lafayette mentioned that you thought he might be of some help?”

“He specializes in depictions of the male nude in ancient Greek art.”

“The only academic thing George could ever interest me in,” Lafayette smiles.

“All self-taught, but he has been published. I thought it might be something interesting to dig into in terms of an historical literature review. Homoerotic art in this period would have been one of the first public representations of queer relationships where age differences were a factor. Contextually, of course, as background knowledge.”

Et je pensais que c'était parce que j'étais ton garcon,” Lafayette says with a smirk. Alexander almost chokes on his coffee, but notes that Washington doesn’t seem to have understood the French. “Mais je suppose que nous ne sommes pas l'exemple ici, non?

“A lot of Lafayette’s photography now works with capturing the essence of that erotic energy in contemporary form.” Washington looks proud. It’s a look Alexander has seen before, once. It’s one that he’s been craving ever since.

“Yes,” Lafayette says. “I would be more than happy to discuss this with you, Alexandre. But I left my portfolio at home, so perhaps we should meet another time? I would much rather show you.”

“Yes. Yes, I’d like that.” Alexander says, ignoring the suggestiveness that rang in Lafayette’s words, reminding himself of every possibility that had been closed off the moment that he Washington had put his arm around Gilbert’s shoulders, called him his husband.

Lafayette’s phone starts to ring. “Ah, its Adrienne, I must take this.” He gets up and walks outside of the café’s doors, speaking in rapid-fire French, leaving Alexander alone with Washington at the table.

“His agent, back in France,” Washington explains. “He goes back about once a month. He may have fled but he’s still the darling of the fashion world there, on the other side of the camera. He tries to balance that with his more artistic shoots but, at the end of the day, it does allow him to live a certain lifestyle.”

Washington’s body is still relaxed, making Alexander realize how uptight his own posture is. He hasn’t relaxed since he walked in, he realizes. He breathes, focusing on the calming sky blue of Washington’s shirt.

“This may not have been as useful as you were expecting,” Washington says, his tone still warm, still a vibrant ghost of intimacy between them, even thought Lafayette had left the table and Alexander knew it was all echoes, nothing that was actually being given to him by Washington. Just echoes of something real, that Alexander was decidedly not a part of.

“It was,” Alexander says, reaching up to tuck a stray strand of his hair behind his ear. “It really was, trust me. He’s very charismatic. I know I can learn a lot from that. Need to learn a lot from that.”

Washington smiles at him, all soft brown eyes and chiselled jawline, and Alex almost can’t take it. “Lafayette can be… all-consuming. Sometimes. It’s a beautiful quality. And sometimes, when we find it in others, its hard to know how to react.”

Alexander knows exactly what he’s saying. “I was too quiet.” If only you knew why, he adds silently.

“You have that too, Alexander. You have a way about you that fills up every crevice with light. But you don’t see it, and you don’t always use it when you could.” Washington brings his hand to Alexander’s back. He leaves it there. “You’re going to need to. It will get you places you can’t imagine.”

Alexander can’t think of a way to respond to Washington’s words, to the assignation of something as glorious as light to someone as insignificant as him. He shivers.

“You don’t need to quiet yourself in his presence. Or anyone like him, for that matter.”

“Sir…”

“You don’t need to quiet yourself in mine, either. I don’t think it needs saying by now, Alexander. You don’t have to call me ‘sir’.”

Alexander swallows back the honorific. Wonders what would happen if he told Washington that he wanted to. Before he can stop himself, before he can think it through, he brings his left arm to rest across his chest, his fingers coming to brush Washington’s where they sit upon his shoulder.

The moment they touch, Washington jumps, withdrawing his hand as if he’s been burned. Alexander isn’t surprised. Can’t find it in him to feel hurt. He knows he’s been burning too hot all day. He knows, now, where the boundary rests in Washington’s mind. He forces himself to accept it.

“We should do this again. Soon,” Washington suggests, not acknowledging what had just passed between them. “I know Lafayette really enjoyed meeting you.”

“I would appreciate that,” Alex responds. “Only if you both have the time.”

“We make time for important things,” Washington says steadily. But there’s something in his eyes that’s still fumbling, still grasping for purchase, still searching for something in Alexander’s face. “And we both enjoyed this.”

Alexander watches Washington shrug on his coat and collect his things. “I’ll see you on Thursday,” Alexander says. “I’ll have another reflection paper finished.”

“I’m looking forward to it, my boy,” Washington smiles. He leaves him in the café, goes to meet Lafayette in the hallway as he finishes his conversation. They walk off together, Alexander watching as Washington’s hand comes to rest on Lafayette’s lower back, like it was meant to be there.

Alexander spends the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out why that makes him feel both meaningless and luminescent at the same time.

Chapter Text

The weekend is a blur of research, marking, writing, and fighting off sleep. Alexander stays in his room, sustaining himself as minimally as possible on granola bars and mugs of coffee that he leaves to cool for too long. John knocks on his door, invites him out, pleads with him to take a break. He doesn’t. John goes out anyway, bringing back a different guy each night. Alex doesn’t really mind. He fishes out his earplugs and pretends to wear them until he hears John’s second hookup moaning something in a pitch of voice that’s just a bit too familiar. One that still sits right beneath his skin.

He tosses the earplugs under his bed. If anyone asks, he’ll pretend that he lost them in the clutter. He’s quiet as he closes his eyes to the glow of his reading lamp, finds the well-used bottle of lube in his bedside table without having to look. He tunes his senses into the sound of the moans coming through the wall, compartmentalizing them away from the familiar sounds he can hear John making, focusing on the depth, the darkness of the other man’s voice, as he imagines it coming from another set of lips. He’s painfully hard already by the time he presses his slicked fingers against his hole, his other hand teasing at tip of his cock, playing at being someone else’s fingers. As if his body has been waiting for it, has no other function than to be ready for it. He presses his eyes closed harder, lets his mind find its way to the image of Lafayette’s lips around his cock, of Washington’s fingers breaching him, of both bodies surrounding him, filling him up, taking apart his borders.

Everything throbs, his pulse hard and erratic, his mouth forming a single syllable over and over again, a name that he’s never called Washington out loud, only in his mind, only in these moments. He imagines the plushness of Gilbert’s pretty lips, their heat, their devotion. His hips stutter, arching off of the sheets and into his grip as he listens to the sounds of whoever’s pleasure he’s decided to co-opt as his own sex toy (and that’s all this is, isn’t it? he thinks. Using them as something they’ll never be). He’s leaking into his hand, trying to steady his rhythm, to keep the last shreds of control over his body. He scissors his fingers, gasps, wishing he’d taken the time to grab one of his dildos so he’d have a hand free to stifle the edges of the cries threatening to escape him. Wishes he could truly feel full. He bites into his bottom lip, hoping its enough, hoping that the restraint stifles the broken sound that comes out as he comes. Hoping that it distorts the name on his lips enough that it can’t be recognized.

And then its over. He lays there, catching his breath, listening to John and whoever he’s brought home continuing in the other room. He wishes he hadn’t thrown the earplugs. He doesn’t want to hear it anymore.

Because its not enough. Never enough. He can’t make it into anything more than the lonely desperation that it is. Not really.  

And, like every time before, it leaves him feeling emptier. He cleans himself up sluggishly. He falls asleep thinking of a bed he’s never seen, but imagines constantly. Expanses of warm skin, hands resting over thighs and backs and quiet conversations no one else needs to hear. The two of them, Washington and Lafayette, perfect, together. Comfortable. Safe. Everything Alexander remains outside of, and everything he knows he doesn’t deserve.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-

John wakes him up early on Monday morning, making Alexander wonder how, after the weekend he had, he still has a seemingly endless supply of energy.

“Rise and shine, sleepy head, its midterm week and you know they always run out of coffee on campus during midterm week!” John throws himself on Alexander’s bed playfully, and Alexander groans.

“Fuck off,” he mumbles, pulling the blankets up over his head. The familiar pang of anxiety that he gets upon waking up – the endless reiteration of interview-thesis-funding that twists his stomach into knots – hits him full force.

“Ooh, looks like someone had a little fun last night,” John laughs, plucking the bottle of lube off of the table and dropping it onto the covers.

Fuck. He’d forgotten he’d left it out.

“Shut up,” Alexander whips the covers off, grabs the bottle, shoves it beneath the blankets where it can’t be seen. “You’re one to talk, you whore,” he shoots John a look that’s overplayed enough to know that he’s joking. John shoves him.

“Let me live my life, killjoy. Shouldn’t a fucking sexuality studies major be a little more sex-positive or whatever?” John says as he lowers himself down onto the bed, presses himself up against Alexander’s back, making himself the big spoon. Alex recognizes it as an offering. Its one that John isn’t usually in the space to give. He shifts back, curls into John as his arms wrap around Alexander’s stomach, his chin on Alexander’s shoulder. They both sigh.

“Midterm week. Goddammit,” Alexander mutters, remembering the test he has to proctor for Burr’s class, and the frantic emails he’s been fielding from first-years all weekend. “Can we just sleep through it?”

“We could,” John says, pressing his nose into Alexander’s hair. Just like before, Alexander thinks. He doesn’t say it. But nothing like that, at the same time. “I mean, if we want to flunk out of our MAs.”

“There is nothing I want more,” Alexander groans, the sunlight through the blinds stinging his eyes. “Can’t we do it dramatically though? Walk in and set Burr’s fucking non-office and all of his PhD draft work on fire? Wouldn’t that be more fun?”

“Yeah,” John nuzzles him again. “But then we wouldn’t get to sleep.”

“You’re right. You’re a fucking genius.”

They lay still together for a few minutes. John’s hold is tight, secure, just like knows Alexander likes, but he can practically hear John thinking, recognizes the way that he gets when he’s trying to figure out how to say something important. Alexander curls his fingers around John’s hands, seeking out the warmth, and tries to pretend that the moment is something that it isn’t. Tries to forget the reasons that he and John had ended things – because John couldn’t always be what Alexander needed him to, and neither could Alexander for John. Because what they needed was too similar, and often cancelled out what either of them were able to give of themselves. And yes, there were moments. Moments when those desires overlapped, fit together in the right way.

But neither of them could sustain themselves on moments.

There’s some sort of joke, Alexander remembers, about what happens when two power bottoms try to sleep together. He can’t remember the punchline, but he thinks he found it funny, once upon a time. Now he just understands it in a way that kills the humour. He couldn’t ever satisfy John because he was never quite happy pinning him down, never the best at giving pleasure in the way he wanted it to be given to him. Never really felt like he was giving the parts of himself he wanted to give. And it killed him that he couldn’t, sometimes. But it had also revealed what was missing.

“You never text me anymore,” John says, moments later.

“We’re roommates,” Alexander says. “We see each other every day.”

“We don’t… talk, though.” John says, a twinge of sadness in his voice. “Did I do something wrong?”

“What? No. I’m just busy. Like I told you.”

“You always used to talk to me though, Alex. Even if it was just ranting about the latest idiot in poli-sci. Never just… radio silence. I’m just worried about you.”

“You said that before. And I told you before…”

“I know, I know. You need to focus. I get it.”

It stops John for a second, but Alexander can tell there’s something left unsaid. He presses John’s hands into the softness of his stomach, just to feel the pressure there. Just to avoid thinking about what he knows John is going to say.

“It just seems like your focus isn’t on your work.”

“I’ve been working all weekend,” Alexander retorts. “I literally haven’t stopped.”

“Alex, I’ve known you for four years now. I can tell when you’re distracted. You’re working but… but its like your gears are spinning and all they’re producing is friction, they’re not moving you forward.”

Alex can feel the anger building behind his temples like a headache. “What are you saying?”

“Nothing. I just… I miss you, and I want to see you succeeding in the way that you want to, and I want you to be happy. And I can tell that you’re not happy. If there’s something wrong… You know you can tell me. I won’t judge you, Alex, ever.”

Alexander pushes himself out of John’s arms, rolls away from him so he has enough room to step over him and get out of the bed. He feels cold immediately. “I’m fine, John.”

“Is it Washington?”

Something inside Alexander snaps. “Why the fuck would this have anything to do with Washington?” He knows its an overreaction. A transparent one, at that. The coldness curls itself into a ball inside his stomach, makes him feel nauseous. He prays, prays, that John doesn’t bring up the broken cry of ‘George’ that had echoed through the room last night. Prays that he hadn’t heard it over his own act of chasing the emptiness away.

“I just know that he’s intense, and that he’s probably pushing you harder than you’ve been pushed before.” He sits up too, following Alex out of the bed. “I want to make sure its not… you know, too much. I want to make sure you’re okay. That you’re taking time to breathe between all those books.”

“I need to be pushed, John,” Alexander says, his voice louder than he’d intended, but still not able to contain the frustration rolling off of him. He doesn’t think before he says, “I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable that I’ve found someone who is finally willing to do that.”

The look of shock on John’s face twists a knife in Alex’s gut, but he pushes it away, tries not to feel the chasm between the warmth of John’s arms and the pain in his eyes. This is, he remembers, what he’s good at. Pushing people away.

“You know that’s not what I mean, Alexander.” John’s voice is low, hovering on the edge of a breaking point.

“Isn’t it?” He remembers their conversation in the office, remembers admitting to John his fear of how he people might see him, how his work with Washington might be interpreted. How he had hidden his own hypocrisy behind fear. “Isn’t that kind of your MO, John? Making things into more than they are?”

He feels like an asshole the moment he says it, the moment he sees John hear it. He feels even more disgusting knowing exactly what John’s getting at. What he probably sees written all over Alexander’s face, what he probably sees as a blow he has to cushion.

Protector. He always has been. But right now, he’s one that Alexander doesn’t want. Because maybe he wants to feel that blow, just once. Just to feel it, let it land, move on.

He can’t deal with John, not right now. He grabs his jacket, his unpacked bag, and slams the front door without looking back.

-.-.-.-.-.-

He avoids his and John’s office for the rest of the day, just in case. He bounces from coffee shop to coffee shop on campus, willing himself to focus, biting down on the word and trying to forget how it was used against him. It still stings. He and John fight, but Alexander knows this time he’d gone too deep. He knows exactly what he was trying to prevent John from seeing, and at the same time, didn’t know if his attempt at self-preservation had been worth it.

Alex also knows that John would understand, if he admitted how much he wanted Washington, his confusion over his lust for Lafayette, and how it was driving his motivation to work even as it left his head spinning. And that was the problem. John would understand too well. He would see right through Alex. He would try to soothe the pain, and that would make it too real.

It’s this that he’s thinking about as he moves on from his latest café, cutting across the courtyard towards the humanities library at a brisk pace. He climbs the concrete steps, so fully inside his own head that he misses the last step and goes flying forward.

He collides with something hard, his hand catching on grey wool to keep himself from falling, and it isn’t until he steadies himself that he catches the familiar scent of spice and woodsmoke that makes him think of Washington, and…

Oh.

“Alexander,” Washington is looking down at him, half surprised and half amused. Alexander is mortified. “Are you alright?”

“I am so sorry, sir, it must have been black ice or something, I – ”

“Looks to me like you were thinking too hard, son,” Washington says. Alexander’s hand is still clutching his peacoat. He thinks about letting go, but Washington isn’t moving away, his hands in his pockets, their bodies close but not close enough. They stand there for a moment, Washington the solidity to Alexander’s unsteadiness. “May I ask what about?”

Alex’s brain scrambles. Pulls something up from the weekend. Anything but the truth. “Foucault, sir. They sent out the list of committee members for the interview, and Thomas Jefferson is on it, and he’s a Foucault scholar, you know, knowledge and power and personal freedoms and everything. So I started rereading his corpus, just to,” he swallows, worries the wool of Washington’s coat between his thumb and forefinger without realizing he’s doing it. It’s rough against his fingers. “Just to know it. Inside and out.”

His mind is fighting his body, the urge to stay close fighting the knowledge of the impropriety. The looks he can feel them getting from passersby. The echo of wrong wrong wrong that persists even among the want in Alexander’s blood. He decides he should step back, just as Washington takes his hand out of his pocket and rests it on Alexander’s upper arm.

“That’s a smart thing to do,” Washington says, softly. His thumb brushes across Alexander’s coat, a smooth gesture, gentle enough that Alex can’t feel it. But he sees it. Sees, seconds later, the condensation of his breath in the cold air.

He drops his hand from Washington’s lapel, just to see if Washington, too, will move, or if he’ll hold on. Show his hand. Show Alexander what he needs to know…

He lets go of Alex’s arm, shifts himself back slightly. Alexander regrets the space between them.

“I’ve got a copy of his subjectivity and truth lectures, the library doesn’t have it.” Washington says. “I can give it to you when we see each other next. Or, just drop by my office. Any time.” He raises his hand again, an uncertain gesture, a reaching out that’s aborted halfway through. He drops it back between them, an unreadable look in his eyes.  

Alexander nods, not sure whether he’ll be able to speak with the sudden dryness in his throat.

“I have to get back to my class,” Washington says, giving him a smile that seems, to Alex, to contain just a hint of the regret that has arrested his own speech. “But I’ll see you soon, Alexander.” He makes it halfway down the steps before he casts a glance back, and says “You’re doing good work, son. Keep it up. Just remember to take breaks sometimes.”  

And then he’s gone. He’s gone and Alexander is still flying.  

He leans back against the brick pillar outside of the library doors, still needing the steadiness. Being in Washington’s presence for less that thirty seconds shouldn’t be doing what its doing to Alexander’s body, he knows that. He’s starting to feel like he can’t hold this any longer, not without it starting to spill over. Not without him giving himself away.

He pulls out his phone, opens up a text that he’s read at least a hundred times, and finally responds.

What does he say about me?

Lafayette texts back right away.

who, George?

Yes. You said he talks about me. I want to know what he says.

A read receipt pops up, but no response.

Please, Alexander texts. I need to know.

This time, Alexander watches as the ellipses ripples across his phone screen, Lafayette typing on and off for over a minute. He expects a paragraph, expects the answer that he’s craving, but when the reply finally pops up, it’s a single line.

meet me at 4, einstein’s again.

Chapter Text

Before Alex can even think about meeting Gilbert, he has a midterm test to proctor. He pushes all of his nervous anticipation to the back of his mind, wills himself not to think of either man, not to think of the answers that he might finally receive, or whether he actually wants to receive them.

He arrives at the exam room as most of the students do, helps the other TAs hand out the test booklets and the instruction sheets, and sets himself up at the front of the room. Burr walks in at 2:30 on the dot, says a few perfunctory words to begin the test, and then sits with his laptop and lets the TAs field the few questions that students have.

About twenty minutes in, Alexander gets bored, and starts re-reading the test sheet.

“Burr,” he says quietly, not wanting to disturb the students sitting in the front. It’s the first time they’ve spoken since the classroom incident. Burr looks up at him with a forced smile.

“Hamilton?”

“I think there’s a typo on question 22, in the multiple-choice section. The one about birth control education in the 60s? None of the options are actually the right answer.”

Burr maintains the same plastic smile, shrugging. “That’s unfortunate. I wouldn’t worry about it. Something like that would only bring the class average down about 4 percent.”

Alex narrows his eyes. Why would Burr know that? “Did you… is this a plant or something?”

Burr snaps his laptop shut, looking impatient. “Look, Hamilton. Schuyler thinks our class average is too high because some people don’t know how to mark consistently. I’m not allowed to use a bell curve. It’s one question, a four percent drop won’t hurt anyone. Let it go.”

“So, wait, instead of actually challenging your students, you’re cheating them out of marks because… what, you’re too complacent to actually do anything about this?” Alexander spits, taking pains to keep his voice low.

“This is none of your concern,” Burr responds, his tone infuriatingly even. “You’re just a teaching assistant, Hamilton, and this is way above your pay grade.”

Alexander hadn’t known that someone could look so smug while simultaneously conveying a metric tonne of unadulterated rage through their eyes.

Well, he thought, if this is how Burr wants to play it.

Alexander stands up, steps in front of his desk. “Attention, everyone. I just want to let you know that unfortunately there’s been a typo on the test sheet. Question 22 does not have a correct answer, so just cross it off of your sheets, it won’t be marked or included in your total.”

At his words, he sees at least half of the room heave a stressed sigh of relief, and the other TAs taking note of the instruction. When he looks back at Burr, the man has his jaw clenched so tight he’s sure he’s about to break teeth.

“Hamilton,” he says sharply. “Get out of my classroom. Now. And come see me in my office at 4:00pm. Dr. Schuyler will be present.”

“Gladly,” Alex says, grabbing his things. “But I’m busy at four. And while I’m sure Angelica would love to hear all about your revolutionary average-altering techniques, she’s in a department meeting. Which you might know if you pulled your head out of your ass every once and a while and actually did your fucking job.”

Though he can’t exactly slam the door this time, lest he disturb his already stress-ridden students, his exit feels just as satisfying as the last time.

-.-.-.-.-

Unfortunately, the wild, angry adrenaline he’d gained from dealing with Burr translates, by the time he gets to Einstein’s, into a heavy blanket of anxiety. As he waits and rereads their text conversation over and over, he’s hit with the realization that he doesn’t know Gilbert, not really. Not beyond a brief flirtation and an awkward, incomplete reorganization of the man from potential lay to Washington’s husband. And now he’d begged him to come here, in what appeared to be (when he really thought about it) not much more than a desperate bid to get into his professor’s pants. To get into Gilbert’s husband’s pants. After turning Gilbert down.

Alexander is not entirely sure what the fuck he had been thinking. Only that he hadn’t been thinking, in the afterglow of Washington’s closeness. He’s early, having found a relatively private table near the window, far away from where they’d been sitting the week prior. He thinks about texting Gilbert, telling him not to bother coming.

It really would be for the best. He needs to forget this, get used the impossibility, rather than continuing to string himself along behind the unreachable. He doesn’t have time for this, after all. He has so much to do.

He pulls his phone out, calling up Gilbert’s contact information, when the man himself slides into the seat across the table from him, an hour early.

“I was around,” he says, shrugging at Alexander’s surprise. “And it wouldn’t be very nice of me to make you wait, now would it?”

Gilbert relaxes into the chair, and Alex finds he can’t stop his eyes from raking over the tight leather jacket he’s wearing. Or from settling on the white gold ring on his fourth finger, smaller and lighter than Washington’s. He looks so at ease with everything, like he knows exactly how he sets the room on fire but doesn’t care. He focuses all of his attention on Alexander.

All-consuming, Alex remembers.

“I was about to text you, actually, something came up…” Alexander starts.

“You changed your mind, yes?” Gilbert’s eyes have that same spark to them that they’d had at the gym, this time boring into a different part of Alexander, seeing without barrier what is underneath. The energy and levity that man usually exudes is absent, replaced with an earnest intensity.

Alexander doesn’t have to answer, but feels like he owes it. “Yes.”

Gilbert huffs an amused laugh. “You are so alike, you and George.”

“Look, Lafayette,” Alex says, using the name that feels more like distance to him. “I made a mistake. I read too much into things and… and this is ridiculous, and immature, and I shouldn’t have dragged you further into it. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have wasted your time.”

He gets up to leave, but he expects Gilbert’s hand on his wrist before it lands there. When it does, he doesn’t make the other man work for it. He sits.

“Alexandre, you have a gift for being absolutely opaque. I know why you asked me here. So, please, allow me to make things transparent so that we may have an actual conversation about this?”

Alex nods, reluctantly.

“You want him,” Gilbert says bluntly. “Let us start there. Perhaps in a very different way than you want me.”

Alexander notes the present tense, the note of heat that still lingers there.

“I don’t know if you expected me to miss the way you were looking at him on Friday, Alexandre. And I know that’s why you drew the boundary between us. It is not that you think it would cause a problem for your thesis work, is it?”

To Alexander’s relief, Gilbert doesn’t sound upset, or impatient. His words are honest but soft, opening up space for Alexander rather than shutting him out. He can’t help but be thankful for that.

“I know it’s wrong,” Alexander replies. The only explanation he thinks he can offer. “I didn’t mean for it to become so…” he searches for some descriptor that can describe the ways Washington’s presence has come to permeate the boundaries of his life. “So much.”

“You want him,” Gilbert repeats. Alexander meets his eyes. There is no territorialism there, no jealousy. Just an unfamiliar sort of empathy. “More deeply than you will allow yourself to. And you want me to tell you if he wants you also.”

“I…” Alexander doesn’t know how to continue, but Gilbert holds his gaze, not willing to let him off of the hook. “I don’t know what else to do. I just need… something, I need to know. So that everything is out in the open and I can move past this before it compromises my work.”

“And you think that, by talking to me without George knowing you have, by getting that information without facing him, everything will be out in the open?” Gilbert clasps his hands and brings them up to rest his chin on them.

He knows he’s been caught in a fallacy, and feels a spike of anger at his own lack of logic. The anger quickly gives way to the pool of desperation that had always lurked beneath it. “I can’t just go to him, Gilbert, I can’t tell him. There’s too much resting on this,” he whispers. “My research, my interview. There’s you. It’s too complicated.”

“Ignore me, just for a moment, Alexandre. Take me out of the equation, pretend I am someone else.” He brings one of his hands down to rest on the table – a gesture of gravity, Alex knows. But he finds himself wanting to trace the length of Gilbert’s fingers, to press his own fingertips between the spaces.

And there’s that chasm of confusion again, the fact that he’s here about Washington but can’t exist here outside of the pull of Gilbert’s magnetism. The fact that, despite his request, he can’t take Gilbert out of the equation. He can’t ever separate the two, not even in his own mind. Not now.

“If you and I had never met, or if George was not married, tell me what you would do,” Gilbert finishes.

“Nothing,” Alexander says quickly. “I couldn’t do anything. He’s my professor, and just because I want…” he draws a sharp breath. “Just because I want him doesn’t mean that he sees anything in me. Or, if he did – ”

“Does,” corrects Gilbert. It startles Alexander, the way his heart jumps at the hint of the admission he came here for. “If he does…” Gilbert rephrases, reading the hope on Alex’s face, pacifying it.

“If he does,” Alexander tenses. “I can’t assume that it would be worth it, for him. It would ruin his reputation, if anyone found out. And this isn’t hypothetical, Gilbert. He has you.” And I can’t measure up to that, he adds. Not ever.

Gilbert goes quiet for a moment, and Alexander can see him thinking. “Okay. I see. So you’re telling me that you’re asking me to tell you what George says about you, so you will know whether or not he wants you, so that you can further convince yourself to do nothing about it?” He laughs unrestrained this time, a bright sound that cuts through Alex’s melancholy. “As I said, you are very much alike, the two of you.”

Gilbert’s eyes convey the weight of the statement, making sure that Alex doesn’t miss it. They flicker down to Alex’s lips before he continues.

“When I told you about the arrangement between George and I, Alexandre, I told you that it was built on honesty, and trust. I expect this is not going to be the last conversation we have about George, and there is a precedent here that I do not want to set.”

Gilbert takes a deep breath, and Alexander can feel the tone of the conversation change. Gilbert looks at the ceiling, seeming to seek the right phrasing, choosing each word carefully. “If the three of us are going to know each other, with or without whatever depth that may entail in the future, that honesty will remain the foundation of whatever relationship – academic, platonic, or otherwise – happens to form. You cannot ask me to come to you to give you information about George, that which he has shared with me in confidence, when I know that the ways in which you may act, or fail to act, on that information are not in his best interest. Or yours. Or mine.”

Gilbert reaches for Alexander’s hand across the table. Alexander gives it to him, places himself within that warmth, skin softer than it has any right to be. Over the deafening noise of his own heartbeat, Alexander lets himself study Gilbert’s features, the eyes large enough he thinks he could fall straight into them, the plush lips, the careful perfection of his facial hair. “Do you understand what I’m saying, Alexander?”

“I don’t know,” Alexander answers honestly, lulled by the stroke of Gilbert’s thumb across his knuckles.

“I am saying that there are some things that you can ask George yourself. That there are things that perhaps you should hear from each other’s mouths rather than mine. Yes?”

“But I can’t…” Alexander protests, a default answer that he doesn’t even think about anymore.

“Perhaps you can’t. Vous deux êtes semblables de cette façon aussi. I am saying that you should.”

He looks up into Gilbert’s eyes and find honesty. Finds the answer he had come here looking for. It hits him like a hurricane. Like a dam of possibility breaking open over a fault line, spilling open like it was meant, always, to fill the space it now takes up in Alexander’s chest.

“I will not tell you what he says about you,” Gilbert says, saving him from having to formulate a response, his hand not leaving Alexander’s. “It is not mine to tell. But, if you’d like, I will tell you about him. From the perspective of someone who has loved him for quite a long time.”

Alexander knows he doesn’t fully understand the weight of what Gilbert is offering, but knows that he needs it anyway. He nods, still unable to formulate the words.

“George Washington is the most brilliant man you will ever meet,” Gilbert bows his head to hide the smile that forms there, bashful and boyish.

“I know,” Alexander interrupts, almost too earnestly. “God, I know.”

“He does not like this about himself, though. He feels, often, that the further he pushes forward in theory, the more he loses something of humanity. Even though it is something so human that he’s fighting for.” Gilbert directs his smile back up to Alexander. “It preoccupies him. I am not an academic, by any stretch. I do not fully understand this. Mais je pense que tu pourrais.”

“I do,” Alexander says, recalling each time Washington had pushed him towards the lived, away from what he already knew.

“And he…” Gilbert pauses. “He thinks very deeply about the opinions of others. I think there is a certain freedom that people expect from him being a queer theorist – that the life you must live to help found a discipline like that is somehow more… how you say… uninhibited. But I think it is by virtue of studying how others misunderstand queer sexuality that he is hyperaware of the judgements placed on his shoulders. Especially after the military, he holds this… this tension between rules and what he knows to be correct.”

Alex knows this, he realizes. “He’ll put my hand on my shoulder, sometimes. And he’ll pull away as if he’s done something awful. But only ever when I touch him back.”

“He is afraid,” Gilbert says. “It comes across as reservation, or as propriety sometimes, but it is fear, beneath. Fear of the strength of his wanting. I think there is a certain way that desire and fear have always been two sides of the same bed, for him.”

Alex wonders if the botched expression had been intentional, but forgets when Gilbert’s fingers begin to trail down his wrist, tracing the lines of his veins, stealing the breath from his lungs.

“But, mon dieu, if you can coax him past the fear, he is a wildfire.” The spark flares Gilbert’s eyes. “He is the force that shatters stone.”

Alexander opens his mouth to reply, but finds it dry, finds the only responses waiting behind his lips completely incoherent. Halfway undone already.

He redirects, can’t bear to be so close to it. “You said, last week, that both of you… seek out others. How often does he…?”

“Hardly ever,” Gilbert says, sweeping a thumb over Alexander’s pulse point, making him twitch. “There were times, years ago, when he seemed to need it more. It has been months, though. More than that.”

“Who does he look for, when he does?”

“He cruises some of the upper scale bars in the financial district. Picks up twenty-something executives, smart enough not to repulse him but boring enough not to fall for. I think he needs to feel… more vibrant. He never calls them again.”

Alex breathes in deeply, his jaw clenched, a new fear emerging. “And am I…?”

Gilbert seems to understand what he’s asking, and considers it deeply as he traces circles onto Alexander’s skin with the pad of his thumb. Alexander can feel every one of his nerves craving the touch. “Non,” he says, finally. “You are not like them. I believe you are something quite different, Alexandre.”

 “And are you… is that okay?” He knows he’s getting ahead of himself, knows that he’d thrown all of himself into the wildness of his hope the moment Gilbert had said there were things he needed to hear from George’s mouth. “Gilbert, when I said I couldn’t, with you, it was just because I thought…”

Je le sais.” Gilbert leans in closer.

“I still…” Alexander starts, but swallows his own words as Gilbert’s free hand grasps the collar of Alexander’s shirt, and he slowly closes the space between them. His fingers still tracing meanings onto Alexander’s skin, he presses his nose against Alexander’s cheekbone, pressing a single kiss to the edge of his mouth. He smells like a rainstorm, like the leather of his jacket, like the sharp sweetness of wildflowers. The ghost of Gilbert’s soft lips on the very edge of Alexander’s own makes him tremble. Makes him want to turn into the kiss, to take. He stays completely still.

“I still want you,” Gilbert finishes for Alexander. “Je n'ai pas cessé de te vouloir.

Alexander closes his eyes, feeling just the bliss of Gilbert’s closeness, letting it flow over him like water.

“I don’t want to… I don’t want to write that off,” he stutters, feeling small with the knowledge of how little he deserves what Gilbert is extending to him.

He feels Gilbert let go of his shirt and his wrist, hears the man’s chair scrape against the floor as he stands up. He opens his eyes as he hears Gilbert laughing.

“Oh, mon petit, do you really think we would make you choose?” Gilbert winks. “Please don’t forget what I have said about George. And text me when you want to see my portfolio, yes? When you are ready, Alexandre, I will be there.”

Chapter Text

There are three days between his conversation with Gilbert and his next meeting with Washington. They drag on, hazy and indistinct, blurs of libraries and text and the soft snow that begins to fall outside.

Alexander allows himself minimal time each day to think about the slow, deliberate brush of Gilbert’s lips against his, about Washington’s hand on his arm so lightly it barely passed for touch.

The rest of the time, he works like he has never worked before. Forces himself to. His focus is razor sharp, and he knows its only because of Gilbert’s hinting, only because now he has somewhere concrete to filter his thoughts about Washington. Some way to separate the work and… whatever else was blooming there.

He knows it might be a mistake, to hope. But he can feel himself standing on the edge of something. He can sense that, come Thursday, he’s going over the precipice either way, whether he’s headed for rejection or fulfillment.

He cordons it off, mentally, from everything else, and finds that he can breathe again in the space if gives him. A few times over the three days, he sucks up his fear and starts to research potential interview questions. He still can’t think about it for too long without spiralling, but it’s a start.

Mostly, he writes. He reads, consolidates, and spins the theory into something beautiful. Something that makes sense. It feels good again, feels like it used to when it had first captivated him. He works with the Bersani text Washington had lent him, running his fingers against the leather bindings as he lets the word sink in, signifying in deeper ways, he knows, simply because it had been Washington who had handed him the book. Washington who had brought the concept of shattering into the tentative, searching vocabulary that exists between them.

He writes all night. He’s less attached to proving to Washington his worth. Now he’s out to prove something else.

He finishes everything he’s wanted to accomplish for the week on Wednesday afternoon, packs it all in an email to Washington, and sends it early. That way, if there are other things that come up when they meet, Alexander thinks, maybe there will be more time.

He doesn’t think about what those things may be. Not directly.

He thinks, several times, of texting Gilbert, seeking some sort of confirmation beyond what the man had already given him in his subtlety. He doesn’t. He’s not used to walking into things unarmed, but there might be something in the subtlety, he thinks. Something that might fade if it saw the daylight too soon. 

He does text him, once.

We have a meeting on Thursday, is all it says.

Gilbert responds, oui, he told me.

He doesn’t bother to write out talking points, to prepare his script for the meeting. He’s confident in the work he’s done, for the first time since he and Washington started working together. He thinks, for once, that he might be able to trust himself. And even if he suspects he won’t be able to talk to Washington in the way Gilbert hinted that he should, he knows at the very least that it would be wrong to preclude the possibility. To script it out of potential. There’s been too much building up to it, now. He needs the storm to break.

-.-.-.-.-

Eliza is at the front desk when he walks in on Thursday afternoon. She gives a playful wolf whistle when she sees him, and he fights off the blush, instead giving her an equally playful smile.

“Damn,” she says, accepting the coffee cup Alex hands her. “Finally learned your lesson, huh?”

“Which one would that be?”

“That you don’t need to come to every thesis meeting dressed like you’re going to a corporate job interview.” Her face lights up. “Speaking of! Angelica told me you got invited to interview for the Bersani Institute!”

She looks so unabashedly proud that Alexander can’t help but grin back at the watery bittersweetness in her eyes. It’s the first time he’s smiled about the news, he realizes. “Guilty as charged. I’m fucking terrified.”

“Alex,” she clicks her tongue. “If there was anyone who was born to get this, like literally custom-made to fit their specifications, its you. I’ve never met anyone who deserves this more. Give yourself some credit – they didn’t choose you for nothing.” She looks him up and down once more, seems to make the decision to leave the topic alone. “Are those John’s jeans?”

Alex glances down at the dark denim clinging to his thighs. “Yeah,” he says. “All of mine were dirty,” he lies. He’d taken them from John’s room after he’d left in the morning, wanting something a little form-fitting. A little more noticeable. The burgundy Henley he’d paired them with was his own.

Eliza’s eyes light up again. “Oh my god, are you two… again…?”

Alexander shakes his head, probably a little harder than he should. “Oh, no, no. Not at all. No, he’s… he’s happy doing his thing. And I’m happy stealing his jeans.” He doesn’t mention the fact that they haven’t spoken since their fight last week. He knows Eliza would just worry.

“That’s too bad,” Eliza says. “It’s been too long, Alex. You deserve someone who treats you right.”

This time, the blush sneaks up on him before he can squash it. He sees Eliza notice. He watches Eliza decide not to ask.

“I’m leaving early today,” she says, instead. “Angie and I are going out of town for the weekend to visit our sister. Do you mind locking up when you’re done with Dr. Washington?” she holds out the department key.

He agrees, pocketing the key. He says goodbye and makes his way through the halls to Washington’s office.

-.-.-.-.-.-

He doesn’t knock this time – just walks in, figuring that Washington’s invitation to drop by any time warrants that much familiarity at least. If he’s honest with himself, he’s hoping to catch the look in Washington’s eyes when he enters. He wants to see the man take in Alexander fully, without the barrier of blazers and ties. He wants him to recognize the difference.

He isn’t disappointed. Washington is seated behind his desk as Alexander walks in. He feels the heat of his gaze on his hips without having to confirm it, but he does, anyway, drinking in the liquid warmth of Washington’s brown eyes.

What he doesn’t expect is the way that he sees Washington’s face turn to stone as he moves to sit down. In the span of a blink, the warmth is gone, replaced by something stoic, all but expressionless. He doesn’t expect the staunch set of Washington’s shoulders, the severe line of his jaw, especially after seeing him so pliant at lunch.

He doesn’t quite know what to make of it.

“Alexander,” the man nods. It’s terse, almost. Something twists in Alexander’s stomach. “Would you like to start with interview preparations or my thoughts on your reflection paper?”

The lack of greeting feels like a slap, and though he pointedly hadn’t scripted, he realizes that he had walked in expecting something. In his mind, this was meant to be a climax. Not a detachment.

Is it the clothes? Is he really that attached to that version of professionalism?

“Um,” Alexander says, considering his options, grasping for a reassurance that isn’t there. He wants to ask how Washington is, finds that he genuinely wants to know, but there’s no room for it. Purposefully, it seems. “Interview,” he answers. He does his best to match Washington’s tone. It’s better, he thinks, than keeping a disjointed warmth in his own voice and having it deflected. “Let’s start there.”

Washington pulls out a folder. “I did some research,” he says. “This scholarship has only existed for a few years, so there isn’t much direct advice that has been published online. I did find a list of past interviewees, if you want to contact any of them for advice.” He pushes a page across the desk to Alexander. “Other than that, your best bet is to base your preparation on other prestigious panel interview formats. The Rhodes Scholarship, for instance, has a similar set up, so everything I could find on that is in this folder.” He hands it to Alexander. “The difference is that something like the Rhodes wouldn’t be evaluating specific disciplinary knowledge. They’re looking more at the way that you think, the ways in which that reveals your outlook, your personality. The people on the Bersani panel, they’re going to challenge you on the details of what you know as well as who you are.”

Alex thumbs through the folder in an attempt to ignore the spike of anxiety that shoots through his body. Its generous, the amount of thought Washington has put into this. Knowing that somehow makes his emotionless tone even more harsh.

What stings the most, Alexander realizes, is the way that Washington’s coldness forces him to realize that he knows precisely what he’d been hoping for when he walked into the office. Forces him to watch as the possibility recedes into the distance.

Let it go. He literally couldn’t be giving you a clearer signal. Gilbert was wrong. Just let it go.

“You’ve got a few weeks left, at this point,” Washington says. “Personality isn’t something you can fabricate, only draw out. I say we focus on the knowledge points. Make it so you have no chance of stumbling there.”

Alexander meets Washington’s eyes and notices, for the first time, that there’s something lurking beneath the stoniness there. Something swimming just beneath the surface.

“Yes, sir.”

“You have the right idea,” Washington says, “looking at the research interests of the committee members. They’re more likely to test you on things they know the answers to. But, if I know people like Thomas Jefferson, they’re going to take that and make you apply it to novel contexts, like your research, and they’ll debate you on it.”

As soon as he says it, Alexander’s mind clicks into gear. He has two options. He can either fix himself in the space of his desire, stumble through Washington’s exercise, and leave having disappointed them both. Or he can jump in, keep up with the pace of Washington’s thought, work for it. At least I can still do this, he thinks. At least I can earn his respect this way. “Mock debate, then?”

Washington smiles, just a small thing, the edges of his lips, but it still lights Alexander up. “Precisely. You said you’d been rereading Foucault so… how does a Foucauldian reading of power dynamics in intergenerational queer sex support its political value?”

It’s a big question – big enough to be a chapter of his thesis on its own – but, luckily, its one he’s been thinking of almost non-stop. For more personal reasons, perhaps, but nonetheless.

“It disrupts a common misconception,” he starts, “that the power dynamics in these relationships are function from the top down. The cultural reading of age gaps is often that the older person has a disproportionate amount of power that they are able to wield over the younger in a way that invalidates consent.”

“And why is that wrong?” Washington prompts.

“It’s wrong because that isn’t how power works. Power isn’t static or stable, it can’t belong to one party or the other – its forged in the context of the relationship. Even if there’s a dynamic of domination,” Alexander says, feeling the force of what he’s saying build, feeling it take up space in the room, “that dynamic is a way to express subjectivity. Its not only or always an oppressive force.”

“Good,” Washington says. “What else?”

Alexander wracks his brain. “That misreading, even if its inaccurate, makes these relationships more desirable. Foucault talks about how you can’t actually repress desire – that social prohibitions are never effective in shutting down or destroying deviance. Rather,” Alexander swallows, chances a glance at Washington through his eyelashes, “rather, the very moment that something is forbidden, the fact of its disallowance produces desire. It makes people want that thing more than they already do.”

Washington is looking at him intently. His shoulders are still set, but the blankness of his face has been replaced by a look of quiet awe tinged with something much darker.

So, Alexander thinks. Maybe it’s never been a choice between one or the other. Maybe there was a way to do this, and still…

“How does that connect? Give me an example.”

“Well,” Alex’s heart pounds, and he can’t discern if its just the adrenaline of the questioning or his body recognizing the chance he’s about to take. “It connects because it explains not only what’s particularly erotic about sexualized age gaps, but why the public is fascinated with them as well. It is… its the fact of desire where it is not meant to exist, where we feel viscerally as if it shouldn’t, and yet… it does.” He can feel the passion in his words, the way he’s infused them. “An example of that is the ways in which erotic energy can characterize academic relationships. It explains why you’re not supposed to fuck your professors. But also why you want to.”

He watches Washington pointedly not react. “That’s…” Washington clears his throat.

Alex ponders composure, thinks about the satisfaction of ripping it apart. Feels a boldness coursing through his veins from acing the each of Washington’s questions – a confidence he hasn’t been able to rely on in weeks.

“I might not use that particular example with Jefferson,” Washington says steadily. “It might open up a can of worms that’s best avoided. But you’re quite right, son.”

“I’d use it,” challenges Alexander. “It’s the perfect case study. You can talk about departmental policy, the lack of clarity that in loco parentis suggests as a legal state, you can talk about cultural representations of student/professor relationships, about consent in a grading economy, about emblematic fetishes, you can – ”

“Okay,” Washington says, cutting him off. He breathes in sharply, coughs again. “Are you…?” he starts to ask. He aborts the question before he finishes it. He settles, instead, for a softer, gentler, “Okay.”

 “You told me not to hold back,” Alexander says simply. “Not to quiet myself.” He lays emphasis on the words. Prays that Washington reads it.

“We should move on,” Washington says. “Talk about your reflection paper.”

It is, again, not what Alexander is hoping for. But it’s a reaction, he reckons, the rapid change of subject. The redness creeping up from below Washington’s collar. It is not nothing.

“Of course, sir.”

“I had… a hard time with it. I think you’ve missed the mark.”

The disappointment Alexander feels is instantaneous. Shit. “Really?” It’s the most theoretically sophisticated thing he’s written. He’d been proud of it, for fuck’s sake. He feels himself deflate, feels his bravado waver.

“You’re thinking this at a high level,” Washington says, pulling out his own copy of Alexander’s work. “Nothing you’ve said is wrong. But you’re moving away from what you need to be looking at. You need to be moving into it.”

“What does that mean?” Alexander asks, his voice betraying his frustration.

Washington takes his eyes off of the paper to look at him. “There’s nothing of you in this, Alexander. Anyone could have written this paper.” He seems to catch the retort building on Alexander’s lips, and pre-empts it. “It is brilliant, there’s no doubt. The way you take up Bersani’s work is robust, and novel. But there is a difference between the brilliance of pure analysis and the brilliance of something that has been informed by one’s passion. I don’t want a paper – or a thesis, at the end of this – that could have been written by anyone. If you want this project to have an impact, it needs to be something that only Alexander Hamilton could have written.”

 “But… won’t that affect scholarly objectivity?” Alexander asks. “I can’t just… what, talk about my feelings? Is that what you want me to do?” There’s a bite to his voice that he finds he can’t keep out. “This project is already going to be heavily critiqued. If I root myself in it, I’m just making it easier for other academics to discredit.”

 “It’s situated knowledge, Alexander,” Washington says, his voice hard. He’s left the paper behind now, in favor of focusing on Alex directly. “Its offering a connection. Showing, rather than telling, your reader why this should matter. You can still keep your theoretical framework, but you need to make it human. The people at the Bersani Institute – they’re not going to choose someone who is only willing to put forth an academic relationship to the theory. They’re going to choose someone who is willing to live it.”

He's right, Alexander knows. And all he’s exposing is his own fear to be vulnerable. He knows that too.

 “More than that, Alexander,” Washington’s voice cuts through his contemplation. It sounds different, suddenly. Thicker. “What I’m trying to say is that… if you want something. This scholarship, or anything else. It has to be because you want it. Not because it’s something that is desirable. Your work is brilliant son, really. But…” Washington takes a breath, and Alexander notes the shakiness that ripples through it. “But I need to know that its you who wants it. I need to see you in it. Otherwise, I can’t… I won’t…” he trails off.

“Oh,” Alexander says. It’s the crack in the façade that he’s been waiting for. The edge of the precipice drawing nearer, he can feel it. He has no idea what to say.

“Look, son,” Washington clasps his hands together, places them on the desk. “Please, stop me if this crossing a line. We haven’t discussed this before. But I can’t imagine that anyone would undertake research like this if they didn’t have a deeply personal connection to it. If there wasn’t something of their own desire they were trying to validate. Is that… am I making an incorrect assumption?”

The coldness is completely gone, now. He can see the vulnerability in Washington’s face. So present he can’t escape it. Alexander’s own face is burning.

Part of him wants to volley the question back at Washington, ask him, if everything is dependant on deeply personal connection, why he’d wanted to supervise Alexander in the first place. But he doesn’t. He thinks he already knows the answer.

He barks a laugh, unable to help himself. “God, if you seriously think I’d immerse myself in pure psychoanalysis for any other reason…” But Washington’s eyes are still searching, almost desperate for something concrete. He gives him his answer. Slowly. “No. You’re not assuming incorrectly.”

A flicker of something across Washington’s features. It sets Alex’s blood on fire. His fingers scramble to find his pulse point on his wrist. Its hammering.

 “Alexander, do you trust me?” Washington asks quietly.

“Yes.” He doesn’t even have to think about it.

“I want to… try something,” Washington says. Alexander’s mouth goes dry. “It can be difficult to connect the theory to those deeper motivations. Perhaps if we spent time drawing those to the surface, it would be easier to put them into words.” When Washington looks at him this time, there’s a clear question there. Its an important one, Alexander knows. He licks his lips. Nods. Sees his assent settle onto Washington’s shoulders.

The sun setting outside of the window. The lamplight bleeding off of Washington’s desk. The hallways outside of the office are quiet. Eliza and Angelica must have left. They're alone.

“Close your eyes,” Washington says. Alexander does, sliding into the darkness. He can hear his professor’s breathing from across the desk. Smell the spice of his skin. Everything heightened.

“I want you to imagine,” Washington says, “that you’re seeking out one of these relationships, with an older man. Tell me what you’re looking for. Tell me why.”

Alexander swallows, feeling the air vibrate around him. “As a way to clarify the theory?” he asks. His real question is implicit.

“Yes,” Washington says. His voice is inches away from breaking. Alexander can hear it. “Of course.”

His chest feels close to bursting. He panics, for a brief second, at the fact that he doesn’t have a script for this. That there’s a reason that this is the one thing he never speaks aloud, only through media where it won’t be recognized for what it is. And now, Washington, asking him to let him see beneath all of that. And Alexander, finding that he wants to let him.

“I think a lot of it has to do with feeling desired by – ” he starts. It sounds empty even to his own ears.

“Don’t think about it, Alexander. I already know you can think. Tell me why.” The command is clear, echoing around him.

Alexander digs his fingertips into the armrest of his chair. Stops thinking about the words that come out of his mouth.

“I want…” he draws a shaky breath. “I want to lose control. Completely. I want to give that part of myself to someone I know can take that weight and not break beneath it. Its freedom at the same time as its safety. The dirtiness of it, tinged with something... something truer. I want to feel that. I want to be consumed by someone who can make me feel that.” It doesn’t even come close to everything he needs to express. Barely glances over the surface.

“I would look for someone,” Alexander continues, pressing his eyes closed harder, surrendering to the blatant desire in his voice, “someone who I know I could make feel good. Someone not afraid to take, not afraid to take me apart, to show me parts of myself I can’t see without me having to think so hard about it…”

He pauses, waiting for some acknowledgement, but he gets nothing. His head is spinning.

“I need that. I think I always have. I need to be broken open completely.”

As soon as the words leave his mouth, he hears the scrape of Washington’s chair against the floor, hears him stand up. He keeps his eyes closed, clinging to the command. Wanting to show him how good he can be.

“I need to be taken apart from the inside out.” Its still not enough – still doesn’t capture enough.

He waits to feel Washington’s hands on him. His whole body craves it, wants it. He can feel himself, half hard, straining against the fly of his jeans. Knows that Washington, if he was looking, would be able to see it.

He angles his hips up in the chair slightly, moves his knees apart almost infinitesimally. He hears Washington walk behind him. He waits for his hands to fall on his shoulders.

“Worked open, until there’s nothing left of myself to hold on to…”

“Alexander – ” Washington’s voice breaks, something near a groan. It comes from somewhere more distant than he expected.

He opens his eyes, casts a glance back over his shoulder. Washington is standing facing the bookshelf behind him. Facing away from Alexander. Not looking. His hands are braced on one of the higher shelves, his head hanging, eyes on the ground. Alex can see the rise and fall of his breathing, the movement of his shoulder blades beneath his shirt.

Alexander stands up. He wants to move towards him, wants to make this real. Instead, he turns around, and perches himself on the edge of Washington’s desk. He draws his legs up onto the chair so that he’s facing Washington, sitting on the mahogany desk. The air is thick, the office nearly dark but for the warm light of the lamp next to him. He sees Washington’s hands tremble in their grip on the wood. He wants them – needs them – somewhere else.

He chooses his next words carefully. “I can’t put this into words, sir. There’s so much of it that isn’t… that I can’t express that way. I’m sorry.”

Washington doesn’t move, and Alexander is afraid he hasn’t heard him. Hasn’t heard the plea in his voice.

He bites his lip. He’s shaking, he knows; he can feel his heartbeat pounding beneath every inch of his skin. When Washington turns around, his eyes are blazing heat, pupils blown wide, and Alexander sees it. Sees it, undeniably, now. The unmistakable outline of Washington’s cock, hard, tenting the front of his pants. Everything Gilbert had suggested, everything Alexander has been craving.

Everything.

He knows there isn’t a turning back, if he crosses this line. But he also knows, deeply, that he doesn’t want there to be. When he speaks, Alexander’s voice is all heat, barely there.

“I could show you.”

It takes Washington two steps to reach the desk, two seconds before he’s in front of Alexander. He moves the chair to the side, moves so that he’s standing in front of Alexander’s knees. But he stops there, his hands halfway through the gesture of reaching, not quite reaching completion. The absence of touch. Alexander can see him thinking too hard.

Let me show you,” Alexander whispers. He brings one of his shaking hands to the belt loop of Washington’s pants, pulls him forward gently. As he does, he opens his legs, eases Washington in to the space between them. Once he’s close enough, Alexander slides his arm around Washington’s waist, his fingers resting in the small of his back. He pulls Washington towards him this way, closer, until he fills up the space between his thighs entirely. Until he can feel Washington’s hardness, the shocking heat of it, pressed against his own.

There’s nothing else to say – nothing that will convey what he needs to. He sees Washington’s eyes flutter closed as he braces his hands on the desk, on either side of Alexander. Alex keeps his hand on Washington’s back, and rolls his hips forwards experimentally. The air around them feels electric.

Fuck,” slips from Washington’s lips, guttural, and his hands are instantly in Alexander’s hair, pulling it out of its tie, letting it fall around Alexander’s shoulders. Alexander feels him run his hands through it, feels him wind his fingers through it. He moves closer – impossibly closer – his chest against Alexander’s, his open lips pressed against his forehead, his nose buried in his hair.

All Alexander can feel is the throbbing heat between his legs, not sure if its Washington or himself, or both, tandem desire mixing into something unbearable.

He rolls his hips again, harder this time, bracketing Washington with his knees. His free hand braces against Washington’s chest, against the plain of muscle there.

“Please,” he begs. “Please.

Something changes, snaps – he can feel it. Suddenly, Washington’s hands are gone, Washington himself is gone, stumbling backwards away from Alexander. He puts distance between them, backing towards the bookshelf again, his hands up as if he’s committed a crime. “I’m sorry,” he says. “God, Alexander, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t – ”

Even through the dim light, Alexander can see his eyes. Sees the fear in them, the conflict. The shame, most of all. The coldness cuts through the haze of everything. Threatening to break everything apart.

But he remembers, then, what Gilbert had said. About love and fear being two sides of the same bed. About he and Washington being too similar in their reservations, and about his struggle to reconcile rules with his own desire. He sees exactly how this will play out, if he lets the fear dominate it now. And he can’t. He knows that he won’t be able to go back to how things were before.

Washington is still standing close enough for Alexander’s hand to grab onto his shirt. He does. He isn’t gentle this time, doesn’t waste the momentum. There isn’t much time to talk in the space apart and together, but he does. A breathless whisper.

“Sir, we both know better than that.”

He crashes their lips together, not caring about the force of the impact, only about wet heat and the feeling of Washington’s tongue breaching his lips as it does, finally; about moaning into his mouth, the sound exploding into the empty office. The levee breaks, and the rush of it threatens to engulf Alexander whole, as he feels Washington, this time, thrusting his hips to meet Alexander’s so forcefully that it shakes the entire desk. The pleasure that bursts through his body is richer than he’s ever felt, a wild seeking satisfied only by the feeling of Washington all around him, by the fantasy of Washington inside of him as he feels the impact, the heat of what Washington can do to him fully dressed.

“Fuck me,” Alexander moans, surprising even himself with the plea. “Please, I need – ”

And that’s when both of their phones go off, simultaneously, the sound piercing through the symphony of their breath and the wetness of their mouths on each other’s. Both of them go still. There’s only one person who would be texting them both at the same time.

“That’s… Lafayette,” Washington says, grabbing his phone out of his back pocket, but not pulling away this time. “Alexander, I should mention, since you two have met, that even though we’re married, we have always been open to – ”

“I know,” Alexander says. “He told me. We’ve… we’ve talked.” His hands are still fisted in the fabric of Washington’s shirt. He runs one of them down Washington’s chest, tracing the ridges of muscle, marvelling. Marvelling at the sheer impossibility of it.

Washington gives him a strange look. “Good. That’s good.” Washington turns on his phone, reads the text there. Chuckles. “He’s reminding me to invite you to dinner. We’re throwing a dinner party on Sunday. He got so excited, he thinks it’ll be good practice for you, for the interview.”

Alexander glances at his own phone, sees a long text from Gilbert which he assumes says something similar.

“He’s quite… invested in you, you know.” Washington sets his phone down. The air around them is still warm, still buzzing with something, but not quite so static, or as frantic as before.

Safe, Alexander thinks.

Washington brings one of his hands up to cup Alexander’s face, brushing a thumb across his cheekbone. The pulsing newness of everything – the feeling of having broken through – its almost too much.

He turns his face, pressing it more steadily into Washington’s warm hand. Thinks about ways to move forward. Goes for levity. “Tell him I’ll be there, but that next time he doesn’t need to be a fucking cock block about it.”

The volume of Washington’s laughter takes him by surprise, causes him to laugh himself, their faces still close. A different kind of warmth. A kind that he hadn’t quite expected from this. Not yet.

“I do believe that his intention was probably quite the opposite.”

“Look,” Alexander says, “I know we need to talk about this… I don’t want there to be any question. Of what I want. Of what you want.”

It sobers Washington. He drops his hand from Alexander’s face, lets it come to rest on his thigh. “I don’t either. Which is why I can’t… not in good conscious… I can’t do this tonight. You know I want to, but…”

Its not the first time he’s felt disappointment in the course of the evening, but it stings more than before.

“I need us to wait, Alexander,” Washington says. His tone is even, but the way that he’s looking at Alexander is so open. “I need you to make sure that this is really something you want. That you’re not just feeling caught up in…” he gestures around the office. “I couldn’t live with myself if any part of this wasn’t freely chosen, or that, if you look back, you’ll feel forced. That’s my condition. Otherwise this… it can’t happen.”

Alexander drops one of his hands to Washington’s waist, presses his fingers beneath the hem of Washington’s shirt just to hear him inhale sharply. “Aren’t you the one who just made me recite the fact that power differentials aren’t actually sovereign…?”

“Don’t get smart with me,” Washington says, the mirth on this face conflicting with the seriousness of his tone. “You know what I’m saying. I need to know that you’re sure. And I need you to take the time to think about it.”

“I’m sure,” Alexander says quietly. “I’ve never been more sure.”

“Please, Alexander, for my own peace of mind.”

And, for the second time, he remembers the fear that lurks behind Washington’s eyes. Remembers what might be broken if Alexander spurs them forward too quickly, no matter what he wants. Sees where patience might lead.

“Okay. Okay, I can do that. I can wait.”

Washington lets go of him, steps back again. His smile is still there though, and Alex sees a depth of satisfaction within it. Just like what he’s sure must be written all over his own face. “Go home, Alexander. I’ll see you this weekend, if you decide to come. Perhaps we can talk then.”

Alexander grabs his bag, his jacket, the folder Washington had given him. He walks over to Washington, leans in close to whisper in his ear, a new kind of assurance running through his blood. A new kind of wanting, something much stronger than before. More enduring. He cups his hand around Washington’s lingering hardness as he speaks. “I’ll be there. Sir.” He feels Washington twitch beneath his hand. Watches him drop his head back, his mouth falling open.

He wants, more than anything, to stay. To convince Washington to bend him over the desk, to give him what he’s been fantasizing about for weeks. But he also knows how much more he can gain by leaving.

So he does. And if he can feel Washington watching him as he walks through the door, he'll consider it something to tide him over. 

Chapter Text

Alexander can’t remember the last time he stood for this long in front of a mirror. His hands gripping the porcelain edge of the bathroom sink, he looks himself over for the twentieth time. He pops another button open on his green dress shirt, then immediately buttons it back up. He runs a hand through his hair. Its soft, falling just below his shoulders. He leaves it down, remembering how Washington had let it down himself. How it had been the first thing he’d touched when he’d known Alexander wanted it.

He hasn’t been able to stop thinking about that moment.

He hasn’t, however, thought much about what Washington had asked him to. He’d tries, but finds he doesn’t get far.

He knows exactly what he wants.

He scrutinizes his face again, criticizing the set of his nose and the dark creases under his eyes that he can’t ever seem to get rid of. He adjusts his cuffs, rolling them up so he doesn’t look so stiff. He’s far from perfect, he knows that. His pulse races, half anticipation and half fear that Washington is going to see him and change his mind, or that he won’t measure up to Gilbert’s standards. He doesn’t really know what ‘dinner party’ means coming dually from someone as serious as Washington and as exuberant as Lafayette. But he does know that he’s ready to find out.

He hears the front door open and shut, and a moment later John is standing in the bathroom door. It’s the first time they’ve been in the apartment together all week – they’d fallen into conflicting schedules, partly out of necessity but mostly out of avoidance.

The stiltedness certainly hasn’t gone away.

“Hey,” John says gently. “Can I come in?”

“Yeah,” Alex says, “its your place too. You don’t have to ask.”

John doesn’t respond to the jibe in Alex’s voice – just walks behind him and sits on the edge of the bathtub.

“You look really good,” John says. “Going out?”

“Just a department thing,” Alex says quickly. “And thanks.”

John tilts his head. “Really? I didn’t know there was anything going on, should I be getting dressed?” 

“Oh, uh, no. It’s a Washington thing. I mean, uh, a thesis thing. With Washington. A thing for my thesis. Interview. Whatever.”

John narrows his eyes, and Alex can see the question forming there, but John seems to let it go. “Hercules is hosting a pre-drink at his place tonight before we hit the bars, I was gonna ask if you wanted to come with me, but I guess you’re already busy?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Alexander says, watching John pick at his cuticles. “I’m sorry. Maybe next time?”

John lights up a little at that. “Next time,” he nods. “Alex, I wanted to say I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you last week, I shouldn’t have pried like that. I just worry about you, and I hate this distance between us, and…”

Alexander manages a small smile. He misses John too, the easiness between them, he really does. “Don’t worry about it, man. I overreacted. It’s on me, okay?”

“Can we talk then?” John says, his eyes hopeful in a way that breaks Alexander’s heart. “I want to know how your thesis is going, how you’re feeling about this whole Bersani thing, just… everything that’s going on in your life.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Alexander says. He imagines telling John everything: about Washington, about Thursday night, about how it felt to have Washington’s teeth scraping across his bottom lip and… he can’t imagine John’s reaction. He can’t tell if John would balk at his age, or worse, if he’d think Alexander is trying to boost his grade from Washington. There’s a part of him that thinks John would be happy to know that Alexander is happy, that can already imagine the wildly inappropriate jokes he’d make, but another part of him that’s heard John rant about skewed power dynamics so often that he doesn’t know if he’d end up on the other end of a patronizing tirade.

And he doesn’t want to have to explain something he can’t name yet – can’t even put into words.  

“Can we take a rain check though?” Alexander asks. “I don’t want to be late for this.”

“Yeah, for sure,” John says. He gets up, wraps his arms around Alexander from behind. “Be safe tonight, okay?”

“It’s just a dinner,” Alexander rolls his eyes. “Interview practice. Jeez, I’m not your kid.” He pushes John off playfully. “Go get drunk.”

John tousles his hair, sending Alexander leaping for the comb again. “I’ll have a pint of Sam Adams in your honor.”

“Have three,” Alexander mutters, frantically combing his hair back to smoothness. “I’ve never seen you drink one of anything.”

He hears John’s bedroom door shut. He takes one last look in the mirror – dark hair, deep eyes, his facial hair trimmed into submission, the skin-tight fabric of his shirt – and decides there’s nothing more he can do. He grabs the bottle of wine he’d bought off of the kitchen table and leaves.

-.-.-.-.-

The address that Gilbert had texted him is in one of the town’s older neighborhoods, a decent driving distance away from the university, full of old turn-of-the-century houses flanked by overpriced coffee shops, independent art galleries, and pretentious vintage stores. Not wanting to blow money on a cab – having already spent some of his weekly food budget on the wine, wanting to make a good impression – he takes the bus.

He shivers the whole way over, like he always does when he can’t relax, but he plays it off as being the cold. Lazy snowflakes have started to fall, and by the time he reaches Washington and Gilbert’s front door, his cheeks are rosy and he can barely feel his fingers.

They have a fucking brass door knocker, he realizes. Jesus. Its heavy in his hand, and looks intricate enough to have been an original. He’s never even been on the front step of a house this nice, and can’t decide whether he feels lucky or incredibly out of place.

Not two seconds after he knocks, Gilbert answers the door. He looks striking, as he always does, but his face lights up when he sees Alexander and pulls him in out of the cold.

Mon chou, you came!” his smile is infectious, easily spreading to Alexander.

“Of course I did. Wouldn’t miss it.”

There’s something roguish in Gilbert’s eyes as he closes the door, leaning into kiss Alexander on both cheeks, his lips lingering hot on Alex’s cold skin for a bit longer than necessary. “I hear we have some catching up to do.”  His hands move from Alexander’s shoulders, coming up to cup the back of his neck. His eyes sweep hungrily over Alexander’s lips and Alexander tightens his grip on the bottle of wine, afraid he’ll drop it. “Et dieu merci pour ça,” Lafayette purrs. “I do not think I could have waited much longer.”

Their lips are an inch apart, and Alexander is already lost in Gilbert’s cologne, forgetting how to breath. Gilbert hovers there, though, dragging one of his thumbs across the curve of Alexander’s neck.

The sound of someone clearing their throat in the foyer behind them cuts through the moment, and Alexander jumps. Then, Washington’s voice. “Lafayette.” There’s a note of amusement hiding behind the sternness. “I thought we agreed?”

Lafayette rolls his eyes for Alexander’s benefit. “He is the first one here, George, it hardly matters. How do you expect me to welcome him into our home, with a firm business-like handshake?”

Alexander is still frozen, halfway mortified, still searching Gilbert’s face for a hint of whether Washington knows what he walked in on or not.

When Gilbert begrudgingly moves back, Alexander can see Washington is smiling too, a pair of oven mitts tucked under his arms. “No, but I do think he would probably appreciate the chance to take his coat off. Welcome, Alexander. I’m glad you’re here.”

“It smells great in here,” Alexander says awkwardly, feeling suddenly overwhelmed and trying to mask it. He eyes Washington, relaxed again, in jeans and a black polo that leaves his arms on display. Alexander viscerally remembers the power of them, remembers the hardness of Washington’s whole body bracketing his own. His skin isn’t cold anymore. “Sir.”

Gilbert quirks an eyebrow, a devilish smirk on his face. “Lamb,” he says eventually. “George is an excellent cook.”

For the first time, Alexander takes in the foyer: a landscape of dark wood and leather fixtures, but still somehow bright, open. So much like the both of them, he thinks. Everything looks devastatingly expensive.

“Would you be able to help me in the kitchen, Alexander? We’ll let Lafayette handle the greetings. He seems to be… overly enthusiastic about that aspect of hosting tonight.” Washington’s deadpan gives no clues about whether he’s joking, but when Alex glances back at Gilbert, he shoots him a clear look that says ‘relax’ and waves him off to follow.

He does. The kitchen is just as impressive as the rest of the house – severe and warm and modern and bright at once. Washington leans up against the closed oven.

“What do you need help with, sir?” Alexander asks, feeling the need to be useful, to put himself to work, to earn his keep in a house where he so clearly doesn’t belong.

“Nothing,” Washington says, watching Alexander with something like a quiet awe in his eyes. “Nothing at all. I just wanted to see you.”

Alexander doesn’t know what to say, even though – and probably because – there is so much that he wants to. He bows his head to hide his blush.

“Lafayette told me how you two had met before. That he had invited you here, before either of you realized.”

“Ah,” Alexander says, getting his answer, thinking of everything he needed to manage in retrospect. “So he probably also told you that I asked him not to tell you.”

“He did,” Washington says.

“That was before… you know. Before Thursday. I didn’t want things to get complicated.”

They still haven’t talked about it, the possibility of the three of them. Not directly, not out loud, Alexander realizes.

“Would you have come?” Washington asks. There’s no demand or judgement in his voice, only curiosity.

Alexander thinks about it, for the first time in a while. Remembers the rush he’d felt writing his number on the library receipt, sliding it into Gilbert’s nimble fingers, drinking in his confident smirk. “Yeah. I think I would have.” The way that Washington is leaning up against the oven, casual yet poised, drives him crazy. It reminds his too much of the office, of all of the façades he wants to shatter. He remembers the lust in Washington’s eyes, the wild edge of it. He wants to see it again. “Would that have been okay with you, sir?” He tilts his head, trying for something close to innocence. “If Gilbert had brought me home?”

A hitch in Washington’s exhale is the only sign Alexander gets of his faltered composure.

He sees a familiar darkness cloud Washington’s eyes. He sees him about to say something, only to bite the words off. “Alexander, we should talk about this, before anything…”

The sound of the brass door knocker interrupts them. They both pretend to listen to Lafayette welcome people in; Washington pretends to be less affected than Alexander knows he is. Alexander is done pretending.

“I know what I want.” He holds Washington’s gaze steady. “Nothing has changed. There’s nothing to talk about.”

He means to be reassuring, but knows he sounds much more forward than that. He can feel the pull between them, spanning the short space between the countertop. An aching magnetism that it takes more energy to resist than to fall into.

“Alexander.”

“I know what I want, sir” he repeats. He doesn’t move. He wants to see Washington break first, wants to see if he can draw him in with nothing more than the words.

He doesn’t get the chance to find out.

“George!” Lafayette appears in the doorframe. He looks gorgeous, Alexander realizes again, his tall frame leaning against the wood. The specks of pink, purple and cobalt on his floral dress shirt bring out the life in his eyes, reminding Alexander of spring, months too early. His thigh-length grey wool cardigan looks like it probably cost more than Alexander pays in rent. “Everyone’s here, don’t be a recluse. Come introduce Alexander, yes?”

Washington smiles. “It appears we’re being summoned.” The span of the hand that comes to rest on Alexander’s back just frustrates him more. He wants to turn around, slam Washington back against the counter, make him lose his fucking composure once and for all. “Shall we?”

He feels cold when Washington drops his hand and increases the distance between them as soon as they step into the living room.

“George!” someone says as they walk in. A man with salt and pepper hair and the most dashing smile Alex has ever seen wraps his arms around Washington. “It’s been six months, how the fuck are you?”

“Never been better,” Washington answers with an easy smile. “Nate, everyone, this is Alexander Hamilton, he’s the student I’m supervising this year.”

Alex tries to process the distance in Washington’s voice as he says ‘student’. He catches a few of the names that Washington rhymes off, nodding to each of the other six guests. They’re all around Washington’s age, he realizes, each with a wineglass in their hand. Gilbert is leaning on one of the couches holding the bottle.  

The man next to him, Nate, grasps his hand. “Alexander. Must be something pretty special if you got this one to take you on. He basically wrote the textbook on evading basic advisory responsibilities.”

Alex tries to think of a witty response as he shakes the man’s hand, but Washington speaks first, earnestly. “Alexander is the best student I’ve ever had. He’s interviewing for the Bersani Institute next month.”

“We’ll all be saying ‘we knew him when’,” Lafayette chimes in cheerily.

“Well, congratulations Alexander,” someone seated on the couch says. “You’ve already pulled off the most coveted feat in academia: keeping George’s interest for more than a month.”

“When we taught together at NYU,” Nate leans close to Alexander, feigning secrecy, “whenever he got assigned someone who wasn’t up to his standards, he’d work them so hard they’d either crack under the pressure and drop out, or end up publishing their dissertation the month after they graduated.”

“I’ve never had to push Alexander once,” Washington says, smiling at him, something like pride in his eyes. “He’s quite adept at doing that on his own.”

“Well, shit. Showing us all up,” someone raises a glass in his direction. A host of other glasses follow it, along with laughter, and Washington’s hands on him again, just barely this time, guiding him to a seat.

Gilbert hands him a glass of red wine. “Only if you want it,” he says, low and close to Alex’s ear.

“I do,” Alexander says, taking the glass. He sips it, recognizing it as the wine he’d brought. Maybe hadn’t been able to get anywhere with Washington, but at least he’d gotten something right.

-.-.-.-.-

The conversation flows easily as they drink, and as Washington sets dinner out in the dining room, eventually beckoning them all in.

Alexander talks to Nate, mostly, who he learns is a retired professor who left academia for poetry after getting tired of the internal politics. He’s got something of Washington’s depth to him, a wisdom in the lines around his eyes, and a way of looking at Alexander and seeing something deeper than Alex himself has the capacity to understand. They argue about identity politics and capitalism for a while, Alexander finding a thrilling rhythm in the volley of their responses, punctuated by laughter. He’s surprised that he can keep up with Nate’s quick brilliance, and all of the rapid turns of thought. It makes him feel capable in a new way.

He relishes the attention even more once he notices that Washington hasn’t looked at him once.

Gilbert isn’t shy about brushing his hand across Alexander’s back every time he refills his water glass, making him squirm in his seat, hoping that no one notices. But Washington – even when he’s not absorbed in the conversation – seems to avoid his gaze entirely.

He tries not to take it personally. He tries to forget about it, to participate in the conversations. Most of the people around the table, he realizes, are artists. He feels out of his depth in more ways that he can count, but he jumps in with both feet, not quieting the brashness of his voice or of his opinions. He’s having a good time, that’s part of it. But he also knows its what Washington wants to see. And god, he just wants Washington to look.

Gilbert, on the other hand, won’t stop looking. He manages to jump in and out of conversations without ever once losing Alexander’s gaze, his eyes sparkling with a meaning that is so clear Alexander can practically hear it. At one point, Alexander notices him putting a piece of meat in his mouth and chewing it slowly, staring into Alexander’s eyes so that he can’t look away. Gilbert brings his free hand up to his throat, undoes the top button of his shirt. Moves to the second.

Alex chances a look at Washington, who is very pointedly looking anywhere but at them.

No one else seems to notice Alexander stutter. Or, if they do, no one says anything about it.

-.-.-.-.-.-

It’s near midnight when Alexander’s phone blips with a notification that his last bus home leaves in five minutes. Everyone around the table is tipsy – except for Washington, who hadn’t had anything to drink at all, and Alexander, who had stopped after one – and the liveliness of the debate has slowed to a warm glow.

Alexander is a whirlwind of mixed feelings. He feels wide awake, blown open, like he’s learned more in the last few hours than he ever could holed up reading books. He’d heard opinions on art, politics, poetry that are so beyond his scope that he wishes he’d been recording them. But at the same time, something in him has slowly been spiraling downward each time he looks at Washington and sees him looking away, that closed off look in his eyes again.

Alexander stares at the bus schedule. He should go, really. But he can’t make it to the stop in five minutes anyway, and it would be rude to rush out. He pockets his phone just as other people start to get up and leave.

He says his goodbyes, glimpsing gusts of snow as people make their way down to cabs on the stoop. He doesn’t quite know where he should be, so he makes himself busy moving plates to the kitchen, tidying the space. He’s probably overstepping his bounds, he knows, but he can’t bring himself to leave.

He settles in the empty kitchen as the house grows quieter, taking in the space, the collection of salt and pepper shakers on the counter, the little nuances of Washington and Lafayette’s life together. He feels an ache in his chest like he can’t ever remember feeling before.

He can’t even put into words what he wants anymore.

Washington walks in, still as closed off as he’d been since the two of them had left the kitchen. “Did you drive, Alexander?”

“No, I took the bus. I can call a cab, though. If you want.” He pushes down the ache in his chest. Thinks about texting John, finding out where he and Herc are drinking, going and downing shots until he can’t feel this anymore.

“No,” Gilbert and Washington say in unison.

“I can drive you,” Washington says a beat later.

Alexander doesn’t want to admit to himself how much he had been hoping not to be going home tonight.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Gilbert says. “Have you looked outside? It is… how you say… a blizzard out there.” He looks to Alexander. “There’s five inches of snow already, and he’s a terrible driver. Thinks too much and gets distracted. You should stay. Right, George? I think Alexandre should stay.”

A look passes between Washington and Lafayette that Alexander wishes he could read.

“You could stay in the guestroom, Alexander. Would you be comfortable with that?”

“You don’t have to ask me …” he starts, before Washington crosses his arms over his chest. “Yes. I’m comfortable with that.”

“I’ll go get it ready, then.”

As soon as Washington leaves, Alexander can’t hold it in anymore. “Fuck,” he says, running a hand through his hair. “Did I do something wrong? Gil, I swear, if you had been there on Thursday… it’s like he’s a different person, like there’s this switch that he flicks or something, just turns everything off whenever he doesn’t want to feel it.” The force of both his frustration and his honesty surprise him, edging towards a tightness in his throat. “Should I just leave? I can call a cab, really, I don’t mind.”

Gilbert sighs deeply, unfolds his arms from his chest. “Alexandre, you have done nothing wrong. He is being an imbecile.”

Alex laughs. It only sounds desperate. “I just… thought I did everything right. God, I just want… ” he doesn’t know how to finish the sentence.

Gilbert studies his face, his lips pursed. “He cares for you. That is what is getting in the way. Do you understand?”

“So… what, then? That’s it? Is that all this will be, him convincing himself that he’s going to hurt me and pulling away every time things get too close?”

Gilbert sighs again. “Do you trust me?” he asks. And Alexander remembers the last time he’d been asked that.

“Yes,” he says. “Yes, I trust you.”

“He is not going to invite you in,” Lafayette says slowly. “I say this from experience. He wants to. But at the end of the day, it does not matter. He will not. He is extraordinarily good at overthinking things that the rest of us give in to.” He moves closer, tucks a strand of Alexander’s hair behind his ear. “Vous devez continuer à le montrer. The third time is the charm, is that not what they say? Mon chou, you must invite yourself in.”

Alex swallows. “Gilbert, if I push this further and it breaks… are you sure?” He can hardly fathom everything that would be ruined if it did.

Gilbert shrugs. “Well, we have only been married for ten years.” Alexander snorts, pressing his forehead against Gilbert’s shoulder. He feels the taller man’s hand come around to cup the back of his neck. “Alexandre, you should have heard the way he talked about you when he came home that night. I have not heard him like that in years.”

Gilbert’s hand moves beneath Alexander’s chin, angling his face up to look into his eyes. “Please, Alexandre. Perhaps I am not so proleptic as George, but I trust that you want this.” Something floods his eyes. “Mon dieu, I have not even kissed you properly yet. I leave for a shoot in France tomorrow, for a week. Please tell me you do not want to wait.”

Washington appears in the doorway, but Lafayette doesn’t back away. He makes no move to hide their closeness.

“Everything’s ready,” Washington says.

They both follow him upstairs. “I’ve left you a pair of Gilbert’s pajamas, they will probably fit you better than my own. There’s an en suite bathroom. I can drive you home whenever you wake up tomorrow.” There’s a touch of softness in Washington’s eyes again – a millimetre of the space that he hadn’t ceded all night. “I really am glad that you came, Alexander. You looked like you were enjoying yourself.”

“I’m glad I came too,” Alex says. He fights off a shiver. He doesn't bother to ask how Washington knows that, when he hadn't ever seen him looking. He can’t stop thinking about what Gilbert had said.

“Our bedroom is down the hall to the left if you need anything.” Gilbert stands behind Washington, a hand on his husband’s shoulder. His other hand is back at his shirt, unbuttoning the buttons slowly, revealing an expanse of skin. “Or want anything. Okay?” His eyes seem to ask something of Alexander, a wordless plea.

The night stares him down: hours awake in an empty guest room or… something he would need a hell of a lot more nerve for. He takes in the image of the two of them filling the doorframe. Wonders if he’ll ever get another shot.

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

Washington and Lafayette don’t bother to close the guest room door when they leave. Alexander backs up, his thighs eventually hitting the bed, and sits hard.

His entire body feels numb, buzzing with something that makes his head spin, makes his fingers dig into the comforter for something to cling to.

Fuck.

He wonders, helplessly, if there is a right way to do this.

His mind is loud, louder than its been in a while, spinning scenarios and consequences and even when he closes his eyes, presses the heels of his palms over them, he can’t make it stop. He hears, outside the open bedroom door and just down the hall, taps running, closet doors sliding open.

Pros and cons, something inside him says. You’re good at thinking. You can do that. Make a list.

His dick supplies the first argument. It’s been – he counts – three months. The last time he’d been with anyone it had been a drunk one-night stand after an ill-advised night out with John. He couldn’t even remember the guy’s name, let alone much of what happened.

Which means you’re out of practice. Which means you’ll disappoint them.

He hears pipes rattle as the shower starts up in the other room.

But he can’t dodge that intensity – not the searing memory of Washington’s cock pressed against him, of his own hips angling automatically to give him access to something still shrouded in fantasy; not the disarming sphere of Gilbert’s presence, the way he could begin to take Alexander apart with only his eyes.

His hands find the softness of Gilbert’s pajamas at the end of the bed. He brings them up to his face, inhales the scent.

So how the fuck could you compare to any of that? They have each other. You’re nothing. And they’re going to see that – if not tonight, then eventually.

And yet he knows that – even if he doesn’t, tonight – none of it will go away. He can’t imagine things ever feeling normal again, walking into Washington’s office. He’s too far gone for that.

But he also knows the consequences. Has never been able to forget them, even through all of Gilbert’s reassurance. Gilbert has little to lose. Alexander has a scholarship, a degree, a future on the line if any of the secrecy surrounding this ever broke. No PhD program would ever accept him if there was even a rumour that he’d slept with Washington for a grade. It would compromise the integrity of his work. Washington has a respected career, a livelihood, a passion already actualized, not to mention his tenure. These sorts of things bring cruel costs, despite best intentions, Alexander knows. It would have to be secret. Which most likely means it would have to be temporary. Conditional.

He forces himself to think rationally. To realize that it isn’t worth it, not by any estimation.

And – if the storm broke, if that intensity passed, if it turned into something stilted and awkward and regrettable – he would still have to work with Washington. Still have to finish his thesis, and all that it now signified beyond itself.

If that happened, it would have been better not to have gone there in the first place. He knows this.

Maybe, he realizes, that’s why Washington had been so insistent on talking about it. Why he hadn’t rushed in, taken what Alexander had so readily offered.

Maybe there is a right way to do this, he thinks. And that is just… not to. It would be better, in the end. And there would be an end. There was no escaping that.

He lays back on the bed. Okay, he thinks. So that’s it then. That’s your choice.

He knows it’s the right choice. It doesn’t feel right.

He hears the shower being shut off, the pipes giving a final shudder.

He presses his fingers to his pulse. Its racing. He knows it isn’t the single glass of wine, the taste of which still lingers on his tongue.

You could be so good for them, some part of his brain says. You want this. You know they want this. You’re not going to get another chance.

A new wave of anxiety hits him, numbs him further. He can see out into the dark hallway, can see the low light spilling out from Washington and Lafayette’s bedroom from where he’s laying. Their door is open too, halfway.

“I can’t do this,” he whispers aloud to the room. The contradiction between Washington’s coldness and Gilbert’s insistence that he needs encouragement. It’s not enough. He’s still not certain. The cost-benefit analysis is so out of whack that he can barely stand to think about it, and yet…

He hears a conversation start in the other room. He can make out both voices, but they’re quiet enough that he can’t make out the words.

He needs to know what they want. He needs to know that what his gut is telling him isn’t just reckless, that this could be something more than a mistake.

That’s what drives him up. He doesn’t think about it – doesn’t override the moment with paralysis. He flicks the guest room lights off as he leaves it, to make the hallway darker, just in case. It feels reckless in itself, as he makes his way quietly down the hallway, just to the point where he isn’t visible from the master bedroom door. He needs to know. He stands there, leaning against the wall. He can’t see in, but he can hear them.

“Nathanael was rather friendly with Alexandre tonight,” he hears Gilbert say, a note of something leading behind the comment. There isn’t a response. “He was doing that thing,” Gilbert continues. “That thing he does with his hands when he’s trying to be subtle. You know, that thing he did all night a few years ago before he ended up fucking Daniel in our guest bedroom?” There’s still no response from Washington. Alexander waits. Eventually, Gilbert speaks again, so quietly that Alexander can barely hear it. “You are going to miss your chance, George.”

“Did Alexander seem… interested?” Washington finally asks, uncertainty ringing through the question.

“In Nathanael?” A pause. “I couldn’t really tell, seeing as he happened to be looking at you all night.” There’s an edge to Gilbert’s voice. Then a sigh, though Alexander can’t tell whose. “You know he is not going to wait around forever, yes? If you are going to treat him like you did tonight?”

“Lafayette, I didn’t – ”

Yes, you did George. I don’t know how you expect him to feel secure in any of this when you keep withdrawing the moment you get too far into your head.” A huffed sigh, which Alexander can tell is Gilbert’s exasperation, this time. “He has no idea what you want, because you are being an idiot.”

“Lafayette, I was so hard Thursday night I almost had an aneurysm. It’s not like I hid it from him. Maybe I should have, but god, he was…” there’s something straining Washington’s voice, an emotion that Alexander can’t pinpoint, not without seeing. But he doesn’t move. “I don’t know how it could have been clearer than that. There’s no way he doesn’t know.”

Alexander straightens his spine against the wall. Bites his lip to contain the memory.

Gilbert heaves a long-suffering sigh, and Alexander hears sheets rustling against skin.

Then, Gilbert’s voice: “Hard like this?”

An intake of breath. A small noise at the back of Washington’s throat. Alexander’s breath stutters.

“He is right next door, George. Come on.”

“Lafayette, I can’t. I… if he loses interest, or if he’s uncomfortable, I know he won’t tell me, I have too much control over – fuck, Laf – I can’t do that to him, it would be – jesus christ – ” He’s breathless, by the time he gives up trying to speak.

A wet pop, unmistakable, halfway obscene. Alexander shuts his eyes, willing himself to stay silent. To not react – not process the image of Washington’s cock in Gilbert’s mouth while Alexander’s name is on his lips. “You’re not doing anything to him. You talk about him as if he has no choice in the matter. That is not the issue here, and you know it.”

“Don’t stop.”

“Or what?” Lafayette teases. “You’ll have to call Alexandre to come finish you off? How awfully tragic for the both of you.”

Alex freezes. Feels a pull towards the door in the silence. Wonders what would happen if he…

His wondering is cut off by Washington’s groan, still restrained but fuller this time.

“George, mon cher, he is right there. You should have seen the way he looked at you all night. He would be here right now, if you wanted him to be.”

Fuck, Lafayette, you know what I want…” the erratic rhythm of Washington’s breath fills Alexander’s mind, joining with the rush of blood in his ears, a symphony of everything making it too loud for him to think.

“Think how pretty he would look riding your cock,” Lafayette’s accent seems to grow thicker with the sounds of slickness between each sentence. “You could have had him bent over your desk, you know he’s wanted it sense then, mon cher, you know you could just say the word…”

Alexander doesn’t realize that he’s shaking until Gilbert stops talking. His whole body is trembling, flushed, and he can’t seem to get control of it no matter what he tries. He digs his nails into his palms, presses his back against the wall harder, seeking out stability as his head spins.

He’s sure, if they listened, they’d be able to hear his heart pounding from the other room.

He thinks he might want them to.

“He would be so tight, just waiting for you to unravel him. To make him yours.”

Alexander can hear Gilbert take Washington into his mouth again in the way that Washington’s inhale fractures, in the way that he can hear hands grasping at the sheets. In the way that Washington’s exhale is a single word, as if its being ripped out of him. “Alexander.”

Alex’s hand flies to his pants without thought, grinding against his own erection – the one he’s been desperately trying to ignore. His head meets the wall behind him as he presses the back of his other hand over his mouth, the sound of his name in the key of Washington’s voice penetrating every part of him.

The next time Washington speaks, he sounds like he’s breaking. “Fuck, Laf, I need…”

“Don’t worry,” Lafayette murmurs. “I will take care of you.”

Alexander’s knees go weak. The heat rolls off of him in waves, his numbness breaking into sensation, into an echo of Washington’s desperation. He digs into the skin of his hand with his teeth, praying it will quell the ache pooling in his groin. His point of perception narrows, the only thing he can hear the shakiness of his own wet breath, the volume of his own desire.

He isn’t sure how long he stands there, his hand hooked in the waistband of his pants, craving the pressure but afraid of what it will mean if he gives in to it. Wondering what it might mean instead if he moves just a foot to the left, in view of the door.

Lafayette moans loudly. It cuts through Alexander’s indecision, long and drawn out and open, holding nothing back.

“The door’s open,” he hears Washington reprimand. “Be quiet.”

“And what if I want him to hear?” Lafayette responds. “Mon dieu, George, tu es le seul qui peut me remplir comme ça, s'il te plait, baise-moi plus fort, allez.” Punctuating each phrase, a breathless gasp, not bothering with quietness, deafening in the silent hallway.

Alexander knows that Washington doesn’t speak fluent French. Knows that, if anything, this is for his benefit, meant for his ears. He drops his hand from his waistband, moving it further down. He fingers the spot of wetness starting to form there, where his cock is trapped against the pants he hadn’t bothered to take off.

He imagines walking away, as if such a thing would even be possible anymore.

He imagines getting himself off in the hallway, silently, to the sound of their pleasure, walking back to his room afterwards, marked by shame and regret and probably not much more satisfaction than he’d been able to achieve in his own bed.

He can’t think of any more options.

But Washington had told him not to think, last time.

Gilbert utters another broken sound of pleasure, and Alexander pushes himself off of the wall.

He pushes open their door before he has a chance to convince himself not to. He’s not sure either of them would have noticed his presence – Gilbert’s eyes are shut, Washington’s are hidden where he’s pressed his face into the crevice of Gilbert’s neck – if not for the noise that falls from his lips when he sees them.

Both of them are already naked. Washington is sitting on his knees on the bed, Gilbert’s back to his chest, one arm wrapped around his husband’s shoulder and the other fixed possessively around his waist. Gilbert is straddling him, knees digging into the bed, spread to bracket Washington as the larger man thrusts up into him.

A motion which stops abruptly when Washington’s eyes meet Alexander’s.

There’s pleasure written all over Gilbert’s face, up until then. Alexander gets lost in the sheen of sweat on his skin, the statuesque ridges of his muscles, like marble that Alexander wants to sink his teeth into.

His mind goes quiet. Blank. Nothing feels real. But at the same time, everything feels too present. A level of vibrancy that he’s never felt before.  

He wants to walk forward. To touch. Washington is looking at him like he’s just discovered a new planet – pupils blown wide, mouth open, an expression somewhere between shock and overwhelming need. Alexander sees him try to form the words. That’s when Lafayette opens his eyes.

The moment hangs suspended in the air, none of them moving, Washington still inside Lafayette, Alex’s own desire anything but hidden. Lafayette meets Alexander’s eyes, lust tinging his features, and grinds down on Washington’s cock. Washington’s arm tightens around Lafayette reflexively, but his eyes, too, are on Alexander.

“I waited, like you wanted,” Alexander says, the words leaving his mouth before he has the chance to think them. “Not just since last week. Since the first time I walked into your office and you touched me like you already had the right to. Like I belonged to you. I’ve been waiting since the moment I started to want to belong to you.”

He takes a step forward. His fingers are shaking as he makes undoes each button of his shirt. Washington’s eyes follow his hands down, as he uncovers more skin. He knows they can probably read his insecurity all over him, but he doesn’t care.

“You knew what you were doing to me, didn’t you?” he asks, his voice building in assertion as Lafayette rolls his hips again and Washington bites off a groan. “Every word you spoke. Every time you touched me when you didn’t have to.”

He bites his lip as he tosses the shirt behind him. He knows he’s nothing compared to Lafayette’s perfection, the striking beauty of his body. But he sees Lafayette devouring him with his eyes, moving his hips slowly as he brings a hand down to his cock, stroking himself as if he’s getting off watching Alexander undress. It makes Alexander impossibly harder. His pants are gone before he realizes his hands are still working.

“This is what you do to me.” He hooks his thumbs in the waistband of his underwear and pulls them down slowly, feeling his erection spring free, flushed and straining towards his stomach. Lafayette licks his lips. “I’m done waiting. I’m done thinking about this. I know what I want. I want both of you.”

He knows he isn’t going to gain Washington’s invitation, at least not out loud. But his eyes are burning like lighthouse flames across the bed, like he’s not going to let Alexander go. He looks at Washington and sees all of the intertwined complexities that exist between them: sees his professor, sees respect and brilliance, but also something raw, something between them that escapes the bounds of the kind of mentorship they’re meant to have. And Washington doesn’t have to speak for him to know.

Alexander gets onto the bed, moves until he’s kneeling in front of Lafayette, who is still taller than Alexander even on his own knees. His eyes are dark, but still shining. Alexander brings a shaking hand to the v of his hips, trailing his fingers down the pathway. Lafayette throws his head back, resting it on Washington’s shoulder, and breaths. “Mon dieu, enfin.

 “No,” Washington says. “Wait. Alexander, are you – ”

“Don’t ask me if I’m sure,” Alexander breathes. He can smell Washington’s familiar scent, now that he’s so close. “I’m fucking sure. Jesus, I don’t care about the rest of it, okay?” He feels small in front of the two of them – feels inexperienced, like he’s got a reason to be shaking, still, like its normal to be this overwhelmed. “I just want you. I need you. Need both of you.”

His voice is wrecked. A bead of precum drips down his cock.

“He looks pretty sure to me,” Lafayette says, turning his face to nuzzle Washington’s cheek and arching his back. “George, give him credit for that much, please?”

Alexander ignores the unintentional double meaning, even as he sees Washington crack a small, sardonic smile beneath his focus. “I trust you,” Alexander says suddenly, finding Washington’s eyes. “I trust you, okay?” It’s too warm, too close, makes his heart swell. He feels the air shift, through the haze of sex and heartbeats. “I’ll do anything, sir. I’m yours. Please.”

The words hit Washington heavily. Lafayette reaches out and winds a hand through Alexander’s hair, his eyes close to pleading.

“Can I?” Alexander asks.

Oui, ma chérie, s'il te plaît.”

His mouth meets Lafayette’s abs, licking the salt off of his skin and scraping his teeth downwards. He takes Lafayette’s cock into his mouth all at once. He may be out of practice, but he knows he’s good at this. He brings a hand up to Lafayette’s hips to steady himself as he laves his tongue around the tip, swallowing him back down seconds later, using his tongue to trace a vein as he comes back up. He brings his other hand, tentatively, to Lafayette’s ass, his fingers brushing against the heat of Washington’s cock where they’re joined.

Lafayette whines. Washington thrusts up into him, hard, catching both of them off guard and forcing Lafayette’s cock deeper down Alex’s throat. He chokes, fights off his gag reflex, and doubles down his efforts. Lafayette is losing composure by the second, which makes him somehow even more beautiful.

“Alexandre, I am close – ”

Alex looks up at him through his eyelashes, nods without removing his mouth. Lafayette’s hand tightens in his hair, sending a burst of painful pleasure down Alexander’s spine.

He hardly notices that Washington has pulled out, because Laf is coming down his throat, hot and more than he can remember swallowing, but he does, gladly, gratefully.

“Fuck,” Lafayette moans. He doesn’t wait to pull Alexander up to his mouth, into a bruising kiss, with more strength than Alex had realized he had. “Tu est parfait.” He doesn’t bother with gentleness, sucking and biting at Alexander’s lips. “Do you know how long I’ve wanted to kiss you like this? To taste you?” He runs his tongue along the ridge of Alexander’s jaw. Alexander’s erection is close to painful now, and he’s seconds away from begging to be touched.

Lafayette turns around to where Washington is now standing, facing away from them. “But really, what the fuck, George? That was a special kind of cruel.” Alexander fights off a laugh at his indignation. “You could have at least plugged me again if you were planning on running off. Very inconsiderate.”

“I’m sorry,” Washington says, his voice sincere. “I just… thought maybe this belonged to someone else tonight.”

He turns around, and Alexander’s eyes widen. He’d felt Washington’s engorged cock, felt the weight of it in his hand, but its bigger than he’d imagined it would be – gorgeous and thick, not lacking length. He feels lightheaded. “Holy shit.” The words fall from his mouth breathlessly. Lafayette chuckles.

“Let me clean up first,” Washington says, disappearing into the en suite.

“You’re lucky,” Lafayette whispers to Alexander, licking a strip behind the shell of his ear. “It took me weeks to earn that, the first time.”

Alexander puts his arms around Lafayette’s neck, presses himself against his hipbone, seeking pressure before he spirals out of control. “Gilbert,” he breaths, feeling helpless against the other man’s muscle, feeling wild with the want of something harder. “Je ne peux pas le croire. God, this doesn’t feel real.”

Lafayette loops an arm around his lower back and moves him so that he falls back against the collection of pillows at the top of the bed. He lays there, splayed across the comforter, exposed, with Lafayette over top of him, straddling him but not touching him. He looks at Alexander curiously before bringing a hand to his chest, rolling one of Alexander’s nipples between his fingers. Alexander’s hips snap up involuntarily, seeking contact, getting nothing. “Tell me when it starts feeling real, yes?”

Lafayette’s hand returns to his hair, his other tracing lines down Alexander’s thighs, feather-light, making Alexander whimper despite himself.

“You know he will be happy with whatever you give him, right?” Lafayette says seriously. “If it’s too much, tonight, you don’t have to. You could blow his mind with that mouth alone. We want you to be comfortable. Everything else is secondary. Okay?”

Alexander doesn’t answer. He just raises his hands above his head, letting them land on the pillows behind him, one hand grasping the opposite wrist in an approximation of restraint. “Gilbert, please…” his accent – the strange mix of New York drawl, creole French and dirty Spanish –  is thick, creeping back into his voice as it always does when his mind isn’t focused enough to suppress it.

Lafayette leans down to capture his lips again, softer this time, all plushness, searching tongues, and building heat. He reaches a hand between them, draws a single finger down Alexander’s leaking cock. He takes it away as quickly as it had been there. Instead, he brings the finger down between Alexander’s legs, brushing the wetness against Alexander’s hole.

His hips buck again, a cry escaping his lips. A pressure starts to build in his chest, and he blinks away the pinpricks of frustrated tears at the corners of his eyes. “Please, just – ” he gasps as Lafayette moves to capture his nipple between his teeth.

“Stop teasing him, Lafayette,” Washington says from where he’s appeared at the end of the bed. There’s still a tension he’s holding in his body, Alexander notices through his haze, but his voice is free of reservation, completely given over to longing.

Lafayette looks up at Washington innocently. He moves away from Alexander, leaving him completely open to Washington’s gaze, as he settles down onto the bed, laying against the length of Alexander’s body. “Look at him, George.” He runs a hand through Alexander’s hair, brushing it off of where its sticking to his forehead. “Look how pretty he is for you. Look,” he says, running a hand up Alexander’s arm to where his hands meet above his head. “Just begging to be tied up.”

Alexander meets Washington’s eyes across the bed. He looks helpless, lost in desire, in a way that Alexander has only ever seen the edges of.

“Not tonight,” he says definitively, though it seems to be a struggle. “Alexander, is there something… what would you like to…?”

“Fuck me,” he answers without a second of hesitation. “Please.” He looks at Washington, half begging and half sincere, needing him to see the honesty in the request.

Washington’s expression falters. “Are you sure?”

Yes.” His eyes follow Washington’s cock as he moves to sit on the bed again. He imagines the impossibility of Washington inside him, like he has countless times before. “God, yes. I mean, if you want to.”

When Washington kisses him this time, propped up on an elbow above Alexander, it feels different than it had in the office. Less like he’s memorizing something he’s going to lose. More like he’s taking his time to learn something he plans to keep. Lafayette’s lips migrate to his neck, sucking dark marks down to his collarbone. It’s the best thing Alexander thinks he’s ever felt, but its not enough. Not what he needs. He reaches for Washington’s cock, grasping it without hesitation, skin against skin, finally. He drinks in the satisfaction of Washington’s pleasure against his lips.

“There is nothing I want more,” says Washington, a low growl.  

“Then I don’t want to wait anymore,” Alexander says against Washington’s lips. “Don’t make me wait.”

There’s lube already out next to the bed, popped open from earlier, and Washington reaches for it without having to look. He tosses it to Lafayette, who sits up and begins to coat his fingers.

As Lafayette coaxes his legs open gently, Washington brings his hands to Alexander’s face, brushing his thumbs along Alexander’s cheekbones. Looking at him as if he’s something precious. As if he’s something worthy of Washington’s awe.

He can’t take the weight of that, of everything Washington’s eyes are saying to him without words, so angles himself up to kiss him again. He’s frantic, needy, but Washington reigns in his rhythm, fucking Alexander’s mouth open with his tongue slowly, unravelling all of him with an agonizing gentleness. Lafayette teases his hole, dipping shallowly in and out of the ring of muscle just to make him squirm, before finally he pushes in a single finger.

“More,” Alexander says immediately. “I need more, Gilbert, please,” he begs.

“Be patient,” Washington commands

“Trust me,” Lafayette says. “It is better to take our time.”

“You didn’t take much time,” Alexander retorts.

“I had… prepared in other ways. Call me optimistic.” To his credit, Lafayette works another finger in, and Alexander bears down against the stretch, angling his hips so he can cant up against both fingers, which aren’t deep enough. His cock is still throbbing, untouched, a transcendent sort of pain.

Washington runs his hands across Alexander’s body, touching every inch of it besides the places Alexander needs him to. His hands are big, commanding in themselves, warm and more calloused than Alexander thinks a professor’s hands have any right to be. It hits him, as Gilbert adds a third finger and he moans into Washington’s mouth, that he’s in his professor’s bed. That, the next time he walks down Liberty’s halls, the next time he sees Washington outside the library, they’ll be something more than what everyone else sees.

“George?” Lafayette asks after a moment. Washington nods, an unspoken language between the two that Alexander hasn’t yet learned to speak. He’s empty, suddenly, and he hears the click of the lube cap overtop of the rush of his own breath. Second later, its Washington’s fingers inside of him, thicker than Lafayette’s. They reach deeper, too, Washington not holding so much back as his husband had. He scissors them once, then thrusts them in, hitting Alexander’s prostate.

A hoarse cry escapes him, bitten off by a string of profanities in a number of languages that he doesn’t consciously process. His cock is leaking onto his stomach. “Please, sir, please, I’m ready, please, fuck me, I can take it.”

“Patience, my boy,” Washington says again, with another thrust. Alexander sees stars, sees the pinpricks of light at the edges of his vision. Washington slips the tip of his fourth finger past the ring of Alexander’s muscle, and brings one of his arms down to cover his mouth, to have something to bite through the momentary pain of it.

Lafayette cards a hand through Alexander’s hair, rubs the other down his chest and stomach. “Just breathe,” he says gently. Alexander relaxes all of the muscles he hadn’t realized he’d been clenching, and feels the pulse of pain morph into a hazy pleasure, vibrating on his nerve endings. “Do you want to be on top? It is sometimes easier that way.”

“No,” Alexander shakes his head, looking up at where Washington is kneeling above him. He drinks in the amount of power he holds in his shoulders, the dominance of his form, Alexander at his mercy. He’s not interested in easy. “No, I want it like this.” He meets Washington’s eyes. “I want him to take me like this.”

“Alexander…” Washington’s voice sounds like a prayer.

He moves his hand back up above his head. Submissive. Looks at Washington, beckoning. “I’m ready. Now.”

“Are you su-”

Yes.” Alexander grinds down on all four of Washington’s fingers. “If you don’t fuck me now, I swear to god.”

Lafayette reaches into the bedside table and tosses Washington a condom, which he makes quick work of, even with one hand. “We are both clean, but…”

“Better safe than sorry,” Alexander finishes, impatiently. “I know.”

And then Washington is tracing a pattern into his hipbone. Is pulling his fingers out, bringing his hand up to cup the back of Alexander’s neck. Is looking into his eyes deeply. “Are you sure this is what you want?”

His exasperated “Yes” echoes through the room just as Lafayette flings himself back onto the bed, his hands covering his eyes, screaming “Yes, make him say it a sixth time, George, what is this, a fucking trivia show? He is not a fifth grader!”

Alexander bursts out laughing at Gilbert’s annoyance and mixed metaphors before he can stop himself, taking in the retort gathering over Washington’s features. But as Washington watches him laugh, a smile spreads over his face, and soon he’s chuckling too, Lafayette grinning from where he’s pressed himself along Alexander’s side again.

He catches, in that moment, a hint that this could be something other than desperate longing. That that feeling – his heart about to burst, watching the smile reach Washington’s eyes, levity and sex and happiness twined together – could be something he could hold onto.

“Yes,” Alexander breathes out into the brightness of the moment. There’s a pleasure in saying it, now that he knows he’s going to get what he wants. “Yes. But I need you inside me. Now.”

Washington doesn’t need to be told again. He pours out more lube, lines himself up Alex’s entrance, not letting go of his gaze as he pushes the tip in. A rush of air hits Alexander’s lungs as he gasps in, his eyes fluttering closed. “If you need me to stop – ” Washington says.

“I’ll tell you,” Alexander responds. He feels one of Lafayette’s hands settle over his wrists where they rest on the pillows above him, holding his arms in place. His cock jumps again, and he clenches involuntarily around Washington. He’d forgotten how much he liked to be held down.

Washington pushes in another few inches, heaving broken breaths of his own. Alexander can read his fight for control in his trembling muscles. He spreads his legs farther, chasing that feeling of being broken open, being completely filled. It isn’t until Washington finally bottoms out, settles into him, that he realizes he’s been holding his breath. There’s pain, he realizes, but not like he’d been expecting. It joins with the pounding of his blood like it’s meant to be there. Like his body is meant for this, the burn and the pressure and the heat of it. He opens his eyes, seeing hesitation written across Washington’s face.

“I’m okay,” he says. “I’m good. Fuck, you’re big.”

Washington cups his chin, holding his gaze in place. “Alexander,” he breathes. “Do you know how breathtaking you are?”

He doesn’t know how to answer that. So, instead, he says “I’m going to need you to move now.”

Washington obeys, taking the time to hook one of Alexander’s legs over his shoulder. His thrusts are gentle, tentative, at first. A slow heat blooms over Alexander’s body as it accommodates Washington. “You are doing so well,” Lafayette says between sucking hickeys onto his neck.

“I’m not going to break,” he says forcefully. Its as much for himself as it is to give Washington permission. He tries to grind his hips but doesn’t have the leverage. He’d wanted it this way, he remembers. Wanted Washington to have that control. He’d have to earn it in other ways. He bites his lip and tilts his head, trying for pretty. “Fuck me harder, please, sir?”

Washington just looks at him, wide-eyed.

“I want to feel you,” Alexander moans. “I want to feel what you can do to me.”

“Come on, George,” Lafayette purrs from beside him. Alexander notices that he’s hard again, that he’s got his own hand wrapped around his erection, pumping it slowly in time to Washington’s movements. “Show him what you can do. He can take it.”

“Come on, sir,” Alexander echoes, halfway between a tease and a beg. “Show me.”

Something shifts in Washington’s eyes, from concern to determination. His next thrust shakes the bedframe, and sensation explodes throughout Alexander’s whole body. A guttural sound is ripped out of him as Washington hits his prostate with force. The next thing Alexander know he’s being fucked into the mattress. The euphoria of it, the edges of the pain, the places where Washington’s body clashes with his upper thighs where he’s certain tenderness will bloom in the morning. With Washington pounding into him, he feels raw, feels hypersensitive, filled up with the noises they’re making and the scent of their sex as much as he is by Washington’s cock. His skin tingles, every nerve ending alight, every touch a trail of fire. His mind is empty, except for one thought: a repeated chorus of finally, finally, finally.

When Gilbert comes, for the second time, Alexander feels it spill wet and hot across his stomach. Seconds later, Gilbert’s hand is on his neglected cock, finally, enveloping it in the wet heat of his own come, stroking messily as Washington shows no sign of relenting. With Washington hitting his prostate continuously, expertly, it doesn’t take much to send him over the edge. He comes hard – harder than he can remember having ever come before. He rides out the waves, feeling himself clench around Washington, feeling Washington’s hips stutter in their rhythm and, with one last thrust deep into Alexander’s body, feels him coming. Alex’s moans as he rides through his own orgasm start to sound more like gentle sobs, but even still, he’s surprised when he opens his eyes and finds himself blinking back tears.

“Alexander, are you okay? Did I hurt you?” Washington looks worried, regret creeping in around the edges of his eyes.

“Fuck, I’m sorry,” Alexander fights for control of his breath. Lafayette props himself up on his elbow, a matching look of concern on his face. “I’m fine, I swear, you didn’t hurt me, that was… that was everything, and…” He knows he won’t be able to capture the complexity of the emotions breaking open within him. “I don’t want you to regret this,” he says, barely registering. His chest feels raw, like his heart is exposed, like there’s too much fresh air getting in, cleansing things. It stings. “I’m sorry, nothing’s wrong, I promise, I just…” Found something, a voice inside of him finishes. It clicks. He doesn’t say it out loud. Something I’ve been looking for for a long time. “I feel…”

“Vulnerable?” Lafayette finishes for him. Washington pulls out, ties and tosses the condom, coming to lay against Alexander’s free side.

Alexander catches his breath, finally. Nods. “I’m sorry. This is ridiculous.” He feels small. Immature. Unworthy in the face of whatever possibility he’d glimpsed, everything he could have.

“It is nothing to be sorry for,” Lafayette says emphatically, even through his post-orgasm haze. “There is nothing wrong with feeling, Alexandre. George, do you remember the first time we slept together? And after how I ran out onto my balcony, stark naked, and sobbed about how much I missed France while chain-smoking twenty cigarettes?”

Alexander snorts, picturing it.

Washington quirks an eyebrow. “Yes, I do. For better or for worse.”

“This is that,” Lafayette concludes proudly. “Grab a washcloth, mon coeur?

“Of course,” Washington says, leaving the bed.

Lafayette curls his body around Alexander, wraps him in his arms. “He does not understand, sometimes,” he murmurs, “that it is not always a bad thing.”

“No,” Alexander rolls to face him, feeling the ache already. “No, its not a bad thing.”

Washington returns and cleans Lafayette off first, the care evident in his touch. When he gets to Alexander, he’s even gentler. Worshipful. “Thank you,” he says, his sincerity heavy atop Alexander’s fragility. “God, you’re beautiful.”  

Alexander brushes away the last of the wetness from his face, pulling himself together, finally sitting up. “Do you want me to go? I can stay in the guest room, I don’t mind,” Alexander lies.

“No,” both men say in unison.

“Stay,” Washington says. “We want you here, Alexander. Please stay.” He settles down again next to Alexander, leaving Alexander between the two of them, bracketed. Washington’s arms comes to rest around his stomach, his fingers reaching out to brush Lafayette’s hip. The two share a smile over Alexander’s head. “Is this okay?” Washington asks.

“Yeah,” Alexander answers. “It’s okay.” He can’t tell him the truth – that ‘okay’ doesn’t begin to cover what this is. That he’s terrified of that – terrified of how quickly he knows this could become necessary to him. Become something that he needs rather than something he can compartmentalize.

Lafayette presses his lips against Alexander’s forehead and sighs contentedly. Washington flicks off the light, pressing close to Alexander. A sense of peace envelops the two of them. They fall asleep long before Alexander does.

Chapter Text

It takes Alexander hours to fall asleep, lying between the two of them. There’s a war waging in his body. On one side is the absolute peace of it: the way Lafayette has nuzzled Alexander’s head under his chin, the way Washington’s thumb strokes his sternum until he falls asleep and goes still. On the other, he feels like an intruder into something already well-worn and made comfortable without him in mind. He can imagine, now that he has an image for it, how Washington and Gilbert must fall asleep together. How they will continue to, after he’s gone.

He wants to stay. He wants it so much he can already feel the ghost of an ache in his chest at the thought of leaving. But he doesn’t want them to recognize him as a trespasser, doesn’t want to seem like he’s leeching off of the beauty of what they have only to taint it. The space between them is perfect. But it doesn’t belong to Alexander. He makes up his mind to wake up early, to quietly extract himself and catch the bus back to his apartment.

Instead, he wakes up to the sound of a camera shutter.

It’s early morning, the room bathed in blue light from the rising sun and the snow that had fallen the night before. He’s on his stomach, hair haloed around his head, one of his arms thrown over Washington’s chest, which is still rising and falling slowly. A familiar panic hits him as he rolls over. Its the same one that’s been plaguing him for weeks, tinged with the fear that he’s missed his chance to remove himself gracefully, without overstaying his welcome.

Lafayette is standing at the foot of the bed, already dressed, with his suitcase at his hip. He’s got a camera raised to his eye, heavy but sleek. He lowers the lens and smiles down at the display screen.

“Just for me,” he says to Alexander, waving the camera. “I will not have it printed, I promise. But I wanted something to tide me over for the week. I wish I did not have to leave. Especially right now.”

Alexander opens his mouth to speak, but finds it dry and coughs instead. The motion makes him feel the ache in his upper thighs, the delayed burn of his muscles. His pulse is speeding up, but he can’t tell if its anxiety or echoes of the memory of the night before.

“I got you water,” Lafayette says, lowering the camera and moving to pass Alexander the glass from the bedside table. Alex sips it gratefully, clearing his throat. Lafayette sits on the bed next to him, and Alexander marvels at his immaculacy – the care with which he’s put his hair up, the way his clothes fall perfectly on his frame. He glances down at the camera in Lafayette’s hand.

“Can I see?” he asks, his voice still on the edge of hoarse.

Oui, si tu veux” he says, hitting a button to call up the image and angling the screen towards Alexander. It’s a beautiful photograph. The shot is perfectly framed, a muted glow to it, cut close around his and Washington’s torsos. The shadows catch on his shoulder blades and the small of his back, the place where his fingertips meet Washington’s chest. His hair is a mess, sculpted by the hands that had run through it hours before. Washington, next to him, is solid, secure, as if he is the foundation meant to take the mark of Alexander’s chaos. His head is angled slightly towards Alexander.

His whole body feels too warm all of a sudden, and he itches to get up. He spots his clothes neatly folded on an armchair in the corner. “Are you leaving for the airport?”

Oui, I have just called the cab. I have an early flight. I am meeting Adrienne and then sleeping off the jetlag before the shoot begins.”

“I should go, too. Catch the bus.” Alexander swallows. “I’ve got a class to TA, so – I should get going.”

Lafayette places a hand on his thigh. The touch is deliberately light, as if to convey the fact that he’s not going to be held there. “Did you enjoy yourself last night, Alexandre?” Lafayette asks quietly, looking again at the photograph on his camera. “As much as we did?”

Alexander snorts, despite himself. “If you couldn’t tell, I must have been doing something very wrong.”

“That is not what I meant,” Lafayette says. “You are very responsive.” He trails his hand up Alexander’s thigh towards his groin, making him shiver, proving his point. “What I mean is… you do not regret this?”

A flash of images hits him, from Lafayette’s stunning smile to Washington’s deliberate gentleness, and all of the points of connection between them. There’s a precarity there, he recognizes. A knowledge of how wrong it could go, the unspoken question of whether it would happen again, the fear that he’s expended his worth in Washington’s eyes. But its not like he’s never been on the edge before. Its not as if his whole life isn’t precarious anyway. “I don’t regret it.” He offers Lafayette a small smile. Wishes he didn’t have to leave. “Gilbert, c’était tout ce que je voulais.”

Et maintenant?” Lafayette strokes a hand over his shoulder, skimming a finger over the divot of his collarbone.

“Everything that I still want,” Alexander whispers.

“Can I ask something of you, then, mon chou?”

Alexander nods, fixated on the set of Lafayette’s lips, and how hard he seems to be thinking.

“Stay until he wakes, at least. You will still make it to your class. It will be 6:30 sharp. He has never been able to shake his military clock. I am not asking you this as a… how you say… a people-matcher?”

“Match-maker?” Alexander corrects, amused at the misspeaking as much as he is at the admission that match-making was exactly what Gilbert had been doing.

“Yes! Match-maker. Anyway, it is not that. It is just... George is sensitive about this kind of thing. He will never admit it, but to see that you stayed would mean more to him than you know.”

“Why?” Alexander asks. “I thought you said, you know, when he does this, he prefers to keep his distance. Not call back. That kind of thing.” He keeps his tone level, not wanting to presume what side of the assumption he’s placing himself on. “I don’t want to intrude,” he admits. “I don’t want to invite myself in and assume I’m being asked to stay. You know?”

Lafayette knits his brow together. “But I am asking you to stay.”

Alexander glances over at Washington, still peacefully asleep. “I guess I mean I don’t want to assume that he’ll want me here. Again.” He looks up at Lafayette, hoping that he catches the meaning.

“I must tell you something, Alexandre. We do not… really do this. Singular nights with others, yes. But, apart. It is simple, uninvolved. It does not become part of what George and I share between us. It is only periphery.” He takes a deep breath, adjusts the camera strap around his neck. “We do not approach people together. We have not had a threesome since… mon dieu, maybe some ill-advised post-rave orgies in the 90s. I do not remember.” He seems to grimace at the thought. “And we certainly do not share this bed with anyone else. It is something sacred for the two of us.”

Alexander can feel the discomfort growing again, the sense that he’s out of place here. “Isn’t that all the more reason why I shouldn’t stay?” he asks. “You could have just said that last night, I would have gone back.”

“No, no. That is exactly why you should stay,” Lafayette says. “Alexandre, if both of us did not want you here, last night would not have happened. I will not pretend that I know what this is, or where it will go. But I do know how I feel. And I know that George feels things more deeply than he is willing to show.” He leans over Alexander to brush a knuckle across Washington’s jaw. He sighs in his sleep. “There is a lot in his past that he has never really worked through. Things that make it hard for him to watch people leave.”

Alexander looks at Washington again. Processes the authority, the worthiness of respect that he still possesses even while snoring slightly. “Do you think he would tell me? If I asked?”

“I do not know,” Lafayette answers honestly. “Maybe one day. I just… do not want to see either of you hurt over things that he is too afraid to show. So, it is up to you. But, if you are willing, I know he would want to wake up to your face.”

“Alright,” Alexander says. The anxiety hasn’t disappeared, but the edges of it are dulled by a sort of honor. The glimpses of that feeing – being wanted – that he’s been chasing his entire life.

“I have to go,” Lafayette stands, picking up his suitcase. “Or I will miss my flight. But I want to see you when I get back, mon petit. We can go out. Perhaps just the two of us? Make up for more lost time.” His smile is all dimples and shining eyes, setting something alight.

“I’d like that,” Alexander says.

“Can I text you tonight?” Lafayette asks from the doorway, a glint in his eye.

Bien sûr. J'aimerai ça aussi,” Alexander answers.

“Take care of him for me,” Lafayette says as he leaves, which makes Alexander’s heart jump for reasons he can’t begin to explain.

-.-.-.-.-.-

Alex tries to settle back into bed, but he can’t find a position that feels comfortable. Lying in the empty spot Lafayette had vacated feels too purposefully distant. But he doesn’t feel like he has the right to be close to Washington, to touch him again, to determine that sort of closeness. He doesn’t want him to wake up feeling smothered. To solidify his regret before he even opens his eyes.

He stands, after a while, eventually finding himself in front of the giant mirror mounted over the larger of the two dressers. He takes in his reflection. There’s a hint of exhaustion etched in his face, but that’s been there for a while now. He thinks of his interview – how its now less than two weeks away. The anxiety doesn’t even grate on him anymore, its so constant. There’s a rosy tinge to his skin that hadn’t been there yesterday. He brings his fingers up to his neck, to brush over one of the marks Lafayette had left, now a light burgundy on his skin. He turns, glances from the side, and counts four more of them. He makes a mental note to avoid his office, in case John happens to be there, with questions about how an interview practice dinner could possibly have evolved to include an obscene number of hickeys in very visible places.

He wonders if John will have noticed that he didn’t make it home last night.

He hears Washington start to stir behind him. Alexander stretches, feeling the ache at the base of his spine, down through his thighs, between the cleft of his ass. Its a reminder he’ll hold onto throughout the day. He doesn’t mind the pain, really. He likes feeling claimed. He likes not being allowed to forget the moment of it. He sees Washington sit up.

“Good morning, Alexander,” he says, his voice a pitch deeper with sleep.

“Hey,” Alex says as he turns around. He feels hyper-aware of his nakedness all of a sudden, even though its matched by Washington’s own. “Sleep well?”

His heart skips a beat at Washington’s sleepy smile, the way that it reaches his eyes. “Very well. Did Lafayette get his flight?”

“Yeah. He left not too long ago. Surprised you slept through it.”

Washington finally stands. There’s a moment, when they’re finally face to face, when everything seems to freeze. Alexander can feel it, viscerally, in the way that Washington’s body seems to process their difference in size, how – standing so close – its painfully evident how much smaller Alexander actually is. He can see the doubt start to cloud Washington’s eyes. Alexander feels it too, now that it’s the two of them alone. There’s a strangeness to it, standing naked before his professor, that Alexander couldn’t have predicted. It skates across his skin – this knowledge that everything they’ve done has been wrong, has broken every rule without consideration of what might happen afterwards, personally or professionally.

“Circadian rhythms,” Washington says awkwardly. “Mine have always been particularly steady.” He clenches his jaw, his eyes settling on Alexander’s face for only a moment before fleeting elsewhere. He looks tense.

“Do you wanna talk about it?” Alexander asks.

Washington raises an eyebrow.

“I know, I know,” Alexander says. “I don’t mean… whether or not we should have, that’s not a question, at least not for me,” he rambles. “I mean I… I don’t want things to go back. To, you know. Being a question. In the future. And I don’t want you to think I would change my mind and not tell you, so. If it’ll make you feel better…”

Alexander sees some of the reservation leave Washington’s eyes. It’s not everything, but it’s an opening. “I don’t feel negatively about anything,” Washington says simply. “I suppose its just…”

“I’m still your student.” Alexander reads it in his face. “And you’re still my professor.” The words sound awkward out loud, the wrongness of them palpable in the air, like they shouldn’t have been spoken.

“Yes.”

“Does it bother you that much?” Alexander asks, almost afraid of the answer.

“No,” Washington says, folding his arms over his chest. “Most of the time, it doesn’t. I don’t always see you as… well, none of the students I’ve worked with have ever come close to your standard, Alexander. And if there had ever been a question of maturity I don’t think we would be in this situation in the first place.”

“What, then?” Alexander asks as he chances a step forward.

He takes a deep breath before he speaks. “Do you call me ‘sir’ because you feel that you have to?”

There’s a muted pain in Washington’s eyes, and so much more contained in the question than he voices.

And if his eyes weren’t pinning Alexander in place, weren’t asking so earnestly for the truth of it, he would have laughed. Would’ve teased him, used it for leverage, like he had the night before. But he sees exactly what Washington is asking; finally sees the way his fear feeds on every ounce of control Alexander chooses to give him.

“I know I don’t have to,” Alexander says. “I want to. I like how it feels.” Washington looks unconvinced. Alexander digs his fingernails into his palm. “You do know that you’re not making me do anything, right? I feel like you should know that better than anyone, I mean, objectively.”

“I’m thirty years older than you, Alexander.” It isn’t really a reply, but something that had been building all along. Washington says it as if its something he’s done wrong. A source of anger. Something he wishes he could take back.

“You think I don’t know that? That it isn’t… I don’t know, part of this?” Alexander asks. Washington doesn’t respond, closing his eyes. “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.”

“Does is bother you that I call you ‘sir’ because you don’t want me to, or… because you like it, too?”

Alexander closes the distance between them while Washington’s eyes are still closed. He puts his arms around Washington’s neck, his chest against the sleepy warmth of Washington’s skin. He relishes in the way that he has to look up at Washington, this close. He watches Washington’s eyelids flutter as his hands land on his waist. It feels right.

“You can call me whatever you want to,” Washington exhales, just on the edge of helpless, as if Alexander could ever have that kind of effect on him. Alexander stores his words away for later, as Washington opens his eyes, pools of warmth, and looks down at him. “Can I kiss you? Please?”

Alexander brings their lips together as answer, having to stand on his toes just to reach, his back arching enough to throw him off balance if it weren’t for Washington’s arms winding around his waist.

There’s no urgency to it, this time. In fact, Alexander isn’t quite sure he can call it a kiss, the way that Washington captures his bottom lip between his just to hold it there, before slowly running his tongue along the places where Alexander knows its chapped. It morphs into something exploratory, sweet and slow and Alexander doesn’t realize he’s holding his breath until he starts to feel lightheaded. He shifts in Washington’s arms and can feel the beginnings of Washington’s hardness pressed against his thigh. But Washington maintains his agonizing pace, the gentleness of it so loud that Alexander can hear a million questions being screamed in the deliberateness of each time Washington sighs into his mouth.

There comes a point when he can’t take it anymore.

He pulls back, glancing down meaningfully between them. “Do you want me to take care of that for you?” He can feel the redness of his lips, wet already, and needs them, all of a sudden, around Washington’s dick. Wants to be used. To be useful. Not to be caught in a dance he doesn’t know the steps to. He pushes out of Washington’s arms, falling to his knees and bringing his hands to the backs of Washington’s thighs. “Can I suck your dick, sir?”

He hears Washington’s sharp intake of breath at the same time he weaves his hand through Alexander’s hair. “No.”

“No?” Alexander blinks up at Washington.

So that’s it, he thinks. So it had been a one-time thing.

He should have learned, by now, how to recognize a goodbye kiss.

He anticipates it before Washington speaks. Knows that, at the very least, he’ll let him down easy.

Instead, he says, “I’m surprised you haven’t learned your lesson about being patient, Alexander. You’re usually such a quick study.” Washington’s voice is dark and focused, burrowing itself into him, as sharp as the pain that blooms across his scalp as Washington pulls his hair. “Stand up.”

Oh.

Alexander scrambles to his feet, arranges himself in front of Washington. His eyes are brimming with fire.

“Do you think you can be patient for me, my boy?” he draws his thumb along Alexander’s jaw, appraising him.

Alexander swallows hard. “Yes,” he stutters, overwhelmed by the presence that Washington seems to project over the room, overpowering the trepidation and tenderness that had filled the space moments before. “Yes, sir.”

“Go get dressed. I’ll take you home before you have to be on campus,” Washington says simply, heat and a forced nonchalance warring in his voice. “I don’t want you to touch yourself until the next time we’re together.”

“The next time…?”

Washington quirks the corner of his lips. “Thursday, at the latest, is that correct?”

“That’s four days,” Alexander chokes, a mixture of elation at the fact that Washington could want him again and devastation that he’ll have to wait that long for something he’s already salivating for. Washington gives him a look. “I mean. I won’t.” God, he wants to be good for him. Wants to earn whatever lurks behind the depth of that gaze.

“Prove to me you can be patient,” Washington says, his eyes shining. “Show me how good you can be. Then perhaps you can take care of whatever arises in the future.”

-.-.-.-.-.-

Alexander doesn’t spend long at his apartment. He showers, finds clean clothes, and manages not to wake John where’s he’s passed out on the couch in the living room. He makes it to campus with hours to spare before Burr’s class, and with a smile that he has to continually fight to keep off of his lips.

He’s certain people can read it all over him. That he’s been marked, somehow.

He holes himself away in the back of the library with a book, afraid that if he comes into contact with someone, the vision of the past twenty-four hours will shatter and he’ll have nothing to remain rooted to. Luckily, its quiet, most students still recovering from their weekend hangovers.

Eliza emails him around 8:30am, asking if he’s free to grab coffee with her, to discuss some of the arrangements for his interview. The one’s he’s been pointedly putting off making.  He realizes he hasn’t really been focusing on his book anyway. Figures it might be a good thing to get out of his head for a while. Besides, he’d rather make his entrance back into the real world in Eliza’s company before he has to face Burr.

“Alex!” she wraps him in a hug as soon as he arrives at the campus Starbucks. “Good weekend?”

“Yeah,” Alexander smiles, unable to help himself. “Wasn’t bad.”

“I don’t have too much time,” Eliza grabs them a table. “We’re in the middle of next year’s course planning. But I had to come and give you this.” Eliza slides him a large, white envelope. “It was dropped off by courier to the department this morning. An anonymous donation.”

“Donation? For what?” Alexander asks as he reaches in and pulls out a pile of papers.  

“First class ticket to California for your interview. Fully paid. And a reservation for a hotel suite to boot.”

“What the fuck?”

“No idea,” says Eliza. “I mean, the department was going to fund your travel, but we certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford anything like this.” She gives him a curious look. “There is a note there.”

Alexander roots through the papers. “Did you read it?” he asks.

“I might have,” Eliza smiles.

He finds it, handwritten, at the bottom of the envelope.

Mon cher Alexandre,

 Veuillez accepter ce petit jeton de mon appréciation. Pour tout ce qui reste à venir.

At the bottom, it is simply signed “G”.

His first reaction is an explosion of the grin he’d been fighting off all morning. Gilbert must have done this before he’d even left. The easiness of it. The gesture towards a future. His second reaction is a deep guilt at the opulence of it all – of being given things he knows he doesn’t deserve, and which will only become wastes when he comes back to DC empty handed.

“So you do know who it is!” Eliza smiles. “We were all taking bets whether it was someone you knew or just a random act of kindness sort of thing. But I’m the only one who saw the note, so I may have had a leg up.” Eliza looks at him expectantly.

“I might have a few guesses,” Alexander says, reigning in the mess of feelings.

A few beats of silence pass as it becomes apparent that Alexander isn’t going to tell her who it is. He feels bad. But he also knows how quickly this could spread, and how wrong it could go.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Alex,” Eliza says hesitantly. “But… its not George, is it?”

The fear is more immediate than he’d thought it would be. “No,” Alexander shakes his head. He’s going to have to learn how to act this sooner or later, he realizes. “Why would he do that? It’s not Dr. Washington, trust me.”

“Oh, thank god. Angelica was concerned… well… if it had been, we wouldn’t have been allowed to process it, you know, because we can’t endorse certain exchanges between faculty members and students. Not to mention the kinds of questions it might raise.”

Alexander freezes. “Washington… doesn’t speak French,” he says dumbly. “I know who it is, ‘Liza, its not him.”

“Okay,” Eliza says. And then, “It’s just that… well. You forgot to lock the department doors when I gave you the key on Thursday. And, university protocol, I had to review the hallway security camera footage from that evening just to make sure no one entered while it was left unlocked.”

Alexander feels his stomach drop.

“You looked a little flustered while you were leaving his office, Alex.”

It’s not an accusation, Alexander notices. Then again, Eliza wouldn’t do that, no matter what she knew.

He wonders, absently, if the cameras had also caught Washington’s own state of disarray whenever he’d decided to leave.

“Is everything okay? Because if the supervision isn’t working out or if there’s a situation you need mediated, you can tell me. We’ll take care of it.”

Alexander almost laughs. “It was just a stressful meeting, Eliza,” he says as tonelessly as he can. “I’m fine. He’s a great supervisor.” He stops himself there, knowing how easily he could say too much, and not wanting to even acknowledge what Eliza had been hinting at. What he’d woken up to. “Sorry about the doors. I guess I was just thinking too hard.”

“Its okay.” Eliza doesn’t push it any further. “You seem happy. That’s all I care about,” she says instead. “Anything to do with the mysterious ‘G’?”

“Maybe,” Alexander says, playing into the blush he knows he’s already sporting. Anything to redirect the conversation away from Washington, even if it means edging uncomfortably close to the truth.

“He seems… well-established,” Eliza says.

“You can say ‘sugar daddy,’ you know,” Alexander jokes.

“Oh my god,” Eliza laughs. “Really?”

“Nah,” Alexander brushes it off. “It’s not like that at all.” At least, Alexander hadn’t thought about it that way. But perhaps actions speak louder than words. He realizes that he really needs to talk to Gilbert when his flight lands.

“Well he certainly seems generous. Is he cute, too?”

Alexander’s mind fills with images of sweat-covered skin, Gilbert’s spine arching back against Washington’s body. The unrestrained joy of his smile. The unabashed way he displays his desire. All of these things together.  

“Yeah,” Alexander says. “He’s gorgeous.”

Chapter Text

Alexander is sitting alone in his office at the end of the day, forging through paragraphs he’d had stuck in his head for weeks, when he gets the first text.

are you opposed to… how you say… dick pics?

Alexander smirks, and types back. You don’t have to type “how you say”. You obviously found the word.

so you are not opposed?

Don’t you have a husband for that sort of thing? Alexander texts back, grinning, thankful that John hadn’t shown up on campus all day, and that his office door was locked.

he is teaching. he says he does not appreciate being distracted while he is teaching.

I can’t imagine why, Alexander types. There’s a tendril of heat already curling in his belly, a thrum of tension in his thighs. He wishes it weren’t tainted with the worry of it all, with the edges of the fear that had spiked when Eliza had asked him about Washington that morning. He wishes he didn’t know how quiet he would have to be about something he was feeling so loudly.

Call me? he sends.

mais i cannot do both mon cherie

Just call me.

His phone rings seconds later.

“So you do not want dick pics, non?” Gilbert says as soon as Alexander picks up the call. “I am a good photographer, you know this. I am sure you would like them.”

And Alexander can’t help the smile on his face, or the sense of wonder at the sound of the other man’s voice. The simple joy that it finds in him, erasing almost everything else.

“Lafayette,” he says, finding that it still doesn’t settle quite right on his tongue, not absent of Washington, anyway. “Gilbert,” he corrects. “I have to ask you something.”

“Yes?” he says, and Alex notices the breathlessness of his voice for the first time, the slight gasp at the end.

“Fuck, Gilbert, are you...?”

“What?” Gilbert whines. “I was preparing for the dick pics.” Alex hears the sound of a zipper being yanked down, Gilbert’s voice lower. “And now I cannot stop thinking of it, Alexandre, this is what you do to me.”

Alex brings a hand to the back of his neck, digs his fingernails in. He can’t help the urge to fight it. Because there’s no way that he could be doing anything to Gilbert, when the man could have his pick of anyone.

“But please, ask your question,” Gilbert says sincerely. “I do not mean to distract, this can wait.”

“Do you want to be my sugar daddy?” Alexander blurts.

He realizes too late that that was definitely not the way he meant to phrase that.

Quoi?”

“I mean, fuck… I meant like, are you trying to be a sugar daddy or something because I really don’t need… anything, you know, I don’t want this to be like that.” He drops his head into his free hand.

“What are you talking about, mon petit?”

“I’m just trying to say that I don’t need that from you. I can handle myself, that’s not why I want this… and I don’t want you to feel like you have be that person, you know?”

Non, Alexandre, I am not a sugar daddy, why would you think this?” Gilbert responds, as it its just a matter of misinformation. “I had many of them back in New York, voila comment je sais. A sugar daddy,” Gilbert lectures, “is an older man who will lavish you with gifts in return for certain forms of, ah, companionship.”

“Explain to me how you dropping off three thousand dollar ‘donation’ the morning after I slept with you escapes that definition.”

“Ah, so you got the tickets!” There’s a pause on the line. “Oh.” Then, a dramatic gasp. “Merde,” Gilbert curses.

He sniffles, and then says soberly, as if accepting a dark fate: “I am a sugar daddy.”

Alexander laughs, louder than he probably should.

Mon dieu, when did I get so old?” Gilbert wails on the other end of the line. “What have you done to me?”

Alex snorts. “You know, if I’d had to guess, I would have thought George would be more the sugar daddy type,” he laughs. He still feels a pang in his chest as he speaks the name, as if he hasn’t quite earned the right to use it.

“He is an academic,” Gilbert says, and Alexander can practically hear the eye-roll over the phone. “And he has a soft spot for small universities. The money is mine. He does know about the tickets though. But he did not want to chance having his name on it, and I insisted it go through the university so they did not double book.”

Alexander swallows, not wanting to leave an awkward silence. “Thank you, Gilbert. I wish I could thank you in person.”

Je souhaite que, trop,” Gilbert breathes over the phone, his tone like glowing embers.

The uncertainty is still throbbing behind everything. “Its so strange hearing your voice…” Alexander murmurs. It means more. He hears it land in the static of the phone, traversing the distance between them.

“You know there are no expectations, Alexandre. We want only to please you,” Gilbert says, after a while. “Are you busy right now?” he asks.

Alexander glances down at the mess of open books on his desk, the open document on his computer, then down further at the beginnings of the bulge in his jeans. “Not with anything that can’t be done later.”

“Would you be willing to do what I say, for a few moments?”

“Yes,” Alexander says, realizing that he’s desperate for an instruction, for something concrete to cling to, to fortify him against the motion of his own mind.

“Are you near George’s office right now?”

“I’m right down the hall from it, yeah,” Alexander answers.

“And is there anyone else there?”

Alex stands, opens the door and peers out into the hallway. Eliza’s desk is far enough away, and he knows she’ll be leaving soon, if she hasn’t already. All of the other office doors are closed. “No. Not in the hallway, at least.”

“Could you get there without being noticed?”

“I think so. Why?”

“There is a vase on the table that sits to the right of his door. There is a key inside of it, just tip it over.”

“Are you telling me to break into his office?”

Oui, he left that key there for me. He knows about it, it is for me to use, it is fine.”

“But I’m not you, Gilbert. I don’t know… I really shouldn’t.”

“I’m not asking you to stay there, just to get something. Do not worry – you can lock it again when you’re done, no one will know.”

He remembers the security cameras after he’s already got the key in his hand. He remembers that they’re never checked as long as the front doors are locked properly. It’s a risk, he knows. But he’s already got the key in the lock.

“Okay,” he says, inhaling the scent of Washington mixed with old books and leather bindings as soon as he steps in. “I’m here. What am I doing here?”

“Bottom drawer of his desk,” Gilbert breathes over the phone, and Alexander can picture him touching himself again. “The small one. There’s a black silk bag. Take it with you, lock the office. And then find somewhere you can be alone.”

The bag is there, among various bottles of Tylenol and glasses cleaner. He takes it, undoing the drawstring just an inch, unable to contain his curiosity. He bites his lip when he sees it.

“Gilbert…”

“Did you find it?”

Alexander reaches his hand in, fingering the smooth silicone of the black anal plug there next to a bottle of lube. He draws it out of the bag, realizing that it curves up into a cock ring studded with stainless steel. He lets out a shaky breath, feels himself twitch at the thought of it.

“Why does he have this in his desk?”

“In case he works too much and needs some convincing to take a break. You know I am on campus a lot,” Gilbert says nonchalantly. “Oh, and by the way, I was texting him earlier. He told me he is working late tonight.”

“Really?”

“Do you have somewhere private, with a lock?” Gilbert asks, the edges of impatience or some other kind of desperation colouring his voice. “Somewhere you can put me on speakerphone? You will need both hands. And I want to hear you.”

-.-.-.-.-.-

Alexander knocks on Washington’s office door at the time Gilbert instructs him to, after his lecture is over. He’d spent ten minutes focusing on his breathing in his locked office, using all of his willpower not to touch himself after he’d zipped himself back into his jeans. He isn’t supposed to, after all. He is supposed to be proving his patience.

Gilbert had coached him over the phone, working the plug into his body, the adjoined cock ring painfully snug behind his balls. His skin feels electric. The feeling of fullness makes him flush, makes him want to grind down on something, but he doesn’t. He breathes. He feels dirty. He knocks.

Washington gets up to open the door, this time.

“Alexander. I wasn’t expecting you tonight.” He looks stunning, in his tailored jacket, his earring glinting against the setting sun, a day’s worth of stubble where hadn’t had time to shave this morning before taking Alex home.

Alexander can’t imagine how he looks – his hair in a messy ponytail, his ripped jeans and his snug t-shirt doing nothing to hide the softness of his stomach. He hadn’t been expecting seeing Washington again today, so he’d dressed for comfort. It’s the first time he’s looked anything less than put together in front of him. He thinks its probably the first time he’s looked this inexperienced, too.

“Sir,” he says. His voice wavers on the edge of control. Its painfully obvious to him, but Washington doesn’t seem to notice. “You said I could come by any time, so. I, uh, wanted to…”

Washington smiles. “You don’t have to justify it, son. You’re a sight for sore eyes. Sit down.”

Alexander’s heart stops.

Standing is fine. Standing still, he can almost forget it.

He fights the urge to angle himself as he sits, to avoid the base of the plug meeting the wood of the chair beneath him. But he doesn’t want to give himself away, not yet. He bites his lip pre-emptively and sits. He feels the rush of blood to his cock as the plug drives up into him, the way the cock ring feels tighter, the painful urge to just touch, all at once. His eyes slide closed as he fails to hide the way his breathing falters.

“Are you alright, Alexander?” Washington’s concern is immediate, genuine.

Alexander opens his eyes, forces a smile. Grits his teeth as his head spins. Gilbert had told him what it would feel like but even then, first times have always been overwhelming for him. “Peachy,” he says measuredly. “Just… still feeling you, sir.”

Washington quirks an eyebrow, brings his chin to rest on the steeple of his fingers, and drinks Alexander in. If it weren’t for the cock ring, Alexander thinks, he might be coming in his jeans like a teenager just from the lust in that look.

“Speaking of. I wanted to talk to you about what Lafayette did this morning. I hope you weren’t offended by it.”

“The plane ticket and all of that?” Alexander asks, grateful for something to break his body’s dogged focus on its predicament. “No, not at all. I came to thank you actually. You really didn’t have to do that.”

“Well,” Washington says with trepidation. “Did he happen to tell you that he went ahead and booked matching ones for the both of us?”

“What?” Alexander says, barely processing. “You mean, to come to California?”

“Yes,” his professor sighs. “We had been talking about it before you arrived on Sunday, and he was appalled that the university doesn’t make arrangements to send someone with you on the interview weekend for support. He booked them without telling me. Or you, evidently.”

Washington sighs, seeming troubled by it.

“I know that you can handle yourself, Alexander. I would never want to interfere. I’m having him re-book a separate suite for us and, if you want to reach out after the interview, we will be there. But if you don’t, there is no pressure. It’s a big weekend for you. I want you to have space to do things your way.”

“Of course,” Alexander says breathlessly. And perhaps some rational part of him should be worried about distraction. The part of him that needs this to go perfectly should be blaring alarm bells at what their presence might do to his focus.

But all he can think of is days in a place where nobody knows them. Of king beds and what might fill the hours of waiting. Of someone else’s hands tying his tie. Of how it might feel to be sent off with faith behind him.

“Don’t re-book anything.”

It must be the plug, he reasons. It must be the way that his body is already teetering on the edge, waiting patiently for Washington to push him over it.

“It’ll be fine,” he says. “I’m grateful. Really.”

He shifts, accidently, in his awkwardness. Sees Washington’s pupils dilate at his sharp intake of breath.

“I’m, ah, I wanted to ask you,” Washington says suddenly, with no focus behind the words. It’s clear what he’s focused on; Alex can feel the way that the energy shifts. “I’ve been asked to do a lecture series this summer. Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, places like that.”

“That’s incredible.”

“Would you be willing to come on as my research assistant, for the summer term? Regardless of… of whether or not you’ll be moving to San Francisco.”

Alexander’s throat is already tight with longing. His heart leaps at the thought of it. At something sure among the uncertainty. Of time alone with Washington. “Like, as your right-hand man, that kind of deal? Speech writer? Fact-checker?” He pauses, quirks his lips. “Personal assistant? I think I could be good at that.”

“I concur,” Washington says with a smile that is tinged by the heat in his eyes. He takes his glasses off, glancing at them, and reaches down into his drawer for the glasses cleaner.

He stops abruptly.

Alexander’s mind flashes to the black bag sitting forgotten on his own desk.

His face grows hotter, as he watches the realization that he’s wearing Gilbert’s plug dawn on Washington’s face.

Washington slowly closes the desk drawer. Folds his hands on the desk in front of him. “Alexander,” he says. Its heavy, and unreadable, and Alexander wants to be swallowed whole by it. The seconds drag on. “Can you stand up for me, my boy?”

He doesn’t answer, just clamours out of the chair, lacking grace, lacking anything but desperation. He clenches around the plug involuntarily as he does, his muscles taking over from any rational thought, ready, he imagines, to be clenching around Washington’s cock, milking him…

He sees his own cock press against his fly, already elevated by the ring, on display.

Washington stands, eventually, too, walks over to Alexander, coming close enough to press Alex the extra inch back towards the wall of bookshelves behind him. He lifts Alexander’s chin with his hand, exposing his neck, and ghosts his fingers along the trail of fresh marks there. “I thought I was clear. You were not to touch yourself until I told you you could.”

“I didn’t, sir. I didn’t touch myself… while I did it.” The thought of you was enough, he doesn’t say.

“This certainly doesn’t demonstrate patience, in any case,” Washington says. The sternness is all a performance. Alexander can hear the struggle in his voice between absolute control and the desire to surrender. He can feel the same thing in his body, in its readiness to give in.

Washington’s hands land on his hips, his thumbs finding the divots of his pelvis, pressing gently into the flesh there. He slips a knee in between Alexander’s thighs, and Alex can’t help but want to open to him, to wrap his legs around Washington’s waist, to seek out friction there. But he’s held in place, a denial he knows is intentional. The slight protrusions of the shelves dig into Alex’s back, adding to the frantic vibrations of his nerves, his unbearable hardness.

“You disobeyed an order, Alexander,” Washington says, pressing his face next to Alexander’s ear. Alexander can’t discern between the severity of his voice and the softness of his breath on his neck, everything swirling together. “And what’s more than that,” one of Washington’s hands trails down, cupping his ass, settling around the bottom of his thigh, “you know this office is supposed to be a space for intellectual engagement. We are still…” Washington’s large fingers inch closer to the heat between his legs, “working together, after all.”

He feels Washington’s fingers meet the end of the plug through his pants, feels Washington’s breath hitch at the confirmation of his fullness. Without warning, Washington drives his thigh up hard between Alexander’s legs, thrusting Alex’s entire body back against the shelves. The plug sinks deeper into him in the force of it, a cruel hint of the sensation he craves.

He presses his lips together to keep the sound in, one of his arms latching behind Washington’s neck for balance, and presses the back of his hand against his mouth. He had forgotten to lock the door. He can’t bring himself to care.

They’re pressed together now, chest to chest, and he can’t see Washington’s face but he can feel the strength of his heartbeat, the coursing energy.

“I wouldn’t want you to get… distracted,” Washington whispers. “Or to be thinking of anything other than your studies, here.”

The hand on his thigh coaxes Alexander’s leg up, spreading him, guiding it to settle on Washington’s hip. He’s never been this hard before. He’s never been this close to bursting. 

“I don’t want to compromise your focus,” Washington says as he presses his thigh forward again. Alexander ruts against it helplessly, like he’s an inexperienced teenager, like he’s an animal seeking release. Like he needs it, fucking himself on the plug, never quite driving it deep enough.

“I’m focused,” Alexander pleads incoherently. “Please, sir, I can focus, I swear.”

And then Washington hooks both of his hands under his thighs, lifting him up, as if he weighs nothing. His hooks his legs around Washington's waist as tightly as he can, every nerve ending screaming for more pressure, the pain of the cock ring exquisite.

"Alex," Washington gasps softly, seeming to lose the momentum of the scene, growing still, breathing in deeply. Almost helpless, Alexander's weight completely surrendered to his arms.

Alex lets his head collapse into the space between Washington's neck and shoulder.

"Oh, Alex..."

It dawns on him that Washington has never called him that. A bolt of something hot shoots up his spine.

Alexander brings his hands to Washington's biceps, feeling the hardness of them holding him up. The latent strength. "God, I'll do whatever you want, please. Tell me what to do." Its an inch too close to begging. An inch too close to revealing his fear.

Alex.

But Washington sees him. He always does.

"Prove to me you can focus," Washington says, locking back into the energy of it.

"How?" Alexander's cock aches where it's pressed between his stomach and Washington's. "Just tell me how."

"Lacan's theory of desire."

"What?" Alexander's mind goes blank as Washington shifts his grip to one arm, brings his opposite hand to the back waistband of Alex's jeans, slipping it beneath the fabric.

"Give me the thesis."

"Of... Lacan...? fuck -" he bites off a moan as Washington works a finger down his crack, bringing it to the base of the plug, not quite touching.

He knows Washington knows how much he hates psychoanalysis.

"Now, Alexander."

"Um." Fuck. He shuts his eyes, fights against the searing blankness of his mind. Tries to grasp through the sensory overload. Washington is stock still. He knows its the only way he can get him to move. "Uh... desire is... People cannot be the objects of desire, the object is... That which we can never fully reach. We desire recognition from the Other, we have no desire other than that."

Washington loops his finger through the base of the plug, thrusts in and out of Alexander slowly, torturously, three times. Alexander exhales, a soundless cry. Its not what he needs. Its a stoking of a fever. "Good boy."

Please,” Alexander whispers, as it washes over his body.

“Now Freud.”

“I fucking hate Freud,” Alexander groans, pitching his head back against the bookshelf, hoping it will leverage his hips. Washington doesn’t let it.

“I’m perfectly happy to send you home to study,” Washington says flatly, only a note of a tease behind it. He loosens his grip on Alexander thigh as if he’s going to let him down, but Alexander instinctually clings tighter.

“No, no, no, I know it,” he exhales. Washington removes his hand from Alexander’s pants, brings it around and poises it over the zipper on his jeans.

“The truth of desire can only be known if it is spoken aloud,” Alexander starts. Washington pulls the zipper down so slowly that Alexander can feel each of the teeth releasing. “But it can never fully be brought into existence, there will always be a surplus, something we… something we can’t put into words. God.

Washington reaches beneath the waistband of Alexander's underwear and draws his cock out. Alex can't control his immediate reaction, the violent arch forward towards Washington's hand, his head hitting the wood behind him without him even feeling it.

Washington leaves him exposed. Touches his face instead.

"I want you, Alexander," he says softly. Alexander can feel the surplus. Everything left unsaid.

He glances down at himself. His dick is engorged, flushed red, leaking precum where its tip meets Washington's shirt. Bracketed by the cock ring, its bigger than he's been before. The flamboyantly studded leather won't let him forget Gilbert's role in this.

"Do you want to be inside me, sir?"

"Merleau-Ponty," Washington demands stoically without answering. "Intentional arcs."

Alex combs his mind, tries not to let himself be drawn too deeply into the feeling of Washington sporting his own erection, pressing insistently against Alex's ass. He wants to be good. He wants so badly to be able to please him.

"I don't know, I don't... I've never read it."

Washington raises an eyebrow. An approximation of disappointment. An act thinly veiling the older man's own undeniable need, the speed of their simultaneous hurtling towards each other.

"You could teach me, Dr. Washington," Alex grasps the lapels of his tailored black sport jacket. "You could teach me everything you know."

His words seem to strike something in his professor. Alex inhales the scent of the books, the walnut shelves. Washington places a hand gently on his chest, draws it down over his stomach, towards his groin. The lightest of touches.

"Its phenomenology, its –  the idea that our bodies orient in space towards what they desire. That proximity to those we desire can change the way we perceive..." Washington stops speaking. Clenches his jaw. He cards a hand though Alexander's hair, bordering on roughness, not quite there.

Finally, he says, “Do you have any idea how often I’ve imagined this?”

He lifts Alexander up, a sudden show of his strength, and places him on the desk just like the first time. But this time he’s tearing Alexander’s t-shirt off, pulling his jeans off of his hips. Even in the burst of activity Alexander is impatient, wrenching his underwear off, his heart racing.

He leans back on the desk, papers scattered beneath him, the light of the computer casting a glow over his face. Hitches his legs up, putting himself on display. Prays that he’s enough.

“Jesus, Alexander,” Washington breathes, fingering the base of the plug where it disappears into him, stroking the edge of Alexander’s hole, stretched and red and ready. He grasps the strap that connects it to the cock ring and gives it a rough tug, sending a stream of precum trickling down Alexander’s cock as he clenches in response, his body’s attempt to keep the plug inside him. He gasps roughly, which earns him one of Washington’s hands over his mouth.

“Quiet,” Washington says, trance-like, unable to take his eyes off of Alexander. “I’ve got condoms in the drawer, if you want…”

Alexander nods furiously beneath the weight of Washington’s hand.

“Okay.” Washington releases him, then removes his jacket. “On your stomach. On this.”

Alex obeys, shaking as he drapes the jacket over the desk, arranges himself so he’s leaning over it, his weight balanced on his forearms. Washington doesn’t waste any time with the condom. When he returns to Alexander, he presses himself up against his cleft, and Alex ruts back against him, adrenaline racing, needing it.

“I need it, sir,” he cries, keeping as quiet as he can in his desperation. His cock feels like its on fire, as if he’ll come the instant he’s touched. As if he might die without that release. “Take the ring off, let me come when I feel you, please.”

“No, my boy,” Washington’s hands grip his hips. “You come when I tell you to. You’ll never be able to focus without discipline. Open your mouth.”

Alex does, without questioning it, his legs shaking. Washington takes the end of his jacket, puts the fabric in Alexander’s mouth like a gag. He bites down obediently. He has no idea how he’s going to remain standing, once Washington is in him.

“Do you have a safe word?” Washington asks.

Alex shakes his head.

“Okay,” Washington says. “We’ll use colours, then. If you want me to stop, spit it out, and say red, and we stop. You can be as loud as you need to, if I don’t hear you. Nod if you understand.”

He nods.

“Okay.” Washington settles a hand on Alexander’s head, pressing it to the desk, gentle even in his domination. He brings both of Alexander’s arms behind his back, gripping both of his wrists in just one of his hands and holding him, prone.

The moment he pulls out the plug, Alexander lets out a long moan, muffled by the jacket but vibrating through his entire body. He can feel the lube start to drip down the inside of his thighs. Gilbert had been very meticulous in his instructions for preparation.

“Look at you, Alexander,” Washington whispers as he replaces the cold air with the weight of his cock, lined up against Alex’s opening, not quite pushing in. It feels impossibly big, even after the plug. “All ready for me. Dripping wet.”

He pushes in without warning, and Alexander gasps out something between a prayer and a promise. He’s is sure he’s going to break open, every part of him straining, every part him held together only by Washington’s touch.

Washington sets a deliberately slow pace, which makes Alexander want to scream, makes him want to beg for something faster, but he can’t drop the gag from his mouth, not if he wants Washington to keep going. The sounds Washington makes are muted, but Alexander satisfies himself by remembering how his face had looked last time, his mouth open in pleasure, the lines on his forehead deepened with concentration. Beautiful, in his rough-hewn way.

“I hope you know I don’t make a habit of fucking my students,” Washington says, dragging a hand down Alexander’s side. “But when you walked in here that first day, looking like you were ready to tear the world apart at the seams. With the mind to do it.” He thrusts hard, hitting Alexander’s prostate, driving the pressure deeper. Alex throws his hips back, clenches and draws forward, tempting Washington to fuck him harder. He’s boiling over, he can feel it.

“Fuck, Alex…” Washington’s grip on his wrists falters, but Alexander holds them in place himself, waits for him to recover. He drags himself along Washington’s cock again, feeling the other man start to fall apart behind him. “Fuck.”

It doesn’t take long before Washington is driving into him, before he’s biting down on the jacket, a hand in his hair, moaning words that he only says because he knows neither of them can make them out. His whole body is a lit fuse, fueled by the books and the smell and the incongruence of being taken by Washington in his office, the volume of skin against skin with each of his thrusts, where anyone could walk in on them, where anyone might hear. His professor inside of him.

Washington pulls him up to standing and releases his arms, and working him expertly out of the cock ring and letting it drop to the ground below them. Alexander can’t stop the barrelling pressure, at that point, couldn’t hold it back if he tried. Washington commands him to come, strokes him twice, and he’s coming hard, multiple ropes of it all over the black of Washington’s jacket, all over the papers on his desk.

He falls forward almost immediately, his muscles giving out the moment Washington’s come fills him up, nothing left to give but softness, but sweat and laboured breath and the feeling that’s flowing out of every single one of his pores. The one he can’t speak out loud. The one he can’t make real.

He spits the jacket from his mouth. “Freud was on to something,” he says nonsensically, his voice barely there. He expects a laugh. There’s only silence.

Washington pulls out, spins Alexander towards him. He presses him to his chest, wraps him in both of his arms, more tightly than is necessary. One of his hands rests on Alexander’s back, the other cupping his head. It’s the most desperate thing he’s done all evening. The most driven.

He doesn’t let go. Not for a long time.

“Come home with me, Alexander,” he says.

Alex can hear fear in his voice. In the way he says it as if he knows it is something he should not be asking.

“My roommate would worry,” Alexander answers. He feels something in his soul splitting as he makes a choice for Washington. Saving them both, he thinks. He’s not entirely sure what from.

“Send a text, or something,” Washington offers. Its close to a plea.

“I…” Alexander turns his head. Rests his cheeks against Washington’s chest. Thanks god he held the tears in this time, even as the flood inside him threatens to spill out. “It isn’t my place.”

Washington releases him. Beholds him. “I’ve never known anyone like you, Alexander.”

Alex can’t look into his eyes. He stares at the darkness through the window. Wants to curl up somewhere. He wants Washington’s arms back. He won’t ask for them.

Washington guides his eyes back, and presses a kiss to Alexander’s lips. Alex deepens it like its water in a drought. He tastes lines being crossed.

He feels a deep wave of shame hit him.

“Its your place if you choose to take it,” Washington whispers against him. “Alexander, I – ”

“Maybe tomorrow.” Alexander cuts him off before he can finish. He can’t hear what dangles at the end of that sentence. “Maybe… I don’t… I need to get back to work, but…”

He looks into Washington’s eyes. The doubt there is different, now.

“It’s not you,” Alexander says definitively.

“What is it, then?” Washington asks. The earnestness of his care feels like a knife in Alexander’s chest.

He steps away, picks up his clothes, pulls them back on. His heartbeat hasn’t slowed. He needs to walk. He needs air.

“I think. I just want this too much.”

The words had been simmering near the surface since he’d walked in. He watches them land, watches Washington process.

He doesn’t give him time to respond. He doesn’t think he could take hearing it.

“I’ll see you on Thursday, okay?” he says shortly.

He means to thank him. He craves the laughter they’d shared last time. He wants to kiss him, to lose hours to it. Instead, he walks out. Turns off his phone. Walks home, still shaking.

Chapter Text

John pounds on his door the next morning. Alexander hadn’t realized he’d ever fallen asleep.

“Alex, answer your fucking phone,” John yells from behind the door. “It’s been going off for like half and hour, I have a committee meeting and I’d love it if you didn’t get murdered by our neighbors for excessive noise while I’m out.” His fist hits the door one more time. “Love you.”

The final notes of Alex’s ringtone play, followed seconds later by the notification that he’s got a voicemail. He sits, presses his palms over his eyes. His entire body aches, a shaky kind of exhaustion. He knows he’s dehydrated. He hadn’t been able to do much more than fall into bed and stare at the ceiling the night before, trying to pinpoint what had made him uncomfortable enough to leave like that. Trying to theorize Washington’s oscillation between playing the role of his professor, and crashing back into himself mid-scene, revealing someone who seemed to mean more to Alexander entirely. Trying to figure out which part of that was real.

He thought he’d known what Washington wanted out of this. What he wanted. But something had shifted while both of them were looking the other way.

He figures its probably Gilbert calling, wanting to talk about it. He knows that he deserves some admonishment. And he knows that Washington certainly deserved better than what he’d left him with.

They both deserve better, he thinks. He wishes he had the energy to explain everything going through his head. He can’t. It’s Gilbert, though, he thinks. And somehow he always understands. 

But when he finally opens up his phone, he’s stricken by different chord of dread.

Seven missed calls. Three voicemails. All of them from Eliza.

“Shit.” A paralyzing numbness hits him, and the taste in his mouth turns metallic. Eliza never calls him.

She must have still been there the night before, he realizes immediately. He hadn’t even bothered to check if she’d left.

Why didn’t I just lock the fucking door? His heartrate skyrockets, a flutter of panic that’s disgustingly familiar. Did Washington not clean up after I left? He grasps the sheets for something to dig his fingers into other than his own skin. He stares at the glow of his phone screen, unable to focus on the words there. Maybe if I’d just gone home with him…

Alexander’s mind races, thinking of excuses, something to explain away what is now irrefutable. Everything comes into harsh focus: the fact that there’s nothing they can salvage, not the thesis, not the scholarship, neither Washington’s career nor Alexander’s future. Nothing.

And all for something of which Alexander can’t articulate the significance. He can’t even speak it out loud.

His phone rings again, Eliza’s name on the screen.

He can’t stay suspended in the gravity of it any longer. He needs to know how much she knows, if only so he knows what he still has to keep hidden.  

He picks it up. “Eliza – ”

“Alex! Thank god, I was about to call John. Have you checked your email?”

He scrambles for his laptop, flipping the screen open and booting it up. “No, what? What’s going on?”

“Just keep in mind this isn’t us, okay? It’s all the Political Science department.”

The whole department…?

The loading icon spins endlessly on Alexander’s screen, going nowhere. “Eliza, just tell me what’s going on, so I can deal with it, okay?” His voice is more cutting than he means it to be. He wonders if she notices. If he’s just giving himself away, confirming everything.

“So, apparently no one told Poli Sci that you were up for the Bersani scholarship. Including you.” There’s an accusation there. Alexander ignores it, needing to hear the rest, needing to run damage control. “They caught wind of it, somehow, and now they think that if you win it, they could use it as a selling point for the department, recuperate some of their funding cuts. Which means that, suddenly, they want to throw all of their resources behind you. You should see the email thread, seriously, Lee is such a corporate puppet…”

What does this have to do with Washington? he wonders, his brain scrambling to anticipate Eliza’s words.

 “They organized a panel for a practice interview, to ‘up your chances’. They’re making it this big, overstated thing and invited a bunch of senior professors as a mock committee. And then they realized that they had their heads so far up their asses that they didn’t actually invite you. And they came crying to me to fix it for them.”

“Wait, what?” Alexander says, a tentative relief hedging in. “This is just about the scholarship? There’s nothing else…?”

“It’s this afternoon. In, like, two hours. I didn’t know if you’d check your email in time. I didn’t want you to miss it. They’re saying its ‘mandatory’. Though I have no clue what they could actually use to enforce that.”

 “So its just a practice thing? For a scholarship I’m not going to get, anyway?”

They don’t know, he realizes all at once. Eliza doesn’t know any of it

“Don’t say that. And they hired a professional interview coach, Alex.”

 “Oh my god,” Alexander laughs, his mind finally catching up to the situation at hand.

It isn’t really funny. Its an ongoing turf war, and he knows it – the political science assholes trying to discredit GSS and claim any potential victory as their credit, even if its likely to end in failure. But in this moment, in comparison to what this phone call could have been, he finds it hilarious. He lets his head fall into his hand as he laughs. “Charles fucking Lee.” The snivelling, spineless department chair had always been the recipient of his personal ire, but they usually travelled just out of reach of each other’s circles. “Of course now he’s interested in what I have to say. That’s rich.”

He also has a tendency for being completely unpredictable in debates. This should be interesting, Alexander thinks.

“I’m sorry, Alex,” Eliza says, sounding more defeated than he feels. “It’s just… I don’t know why they cc’d me on this thread, but I’m so mad, they’re talking about things they can do to trip you up in order to undermine your answers. To correct any weaknesses, of course, but that’s so unnecessary and… Honestly, Alex, this is the last thing you need. You should be relaxing right now.”  

“Don’t worry about it ‘Liza, its okay. I’ll be there.” He lets himself take a deep breath. “Trust me, it’s the least of my worries. I can take some stuck-up poli sci bastards. Just watch me.”

“Its just… are you sure, Alex? I can tell them you have a meeting, or something.”

He pulls an incredulous face, even though she can’t see him. He’s still soaring from relief, catching his breath from how close he thought he’d come. “Yeah. I’m sure. Its just a mock interview, it’s not like there’s anything riding on it. Not until next week.” He keeps his tone light.

“Angelica said she’s worried about you,” Eliza says, employing a similar strategy. As if the words are insignificant.

“Why? I’m fine. I’m great, actually. I’m ready.” The claim is bland enough not to be contradicted. He hasn’t even spoken to Dr. Schuyler in weeks. He shouldn’t have any reason to be on her radar.

Eliza doesn’t argue, but he can feel the weight of her worry, too.

“Meet me at the desk? They said I could sit in on the interview. Well, I forced them to. I’ll walk you in.”

-.-.-.-.-

He decides to humour them. It gets his mind off of other things. He pulls on his blue suit, puts up his hair, doesn’t bother to hide his fading hickeys. He’s allowed to sleep with people, he reminds himself. There’s no way they’ll be able to know who left them, even if he can feel it as if its seared into his skin.

Eliza, to her credit, has an apologetic coffee ready for him. She brings him to the room the faculty has rented out, and he wants to laugh at the production of it all. There’s a chair for him at the front, and Chares Lee is seated facing it, along with a handful of other people dotted around the room.

He’s amused, ready to have some fun wiping the floor with Lee’s face.

That is, until he sees Aaron Burr sitting in the row behind him.

And then he sees Washington.

“Wait, what the hell is Burr doing here?” he turns to Eliza frantically before anyone notices his presence. He’s the last person Alexander can imagine wanting to rehearse this in front of.

“You didn’t know? He interviewed for the Bersani a few years ago, when it was first created.” She smiles sadly. “Didn’t make the cut, obviously. But I guess they think he’ll have some insight?”  

Alexander glances warily at Burr. He looks poised, razor sharp, eyes focused forward onto the chair that Alexander is meant to occupy.

“What about Dr. Washington…?” he asks, before he can stop himself. He hasn’t noticed Alexander yet – he’s sitting further back than most of the other professors, jotting something on a notepad. Alex can tell from the way that his body is angled that he’s trying to look uninvested, but its clear he’s wound tightly, something on his mind.

Alexander probably shouldn’t be able to tell that so immediately, not after only two months of knowing him. His stomach flips at the way that George brushes a hand across his jaw absentmindedly, fingertips skimming over lips that Alexander craves more for knowing that he could have spent the morning at their mercy.

He looks away before he’s drawn any deeper.

“They asked him this morning. I guess they wanted to have at least one actual GSS professor in the room, to keep up appearances. He seemed like an obvious choice.” Eliza squeezes his arm. “I’m going to sit at the back, okay?”

He gives her a weak smile as Charles Lee sidles up, grinning in his usual terrifyingly insincere way. “Alexander, good to see you! We were just so excited when we heard about your interview, and so thrilled that we have the opportunity to help you get ready.” He smacks Alexander’s shoulder. Alex winces.

“I wish I’d heard about it sooner, so I could’ve come more prepared,” he says with a tight-lipped smile. “Hope you don’t mind me talking off the cuff.”

Lee’s eyes narrow even as his plastic expression doesn’t change. “Adaptability is good quality in a scholar.” He gives Alex’s shoulder a crushing squeeze. “Take a seat.”

Alexander settles into the chair at the front. Lee rambles on about how he’ll be leading the question period, how any of the others can jump in as they see fit, how he’ll schedule a session with the interview coach – an insufferable looking man sitting in the corner – after the panel.

Alexander barely hears it. He thinks he understands now, what Washington had been saying about desire changing the perception of space: even from across the room, from the corner of his eye, he can feel Washington’s presence, sense it every time he shifts position, as if they’re connected by a live wire. Everything else narrows, until it's only them.

He meets Washington’s gaze over everyone’s head, seeking an acknowledgement, a silent order, anything. There’s distance in Washington’s eyes, a purposeful, determined blankness. He gives Alexander a slight nod, then looks to Lee. It’s a signal, Alexander realizes, of how he wants to play it. Detached. Alex doubts he’ll speak at all; its less risky that way.

Lee finally finishes his preamble.

“So, Alexander…” he shuffles the papers in front of him performatively. “Your academic record is very impressive. Tell me, how far do you believe revolution-era ideas of political freedom can be pushed in a climate where free speech is being demonized?”

Alex manages to stop himself from rolling his eyes. He’s been writing papers about this shit since second year. He ignores Lee’s clear right-wing bent, and the fact that he’d been too cowardly to actually connect the question to anything to do with sexuality.

Still, the answer flows out of him like water. It’s easy. It’s the kind of thing he rants to John about. He talks for a few minutes – personal liberty in partisan systems, social censorship, identity – everything he can think of.

When he finishes speaking, Washington has stopped fiddling his pen, and is looking at him intently.

Burr raises his hand. “Excuse me for jumping in, but that’s not at all the kind of thing he’s going to be asked in the interview,” he says, addressing Lee rather than Alexander.

Lee looks confused (likely, Alex thinks, at the fact that there is anything worth discussing beyond dry political theory). “Would you like to give us a more apt example then, Aaron?”

“Of course.” Burr turns to face Alexander, half reluctance, half ire. “If you had the appropriate resources at your disposal, what would you do first: relocate all Ugandan sexual minority refugees to the U.S., or block Ugandan anti-LGBT legal policy?”

“Damn,” Alexander says.

“Language,” the interview coach pipes up.

It’s the kind of complex question that he can sink his teeth into, playing into secularism, relocation, race, law, cultural morality, sexuality, homonationalism. Lives lived under different constraints.

“You’re asking if negotiations of identity should be nationally determined or be made universal,” Alexander says after a while, locking eyes with Burr.

“That seems to be the root of it. Yes.”

Its something he could spend hours thinking about. Maybe this interview wasn’t going to be so bad, after all, if all of the questions were going to be like this. “Relocate, first. Legislation is great but it then requires legal precedent, which is almost impossible to establish in a broken court system. Queer Ugandan activists are routinely murdered because of their identity. Culture can be maintained after immigration, you know, if people are given the chance to actually survive.”

“Are you saying culture can be separated from sexual identity? Or that the system can’t be fixed?” Burr presses.

“No. But I’m saying that personal freedom should trump nationalist sentiment every time. That’s really what we’re debating, isn’t it?”

Burr shrugs. “It that what you really believe, Hamilton?” He sees a glimpse of something: of Burr actually being a worthy debate opponent. He tucks it away for later.

“Yes,” Alex says immediately. “Absolutely.”

“Are you drawing on personal experience here?” some professor, who Alexander has never met, asks.

“That’s good,” the interview coach jumps in. “You should share something personal. Make a connection.”

He looks around the room, most of the eyes on him hungry for something he was never planning on giving. “Wait, you mean because I’m queer and I’m an immigrant?”

“Refugee,” another professor corrects. Then, trying to save face, “Right?”

“Yeah, sure, but not because I’m queer,” Alexander retorts. “And I’m not a refugee anymore. I got my citizenship years ago.”

“But wouldn’t you be in danger if you went back to… wherever you’re from?” Lee says.

“Excuse me?”

Even Burr is beginning to look slightly uncomfortable.

Alexander glances at Eliza and remembers her warning that they’d try to trip him up. To get him to react. This isn’t the hill he wants to die on. “I don’t see how this is relevant. Next question.”

The interview coach scribbles something down furiously.

“Okay,” Lee raises his eyebrows. “I have a question about your current dissertation work.” He glances down at a sheet of prepared questions. The tenseness that has settled over the room pounds at Alexander’s temples. “You’re working on… intergenerational gay relationships?”

“That’s correct.”

“Alright then,” Lee says under his breath. “I did read your thesis abstract. My question is, in what ways could such a polemic work set a dangerous academic precedent for advocating child abuse?”

Alexander balks, the question catching him off guard. He’s gotten so used to discussing it in deeper academic ways, not having to justify it outside of the GSS department, or outside of Washington’s office, he’s half forgotten he’ll have to defend it in other contexts. But Lee has a habit of going straight for the jugular. “What? I’m sorry, who said anything about child abuse?”

“Well, just look at the news. The recent accusations against the literature professor at Penn State, for example.”

“What accusations?”

“Always stay up to date on current affairs,” the interview coach says unhelpfully. Eliza shushes him.

“A tenured prof was accused of rape by one of his eighteen-year-old students. He’s being taken to court,” Lee says with some sort of disgusting smugness. “The student says he was coerced. The professor says his actions were based on subtextual social cues that indicated consent. Isn’t that what you’re studying?”

“The story broke this morning,” Washington says quietly from the back of the room, but directed enough to draw Alexander’s focus to the heaviness in his voice. A second-hand guilt he has no business bearing.

He wants to stop the interview right then. He wants to walk over to Washington, to give into the magnetism both of them are forced to keep fighting off, if only just to replace hand settled over Washington’s jaw with his lips. Softly. To remind him that it isn’t like that. It never has been.

A beat passes before he realizes he hasn’t stopped staring at Washington. And that everyone is watching him do it.

“The student is above the age of consent,” Alexander says evenly, forcing himself to respond. “He certainly isn’t a ‘child’, so your equation to child abuse is based purely off of disproven and homophobic historical stigma. And non-verbal consent is a defense in any number of sexual assault cases. But what you’re implying right now is that every erotic connection between older and younger men is automatically a case of assault.”

Washington closes his eyes, his hand still settled over his mouth. It hides his expression, Alexander notes, but certainly not what he’s feeling. No one else, thankfully, seems to notice.

Alexander’s blood is beginning to boil, but he fights to keep his cool. It is good practice, he admits, forcing his thoughts away from Washington. He has no reason to believe he won’t be pushed like this next week. “Which is exactly why I’m writing this dissertation.”

“Are you sure you’re not just buying into a fad?” Lee says, completely ignoring his answer. “There’s definitely been an increase in cultural representation of these kinds of… ‘relationships’. What I’m asking, Alexander, is – as someone who studies ‘sexual culture’,” Lee gestures vaguely, “don’t you think your work will go towards normalizing relationships with unequal balances of power?”

Alex glances at Washington again, who has opened his eyes, schooling his face into something stony and impassive.

“Excuse my frankness,” Alex aims at Lee, “but I don’t believe I would be asked this question by someone trained in my field. Everyone who will be interviewing me next week is an – ”

“I’d like you to answer it anyway, Alexander,” Lee interrupts sharply. “At the end of the day, you are student in this department, and if you end up representing us on a national stage, I do have a vested interest in precisely what you’ll be representing.”

Like hell I’ll be representing you, Alexander bites back.

“Fine.” The measured fury is there in his voice, and he can feel himself tipping over the edge of respectability. He clings to it, for Washington’s sake. He can’t draw attention to how deeply he’s invested in his answer. “Imbalances of power exist in every single relationship, whether they’re marked by age, race, class, or – most commonly – gender. When driven underground by stigma, what may be a negotiable power imbalance becomes toxic. It becomes dangerous. If we normalize these things in culture, demonstrate how they are already a normal part of erotic interaction, we take away the potential for harm to be done – ”

“And yet harm is done,” Lee interrupts again. “And young people are brainwashed by predatory people into thinking they want something that they don’t. In this political climate, do you really think we should be pushing ourselves any further towards moral bankruptcy?”

Moral bankruptcy?” Alexander snaps. “Are you out of your fucking mind?”

The interview coach looks like he’s having heart palpitations.

“Charles,” Washington speaks suddenly, his steady voice commanding the room. “I suggest that you stop trying to comment on things you do not understand. If you had read Alexander’s work, you would perhaps choose to ask him about the theory, not fall into the uncritical traps that we, as academics, make a habit of denouncing.”

They’re scathing words, coming from Washington, who not only outranks Lee in seniority, but also in respect. Everyone in the room knows it.

Lee just laughs dryly. “You’re absolutely right George, lets stick to our role as academics, shall we? It always does get messy when supervisions are motivated by personal feelings.”

Alexander watches Washington stiffen. His face is still a mask of calmness, even as Alexander can see the panic flash in his eyes.

“Pardon me?” The words sound more like a warning.

Lee ignores it. “What, isn’t your husband fifteen years younger than you or something?” His laugh is ugly. “Maybe you should keep your personal life to yourself instead of influencing your students to become child brides, too.” He looks around the room for support, as if it’s a joke, as if other people are going to laugh, too.

Nobody does.

What?” Lee cries defensively. “All I’m saying is that, if that were me in that kind of marriage, as a straight man, I’d hardly be allowed to supervise female graduate students.” He throws his hands up. “And rightfully so.”

There’s a beat of shocked silence. It’s clear what Lee is implying. It settles heavily over the room. Several of the other professors shift uncomfortably in their seats.

Alexander’s breath is caught in his throat. He looks to Washington again, a nauseating kind of anxiety racing through his veins, begging for an answer as to whether or not he should address Lee’s accusation, or pretend it had never been spoken.

Because addressing it would mean denying it. It would have to.

And denying it would mean that there was something to deny. Not an admission of guilt, but the closest thing to it. A catalyst for rumor.

Alexander knows what he would do. The rant is already on the tip of his tongue, all of the ways he’d destroy Lee with concepts that go way above his head, directing attention away from Washington while still driving the stake into the heart of the issue. The kind of upbraiding that would shut Lee up for good.

But it isn’t his reputation in being thrown into question, not really. Not his marriage. Not his moral standing.

It’s a matter of loyalty. He knows he shouldn’t move without an order, not with this much at stake. But Washington refuses to meet his eyes.

Washington rises from his chair slowly, his military posture like a loaded gun. He turns to Lee, and speaks with forcefulness, undeniable but understated. “I won’t bother dignifying that with a response.” He turns to the rest of the room. “I trust my reputation stands for itself.”

And then he walks out. He leaves a chasm of tense silence in his absence.

It's a gamble, leaving. And Alexander knows that, for better or for worse, it was for his sake. He catches some of the other professors exchanging a look out of the corner of his eye.

Before he realizes what he’s doing, and before Lee can open his mouth again, Alexander is out of his chair, following Washington out the door, and slamming it behind him. The violence of it, he thinks, is enough to shake everyone else out of their stupor, to alert them to the significance of what just happened, but Alex can’t bring himself to care.

Washington is already halfway down the hall, walking briskly, making Alexander run to catch up to him.

“Sir, wait – ”

“Not now, Alexander.” Washington keeps walking. “We can talk about this later. You have an interview to finish.”

Alexander reaches him, finally. He wastes no time grabbing a hold of Washington’s sleeve, pulling him into the sheltered doorway of a lecture hall, out of view, for a moment. Washington doesn’t resist.

“Sir, everyone in that room hates Lee’s fucking guts. You could have taken him down with a single sentence. Leaving just makes you look…”

“What?” Washington spits, the anger finally surfacing. “Guilty?”

“Weak,” Alexander corrects, fuming. “And you’re not.”

Washington closes his eyes, clenches his jaw, as if he’s trying to reign in his rage. Regain control. “Let me tell you something, Alexander,” he says shortly. “What happened in there isn’t the war. It’s just a battle. And if I allowed myself to fall on every sword that’s placed in front of me, I wouldn’t still be here.”

“So, what, you just let it happen? Just… refuse to defend yourself?” Alexander asks desperately, a thousand conflicting feelings ripping him apart.

“I weather it.” Washington stares at him deeply. Alexander is pinned by his gaze. “I live through it.” He speaks each word with emphasis.

“But why?” Its against everything he’s fighting for, in his thesis. Openness and recognition and safety, about demolishing stigma, about making it political. He wants to understand. Knows that, whatever Washington’s answer is, it reaches deeper than what had happened in the interview. “Is it because they brought Lafayette into it?”

No, Alexander,” Washington says, fire in his voice, bordering on too loud. “Its because they brought you into it.”

His outburst echoes through the empty hall. He runs a hand over his face, sinking back against the wall. “They're bringing you into it, Alexander, and even if they think its just hypothetical, I can’t allow that to happen.”

“Sir, I can take it.”

“You,” Washington says, “are exactly where you need to be, Alexander. You’re brilliant. You’re ready. You’re poised to burn this place down. It is abundantly clear to me that there is no one who stands a better chance of getting that scholarship.” He meets Alexander’s eyes, finally. “Me being in there, in that interview room, or anywhere else, compromises that. You see that, right?”

Alexander notices, for the first time, the bags under Washington’s eyes. He must not have slept well. Too much alike, he remembers. He takes a chance. Slips a hand beneath Washington’s suit jacket, lets it rest on his waist.

Washington flinches. But he doesn’t move away.

“You are the reason I am where I need to be.”

“I’m not, Alexander,” Washington’s struggle plays out over his features, all of it there, finally, for Alex to see. “And I don’t ever want to hear you say that one ounce of your success is owed to me. We both know that isn’t true.”

Washington lets his hand settle over top of Alex’s where it rests on his body. Its not close. Not enough, not compared to the last two days, the memory of the way Washington’s body fits into his.

“Trust me,” Washington says, the anger in his voice fading to something too close to defeat. “Just go back in there. Finish the interview. My leaving can be written off, but you following me, that says something…”

“I’m not going back,” Alexander says, looking up at Washington. Feeling the heat of his body seep through his shirt, into Alexander’s skin. “And if I did, it would be to tear Lee apart limb from limb.”

“There’s so much more than us riding on this, Alexander. Please tell me you realize that.” He takes Alex’s hand, removes it. “I need you to not fall on those swords either. I need you alive.”

He doesn’t let go. He takes Alex’s hand in both of his, looks down at where they’re joined, brushing the pad of his thumb between each of Alexander’s knuckles. A moment alone. No one has come looking for them yet.

“You’re not compartmentalizing things right now,” Washington says. “And I should have said something earlier. Your thesis and… and everything else that has happened. You can’t separate it. The choices you’re making...” Each of the broken phrases drive something deeper into Alexander’s gut.

 “Sir,” Alexander says. Washington’s eyes snap to him immediately. Alex clashes with the emotion in them. Holds it. Says, slowly, “You don’t need to protect me.”

He means it in relation to the debate. To any future academic attacks that would come out of this thesis. To letting Alexander speak, defend himself, claim his role in this. To fall on the sword if he needs to.

But he sees it land on Washington. And he feels something click into place for both of them.

He remembers it in each of their halted touches, the flavour of Washington’s doubt, waiting disguised as restraint, the subtle ways he’d hold back. How breathlessly careful they’d both been. Each time they had hidden parts of themselves beneath roles they thought the other expected them to play.

The rawness of the moments when all of that fell away. How it always felt like too much, like sandpaper against Alexander’s skin. But how those were the things that remained, settled deep within him. That he craved without knowing how to ask for.

“I don’t need you to protect me from this,” he repeats, barely above a whisper. A realization. A decision he can’t process. Something opening wider, in front of them.

“Alex..." Washington says brokenly.

The hallway is still silent. Alexander knows Eliza would probably bring him his bag and his coat, if he doesn’t return.

“Are you going back to your office?” Alexander asks.

Washington shakes his head, knowing exactly what he’s being asked. “Go home, Alexander. I’ll see you on Thursday.”

Alexander thinks of Washington’s empty bed. Of the growing ache in his chest. Of not knowing how to ask for what he needs.

“Sir…”

“Just… please, Alex. Get some rest.” Washington squeezes his hand, then drops it.

They both hear the door opening from down the hall. Panic clashing with promise in Washington’s eyes.

He walks away. Alexander knows he doesn’t have any other choice.

The pressure in his chest builds towards unbearable, and all of a sudden Alex doesn’t have a choice, either, stumbling back into the wall, fighting off the bursting, holding it in, even as it tears his throat apart, makes the inside of his chest burn.

Eliza’s arms are around him before he realizes she’s there. He shakes violently, the alternative his body settles on instead of tears. He lets Eliza hold him through it. Feels her deep sigh against his frantic gasping for air.

He doesn’t explain. There’s plenty to blame it on, plenty of Lee’s comments that could have caused this. There's no reason why she should suspect otherwise. At least, he prays there isn't. 

“Breathe,” Eliza says gently. “I’m driving you home, okay?”

And Alexander knows he owes her - he owes all of them - so much more than this. But all he can feel are broken edges and looming failures and the inadequacy of everything he has to give.  

Chapter Text

It doesn’t take long for Alexander to realize that it isn’t Charles Lee that he’s furious at.

It’s himself. 

After Eliza drops him off, he can’t get his mind to quiet. He feels like an animal backed into a corner, baring its teeth. He rifles through the mess of his room to find some of his early thesis work, to read everything over, to make sure that he has every single argument lined up like a firing squad. If Lee decides to push things, he needs to be ready.

He’s immediately struck by the contrast between the first papers he’d brought to Angelica’s vetting, and the last things he’d written for Washington.

His focus, when he’d started, had been razor sharp. It had been political, edgy, its commentary quick and uncompromising. It anticipated every counter-argument. It had a necessary point, and the momentum to make it.

He writes differently, now. It’s searching. It’s moulding to a fantasy. The only point it succeeds in making is one aimed directly back at Alexander himself: a validation of his desire. It isn’t political or queer theory. It’s barely clinging to “theory”. It's a plea, meant exclusively for Washington's eyes, in the subtle language they’ve learned to speak to each other.

Three weeks, he’s lost to it. It’s nearly the end of the semester.

He crumples the sheets one by one, to feel the reality of it in his hands.

He thinks he understands, now, in the throbbing wake of near-disaster, what he’d been saying about compartmentalization. About the danger of not being able to separate things.

To be able to separate how small and delicate he’d felt when Washington had him pinned up against the bookshelves (as if he was weightless, as if he was completely under Washington’s control) and the way he feels when he’s losing himself to the power of an argument, a storm of speech and sharpness that nothing could ever be strong enough to touch.

Alexander feels sick to his stomach as it all collides in his mind. Everything John had been saying about his gears spinning, but not getting him anywhere. Angelica’s distant worry. And all of Washington’s praise. All of it, he now realizes, false.

That’s what does him in. Knowing that everything that Washington has said about his ability had been based not on his mind or his merit (because he knows, now, that he hadn’t been doing anything of merit), but has been motivated by a different kind of affection. One that would lead nowhere, in the end. Useless.  

Which means, also, that everything he had set out to accomplish, everything he had based his worth on, everything he was going to draw on in the interview, and everything he had thought himself capable of to earn Washington’s respect was slipping out of his grasp.

Alexander hadn’t earned any of it.

Fuck.” He sits in the center of his bed, his suit jacket discarded beside him, surrounded by all of the evidence of exactly how much he’d let himself slide.

He has a choice to make. Surrender or fight.

In the end, it isn’t really much of a choice at all. He tosses his phone in his closet, grabs his laptop and every single sheet of paper he’s written for his thesis, and runs to the library.

He’ll write himself out of this. He’s written himself out of worse.

-.-.-.-.-

He doesn’t leave campus for the next five days. He defends his spot in the library like its contested territory. He goes back to the theory, ploughs through his reading list, makes his thesis into the scathing political commentary he’d always meant it to be. He writes page after page, pushing through the pain – first, the hand cramps, later, the gnawing hunger, and underneath it all, a desperate longing for comfort that he denies himself on principle.

John catches on mid-way through the second day, after Alexander doesn’t return his texts. He bursts into the study area, ready to deck Alexander for scaring him. But in the end, he brings Alexander coffee, food, and a change of clothes. He’s pissed, and its obvious, but he doesn’t seem as worried. It’s par for the course, for them. Just like old times. Alex thinks he remembers to say thank you.

He sleeps in his office (any actual ‘sleep’ being completely unintentional and regretted upon waking). He trails his fingers over the wood of Washington’s door when he walks by, sometimes, but doesn’t allow himself more. He enters and exits the department only after he knows that everyone has gone home.

It’s an intentional cleanse. Every thought of Washington or of Gilbert he stitches back into the fabric of his motivation. It isn’t a severance. He feels the pain of every needle prick. And with every word he writes it becomes clearer to him, how closely his self respect is bound up in being able to prove to everyone that he’s capable of getting this right. How, by extension, he sees Washington’s respect for him, and Gilbert’s undeserved fondness, poised to fade in front of his eyes if he can’t.

So he doesn’t bother going home.

He does, however, show up for his regular meeting with Washington. In fact, he comes with a stack of freshly printed pages. 15,000 words worth of them, the product of the last few days’ work. Put together with what he’s already written, it's more than enough for a rough draft of the entire thesis, three months before the deadline.

They haven’t seen each other since Lee. Washington is shredding papers when he enters – piles of them, from a folder on his desk. He puts it back in his desk drawer as soon as he sees Alex.

Alexander has his movements scripted, this time. The way that he walks in, that old façade of confidence, the absolution in the way that he slides the stack of paper forward onto Washington’s desk. His energy is ragged, he’s been burning fumes and stubbornness for too many hours just to mask a deep sort of desperation. The one thing he still can’t find the words for, sublimated into everything else.

Washington looks at him, his hand settling on the papers. His eyes are troubled, weary. He wants to talk.

But Alexander doesn’t. And for once, both of them seem to know what Alexander needs.

From the moment Alex opens his mouth, his thoughts barrel forward like a freight train.

Washington keeping pace, they work through 60 pages together. At first, he knows Washington is humouring him. But soon, its natural. Soon, it’s the two of them speaking debating ideas and digging to the crux of it.

In the rhythm of the conversation, Alex remembers how to breathe for the first time in weeks. And Washington is right there with him. The rhythm of their minds in tandem, Washington’s gentle guidance building up to challenges, peaks of climatic realizations, breaking through the tension. Like it’s supposed to be. It’s everything they can offer each other, the depth of engagement they lack with other people. And it's not different, Alexander realizes, than the movement of their bodies towards ecstasy. They are both expressions of the unspoken.

It is something they both need.

The sun sets and the snow drifts to coat the office windowsill and Alexander has 50,000 words of something tangible. He knows it's nowhere near where it needs to be. But it's more than he’s had in months.

When they run out of words, Alexander can still hear the static of the movement of his mind against the world. But somewhere behind that, Washington says something that sounds like “I’m sorry”.  

And Alexander stands, flicks off the office light, and locks the door.

And he says something that sounds like, “What for?”

And both Washington’s answer and Alexander’s response are there, somewhere, in the way that he pushes back Washington’s desk chair, and in the way that Washington lets him. In the way that he lowers himself into Washington’s lap, still holding enough of his own weight to allow Washington to push him off, if he wants to. In the way that he kisses Washington with a softness borne of the memory of the first morning. In the way that Alexander drinks in Washington’s struggle to regulate his breath.

He wonders what ‘undoing’ would mean, in this context, as he feels Washington grow hard beneath him.

But still, they move with none of their usual urgency. It isn’t meant to go anywhere, tonight. It’s a ghosting past of the truth of it. He feels it in the way that his fingertips settle onto the back of Washington’s neck, his thumbs framing his jaw, his tongue finding its way into the warmth of Washington’s mouth and his heart swelling at the way Washington tilts his head back to allow him. He feels it in the way that Washington’s hands trail each of the vertebrae in his spine, and the way that his thumb catches on the back belt loop of Alexander’s pants but doesn’t force its way down, just strokes pressure lines along his lower back, reading his stress in the tension of his muscles. It's there in the way that they stop kissing, after a while, their foreheads resting together in the dark.

And neither of them speak. It’s a symphony of breath, of regulation and release, like nothing Alexander has ever heard before. The only thing louder than the static.

When he leaves, he ventures back to his seat in the library, a stack of revision notes in his bag. Washington doesn’t ask him to stay. His interview is three days away.

-.-.-.-.-

Friday morning, Alexander is staked out at his usual desk at the library, his papers and laptop in a flurry around him. Other students have had the courtesy to leave the desk next to him free, though he suspects it may be more out of intimidation than politeness.

He barely notices Burr sit down next to him until he clears his throat. “Alexander.”

He finishes what he’s typing before he looks up, which causes Burr to tighten his smile, stress lines around his eyes deepening.

“Burr.” He’s the last thing that Alexander needs to deal with right now, and he’s hoping the can scare him off with tone and the collection of empty coffee cups littering the space.

But Burr doesn’t budge.  

“I wanted to extend my best wishes,” he says simply.

Alex pauses. There’s still too much fight coursing through his veins from writing, and he really doesn’t have the patience, but there is a sort of guarded sincerity underlying the words that he’s not used to from Burr. There’s a politics to this, he knows. And after what he witnessed at the mock interview, Alexander knows he can’t exactly afford to reject Burr’s olive branch outright.

Even though all Burr would have would be conjecture, it might be dangerous. Sometimes a rumour is all it takes.  

“Thanks,” Alexander says, giving Burr the lead, wanting to see where he’ll take it.

“Both of my parents went to UC Berkeley,” Burr says measuredly. “I would have loved a chance to study there, at the Institute.”

“Hmm,” Alexander says, processing, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Burr unfolds his hands and shrugs. “Everything in its time, I suppose.”

“Sure,” Alexander says, trying to suss out Burr’s motive, and coming up with nothing.

“I, ah… wanted to give you some advice,” Burr nods. “About the interview. After what happened on Monday.” He casts his eyes down, indirect, his usual performative edge slipping for a moment. “When I had my interview –  well, it taught me a lot. It’ll still be Jefferson leading the selection committee, I assume?”

“Yes,” Alexander says, balanced on the knife's edge of defensiveness.

Burr looks up at him, meets his eyes. “Just tell them what they want to hear. If he wants something from you…” Then the plastic smile is back. “A little schmoozing up front never hurt anybody. Save the fire and brimstone for when you get in.”

He stands up as abruptly as he had sit, claps Alexander on the back, and walks away.

-.-.-.-.-.-

When his library shift rolls around that evening, he simply moves his work to the reception desk and continues, barely looking up as he scans the books of the few students checking them out.

He hears Gilbert’s laugh before he sees either of them. At first, he brushes it off as a phantom longing. It’s not like it hasn’t been happening all week, threatening his focus at the most inopportune times.

When he does glance up, he sees both of them walking into the library, Washington’s hand on the small of Gilbert’s back, and Gilbert leaning towards him, whispering something against his ear. They’ve both just walked in out of the weather, snowflakes melting on their coats.

He’d forgotten how striking they are together. He can’t look away.

He wonders if they have always fit together this naturally: whether it clicked the moment they met, or if it had been built up over time, that intimate understanding of each other they both wear so openly on their sleeves.

Alex wonders if there is a place for him in that charged inch of space between their bodies. He tries to picture himself fitting.

He’s still staring when Gilbert meets his eyes. It’s completely by chance – evident that they didn’t come here to find him – but Gilbert’s face lights up still, like sunshine in the dreary space.

It transforms everything. He grabs Washington’s hand and starts pulling him towards the reception desk.

“Alexandre!” he cries, no qualms about leaning over the desk and kissing him on both cheeks. Washington takes a deliberate step back. The European custom can be forgiven, Alexander figures, but anything more is a risk.

Still, he tries to savour the feeling of Gilbert’s facial hair against his cheeks, and the sweetness of his cologne mixed with the wet wool of his coat.

“We did not know you would be here. Are you still working?” Gilbert asks. “It is nearly ten!”

“Winter exams,” Alex shrugs. Gilbert has more energy than Alexander thinks he’s seen in days, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet. It makes Alexander’s lips quirk halfway up in as much of a smile as he can muster. “The library’s open late. Plus, I’ve got work to do, so I don’t mind. It keeps me awake.” He meets Washington’s eyes, and earns a slight nod, the affirmation he craves. “How was your trip?”

“Ugh. Very exhausting. I am glad to be home. The French are so dramatique. The shoot was fantastic, but the models these days are so… how you say… high-maintenance.” He looks at Washington. “I was never like that, no?”

Washington just chuckles. Alex fights off a smile.

Gilbert looks at Washington again over his shoulder. “Would you give us a moment, George?”

“Yes,” Washington says. And then, “It’s, uh, probably better, anyway.”

Gilbert nods understandingly. Fishes a piece of paper out of his pocket. “Would you find these for me, mon cher? Save us some time?”

“Of course.” He leaves for the stacks, giving Gilbert a light kiss on the cheek. Gilbert’s eyes flutter closed at the touch, his eyelashes longer than they have any right to be.

All at once, Alexander’s flood gates break. Every feeling he’d been ignoring, that had been slowly rising in the background, sweeps him away.

“George told me what happened,” Gilbert says softly.

“He did?” Alexander imagines what that conversation would have been like.

“Well, yes, but only after I asked him why you would not respond to my dick pics.” Gilbert cracks a radiant smile, a spot of brightness, even as he asks, “Are you alright, mon chéri?”

He can feel his pulse fluttering. “I mean, I think if we team up, we could probably pull off a hit on Charles Lee,” Alexander says sarcastically, brushing it off. “Shut him up for a while.”

Gilbert grimaces. “Troll of a man. I do not know how he is allowed to teach.”

“He seemed to know who you were. Have you met him?” He forces himself to keep talking, to think of anything but what he wants to.

Oui. Never marry an academic. The holiday parties are like torture.”

Alexander quirks an eyebrow. Gilbert looks down at his scattered thesis work.

“Ah. Right. Mes condoléances.”

Alexander snorts, and earns a dimpled smile in return.

“Are you coming home tonight?” Gilbert asks.

Alex freezes at the word. How casually its comes out of his mouth. It's too much, far too soon. Gilbert seems to note the panic in his face, but misses its source.

“What? Did I use the wrong word?”

“I have to finish these edits,” Alexander says quickly, cutting off the thought before it forms. “It’s important, and I… I’ve really been trying. To figure things out. To balance everything.”

The two flooding currents, I want to be yours and I don’t deserve to be, come crashing back together in Alex’s chest.

“Have you slept?” Gilbert slides a hand across the desk, an offer of comfort that Alexander can’t accept, not with so many people around.

“I’m fine. I just need to finish this.”

Gilbert rolls his eyes, playfully exasperated. “Mon dieu, how in the world did I end up with two of you?”

“I don’t get another shot at this,” Alexander rambles, barely clocking what he’s saying, all of it having built up subconsciously over the past week. “I’ve only got a day, I need to focus, because if I lose my momentum now, that’s it, it's over and my entire life will have been for nothing, do you understand that?”

Alexandre,” Gilbert interrupts him. Alexander’s words had been harsher than he’d meant them to. Gilbert seems less than phased.  “I have not been married to George Washington for ten years and learned nothing about that. Trust me.” He gestures to Alexander’s mess of papers again. “You need more than this. Otherwise you will burn yourself out, you will get to this weekend and you will not have anything left to give.”

Alexander knows its true. He hasn’t eaten properly in days. Hasn’t let himself rest.

“I am not asking you to stop preparing. I am asking you to let me help you.”

There’s nothing more that Alex wants than to sleep, to maybe occupy the space between them again, if he’s deemed worthy.

“Let me take you out.”

“Gilbert…”

“I promise you it will help, Alexandre. One day of not thinking about your work will not cause you to lose it. Besides, we still have not had our date,” Gilbert leans in just close enough not to be noticed, and eyes Alexander’s lips. “And I have been dreaming of many things I would like to do to you.”

That’s when Washington arrives back at the desk with a few books under his arms. His eyes catch on the two of them the moment they’re in view. Alexander doesn’t think he’s ever seen such open desire on someone’s face before. His heart starts to race.

He prays no one else can see the energy in the constellation their bodies form. He can’t see anything else.

“Ah, thank you,” Gilbert exclaims as he breaks the connection. “Just what I needed.”

Alexander leans over the desk, takes them from Washington’s hands, and checks them out. Both of them are retrospectives of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography. “What are you using them for?” Alexander asks. He is genuinely interested. But he also isn’t ready to watch them leave.

“Background research for a new set of studies I am doing,” Gilbert says. “Prompted by a discussion I was having with Adrienne. You see, there is an unfortunate tradition in modern photography,” he flips open one of the books open to a page that features a shot of a Black man with his back to the camera, his arms locked behind his head, his muscled skin well-oiled, “of yielding to classical ideals while completely dehumanizing your subject.”

“See,” Gilbert continues, grabbing on of Alexander’s hands and moving it to that his finger traces along the curve of the man’s back, “there is no connection here. He has made the man into an object, and while the aesthetic still pleases us, it alienates us from the experience. And Mapplethorpe did so in a time when that connection was desperately needed.” He lets go of Alexander’s hand, flipping to another page, this one featuring another faceless body enshrined in leather and latex. “He is frank with his eroticism, but it is…” he thinks about it for a while, “cold. Detached.”

“Everyone used to argue about him constantly while I was living in New York,” Washington adds, looking off into the distance, reliving something. “His photographs selling for millions while dying Black men were being turned away from emergency rooms. But it’s not like he was benefitting from it. He was dead, too, before I even got there.”  

Lafayette sighs and nods. “I remember. I did not understand it back then. But now I want to see if I can maintain the classical ideal while maintaining what is so human about this experience. About the nakedness, the vulnerability, and what it allows us to see of the subject.”

Washington looks at Lafayette like he's hung the stars. A pride that Alexander can only dream of.

“Speaking of,” Washington says, “I should really show you that triptych of Lafayette one day. He’s as talented in front of the camera as he is behind it.”

“You say that as if it is not hanging in your home office for the whole world to see,” Gilbert rolls his eyes. He turns back to Alexander his eyes raking up and down his body. “Perhaps it needs a companion piece. What do you think, George?”

Alexander watches George mask his desire with a placid smile. “I think you should stop distracting Alexander while he’s trying to work.”

Gilbert shoots Washington a look. “And I think you should stop encouraging him to work when he clearly needs a break.”

“He has a process, Lafayette, I’m not going to disrupt that.”  

“Peas in a pod, the two of you. Honestly.” He presses himself against Washington’s side, subtle but suggestive. “George, when you get like this, what is it that helps you unwind?”

Washington gets lost in his eyes. 

“Do you not think perhaps this would be good for him, before we fly out?” Lafayette says low into Washington’s ear, his eyes fixed on Alexander. “Alexandre is going to spend the night tomorrow,” Gilbert says to Washington. “We will be out for the afternoon. Would you cook for us, mon cher?” He looks back at Alexander, fondness and heat and promise. “I think he has earned it.”

“Only if you want to, Alex,” Washington says carefully. “You don’t have to.”

“I highly recommend it,” Gilbert winks. “I know some very effective treatments for academic malaise.”

Alexander mentally counts the hours until he’s set to appear in front of the Bersani committee.

Thinks of what he could get done in those hours. Measures it against his helplessness, the desperation to give all of himself over after ten minutes in their presence.

He tries to convince himself that maybe there’s a time to let go. To start trusting himself.

“Okay.” He looks up to the gleam in Gilbert’s eyes. The corner of his lips quirk up in the gravity of it. He’s not sure – but then again, he’s not sure of anything. “Okay, just tell me when.”

“I will pick you up,” Gilbert beams. “Ten o’clock, at your building. Bring all of your things.”

And then Washington’s arm is around Gilbert’s waist again, and they’re saying goodbye to Alexander as if this is the most natural thing, the two of them talking to him. The two of them walking away. Taking another piece each time.

-.-.-.-.-.-

He does go home. He’s nothing if not obedient, and in this situation, he’s outranked. John’s out, but he’s left a gift bag with Alexander’s name on it on the coffee table, a bottle of scotch inside, a card wishing him luck.

He does feel guilty. He’d always pictured spending the night before his interview with John, the two of them volleying arguments back and forth, even before he allowed himself to hope he’d get an interview in the first place. He means to send a text, to say thank you for everything, but his phone is dead once he rescues it from the closet.

Chapter Text

As much as he hates sleep, Alexander is not a morning person. The fitful periods of darkness between reading another paragraph (more a failure to keep his eyes open than actual rest) aren’t doing too much for him. He knows Gilbert is right, and knows he needs to regain some of his energy before the interview, but he’s been determined to work right up until the moment Gilbert picks him up in his flashy car, blasting bad 80s pop music out of the open windows and beaming up at him.

He can’t deny that being away from the university forces a fresh breath of air into his lungs.

He finds himself rubbing sleep out of his eyes in the booth of the bistro Lafayette takes them to for brunch, a place with marble table tops, mimosas and menus without prices on them.

“Do you need a fucking Centurion card just to get into this place?” Alexander mutters under his breath. Not that he’s complaining, but there are some places he is not meant to be, and a restaurant where the servers are wearing tuxedos at ten in the morning is definitely one of them. The only upside to the place’s extravagance is that their table is private, and there’s no chance of anyone from the university seeing them.

He’s not used to the feeling of not having to hide his affection.

“It takes a certain skill and practice to appear comfortable in these sorts of places,” Gilbert says in response, “which seems as if it is going to become relevant in your near future.”

Gilbert himself looks entirely comfortable, lounging against the back of the booth, his legs crossed under the table, his champagne flute resting delicately between his long fingers. He moves with a grace Alex that envies and craves in turn. His shirt collar rests just below his Adam’s apple, and its that spot that Alexander stares at as Gilbert charms their server, ordering for the both of them. It strikes Alexander that he’s the kind of perfection that seems untouchable. Alex holds an exact memory of how his lips taste, but it seems less like reality and more like a fever dream.

“To each great thing in your future,” Gilbert toasts him as soon as it’s the two of them again. After they both take a sip, Gilbert leans forward, takes Alexander’s glass out of his hand, and places it on the table. He entwines Alexander’s empty fingers with his.

He smiles at Alexander. Radiant. The kind of person Alexander imagines you’d need to be to have someone like George Washington fall in love with you.

The kind of person that’s making Alexander’s heart skip several beats at ten in the fucking morning.

“I have not said out loud, Alexandre,” Gilbert says softly, something for just the two of them, “how thankful I am that you have found your way into our lives.”

There’s a spark in his eyes, an honesty to his enthusiasm, that’s a little much for Alexander to process. So he says the only true thing he can: “Are you kidding me? I’m the lucky one.”

Lafayette laughs flippantly. Alex’s heart clenches.

“No - seriously,” Alexander says, but then can’t finish, swallowing back all of the childish admiration sitting on his tongue. He still can’t believe it, most days. The speed of it, compounded by Gilbert’s certainty, the complexity of Washington’s desire. His world has changed in ways he couldn’t have foreseen, months ago. He doesn’t understand all of them yet. If he’s being honest, he’s still waiting for the bottom to drop.

He reaches out with his free hand and gulps another sip of his mimosa, to have something to look at other than Gilbert’s blinding beauty, just for a moment.

How long will it be until I lose this? Until he loses interest?

He can’t picture it going back to the way it was. It terrifies him more than the looming interview, more than the uncertainty in his future career: the only things that had really mattered to him before.

He means to ask Gilbert for tips on how to work a room. He’s still got that idiotic pre-interview cocktail party to worry about, and if he’s being forced to take a break from thinking, he may as well prepare in other ways. But Gilbert’s skin is warm against his own and there are universes in his eyes and Alex has never seen someone look so inviting before, so purposefully open, so alive.

He wants everything. He wants to be close to this man, to make up not only for a lost week, but somehow for a lost lifetime. Something he would have given anything to have been a part of.

“Was it you who wanted to get married?” he blurts. “I mean, I’m just curious, I think about it a lot.”

Not a great date question , Alexander chides himself, before remembering that – even though Gilbert insists on calling it that – they’re well past that point, and that there are things he may not get another chance to ask, depending on how this weekend goes.  

“You think about getting married?” Gilbert quirks an eyebrow, amused.

“No, no,” Alexander corrects, perhaps a bit too vehemently. “I think about you a lot. You and him. How that happened.”

“Ah,” Lafayette says, smoothing a line over Alex’s skin, distracting him, making him crave his hands in other places. “In that case, the truth is probably far less romantic than you have imagined. There was a point in my life where I would rather have been stabbed in the eye with a fork than gotten married. And by ‘point in my life’ I mean most of it.” He chuckles, looking off into the distance over Alexander’s shoulder, remembering. “I think you could not count on both hands the number of times I turned him down.”

“Really?” Alexander asks. He thinks of how he’s seen them interact now, Gilbert’s open affection against Washington’s quieter aura of commitment, protection, partnership. A balance that strikes something deep in Alexander. Moves him close to tears. “I honestly wouldn’t have guessed.”

“It confuses many people that he wanted this.” Gilbert shifts so he’s got Alexander’s hand in both of his. “Especially academics. That the great George Washington, enemy of the heteropatriarchy,” he says with a performative sarcasm, “would buy into the institution of marriage. They think I talked him into it. So, there are two answers we give: the theoretical, and the personal. Which one would you like?”

Gilbert says it playfully, for him, but Alexander can tell there’s a practiced defensiveness there.

He returns the playfulness, leaves the rest for later. “Theoretical first. Hit me.”

“I am not so articulate as George in this area, forgive me,” he says. “But, in short, queer theory shows that marriage has always been constructed as an unethical relation, with roots in colonization, racism, property ownership, and sexism. Simply letting people like us marry does not necessarily change that legacy. But developing a more ethical way of being with each other, while maintaining the label of ‘marriage’, does disrupt this.”

“An act of reiterative resistance, then,” Alexander interprets. “Maintaining some aspects of a tradition to make your transgression more obvious.”

Gilbert shrugs. “ Oui . It is not like we hide how we live our life. Well. In most circumstances.”

“But is it just the openness? Sleeping with other people?” Alexander wonders. “Like ‘ethical polyamory’ or whatever?” It makes his stomach turn a little bit, wondering where he fits in that equation. Whether he’s the ‘openness’ against their closed background, slipping away that much more easily when they’re done with him.

Gilbert laughs. “I have always hated that phrase. It suggests that monogamy is automatically more ethical, does it not? And that we have to work for it in comparison? Non, mon chou, it is everything that underlies it,” Gilbert answers, gaining emphasis as he drops the jargon. “The outlook that we have, that neither of us owns the other. That we are not owed anything by the other. That the pleasure and commitment we give each other is chosen, always, and given from a place of truth. That our ability to give the same pleasure to others is an incredible thing.”

Gilbert strokes his wrist. It’s so gentle that it ramps something up in Alexander, makes him want to press himself into Gilbert’s grip harder.

Could you be more fucked up right now ? Alex bites the inside of his cheek. He’s talking about lack of ownership and here you are wanting him to pin you against the fucking booth in a public place for everyone to see . Just to show him that you’d stay, no less. That you’re theirs .

“Do you want to know the other reason?” Gilbert asks, introspection replacing some of the easiness, ripping Alexander from his thoughts. “The main one?”

“Yeah,” Alexander says. “I do.” He imagines passion, of Washington in love so deeply that he couldn’t help himself, questioning each of his beliefs for this man. “I mean, gay marriage wasn’t even legal ten years ago, did you try to do like a landmark court case kind of thing? Push the legal precedent forward?”

“Nothing like that,” Gilbert waves it off. “It was… symbolic, mostly. Calling it ‘marriage’. Well, it was, until three years ago when they legalized it.” He smiles cheekily. “We walked down to the court house after George finished work, signed the papers, and fucked through the whole weekend. Like a second honeymoon, only the sex was much better.”

Alex smirks to hide the way his body reacts to the image.

“But back then, ten years ago, it was different. I think it was something he needed quite badly.” Gilbert’s tone changes, replacing Alexander’s thoughts of weekends in bed with something more melancholy. “And though I knew I did not owe it to him, I eventually realized it was a pleasure and a peace I could give him without losing myself. It was a way we could turn something painful into something beautiful.”

“What do you mean?” Alexander asks, though he has a sense of it. Hints of it, from his first conversation with Washington.

Gilbert sighs. “I should let him tell you this. But I know that he is not going to. Not any time soon, anyway, not with everything going on. It really did get to him, what happened with Lee.”

Alexander nods, a low layer of panic settling in. “I’m sorry. I know it made things worse.” The sudden shift in Gilbert’s mood. He must have done something wrong, prying into things that were never his business in the first place.

“It is not your fault, Alexandre. That’s what I am trying to say. And that’s why I am going to tell you some things I think you should know. That might help you understand.”

“Okay,” Alexander says. “Please, I… I want to do things right.”

“Before I ever met George,” Gilbert starts slowly, “before I even came to America, the first few years that George was living in New York, he had a lover. His name was Friedrich.”

Alexander can tell from the tone in Gilbert’s voice, a sober note damning his usual vigour, that the story does not have a happy ending.

“Friedrich was a mentor to George, in many ways. I think – well, he has not told me as much – but I think it was both very similar and very different to what you are to him right now.” Gilbert chooses his words carefully, pressing his thumbs into Alexander’s palms in a massage. “He earned, for good reason I’m told, George’s complete loyalty. I think he was probably the first man that he truly loved.”

Alex’s heart seizes in his chest, preparing himself for the implications.

“When he got sick…” Lafayette’s voice thickens with emotion, despite the fact that he hadn’t been there, that these weren’t his memories. “When he got sick, George cared for him. Even though they had drugs by that point, Friedrich was older, and they did not work. George watched him die, for six months. He could not go to a hospital, because he knew that people were being carried out of them in garbage bags if they had no legal next of kin to claim the body. But eventually it got too bad. He had to take him in, so he would not die in pain. So George would not have to watch him die in pain. The nurses were kind, they let him stay right up until the moment Friedrich died. But when he did, they had to call his family, because legally, he and George were nothing to each other. Friedrich had a grown son from a previous marriage, who had stopped talking to him after he learned about his lifestyle. He showed up moments after Friedrich died to claim his money. He cut George out of everything, got him kicked out of the hospital, and buried Friedrich in an unmarked grave upstate.”

“Oh my god,” Alexander says under his breath. Gilbert squeezes his hand, a different level of communication beneath his words.

“I think he did try to heal from it,” Gilbert continues, “But he had no time to mourn because the week after Friedrich died, one of George’s best friends died. And another the week after that. And if he tells you,” Gilbert says, a storm of suppressed anger building, “that he spent his time organizing for ACT UP, he means that he was fighting white leadership from within for letting poor Black men die on the streets. And he means that he was planning their funerals, and paying for them with his rent money. He means he was spending nights in jail for protesting. And by the time he met me, he had nothing left of himself to give. And still he gave everything.” Gilbert quickly presses one of his hands to his eyes, catching the wetness gathering there, quietly wiping it away before it can fall. The rest of him stays completely still, making the tear see like a betrayal of the control he’s cultivated.

“Gilbert, I’m so sorry,” Alexander says, not knowing where it comes from, just knowing it isn’t deep enough to touch what he wants to say.

“You have nothing to be sorry for, mon petit . You have done nothing to hurt him. Not like I did, back then. I was reckless, and I caused him so much pain. But there was something in him that saw worth in me that I had stopped seeing.”

Gilbert closes his eyes, takes a breath, mutters an apology. Alexander takes his hands out of Gilbert’s fading grip, brings them over top, like shelter. There are no words for this. If there are, he doesn’t have them.

“When you lose nearly everyone you love to something like AIDS, you feel like you are playing Russian Roulette. Some of us became reckless,” Lafayette’s accent thickens as more of the emotion seeps out, a thousand tiny cracks in his exterior. “We wanted to empty all of the cylinders, to feel the bullet hit, to get it over with. If we were going to die anyway, we thought we may as well find pleasure in doing it. You know, martyrs to the cause. But others took their hand off the gun completely. I was the former. George was the latter. I was young, and did not know much better. I made many stupid decisions. There are many reasons I should not be here today. I got lucky.”

Alexander looks at Lafayette’s face, the interplay of guilt and grace, and studies the shallow lines that highlight the curve of his cheeks, marks of years he’d lived beyond what he must have believed he would. It makes Alexander wonder about the youthfulness in his eyes, his usual open smile, the way his movements lack self-consciousness, the way he seems to throw himself at the world, to take what he wants. It’s clear, now, where some of that may have come from. The enthusiastic optimism. The choice to live with abandon.

“I do not think I need to tell you how it changes people, Alexandre,” Gilbert says. “I know your own encounters with this world have not always been kind. So you must know how death makes us fear the things that we should not.” He gives Alexander a significant look. “What I am trying to say is that, for a long time, George could not stop seeing sex as a loaded gun, something that had the potential to hurt people irreversibly. And he could not stop seeing connection as something that would eventually be broken. He has come far, but there are days – there are people, or… certain situations – that bring that back in him. No matter how he fights it.”

“Am I one of them?” Alexander asks, things clicking into place, the past sliding into symmetry with the present, the risks of self-destruction, so different and yet…

“It frightened him,” Gilbert says, “in the office, that you did not have a safeword.”

They’re interrupted by the server returning with the food Gilbert has ordered, cheese boards full of smoked salmon and velvety spreads and sliced baguettes, figs and olives smothered in oil, fresh cream and types of fruit Alexander can’t name.

Alex immediately lets go of Gilbert’s hands, but the server makes a point of not looking. Gilbert draws himself up, correcting his posture where he’d let it go.

Merci ,” he smiles at the server. “Anyway,” he says to Alexander, “let us talk of brighter things. I simply wanted to… well.”

It’s the first time Alexander has seen Gilbert at a loss for words, his usual demeanor wavering.

“I hope it is not inappropriate to say that it is my hope that you will be in our lives for a time to come, Alexandre. And I want you to understand that he does not willingly invest himself in people very often.” He gives a watery smile, tries to regain his nonchalance by popping a morsel of bread in his mouth “ Mais je ne pense pas qu'il a le choix .” He draws a finger over his lips, halfway between self-comforting and flirtation. Two selves, splitting and fusing, vying for dominance.

Alexander feels himself coming apart at the seams. He wants to tell Gilbert that he won’t hurt them, but that would be presuming he wields enough power over them to have that sort of effect. That he could break their hearts, like he suddenly realizes they could both so easily break his. He wants to say he won’t leave, as if that’s something that Gilbert would want to hear, as if it weren’t overbearing and clingy and beneath him. There’s a small part of him that wants to slip beneath the table, suck Gilbert off until neither of them are troubled by thoughts deeper than sweat and stifled breath.

He does none of it. It’s Gilbert who breaks the awkward silence with a sensual moan, licking fresh apricot jam off of his fingers, commenting on the quality. He seems to snap back into himself; whether it’s a survival mechanism or authenticity, Alexander isn’t sure anymore. It doesn’t matter. It’s him. And all Alex knows is that he wants more.

-.-.-.-.-

When they finish, Gilbert takes him to an upscale mall in one of the wealthier shopping districts – another place he never would have come himself, where he feels eyes ghosting over him and picking him apart at the same time, measuring him against the backdrop of the name-brand store signs and finding him lacking.

The conversation they’d had in the restaurant seems eons away. Gilbert moves through this space as he moves through all others: a pillar of confidence, almost regal in the way that his coat flares behind him as he walks. Alexander keeps pace as Gilbert asks him a thousand aimless questions about his hometown, the music he likes, his favourite Disney movie. It’s like a gust of fresh air, the way that he can make Alexander laugh, make him forget about the upcoming interview and anything that doesn’t involve the next five minutes, the next question, the next instance of Gilbert smiling down at Alexander like he’s trying to figure something out.

They don’t stay long in any particular store. Gilbert seeming to know exactly what he’s looking for, and Alex watches him charge obscene amounts to his credit card. There are moments when he zones out, his eyes catching on Gilbert’s hips and calves and fingers as his mind whirs, trying to fit everything together. To see himself in the story. They breeze through a lingerie store, Gilbert playfully fingering silk and lace and eyeing Alexander’s body up and down, his gaze half joking, half arresting. Alex has to catch his breath in a laugh when Gilbert boxes him in against one of the display tables, pressing a pair of intricate black lace panties against Alexander’s hips as if he’s measuring them for size.

They both act as if it’s a joke.

Gilbert buys the panties anyway.

-.-.-.-.-

They arrive, eventually, at a menswear shop that takes up most of the third floor, Joseph A. Blackwell Clothiers. They each have an iced coffee in their hands, but Gilbert gestures around anyway as if he owns the place.

“I want to buy you two suits. One for the cocktail party, one for the interview,” Gilbert says, as if he’s chosen them already. “Anything you’d like.”

Alexander scoffs, feeling more comfortable, looser from the past hour of walking next to Gilbert, soaking in his easiness. “Really, you’ve got to cut it out with this sugar daddy thing, I don’t need new suits, and these are like, Armani or something.”

Gilbert pouts dramatically. “Please? I have been buying you things all afternoon and you have scarcely noticed. Let me do this, it would make me so happy.”

Alexander rolls his eyes. “Seriously, Gilbert, I have things to wear, I don’t need you to buy me anything.” He clamps his lips around his straw to keep himself from admitting that he doesn’t want to try anything on for fear of the expense of the suit being measured against his body, making it undeniably clear that he doesn’t deserve to wear clothing this nice.

“Why are you so caught on these labels, anyway?” Gilbert says as he guides Alexander into the store. “I am not trying to be anything I am not. Besides, it would work much better if choose our own labels, non ? I could be your sugar. George could be your daddy.”

He brandishes a wink. Alexander chokes on his iced coffee.

He’s saved from having to come up with a response when a young sales clerk comes over, chipperly asking them what he can help them with. Gilbert rattles off a list of fabrics and colours and sizes, and the clerk hurries off to find them as Alexander coughs in the background, his face still flaming red.

“So I was right,” Gilbert says nonchalantly when the clerk leaves.

“About what?”

Rien , never mind,” he says with a private smirk. He turns around, admiring some of the pieces on the rack. “If we had more time, I would have something custom made for you. George took me to buy my first suit, you know? My first real one.” He lets his hand drift through the coloured fabrics. “I had so many people telling me what to wear, and I just wanted something that would let me feel as if I were above all of them.”

“It seems like maybe you were,” Alexander says.

Gilbert scoffs. “I was a rambunctious kid with a pretty face and an irresponsible way of using it. I didn’t have any confidence. The industry had chewed me up and spit me out.”

“So what happened?” Alexander asks. “You kept the pretty face, got some new clothes, and learned to fake it?”

“Exactly. Which is precisely what you are going to do this weekend.” He walks up to the store clerk, who’s arranging multiple suits inside a large change room in the corner of the store. Alexander watches him greet the man by putting a hand gently on his arm, and leaving it there just a moment too long. He can’t hear the conversation they’re having, but he can see Gilbert’s expression morphing into something rapacious as he leans and whispers something in the clerk’s ear. The man’s face flushes, Alexander sees him mouth “yes, sir” and go help another customer at the other end of the store

Gilbert beckons Alexander over with a single finger. Alex enters the changeroom – bigger than his bedroom at home, furnished with three antique standing mirrors and an armchair. Gilbert clicks the door closed behind them and sets both of their iced coffees aside.

“A good suit is like a disguise,” he deftly unbuttons Alexander’s shirt. The hitch in Alexander’s breath is immediate, and he curses himself for it. “When you are walking into somewhere you feel you do not belong, or into something you feel as if you do not deserve, it is your proxy. The better you can wear it, the more they will assume you are meant to be there.” Gilbert makes quick work of Alexander’s belt, holding his gaze the whole time. “And if you start there, you will slowly start to find yourself becoming more than you thought you were.”

He yanks Alexander’s pants down his hips, entirely ignoring the slight bulge beneath Alex’s boxers, the way that Alexander is burning up under his touch.

“Start with the grey one,” Gilbert commands.

It’s a light grey morning suit, which the clerk has paired with a lavender dress shirt, silver accents in the tie and pocket square. Alexander puts it on, and Gilbert buttons it, his hands warm and steady against Alex’s chest.

“I look ridiculous.” Alexander examines himself in the mirror. It fits him perfectly, clinging to the lines of his legs, but the colour is too much, the whole thing is too showy.

“You look outstanding,” Gilbert corrects matter-of-factly. He moves so he’s standing behind Alexander. “ You need to wear it , though. Do not let it wear you.” Gilbert draws a hand along Alexander’s cheek. Alex sees, momentarily, how the suit draws out the golden notes in his skin, makes his black hair look stark and powerful.

“Something like this would work for the interview. You need to own the space as you walk in. That starts with your body.” Gilbert draws both of Alexander’s shoulders back, making him stand a little straighter. “You need to hold yourself like you do not need them, but like you know they need you.” He ghosts a finger beneath Alexander’s chin, raising it an inch. “Because they do.” He smooths his hands over Alexander’s hair, removing the elastic keeping it up, combing his fingers through it as it falls to frame his face. Alexander watches his own features in the mirror, praying he’ll be as poised as Gilbert wants him to. “Remember, they would not be there if it were not for you – the interviewers, they are the ones filling a need, and you are there to fill it for them. You are what they need.” He tucks a strand of hair behind Alexander’s ear delicately as he meets his eyes in the mirror.

There’s something in his eyes that strikes Alexander. Something new, something searching for a response in Alexander’s own.

“I don’t know if I am what they need,” his voice is smaller than he intends it. “I’m not you, I can’t affect people like that. I’ve got my words, that’s it, and that’s only worth anything if they listen.”

Gilbert’s hands come to the buttons again, undoing them from behind, his searing gaze still fixed on Alexander. Once the shirt’s unbuttoned he slips a hand beneath the fabric and passes it over Alexander’s chest, catching Alexander’s nipple in the space between his fingers. Alexander bites his lips to suppress the shiver.

“You are like this, Alexandre. I have seen it. You just need to claim it. Because they should be on their fucking knees for you.” Gilbert’s long fingers press lower, tracing the line of black hair from the bottom of Alexander’s abdomen, dipping in below his belt. “You must always remember that you are the desirable one, even when your own desire is a tidal wave. You cannot let it wash you away.”

The conversation shifts in the silence that follows his words. There’s noise in the background, people milling around the store outside of the closed door of the changeroom. Gilbert fingers work their way under the waistband of the grey dress pants, brushing past Alexander’s cock over his underwear, barely there.

Alexander’s eyes slide shut as heat floods his whole body. He lets his head fall back against Gilbert’s shoulder.

“No,” Gilbert corrects, stiffening his own body against Alexander’s. His hand is gone, returned to Alexander’s hip. Alexander’s head snaps up. “You must own it, mon cherie ,” he urges, a different kind of passion in his voice. “You must walk into this knowing that you are the one with something to offer, not just something to surrender to.”

He feels it, the tidal wave Lafayette had been talking about, washing away his words, his resolve.

“I have seen you do this,” Gilbert runs his fingers over Alexander’s lips, the joy of touching him plain on his face. “Do you remember?” he leans in, his lips against Alex’s ear. “ Fuck me harder, please, sir ?” The words seem dirtier in Gilbert’s voice, in their shared context. “You need to ask for what you want, as if giving it to you is going to change that person’s life for the better. Can you do that for me, Alexandre?”

Alex stares at the two of them in the mirror, Gilbert looking down at him now from behind, studying his expression, surrounding him, his eyes flicking down to measure how hard Alexander is, already. He doesn’t speak, just reaches one of his hands back to grasp Gilbert’s ass over his tight jeans and draw him forward, grinding himself back against his erection, imagining –

“No,” Gilbert repeats again, putting distance between them, “not like that. Come.” He takes the jacket off of Alexander, teases the shirt off too, then pushes Alex up against one of the walls. He drops to his knees in front of Alex, takes off the pants, then returns his palms to the back of Alexander’s thighs. Alex is left standing in his boxer briefs, his erection tenting obscenely towards Gilbert’s wet lips. “Tell me what you want, Alex.” He nuzzles his nose into the divot of Alex’s thigh and inhales deeply.

“Fuck, Gilbert,” everything radiates through him from the three points where their skin touches, “we can’t do this hear, that clerk will hear…”

“He won’t,” Gilbert says into Alexander’s skin, “trust me. I told him I would buy every single suit in this dressing room if he locked the door and stayed on the other side of the store.” He catches the elastic of Alexander’s underwear beneath his teeth, looks up at him through his eyelashes, and lets it snap back against his skin. “I told him I needed to fuck my boyfriend immediately, and that if he would be so kind as to oblige me this, I would make sure he got the commission.”

“Boyfriend?” Alex echoes breathlessly.

“Tell me,” Lafayette looks up at him, still the picture of impeccable, perfect control, still holding that charge that he’s asking Alexander to ignite, “what you want.”

Alexander moans as Gilbert slides his underwear down, his engorged cock springing free, his heart pounding for parallel reasons, making him dizzy.

“You know George has been holding back, yes? That if he knew, if you could tell him like this, he would be able to give himself over. To be that person you see he’s not letting himself be.” Gilbert flicks his tongue across the Alexander’s inner thigh, hard, and hint of what he could do to Alexander’s dick. “You must be comfortable with your own power before giving it over to someone can be an act of pleasure. So tell me what you’d do to us.” He closes his lips around just the head of Alexander’s cock, licking the gathering precum, making Alexander’s brain disconnect completely. “Take me apart.”

Gilbert ,” he moans softly, willing his loss of control to be an implosion, “I want. Oh my god ,” he gasps as Gilbert brings a hand to the base of his cock, just enough pressure, as if he’s a fucking professional. “Those underwear you bought, the lace ones. I want to wear them for you.” He shuts his eyes as he feels the heat creep into his cheeks, the endorphins staving off the shame, but only just. He keeps going. “I want you to show you how good I can look for you. I want you to not bother taking them off, just push them aside while you fuck me.”

Gilbert swallows down his entire length like it’s nothing, and Alex lets out of a muffled cry.

“Both of you,” Alexander continues, his mind hazy and incoherent, leaving reason behind, not thinking about it. “I want both of you to fuck me, want both of you inside me at the same time. I want it to be too much, I want it anyway, I want to see what you look like when you’re not able to hold back.”

Gilbert moans at that, the vibrations of it all around Alexander’s cock, and he still can’t believe when he looks down, Gilbert’s perfect fucking composure, not a thing out of place while he’s on his knees, his tongue doing things Alexander didn’t know were possible, strong and precise and practiced, not even bothering to come up for air.

Alex’s legs are shaking, he knows, but Gilbert’s grip has only tightened, keeping him steady.

“Tie me up,” Alexander says, gaining traction, his hips slipping forward in half a thrust. “Shit, sorry,” he gasps, but Gilbert just nods around him, coaxing him. “Tie me up and hold my legs back while George fucks me,” he flushes with the wrongness of everything he’s imagined, everything he wouldn’t let himself say. “So you can do whatever you want with me, leave me there without touching me, I just want to you to fill me up, I want him to come inside me, I… fuck .” Gilbert moves both of his hands to Alexander’s ass, keeping his mouth where it is, and pulls his hips forward again. The minute Alexander’s cock hits the back of his throat he loses control, bringing his hand to Gilbert’s head and letting himself fuck Gilbert’s mouth, hot and wet and taking his length with a greedy sort of enthusiasm. His breath catches, his muscles acting on their own as the orgasm courses through him without warning.

It doesn’t seem to matter to Lafayette, who swallows it all effortlessly, wipes the back of his hand over his lips, and smiles up at Alexander wolfishly.  

And then he’s on Alexander’s lips in one swift movement, caging his lax body back against the wall, both hands framing his face, filling Alexander’s mouth with warmth and the saltiness of his come. He kisses frantically, his teeth scraping Alexander’s lips, as if he wants more of Alexander inside him.

“God, I love the way you taste,” Gilbert says into him. Something surges through Alexander. The glimpse into how Gilbert, despite how he holds himself together, seems to need it just as much.

When he flips them so he can pin Gilbert in his place, Gilbert lets him, his lips red and parted, his hard-on insistent against Alexander’s legs. They don’t stop kissing, frantic and hot and desperate and sloppy, both of them swept up in the tidal wave, Gilbert grinding messily against Alexander’s thigh like he can’t help himself.

Alex manages to get his head above water. “Take me home, Gilbert. Now.”

-.-.-.-

They make it back, barely. Alexander drives.

The house feels different the second time Alexander steps into it, his arms laden with four garment bags (the clerk had barely been able to speak without stammering and blushing while they were checking out), Gilbert pulling his suitcase and carrying the rest of his purchases. The air is thick with different spices and that smell like comfort to Alexander no matter what he does to disconnect them from the memory of home.  

There are two other suitcases piled by the door, a reminder of their impending red-eye flight, of the fact that there are less than 24 hours between him and the deciding moment of the rest of his life.

Washington is sitting reading in the living room under warm lamplight, his glasses perched on his nose. He smiles when he sees them. It gains an edge when he processes the tension still thrumming between them, but he doesn’t comment.

“I made paella,” he says. “It’s still hot.” He stands, joins the two of them, a hand on Gilbert’s back and the other on Alexander’s cheek.

“That’s what we had on our first date,” Gilbert says fondly, his voice still shot from earlier, and from the car ride when he’d been palming himself through his jeans, telling Alexander everything he wanted to do to him. “That little Latin restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen.”

“I know,” Washington says. “It seems like a good omen. New beginnings.”

“Do you think you could keep it hot for later?” Gilbert bites his lip apologetically.

Alexander watches Washington’s eyes flick down to his still obvious hardness, then back up to Gilbert, sparkling. He hums, deep in his throat. “Takes a lot to make you this desperate,” Washington says to Gilbert, his hand still hot against Alexander’s face.

“I think you know exactly what it takes,” Gilbert volleys back.

Still emboldened from earlier, Alexander brings Washington’s hand to his lips. Thinks of Gilbert’s claims that he won’t give Alexander what he needs until his desire for it is undeniable. Washington’s large fingers skim over his lips. He darts his tongue out to capture his fingertip, flicking off his brain, letting his body guide him. “Would you like to join us, sir?” He watches Washington’s eyes darken. Everything other worry feels so far away.

Gilbert stands beside him, pressing his cock into Alexander’s hip, attaching his lips to Alexander’s neck, as if he can’t wait stand to wait any longer.

Washington withdraws his hand. Strokes the line of wetness down Alexander’s cheek. Looks at Gilbert knowingly. “I think I’d like to watch.”